How PLC Engages the Federal Appropriations Process to Help Ranchers
Engaging in the Federal Appropriations Process
Last week, the Public Lands Council kicked off a multi-part series delving into the appropriations process as it relates to opportunities in influencing policy. In our initial segment, we talked about the difference between mandatory and discretionary spending. Mandatory spending is a formulated amount of money decided by Congress in legislation (like Medicare and Social Security). Discretionary spending is spending on programs that are not specifically defined in legislation (like funding for wildfires and funding for horse management areas).
Now it is time to take a closer look at how the appropriations process is used to authorize discretionary spending and examine how PLC engages in the appropriations process on behalf of 22,000 public lands ranchers.
How is the Appropriations process used to authorize discretionary spending?
To fund discretionary programs, Congress must pass legislation authorizing federal agencies to spend money. The legislation – known as appropriations bills – outlines the programs and activities that are authorized, and the amount that can be spent on each. Instead of trying to cram each and every line item into one bill, Congress creates twelve separate bills that cover different agencies.
Like other pieces of legislation, the appropriations bills are crafted in House and Senate committees. Each chamber has an appropriations committee, which is further broken down into twelve subcommittees (one subcommittee for each appropriations bill). This is where the real action happens! As the House and Senate committees work on their respective appropriations bills, they consider input from lawmakers and a wide range of stakeholder groups.
Who does PLC engage with?
For PLC, the focus on engagement tends to be with the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. That is because these committees write the appropriations bills which authorize spending by the Department of Interior (DOI) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), among others. Put another way, these agencies are able to spend money on new programs or enforcement actions because the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill specifically authorizes them to do so.
There are some instances where PLC engages with other appropriations subcommittees. For example, public lands ranchers may have a stake in the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture (managed by the Subcommittees on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies). However, the majority of public lands ranching issues are covered by the appropriations bill for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.
What action steps does PLC take during the appropriations process?
So what does PLC “engagement” look like? Remember the appropriations bills authorize agencies to spend certain amounts on programs and activities. At PLC, the goal is to ensure programs that are good for public lands ranchers get funded and programs that are harmful do not. To achieve that goal, PLC sends the committees requests for funding OR defunding programs (we’ll start looking at some of these specific requests next week).
To begin the outreach process, PLC submits a letter in conjunction with other agricultural organizations outlining our key asks. As a result of a strong relationships with the committee, PLC is a powerful voice for ranchers. For example, in the 2017 letter, PLC asked the Interior Subcommittee to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act and they were successful in doing so.
While the letter outlines need, it is only the first step in educating both sides of the aisle on the unique challenges of public lands ranchers. PLC is an education source to these offices and agencies, and are trusted among members of Congress as a reliable voice of federal lands ranchers. Targeting key committee leadership, PLC connects with congressional offices as well as various agencies including Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and Department of the Interior. This voice is critical to House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as they care about the success of public lands ranchers and desire to see would see less regulations, control, and restriction from the federal government.
What is up next for PLC and the appropriations process?
PLC understands the appropriations process is extremely complex, but it is an important step for the future of ranching in the West. Join us as we delve into key asks for the upcoming omnibus package and the 2019 appropriations process in the coming weeks.