Posts tagged ‘constituency’

How Legislators Make Decisions

Congress is both slow and deliberative, by design. When the new government was established in 1789, it was created through the rather elaborate use of a system of checks and balances that were meant to ensure that no single section of government would be able to dominate the process. Although this system can be frustrating, it remains the single most important reason why America has managed to endure for over 200 years.

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Individual members of Congress must work within this system, deliberative as it might be. At the same time, they must blend their own beliefs within political pressures. A complicated political formula is often used by legislators for deciding when they should vote for or against bills, whether they should oppose or support funding for initiatives, and whether they should cosponsor certain pieces of legislation. When everything else is peeled away, legislators must consider three factors.

First, decision makers must recognize that the decisions they make will affect the lives of others. Toward that end, they are often guided by their own beliefs and value systems. Although there are no hard and fast rules, members of the Senate tend to be more deliberative and thoughtful as opposed to members of the House, which are slightly more prone to being swayed by passions of the public.

Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad FitchSecond, members of Congress must also research issues when making a decision. Fortunately, Congressional staffers and members have access to practically every study every written regarding public policy. Independent studies help to guide thinking while also justifying policies.

Third, legislators listen to their constituents when making a decision. In most cases, the personal beliefs of a legislator and the attitudes of a legislator’s constituency are not far apart, which is why the legislator was elected in the first place. Even so, most legislation will not usually affect most of the citizens in a state or a district. Instead, it will impact small groups, possibly in very significant ways.

Legislators assess the political impact of decisions in many ways. For almost every decision, each legislator will generally conduct a personal political analysis regarding the ways in which the perception of voters in his or her state or district will be impacted.

To learn more about about the way legislators approach decision making, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell, and the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Chapter 3 How Legislators Make Decisions

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How Legislatures, Including Congress, Really Work

When you attempt to influence a group of people, it is important to develop an understanding of the environment in which that group operates. Congressional and state legislative environments differ from other environments, including private and public workplaces. Learning to appreciate those differences as well as the inherent characteristics that are unique to legislative environments can provide you with an increased chance for successful grassroots advocacy.

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One of the most common mistakes of citizen advocates is viewing legislatures through their own work environment. While it is true that Capitol Hill can resemble a group of independent small businesses, Congress has a definite hierarchical nature. Understanding that nature of Capitol Hill is essential to your success in achieving your goals and outcomes.

Constituents play a critical role on Capitol Hill, driving almost all decision making within congressional offices. The American system of government is set up in a manner in which legislators are first and foremost beholden to those they represent. Rules of the House and Senate reinforce this association by legally prohibiting members of Congress from spending their office budgets on behalf of non-constituents.

Two types of constituents interact with legislators: those who have an interest and those who have an opinion. Members of Congress rarely accept meetings with non-constituents. This can be quite frustrating for a group with no constituent connection that wishes to influence a member.

If you want to influence a member of Congress that does Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchnot represent you, your best opportunity is to have your own legislator work on your behalf to influence that member.

Constituents also play a prominent role in setting the daily agenda for legislators. Any constituent that makes the effort to actually travel to Washington or even to write their member of Congress will almost always receive a meeting or some type of response.

Ultimately, your efforts to persuade any member of Congress depend upon your constituent connection to that member of Congress or your ability to have that member’s constituents make an effort to reach them. Without that association, your efforts may very well come to naught.

To learn more about learning how Congress works, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Part 1 How Government Really Works

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Attracting Allies to your Issue

It’s no secret that the key to gaining support for an issue in Washington is to gather as many allies as possible and then translate those allies to critical votes. Congress responds to pressure, so the more people and groups you have as allies, the greater chance you have to achieve your goals.

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When you begin with a new issue, you want to work with others who share your interest on that particular issue. Determining who is directly affected by the issue will give you an understanding of who your allies might be. Although it might seem obvious who your allies might be, this is not always the case –there can be potential allies that are less obvious.

