Tips for Working with Capitol Hill
Visiting Capitol Hill
One of the most effective ways to get your message across to your member of congress is to visit their office personally. That way they and there staff will be fully aware of how you, the person they represent, feel about a specific legislative issue. Here are some useful tips for your congressional visit.
Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position. Members are required to take positions on many different issues. In some instances, a member may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular matter. It is therefore helpful to share with the member information and examples that demonstrate clearly the impact or benefits associated with a particular issue or piece of legislation. The CUNA staff will usually brief you before your meetings. They will offer information on the current legislation being worked on and also give you helpful tips for getting your representatives attention (Project Differentiation and Project Zip Code). You should be well informed on what you want to discuss, that way you will be able to get your point across quickly and effectively.
Be Prompt and Patient
When it is time to meet with a member, be punctual and be patient. It is not uncommon for a Congressman or Congresswoman to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to the member's crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with a member's staff. You may not always get to spend the amount of time you wanted with a congressman or woman that you wish. Talking to the staff allows your views heard by the people who need to hear it. The staff is someone that the representative sees on a daily basis and trusts for information. If you make a good impression on them you will be helping yourself and your issues.
Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the member's constituency. This is a good time to bring up Project Zip Code if you are a participating state. If possible, describe for the member how you or your group can be of assistance to him/her. Where it is appropriate, remember to ask for a commitment.
The members have all kinds of information crossing their desk so they may not be as up to date as you on your issue. Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information, in the event the member expresses interest or asks questions. Follow up the meeting with a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting, and send along any additional information and materials requested
The Legislative Process
Anyone may draft a bill; however, only members of Congress can introduce legislation, and by doing so become the sponsor(s). There are four basic types of legislation: bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions. The official legislative process begins when a bill or resolution is numbered - H.R. signifies a House bill and S. a Senate bill - referred to a committee and printed by the Government Printing Office.
14 Steps From Bill to Law
Step 1. Referral to Committee
Step 2. Committee Acton
Step 3. Subcommittee Review
Step 4. Mark Up
Step 5. Committee Action to Report A Bill
Step 6. Publication of a Written Report
Step 7. Scheduling Floor Action
Step 8. Debate
Step 9. Voting
Step 10. Referral to Other Chamber
Step 11. Conference Committee Action
Step 12. Final Actions
Step 13: Veto or Passing of Bill
Step 14: Overriding a Veto (optional)
1. Referral to a Committee:
With few exceptions, bills are referred to standing committees in the House or Senate according to carefully delineated rules of procedure.
2. Committee Action
It is at this point that a bill is examined carefully and its chances for passage are determined. If the committee does not act on a bill, it is the equivalent of killing it.
3. Subcommittee Review:
Often, bills are referred to a subcommittee for study and hearings. Hearings provide the opportunity to put on the record the views of the executive branch, experts, other public officials, supporters and opponents of the legislation. Testimony can be given in person or submitted as a written statement.
4. Mark Up:
When the hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet to "mark up" the bill, that is, make changes and amendments prior to recommending the bill to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report legislation to the full committee, the bill dies.
5. Committee Action to Report a Bill:
After receiving a subcommittee's report on a bill, the full committee can conduct further study and hearings, or it can vote on the subcommittee's recommendations and any proposed amendments. The full committee then votes on its recommendation to the House or Senate. This procedure is called "ordering a bill reported."
6. Publication of a Written Report:
After a committee votes to have a bill reported, the committee chairman instructs staff to prepare a written report on the bill. This report describes the intent and scope of the legislation, impact on existing laws and programs, position of the executive branch, and views of dissenting members of the committee.
7. Scheduling Floor Action:
After a bill is reported back to the chamber where it originated, it is placed in chronological order on the calendar. In the House there are several different legislative calendars, and the Speaker and majority leader largely determine if, when, and in what order bills come up. In the Senate there is only one legislative calendar.
When a bill reaches the floor of the House or Senate, there are rules or procedures governing the debate on legislation. These rules determine the conditions and amount of time allocated for general debate.
After the debate and the approval of any amendments, the bill is passed or defeated by the members voting.
10. Referral to Other Chamber
If only minor changes are made to a bill by the other chamber, it is common for the legislation to go back to the first chamber for concurrence. However, when the actions of the other chamber significantly alter the bill, a conference committee is formed to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If agreement is reached, a conference report is prepared describing the committee member's recommendations for changes. Both the House and the Senate must approve of the conference report.
