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)
•Head Start and Child Care
•Veterans benefits
•Highway funding
•Housing assistance
•Environmental Protection Agency
•Defense spending
Mandatory (Entitlements)
•Social Security
•TANF and Child Care
1st Monday in Feb.
President submits his budget
Oct. 1
Start Fiscal
April 15
Final Budget Resolution
due from Congress
Late Spring / Summer
Appropriations Process
Mar Apr
June July Aug
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
• 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
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
• 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
• 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
• 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,
– 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
– Federal budget
doesn’t have to
balance, but state
budgets MUST
– State are left to do
a balancing act.
Learn the Lay of the Land
• Work with national
– Constituents matter
– you are the local
– Raise issues of
concern in your
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
• Get to know staff – Washington and
– 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.

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