Advocacy Update: Congress Faces Turbulent End-of-Year Budget Battle

Meanwhile, the push to reauthorize ESEA continues as the education committee shepherds the Conference Committee process.

By Kelly D. Pollitt
September 2015, Volume 39, Issue 1

Congress returned from the August recess earlier this month to face significant end-of-fiscal-year issues, including the return of sequestration budget caps that must be factored in to FY 2016 spending, and outstanding legislative issues related to tax policy, the highway trust fund, and immigration. In addition, the movement to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) continues as the House and Senate move to a conference committee. But time seems to be the greatest challenge facing lawmakers as the current budget woes face a Sept. 30, 2015 deadline and big political issues loom large in both the budget and policy priorities that are slated for action.


Congress is facing an uphill budget battle right now with the sequestration budget caps that are currently in place, which does not force large and immediate spending cuts, but will drive both defense and nondefense discretionary spending to their lowest levels in recent history. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the discretionary spending caps or reduction from sequestration in FY 2016 will reduce economic growth and slow job creation by 500,000 jobs. Lawmakers are grappling with how to address the federal spending issues, which are now mired in a political fight over a House Republican push to defund Planned Parenthood after a controversial video was leaked to the media on the sale of fetal tissue for medical research (note: Democrats in the Senate would never vote for the measure).

As leaders on Capitol Hill work to appease members of both political parties and figure out how to put funding in place that meets the needs of defense and non-defense discretionary spending (NAESP believes Congress will ultimately have to agree to raise the spending caps overall in the budget), the warning of a government shutdown is percolating alongside the threat of a filibuster over defunding Planned Parenthood. At this time, leaders in the House and Senate are looking to buy some extra negotiation time by passing a “clean” (meaning no policy riders) short-term continuing resolution (known as a “CR”) that would keep the government running through November or mid-December. While Republican leaders are not eager to be blamed for a shutdown as they were in the last six-week hiatus in 2013, they are conscious of the party’s position and priorities heading into a major election year. Over the next week, Congressional leaders must reach a deal to keep the government’s major programs running through the fall. Many in Washington predicted the prelude to presidential politics, and if Congress can get anything done, it will have to be by the end of the session or wait until after the next election.

Meanwhile, the push to reauthorize ESEA continues as Senate and House education committee staff meet to discuss differences in the respective bills that can be negotiated. The education committee leaders (Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Patricia Murray (D-WA), and Reps. John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) will be shepherding the process known as a Conference Committee to reconcile significant policy differences between the House and Senate bills, including issues related to accountability and assessment. The leaders met last week for the first time to discuss an initial strategy for the conference. While lawmakers and staff are meeting, we do not expect any formal announcements of the Conference Committee’s progress for a few more weeks as Congress juggles other priorities related to the FY 2016 budget.

Here are details surrounding the status of ESEA and specific advocacy efforts engaged by NAESP on behalf of principals and the issues that NAESP will continue to push as part of a conference committee agenda and the latest letters sent to Congress.

As the budget and other policy issues move forward, NAESP will continue to champion the interests of pre-K-8 principals. Contact Kelly Pollitt at to learn more about the 2015 NAESP advocacy campaign.

Kelly D. Pollitt is NAESP’s Chief Strategist, Policy and Alliances.

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