Every political science student knows that the “real work” of the United States Congress is through the Members and the staff of the Committees and Subcommittees of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Influencing the legislative and policy positions of these bodies, and inter-relating them to the Executive branch agencies and White House can prove to be challenging. Moving or opposing bills and policies through this process can be equally frustrating, complicated and full of procedural “roadblocks” to fulfill any objective during the first session of the 116th Congress.
Strategic planning for influencing the new committee leadership begins with assessing the new Chairs of each Committee, as well as identifying their top staff. Both the Democratic and Republican leadership (Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference) announced new Chairs and Ranking Members before the State of the Union which occurred the first week of February this year due to the partial government shutdown. Subcommittee Chairs were announced shortly thereafter, followed by the rank and file members of each committee and subcommittee.
Aside from the administrative priorities of the Committee structure in the Congress, the leadership and staffs will be focused on the following:
- Create priorities for legislation that need to be re-introduced from the past Congress
- Determine what policy positions and key issues will be addressed during the Session
- Hiring (or letting go) professional staffs for the Committee or Subcommittee. In some cases, this might be acquiring very specialized backgrounds to meet new challenges (such as House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigations, Judiciary Committees antitrust issues and more).
- Determine priorities for topics of public hearings, especially budgets, to conduct a certain number of hearings during a Session.
Aside from disposition of the FY 2019 final allocations for the government, program review and priorities for new Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs and ranking minority members will begin early-to-mid March, as they wait in anticipation for the President’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Justifications for each agency and program. These are detailed multi-volume budget documents that are distributed by agency jurisdiction to the 12 Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
Based on the 2017-2018 115th Session calendars, planning for 2019 may include:
- Recognize the agency jurisdiction within a subcommittee and usually in March-April, 2019 agency heads will be witnesses to testify and answer questions from members on the FY 2020 budget requests;
- During this early hearing period, outside witnesses(public or other Members of Congress) may testify on specific program allocations or requests (if a witness can be approved for supporting an agency budget item that is critical to an objective, this would be a good opportunity);
- By the last week in April, 2019 (after the Easter-Passover recess) and in May, 2019 before the Memorial Day Recess (Week of May 27), Subcommittees may begin markups of their funding bills (creating legislation) and will forward to the full Committees sometime in June or July.
Each of the Committees has their own priority on public hearings and markup sessions on legislation that is referred to their jurisdiction. While Committees and Subcommittees vary in time spent on hearings, objectives to influence should consider the following for the 116th Congress:
- Determine early on in the Session priorities for legislation and policy to be presented, and follow through with leadership, both Members and staffs, face-to-face is preferable;
- Plan on a very different “track” for legislative activity in this new Congress with the House under Democratic leadership (looking towards the 2020 national elections (Presidential candidates have started announcing during 2019)—predictions are very concentrated initiatives (hearings, bills to the Senate, policy positions and more) in the January-July timeframe before the August Recess;
- Keep in mind that legislation introduced in 2019 “carries over” into the Second Session (2020) of the 116th Congress, so that there are second and third “bites to the apple” for legislation over a two year period;
- Know the jurisdiction of the Committees and Subcommittees and the new “directions” that will change in the 116th Congress (for example, the Democratic leadership will change the House Education and the Workforce Committee to House Education and Labor Committee—not just a word change but a policy direction as well)
The key to success is the hard work of preparing materials, meeting, influencing, networking and determining who is the best staff counsel or professional staff member to visit with on your issue, when to make the approach and how to get action for your objective.
Influencing Committees and Subcommittees is a major effort to achieve legislative and policy success in the coming Congressional Session. The McKeon Group is prepared for this challenge. Are you?