You Can Influence the Budget Process
By Jim Cason on 08/18/2011 @ 11:30 AM
Members of Congress are out of town for the rest of August visiting with constituents and taking holidays. But behind the scenes staff and key lawmakers are moving on several tracks to make decisions that could affect FCNL priorities.
As constituents, your voices are particularly important right now. Rather than getting bogged down on the process details, we believe that our FCNL network will be most effective by continuing to insist that any new government spending plan should include $1 trillion in cuts to Pentagon spending, investments in creating jobs and provisions to make everyone pay their fair share. For ideas on how you can do this, check out FCNL's May/June Newsletter "What Difference Does Lobbying Make?"
This work is particularly important right now because, for the first time in decades, Congress has put cuts in Pentagon spending on the negotiating table. In response, the Secretary of Defense and Pentagon contractors have launched a massive public relations campaign to make sure that the cuts in Pentagon spending are as small as possible.
Where You Can Influence the Process
Most of the headlines have been about the Gang of 12 that is trying to reach agreement on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years. If you are in the state or district of one of these members of Congress, your letters and efforts to lobby will be especially important.
Letters to these particular legislators, visits to their offices by delegations that have broad community representation, and letters to the editor will all be important. We at FCNL have a series of recommendations on how to move forward. The top priority for FCNL is to make sure that whatever final agreement the 12 lawmakers make includes at least the $1 trillion in cuts to Pentagon spending as recommended by the Sustainable Defense Taskforce Report that was issued last year. When you go on your lobby visit or send in an email, I would recommend including this summary of the task force findings and asking for a response.
But you don't have to be a constituent of the Gang of 12 to have an impact. In the next few months both the House and the Senate will be deciding on final spending for the government's fiscal year 2012. First up on the Congressional calendar in September will be Pentagon spending.
Our sense is that many members of Congress agree that the United States cannot afford to continue increasing war spending. Yet members of Congress are concerned that any vote against Pentagon spending will be seen as a vote against soldiers and could come back to haunt them at election time. Your efforts to demonstrate that at a time of budget constraints, people in their constituencies support Pentagon cuts will be very important.
Talk with other people in your community. Find out what types of cuts are being contemplated in your state. Write letters to your senators and representatives that talk about the needs in your community and ask what kinds of choices he or she is making in terms of the federal government budget. Then suggest that your senators and representative look at the Sustainable Defense Taskforce report and consider supporting the cuts suggested in that report. Ask your elected officials in Washington for a specific response.
The next step is to let others in your community know that you have contacted your lawmakers and ask them to do the same. Think about who you know in your community that might be particularly influential, or particularly surprising for your senators and representative to hear from. See if you can start a conversation with those people as well.
Our sense here at FCNL is that this type of consistent engagement throughout the fall with every member of Congress could make a real difference. Even after the Senate finishes the military appropriations bill, many lawmakers will be providing input into the long-term task force that is looking for ways to cut the deficit. And we expect additional opportunities to influence this debate.
There is much more that also needs to be done. For example:
* Bridget Moix has written an important alert about FCNL's effort to prevent cuts to funds that can prevent wars is very important especially in the next month.
* Cutting the budget for nuclear weapons is also an important priority. Check out the data from FCNL's David Culp that is on the Union of Concerned Scientists website.
* My colleague Marcia Cleveland also has an important argument that cutting oil and gas subsidies would make sense in terms of environmental policy and could save move.
* I'm also very supportive of the efforts by the Sunlight Foundation and other groups to make the decisions about what Congress does to address the budget deficit as transparent as possible. Check out their 5 steps the Gang of 12 supercommittee should take for a transparent process.