The inability of Congress to pass the 12 spending bills making up the federal budget on time and in regular order presents an opportunity for advocates and communicators.
While the two FY 2020 minibus appropriations measures were just signed into law in December days before the holiday break, it’s now already time to assess the multiple policy and funding provisions that are contained in the massive committee reports accompanying the spending bills.
The mega appropriations measures included a federal pay raise, resolved pension funds for retired miners and substantive policy riders such as the repeal of three health taxes and the raising of the tobacco age to 21.
The minibus that was enacted is a perfect example of why advocacy groups need to be at the table throughout the appropriations process. If not, they could find themselves on the menu in a heartbeat. There were certainly winners and losers in the minibus passage and many of those results can be attributed to the 11 months of work leading up to the Christmas deadline.
For example, other riders on the spending legislation include:
- A seven-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank;
- A seven-year reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program;
- Extension of the National Flood Insurance Program through Sept. 30, 2020.
- Two years of additional funding for the Secure Rural Schools program; and
- Extension for a decade of the 2010 law’s Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
If your organization wasn’t positively or negatively affected by the minibus packages, the last several weeks are still a classic case study of the power of appropriations advocacy and lobbying.
As the advocacy community begins the New Year, the work continues. Observant lobbyists, grassroots specialists, and consultants are preparing for the President’s FY 2021 budget submission and House/Senate Appropriations Committee deadlines for program and project requests as well as budget justification hearings. Appropriations outreach should be one of the many legislative vehicles that advocacy groups look to move this Congress.
Most people, including those seasoned advocates in the nation’s capital, think only members in leadership or on the Appropriations Committee can strike gold. That’s simply not the case. If your representatives and senators follow the Appropriations Subcommittee deadlines and have a reasonable request, then you should activate your advocacy resources appropriately. It’s integral that you visit/follow up with the right staff to help craft appropriations language that stands a chance at remaining in a must pass spending bill.
The divided Congress, and a president who has specific funding/policy objectives to retain his base of support has led to a disruptive, yet opportunistic appropriations environment. The disruptive nature of policymaking is a political reality in the current environment.
This presents opportunities to influence policymaking through the appropriations process that aren’t necessarily funding driven measures. Constituent, measured, and multi-faceted advocacy will increase the likelihood of getting something across the finish line this year. For prime examples of this tactical approach, look no further than the negotiations that led to multiple policy and funding victories in the final FY 2020 bills.
Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C., office of Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in the West Virginia University Reed College of Media’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.
Joshua Habursky is the Head of Federal Affairs at the Premium Cigar Association and Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.