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Public Affairs

No Budget, No Pay: Another Sign of New Budget Scrutiny

In 56 of the last 60 years, the U.S. Congress has failed to pass all of its authorization and appropriations bills on time. If a growing chorus of media pundits and good-government advocacy groups has its way, that won’t be the case in 2013.
That’s because critics of congressional futility and gridlock are transforming the budget process into a rallying cry. To them – and an increasing number of Americans who hold their legislature in historically low esteem – Congress’ continued failure to exercise its “power of the purse” is a symbol of all that is wrong with politics today. And they are leveraging it to force House and Senate leaders to prove Speaker Boehner’s declaration that Members are in Washington D.C. “not to be something; but to do something.”
In a symbolic gesture toward that sentiment, the House will vote this week on a measure widely known as No Budget, No Pay. The bill is simple and straightforward. If the House fails to pass a budget, members don’t get paid. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has also indicated that his chamber is committed to passing a budget this year – and he seems to have support for the notion on both sides of the aisle.
While none of the above guarantee passage of a budget this year, there is a sense of urgency building around the issue. Add the debt ceiling and impending sequestration to the mix, and there are even greater indications that the 113th Congress cannot afford to kick the fiscal can down the road with continuing resolution after continuing resolution.
What all of this means, at the very least, is that the FY2014 federal budget is in for far more scrutiny than in recent years – both in the press and the halls of power. Every line item will fall under the magnifying glass. Every grant, subsidy, and expenditure will be examined. Most important, there is the potential for every recipient of federal funding to be tossed around like a political football as Democrats and Republicans haggle over the specifics.
As such, there is a growing need for the businesses and interests that depend upon federal dollars and tax exemptions – from small farms to global energy giants – to prepare to defend themselves in the Court of Public Opinion. At a time when any one of them can become the next poster child for out-of-control spending or shady back-room dealing, they need to be ready to respond.
That means communicating the organization’s value to local communities and furtherance of national priorities – and doing so now as a means to condition any possible debate before it begins.
It means building and engaging armies of support (both on the ground and in social media) before an issue arises, so they can instantly come to the organization’s defense should it come under fire.
And, among a number of other strategic objectives, it means building relationships with the influential journalists and bloggers that will shape the conversation. Here again, that Washington D.C. wisdom “know em’ before you need em’” is the rule of thumb.
Lobbying and behind the scenes negotiations may get your line item in the budget; but when high-profile criticism arises, they often aren’t enough to keep it intact. Your champions in Congress may need political cover to justify their actions. At a time when that’s as likely a scenario as ever, make sure you are ready to provide it.
Dan Rene is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.

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Senior Vice President

Dan Rene possesses more than a decade of trusted communications experience in media relations and crisis communications. His background includes political campaign management, legislative advocacy, grassroots initiatives, and corporate...