Tuesday, June 20, 2017

“I ask unanimous consent…”

With the Senate crafting, discussing, and debating its version of the House’s American Health Care Act, there has been a great deal of reporting about how the Senate works (or doesn’t). Many Senators from both parties are frustrated with the “behind closed doors” process for drafting legislation, and Democrats in particular are responding with tactics designed to slow down the consideration of the bill. One prominent approach is to object to all (or nearly all) of what are known as “unanimous consent agreements.”

What does this mean? Believe it or not, the Senate considers most legislation by unanimous consent, meaning that every Senator agrees not to slow down the discussion on whatever question the Senate as a whole is considering—from a vote on a piece of legislation, to the debate time allowed for a bill, to the time the Senate will meet the next day. In short, when a Senator says “I ask unanimous consent that. . .,” he or she is asking everyone to agree not to engage in long discussions or even to filibuster. They do this because normal Senate rules allow for extensive debates—sometimes seemingly forever. It helps the Senate get more work done.

That all changes whenever a Senator says “I Object!” to a proposed agreement. He or she can force the Senate to operate under the normal procedures. Imagine, for example, ongoing objections to unanimous consent agreements on everything from convening the next day at noon, to renaming a Post Office. Every one of those questions becomes eligible for thirty hours or more of debate. That’s why Democrats, who are eager to prevent the AHCA bill from coming to the floor, are using this strategy. They can tie up the Senate for days or weeks.

All of this is in keeping with the adage that the United States Senate is the “saucer that cools the tea” (or coffee, depending on your preference). It is designed for more thorough and sometimes ponderous discussions. As the Senate moves towards upcoming votes on health care legislation, look to see who is objecting to these Unanimous Consent Agreements and see how the normal functioning of the chamber might be slowed and altered.

-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Top Ten Things Elected Officials and Their Staff Hate to Hear

Number 10: But I thought my appointment was with the Senator. 
Never, ever indicate that you are disappointed to be meeting with a staff person. On Capitol Hill, having a good relationship with a staff person can make or break your cause.

Number 9: Here’s some reading material for you – our 300 page annual report. 
When meeting with a member of Congress or staff person, try to limit your leave behind materials to one or two pages, and include details on where this information can be located on the web, if appropriate. Offering the information in a file folder with your organization’s name on the label will also help ensure that the materials are put in a file drawer, as opposed to the round file.

Number 8: How much of a campaign contribution did your boss get to vote against (or for) this bill? 
Believe it or not, most staff have no idea who contributed to their boss’ campaigns. Not only is this question insulting, but even if it were accurate, the staff person isn’t likely to know.

Number 7: I assume you know all about HR 1234. 
With thousands of bills being introduced during each Congress, no staff person will be able to keep them all straight. Always provide information on the bill title, number and general provisions when communicating with a Congressional office.

Number 6: No, I don’t have an appointment, but I promise I’ll only take ½ hour of your time. 
Unless it’s an emergency, or you are good friends with the elected official or staff person, try not to engage in the dreaded “stop-by.” Most staff are happy to try to set up a meeting if you are relevant to the office (i.e., you are a constituent).

Number 5: No, I don’t really need anything specific. 
If you don’t ask for something – a bill cosponsorship, a congressional record statement, a meeting in the district, whatever – some staff will wonder why you came by. Updates on your issue are fine, so long as they are accompanied by a request. That will ensure that someone in the office thinks about you and your request for longer than 5 minutes.

Number 4: We have 10 (or more) people in our group. 
Congressional offices are tiny. If you have more than 5 people in your group, you’ll be standing out in the hallway. Plus, having so many people talking at once can dilute the impact of your message. Try to limit your group to no more than 5.

Number 3: What you’re telling me can’t be right. I heard Jon Stewart say otherwise. 
Most staff, or members for that matter, won’t lie to you. They know that lying will get them in big trouble. Sometimes, they may see things differently than you do, but if they say a bill definitely is not going to be considered on the floor, or if there is no such legislation, I’d believe them. A perfect example is a petition that was floating around the Internet about a House bill number 602P from a Congressman Schnell that would impose fees on use of e-mail. There is no such thing as either House bill 602P (that's not even a possible number), nor is there a Congressman Schnell.

Number 2: What do you mean we have to stand in the hall? 
See number 4. A request to meet in the hallway is simply an indication of space limitations. Nothing else.

Number 1: No, I don’t represent anyone from your district. I just thought you’d be interested in what I have to say. 
Members are elected to represent their constituents. Period. If you are not their constituent, you are not relevant to them. Some members do rise to higher positions, but that just means they represent the interest of other members, not the entire nation. Your time is always best spent working with your own elected official and turning them into an advocate for your cause.


