In This Issue:
- From Chuck’s Chair: The most powerful thing you can do to make your voice heard
- Upcoming Ambassador Activities: October 15 Quarterly Call, and more
- Dispatch from Capitol Hill: What you should REALLY be watching this midterm season
- State of Play: The latest news on National Council legislative priorities
- Advice and Counsel: Making the most of a chance encounter
- Briefly Noted: Interesting articles on our radar
FROM CHUCK’S CHAIR
Dear National Council Ambassadors,
What’s the most powerful thing you can do to make your voice heard in Washington?
Every two years, you get to have a say in hiring – or firing – your Members of Congress. Your choices in the voting booth affect not just the number of legislators who prioritize investing in mental health and addiction care, but those who are willing to work across the aisle to govern effectively and find solutions to the challenges facing our nation.
Whatever cause is closest to your heart, whatever party you support, don’t forget to vote on November 4th – and make sure all your friends and family do the same.
Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Practice Improvement
October 15: Ambassadors Network Quarterly Call
When: Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Where: Register online here.
Please join us for this call as we debrief on your August meetings and discuss upcoming opportunities to speak with your legislators about your priorities. We’ll also be doing some live polling to get your feedback on what’s working – and what we can improve – with the Ambassadors Network.
National Council Conference in Orlando, Florida
When: April 20-22, 2014
Register: Register online here.
Don’t forget to register for NatCon 2015, the National Council Conference scheduled for April 20-22, 2015 in Orlando. Each year, this can’t-miss event features the latest innovations, science, and business and clinical best practices.
DISPATCH FROM CAPITOL HILL
There’s only one thing political wonks inside the Beltway are talking about in the lead-up to the midterms: whether Republicans will win enough seats to take back the Senate and expand their majority in the House. Pundits are making the talk-show rounds, loudly declaring who’s sure to win key races. But pollsters focused on the outcome of the elections aren’t asking the most important question: how are electoral and political trends shaping our policymaking environment in ways that will have long-term ramifications for governing, regardless of which party wins next month?
When Congress returns from the midterms, can we expect continued gridlock, or will legislators find a way to work together? To find the answer to that question, here’s what we’re watching this midterm season at the National Council:
The effect of base voters on party leadership. Heavily gerrymandered districts have led to the resurgence of the base voter at the expense of the national parties’ influence. Most House seats are not considered toss-ups for party control. For candidates in the most solidly partisan districts, success rests on their ability to defeat primary challengers from their own party and energize their political base to turn out en masse on election day. The result: a crop of lawmakers who have little incentive to cooperate with party leadership on the tough votes required to pass legislation in a divided Congress. When it comes to effective governing, this makes the internal party dynamics of the new Congress just as important as the number of seats each party controls.
The effect of the 2016 presidential race on candidates’ policymaking decisions. For the next two years, candidates with an eye on the nation’s top office will be calculating how their decisions on key bills and votes might affect their appeal to presidential voters in 2016. In two years, will voters reward candidates who have shown leadership in helping Congress reach agreement on key issues? Or will they pick someone who held true to the ideals of their base, in all circumstances and against all attempts at compromise? We’ll only know for sure on November 8, 2016 – but we’ll see the impact of the upcoming election on every vote Congress takes until then.
The effect of reductionist media coverage on candidates’ willingness to step forward on tough issues. Politicians with aspirations for higher office live on a national stage with intense media scrutiny and “trackers” from the opposite party watching – and filming – their every move. A single poorly worded comment that goes viral can seriously damage a campaign even before it starts. That means many politicians are more careful than ever to stick to their talking points and speak in canned sound bites for fear of putting foot in mouth. But you can’t express a detailed, comprehensive version of your views in a headline-length statement. And it can be hard to justify a complicated policy position in 140 characters or less. We’re watching to see what strategies moderate legislators take to overcome these media pressures, and how it affects their ability to govern from the middle.
The number of legislators with a commitment to mental health and addiction issues. While many legislators have agreed to support behavioral health bills in the 113th Congress, tradition shows us that only those with a direct connection to mental health or addiction issues are willing to put themselves on the front lines to champion our cause. Congressional champions are the linchpin of all legislative efforts, and without their support even the best policy ideas will never become law. Every election year is an opportunity to build our network of champions in Congress. We’ll be keeping an eye out to see how many newly elected officials are behavioral health providers, consumers, family members, or have some other personal connection to mental health or addiction issues.
STATE OF PLAY
Excellence in Mental Health Act. SAMHSA has announced it will hold a listening session on the Excellence Act demonstration program November 12, 2014. Staff will take public comments from interested stakeholders wishing to share their perspectives and provide input on how the law should be implemented. Read more on Capitol Connector.
Substance Use Funding and Other 2015 Appropriations Priorities. The continuing resolution currently funding the government will expire December 11, giving lawmakers little time to strike a deal on the 2015 budget after they return from the elections. What they decide to do will depend on how the parties fare in the midterms. If control of the House and Senate remains split, lawmakers will likely pass an omnibus budget bill in the lame duck session. But if Republicans take control of the Senate, they may push funding decisions until after the new Congress begins in January.
Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. New legislation introduced in Congress would provide a series of resources and incentives to help states and local governments expand drug treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts. The National Council strongly supports this bill and provided input to bill authors Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) as the bill was being prepared for introduction. Read more on Capitol Connector.
ADVICE AND COUNSEL
Legislators are back in their home states and districts through mid-November. Since most are facing reelection in about a month, the odds are higher than ever that you’ll run into your Senator, your Representative… or his or her opponent. You may see them outside the grocery store, near a subway or commuter bus station, in front of a movie theatre or they must just show up at your front door. How do you make the most of a chance encounter?
By definition, these are likely to be brief conversations. You probably won’t have the chance for a long, substantive discussion of behavioral health care and substance use services. But you will have the chance to make an impression, to deliver a top-line message, strengthen your relationship and follow-up.
So here are some tips for how best to handle these brief encounters…
- Be prepared – Since you know there is a possibility you will run into a member of congress or a candidate to replace the incumbent, make sure you are ready to send a message, such as, “I hope you will support adequate funding for behavioral health” or “I’d like to see you support the permanent expansion of the “Excellence in Mental Health Act.”
- Make a Connection – Your legislator will likely be accompanied by a campaign staffer, someone who will be standing nearby to provide support. Tell your legislator you’d like to arrange a time to sit down and discuss behavioral health issues further and ask for someone with whom you can follow-up. He’ll likely hand you off to his staffer.
- Travel with Business Cards – This is a chance to use some of those business cards you’ve had printed. Get in the habit of bringing a couple with you whenever you go out, especially at this time of year. Hand your legislator — and the accompanying staffer — one of your business cards and get one of theirs. And make sure your cell phone number is on the card.
- Follow-up – Since you won’t have time to have a detailed discussion, make sure you send your legislator and his/her staff a note asking for a time to meet… likely after Election Day… to talk about behavioral health. This might be a good time to schedule a site visit.
Here are a few thought-provoking articles and resources that we’ve come across recently. Happy reading!
Politico’s Election Central – Each week, Politico, the omnipresent Capitol Hill newspaper and website, updates its analysis of what’s happening in the 2014 mid-term elections. If you love politics and elections, this is a great place to visit. Read more.
In Kentucky, Health Law Helps Voters but Saps Votes – An interesting analysis of the challenges – and ironies – facing Democrats who must defend the Affordable Care Act in predominantly Republican states. Read more.