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