Persuading Congress, by Joseph GibsonOnce you have identified potential allies, the next step is to get in touch with them and work towards enlisting their assistance in your cause. In many instances these potential allies may not be aware of your existence or of your issue. Lobbyists, whose job is to study every move made by Congress, can not stay on top of everything. Do not make the mistake of assuming that potential allies know about you and your issue–it is up to you to get the word out.

You also want to learn whether your prospective allies are willing to contribute resources to supporting you. It is common for people to say they have an interest in an issue but in the end they do not believe it is important enough for them to spend money or time on it. This can be a problem with organizations and companies when they feel an issue is not especially urgent or if they feel that nothing will be done about it in the near future. You can avoid this type of problem by approaching someone directly affected by the issue in the company or organization your want involved.

After you have compiled a list of people who are willing to work on the issue, get them together and develop a plan. Make sure everyone contributes something by assigning tasks and placing someone in charge of assuring those tasks are carried out.

To learn more about persuading Congress, consider our course Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, and Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Ch. 29 Allies

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Differences between the House and the Senate

In preparing to work with members of Congress, it is important to understand the differences between the House and the Senate. The more you understand about each chamber of Congress, the better prepared you will be to gain support for your issue.

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At 435 members, the House is the larger chamber. The Senate has 100 members with two senators from each state. Representatives serve shorter terms, two years, while Senators serve longer terms of six years. There are four calendars for the House: Union, House, Private and Discharge. The Senate has two calendars: Legislative and Executive.

In terms of procedure, the House has less procedural flexibility and more rule restraints than the Senate. In the House, power is more concentrated in the leadership and less evenly distributed among Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelakmembers. Leadership in the House is much stronger than in the Senate, where power is usually more evenly distributed.

Debate within the House is always restricted, while debate within the Senate is rarely restricted. Debate ending motions within the House occur by majority vote of 218 members. In the Senate, cloture is invoked by a vote of 60 Senators.

In the House, constituency is much narrower than in the Senate. In the House, the constituency is limited to each House District. In the Senate, the constituency is larger and involves an entire state.

In communicating with members of Congress, keep in mind that representatives are less reliant on staff. On the other hand, Senators are often more reliant on staff.

Finally, the House adjourns at the end of the day while the Senate recesses at the end of most days.

To learn more about the differences between the House and the Senate, see CongressByTheNumbers.com and Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 4.9 Differences between the House and the Senate at a Glance, and the Congressional Deskbook, §§ 8.150-8.151.

For more information about congressional operations and effective advocacy in Washington, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net

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Understanding the Effects of Constituency on Persuading Congress

When you have an issue that you want to present before Congress, it is important that you first discuss it with the two senators from your state and the representative for your district. These 3 members of your congressional delegation have the largest stake in assisting you when you are a voting constituent, and it is imperative to their re-election efforts to look after the interests of their constituents. And their constituents include businesses and other organizations.

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In addition, your representatives will commonly sit on committees that can assist you with your issue. However, many organizations fail to speak to their representatives. As a result, they often experience poor results in their goals to persuade Congress regarding their particular issue because they must stand in line behind those organizations and individuals who speak to their representatives first.

Bear in mind that persuading Congress is a long-term process. Getting to know your congressional delegation and building a relationship with them is ongoing. And your congressional members want the same thing–they want to know key employers and organizations in their state and district.

In some cases it is possible that your local Congressional members either may not sit on a committee that can assist you or they may Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibsonsimply be too junior to have much influence. Even if this is the case, this does not mean that they cannot assist you. Members of Congress build influence by assisting other members. Senior members of Congress naturally want to assist junior members for many different reasons. And members of Congress usually do not have difficulty getting other members to at least listen to them. In most cases, members will have a much easier time in getting the attention of other members outside your district than you will.

As a result, your representative may be able to speak to an influential member of Congress on your behalf when you would not be able to do so.

To learn more about persuading Congress, consider these courses from TheCapitol.Net: Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, and Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Ch. 21 Constituency

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For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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