End-of-year packages have become a favorite vehicle for advancing pieces of legislation across the policy spectrum. This is not surprising given that few stand-alone bills make it to the President’s desk, while most end-of-year packages are driven by a deadline with real consequences (government shutdown, etc.) - meaning that they need to pass (hence the term “must-pass”). Furthermore, partisanship has become a major hurdle to regular order within the legislative process, and a provision added to larger packages does not individually need to reach any vote threshold since it effectively gets a free ride on the other items.
In today’s political landscape, the end-of-year package is the best bet for most provisions and bills that have, for one reason or another, not advanced on their own. But the process to get a provision included is complicated and surprisingly difficult. Here are a few tips as we near the time when everyone starts to consider how they will advance their initiatives by the end of the year:
It’s a Tough Climb: The idea that “everything and the kitchen sink” is added to many must-pass bills at the end of the year is just not true. There are many provisions added (maybe even hundreds in some cases) but most are not. So, do not assume you can rely on these packages as competition is strong and the line is long to get in the door.
Legislative History Helps: A provision that has never been considered in a committee hearing, never had a vote, or is not on the radar of key players (i.e., committee leaders) is starting with a strong disadvantage. Having some legislative history helps eliminate headaches internally for those making decisions on what’s in and what’s out, but it also helps to justify that there is an interest and need for the provision.
Jurisdiction Matters, Sort of: If your provision is actually germane to the bill, fewer hurdles will be in your future (although there is a legitimate question as to why it was not included in the base bill when considered on the floor). But, provisions well outside the jurisdiction of the bill have a long history of still finding a way in. So, if the jurisdiction test does not work for you, do not give up.
Deadlines Matter: As stated earlier, Congress is often guided by deadlines (hence why all of these bills are generally up for consideration at the end of the year). If a provision needs to be done this year, you have a meaningful case for skipping the normal legislative process. If it can be done next year and there is not a real sense of urgency to get it done now, the argument for this year is tough.
Champions Matter: Someone needs to be advocating internally for the issue. All the letters, meetings, and constituent phone calls will not matter if there are not policymakers who are reaching out to their leadership and committee leaders very regularly behind the scenes. Advocacy can help set the stage, but champions can get the provision over the finish line. If the issue lacks a champion willing to make your provision their priority, do not bet on it making the final cut.
Plan Early: Just because Congress plans everything at the last minute, does not mean you should. A sophisticated strategy developed well before the end-of-year package is in play will help lay the necessary groundwork needed for an effective campaign to get a provision included. This takes time (meetings, materials, stakeholder engagement, grassroots, communications, etc.), as building a strong case cannot be done at the last minute.
Reach the Entire Policy Ecosystem: Very few people make the decision on what will make it in an end-of-year package, but there are many influencers that are helpful in getting the provision more attention. Obviously, the policymakers who champion the issue, the committee of jurisdiction for the provision, the committee of jurisdiction for the end-of-year package, and leadership are your core targets for advocacy. But others can be helpful in elevating the noise around your provision (which is important in a particularly busy environment) - including industry trade associations, think tanks, the press, and constituent groups that could be impacted.
The end of this year could be busy this year with NDAA, appropriations, tax extenders, and maybe even a Farm Bill on the agenda. If any of those sound like a legislative vehicle that could carry your provision over the finish line - plan now.