January 10, 2015
Your New Congress
Last Tuesday, the nation’s 114th Congress was sworn into office. As outlined in this column last month, the Republicans’ sweeping electoral success in November gives the party control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2006.
That win also allows Republicans the opportunity to set the agenda in Congress, and although it is still early, policy priorities are already becoming clear. Some of the issues Republicans are expected to tackle this year that may impact the arts are:
- Tax reform: Long considered the third rail in politics, Republicans appear to be angling to attempt to overhaul the tax code this year. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), the party’s nominee for vice president in 2012, was appointed chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue. This move was seen as an indication that Republican leadership is serious about reforming the system in the 114th Congress. Of premium importance to arts advocates is the preservation of the deduction for charitable giving. Last summer, while speaking about reforming the code, Ryan said that while rates should be lowered and offset by eliminating some deductions, the charitable deduction would be exempted from any such tinkering.
- Education reform: Legislation amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s preeminent law governing public education, has not passed in Congress since 2002. A primary stumbling block has been the divergent visions within the two political parties about the proper role of the federal government in public education. Senate Democrats have proposed a robust regulatory role, while House Republicans have called for less federal oversight and enhanced authority at the local and state levels. With Republicans now controlling both chambers, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who will lead the Senate and House education committees, are planning to push an overhaul of the law. NASAA will be working closely with our allies in Congress to pursue opportunities to enhance the role of the arts in public schools. Of primary interest will be the STEM-to-STEAM movement. In the last Congress, a bipartisan group of congressmen created the STEAM Caucus, which we hope will serve as a critical lever for advancing this issue.
Other issues that impact sectors of our industry may gain momentum, such as immigration reform, but the above appear, at this time, to be the most salient. Remember that outreach to new elected officials is most effective when it’s initiated before we need support on an arts issue. The issues outlined above are complicated and broad; if we wait until a bill is about to be voted on to weigh in, our chances of having an impact are limited.
Here are some practical pointers to help you get started on introductions to new federal legislators and set a positive tone and tenor for a future working relationship:
- Congratulate your elected officials on attaining their seats and getting sworn in. You can do this via an e-mail message or a written letter, though e-mail is preferable given the extensive screening that is done on congressional mail.
- Check out elected officials’ Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and websites. Just a few moments spent scanning these channels will provide useful “starter dough” for an introductory conversation.
- Set up a call or visit to learn more about their goals and what you read through their media channels. These meetings can occur in an elected official’s home office or at the legislature. One objective of a first meeting is to introduce yourself, but an even more important outcome is to demonstrate an interest in their goals. Listening not only shows respect and builds rapport, it paves the way for you to shape later discussions about how the arts might relate to their policy priorities in the future.
- Share a (brief!) story about the difference that state or federal arts funding has made in your elected official’s home community or legislative district.
- Leave some (brief!) information behind. NASAA can help you prepare a customized map to display your grant awards by state or federal legislative districts. One-pagers on other topics, like the economic or educational benefits of your agency’s programs, also make good leave-behinds.
- Equally if not more important, introduce yourself to the staff. It is often legislative staff that briefs officials on issues, helps to formulate positions and drafts legislation. Staffers also play the all-important gatekeeping role of managing an elected official’s calendar, not just for legislative activity but also for meetings with the public. So take the time to get to know your legislators’ staff, and bring copies of all materials for them.
- Participate in events convened by elected officials, even if (especially if) those events are not about the arts. Many newly elected public officials hold town meetings, on-line forums or other convenings. Be visible as a community stakeholder in those gatherings.
I urge you to share any information you glean from this outreach with me and the team at NASAA. After many years of inaction, 2015 appears primed to be a busy work period in Washington. Therefore, it is all the more important that we work together to convey a powerful and thoughtful message about the value of the arts.
In this Issue
State to State
Announcements and Resources
Executive Director's Column
Research on DemandSubscribe
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