Monday, December 18, 2017

Consider DC’s Fall Leaves More When Scheduling Lobby Days

With the holiday season and year’s end upon us, we cannot over emphasize just how busy this December has been on the Hill. Traditionally, associations send their advocates to Washington in the spring to meet with congressional offices about their legislative and budget priorities, at a time when Congress is theoretically working through the budget process.

Of course, Washington tends to stick to the script less each year. This year, Congress has done some of its most consequential work in the months since returning after Labor Day. Congress has spent December working on tax reform, health care, and government funding. Legislators will likely be in the Capitol until the weekend before Christmas- and may be returning before New Year’s Eve.

According to a recent study by Dr. David Rehr, 66% of organizations are now hosting a DC Lobby Day. Lobby Days are an incredibly valuable advocacy tool, but not everyone can visit DC in the middle of March. If you want to save on hotel costs, make logistics easier, and make your Lobby Day message stand out, consider Lobby Days in September through December.

In many recent years, the pace of business has increased in November or December (as opposed to March or April), yet the hallways of the Capitol remain less crowded. With less competition for the valuable finite time of congressional offices, you may find your advocates’ words are more likely to be heard in autumn. 

- By Jared Payne

Monday, December 11, 2017

Resources for a busy month on the Hill

While the weather is turning colder and snowier, Congress is still in session and busy with the tax reform conference committee and an upcoming deadline on government funding. Here are a couple more resources to help keep you in the know about Capitol Hill:

Represent, by ProPublica: Represent is a tool to track upcoming and recent Congressional votes, as well as information on each member’s votes and sponsored legislation. This resource also organizes floor statements by member, and allows you to quickly search the Congressional Record, press quotes, op-eds, and video, by key term, to see which members are talking about your issues.

Town Hall, by Facebook: Town Hall is a tool that uses your home address to provide links to the Facebook pages of each of your elected representatives, from the local level up to the federal level, all in one page. Facebook also provides the correct phone number and email address to allow you to easily contact them. Simply search “Town Hall” in your Facebook search bar to locate the feature.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Join Us and Have Some Fun with Fly-Ins

A fly-in can be one of the most effective ways to motivate adovates and get your message across to Capitol Hill. It can also be one of the most stressful experiences of your career – or possibly even your life. Join this session on December 8th at 12pm to gain some tips and techniques for reducing stress and increasing effectiveness. Register here:

We’ll look at:
  • ·         Streamlined, efficient structures for registering advocates and scheduling meetings.
  • ·         How to craft policy compelling materials that will influence advocates and legislators alike.
  • ·         What advocates need to know to be prepared (it’s not what you think)!
  • ·         The role social media and electronic communications can play in marking, or breaking, your event.
  • ·         Best strategies to encourage advocates to connect with policymakers in district.
  • ·         Different options for small, medium, and large events and how to choose.
  • ·         Types of events you can include in a fly-in, including events in district.

The panelists for this session have decades of grassroots experience in Washington, DC. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from their successes (and mistakes). You’ll come away with an actionable path for your next event, as well as exclusive access to our follow-up video course.

Confirmed Panelists:
  • ·         Moderator: Stephanie Vance
  • ·         Monika Geraci, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association
  • ·         Matt Wright, Children’s Hospital Association
  • ·         Randy Ford, National Write Your Congressman

Thursday, November 30, 2017

More Capitol Hill Resources for a Busy December

With today’s Senate vote on their tax bill, it seems like an ideal time to pass along a couple additional tools for monitoring legislative movement on Capitol Hill.

Committee webpages: 

The webpages for congressional committees contain a wealth of information, including live video links for hearings and mark-ups.  In DC, interested parties used to pay young professionals to line up early in the morning to reserve spots in the committee hearing room, but the wonders of the Internet have made it possible for anyone to follow most hearings online. On these sites, you will also find committee reports, archived hearings, transcripts, documents, and press releases. Political views on these websites are going to be reflective of the Republican Party, since they control both chambers, but each website will also include a link to a page or site for the Democratic Party.

List of House Committee Websites:
List of Senate Committee Websites:

Congress App: 

We have previously mentioned this App, which was produced by the Sunlight Foundation until recently. While no longer managed by the Sunlight Foundation, it's still an excellent pocket resource for all Android phone users, including information on floor votes, bills, and hearing schedules. All information for the App is provided by ProPublica, a nonprofit organization focused on investigative journalism. 


