Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Congress Sets Spending Levels for First Six Months of FY13- Learn How to Prepare Your Advocates for FY13 and Beyond

Immediately prior to adjourning until after the election, Congress approved a six-month spending bill that will keep the government running when the current fiscal year ends on Sunday. Join Advocacy Associates on Thursday for the first of two free webinars on how to prepare your advocates for the election season, the new fiscal year, and beyond. Registration is now open.

The continuing resolution sets spending levels until March 27, 2013 at the $1.047 trillion level agreed upon in the Budget Control Act, the deal reached last summer to raise the debt ceiling. The spending cap for FY13 is slightly higher than FY12 levels, which will boost programs by .621% across the board and will allow $1.992 billion in additional funding to go to various projects and disaster relief.

The agreement marks a compromise between the House and the Senate, which based its individual spending bills on wildly differing topline levels. Conservative members of the House had been pushing the budget resolution introduced by Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would have lowered overall spending for FY13 by $19 billion. The Senate, on the other hand, supported the topline numbers agreed upon in the BCA.  In what seemed like a contradictory vote, the bill passed handily in the House, but passed by a narrower margin in the Senate. The President is expected to sign it into law this week.

After the election, fiscal issues such as sequestration, tax reform, and deficit control will dominate the lame duck session of Congress. Join Advocacy Associates for two free webinars to help you prepare your advocates and policy issues for the election season and beyond, regardless of the outcome of the election. Register here

Friday, September 21, 2012

Congratulations to the City of Greensboro- Winners of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge Grant

Yesterday, the Obama Administration announced the winners of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge, a grant competition designed to generate innovative ideas to develop long-term economic and job growth plans. Advocacy Associates congratulates the City of Greensboro for the recognition of their hard work to foster economic development in the area and the opportunity to expand their projects.

The City of Greensboro was selected to allow the city to access additional resources to develop a comprehensive plan that will incorporate several on-going economic development projects. The comprehensive plan will better leverage five major industry clusters in and around the region, and will influence the next 50 years of growth in the city.

The Strong Cities, Strong Communities Program, launched in July of 2011, is an interagency program to foster economic development in neighborhoods, towns, cities and regions by giving communities extra capacity to develop and execute economic strategies.

The Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge is being administered by the Economic Development Administration. The award is divided into two phases.  First, grantees will seek economic development proposals from teams comprised of a range of transportation, planning, economic, business, and engineering experts, which will be voted on by a city-appointed panel. Then, the winning teams will develop and submit comprehensive, strategic economic development plans, and the panel will select a winning plan. The cities will receive technical assistance from the Economic Development Administration throughout the entire process. Hartford, CT and Las Vegas also received grants. More information about the awards and the program is available here.

Advocacy Associates provides the City of Greensboro with legislative monitoring, strategic advice, and advocacy network assistance services.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Winning, No Matter Who Wins

It's frustrating to see constant poll results identifying our nation's "most important problem" when the word bank voters are given to choose from is really small. What about improved transportation choices? Library funding? Stroke prevention? Workforce development? What about your issue?

In addition to worrying about whether the right issues are being discussed, there is the problem of identifying and electing the best advocates for your cause to Congress or City Council. At this point in the election season we are inundated daily with messages proclaiming doom if "the other guy" wins. It can be tempting to spend time calculating the exact results necessary on Election Day to ensure your organization's cause has a chance.

Advocacy Associates believes that with the right preparation, you can have your issue and advocates winning, no matter who wins. With a combined total of over 50 years of experience in grassroots communications and government relations, Advocacy Associates wants to help government affairs and grassroots professionals prepare their advocates and issues for election season and beyond.

This fall, we are providing two free webinars to help your organization get started mobilizing advocates, increasing issue visibility, preparing for post-election turnover, understanding what's at play during the Lame Duck, and defining your legislative strategy while everyone else is focused on the political.

