Posts tagged ‘Persuading Congress’

Who Influences Legislators?

If you have ever wanted to take a position on a particular piece of legislation and take action to persuade the decision making of Congress but felt you did not have any hope of doing so, it is important to understand how legislators are influenced. The decision making of any legislator is primarily dominated by their constituents. With that said, just as it is important for anyone to consult a variety of resources before making an important decision, members of Congress follow the same pattern. They often consult family as well as friends, people they work with and subject matter experts.

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Legislators are like the rest of us. Their family and friends have their ear when it comes time to make a difficult decision. Legislators tend to speak with the people they trust the most and this includes their family and friends.

Acquaintances with more than a passing interest on a matter can also influence members of Congress. Legislators tend to know a lot of people. If an acquaintance has knowledge of a particular topic they can provide a lot of influence. Legislators also tend to pay attention to colleagues they respect. In many cases, legislators may actually seek out guidance from experts who have studied an issue and who bring their own perspective to the debate. This is particularly true of other members of Congress. Junior members of Congress may choose Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchto sit back and wait to see how senior members are going to vote before determining their own position on an issue.

Legislative leaders can also exert quite a bit of pressure on fellow legislators. There is definitely a hierarchy within Congress and members of the House of Representatives tend to be far more susceptible to influence than senators simply because House rules make it possible for leadership to establish the agenda.

What about lobbyists? How much influence do lobbyists actually exert over members of Congress? The common perception by the public is that it is quite a bit. The truth of the matter is that lobbyists only rarely determine policy outcomes. Organized citizens are more often responsible for determining policy outcomes.

If you have ever thought that you did not have a chance of making an impact, think again. It takes motivation and organization, but it is possible.

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 4 People Who Can Influence Legislators.

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How the President Influences Congress

More than any other outside entity, the President has a tremendous amount of influence regarding Congress. This is primarily due to the power of the veto. Provided there is one-third of either chamber of Congress that is in support of the position of the president, a veto can kill any piece of legislation. Only in rare circumstances is Congress able to override a veto.

James Madison, 4th U.S. President, 1809-1817

This remains relatively true even during times when the president may be unpopular. Even when the president is scoring low in the opinion polls with the public, it is still possible for him to affect the ability of Congress to enact legislation. The mere threat of the president using a veto can be enough to shape legislation in the direction of the president’s position. This is why presidents utilize the threat of a veto more than they actually use a veto.

The president also has an array of tools available for influencing Congress that extend beyond the veto. For instance, the president may choose to command public attention and focus it on his agenda. Regardless of the president’s popularity, when he speaks, the media covers what he says.

Ultimately, the president also controls the executive Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibsondepartments. This is accomplished through the appointment power granted to the president. By acting under presidential direction, many federal departments and agencies decide critical policy issues.

The president also has a tremendous amount of influence and power regarding the ways in which the federal government spends money. Congress ultimately exercises the power of spending under the Constitution, and the president develops an annual budget request. Even though Congress may choose to make changes to the budget request of the president, the presidential request still forms a broad outline of the ways in which money is spent.

The popularity of presidents rises and falls, but they always wields a tremendous amount of influence regarding Congressional affairs.

Are you interested in learning more about persuading Congress? Sign up for TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill and their 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Ch. 8 The President

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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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Persuading Congress – Establishing your Argument

In attempting to persuade members of Congress to consider your issue, remember that facts reside at the heart of a successful argument. No amount of rhetoric can have more of an impact than facts that are solidly researched.

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Facts have the ability to make or break your efforts. Before you even begin making any efforts toward persuading members of Congress, it is important to spend an ample amount of time carefully studying the facts. Try to analyze the relevant facts from every possible angle, because you can be certain that members of Congress will do this.

One mistake many people make when testifying is believing that everyone else views the facts from their perspective. Members and their staff members come from a variety of backgrounds and are concerned about all sorts of issues that are not relevant to you. As a result, some of them will view your situation differently than you.

In working to assemble a persuasive argument, you must make certain that the assertions of your case are actually factual. If you get caught lying or just slightly coloring the truth, your credibility can be immediately damaged. At the same time, you also want to check the facts of your opponents’ assertions.

Members prefer real people and stories with a human-interest angle. You will have a greater chance of succeeding if you are able to Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibsonprovide a compelling human interest angle. By and large, members are much more responsive to tangible human needs rather than abstract statistics–this is why bills that seek to remedy a problem within the criminal justice system often bear the name of a crime victim. It humanizes the problem.

Finally, always make sure you emphasize whatever parts of your case or story will appeal most to the individual with whom you are speaking. Feel free to change that emphasis as you speak with different people.

To learn more about crafting a persuasive argument, consider our workshop Effective Briefings: The Art of Persuasion.

Reference: Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Chapter 27, Facts and Arguments

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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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The Basics of Congressional Floor Consideration

After a bill makes it out of committee, there is a new challenge. While it is not unusual for a bill to make it out of committee, the bill may not actually make it onto the floor.

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Majority leaders determine if and when a bill will actually come to the floor. They must negotiate among numerous competing interests and there is a limited amount of time available to do this. If you are working to have a bill passed, your job is to convince party leaders that your bill deserves to come to the floor.

When party leaders evaluate whether a bill deserves to make it to the floor, they look past the policy rationale. First, they consider how much controversy is present regarding the bill; i.e., will the bill face a Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibsondifficult vote? In addition, they consider whether the bill will establish a good campaign issue for the majority party. Public opinion regarding the bill is also taken into consideration.

From the outset, you must consider the best way to make the case that your bill merits floor time. You should begin laying groundwork with party leaders to consider the bill for floor consideration when you see that your bill has gained momentum in committee. Then, you must make sure that party leaders are aware of your bill, as they may not know anything about your bill. Unless there has been a lot of media coverage of that particular bill.

To learn more about persuading Congress and the process of how a bill becomes a law, consider our 1-day course, Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, or our 3-day Advanced Legislative Strategies.

Reference: Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Ch. 38 Floor Consideration

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Understanding the Role of Party Leaders

Given the size of Congress, consisting of 535 members, it can sometimes be difficult to understand the role of various members and how Congress goes about establishing agendas.

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Just after each election, members of each political party for both Congressional chambers meet in order to elect party leaders. These positions are important as party leaders generally have more power than other members of Congress. This is particularly true in the House of Representatives.

For instance, party leaders are responsible for determining which bills will be considered by their respective chambers. They may also play a role in determining which amendments can be offered by other Congressional members. Party leaders also have a large influence determining the position of the party regarding particular issues.

In addition, party leaders also have the ability and the power to damage or advance the careers of other members of their own party. This can be accomplished by the way in which committee leadership positions, committee assignments and campaign funds are allocated. The way in which committee assignments are handled can be quite important. Not all committees are equal to one another, and some committees are able to wield more power as well as raise more campaign money.

Beyond these abilities, party leaders also have formal powers that are provided according to the rules of their respective chambers. One of the most important of these powers is the privilege to speak both first and last on issues if they so choose. In most instances, the power of party leaders is more of informal. Even though it may seem as though party leaders have a tremendous amount of power, any actions they take must be tempered by the need to maintain the support of the majority of their caucus. Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson

Because leaders have so much influence, it is important to build long-term relationships with them.

Reference: Chapter 4, Party Leaders and Chapter 5-Committees, Chairs and Ranking Members, in Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson


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

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