Moving Legislation at the Federal Level: How It Works and What You Can Do Helen Blank PLAN Fall Retreat October 2011 [email protected] To Everything There is a Season The Federal Budget Process Examples of Discretionary and Mandatory Spending Discretionary (Appropriated) •Education •Head Start and Child Care •Veterans benefits •Highway funding •Housing assistance •Environmental Protection Agency •Defense spending Mandatory (Entitlements) •Social Security •Medicare •Medicaid •SCHIP •TANF and Child Care 1st Monday in Feb. President submits his budget Congress Debates its Oct. 1 Start Fiscal Year April 15 Final Budget Resolution due from Congress Budget Late Spring / Summer Appropriations Process Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec President’s Budget House Budget -Committee drafts -Sent to floor for amendments and vote Senate Budget -Committee drafts -Sent to floor for amendments and vote Conference Report -Passed in both chambers -sets overall discretionary amount for appropriators to divide House Appropriations Bills -One for each sub-committee each giving money to specific programs -First marked up in sub-committees -Next marked up in full committee -Each bill voted on separately on the floor Senate Appropriations Bills - One for each sub-committee each giving money to specific programs -First marked up in sub-committees -Next marked up in full committee -Each bill voted on separately on the floor Each appropriations bill is conferenced, then the conference report must pass each chamber. The Budget Resolution What Does a Budget Do? • The budget resolution specifies how much the federal government can spend on government functions –not for each program! • Specifies how much Congress can increase or cut spending and taxes. • Does not SPEND any funds or CUT any taxes – other bills are required to do that. Is the Budget different from other legislation? • Budget resolutions are non-binding – they are blueprints, not laws. • Budget resolutions can COMPEL Congress to act in certain ways – for example, by making rules changes or requiring reconciliation bills to be drafted. • In the Senate the budget cannot be filibustered. Appropriations Bills • Provides money for each discretionary program for an entire fiscal year. • When Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year, it passes a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running. • CRs usually at previous year’s funding levels. Can be less. • Often Congress wraps multiple appropriations bills into an omnibus bill (several appropriations bills tied together). What is Reconciliation? • Reconciliation is a legislative procedure that enables Congress to enact certain priorities in a budget resolution – usually ones that are politically difficult to achieve. • A budget resolution may include language directing one or more authorizing committees to draft reconciliation legislation. • Reconciliation bills are not treated very differently from other bills in the House, but they are in the Senate. • Reconciliation provisions must relate to revenue. Authorizing Bills • Authorizing bills create or reauthorize programs, change policies, and also set discretionary spending ceilings for a program or authorize mandatory spending levels. • Authorizing bills that authorize discretionary spending levels do not actually produce spending –appropriations does that. Authorizing Bills – Committee Action • Both the House and Senate Committees can (but not always) have hearings before a program is reauthorized. • Both the House and Senate Committees normally (but not always) “mark up” or write and vote on a bill to reauthorize a program. Authorizing Bills – Floor Action • After “mark up,” bills go to the floor of the House and Senate where they can further change by amendment. • Amendments in the House are almost always limited and almost never pass. • Amendments in the Senate are unlimited – and consequently, the outcomes are also unlimited. Authorizing Bills – End Game • House authorizing bills usually are debated for a limited time before a final vote. • Senate authorizing bills can take forever to come to a final vote, and sometimes never do, especially if they are filibustered. • Only after both houses have passed a bill can the different versions be conferenced, or ironed out. Conferencing bills can take a long time. • If an authorizing bill does not get enacted before there is a new Congress the bill has to go back to square one. Final Thoughts on Authorizing Bills • If a program is not reauthorized before its expiration date, Congress may extend the program. • If a program is extended it usually has no new policies and also no new money. • Congress can still increase funding for the program. • Congress can also authorize appropriations bills. Federal Advocacy Making Your Voice Heard Why Federal Advocacy Matters • State rely on the federal government for approximately 25% of their funds – Federal budget cuts can yield state budget cuts in health, child care, education, public safety, etc. – Tax cuts targeted to higher income people leave less federal revenue. – If federal funds don’t meet inflation or increased demands – states are faces with dedicating more state funds or making cuts. Building an Effective Voice • Why does it matter? – Federal budget doesn’t have to balance, but state budgets MUST balance! – State are left to do a balancing act. Learn the Lay of the Land • Work with national groups – Constituents matter – you are the local connection. – Raise issues of concern in your state. Learn the Lay of the Land from NWLC and Other National Partners • They can distill the federal issues. • They direct you when to act, who to reach out to, what’s the message. • They link you to broader efforts with colleagues around the nation. Build a Strong Case • Work with national groups to customize the ask to your state and community. – Need indicators – numbers, words, stories, images that will grab and hold attention. – Make the direct connection to the Congressional member’s district. • Be a resource to congressional offices. Adopt Your Lawmakers • Lawmakers respond to their constituents. • Your voice does count - a few calls and letters make a HUGE difference. • Member must detect broad support in their own backyards before they give support. • Silence from constituents creates indifference in the US Capitol. How to Start • Learn about your members…their education, professional and family background, interests, campaign commitments. • Write a letter of introduction to the member. – Introduce yourself, your issue, how it impacts their constituents and district. – Add a news clip, interesting study, annual report. – Follow up with a phone call and ask for a meeting. • Have your hand full, not a hand out… Build the Relationship • Face-to-face meetings. – Make an appointment when they’re in the district. • Present information on your program. • Bring others – parents, teachers, business people, community leaders – to demonstrate diverse support. • Invite lawmakers to tour a local program. – Take photographs for lawmaker’s newsletter or your program’s newsletter – make sure parents are present. • Invite lawmakers to attend local events. – Include the media. – Acknowledge their attendance. Keep in Touch • Follow-up with additional information. • Get to know staff – Washington and district. – Members deal with countless issues each day, staff is central to your relationships and success. • Offer your help as a resource. • Send them news clips and reports. • Asking for their support in critical times becomes much easier. Other Key Things to Consider • Be informed. – Know the issue and any pertinent legislation – use national partners for help. • Be positive. • Personalize the member’s district, but NEVER make it personal. • Thank them for their help…even when it doesn’t seem like much. Mobilizing & Coalition Building • Educate the troops. – Demystify how the federal work gets done and the importance of engagement. – Advocacy training, support material development and dissemination. – Make federal action a regular part of your coalition meetings. – People may be resistant. • Too much state and local work to do. • They don’t know the federal process. • Seems distant and disconnected. Building an Effective Voice • Develop a mobilization plan. – How to reach the network quickly, encourage the network to speak out at key moments, frame the communication for members. • Mobilize the network. – Regular newsletters to keep them informed. – Action Alerts through listservs – but only when they are needed – help people balance. – Use new strategies such as videos. – Urge regular interaction with policymakers. • Work with Grasstops. – Business leaders. – Religious leaders.