Be Heard in Congress

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The election may be over, but you can still influence the work of Congress
By Carlon B. Walker

The work done by the members of the United States Congress has a significant impact on the lives of all Americans. As evidenced by the results of the November 2, 2010 elections, the American public has shown that they will replace members of the U.S. Congress who do not support the positions or policies that they perceive will yield a favorable impact on their lives. As a result of November 2, 2010 elections, the political make-up of Congress—the legislative arm of the U.S. federal government, which is made up of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives—will change. The Republican Party will gain a significant majority in the House, while the Democratic Party will maintain a slight majority in the Senate.

You made your voice heard by exercising your right to vote. If you believe in an issue strongly enough to take action, you can continue to make your voice heard by becoming a participant in the legislative process. You can influence how members of Congress vote on proposed legislation. The following are things you can do if you want to have an impact on the legislative process:

  • Identify the issues important to you that are being considered by Congress.
  • Research these issues at your local library. Your research of the issues will arm you with information about the positions taken by members of Congress, and will help you cut through rumor or misinformation about what provisions are actually contained in the proposed legislation.
  • Determine the impact the issues and the proposed legislation may have on you and others so that you can discuss all sides of the issues.
  • Determine what needs to be added, changed, or deleted in the provisions of the proposed legislation in order to address your concerns and main objectives. This information will help you decide whether you will ask your elected officials to support or oppose the legislation.
  • Use the resources at your local library to educate yourself on how the legislative process works. See The Legislative Process for a brief description.
  • Identify your U.S. Representative and Senators, and find out how to contact them.
  • Identify the members of Congress who have control over the proposed legislation and who will introduce it to the various committees and then to Congress for a vote. Use the links above to fiind the contact information for these members of Congress for potential future use.
  • Determine who the people and entities are that have the greatest interest in the issues being considered by Congress. This information will help you in understanding the positions taken by others.

After you understand the legislative process and the issues that are being considered by Congress, which may include the delivery of health care coverage and/or the creation of jobs for the American public, you should be prepared to be an advocate for the issues that are important to you. The first thing you should do is begin your communication efforts. Hopefully, your contact with your U.S. Representative and Senators will occur before they have taken action on the issues that are of interest to you. You may communicate by U.S. mail, email, or telephone. The most effective initial communication, however, may be a personal letter to your U.S. Representative and Senators, followed-up by a telephone call. Your letter, whether delivered by U.S. mail or email, should contain the following:

  • Your name, address and telephone number should be at the top of your letter. This information will verify that you live in the state or district represented by the elected official, and give your letter priority over other correspondence received from individuals outside the constituency.
  • Your concerns or request regarding the issues and the provisions of the proposed legislation should be in the first paragraph of the letter. This paragraph should (a) be written as clearly as possible and should identify the proposed legislation, (b) provide a brief description of your understanding of the proposed legislation, and (c) state the impact the issues and the proposed provision of the legislation will have on you and others.
  • Your next paragraph should offer a brief explanation of what needs to be added, changed, or deleted in the provisions of the proposed legislation, in order for you to ask your Representative or Senators to support the proposed legislation.
  • Your last paragraph should thank the Representative or Senator for his or her time and consideration and request an appointment to discuss these concerns further. You should also offer your continued assistance with respect to this legislative matter.

Now that you have become an advocate for the issues or interests you so strongly believe in, you should continue to use the resources available to you @ your library to keep you informed of issues and proposed legislation being considered by the members of Congress. You should also encourage other to participate in the legislative process so that their voices might also be heard.

Carlon B. Walker is an attorney licensed to practice law in Michigan and Illinois. In his private practice, located in Chicago, he provides legal advice and counsel with respect to tax, employee benefits, and estate planning.The information contained in this article, however, is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

Recommended Resources

How Congress Works and Why You Should Care
By Lee Hamilton
This book explains the role Congress plays in the United States constitutional system and calls on citizens to participate in their representative democracy.

Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process
By Walter J. Oleszek
This book provides an analysis of the way the U.S. Congress establishes policy and provides a chart demonstrating how a bill becomes law.

How Congress Works: A Look at the Legislative Branch
By Ruth Tenzer Feldman
This book discusses the establishment and history of the U.S. Congress, and the duties, and limits of the U.S. Congress.

The Library of Congress contains the text and details on all pieces of legislation introduced in the United States Congress.

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