The how-to... for HR 5680

First of all, realize that a large percentage of bills, even those that pass Committee, never see floor time. This is usually not due to a conspiracy, bad intentions, or illegitimate practices by congressional leadership, rather, it's generally a function of time and prioritizing. Keep in mind that there are 20+ Committees in the House and nearly as many in the Senate. They all pass a large number of bills each and every year.

Once they've gone through the committee process there are a number of factors that go into determining which ones make it to the floor for a final vote. I won't go into all of those reasons here; what you need to know is that the common factor for all the bills that do make it to the floor is that there is a strong advocacy supporting those bills. That advocacy can come in the form of a congressional champion or champions, a strong or well-connected lobbying group, grassroots efforts, media attention, or usually a combination of the above.

The point is, you won't advance your cause much by complaining that the bill is not receiving floor time, you and your friends need to focus your efforts on building, strengthening, and focusing that advocacy for H.R. 5680.

To do that, think about who you have on your side. In the little bit of time I spent perusing the 5680 coalition website I saw that you and your friends have already taken a number of steps towards creating an effective advocacy group. For example, you have some intellectual support, an informative web site, basic grassroots network, and have identified a key member to contact. That's a great start. Here are a few more suggestions as to how you should proceed:

  1. If you haven't already, contact Rep. Smith's office and find out from them the status of the bill. Ask them what you can do to help advance it. Coordinate all your efforts with his office as he, as the bill sponsor, also has a strong interest in seeing it pass. His office should be able to give you the most up to date and specific advice you can get on the matter.
  2. As soon as possible, get a good handle on the reasons Hastert is giving as to why he is holding this up. Is he saying he has problems with the bill itself or is it more of a scheduling issue? If it's the former than you need to convey the message that you're willing to negotiate and make needed changes. Smith's office should be able to help you with this.
  3. Find out what the bill opponents are saying. Know those arguments and have a ready answer to respond to them. While it may feel unfair and wrong that your oppenents have brought in a big-time lobbyist to oppose the bill, it doesn't do much good to directly attack the lobbyist, especially one that is as well liked as Dick Armey. Remember, he's just the messenger. Don't go after him, go after the message. Making personal attacks on him will only be counterproductive.
  4. Remember that constituents really do matter. Hastert will listen most to the folks from his congressional district or, as Speaker of the House, he will listen to the concerns of members of congress. Speaking frankly, having you as a resident of Virginia send him a note or make a call to his office doesn't carry much water. Having someone from his district call or send a letter is more effective. Having another member of Congress push him to move the bill is even better.
  5. Along those same lines, realize that letters and calls are important, but are by no means sufficient to make something happen. I'm not saying don't do them, but I know from my own experience that they only carry so much weight. If at all possible, schedule face-to-face meetings with your own congressional member (or, more likely, his/her staff) where you can make the pitch. It's easy to ignore or not take seriously a letter or a phone message (especially when you receive hundreds a day). It's much harder to tell a person no to their face. Do everything you can to sit down with staffers and ask them to help you personally. You'll get much better results that way.
  6. Lastly, this seems like it would be an obvious issue for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to get involved with. I noticed that a few CBC members are co-sponsors of the bill. See if you can get them to engage on this issue.

Like I said, these are just a few suggestions I came up with off the top of my head that might help you in this cause. Best of luck to you and don't hesitate to follow-up should you have any other questions.