This is a nationwide tracking tool for iPhone and Android that has information on legislation, legislators, and hearings for state legislatures, as well as Congress. This App allows you to search by policy area and save searches for later.

Government Looking Glass: 

This relatively new App for iPhone users provides information about congressional legislation. Using information from a variety of sources (VoteSmart, ProPublica, Open States, and the Sunlight Foundation), this tool determines an overall score for members based on your position on a range of policy issues, while also providing contact links to tell your representatives how you feel about these issues.

IPhone Link:

Monday, November 27, 2017

Master Capitol Hill like an Insider

Now that the Thanksgiving meals are over and the Black Friday shopping has come to an end, Congress has returned to face one of its busiest weeks of the year. With debates on taxes, healthcare, appropriations, and the debt ceiling, there’s a little something for everybody! We thought we would share some tools to help you research legislation on Capitol Hill.


GovTrack is not a government resource, but it’s an excellent easy-to-use site that allows users to keep track of bills and votes, as well as the voting records of your Representatives and Senators. Additionally, the site provides some excellent educational resources about Congress, the legislative process, and Committee activities. Users can set up alerts to keep up-to-date on bills of particular interest to them.

Congress.Gov Appropriations Page:

As we have discussed before, the Appropriations process can be complex.’s Appropriations page is an amazing way to visualize all of the appropriations bills and their current status in one quick glance. It’s particularly helpful for finding and comparing Committee reports on a House bill with its companion Senate bill. This makes it easy to see how funding for one agency differs in the House and Senate bills. 

- By Jared Payne

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Our Best Recipe.. for a Congressional Meeting

Thanksgiving is an annual event where families come together, share stories, grow closer and stuff their face. Minus the stuffing their face part, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Thanksgiving and Lobby Days. Lobby Days are an annual event where advocates come together, share their stories on Capitol Hill, and build relationships with Members of Congress and their staff. Furthermore, the various components of Thanksgiving dinner can be used as a metaphor for the perfect congressional meeting (yes, these are the things I think about). Here’s a breakdown of how you can use everyone’s favorite holiday meal as a guideline for your upcoming Lobby Day:

1)      The turkey is the “ask”. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if we didn’t start with the turkey (or tofurky for you vegetarians out there). The turkey is the highlight of the dinner, the centerpiece that makes it Thanksgiving. If you take the turkey out of the equation, the rest of the dinner is almost pointless. This is why the turkey is just like the “ask” in your congressional meeting. You can have the most productive, friendly, informative meeting, but if you leave that office without asking your Member of Congress to do something specific then you have just wasted your time. Legislators and their staff have a lot on their plate, including taking time to meet with constituents like you, so unless you ask them to do something tactile they will likely shake your hand as you leave and then forget all about you.

2)      The stuffing is your story. The turkey might be the most important part of the meal, but the stuffing is always the fan favorite. At least in my household, the stuffing is the most enjoyed part of the meal and is usually what everyone leaves the table still talking about. That’s why the stuffing is like your personal story. Members of Congress and their staff want to meet with their constituents for one reason—they want to hear your personal story and how you are affected by what they do as a legislator. Leaving out your personal story would be like leaving out the stuffing in Thanksgiving dinner—the staffer will feel underwhelmed and unfulfilled.

3)      The green beans are your hard facts. Green beans certainly aren’t as popular as stuffing when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. That said, they are a necessary supplement that help to complete the meal. This is why green beans are like the hard facts of your congressional meeting. Not everyone loves eating their veggies, and not every staffer loves dealing with figures and percentages. Still, they need to be included in your meeting as a way of backing up whatever it is you are asking for. Using numbers effectively to show how a certain policy will affect you, your business or a large number of people in their district will help you to drive home the “ask.”

4)      The pumpkin pie is your follow up. Hours have passed, the football game is on, you’ve taken a little tryptophan nap, and you’re almost fully digested. By now you’ve almost forgotten that you ate this huge, delicious dinner—but wait! Suddenly it’s time for pumpkin pie, a reminder that Thanksgiving isn’t over yet. Pumpkin pie is like the follow up in a congressional meeting—you want to make sure the meeting isn’t forgotten without any action taken. It’s important to continue to build your relationship with a congressional office throughout the year, and you can start by following up a day or two after your meeting with a “thank you.” In the weeks ahead, make sure to send over any information you didn’t have in the meeting that you said you would get back to them on and remind them of your “ask.” This is a good foundation for maintaining contact throughout the year and developing that relationship further. Congressional staff always appreciate follow up, and I always appreciate pumpkin pie.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving/Lobby Day preparation meal. 

- By Kaytee Yakacki

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Take a Look at the 2017 Election Results!

Take a look at some of the highlights of 2017 election results by clicking through the tabs near the top of this New York Times webpage:

Never say your vote doesn’t count, because it appears control of the Virginia House of Delegates may hinge on a 12 vote difference.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

It's Election Day! Go Vote!

It’s Election Day, America! Or- at least it is for many of you. While nearly all of the political pundit class is focused on the tight race for Governor of Virginia, there are also statewide races in New Jersey, a mayor’s race in New York City, a special House election in Utah, and countless other local races across the U.S. Other states, like Maine and Ohio, have crucial ballot measures to consider.

Regardless of where you stand politically, it’s essential you figure out what’s on your ballot, get informed, and go vote. Those who vote are the ones who have a seat at the table, and a say in decisions. If you stay home, you give someone else that power instead. 

- By Jared Payne

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Your Senators Have a Sweet Tooth Too

It’s November 1st, and you likely have tons of candy collected by your child last night, or leftover candy intended for trick-or-treaters. On the Senate floor, every day is like this- because in the far right side of the chamber sits something known as the Candy Desk.  Since the tradition began in the 1960’s, the 16 different Senators assigned to this desk have had the responsibility of keeping it well stocked with tasty treats. Ethics rules require the candy come from the home state of the Senator occupying the desk.

Because the desk is on the right side of the chamber, where the Republicans sit, providing the candy is always tasked to a Republican. Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, where Hershey’s and Just Born are headquartered, currently occupies the desk. This gives our nation’s Senators steady access to Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s, Mounds, as well as Mike and Ike, and Hot Tamales. Toomey was assigned the desk starting in 2015, but Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) previously  had the job for 10 years from 1997-2007.  

- Jared Payne

Monday, October 30, 2017

Some Background for the Tax Reform Debate

Since this week on the Hill is focused on tax reform, we thought we would share this series of short background videos on our tax system:

It’s Halloween, Time to Put on Your Best Advocate Costume!

The air is turning crisp and cool, the trench coats and boots have been brought out of storage and dusted off, and it’s almost time to don your best disguises for Halloween. As I started planning out my own costume, it occurred to me that it can also be beneficial to disguise yourself a bit when you’re advocating Congress—but not as a vampire or a pirate wench (and no, I’m not dressing up as either of those).

First, let me mention the characteristics of your inner advocate that you do NOT want to disguise. Don’t try to hide your passion or your persistence, as these qualities make up the foundation of effective advocacy. That said, there is a difference between passion and the need to say absolutely everything that’s on your mind, like “You just want more campaign money!” or “You should agree with everything I say because I’m obviously right.” It’s important to stay true to who you are, but if you find yourself starting to go this route when you’re communicating with your legislators, just know that you’re not going to get very far. Insulting someone is never the best way to get what you want from them. If you’re the type of person that normally tends toward these opinionated outbursts, try to rein it in when you’re advocating. Put on a mental disguise and become someone that, well, doesn’t do that.  

Until your next advocacy adventure, have a Happy Halloween! And gentlemen, I know you might think it’s hilarious but please spare us all the former New York Congressman gray boxer-brief costume—no one wants to see that. At the very least, keep it off of Twitter. 

- Kaytee Yakacki, Oct. 24, 2011

Monday, October 23, 2017

Join "Advocacy Guru" Stephanie Vance for a Webinar on How to Keep your Advocates Inspired!

