Friday, December 06, 2013

Thank You, Mr. Mandela

Those of us who believe in the power of citizens to create change lost one of our greatest souls yesterday when Nelson Mandela -- a leader, a rebel, a Nobel Laurete and an inspiration -- died at 95 years old.  Whether you know it or not, as a citizen of the world you will miss him.

After years of struggle, Mr. Mandela came to the realization that “[i]f you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner.”  Through this philosophy he showed us how to make a difference under the most dire circumstances and in the most graceful way.

Everyone who seeks change can learn from him.  In fact, given the comparative triviality of some of our concerns it shouldn’t be all that hard.  Let’s be honest: despite all the hyperbole, most of us in the government relations community here in Washington, D.C. do not live in a world fraught with danger.  The consequences of whether or not Congress extends a certain tax break or cuts a program by 15% bear no comparison to the consequences of the decisions the anti-apartheid movement sought to influence in South Africa. 
With a grand vision for reform and a government openly hostile toward the people seeking change, Mr. Mandela and his colleagues faced unprecedented odds.  Yet through perseverance he led the way to one of the most profound tectonic shifts in a political system  that we’ll see in our lifetimes.  He never said “it’s too hard” or “my opinion doesn’t matter” or “legislators never listen to me.”  We hear this too often in the United States, and it frustrates even the Advocacy Guru sometimes.  You think members of Congress don’t listen?  Try being a black man in South Africa during the apartheid regime.

Did he always choose the high ground?  No.  Did he make mistakes?  Certainly.  But unlike so many leaders these days, he generally learned from those mistakes.  He took them to heart, changed his tactics and moved on.  How many of us can say we’ve done the same?  I’m moved by the fact that after all he went through he was able to say that “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”  Surely, surely, we can apply at least this lesson to our own relatively minor squabbles.

Never forget that Mr. Mandela fought for the same kinds of freedoms our own founding fathers fought for.  If I’ve learned anything from him it’s that far better people than I have suffered far more to achieve far less than what we in the U.S. have right now.  Please don’t take our right to self-govern lightly.  Please don’t take our right to petition our government for granted.  Hold these rights dearly.

Thank you, Mr. Mandela. 

 ***This article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter

Friday, November 22, 2013

Episode 1 - Post Shutdown Action!

In this premiere episode, host Craig Price calls the Advocacy Hotline to talk to the guru, Stephanie Vance, to discuss post-government shutdown action.  The question this week: How do I get my representative to listen to me when they won’t even listen to each other? And how can we get past partisanship?

If you have questions about politics, advocacy or influence be sure to email Also visit Stephanie’s website to learn more about how you can be a more effective advocate or how you build long-term relationships with legislators and their staffs.

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Knowing Who You’re Talking To (And Why You’re Relevant)

Effective advocacy isn’t usually the first topic on everyone’s minds this time of year.  But it can be a great time to do some research on your legislators and prepare to hit the ground running in 2014.  Learning a little about your legislators’ interests can help you frame your message in a way that’s bound to get their full attention.

Here are some questions to ask about your legislators (and where to find the answers).  A great way to web surf in between stuffing the Turkey and eating sweet potatoes, right?

You can use our legislator research form to keep track of this information.

1.   Whose District or State Am I In? 

One of the most common questions asked in congressional offices is "Are they from the district?"  Representatives and senators represent distinct groups of people and devote their energy to the requests and needs of those individuals.  Members of the House represent all the people (usually around 550,000) who reside in a separate and distinct geographic area called a congressional district.  Senators represent an entire state.  Hence, every American in the 50 states has one representative and two senators who are responsible for representing their views in Congress.

In general, you should stick to contacting your own representative and senators, unless you can demonstrate that you represent the concerns of people who live in another district.  If you contact other members of Congress, don't be surprised if your phone calls, letters and/or requests for meetings are referred to the representative or senator who serves the area or state where you live.

Your Association may have an online legislative action center that you can use to find your specific legislators based on your zip code.  Alternatively, you can the House of Representative’s “Write Your Rep” function at

2.   What is the Member’s legislative record?  What does she or he care about?

Most members have a record, reflected through votes, of formal support for legislation that has been introduced by other members (called cosponsoring a bill), and legislation they have introduced themselves on virtually every issue under the sun. It’s always good to know where your legislators stand on your issues, as well as any other issues in which they might be interested.  You can see bills legislators have introduced at .  Note: The bills are designated either House of Representatives (H.R.) or Senate (S.) by where in Congress the bill originated.  You should also review the “Issues” tabs on their webpages.  You can access those at and

3.   What Committee or Committees is my legislator on?

Members are assigned to committees based on their interests, their districts (or states, in the case of the Senate), and for the more competitive major committees, on how long they have served (seniority). Members usually serve on one to three committees. A member’s ability to influence legislation depends largely upon whether she or he is a member of the committee of jurisdiction.  Also, knowing committee assignments can give you insights into the issues that interest your member of Congress.  This information is also available at

4.   What party does she or he belong to?
Members help all constituents, not just those who are members of their political party (as some people believe). After all, your representative has been elected to represent you and your interests, regardless of your party affiliation. But it is important to know the member’s party affiliation to determine if they are part of the majority or minority party in Congress. While many members are seeking to work collaboratively and across party lines, members of the majority party still have an advantage in efforts to get legislative proposals passed.

Other Resources

In addition to the resources noted above, you can learn a great deal about your legislators at the following sites:

House of Representatives:
U.S. Senate:
Open Secrets:

***This article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Getting Your Legislator's Attention- in Writing!

Communicating with member of Congress is a useful advocacy tool that many citizens do not take advantage of. There are several ways to contact your members of congress including phone calls, letters, faxes, and emails. It is important to understand how to develop effective correspondence before you can deliver your message. Let’s begin by examining a sample letter that Marty Mcfly from the film Back to the Future might have written to his representative:

October 12, 2013

The Honorable Goldie Wilson
1630 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Wilson,

I am a constituent writing to respectfully request that your office submit a statement to the “Extension of the Remarks” section of the Congressional record regarding the 58th anniversary of the lightning strike on Hill Valley’s clock tower.

Construction of the Clock Tower began in 1885, while Hill Valley was still a small boom town during the California gold rush. On November 5, 1955, there was a violent thunder storm in Hill Valley that resulted in a 1.21 gigawatt lightning strike on the clock tower that froze the clock at 10:04 p.m.  30 years later, development groups tried to push the city council to tear down the clock tower. Fortunately, these efforts were thwarted in large part to the efforts by the local Hill Valley Preservation Society. Today, the landmark clock tower stands as a testament of Hill Valley’s staying power through the years and continues to be a great source of pride for its citizens.

The clock tower has been a major part of my life and my family’s lives. In high school, I performed weather experiments on the clock tower with my mentor, Doctor Emmitt Smith. My wife and I had our marriage ceremony in the park directly in front of the clock tower. My son, Marty Jr., spent many summer afternoons with his best friend, Griff Tannen, playing in the same park. For us, this clock tower is a monument in our lives and we proudly contribute our time and money to the Hill Valley Preservation Society to ensure the tower’s continued existence.

As the current President of the Hill Valley Preservation Society, I am happy to serve as a resource for your staff regarding any aspect of the clock tower including its historic significance or economic impact. I would appreciate a response to my request and I look forward to communicating with your office in the future.


Marty McFly

President, Hill Valley Preservation Society
1234 Chuck Barry Street
Hilldale Estates
Hill Valley, CA, 94952

Marty’s letter is a great example of how a constituent letter should be written. Let’s look at a four key components in Marty’s letter.

1.     Structure- Marty’s letter is written in business letter format. This is the appropriate format to use when writing to a legislator. Additionally, he referred to his Representative with the correct titles of “The Honorable Goldie Wilson” and “Congressman Wilson.”
2.      Ask- In any constituent correspondence, it is important to have a request, as known around the beltway as “an ask”, in order for the Congressional office to prioritize your correspondence. In this case, Marty asked Congressman Wilson to enter remarks into the Congressional record to commemorate a historical landmark in Hill Valley.
3.     Personal Story- After the ask and some background information, Marty included the most important component to the letter, his personal story. Adding your story to any correspondence will ensure that your message stands out by making it more personal and thoughtful. Your story will also provide the legislator with a picture of how an issue or a place is affecting his constituency.
4.     Relationship Building- Towards the end of his letter, Marty took a big step in building a relationship with Congressman Wilson’s office by offering to serve as a resource. Often times, legislators will be confronted with a controversial issue and will need to know how that issue impacts people in his or her district. This is when members’ offices will contact local resources to gain insight. This relationship would allow Marty to have an impact on his Congressman’s decisions as well as have his correspondence be prioritized in the office. 
5.     Ask for a Response- This is essential to include somewhere in your written correspondence. Generally, this will compel an office to send a response letter. The ask does not have to be long. In fact, Marty only included it as a single sentence at the end of the letter.

Please feel free to write any questions in the comment section and we will be glad to answer. Happy Advocating!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Congress – Coming Soon to a District Near You

For many of us, the word “recess” conjures up images of monkey bars, school yard fights and dodge ball.  In Washington, D.C., this term is used to describe the time period during which legislators return to their districts and states.  Sure, for some this still means school yard fights.  But for the most part the term “recess” is a misnomer.  In fact, legislators and their staff are often working harder in their communities than they might in Washington, D.C. (yes, I know.  Not hard to imagine).

Why is this important now?  The weeks of March 25th and April 1st mark the spring “constituent work week” or “district work period.”  You can be sure the D.C.-types are working hard (instead of hardly working) through one or more of the following three options:

  • Go to a town hall meeting:  Check your legislators’ Facebook pages, Tweets or even take the old-fashioned approach and call their offices to find out where they’ll be in the districts during the next few weeks.  You can find local contact information through their web pages at and  Not sure who represents you in the House?  Go to the House website for an address look-up tool.  As long as you know what state you live in, it should be relatively easy to find your Senators.
  • Let them know about your events:  Are you involved in a community spring fair?  A fundraiser for your cause? A meeting?  A conference? Even just a regular old work day? Whatever you’ve got going on in the next few weeks, if you think creatively you might find something you can invite your legislator or staff person to see or do.  Don’t reinvent the advocacy wheel.  Use your existing events to your advantage.
  • Utilize media effectively:  When policymakers are back home you can be sure they’re listening to the local TV and radio news shows as well as reading the smaller circulation community papers . Now’s the time to call in to drive time shows with your thoughtful (not insulting) comments on what’s happening in D.C., write letters to the editor (these generally have a short turnaround time), or find an opportunity to connect with local TV news reporters.  The more timely your story, the more likely you’ll be to capture attention, both of the community and your legislators.
The point is, you don’t have to come to Washington, D.C. to make a difference.  If you want to be sure your elected representatives are working, not brawling, take advantage of the “recess” to deliver your message.  They need to know how policy issues impact the people they represent – and this is the time to not just tell them, but show them as well.

***The following article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What Members of Congress Do All Day and Night

The Congressional Management Foundation recently released a thought-provoking report on Life in Congress from the perspective of Members of Congress.  This survey of legislators may surprise many citizens, even those who are sure legislators and staff sit around all day doing nothing but figuring out new ways to irritate the American people.  Highlights include:

·         They spend the majority of their time in D.C. on legislative policy work and constituent services:  In fact, these activities take up fifty-two percent of their time while in the capitol.  Campaigning, on the other hand, takes up 17%.  If you don’t believe that the substantive work is more important than campaigning, try calling your legislator’s office, explaining you’re a constituent and asking for a few minutes of a staff person’s time to discuss the policy issues you care about.  You’ll get that time, particularly if you’re polite. They may not always agree with you, but they’ll listen.

·         They spend an average of 40 weekends per year in their districts:  These are those infamous “recesses” or “district work periods” that everyone thinks are vacations.  They aren’t.  They are opportunities for constituents to connect with legislators at town halls and through district meetings.   There’s a two week work period coming up the weeks of March 25th and April 1st.  You can make a difference by contacting legislative offices this week to ask when they’ll be having a town hall or community meeting in the district.  Then take the time to go.

·         The vast majority believe they are performing a public service and are invested in their work:  Why would you stay in a job where hardly anyone likes you and it’s impossible to get anything done despite the excessively long hours?  For legislators it’s because they believe in what they’re doing.  In fact, they believe so much that in many cases they are unable to give up principles they hold dear.  Take a minute to look up the bills they’ve introduced at to learn a little more about what they care about.  You’ll be surprised.

I’m not naive enough to believe everyone will be convinced by this study.  Many citizens may agree with one commenter who asked:

“[a]m I supposed to be impressed? If I had an employee who put in so many hours and accopmlished [sic] so little of value I would fire tham [sic].”

Before you get on board with that sentiment, let’s try to be fair.  If I had a job where I had to get 270 people with vastly different views to agree with me before I could get anything done, I’d leave.  Yet legislators stay because they believe that they are representing the views of their constituents -- and with incumbent re-election rates consistently in the 90th percentile range, it appears that many are.  Constituents support their Congressperson because he or she reflects the values of the district they represent.  It’s all those other people who are the problem.   That’s the nature of representative democracy.

If we’re going to make our way out of the mire of our current partisan political environment, perhaps the message from citizens should be “let’s all unbend a little,” not “you’re all jerks who never listen.”  It can only help.

***The Following article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Budgets, Budgets Everywhere

It’s that time of year again – daffodils, pollen and, you guessed it, federal budgets.  Three proposals were released this week, one from the House, one from the Senate and one from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  Not surprisingly, they all have very, very, VERY different perspectives.   You can view the hundreds of pages of details at the following sites:

Rep. Ryan (House Republican Leadership)
Sen. Murray (Senate Democratic Leadership)
Congressional Progressive Caucus:

But Wait!

Before you get too into the specifics (including the hyperbole of the specifics), take a look at this past blog post on “The Five Things Advocates Need to Know About the Budget Process (   These include:
  • Understanding the overall picture of the Federal government. Here’s a pet peeve: polls suggest that most Americans believe reducing or eliminating foreign aid will go a long way toward solving our budget problems. In truth, they make up about ½ of 1%. We can shake the couch cushions in DC and get more cash than that.
  • Learning about the difference between the Presidential budget process and the Congressional budget process
  • Knowing the difference between “budgets,” “authorizations” and “appropriations.
  • Understanding discretionary vs. non-discretionary spending
  • Finally, and most important, how to make a difference on the issues that matter to you
It’s easy to get mired in the details – but frankly, it’s not always the best use of everyone’s time.  If you can focus on what really matters you’ll be much less frustrated – and will be able to enjoy the coming Spring more. Except for the pollen part.

***The above article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter

Thursday, February 28, 2013

REM (and Policymakers) Say "It's the End of the World as we Know it."

Or is it?

At this point I will be very surprised if Congress comes up with some last minute deal to stop sequestration from happening.  I've been wrong before many times (and on many subjects).  But with members of Congress leaving this afternoon for their districts I don’t see much hope.  And when the Speaker of the House says "[w]e should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their a** and begins to do something," (as quoted in the Detroit Free Press) that’s never a good sign for either bipartisan or bicameral action.

No matter how frustrated we are with process, however, it’s important to remember that the question of whether these cuts stick – and for how long -- remains up to the American people.  Legislators will be back at home over the weekend, so now’s the time to tell them what you think.  Following are some tips on how to so to:

  • Be clear about your position: At a minimum be clear whether you’re “OK with it” or “not OK with it.”  If you’re not OK with it, why?  Are flight delays really getting you down? (full disclosure, I’m flying on Sunday – hopefully).  Have the cuts impacted your job?  Your family?  Your health?  Your leisure time?  The weather (hopefully not).  Whatever it is that’s bugging you, tell that personal story.

  • Recognize that reasonable people can disagree:  Because of the way district lines are drawn, many legislators represent citizens on just one end or the other of the political spectrum.  For example, there are some real differences between residents of the 12th district of California (Rep. Pelosi) and the 8th district of Ohio (Rep. Boehner) in terms of education level, occupation type, language spoken, commuting patterns – the list goes on and on.  I know this because I did a little research on  In short, day-to-day life is very different for the citizens of these two areas.  Their political views, as well as the views of their representatives, reflect those differences.  So no matter how frustrated you are, remember that members of Congress are trying to reconcile the widely varying views of the American public. 

  • Finally, please, please, please know what you’re talking about:  To paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly, “we have seen the enemy, and he (or she) is us.”  Why do I say that?  Well, according to Pew research polls (and as reported in this US News and World Report piece), “. . . two weeks ago, 72 percent of Americans cited reducing the deficit and cutting spending as items that should be the president and Congress's top priority. However, this week, when specifically asked what to cut, Americans polled didn't want to cut much at all! As a matter of fact, many programs they wanted to remain funded as is or to increase, with the exception of a small percentage that wanted less funding to go overseas for foreign aid.”  Sorry everyone, but “foreign aid” is less than .5% of the overall Federal budget.  It’s not going to make a dent.  We find more change in the couch cushions in Washington, D.C. than that.  Please don’t suggest this as a solution.  

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to be nice.  In politics, as in life, the person who disagrees with grace and respect gets the most attention.  They’re much more pleasant to deal with.

***The above article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three Messages that Work with the 113th Congress.

Did you know that of the 10,445 bills introduced in the 112th Congress (2011-2012), only 284 became law?  If I did my math right, that’s less than 3%.  And a chunk of those were about renaming Post Offices and federal buildings.  Yeah, I know: that’s not very encouraging.  In defense of policymakers, however, those numbers do not include any bill-based amendments members of Congress may have attached to moving legislation.

Still, it’s pretty clear Congress is completely and totally inefficient. And to some degree it’s supposed to be.  Trying to get 271 people (1/2 the House plus ½ the Senate plus the President) to agree to the exact language of legislation before it becomes law is no easy feat – especially when those legislators represent widely varying constituencies.

That said, some might argue that the gridlock has gotten a bit out of hand.  The good news is that some messages still resonate with both sides of the aisle.  For example, it won’t shock you to hear that “saving money” and “cutting budgets” arguments carry a lot of weight these days.  But besides these somewhat obvious tactics, what other approaches have been working recently?  Here are three options to consider:

  • Compromise / Bipartisanship:  Of the 284 bills that passed in the 112th Congress, 105 were from Democrats, 176 were from Republicans and 3 were from Independents.  Frankly, these numbers surprised me. They reflect a higher degree of bipartisanship than I anticipated.  Perhaps more important, of those that passed the mass majority were cosponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.  Advocates who can argue that their perspective is shared by legislators on both sides of the aisle will likely have more success than others.

  • Government Reform:  “Government Operations and Politics” and “Congress” are the top two categories of bills (as defined by the Library Congress) that have been introduced so far this year.  Policymakers really like being associated with legislative initiatives that allow them to appear to be “solving the problems in Washington.”  Does your proposal help achieve this goal?  If so how?

  • “Must Pass”: Of the 1,476 bills introduced so far this year, three have passed.  They were bills to a) raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. government defaulted on its loans, b) provide relief for Hurricane Sandy victims and c) raise limits on the National Flood Insurance program (in the wake of Hurricane Sandy).  Most legislators and citizens saw these as must pass, emergency items.  Now, I’m not saying you should make your issue sound like a crisis.  But you should consider whether your issue connects to and/or can help address a current crisis.  By framing your message in that way, you may get the attention you deserve.

Above all, don’t despair.  You may be up against tough odds, especially if you want to move something through the process.  The way to overcome those odds is through persistence, vigilance and strategic messaging.  Hopefully these ideas will help you on your way!

***The above article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter

Thursday, February 07, 2013

It's Spring: Are you Stressed-Out About Your Lobby Day Yet?

Ah Spring -- when our thoughts turn to lobby days. If you're brave enough to arrange one, please do not commit any of the following seven deadly sins of lobby days.  You might be smote – or at least have an unsuccessful event.

Sin #1 -- Non-Constituency: When requesting a meeting, whether with the member or a staff person, the first question you will be asked is "are you from the district or state?" Elected officials and their staff are there to represent a discreet group of people. You absolutely MUST demonstrate your relevance to that discreet group of people or they won't meet with you. Our meeting request letters always include the city of constituent asking for the meeting - and some offices will ask for a full street address just to be sure!  it doesn't have to be a home address – it can be a facility, a work address or really any connection to that legislator’s district.  Many attendees at your event will have connections to a wide variety of offices.  As long as you can demonstrate relevance, you can get in the door.

Sin #2 - Non-Written Requests: OK, I lied. Actually the first thing you will be asked by the usually incredibly young person who answers the phone is "have you sent your request inwriting?" Don't even bother to call before you have either faxed in the request (go to to look up fax numbers) or e-mailed it throughthe Congressperson's website (accessible through and

Sin #3 - Assumption: As Robert Siegel once askedme when I worked at NPR "do you know the etymology of the word"assume?" My response was "who uses a word like'etymology'?" Anyway, if you don't want to make a donkey's behind of yourself, never assume that your faxed or e-mailed request actually got to the office or that the scheduler will just magically get back to you. With hundreds of requests to go through a day, things get lost. Often. Be sure to follow-up (and be very polite - they don't lose things on purpose, they're just overwhelmed).

Sin #4 - Member-itis: Never, ever insist that you will meet only with the member instead of a staff person. First of all, nine times out of ten you won't get a meeting. Members of Congress have unimaginable demands on their time and, believe it or not, you are not the only constituent in town at a given time. If you are offered a meeting with a staff person, that's a good thing! They often have more time to get to know you and your issues. All you'll probably get with the member is a "grip and grin," and the vague feeling that your issues weren't really covered.

Sin #5 - Inflexibility: This is particularly a problem when it's combined with high expectations. Too many groups offer a very small meeting window and then are irritated when staff or members are notavailable in the 
12:00pm to 2:00pm time slot they've designated for meetings. Try to have an entire day available - and ask participants in your lobby day to bring a good book.

