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!