It’s not too late to register for tomorrow’s webinar with “Advocacy Guru” Stephanie Vance. Grassroots advocacy is fundamental to achieving policy goals. Join Stephanie tomorrow at 2 pm to learn how to keep your advocates inspired by developing a year-round advocate training and engagement program.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Appropriations Process

The Final Part in our Examination of the Budget and Appropriations Process

With the 302a allocations determined by the budget resolutions, the process moves to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The Chairperson of each chamber’s Appropriations Committee divides the allocation from the budget resolution into 12 separate 301b sub-allocations, one for each of 12 subcommittees. These subcommittees oversee different federal agencies and programs (e.g. Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies; or Energy and Water Development). The subcommittees take those limits and apportion money to the federal programs and agencies under their authority. The subcommittees will each pass their bill and the Appropriations Committee will then consider and amend the appropriations bills from the subcommittees. After that, the full House and Senate vote on the bills, reconcile differences, and send them to the President by October 1st, which is the start of the new fiscal year.

Or, at least that’s what’s supposed to happen under something called “regular order.” Of course, nothing about Congress follows regular order these days. Sometimes, to make the process easier, Congress will combine different spending bills to create an “Omnibus” bill. Because an Omnibus bill would be voted on just once (instead of 12 separate votes for 12 separate bills), these can be easier to pass.

If the work on any or all of the appropriations bills isn’t done by October 1st, Congress must take action to avoid a shutdown of any programs not yet funded. In this case, Congress can pass a bill maintaining funding at existing levels for any programs associated with an appropriations bill that hasn’t yet passed. These continuing resolutions (CRs) almost always have deadlines by which Congress must either pass a new CR, or finish up with the appropriations bills.

For FY 2018, Congress is pursuing both approaches. First, the House has created an “Omnibus” bill that combines all 12 appropriations bills. This bill has passed the House but is unlikely to pass the Senate. Meanwhile, both chambers continue to work on individual bills. But because this work was not finished by October 1st, the Congress had to pass a CR to keep government funded. This CR expires December 8th. So look for some excitement in the coming months!

- Jared Payne

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Advocacy Guru" Stephanie Vance Set to Speak at Upcoming PWIA Conference

Don’t miss “Advocacy Guru” Stephanie Vance at the PWIA conference on November 7th. She’ll be giving all her “how to” secrets away at a train the trainer session.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Key Terms in the Budget and Appropriations Process

Budget Committees: The House and Senate Budget Committees are each tasked with preparing a “budget resolution”, which sets out guidelines for the revenue and spending that is expected to occur in the upcoming fiscal year.

Appropriations Committees:  There is also an Appropriations Committee in each chamber. These Appropriations Committees are comprised of 12 Subcommittees, such as the “Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee” or the “Defense Subcommittee”.  Each of the subcommittees produces a bill specifying how much will be spent on the programs that fall into their policy area. The level of appropriations in each chamber is constrained by each budget resolution.

Discretionary Spending:  The entire budget and appropriations process  covers only discretionary spending, or the “optional” parts of government spending,  such as national defense, transportation, national parks, etc. “Optional” means that although the programs may be authorized, their funding levels aren’t guaranteed and must be reconsidered every year.

Mandatory Spending: Mandatory spending, on the other hand, is set by a specific formula established under previous laws, such as Medicare, Social Security, or Medicaid. In other words, these funding levels are guaranteed unless Congress overhauls the underlying law, a process that is not controlled by the Appropriations Committees.

Fiscal Year (FY): The federal government appropriates funds in fiscal years, which run from October 1st to September 30th in the following calendar year. The process of preparing budget requests for a fiscal year often begins a little over a year and a half before that fiscal year starts. Planning for FY2019, which will begin on Oct. 1, 2018, began in the spring of 2017.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB): OMB produces the President’s Budget by considering how agency budget requests align with the President’s policy and budget priorities. 

- Jared Payne

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Congressional Budget Process

“Deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” – Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Our story about the budget process continues with a visual that may be familiar to long-time keen observers of DC. The President’s budget is legally supposed to be submitted to Congress between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February, when pallets of the huge tome are delivered to office buildings on Capitol Hill (for FY2019, that means the deadline is Feb 5th). This rarely happens on time anymore- especially in the President’s first year in office- and there are no legal consequences for failure to perform this on time.

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 generally governs the budget process on Capitol Hill, but remember that Congress’ budget and final appropriations bills do not have to agree with the President’s budget and almost never do. The President’s budget is a strong suggestion. It can be seen as a political document, outlining the funding and cuts the Administration will fight for at the end of the process.

