One of the great parts of my job is that I get to serve as a connector – helping Congress understand Main Street and vice versa. This is of course always best accomplished with face-to-face interactions because those create personal connections, promote listening and understanding, and build the kind of bridges we need to get real work done.
Even so, I can honestly tell you I’ve rarely seen a time where face-to-face interactions have more value then they do now and that’s because of the significant turnover we’ve seen - in Congress and in the membership of key tax-writing committees.
The 116th Congress has a lot of new faces:
- 8 newly elected Senators
- 86 newly elected Representatives
- 14 new members (11 Democrats and 3 Republicans) on the House Ways and Means Committee.
This transformation presents a great opportunity to get in front of a new batch of leaders as they’re setting their priorities.
With that in mind, U.S. Chamber members have been encouraged to meet all the new House Ways and Means Committee Members at a Meet-and-Greet event we are hosting this week (February 26) and a second gathering we are holding with 40+ key House and Senate tax staffers on March 8. Attendance for them is high. Here’s why.
Priorities are being set
The first comprehensive tax reform package in over 30 years has been passed and implemented and now it’s time to talk about its impact. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) has repeatedly said he wants hearings on the 2017 tax law, which means there is a lot to share with the committee, a quarter of which consists of new members.
Is tax reform at risk of repeal or substantial modification? Is there an interest in addressing tax matters that were not included in tax reform? Lawmakers will soon make these decisions, so now is the time to get in front of them and advocate for any legislative tax changes you want them to add to their priority list.
This is a learning phase
Timing is critical and at the U.S. Chamber, we have found that the earlier you involve yourself in the legislative process and get to know members of Congress, the easier it is to influence legislative change.
Because lawmakers are setting their priorities right now, they are still very much in an information-gathering mode, and my experience has been that members and their staff really are open to learning. They want to hear if you are facing any challenges under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) or see potential areas for improvement. They want their constituents to share their experiences before they move on to their next phase of trying to enact goals.
There is power in your story
Lawmakers are looking for your opinions and ideas about issues like tax extenders, impacts of the new tax law, and more. But more than anything, they want to hear your stories. Personal stories are powerful to politicians because they rely on them for all parts of their job. They need to know who is in their district and how they are being impacted and they need to be able to share those real world examples in a variety of settings.
I see it happen all the time. A two-minute story is shared at an event like a meet-and-greet and after that, lawmakers repeat it – on the floor, at other events, and back in their home districts when they are debating an issue or making their case. Stories are a key part of the arguments they will offer going forward and this is the perfect environment to share them.
The number advantage
There are lots of chances to meet lawmakers and staff on the Hill, but it’s often hard to get large groups of decision makers together in one room. When that happens at these events, it provides so many benefits.
There’s a logistical one of course. It saves the time and energy of going from one office to another. But the benefits go so much deeper than that. The number of key decision makers attending presents an extraordinary opportunity to understand the current climate, hear from both sides of the aisle, and engage in an exciting exchange of ideas.
Value of face-to-face connections
You can learn about Congress’ tax priorities by reading articles but there is no question that a deeper understanding comes from direct conversations and personal connections forged with decision makers overseeing issues that matter to you.
It’s about what is said and the vibe or feeling you get during those conversations. All of that can be translated back to your office as pragmatic advice on how to navigate the current Congress and advocate for your issue. These gatherings can also help you find others in the business community to connect with and collaborate with on your key issues.
The bottom line is this: free-form discussion of ideas is what leads to real connection and therefore real change. It builds relationships and creates trust and it’s always easier for your voice to be heard once key decision makers know you and your story.
Connect with Wilson on Twitter @ashleywilsonCOC.
This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn.