[StBernard] Will mail to Congress influence the outcome of Waxman-Markey?

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sat May 23 09:59:04 EDT 2009

Will mail to Congress influence the outcome of Waxman-Markey?

While polls continue to show that most people's interest in the climate
change issue is fairly tepid, Rep. Charlie Melancon is getting some really
hot mail from his constituents.

The Louisiana Democrat is one of several moderates who have yet to announce
their positions on major climate legislation headed to a vote in the House
Energy and Commerce Committee. With the oil and gas industry providing the
bulk of high-paying jobs in his district, some residents back home are
worried they will lose their livelihood if the bill passes.

"Stand firm against the environmentalists who seek to destroy our economy.
...Stand with the people that sent you to Washington D.C. to represent us
and not your particular party," states one letter from a Jeanerette, La.,
resident who said that 75 percent of his or her family members work for oil
and gas interests. For privacy reasons, all the constituent names were
redacted from the letters.

"I urge you to vote against the cap and trade bill because I feel it will
practically force us out of business. We service the petro-chemical area in
the Tri Parishes," said another sent from Donaldsonville.

"Make polluters pay for tax credits!" said a student from Chalmette with a
completely different point of view.

Melancon said in an interview that it's not about the volume, but whether
the source of a letter is a constituent free of ties to interest groups.
With most of these individualized messages running strongly against the
bill, he said he will be taking them very seriously.

"I may not be able to vote for this bill until it comes back from the
Senate," he said.

A review of mail sent to other swing voters on the committee -- some of whom
have taken a "yes" or "no" position on the bill in recent days -- highlights
the pressures facing Congress members trying to juggle party loyalty with
the regional demands of their constituents. It also spotlights the
well-funded organizations flooding Congress with robo-calls and e-mails on
this issue in a way that is unusual, according to some Capitol Hill

Feedback from constituents is as old as the chambers of Congress itself. The
thing that makes the climate bill sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)
and Edward Markey (D-Calif.) distinctive is that the calls started long
before there was full text on the table, said Alyson Heyrend, a spokeswoman
for Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), another undecided Energy and Commerce
Committee member.

'Pent-up emotion' -- ginned up by ads?

She said she thought "pent-up emotion" was part of the reason, considering
that there has never been a bill in play supported by both the White House
and Congress. Recently, Matheson's Utah office was flooded with hundreds of
calls one week before the bill had even been released, she said.

Additionally, supporters of the bill, like MoveOn.org, have been running ads
for weeks with congressional phone numbers in targeted locations across the
country since well before Waxman and Markey released their full plan.
Similarly, conservative organizations like the American Energy Alliance have
been running ads in multiple districts -- including Matheson's and
Melancon's -- warning that the Waxman-Markey proposal would spike energy

"Ninety-five percent of our calls are coming in response to ads," said
Heyrend, who is based in Utah.

There are also Web sites creating easy form letters. The text on one has
appeared repeatedly in Melancon's office, according to spokeswoman Robin

A survey by E&E of a half-dozen moderates on the committee found that all
were experiencing higher than average calls, except one -- Rep. Mary Bono
Mack (R-Calif.) -- who reported that the volume was about normal. Even so,
Mack's office is getting about 80 calls a day on the issue, according to
spokeswoman Jennifer May.

Melancon's office reported that the majority of messages were against the
bill. Rep. G.K. Butterfield's (D-N.C.) feedback has been roughly 60 percent
in favor. Bono Mack's calls are running strongly in support of the bill,
even though the congresswoman recently expressed concerns about the
legislation in a letter to House leadership.

Regional differences popping up

"When constituent mail is of high volume and one-sided, it definitely gets
the attention of members. If inconsistent with their own view, such a
message at least prompts some further consideration of the alternative,"
said Thomas Mann, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution.

A spokesman for Butterfield, who announced support for the bill this week,
said his boss was getting a lot of feedback that appeared to be from
organized groups. One such e-mail said "Dear Congressman: H.R. 2454 will
further cut U.S. employment levels by reducing economic output by $136
billion per year."

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), another recent bill convert, said many messages
were coming from outside of his district.

Other offices said they were getting an even mix of letters appearing to be
crafted by interest groups and from individuals with more personalized
notes. Many reflected regional differences in the energy mix, with mentions
of coal popping up in letters from Midwestern districts and renewable energy
emerging as a common theme in states like Colorado, which has a mandatory
renewable standard.

"Renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are the cheapest and
fastest way to reduce global warming pollution," said one letter to Rep.
Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) from a constituent. Yesterday, DeGette decided to
vote "yes" on the bill, according to spokesman Kristofer Eisenla.

Yet some members of Congress said the lobbying efforts exerted little
influence over their decisions. In an interview, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)
said that he came to a "no" decision on Waxman-Markey in its current form
because he believed the bill didn't do enough to back flex-fuel cars, a
longtime concern of his.

"The people coming into my office about this bill are not talking about
that," he said.

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