WASHINGTONMeeting with members of Congress to push an
issue can seem intimidating, but the key is to remember that
legislators are people, too, and to treat the encounter as the
beginning of a relationship, Robin Carle said at the 1999
Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) annual convention.
Ms. Carle, a consultant and former vice president of the
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, spoke the day
before about 50 patients, family members, friends, and health care
providers went visiting on Capitol Hill.
Every day in Congress is busy, she noted, and
members are always awash in a tide of issues. Its a numbers
game for them, because they have to keep an eye on how their actions
might translate into votes. So the smaller your issue or the smaller
your group, the greater the chance youll get squeezed out to
the edge. The goal, then, is not to fall off the edge, she
Walking the edge effectively involves practical measures, as well as
some social savvy. The first step is to get a meeting. To do this,
she said, write the request in a letter of introduction that is no
more than one page long, with key points bulleted.
If you get the meeting, thats goodbut its
only the beginning, she said. Now, you must think about
what youre going to cover during the meeting.
Ms. Carle advised the audience not to take up to much time with
details. Congressional members are likely not conversant in
your area, she said. Its best to bring them up to
speed, concisely, on the import of your issue.
If there is a level of emotion involved, convey that as
wellbecause the last thing you want is for your
legislator to leave the meeting thinking it was a courtesy call. In
kidney cancer, for instance, show that the issues are deadly and
important, she said.
Dealing With Staff
Ms. Carle reminded the audience that a legislators office does
not consist of the legislator alone. Theres a whole staff
to help, Ms. Carle said, and anyone with an issue should
take advantage of that. Building a relationship with the members
staff is critical.
If you meet with the legislator, notice whos sitting around him
or her, she said. If you dont meet with the legislator,
dont be miffed, since the legislative director may be the one
with the time to pay attention to details. Similarly, if youre
trying to get the attention of a committee, dont feel you have
to meet with the committee director; the staff can be helpful.
If you were scheduled to meet with a legislator and suddenly find
yourself meeting with a staffer, its not something to
take personally, Ms. Carle said. Maybe a vote was called.
Thats just the way the process works.
Its also important not to give the impression youre in a
hurry when you meet with someone on the Hill. Theyre glad
to see you, she said. Theyre people-people; they
ran for office. Dont feel like youre an imposition. You
got on their schedule, and a lot of people dont. So they want
to see you. But she cautioned that congressional staffs
tend to be young and overworked, and at times they can seem
After the meeting, she said, remember to follow up with a letter that
will provide some of the detail there was no time to convey at the
meeting. Consider calling or paying another visit.
If you meet and then disappear off the screen, youve lost
the opportunity and the reason you came to town, she said.
If they expect to see you again, or if you meet with their
staff regularly, theyre more likely to pay attention.
After Ms. Carles speech, the audience members broke up into
groups to go over the points they wanted to convey at their
legislative meetings the next day, including increased funding for
the National Cancer Institute.
In a briefing paper circulated at the meeting, the Kidney Cancer
Association noted that although NCIs budget increased by about
15% last year, only a 2% increase was proposed for the year 2000.
This is not enough, the Association stated. Millions
of Americans have cancer, and millions die from it. Some of them are
kidney cancer patients. We expect our government to look after the
interests of its citizens.
The Association also expressed support for legislation to enable
Medicare patients to participate in clinical trials. The average age
of kidney cancer patients is 62, and most are covered by Medicare.
The group opposes any legislation to control drug prices, reasoning
that such restrictions would reduce private investment in biomedical research.
The Association leadership warned members who went visiting on the
Hill they might be told There is no money or that
Budget caps prevent enacting this legislation. Do not
accept these excuses, the primer said. There was plenty of
money to bomb Serbia, and many more will die from cancer than from
atrocities, awful as they were. As for budget caps, the primer
called these a creature of Congress that can be modified at any
time by Congress.