Thursday, September 27, 3:00pm ET
Pre-Election Preparations
Register Here

Thursday, November 15, 3:00pm ET
Post-Election Strategy
Register Here

We look forward to talking advocacy with you!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The New Fashion Statement: Boot Straps

New York Fashion Week wrapped up recently and I’m surprised there weren’t more boot-straps on the catwalks.  I mean, all the politicians are wearing them these days.  In fact, it seems impossible to run successfully for office without having pulled oneself out of the rubbish heap by one's own boot-straps.  Does anyone else find the “I suffered more afflictions than you” rhetoric a little overwhelming?

I get that anyone running for office wants to make the “I've lived the American rags-to-riches dream” case.  But I don’t think someone with a Harvard Law degree (Obama) or someone who lives on GM stock (Romney) qualifies as “underprivileged,” no matter the amount of rust on their car (again Obama) or the composition of their dining table (an ironing board, per Romney).   

I also wonder how a “rags to riches” story helps make the “I feel your pain” argument.  Most people in America don’t have a “rags to riches” story. The majority of us have a “rags-from-K-Mart” to “somewhat-nicer-rags-from-Macy’s” story: sometimes a slight rise, sometimes a slight fall, but not usually too dramatic a swing.

We’ve let the “boot-strap appeal “permeate our culture, and I’m as much a problem as anyone else.  For example, I’m currently obsessed with the TV show “The Voice.” Very few of the contestants come to the show with what most of us would call a traditional upbringing.  And you know you’re going to hear their sad story when the depressing background music starts playing in the middle of their introduction. In our household, we’ve started a game of guessing “what’s the affliction” every time someone comes on the screen.  

I recognize that probably sounds insensitive.  The truth is that people do overcome amazing hurdles, even in the political world.  And some of those hurdles are higher than others. I'm proud to live in a culture that embraces entrepreneurship and drive, making it easier to get over those hurdles and allowing more people to earn their way to a better life and increased net worth.

At the same time, the current stress on these “humble beginnings” arguments insult those with truly humble beginnings -- or even middles.  With so many people living below the poverty line and so many people struggling to find jobs, it's hard for me to believe that a Barack Obama or a Mitt Romney can truly identify with them.  I know I can't, so I wouldn't try to pretend to do so. All I can try to do is try to help.

As the election drones on, and as long as there continues to be a rhetorical advantage to these arguments, they’re going to keep coming.  Believe me, I feel your pain on that.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Farm Bill Expires in 17 Days- Uncertainty Continues

Congress has returned from its August district work period and the Farm Bill continues to have a very uncertain future. Yesterday, the Farm Bill Now Coalition of 80 organizations held a rally in Washington D.C. that was well attended by farmers and ranchers from all over the country. Much of the country wants a bill to be passed, but there is still uncertainty about how Congress will move forward.  Below are the possible scenarios for the Farm Bill.

·         Five year Farm Bill is passed- The goal would be to have a five year Farm Bill passed and sent to the president before October 1. Unfortunately, this would be extremely difficult with the few legislative days left before the elections and the House leaderships’ unwillingness to risk a divided party. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is now pushing for the House to pass a five year bill so that a conference can occur and a bill can be passed in November after the elections. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-ND) are attempting to go around House leadership by filing a discharge petition. If their petition receives 218 signatures, then the bill could move to the floor to be debated and voted on.

·         One year extension and a separate draught assistance bill- This seems to be the answer that leadership in the House is really pushing for. Although a straight continuation of the Farm Bill would allow many programs to expire, a modified version will likely be put forth after the elections. The House has already passed a draught assistance bill, but the Senate is unlikely to take up this bill. The Senate’s argument is that draught assistance is included in the five year Farm bill already passed in the Senate and a one year extension will not bring certainty to the Agricultural sector.

·         No bill is passed- This is the worst case scenario. In this situation, the Farm Bill expires on October 1 and Congress fails to act to pass either an extension or a five year bill. Agricultural laws would revert back to laws from the 1940s. Some have said that this would not be that disastrous because most programs would continue to run until spring time when the farmers begin to harvest.

