Advocacy and Representation
Speaking up on issues related to oral health and the practice of general dentistry is important to how you provide care today and in the future. Make your voice heard and become an advocate. The following resources will help you connect with your legislators.
If you are serving as the legislative chair for your constituent chapter, we encourage you to download the AGD Legislative Chair Manual, which provides useful information for advocating on behalf AGD.
Idea #1: Know your elected officials. Besides Members of Congress, you also have at least one state senator and state representative representing you in your state legislature. Know who your elected officials are and build relationships with them now, before you need something from them. You can find out who your elected officials are by using the zip code search in the "Find Your Legislator" box on the Take Action page.
Idea #2: Get on the e-mail list. Every U.S. Representative and Senator has an email list that you can get on to receive updates and newsletters from the Member. Members of Congress send out regular updates about what is happening in both Washington, DC and in the district. Sign up for their emails by visiting their websites and subscribing to the newsletter. Many state legislators and locally elected officials also use email to communicate with constituents. Visit the respective websites or call the legislator’s office and ask to receive email updates.
Idea #3: Follow your legislators on social media. Twitter and Facebook are even faster than email. If a legislator votes on a bill or proposes new legislation, they are going to tweet about it and share it on their Facebook page. Be the first to know what they are doing by following them on social media.
Idea #4: Visit your legislator's district office. Meeting with a member of Congress while they are in the district is a very effective way to convey a message about a specific legislative issue on a less formal basis than when they are at the Capitol. Make the appointment with the district staff, be sure to be on time, and know the issues before you go.
Idea #5: Invite a legislator to your office. Organizing for a legislator to visit your dental office is a powerful tool to give your elected official an up close look at general dentistry and the dental team model in action. Your outreach will help build an ongoing relationship with legislators and their staff, and will strengthen the profession’s overall advocacy efforts.
Idea #6: Attend a town hall meeting. Taking part in a public or town meeting is a way to share your expertise and communicate the importance of general dentistry to policy-makers. Such events generally take place in your community or district and provide an opportunity for members of Congress to hear from constituents on a wide range of concerns. Tele-Town Halls allow legislators to communicate directly with their constituents through a live telephone conference even if the legislator is not in-district. The rules are the same, though, so don’t pass up this opportunity if it’s available!
Idea #7: Host a fundraiser. Hosting a fundraising event is one of the fastest, easiest, and most appreciated ways you can make yourself a political "insider." Contact AGD if you want more details on how to host a fundraiser for one of your elected officials.
Tips on Telephoning Your Elected Representatives
To find your senators' and representative's phone numbers, you may use our searchable online congressional directory or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators' and/or representative's office.
Remember that telephone calls are usually taken by a staff member, not the member of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue about which you wish to comment.
After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.___)."
You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill. Ask for your senators' or representative's position on the bill. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.
Tips on Writing Congress
The letter is the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office. If you decide to write a letter, this list of helpful suggestions will improve the effectiveness of the letter:
- Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly, e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
- Be courteous, to the point, and include key information, using examples to support your position.
- Address only one issue in each letter; and, if possible, keep the letter to one page.
To a Senator:
The Honorable (Insert Full Name of Member of Congress)
(Room #) (Name of Building) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
To a Representative:
The Honorable (Insert Full Name of Member of Congress)
(Room #) (Name of Building) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Note: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address them as:
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman:
Dear Madam Speaker or Mr. Speaker:
Tips on Emailing Congress
Generally, the same guidelines apply as with writing letters to Congress. You may find and e-mail your senators and representative directly from this website.
Plan Your Visit Carefully
Be clear about what it is you want to achieve; determine in advance which member or committee staff you need to meet with to achieve your purpose.
Make an Appointment
When attempting to meet with a member, contact the Appointment Secretary/Scheduler. Explain your purpose and who you represent. It is easier for congressional staff to arrange a meeting if they know what you wish to discuss and your relationship to the area or interests represented by the member.
Be Prompt and Patient
When it is time to meet with a member, be punctual and be patient. It is not uncommon for a Congressman or Congresswoman to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to the member's crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with a member's staff.
Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position. Members are required to take positions on many different issues. In some instances, a member may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular matter. It is therefore helpful to share with the member information and examples that demonstrate clearly the impact or benefits associated with a particular issue or piece of legislation.
Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the member's constituency. If possible, describe for the member how you or your group can be of assistance to him/her. Where it is appropriate, remember to ask for a commitment.
Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information, in the event the member expresses interest or asks questions. Follow up the meeting with a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting, and send along any additional information and materials requested.
Commonly Used Titles:
Administrative Assistant or Chief of Staff: The Administrative Assistant reports directly to the member of Congress. He/she usually has overall responsibility for evaluating the political outcome of various legislative proposals and constituent requests. The Administrative Assistant is usually the person in charge of overall office operations, including the assignment of work and the supervision of key staff.
Legislative Director, Senior Legislative Assistant, or Legislative Coordinator: The Legislative Director is usually the staff person who monitors the legislative schedule and makes recommendations regarding the pros and cons of particular issues. In some congressional offices there are several Legislative Assistants and responsibilities are assigned to staff with particular expertise in specific areas. For example, depending on the responsibilities and interests of the member, an office may include a different Legislative Assistant for health issues, environmental matters, taxes, etc.
Press Secretary or Communications Director: The Press Secretary's responsibility is to build and maintain open and effective lines of communication between the member, his/her constituency, and the general public. The Press Secretary is expected to know the benefits, demands, and special requirements of both print and electronic media, and how to most effectively promote the member's views or position on specific issues.
Appointment Secretary, Personal Secretary, or Scheduler: The Appointment Secretary is usually responsible for allocating a member's time among the many demands that arise from congressional responsibilities, staff requirements, and constituent requests. The Appointment Secretary may also be responsible for making necessary travel arrangements, arranging speaking dates, visits to the district, etc.
