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Receiving a Response from my Members of Congress

June 4, 2010

In my last post on the blog, “Sending Messages to Congress is Fun!,” I wrote about how my own experiences as a congressional intern in 2008 guide my letter writing as a constituent today.  Towards the end of my post, I briefly mentioned some of the responses I had received from my members.

When I wrote the post, I had heard from one of my Senators (lets call them Senator A) once and my Congressman.  I now have a few fairly lengthy responses from Senator A.  Recently I received a response from my other Senator (we’ll call them Senator B) as well.  Senator B’s response letter was similar to the one sent by my Congressman–vague and impersonal.  It didn’t mention the issue I had wrote about and basically just said “Thanks for writing.”  I actually have no idea what my original letter was about; I’ve written so many to Senator B, I don’t know which one the office was writing about.

The best responses have come, overwhelmingly, from Senator A.  These responses always mention the issue I initially wrote about and conclude with some mention of Senator A’s views.  Let’s take a look at a response letter.  This letter addresses the CLEAR Act:

Thank you for writing to express your support for the “Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act” proposed by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.

Right in the opening paragraph the letter mentions the issue.  This is helpful if you send many letters to your representatives.

On December 11, 2009, Senator Cantwell introduced the “CLEAR Act” (S. 2877), which would require coal, natural gas and oil companies that supply power plants to buy pollution permits for the emissions produced when their products are consumed. Seventy-five percent of the revenue from the carbon auction would be refunded on an equal, per capita basis to any legal resident of the United States. The remaining 25 percent would go into a fund that can be used for clean energy development, compensation for dislocated workers, climate mitigation and adaptation. The bill would also impose fees on the carbon used in production processes for commodities imported into the United States if the exporting country has not adopted comparable limits to carbon use. The “CLEAR Act” is currently being reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee.

The letter then gives a pretty succinct overview of the bill: when it was introduced, who introduced it, what it does, and the current status.  This is exactly how I was taught to write a response letter when I was an intern.  I know some people find this paragraph annoying.  Some feel that by writing a letter to their representatives about a certain issue, they already know about the issue and do not need to be retold.

I disagree with this idea.  How a bill is described in this short summary can give you some good information on the opinion of your representatives.

Letters usually end with a paragraph expressing the member’s views on the issue.

Please know that I share your support for taking strong action to address climate change, curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our carbon footprint. Although I am not a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind should the “CLEAR Act” come before the full Senate.

Members of Congress usually don’t include a firm statement about how they will vote on a certain bill.  However, I can infer from the way the bill is described in the second paragraph and the statements in the above paragraph that Senator A will probably vote for this bill if it comes to the floor for a vote.  Letters to constituents are public statements made by a member of Congress; anything written in a response letter can be quoted directly as something the member has said.  Not giving a firm statement on how they will vote gives them wiggle room should they change their mind before a vote.

When I was an intern many response letters were, unfortunately, sent to constituents after a vote had taken place.  These letters would include when the final vote had taken place, what the final vote was, and how the Congressman had voted.  We would also include a statement explaining why the Congressman had voted a particular way.

The above quotes were taken from a fairly standard response letter in which the Senator agreed with my views.  When Senator A disagrees with my views, I get a letter that follows the same structure as CLEAR Act letter, but it usually ends with something like this:

While we do not necessarily agree on this issue, be assured that your views are important to me, and I will keep them in mind as Congress continues to discuss the most appropriate course for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Some people probably wonder how true this statement is; will Senator A really keep my views in mind.  I’m sure the Senator’s staff will inform the Senator that some constituents disagree with the Senator’s views, but will that really change the Senator’s views?  I don’t know, I guess it would really depend on how many constituents write to express their views.

This is why it is so important to write to your representatives about issues you care about.  Your voices could help change your Senator’s vote or your Congressman’s vote.

Do you have something to say about hearing from your members of Congress?  Do you get a better reply if you send a letter by snail mail?  What about calling the office?  Sound off in the comment section below!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Uncle David permalink
    June 4, 2010 9:07 pm

    I too might have a different point of view on the issue mentioned. But I’m very proud that you are taking the time to contact your representatives to let them know how you feel. Your 1 voice counts for much more writing to them than it would not saying anything or discussing it only within your personal group. Keep participating.