Sin #6 - Overzealousness: If you have multiple people coming from one district or state, do everything you can to coordinate before requesting meetings. In too many cases, each individual will request their own meeting. By the fifth meeting on the same topic, the staff are generally pretty cranky. They will thank you for your consideration of their time if you coordinate well.

Sin #7 - Abandonment: Once you've had a meeting in Washington, DC or your state capitol, your advocacy for the year isn't finished. In fact, it's just started. In most cases you will need to work with the office on an ongoing basis to help them truly understand your issues and the impact of certain policy actions on their constituents. After your meeting, don't abandon your elected officials and their staff - embrace them (although not literally. Some of them aren't huggers).

In eschewing these sins you will lead a better,fuller, happier advocacy-related life. Believe me, as the founder of the cult of effective advocacy I've had plenty of experience in this area. Please feel free to send your worldly possessions my way.

***This article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter.

Congress is back in session, and so are Lobby Days (and probably stress).  Have no fear. Whether it’s 50, 200, or 1,500 advocates coming to town, Advocacy Associated can coordinate congressional meetings for your advocates. We schedule an average of 99% of your participants’ requested meetings. Better yet, our one-of-a-kind online database allows you to watch in real time as your meetings are scheduled -- and our appallows advocates to download their schedules, check for changes and prepare for the most effective advocacy day meetings ever. Intrigued?  Click here for moreinformation

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The 2008 Farm Bill Extension and 2013 Farm Bill

The uncertainty for the passage of a five year Farm Bill in the 112th Congress came to an end on New Year’s Day with the passage of H.R. 8 The American Taxpayer Relief Act.  The bill was passed to avoid the fiscal cliff, a collection of spending cuts and tax increases that might have plunged the country into another recession, and included a 9 month partial Farm Bill extension. 

The extension only includes basic tenants of the Farm Bill and failed to reauthorize and fund several programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has a blog post with a very detail explanation as to why the Farm Bill extension is so awful. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated in his interview with NPR that those reliant on Farm Bill programs “…are now faced with uncertainty with how the policies might be, [they are faced with] uncertainty with how much support will ultimately be available once a five year bill is eventually past.”

Looking to the future, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said in an interview that she expects to pass a Farm Bill in the coming months. The bill may be marked up in the Senate committee as early as February and should include a minimum of $24 billion of deficit reduction. On the House side, Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said during the Agriculture Committee's organizational meeting on January 22nd that "...this is a new Congress and a new opportunity to pass a new Farm Bill." House Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) is leading an effort to block a Farm Bill markup without the assurance from the House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) that the bill will see floor time. He expressed some of his frustration during the organizational meeting. 

*** Follow Nick on Twitter

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Congress Prevents The Fiscal Cliff By Creating Another Cliff

Early in the morning on New Year's Day, Congress passed legislation to avert the ominous "fiscal cliff", a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that could have reverted the nation into a recession. The bill is now on its way to President Obama's desk to be signed.

In the Senate, the bill passed by a vote of 89-8 with 3 Democrats and 5 Republicans voting against the bill. The House passed the bill by a vote of 257-167 with 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans voting against the cliff deal.

The fiscal cliff deal, officially H.R. 8, The American Taxpayer Relief Act, includes the following provisions:

- Permanently extends Bush tax cuts for the majority of taxpayers. Taxes will increase on individuals making $400,000 or more and couples making $450,000 or more.

- Taxes on capital gains and dividends will remain the same for individuals making less than $400,000 and households with an income of less than $450,000. The top tax rate of capital gains will increase from 15% to 20%.

- Tax exceptions will be phased out for individuals making $250,000 or more and families earning more than $300,000.

- Delays sequestration cuts for 2 months. The delay will be paid for with savings from adjustments in federal pensions as well as cuts in discretionary and military spending.

- One year extension for unemployment insurance.

- One year "Doc Fix" that prevents 27% cut in physicians' reimbursement for Medicare.

- Estate tax will increase from 35% to 40% for the first $5 million in assets.

- Alternative Minimum Tax will permanently be tied to inflation.

- Five year extensions of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

- Business tax breaks.

- Nine month Farm Bill extension.

- Congressional pay freeze.

Although the nation did not fall off the cliff, the fiscal cliff deal may have setup a future crisis that the 113th Congress will need to tackle in the coming months. The crisis will be the simultaneous enactment of sequestration cuts and the debt limit expiration. Additionally, the FY13 budgeting CR will expire a few weeks after.  Prepare for the fiscal cliff 2.0.