Helping Your Bill Make it to Primetime
Q. How many bills are written that go nowhere?
A. The majority of them.
So what’s a poor advocacy professional to do?
Statistics are worth a thousand words. According to StateTrack, the 113th Congress introduced 9,252 federal bills. Of those, only 352 (4 percent) were passed by both chambers and signed by the president, making it into law.
Since January 2015, the 114th Congress has been even less productive. By the end of last year, only 115 bills had made it into law.
With numbers like these, it’s easy to see why you should resist the urge to throw a party just because a member of Congress proposes a law or measure in your favor.
You might get the House to propose a law you want, but without a sister bill in the Senate the issue is as good as dead.
Given those odds, how is anyone supposed to succeed in government advocacy?
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up seven tricks of the trade that might be useful to keep in mind:
Target the Administration
“While a legislative ‘win’ can come in the form of a bill signed by the President, there are other opportunities to have an impact, even without a bill’s final passage,” says Leslie Krigstein, interim vice president of public policy at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).
If you can get the administration behind your issue, it can use the regulatory process to accomplish its goals, “rather than navigating the political headwinds of a budget-conscious Congress.”
Get a LOT of Cosponsors
Even if the bill is likely to go nowhere, rally up cosponsors.
Legislation that garners a significant number of cosponsors can draw the administration’s attention, and can serve as a motivator for the administration to act, Krigstein says.
Focus on Committees
Make your two-house strategy complete by doing your homework, says Justin Barnes, former chair of the HIMSS Electronic Health Record (EHR) Association, who spent more than a decade on the Hill successfully shepherding bills through Congress.
Research both houses in Congress to find where you should put your efforts. You will need to reach out to totally different committees in the Senate and in the House.
To find key people, sit down with the staffers of House members who are sympathetic to your issue, and ask who could be sympathetic in the Senate. “Staffers know,” Barnes says.
Speed Passage Along
If your bill gets traction, work with both houses to ensure language in the bill stays compatible, Barnes advises. Sometimes difficulties in conference can slow things up, or even kill a bill, when both sides of Congress are trying to make the bills match.
Hover over this process to make sure you don’t lose important measures you want to pass, while at the same time, facilitating agreement between the bills. “You’ve got to stick with it through the entire process,” says Barnes.
Tag On to Funding Bills
Make use of the fact that funding and reauthorization bills have to pass. Tagging on to these bills can sometimes be the best way to get an issue through Congress.
Pay Attention to Other Bills Being Proposed
If the House or the Senate already has a bill proposed that is similar to what you want passed, work with the other side to get the sister bill off the ground. You can create support from the bill already proposed, Barnes says. If something is moving in one committee, or appropriations, it will automatically need a sister bill.
Sometimes it takes four to six years to get something passed, Barnes says. After that, the bill will more than likely move to regulatory agencies for implementation, which can take up to eight years to go through the proposal, comment period, and issuance of a final rule. All of these steps will take your participation to move the law toward the regulatory outcome you are seeking.