Every spring Congress begins to draft legislation to fund the federal government after receiving the President’s budget request. Traditionally, Congress will hold hearings on the President’s budget with experts from the White House, though House and Senate leadership declined to do so this year. The House next takes up its own budget, which either adopts the presidential funding levels or substitutes others in their place.
A budget is a broad plan shaped by legislative and ideological priorities. The actual funding levels for each program come in the next step, when Congress passes individual bills – appropriations – to fund different segments of the government. In the House, there are 12 different Appropriations Subcommittees each responsible for crafting a bill to cover a specific segment of government.
I am not one of the few Members who sit on each of these committees, but I still make sure to represent my constituents’ views and priorities in the process.
One of the ways members of Congress remain involved without being on the Appropriations Committee is by signing letters to the relevant subcommittees, called “appropriations letters.” I signed a number of letters this spring written by my colleagues to support programs important to my constituents, such as increased funding for the development of the Orion spacecraft and another supporting Metro funding.
I also identified some programs which I thought deserved to be priorities. For these I led new letters of support and gathered signatures of my colleagues and the backing of relevant outside organizations. In all, I wrote or co-wrote four such letters this spring.
I wrote a letter supporting funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will one day be the most powerful telescope ever built. The JWST will have a mission researching the origin of galaxies, stars, planets, and the universe itself. It stands to produce a wealth of knowledge, and deserves our investment.
I wrote a letter supporting the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, and related programs for the development of clean and renewable energy technologies. We must lead in these fields both because of the threat of climate change and because of the jobs clean energy technologies can create.
I led a letter with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan which would fully fund the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species by implementing the Endangered Species Act.
Lastly, I led, along with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, a letter to fund ocean acidification research. Changes to ocean chemistry represent a severe economic and environmental threat to coastal communities, and we need as much information as we can get to deal with it.
In May the House will begin debating and amending appropriations bills. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure your voice is heard in this process.
Rep. Beyer can be reached through his website at www.beyer.house.gov, on Twitter @RepDonBeyer or his office at (202) 225-4376.