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National Debt

Writing Congress

At CapitolWatch, we receive a lot of emails from concerned citizens trying to contact their representatives in order to have their opinions heard on a wide range of issues.

Sometimes, we've noticed that messages sent to Congress regarding certain issues are sent to the wrong people, or people who have little ability to affect the outcome of an issue.

With this in mind, we have developed a very basic guide to contacting Congress and making your efforts count!

Bills & Legislation
One of the most common errors we see comes from citizens trying to contact their representatives regarding bills and legislation. There are a few things to keep in mind when contacting Congress about these issues.

First, bill titles tell you a lot about who to contact regarding them. For example, HR 434, a bill proposed by Rep. Sam Johnson to repeal the 1993 Social Security Tax during the 108th Congress.

The "HR", or "H. Res.", stands for House Resolution, which indicates that this bill is before the House (of Representatives). When contacting Congress about issues in the House, it is important to realize that the Senate does not have a say on bills & legislation in the House. While your Senators may be sympathetic to your cause and issues, they do not vote on these bills.

Therefore, for bills and legislation beginning with HR or H. Res., your most effective method of contacting the right people is to send your communications to members of the House of Representatives, not the Senate.

Conversely, if a bill or legislation begins with an "S", such as S.2537, the fiscal year 2005 budget proposal for the Dept. of Homeland Security, the bill was before the Senate and comments and questions about such items should be directed to your Senators.

Whom to Contact
Aside from sending your messages to the right chamber of Congress, there are additional methods that can help your message be heard.

One of the most effective is to address your communications to the right person! This may seem obvious; you send your message to your Representative or Senator, right? Well, maybe...

Members of Congress (Representatives and Senators) are deluged with mail and email on a regular basis. If they opened every letter and read every email they received, they would have even less time to do whatever it is they're supposed to be doing. Largely, it is the job of office interns or staff to go through the piles of messages directed to members.

Knowing this, you have some options that can help your message get to people higher up the ladder who actually can influence the outcome of legislation.

Before sending your message to your respective member of Congress, call the office of the member (the office in Washington, DC is your best bet - all members have DC offices) you are writing to and ask who is in charge of a certain issue (called a legislative assistant, or if you're lucky, legislative director). It is this person's job to follow the legislation and help decide whether it should be supported, fought, or left alone.

Another option in the game of Who's Who is to get the name of the Chief of Staff to the member you are trying to contact. This person is basically the second-in-command and has largely unfettered access to their one and only boss, the person you are trying to influence.

Both the legislative staff and the Chief of Staff are more likely to read their own mail, and more likely to have an active voice in supporting or defeating legislation than the interns and mail clerks.

How to Contact
Senate Mail:

The Honorable (full name)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

House of Representatives Mail:

The Honorable (full name)
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

You might have noticed that there are no room numbers or office buildings listed for the Washington, DC offices and the zip codes don't change much; this is not a mistake! All members are located in one of two groupings of buildings, and mail addressed in this fashion WILL reach them.

If addressing legislative staff or the Chief of Staff (or anyone else in the office), simply add ATTN: (person your are writing to) beneath the Representative's or Senator's name.

In Conclusion...
Contacting Congress isn't always easy, but oftentimes necessary. It is our job as citizens to remind them that that they work for us and just as surely as we put them in office, we can remove them as well!

Keep these simple hints in mind when contacting your elected officials, and you can be sure your voice is being heard!

Contact your members of Congress - list of members and contact information