Receiving a Response from my Members of Congress
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!