|We are now at the midway point of the 116th Congress and approximately 11,500 pieces of legislation have been introduced in both the House and Senate. A majority of these measures have no hope of receiving floor consideration. Members realize this when they introduce bills, but do so nonetheless in order to please their constituents back home. There are, however, many meaningful bills worthy of consideration by Congress, and yet many of them meet the same fate.|
The legislative process is like a road under construction with many potholes and detour signs. It requires patience, determination and an understanding of committee leadership and our 535 representatives who control the flow of the legislative traffic — or gridlock as many would say.
It’s one thing to know the names of your members of Congress but it’s another to know their backgrounds and committee assignments. Whenever I speak to audiences about engaging in the legislative process, I stress the importance of knowing about your members of Congress — their backgrounds, their political leanings and their committee assignments.
When a measure is introduced — whether in the House or Senate — it is referred to a committee of jurisdiction. Legislation sponsored by a member serving on the committee of jurisdiction has a greater likelihood of advancing than a measure introduced by a member not serving on this committee. That is why the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) and the National Fire Sprinkler Association sought support from members of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee when we were looking for sponsors and cosponsors of the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act that was eventually approved as part of the Jobs and Tax Cut Act of 2017.
Quite often, members of Congress seek appointments on committees that authorize programs benefiting large swaths of their congressional districts. Many members from the Midwest region serve on the Senate and House Agriculture committees. Members with large military bases in their districts seek coveted positions on the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. And members with legal backgrounds will serve on the House and Senate Judiciary committees.
This information is important to know, not only for you but also for the national fire organizations. When a congressional committee is acting on a piece of fire service legislation, we often seek support from fire service officials represented by committee members to deliver a message. Members are often more receptive to receiving messages from their constituents then a lobbyist in D.C.
So how can you learn more about your member? I have yet to find one member’s website that didn’t include biographical information, including committee assignments. If your member serves on the Senate or House Commerce committees, you can help us advocate for passage of legislation addressing the T-Band. If your member serves on Senate Finance Committee or the House Ways and Means Committee, you can help us advance legislation that will provide incentives for volunteer recruitment and retention, and for the installation of fire sprinklers in businesses and high-rise structures. The same can be said of members serving on the committees with oversight of our forests and wildlands and legislation that fund suppression and mitigation programs.
As former Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill once stated, “all politics is local.” Don’t think otherwise. Your voice can make a difference, especially when your member holds the key that can unlock the door to action on legislation benefitting our nation’s fire service.