How to Contact Congress and Save Health Care in Two Easy Steps

It looks like the small 6-member subgroup of the Senate Finance Committee is close to an agreement on health insurance legislation. It looks like it will be bad. It will likely not only ditch a public plan option, but also include what Angry Bear's Robert Waldmann shows to effectively be a "regressive tax" on working families. Such a result was practically preordained, because as Jonathan Cohn notes, the composition of the subgroup is skewed to the right of the country, with participants in fundamental disagreement with the president's health care principles.

Is this compromise the end of the process? Far from it. Six senators do not automatically dictate the results of the legislative progress.

We don't know if the full Senate Finance Committee will accept the compromise. We don't know how Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid will seek to combine a Senate Finance bill with the public plan option bill that already passed the Senate health committee, or what might happen on the Senate floor. We don't know how an eventual Senate bill would be reconciled with a House bill which will also (most likely) include a public plan option.

We know what to expect if we progressives don't apply maximum pressure. Birther-led conservatives will continue pounding Congress with calls and letters and town hall rants. Insurance and drug lobbies will leverage their paid-in-full influence. And in every step of the process, the bill will get weaker and weaker.

However, if we flood Congress with calls and letters, so the intensity of progressive grassroots support is clearly in proportion with the consistent polling in favor of including public plan option, then Congress will be compelled to strengthen the bill as the process moves forward.

Can liberals outdo conservatives in contacting Congress? Just from anecdotal evidence, I sense that we progressives are not nearly as conditioned to call their representatives as conservatives are.

Right-wing media outlets still command larger audiences than their liberal counterparts, and most importantly, more regularly exhort their audiences to directly press Congress. I find liberals are more likely to question if a phone call or letter really has any impact, and to wonder what exactly one should say. in turn, we are more hesitant to make our voices heard.

Case in point: Climate Progress reported earlier this month, "many U.S. Senators are now getting 100 to 200 calls a day opposing a climate and clean energy bill -- and bupkes in favor." The climate bill hasn't even been in the news this month! Yet the right-wing noise machine is cranking under the radar and beating us senseless, blunting momentum for clean energy legislation.

The crazy thing is: calling Congress is so simple.

Organizations such as ours often seek to make things really easy, creating toll-free numbers (Health Care for America Now! set up 1-877-264-HCAN) and easy-to-use web pages that connect you to your representatives and help you know what to say. And I certainly encourage you to use such tools when available.

But you don't need to wait for an organization to hold your hand. We should be regularly contacting our representatives without prompting, to maximize our voices and counter the right-wing noise machine.

Here's all you need to know to make your voice heard in two steps.

Step 1. Put your elected representatives' phone numbers on your speed dials and cell phone address books. You can get their phone numbers at and

Step 2. Tell the receptionist you are a constituent, and you want the congressperson to support your issue. The point in doing this is congressional offices keep tallies for or against issues, giving them a gauge of grassroots intensity that poll numbers don't easily show. (In other words, representatives want to know if there are niche constituencies for specific issues that may determine whether they will get voted in or out of office.) To get tallied, you need not give a five-minute explanation. You do not need to come up with the perfect argument or sound bite. You won't be easily tallied if you offer a nuanced position that goes deep in the policy weeds.

You just need to say something like, "I urge the senator to support a public health insurance option" or "Please tell the representative to back a strong carbon cap."

That's it!

There's no reason you can't do that once a month or more.

And you certainly need to do that during the August recess, when the special interests and conservatives are planning to crank up their noise machine full blast, to create a false perception of widespread opposition to a comprehensive health reform bill.

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