-- By Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru, is of author five books on effective advocacy including the  The Influence Game. She is 20-year Washington, D.C. veteran, having served as a Congressional chief of staff and lobbyist. She lives and works in Washington, DC, offering workshops and trainings on effective advocacy. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Haven't we been here before?

CRs and Shutdowns

Unless Congress and President Trump act to prevent it, on Friday night at midnight, funding for the federal government will lapse, and the American public will witness another partial government shutdown. Politics aside, you are doubtlessly saying to yourself, “Haven’t we been here before?” In answering the question, one might look back to the shutdowns of 1995/1996 and 2013, or the numerous other instances in which such a situation was narrowly avoided.

Ideally, the president introduces his budget proposal in February, but it can often be (and frequently is) largely ignored by Capitol Hill. Congress, ideally, passes its budget resolution – a blueprint, if you will – by later that spring. This part rarely happens, and it doesn’t even appropriate any funding. In the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, 12 subcommittees are each tasked with writing bills for their government agencies, and getting those bills passed by their subcommittee, sent to the full committee, as well as brought to and passed on the floor. The bills are supposed to follow that budget that was to have been previously agreed upon by Congress. The House and Senate then negotiate back and forth, agree upon a conference bill, and ensure that the president signs the appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 of each year.

That almost never happens. Only four times, since the 1977 Fiscal Year, has the appropriations process worked as designed. For the 2002 Fiscal Year, Congress actually passed all of its budget bills, but it took 8 Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to get there first. That brings us to where we are this week. When Congress cannot agree on funding, often, they will pass a short-term bill that maintains spending at current levels. The current continuing resolution, to provide appropriations for many government agencies, expires at the end of the day, this Friday, on April 28th.

Congressional leaders and the White House maintain that they are attempting to pass and sign an omnibus bill for FY 2017 containing funding for the entire government passed this week, in time to avert a shutdown, but there are assuredly additional discussions about preparing a short-term CR to allow for more time to negotiate some of the disagreements between the various parties.

With so many interested parties with varying priorities, last-minute budget negotiations can often lead to one faction to include a priority that is anathema to others. Such “poison pills” on must-pass budget legislation have led to shutdowns before. As we move through the week, it’s safest to assume that no policy issue is necessarily safe from the discussion. 


-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates

Monday, April 17, 2017

It's a different year...

Regardless of your politics, it is difficult to deny that one of the themes of the year has been the power of people’s voices. Whether in protests on the streets, in town hall meetings, or in calls to Members of Congress, people have been making news while making their voices heard. The volume of calls coming into Capitol Hill has increased to an extraordinary level.

Contrary to what some may assume, Members of Congress often do love to hear from constituents and are interested in learning about what they can do to help people. When visiting the Capitol, advocates will find that certain strategies can ensure that Members of Congress and staffers are more likely to remember you and your message.

If you have been doing this for a while, you know the importance of having a continual relationship with someone on congressional staff.  It goes without saying that your personal stories, when coupled with an engaged and knowledgeable message go a long way.  Bring facts, figures, and information, but do not let that distract from the heart of your message.  All of this will reflect positively on your reputation as a source of knowledge, as well as that of your organization, and your public policy issue. If you are the most engaged and thoughtful meeting that someone has on their schedule that day, it will be appreciated and remembered by your congressman or senator.

With a new administration and a new congress, it has been a jam-packed spring, and making scheduled meetings has become even more crucial for everyone. If you are going to be a few minutes late to a meeting, reach out, let an office know. In the last couple of months, congressional office schedules have been more in flux than we have seen in the last few years, with occasional last-minute committee meetings or conference meetings. Be prepared for a number of possibilities. Some meetings may be moved to the hallway, or shortened by a few minutes, or others may need to be switched from a meeting with the Member of Congress to a meeting with staff. The congressional offices will do everything they can to ensure there is a meeting, but it’s always good to be prepared to walk and talk if needed.

By keeping those tips in mind your voice will stand out above the crowd, even in a time when so many other advocates and citizens are at their most engaged. 

-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates

Friday, December 16, 2016

What does Appropriations “Regular Order” really look like?

Last week Congress passed, and President Obama signed, another continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government for the first seven months of FY 2017.  The current CR that was enacted last week will fund the government until April 28, 2017 at FY’16 funding levels giving the incoming 115th Congress time to pass a permanent spending bill.  In these modern times of intense partisanship, funding our government has become a difficult legislative task and appropriation deadlines are more often not met leading to months long CR and sometimes government shutdowns.