    Love,
    Uncle Anonymous

  2. Joanne Baek permalink
    June 5, 2010 4:37 pm

    Actually, the letter from your senator misses the whole point, the goal of the CLEAR Act–Carbon Limits and annual reductions in them. I wrote a long comment about this here but my computer froze and ate it. Your post got me to mulling over the potential for purposeful FURTHER correspondence–not that I am under the illusions that all letters are read–and perhaps getting the senators’ replies to have more useful life to them. For instance if we can encourage our senators to write something so stellar about an appropriate bill that we want to quote them in a letter to the editor, the senator would probably like that a lot, and participate with some deeper attention to those letters (letters which could communicate better with voters about the issues). My thinking goes something like this:

    Dear Senator,

    I am grateful for your response to my letter about the CLEAR Act, and for your summarizing some of it’s contents. While I know your responsibilities and work load don’t allow you to focus your time on studying all bills still in committee, I would suggest that this bill is really something special and deserves closer attention. I will confess that I am also writing in the hopes that my letter will spur you to write, in letters to your other constituents, not only a summary of the bill, but also some of the effects its passage would have directly on them.

    (I also suggest that you might want to mention in your description of the bill it’s most important purpose and function, the ANNUAL DECREASE in amount of carbon extracted or imported annually, and thus emissions.)

    Your constituents may also be interested to know that in addition to the monthly revenue they will receive from the sale of carbon permits, they will be able to take an advance on these payments to allow their own energy programs such as installation of solar panels, if it will reduce their future energy costs and reduce emissions. I consider the “energy efficiency consumer loan program” (section 5(e) of the bill) an example how truly innovative this bill is, and hope you will too.

    There are quite a few reasons this is a bill your constituents could deeply appreciate, and I think it would be a real win on your part to not only support the bill but to help folks at home see how much it will benefit them. The European Environmental Agency anticipates $44 billion in annual health care savings from the 20% emissions reductions they plan by 2020. Even to those who think global warming is no problem, (and who haven’t heard about the coal disasters or BP spill) cleaner air will mean better health.

    I am planning to write some letters to the editor on this bill, and would love to quote you if after studying the bill more you decide to write more about it’s benefits to people here in _____.

    etc. Sincerely, etc.

    Lacey, I appreciate your post a lot, and particularly that it stirred up my thinking about how to make the letter exchange process more useful. Getting that letter back has usually a disappointment to me, and I think senators could do more, at least in this case, to explain the consequences of the bill, and related things, like reasons people oppose or support the bill. Even without taking a position, it would be helpful to know that the elected person has understood the positions people are expressing to him/her. I’d be curious what others think about this.

    Thanks very much for this post. I’d lost momentum for trying to communicate on this bill (ditto re Afghanistan) and maybe it will help me get started again on the issue where I am most likely to be articulate enough to help. I get nowhere without interaction, and that’s a shame as the head of the energy committee is one of my senators, just the person who maybe most needs influencing on energy issues.

    By the way, installation of solar panels is my own interpretation of the CLEAR consumer loan program, and I haven’t checked yet to see if I am interpreting correctly. But it sounds perfect. Imagine poor people being able to afford solar installations and then selling energy to the utilities!

  3. Joanne Baek permalink
    July 26, 2010 4:17 pm

    Me again. You can tell from my earlier comment that I haven’t learned to say a lot in a few words or do it well even when I use a lot of words. I DO find this post and the previous one very helpful in guiding me forward, even though I am not getting anywhere fast. I am still of the hope that there is a way to work with this process both to bring the senator/representative deeper into the issues of the bill and my/our goals, AND to integrate that process with a letter to the editor and op-ed campaign, helping to inform both constituents and senators and help them be more responsive to one another.

    Here are three things currently on MY mind I’d currently like to get across about the CLEAR Act and climate legislation in general (it’s NOT by all means all I want in an energy/climate bill).

    1) The annual rate of decrease given in the CLEAR Act is an unworkable 0.25% which would have us maybe 5 to 7% ABOVE 2005 levels in 2020, NOT 20% below as the CLEAR Act states as it’s goal. ANY carbon limits bill should be aiming much higher… say 5% annual reduction maybe? And should be across the board and upstream at the source. MUCH easier as well.

    2) the energy efficiency consumer loan program is really an important way to give people the power to make the change through their own actions. (This is a key issue I’d like to see senator’s talk about with their constituents and promote.) It requires a dividend program.

    3) We also need a national net metering law, that makes payment of all solar/wind/wave, etc clean energy fed into the grid including by residential systems to be paid well for that energy–above what the utility/grid pays for fossil fuel/nuclear energy.

    Now if only I can figure out how to write those concise but thorough letters to senators and editors.

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