12. Final actions
After a bill has been approved by both the House and Senate in identical form, it is sent to the President. If the President approves of the legislation he signs it and it becomes law. Or, the President can take no action for ten days, while Congress is in session, and it automatically becomes law. If the President opposes the bill he can veto it; or, if he takes no action after the Congress has adjourned its second session, it is a "pocket veto" and the legislation dies.
After this the Bill goes to the President's desk. He may sign the bill and make it a Law or he may decide to Veto the bill.
14. Overriding the Veto
If congress can get a two-thirds roll call vote of the members who are present in sufficient numbers for a quorum they can override the president's veto.
Congressional Staff Roles:
Each member of Congress has staff to assist him/her during a term in office. Many times you may see someone from the congresses staff, whether it is in a meeting or just in the office waiting. To be most effective in communicating with Congress, it is helpful to know the titles and principal functions of key staff. If you know who the key members are you may get a chance to discuss your issue more than once. The more people that know what you are there for the more effective your trip will be. Don't be afraid to talk to the staff they are there to help you get your message across to the representatives.
Commonly Used Titles:
- Administrative Assistant or Chief of Staff: The Administrative Assistant reports directly to the member of Congress. He/she usually has overall responsibility for evaluating the political outcome of various legislative proposals and constituent requests. The Admin. Asst. is usually the person in charge of overall office operations, including the assignment of work and the supervision of key staff.
- Legislative Director, Senior Legislative Assistant, or Legislative Coordinator:
The Legislative Director is usually the staff person who monitors the legislative schedule and makes recommendations regarding the pros and cons of particular issues. In some congressional offices there are several Legislative Assistants and responsibilities are assigned to staff with particular expertise in specific areas. For example, depending on the responsibilities and interests of the member, an office may include a different Legislative Assistant for health issues, environmental matters, taxes, etc.
- Press Secretary or Communications Director:
The Press Secretary's responsibility is to build and maintain open and effective lines of communication between the member, his/her constituency, and the general public. The Press Secretary is expected to know the benefits, demands, and special requirements of both print and electronic media, and how to most effectively promote the member's views or position on specific issues.
- Appointment Secretary, Personal Secretary, or Scheduler:
The Appointment Secretary is usually responsible for allocating a member's time among the many demands that arise from congressional responsibilities, staff requirements, and constituent requests. The Appointment Secretary may also be responsible for making necessary travel arrangements, arranging speaking dates, visits to the district, etc.
The Caseworker is the staff member usually assigned to help with constituent requests by preparing replies for the member's signature. The Caseworker's responsibilities may also include helping resolve problems constituents present in relation to federal agencies, e.g., Social Security and Medicare issues, veteran's benefits, passports, etc. There are often several Caseworkers in a congressional office.
- Other Staff Titles:
Other titles used in a congressional office may include: Executive Assistant, Legislative Correspondent, Executive Secretary, Office Manager, and Receptionist.
Communicating with Your Elected Representatives
Tips on Telephoning
To find your senators' and representative's phone numbers, you may use our searchable online congressional directory found at www.cuna.org (than go to Governmental Affairs and click on the Grassroots Action Center Icon) or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators' and/or representative's office.
Remember that a staff member, not the member of Congress, usually takes telephone calls. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue about which you wish to comment.
After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.___)."
You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill. Ask for your senators' or representative's position on the bill. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.
Tips on e-mailing Congress:
With the recent anthrax scares in The DC area the mail system is not as efficient as it used to be. E-mail is a fast way that you can send information and opinions to your representative. Generally, the same guidelines apply as with writing letters to Congress. Always ask for a response back that way you can be sure that your e-mail reached the person you wished to contact. You may find and e-mail your senators and representative directly from the CUNA website mentioned above.
Tips On Writing Congress
The letter is still a popular choice of communication with a congressional office. If you decide to write a letter, this list of helpful suggestions will improve the effectiveness of the letter:
- Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly, e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
- Be courteous, to the point, and include key information, using examples to support your position.
- Address only one issue in each letter; and, if possible, keep the letter to one page.
To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Note: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address them as:
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman, or Dear Mr. Speaker:
Now you should be fully briefed on how to work and communicate with the people on the hill. If you are confused about anything or need help please feel free to look things up on Our Website at www.cuna.org under Governmental Affairs.