Welcome Back Congress You Have A Lot of Work to Do (So Do You Park and Rec Advocates)
Written by: Stacey Pine, NRPA Vice President of Government Affairs
Since January, the House and Senate have miraculously been able to reach consensus on 22 separate bills which have been sent to the President for his signature. Those bills, however, have not addressed many of the national policy issues that demand attention such as immigration, tax reform and reauthorization of the farm bill, which is set to expire in September. Congress has a lot of work to do and most pressing on the to-do list are the FY 2014 spending bills (appropriations) and an increase to our nation’s debt limit. If Congress doesn’t take action on these two measures, the result will be a government shutdown.
When Congress returns on September 9, the House has just 9 legislative days and the Senate 13 legislative days in which to act on the FY 2014 appropriations bills before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. The problem, however, is that there is approximately a $92 billion difference between the House and Senate budgets. The difference in the two budgets stems from the House adhering to cuts mandated by sequestration and the Senate ignoring the sequester mandate.
The difference in the House and Senate budgets highlights the vast differences that exist amongst Republicans and Democrats regarding funding for virtually all federal programs. None of the 12 FY 2014 spending bills have been passed by both chambers, and it is highly unlikely that the two parties and the two chambers will reach consensus on these bills prior to October 1.
To avoid a government shutdown, Congress will need to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) before October 1, which will keep the government operating at FY 2013 levels and provide Congress with more time to try to reach agreement. Passage of the CR may become turbulent as we could see a group of lawmakers attempt to use the CR as the platform for repealing the sequesters or insist on using it as a means to repeal Obamacare. Neither attempt is likely to succeed.
Another ticking time clock which requires Congressional action is raising the debt limit. This will likely need to be done by November. Because our nation’s spending exceeds revenue, the U.S. must borrow money in order to keep our government operational, and Congress gets to decide, and must approve, the amount of debt we can borrow. This continues to be an extremely controversial issue with Republicans insisting we can’t continue to raise the debt limit without a plan to curb entitlement. Unfortunately, the two parties have not yet been able to agree on the spending levels or where cuts should be made and Democrats are insistent that cuts must be accompanied by increased taxes- a non-starter for Republicans.
While we can expect a lot of “puffing” about a government shutdown, it is unlikely that we will actually see one this fall; the political stakes are just too high for both parties. Most likely, a short-term CR will be passed and the debt limit will be raised, but at a level much lower than the most recent increases. Because tax reform is interwoven with discussions on the debt limit, tax reform will be thrust into the spotlight by the debt limit debate, and Congress will begin to turn its attention to this topic.
So, what does this mean for park and recreation advocates?
It means that we can’t become complacent and we can’t stop sending messages to our Congressional leaders about the importance of funding for parks and recreation programs. While Congress is in a hurry up and do nothing mode, when it does act, it does so very expediently- often passing bills in the 11th hour. We can’t wait until the 11th hour to advocate for our priorities as doing so gives the impression that funding for park and recreation programs is not important. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has already zeroed out LWCF, which means no funding for the State Assistance program; we can’t just be silent on the elimination of this capstone program. Additionally, there is much at stake for park and recreation projects relative to tax reform. Serious discussions are taking place about eliminating or capping the municipal bond interest exemption. Such a move would significantly decrease the amount of municipal bond funding available for park, recreation, and many other projects.
Visit NRPA’s advocacy center today to obtain important talking points on the LWCF State Assistance Program and the municipal bond interest exemption, and make the time to invest in the future of parks and recreation by reaching out to your Members of Congress.
What concerns do you have if Congress moves to zero out LWCF? How about the issues around municipal bonds? What are some messages you’d like to tell Congress about the importance of parks and recreation? What are some ways you advocate regularly on behalf of parks and recreation? Share your thoughts and comments below.