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.