Around February 15th, the Congressional Budget Office submits budget and economic outlook reports to the House and Senate Budget Committees, and by sometime in mid-March, Committees submit their views and estimates to the Budget Committees. By April 1st, the Senate Budget Committee is supposed to report a Budget Resolution; and by April 15th, both chambers are supposed to have completed action on their budget resolutions and passed them on the floor.

These budget resolutions have no legal effect; they do not raise or spend any money. The budget resolution is a framework for Congress to consider revenue and spending legislation related to the appropriations process, which lays out spending limits for the Appropriations Committee, officially referred to as 302(a) allocations.

Just to give you an idea of how off the rails we can get with deadlines; the House just passed the FY2018 Budget Resolution last week by a 219-206 vote. Under regular order, that should have been done by mid-April.

In our next couple of post, we’ll cover the final aspects of the Congressional budget process, and look at how Congress appropriates discretionary spending.

- Jared Payne

Friday, October 06, 2017

Washington, D.C.: America's Most Hopeful Place

Take a look at this perspective from the Washington Post about why D.C. is actually America’s most hopeful place:

“What sets D.C. apart isn’t a love of power. It’s an appreciation for purpose. The defining feature of Washington is simple: People move here to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

- Jared Payne

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Regular Order for the Executive Budget Process

It’s early October. There’s a chill in the air, fall colors are appearing on the trees, and it’s the start of a brand new fiscal year... While many of us are a bit familiar with the trials and travails of interaction between Congress and the President, the reality is that the bureaucracy and federal departments are involved many months before. In fact, planning for the FY2019 budget began in the spring of this year, when the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued planning guidance to agencies. By late spring 2017 and into the summer, agencies and offices within those agencies began to develop their budget request based on that guidance. By July, OMB officially updates any changes to procedures on how agencies will submit those requests.

Once all that happens, agencies submit their official budget requests, and over the next couple of months, OMB staff will review those requests and compare them with President Trump’s policy priorities and budget priorities. Late this year, the White House and President Trump will make decisions on agency requests based on the advice of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney will then inform agencies of the decisions in what is commonly referred to as OMB “passback”, and some agencies will then try to appeal that decision to Mulvaney, or Trump directly.

Phew! And we’re not even at the final budget proposal that the Administration submits to Congress yet! Stay tuned.

For those looking for a fairly detailed examination of the Executive budget process in the early stages, take a look at this helpful overview from the Congressional Research Service:  

Friday, September 29, 2017

Senate Republicans Release FY2018 Budget Resolution, Foreshadowing Tax Battle

Today, Senate Republicans released a budget resolution for FY2018, with plans to vote on the resolution next week. Its passage will kick off another round of procedural battles designed to ease the majority's legislative priorities through the Congress. In this case, the focus is tax reform--so look for more entertaining and challenging battles in the months to come!

Take a look at this afternoon’s Politico story to learn more:

With the end of the fiscal year upon on, you may want to revisit some previous posts in that arena. Take a look!

1) What does Appropriations “Regular Order” really look like?:

2) Haven't we been here before?:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

For the Future of Advocacy, Look to the Past

This afternoon I attended AdvocacY from A-Y: Approaching Congressional Staffers, a great panel hosted by the Government Affairs Industry Network (GAIN) and CQ. The four panelists (two current hill staff and two former hill staff) outlined the best strategies for being heard above the noise on Capitol Hill. Here are my top take-aways:

  • Be a constituent, or be connected to constituents. If you can’t tie your issue back to the people they represent, you probably won’t get in the door (or in the e-mail queue). And you run the risk of annoying them.
  • Don’t talk about the campaign in official meetings. It’s sleazy.
  • You can’t just talk to a legislator or staff person once and expect them to do everything you want. You need to build a relationship.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.” Then get back to them.
  • Quality over quantity. Ten personal communications can be more effective than hundreds of form e-mails.
  • Know the legislator you’re talking to. Understand where they’re coming from and how they see the world. Then pitch your message in a way that makes sense to him or her. Find out what bills they’ve introduced, what committees, they’re on and where they are on the political spectrum.

If these sound familiar, well, they are! I and others in the advocacy community have been harping on these ideas for years. Actually, it’s decades now. I’m old. The fact that Congressional staff still feel the need to say all of this tells me that we need to continue to help advocates understand these principles.

