This morning the House and Senate will convene a conference committee seeking a budget resolution for the first time since 2010. This process holds both promise and peril for all land trust policy priorities.
Check out the webcast, starting right now at 10:00 am Eastern.
Congressional leaders have spent much of this week talking down expectations for a grand bargain -- or any bargain at all. Including land trust priorities like a permanent easement tax incentive may be a long shot, but our meetings with the Senate Finance and House Budget committees this week have made clear that nothing is off the table in this high power negotiation between the House and Senate.
Here's a quick primer on the upcoming process and what the Alliance is doing to represent land trusts:
So, what's the difference between Budget and Appropriations anyway?
The Appropriations Committees allocate funding to specific programs. The Budget Committees set overall spending by the government and to allocate that spending among the Appropriations subcommittees (Interior, for example). If the House and Senate agree on a budget, that resolution can also create a fast-track process for other policies -- like tax reform, the farm bill, or changes to mandatory spending.
If Budget is so powerful, why have we focused on Appropriations?
Over the past three years the House and Senate Budget Committees haven't been able to agree on a budget resolution. Instead, each chamber has adopted vastly different political documents, full of red meat for core constituencies and apple pie they'll dare the minority to vote against. There was no real punishment for not having a budget the past several years. But now the budget resolution is the last best way to prevent another government shutdown or potential default early next year. Having just gone through a shutdown, the committees realize it's up to them to stop a political disaster.
What's the deal with Sequestration?
It's complicated. You could spend all day deciphering the nuances, but the bottom line is that the appropriations bills due January 15 must adhere to worsening cuts. This pressure led House Appropriators to propose zeroing out land conservation funding. We are working with several coalition efforts to relieve that pressure -- see our recent letter. A stated goal of the Budget conference is to find alternative cuts (or revenues) to alleviate sequestration's impact on discretionary spending (such as LWCF & NAWCA).
What is the Alliance doing to get the easement tax incentive included?
To represent land trusts in the critical months ahead, the Land Trust Alliance has retained the services of Capitol Tax Partners -- a bipartisan lobbying firm with decades of combined experience in senior roles on congressional tax committees -- and North Bridge Communications -- a DC-based public relations firm. Together with our team, the Conservation Easement Tax Incentive Coalition, and land trusts in key districts around the country, they'll work to cultivate the Congressional allies we'll need to make the incentive permanent.
How can land trusts help?
Deals impacting land trust priorities may come together (or fall apart) very quickly. Please continue strengthening your congressional relationships and keep an eye out for IssueAdvocates and more targeted communications, particularly if you're represented by a Budget conferee. Prompt action is of the essence. You can also help by asking your legislators to .
If a grand bargain is so unlikely, why should I even pay attention?
Even a small deal can be an opportunity for well-placed champions -- just look at the Ohio River lock project that mysteriously slipped into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's "clean" deal ending the shutdown. Just this week, staff for Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus reaffirmed his commitment to making the incentive permanent before he retires next year. Several other top champions are Budget conferees and realize this may be one of their last chances to cement this aspect of their legacies.
Even if the talks fail to produce a deal by their December 13 deadline, Committee staff tell us they expect the process to yield lists of provisions where consensus is possible. These will form the building blocks for the funding and debt limit deals expected in early 2014. Possible inclusion in this process will also light a fire under the Agriculture and tax-writing committees to have farm bill and tax reform drafts ready to move.
Thank you for being an Advocate as this exciting year-end sprint gets underway.
Russ & Sean
P.S. – Tomorrow is your last chance to comment on the Alliance's 2014 Policy Priorities. We would love to hear what federal programs and incentives matter most to you (and what details need changing) so please fill out the survey today.
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