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Friday, September 07, 2012

Romney’s Housing Plan Could Make Homeownership More Difficult

Recently, candidate Mitt Romney released his vision for the future of the American housing market. Included in his proposal to fix the housing market is a combination of economic growth strategies and a strikingly vague list of how he’s going to stop foreclosures, dispose of vacant homes, and reform regulation. Some of these proposals sound familiar, such as his idea to “facilitate creative alternatives to foreclosure for those who cannot afford to pay their mortgage,” which  in theory is extremely similar to  Making Home Affordable (HAMP), a current Obama Administration program.

Unsurprisingly, he also supports the privatization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a popular position among Republicans since the Government Sponsored Enterprises were placed under conservatorship in 2008. What many people don’t realize is that if the GSEs are transitioned to the private market, this means that all mortgages will transition to standards set by the private market. While having high lending standards is certainly important and could have gone a long way to prevent the very housing woes we are experiencing now, the private market has responded with credit standards that are too tight even for responsible, credit-worthy borrowers. Eliminating the GSEs will likely make it even more difficult for Americans to obtain mortgages; without the financial backing of the Federal government, lenders will be even less likely to lend to borrowers who don’t have pristine credit scores and a 20% down payment.

His plan is more worrisome when taking into consideration his proposal to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When asked what government departments he would eliminate if elected to office, Romney said, “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, might not be around later.” In addition to providing housing vouchers for the lowest income Americans and funding for community development projects, HUD also operates the Federal Housing Administration. If his plan is to eliminate all of HUD, presumably it would also include eliminating the FHA. For many Americans without the means to make a 20% down payment, FHA loans are the only way to achieve homeownership. This is particularly true for first-time homebuyers, who haven’t yet built up home equity and don’t have access to the amount of cash necessary to make a 20% down payment. As the private market tightens lending standards, the FHA has frequently been the only alternative for legitimately credit worthy borrowers, growing from only 2% of mortgages prior to the housing crisis to 30% today. The FHA is crucial for many Americans trying to transition into the middle class; eliminating both the FHA and the GSEs could make the dream of homeownership suddenly unattainable for a very large percentage of Americans.

There is no quick fix for the housing industry or the overall economy, but Romney’s position seems to suggest that there are easy, step-by-step solutions that President Obama refuses to take. Preserving the ability of middle class Americans to achieve the goal of homeownership should be an important aspect (though, not the only component) of any candidate’s housing plan. Unfortunately, Romney’s plan, while well-intentioned, appears as though it will make that dream even more difficult for Americans to achieve. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Don't Worry. Be At Least Marginally Happy.

Lobbyists and special interests take themselves too seriously and work too hard.  There, I said it.  I know this because I’m one of them.  Having just come off a vacation where I TRIED to relax a little in Key West, got caught in Hurricane Isaac, got bored and, as a result, worked several hours per day, I definitely felt I spent the Labor Day break, well, laboring.

That’s why I was so intrigued by this article in the Washington Post about a guy who holds up “honk if you love someone,” “smile,” and “today is awesome” signs on commuting routes in and around Washington, D.C. 

My first thought was, “hmmm, kind of a dork.” My second thought was, “hey, wait a minute, that’s sort of cool.” My third thought was “where is he? I want to go see him.”

Sometimes we’re so busy legislating, lobbying, influencing and “convention-ing” we forget that it’s OK to have a little bit of fun.  Many, many, many people come to Washington, D.C. to achieve their own definition of “what’s good,” and we should all be proud and excited to work on that.  Sure, our definition may not be the same as someone else’s. The fun is in convincing people they are horribly misguided.

As for me, I’m particularly fond of the “don’t be so hard on yourself” sign. This is a useful sentiment when Congress isn’t going to be doing anything and one feels, well, less than productive.  And perhaps we can spread the good vibes by being less hard on others as well unless, of course, they deserve it.