So, yeah. If you’ve read this far, you know I’m about to tell you about some cool thing we’re doing here at Advocacy Associates to achieve that goal. We’re trying to fight that good fight through online courses. If you’re interested in seeing what we’re working on, go to:

Use the passcode advocacyguest

There you’ll find some materials from an online class we’ve put together to help advocates be effective in their communications. You can learn more at:

Of course, if you’re not interested, that’s fine too – happy advocating! 

- Stephanie Vance

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Christmas, in September

On December 24, 2009, the Senate gathered for a 7 am vote on Christmas Eve, and unless you’re really in love with the idea of a high-stakes sleep away camp, the idea of being potentially stuck at work overnight on the day before Christmas probably doesn’t appeal to you. Unfortunately, that may be a reality for Congress and its staff this December.

To keen observers of DC, these huge legislative battles at a deadline are nothing new, even around holidays. Congress rang in 2013 with a desperate Senate vote on the so-called ‘Fiscal Cliff’ two hours into the New Year. Recent legislation means that we appear likely to face December deadlines for more legislation needed to keep the federal government funded and open. Other action will be needed to ensure that the government has the authority to borrow money in order to make payments on the National Debt. Without an agreement on those bills earlier in the month, most of DC may be spending the winter holidays talking about amendments and cloture votes, rather than egg nog and holiday cheer.

This current Congress (the 115th) will be returning in January 2018, but in the holiday periods that immediately follow elections, the departing Congress may engage in some ‘Christmas tree legislating’, where dozens of unrelated ideas get tacked onto “must pass” bills, much like ornaments on a Christmas tree. We’re less likely to see that this year, but it’s helpful to remember for the December 2018 season.

If you want to learn more about the Congressional schedule, you can view the House calendar here:  and the Senate calendar here:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Happy Constitution Day!

Every September, the United States has a day set aside to celebrate one of its two most well-known founding documents. Despite constantly being upstaged by the Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence in July, Constitution Day commemorates the Constitutional Convention of 1787 each year.

At the time, Americans were governed under the Articles of Confederation, and when delegates met in Philadelphia that summer, they originally intended to revise those Articles. Instead, we ended up with a brand new form of government.

To learn more about Constitution Day, visit some of these resources:

The National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia:

Friday, September 15, 2017

"To spend more time with my family..."

Over the last week, several seasoned members of the House announced their intentions to retire, and a few more may soon follow. While much of the discussion may be related to the political impact on next year’s midterm elections, don’t forget that, in most cases, they’re not leaving Washington immediately. They’re still your representatives, tasked with listening to and serving you!

Some Members will run for a different office, but many will not. Those that are leaving politics will be less focused on political calculations and fundraising, and potentially have greater time to focus on the nuances of policy. Many departing members will be thinking of their legacies, and could be seeking to achieve some long sought policy goals before retirement.

If your member of Congress is retiring, now could be the ideal time to reach out for a meeting to discuss topics where you may find some common ground. Some staff could soon be moving on from your Congressman’s office to other opportunities, which makes this an ideal time to re-connect with them, because they could provide a connection to a different congressional office, or an introduction to the person taking over their legislative portfolio. Keeping those staff relationships is always a wise move. Sometimes, they may even wind-up working for the incoming Member of Congress for your very district.

Connect with your legislators by visiting or!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Back to School, er . . . Work!

Perhaps it's my inner-child, but this time of year always inspires me to learn new things. In that the spirit of gaining knowledge, I thought people might be interested in this handy-dandy guide to the legislative process from the House Rules Committee. It's a step-by-step overview of how a bill becomes a law. Citizens and GR professionals should know this stuff for (at least) two reasons: first, it's much easier to win the policy game if you have an inkling of the rules; and, second, it will give you a good sense of all the places where a bill can die--sometimes a terrible, painful death. Referred to multiple committees? Death. Voted down by the Committee or Subcommittee (or, more likely, not considered at all)? Death. Doesn't get past the House Rules Committee? Death. Voted down or not scheduled for the floor? Death.

You get the point. It's like legislative Game of Thrones this time of year. Cersei would be completely comfortable on Capitol Hill. So, as we dive in to a busy September full of fights over debt ceilings and appropriations, advocates and GR professional alike will need to protect and nurture any favored legislative initiatives. And the best way to do so is to know the rules!

