Both the US House and Senate will reconvene in the Nation’s Capitol on Monday, September 9th, and their deliberations on a host of critical funding and policy bills over a 120 day period until the end of this year will have key deadlines and decisions, will be decided by few leaders and staffs, and impact trillions of dollars and programs. Have you prepared for these outcomes? Do you know the process well enough to make a difference for your objectives? Do you know when and who to influence in what is the “end game” in the legislative process?
During this Fall/Winter period these are some of the key pressure points to consider:
- The September 30 deadline for the end of Fiscal Year 2019 and the October 1 beginning of Fiscal Year 2020 poses extreme pressure on both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to complete their legislation—the Senate will just begin their process when they return after September 9th.
- Whether it is a “minibus”(with two or three appropriations bills) an “omnibus” or Continuing Resolution (known as a CR which continues the present funding levels to a future decision date), knowing where your interests are in the process, what provisions are included in these bills, and tracking the amendments and floor votes is critical;
- For those following the process for next FY2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has deadlines in November for what is called “pass backs” of requests by the Agencies for changes in their budget requests and a final White House/OMB decision by the end of the year;
The time to engage on your issues also becomes problematic. After eight months of public hearings, bill introductions, House and Senate Members and staff meetings, the pressure to “get key things done before the end of the year,” becomes greater. The following are examples of these “pressures;”
- Consideration and completion of the FY2020 federal budget;
- Fundraising and campaign activities for most of the 435 House members not retiring in 2020 but running for re-election and encountering primary challengers and major party opposition. Twelve Democratic and Twenty-two Republican Senate seats are up in 2020;
- Numerous statutes expire in this 120 day period and must be “reauthorized” by Congress to continue these programs. An example would be the National Flood Insurance Program. Legislation is now being finalized for this process which involves many committees on both sides of Congress;
When we talk of time, there is really not that much left in the legislative agenda for the 120 day period. For example, the House and Senate meet for three full weeks, from September 9-27, but the first two weeks in October is a “recess” and then they reconvene October 15-31 with about four weeks of work until the projected end of this session in December 12-13, prior to Christmas. This means less time to achieve your objectives.
How best to prepare for this onslaught of decisions made outside the normal process is based primarily on understanding the rules, knowing the right leaders and staffs, and identifying the right time to influence. Let us take the area of national defense as an example.
National Defense “countdown” of 120 day Congressional decisions
You have reviewed the 400+ amendments inserted into the final version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization (for programs and top funding levels) House bill, H.R.2500. You are pleased (or not) in this outcome and the bill has been sent to the Senate. Now what?
- The Senate bill, S.1790, has already been completed and approved. The next step is for the House and Senate Speaker and Majority Leader to appoint conferees to meet together to resolve the differences in these bills.
- The Speaker appoints two top leaders or three or even one House member who has interests in the defense bill and ALL committees have these conferees for this purpose. Last year over 30+ House senior leaders were in the Conference deciding language and policy/funding;
- A Conference Report will be presented to each body very quickly once they meet. Last year, FY2019 NDAA, the conference met within two days and filed their final bill and report which was voted on the next day by the House and a week later by the Senate.
- Reaching leaders and staffs in a usually ‘closed” conference setting on issues must be done weeks, if not months ahead of time.
In the defense area this is also true for the FY2020 DoD Appropriations bill which was passed last year within five days by the Senate and 13 days for the House after the Conference Committee completed its report. Decisions this year on an authorization level for appropriations spending levels of $738-750B is quite significant.
For funding bills totaling thousands of pages, or other “must pass” legislation perhaps hundreds of pages, the next 120 days of the “end game” require the following vigilance:
- Have access to the leaders of committees of jurisdiction and their top professional majority and minority staffs;
- Know your positions relative to how the process is unfolding—in other words, keep up with changes in bills, amendments, and floor substitute language changes to bills;
- Provide arguments for positions and perhaps consider “Report Language” in the final Conference Reports that seek to explain or clarify for the agencies the positions to implement these policy and funding allocations;
- Watch and be alert during the holiday seasons (November and December)—you may think things have ended, but late at night, while they are in session, bill language can be deleted/ be changed, and you need constant day-to-day viewing of your priorities.
The “end game” in Washington, DC is complete with agencies spending what they can before the clock ends on September 30th and provides “mischief” for many Capitol Hill members and staff that needs attention. Are you ready? The McKeon Group is!
Contact the author:
John Chwat, Senior VP, McKeon Group