Every year, Congressional leaders make promises to adhere to “regular order” to follow the budget and appropriations processes to pass all 12 appropriations bills on time.  The last time all 12 bills were enacted by the federal government’s October 1 start of the new fiscal year was 1996.  Since then most appropriations bills are wrapped up in large omnibus bills and passed many months past the October 1 deadline.  While budget and appropriations deadlines are rarely met, an understanding of what “regular order” looks like will help you in your advocacy efforts.  Below is a list of the timeline of the budget and appropriations process.

  • First Monday in February – The President submits his/her budget request to Congress, kicking off work on the next fiscal year’s federal spending.  The President’s budget request is just a guideline for how the White House would like to see the government funded.  Congress is under no obligation to take the President’s suggestions.  
  • February through May – Congressional Appropriation Committees and Subcommittees begin holding hearings on the President’s budget and begin drafting their own budget.  As a grassroots advocate, this is the best time during the cycle to have the greatest impact in advocating for your causes in the federal budget.
  • April 15 – Is the deadline for Congress to pass a budget resolution.  A budget resolution, among other things, sets the discretionary spending limits and sets spending caps for the Appropriations Committees.
  • May through July – Congress begins marking-up and passing appropriations bills. 
  • August – Congress is on it’s annual, month long recess, spending their time working in the district.  Staff will work and behind the scenes on appropriations bills.  No official work gets done at this time. 
  • September – Congress returns from recess with only a few weeks to finish up work on appropriations legislation.
  • October 1 – The new fiscal year begins and Congress must pass a spending bill or a CR or the government will shutdown.

-- By Jeff Kratz, Contributing Editor, The Sower Group

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Getting ready to turn the page

In this lame duck period (the legislative session between the election and the end of the year) Congress has a busy legislative agenda, which includes passing FY 2017 funding legislation and the National Defense Authorization Act, among others. While this “regular” work is being conducted, Congress is also busy transitioning for the new 115th Congress.

The newly elected incoming House members have just wrapped up two weeks of orientation.  During this time, new members received a crash course in how Capitol Hill works, met fellow incoming and current members, held fundraisers to help pay off outstanding election debt, and received office assignments through a lottery system. 

While the new members were in Washington it allowed for the Republican and Democrat Caucuses to prepare for the next Congress which will begin on January 3, 2017.  Here is what has been completed thus far:

House Democrats last week re-elected Nancy Pelosi of California to a sixth term as House Minority Leader. While she was re-elected on a 134-63 secret ballot vote, she did receive a strong challenge from Ohio Representative Tim Ryan. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland ran unopposed to remain his House Minority Whip position.

On the Republican side of the House aisle, Republicans have nominated Rep. Paul Ryan to continue to be speaker in the 115th Congress. An official vote for House Speaker will be in January. The Republicans also elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA) to continue to be House Majority Leader and Rep. Steve Scalise (LA) to again be House Majority Whip.

Last week, the Speaker’s Office released the Committee Chairs for the 115th Congress and the Majority Leader’s Office released the 2017 House calendar. House committees and subcommittees will be announced in January. 

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (KY) was re-elect to another term as Senate Majority Leader and Chuck Schumer (NY) was elected to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV).


As President-elect Trump is busy putting together his administration for next year, so too is the legislative branch of government. The picture of what the American government will look like for the next several years is starting to come into place, giving advocates the time to begin to put together their upcoming legislative strategies.

By Jeff Kratz, Contributing Author, The Sower Group

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lame Duck Session

It is an interesting time in Washington, a time that comes along only a couple of times in a decade.  In a few weeks a new Congress will be sworn in and a new President will be moving into the White House.  People all across town are trying to prepare for whatever changes come in the new Trump Administration.

This jockeying extends to the current 114th Congress and the changes from the recent election are impacting how this year finishes.  Decisions must still be made about government funding for FY17, which is currently under what's known as a Continuing Resolution (CR). That CR will run out on December 9th, which means that the government will shut down if the deadline isn't extended. Whether to extend the CR and for how long is a decision that will be made by current members of Congress, whether re-elected or not. This is what's known as a "lame duck" session.

Members of Congress will be working in their districts this week, as well as observing  Thanksgiving.  They will take up this issue of the CR upon their return to DC.House and Senate Republican leadership believes the best course of action is to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) until March 31, 2017, giving the new Congress, and new Republican President the chance to vote on the FY 2017 federal spending.House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) confirmed this approach in a comment the week of 11/13, saying  “The bottom line is that we must fulfill our constitutional duty to responsibly fund the federal government, and do right by the taxpayers who have elected us. To this end, my Committee will begin working immediately on a CR at the current rate of funding to extend the operations of our government through March 31, 2017."

So keep an eye out for what happens with the CR in the next few weeks. The battle over FY17 funding issues -- whether now or in the coming session -- will give us a sense of how stormy the relationship between Congress and the incoming administration will be.

-- By Jeff Kratz, Contributing Author, The Sower Group