Caseworker: The Caseworker is the staff member usually assigned to help with constituent requests by preparing replies for the member's signature. The Caseworker's responsibilities may also include helping resolve problems constituents present in relation to federal agencies, e.g., Social Security and Medicare issues, veteran's benefits, passports, etc. There are often several Caseworkers in a congressional office.
Other Staff Titles: Other titles used in a congressional office may include: Executive Assistant, Legislative Correspondent, Executive Secretary, Office Manager, and Receptionist.
Step 1. Referral to a Committee
With few exceptions, bills are referred to standing committees in the House or Senate according to carefully delineated rules of procedure.
Step 2. Committee Action
When a bill reaches a committee it is placed on the committee's calendar. A bill can be referred to a subcommittee or considered by the committee as a whole. It is at this point that a bill is examined carefully and its chances for passage are determined. If the committee does not act on a bill, it is the equivalent of killing it.
Step 3. Subcommittee Review
Often, bills are referred to a subcommittee for study and hearings. Hearings provide the opportunity to put on the record the views of the executive branch, experts, other public officials, supporters and opponents of the legislation. Testimony can be given in person or submitted as a written statement.
Step 4. Mark Up
When the hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet to "mark up" the bill, that is, make changes and amendments prior to recommending the bill to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report legislation to the full committee, the bill dies.
Step 5. Committee Action to Report A Bill
After receiving a subcommittee's report on a bill, the full committee can conduct further study and hearings, or it can vote on the subcommittee's recommendations and any proposed amendments. The full committee then votes on its recommendation to the House or Senate. This procedure is called "ordering a bill reported."
Step 6. Publication of a Written Report
After a committee votes to have a bill reported, the committee chairman instructs staff to prepare a written report on the bill. This report describes the intent and scope of the legislation, impact on existing laws and programs, position of the executive branch, and views of dissenting members of the committee.
Step 7. Scheduling Floor Action
After a bill is reported back to the chamber where it originated, it is placed in chronological order on the calendar. In the House there are several different legislative calendars, and the Speaker and majority leader largely determine if, when, and in what order bills come up. In the Senate there is only one legislative calendar.
Step 8. Debate
When a bill reaches the floor of the House or Senate, there are rules or procedures governing the debate on legislation. These rules determine the conditions and amount of time allocated for general debate.
Step 9. Voting
After the debate and the approval of any amendments, the bill is passed or defeated by the members voting.
Step 10. Referral to Other Chamber
When a bill is passed by the House or the Senate it is referred to the other chamber where it usually follows the same route through committee and floor action. This chamber may approve the bill as received, reject it, ignore it, or change it.
Step 11. Conference Committee Action
If only minor changes are made to a bill by the other chamber, it is common for the legislation to go back to the first chamber for concurrence. However, when the actions of the other chamber significantly alter the bill, a conference committee is formed to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If agreement is reached, a conference report is prepared describing the committee members recommendations for changes. Both the House and the Senate must approve of the conference report.
Step 12. Final Actions
After a bill has been approved by both the House and Senate in identical form, it is sent to the President. If the President approves of the legislation he/she signs it and it becomes law. Or, the President can take no action for ten days, while Congress is in session, and it automatically becomes law. If the President opposes the bill he/she can veto it; or, if he/she takes no action after the Congress has adjourned its second session, it is a "pocket veto" and the legislation dies.
Step 13. Overriding a Veto
If the President vetoes a bill, Congress may attempt to "override the veto." This requires a two thirds roll call vote of the members who are present in sufficient numbers for a quorum.
Go prepared. If you want to be the person the legislator remembers after the town hall meeting, come prepared. Those who come to town hall meetings with thoughtful arguments, good data, and persuasive stories get remembered most.
Tell a personal story. Legislators want to know their constituents' stories – this is why many hold town hall meetings. They want to get first-hand accounts of the impact of policies on their constituents. When preparing for the town hall meeting, think about how your legislator's vote(s) affect your business, your family, and your patients.
Be respectful. Members of Congress want to hear your views, but you don’t need to badger them to get your message across. You won't persuade a legislator by starting the conversation in a rude manner, such as, "I pay your salary so you better listen to me.”
Show your strength: If you can show your legislator that you're not just speaking for yourself, but patients, employees, etc., too, they may be more willing to listen. For example, "I serve over 100 patients who don't want untrained midlevel providers performing complicated procedures on their mouths," sounds better than, "I don't want midlevel providers."
Bring others along. Just like using numbers if you have them, going in groups shows your numbers in action. A chorus is better than a solo performance!
Talk to staff. Every congressman brings staff to town hall meetings, and you can usually tell who they are if you're looking! Talk to them before the meeting, get their business card, and tell them your story. This doesn't mean you shouldn't speak during the meeting, but you should make as many connections as possible.
Leave information. Many people may be at a town hall meeting, all wanting to get their story across. If you leave materiall for the legislator and his or her staff, they can take their time after the meeting to understand your message.
Organize town hall meeting attendance. Legislators notice when issues keep coming up. If you can send different people to multiple town hall meetings, and continue to bring up the issues of concern to you, your legislator will notice.
Follow-up (politely). Congressional staff are overworked and underpaid, so they aren't going to respond to constituents who are rude or pushy. But they do respond to those who are persistent. Follow up with a phone call after attending a town hall meeting to request an in-person meeting.
Stay connected. If you continue to show your presence at town hall meetings, the legislator must deal with you … if only to avoid an uncomfortable encounter at a future town hall meeting. Tele-Town Halls allow legislators to communicate directly with their constituents through a live telephone conference even if the legislator is not in-district. The rules are the same, though, so don’t pass up this opportunity if it’s available!