Stephanie Vance

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

“I ask unanimous consent…”

With the Senate crafting, discussing, and debating its version of the House’s American Health Care Act, there has been a great deal of reporting about how the Senate works (or doesn’t). Many Senators from both parties are frustrated with the “behind closed doors” process for drafting legislation, and Democrats in particular are responding with tactics designed to slow down the consideration of the bill. One prominent approach is to object to all (or nearly all) of what are known as “unanimous consent agreements.”

What does this mean? Believe it or not, the Senate considers most legislation by unanimous consent, meaning that every Senator agrees not to slow down the discussion on whatever question the Senate as a whole is considering—from a vote on a piece of legislation, to the debate time allowed for a bill, to the time the Senate will meet the next day. In short, when a Senator says “I ask unanimous consent that. . .,” he or she is asking everyone to agree not to engage in long discussions or even to filibuster. They do this because normal Senate rules allow for extensive debates—sometimes seemingly forever. It helps the Senate get more work done.

That all changes whenever a Senator says “I Object!” to a proposed agreement. He or she can force the Senate to operate under the normal procedures. Imagine, for example, ongoing objections to unanimous consent agreements on everything from convening the next day at noon, to renaming a Post Office. Every one of those questions becomes eligible for thirty hours or more of debate. That’s why Democrats, who are eager to prevent the AHCA bill from coming to the floor, are using this strategy. They can tie up the Senate for days or weeks.

All of this is in keeping with the adage that the United States Senate is the “saucer that cools the tea” (or coffee, depending on your preference). It is designed for more thorough and sometimes ponderous discussions. As the Senate moves towards upcoming votes on health care legislation, look to see who is objecting to these Unanimous Consent Agreements and see how the normal functioning of the chamber might be slowed and altered.

-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Top Ten Things Elected Officials and Their Staff Hate to Hear

Number 10: But I thought my appointment was with the Senator. 
Never, ever indicate that you are disappointed to be meeting with a staff person. On Capitol Hill, having a good relationship with a staff person can make or break your cause.

Number 9: Here’s some reading material for you – our 300 page annual report. 
When meeting with a member of Congress or staff person, try to limit your leave behind materials to one or two pages, and include details on where this information can be located on the web, if appropriate. Offering the information in a file folder with your organization’s name on the label will also help ensure that the materials are put in a file drawer, as opposed to the round file.

Number 8: How much of a campaign contribution did your boss get to vote against (or for) this bill? 
Believe it or not, most staff have no idea who contributed to their boss’ campaigns. Not only is this question insulting, but even if it were accurate, the staff person isn’t likely to know.

Number 7: I assume you know all about HR 1234. 
With thousands of bills being introduced during each Congress, no staff person will be able to keep them all straight. Always provide information on the bill title, number and general provisions when communicating with a Congressional office.

Number 6: No, I don’t have an appointment, but I promise I’ll only take ½ hour of your time. 
Unless it’s an emergency, or you are good friends with the elected official or staff person, try not to engage in the dreaded “stop-by.” Most staff are happy to try to set up a meeting if you are relevant to the office (i.e., you are a constituent).

Number 5: No, I don’t really need anything specific. 
If you don’t ask for something – a bill cosponsorship, a congressional record statement, a meeting in the district, whatever – some staff will wonder why you came by. Updates on your issue are fine, so long as they are accompanied by a request. That will ensure that someone in the office thinks about you and your request for longer than 5 minutes.

Number 4: We have 10 (or more) people in our group. 
Congressional offices are tiny. If you have more than 5 people in your group, you’ll be standing out in the hallway. Plus, having so many people talking at once can dilute the impact of your message. Try to limit your group to no more than 5.

Number 3: What you’re telling me can’t be right. I heard Jon Stewart say otherwise. 
Most staff, or members for that matter, won’t lie to you. They know that lying will get them in big trouble. Sometimes, they may see things differently than you do, but if they say a bill definitely is not going to be considered on the floor, or if there is no such legislation, I’d believe them. A perfect example is a petition that was floating around the Internet about a House bill number 602P from a Congressman Schnell that would impose fees on use of e-mail. There is no such thing as either House bill 602P (that's not even a possible number), nor is there a Congressman Schnell.

Number 2: What do you mean we have to stand in the hall? 
See number 4. A request to meet in the hallway is simply an indication of space limitations. Nothing else.

