White House released its FY 2018 Budget requests. Now the Congressional work begins.

Earlier this week, the White House released its FY 2018 Budget Request. This is different than the so-called “skinny budget ” that was released in March. The skinny budget is a sort of blue print that provides Congress with the Administration’s wish-list of spending requests, as well as basic economic forecasts. This administration’s skinny budget focused almost exclusively on discretionary spending, and very little on mandatory spending, which includes programs like Social Security and Medicare.

(Want a refresher on budget terms? This blog post can help!)

The proposal released this week is a more comprehensive document that includes detailed budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on October 1. This latest budget proposal includes how much money the federal government should spend on public purposes, how much it should gain in tax revenues, and how much of a deficit or surplus it will create.

But this budget proposal is just that: a proposal. While it is important because it signals an administration’s policy priorities, the budget ultimately needs to go through Congress before it gets adopted, via the Budget Resolution process.

Over the coming weeks, Congress will hold hearings to evaluate the White House’s requests, as well as develop its own plan, referred to as the budget resolution.  This work is done by both the House and Senate Budget Committees.  (Be sure to check out both the Senate Budget Committee  and House Budget Committee websites, which includes hearing schedules and list of members.)

Once both House and Senate resolutions are finalized in committee, they go to the floor for a vote in each chamber. Then, any differences will be reconciled in what’s called a conference report, and the resolution goes into effect when both chambers pass that report. (It’s worth noting that a resolution needs at least 60 votes to pass.)

The Congressional Budget Resolution process provides opportunities for the nonprofit sector to advocate for the communities they serve.

During the next week, many congresspeople will be doing in district work where they will be meeting with constituents to get feedback and discuss policy issues with them.  This presents a window of action for nonprofit sector activists to converse with their federal representatives to express their concerns about the profound cuts to programs that are so vital to the communities we serve.

With such a massive tangle to wrestle with, we as a sector are faced with questions on how to grapple with such a bear of a budget proposal. It’s a hard problem, but is something that we as a sector need to respond to, despite it being assessed as “dead on arrival”.

These budget cuts are extreme versions of previous congressional proposals, which present a strategic challenge for nonprofit advocacy. Congress may say that these particular proposals are “dead on arrival”, but that means even marginally less drastic cuts seem acceptable by comparison. Additionally, the wide sweeping cuts mean everyone will be fighting for their piece of the pie. So what are some ways to think about our advocacy during the difficult conversations that we’re facing with our legislators?

1.       Promote and frame these programs as adding value to our communities.

This budget proposal is scary, and will make us feel like we’re on the defense. But remember that our work and advocacy go beyond this budget. Rather than playing budget cut whack-a-mole, proactive messaging that highlights how these programs build thriving, healthy communities can have a lasting impact on our sector.

2.       Remember that we are interconnected!

While you are a strong advocate for your organization’s mission, advocacy that reflects the interconnectedness of the nonprofit sector will help create a robust and influential advocacy environment. Even when we are successful in advocating for our own missions, a strong interconnected community will help assure long term protections against future budget cuts.

So, take heart, dear friends, and remember that the release of the White House Budget proposal is not the law of the land, but rather, it has started the congressional budget process. And you have ways of engaging effectively with your federal legislators.

Additional Resources:

Minnesota Budget Project Federal budget analysis

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities federal budget analysis

National Council of Nonprofits statement

For strategies on how to engage with your congress person, the Federal Policy Campaign has some resources that outline effective methods.

Have specific concerns you want to discuss? Contact Corinna Turbes at cturbes@minnesotanonprofits.org