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Don't Wait Until January: Make the Most Out of the Lame-Duck Congress

by Joshua Habursky, Head of Government Affairs, Premium Cigar Association (PCA)

Learn how you can leverage the untapped potential of the last few weeks of the current Congress.

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A lame-duck Congress is often an afterthought for many organizations that are still figuratively hungover from election season, ignoring the hidden potential of the last weeks of the session.

With retirements and electoral defeats, there are several members of Congress who have been freed from the political pressures and constraints of retaining their job. This time may actually be better than weeks ago to get something done because of these political dynamics and the fact that the members and staff cannot use the election or the demands of their campaign as an excuse not to address an issue or priority.

To leverage a lame-duck session, advocacy professionals can follow these tips and tricks to maximize their effectiveness with existing members of Congress and to also adequately prepare for the inevitable change of the guard:

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Circling Back on that Meeting/Priority

A member of Congress or staffer may not have gotten around to answering your email request for weeks or months leading up to the election.

An election victory is a perfect time to circle back on your priorities for the existing Congress and see if you might be able to get something inserted into an end-of-year package or moving legislative vehicle. Even if you know a bill isn’t going to be enacted into law you may want to try to get something out of committee to set the tone for the next Congress and show progress moving forward.

If the member of Congress didn’t seek reelection or lost the reelection, it is unwise to discount these offices entirely as most of the people will still be working in Washington. It doesn’t hurt to schedule some meetings to see where everyone is going and their future career plans.

Reminders

Members of Congress and staff may need a reminder about their promises and priorities. You may want to reach out to your legislative champions to get them re-engaged and let them know that time is slipping away to get something done this year. Getting a constituent to sound the alarm or organizing an impromptu briefing on your issue can bring you back to a top-of-mind priority.

Social Network

November and December are social months with many parties, receptions, luncheons, etc. If you are an organization that engages in advocacy, you should be hosting some social event or holiday party preferably at a Washington, D.C. location.

This type of relaxed atmosphere presents a great opportunity to bring your leadership to connect with members of Congress and staff. These social gatherings are good at building lasting professional relationships that are not as rigid as a Hill visit or Zoom call.

Be warned it is a bit of an arms race of throwing the best holiday party in D.C. and you should also be cognizant of the gift rules surrounding events with members of Congress and staff.

Freshman 15

During the lame-duck session, the most effective government affairs and advocacy teams will be splitting their time between the present and the future. While you should continue to engage with members of the 117th Congress, getting 15 minutes with some of the freshmen members of Congress is ideal to hit the ground running in 2023.

If the office has a retiring member of Congress or they were not re-elected it is worth trying to engage with the teams that will be taking over. In the case of retiring offices of the same political party, the existing office may be able to help transition your relationships.

In the case of electoral defeats, it may be more challenging to get a hold of the newly elected member of Congress and even harder to get a sense of who will be their new staff. It is worth leveraging your advocates or employees to see if their contacts can assist with developing this initial communication. You do not want to be rushing in January and February trying to figure out what is going on and who you need to know.

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Stay Alert

In a lame-duck session, there’s still moving legislation and bills that will be enacted. You do not want to get too caught up in the holiday spirit and neglect to monitor your issues. The last thing you want to happen is to surprise your organization’s leaders or members with an end-of-the-year tax increase or regulation that you failed to push back on.

Organizations have a tendency to be less alert during the concluding months of the year and can easily get blindsided. For the sake of your organization’s record and your own job security, you still need to conduct routine advocacy work.

Leveraging the FiscalNote suite of solutions, you can easily stay engaged while reducing the time you spend tracking bills, monitoring the news, and managing your stakeholders. Technology can get you to your intended destination on autopilot in many cases and you will be able to balance the holiday happy hour with sifting through your customized discovery alerts.

Year-End Reporting

End-of-year reporting of course is important during the lame-duck period. You need to give yourself a report card and address your priorities to your stakeholders. From year-end report best practices and a customizable template to the tools you need to prove the ROI of government affairs and measure stakeholder engagements, FiscalNote has many free resources at your disposal to help guide you through the reporting process.

Concurrently with your end-of-year reports, you also need to develop a strategy and central messaging on your intentions for the New Year and new Congress. It is wise to start with unfinished business from the lame-duck session and to quickly transfer those priorities. Before you pivot you may want to rethink your strategy based on numerous factors ranging from your budget constraints to the new political order. There is no shame in removing items from your new agenda or explaining the harsh political realities that something might not be able to be accomplished. Be very clear and transparent with your stakeholders about what is new and what has changed.

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