Number 1: No, I don’t represent anyone from your district. I just thought you’d be interested in what I have to say. 
Members are elected to represent their constituents. Period. If you are not their constituent, you are not relevant to them. Some members do rise to higher positions, but that just means they represent the interest of other members, not the entire nation. Your time is always best spent working with your own elected official and turning them into an advocate for your cause.

-- By Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru, is of author five books on effective advocacy including the  The Influence Game. She is 20-year Washington, D.C. veteran, having served as a Congressional chief of staff and lobbyist. She lives and works in Washington, DC, offering workshops and trainings on effective advocacy. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Haven't we been here before?

CRs and Shutdowns

Unless Congress and President Trump act to prevent it, on Friday night at midnight, funding for the federal government will lapse, and the American public will witness another partial government shutdown. Politics aside, you are doubtlessly saying to yourself, “Haven’t we been here before?” In answering the question, one might look back to the shutdowns of 1995/1996 and 2013, or the numerous other instances in which such a situation was narrowly avoided.

Ideally, the president introduces his budget proposal in February, but it can often be (and frequently is) largely ignored by Capitol Hill. Congress, ideally, passes its budget resolution – a blueprint, if you will – by later that spring. This part rarely happens, and it doesn’t even appropriate any funding. In the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, 12 subcommittees are each tasked with writing bills for their government agencies, and getting those bills passed by their subcommittee, sent to the full committee, as well as brought to and passed on the floor. The bills are supposed to follow that budget that was to have been previously agreed upon by Congress. The House and Senate then negotiate back and forth, agree upon a conference bill, and ensure that the president signs the appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 of each year.

That almost never happens. Only four times, since the 1977 Fiscal Year, has the appropriations process worked as designed. For the 2002 Fiscal Year, Congress actually passed all of its budget bills, but it took 8 Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to get there first. That brings us to where we are this week. When Congress cannot agree on funding, often, they will pass a short-term bill that maintains spending at current levels. The current continuing resolution, to provide appropriations for many government agencies, expires at the end of the day, this Friday, on April 28th.

Congressional leaders and the White House maintain that they are attempting to pass and sign an omnibus bill for FY 2017 containing funding for the entire government passed this week, in time to avert a shutdown, but there are assuredly additional discussions about preparing a short-term CR to allow for more time to negotiate some of the disagreements between the various parties.

With so many interested parties with varying priorities, last-minute budget negotiations can often lead to one faction to include a priority that is anathema to others. Such “poison pills” on must-pass budget legislation have led to shutdowns before. As we move through the week, it’s safest to assume that no policy issue is necessarily safe from the discussion. 

-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates

Monday, April 17, 2017

It's a different year...

Regardless of your politics, it is difficult to deny that one of the themes of the year has been the power of people’s voices. Whether in protests on the streets, in town hall meetings, or in calls to Members of Congress, people have been making news while making their voices heard. The volume of calls coming into Capitol Hill has increased to an extraordinary level.

Contrary to what some may assume, Members of Congress often do love to hear from constituents and are interested in learning about what they can do to help people. When visiting the Capitol, advocates will find that certain strategies can ensure that Members of Congress and staffers are more likely to remember you and your message.

If you have been doing this for a while, you know the importance of having a continual relationship with someone on congressional staff.  It goes without saying that your personal stories, when coupled with an engaged and knowledgeable message go a long way.  Bring facts, figures, and information, but do not let that distract from the heart of your message.  All of this will reflect positively on your reputation as a source of knowledge, as well as that of your organization, and your public policy issue. If you are the most engaged and thoughtful meeting that someone has on their schedule that day, it will be appreciated and remembered by your congressman or senator.

With a new administration and a new congress, it has been a jam-packed spring, and making scheduled meetings has become even more crucial for everyone. If you are going to be a few minutes late to a meeting, reach out, let an office know. In the last couple of months, congressional office schedules have been more in flux than we have seen in the last few years, with occasional last-minute committee meetings or conference meetings. Be prepared for a number of possibilities. Some meetings may be moved to the hallway, or shortened by a few minutes, or others may need to be switched from a meeting with the Member of Congress to a meeting with staff. The congressional offices will do everything they can to ensure there is a meeting, but it’s always good to be prepared to walk and talk if needed.

By keeping those tips in mind your voice will stand out above the crowd, even in a time when so many other advocates and citizens are at their most engaged. 

-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates