Talking Points & Advocacy Guide

Policy Goals

    • America losing competitive advantage in biomedical engineering & innovation.
    • FDA, NIH and NSF sequester cuts penny wise and pound foolish – must be reversed.
    • Exempt user fees from sequestration.

Sequestration death by a thousand cuts…

Researcher’s chance of getting NIH grant today lowest in the agency’s history. Half of US economic growth since WWII is consequence of innovation overwhelmingly resulting from federal funded scientific research – lasers, MRI, touchscreens, GPS and life-saving vaccines. Return on investment all around us – cancer deaths down by 15 percent in 15 years – saving the nation $500 billion annually. Chemotherapy resulted from NIH research — new replacements being developed but now slowed by sequestration…

Sequestration is the law and will get worst every year (10 years of cuts)
Cuts coming as we finally started toreverse (2012) a 30-year decline in engineering degrees (highest since 1985). In 2007, US ranked first in Global Innovation Index – now US is 10th. China and India are increasing spending (in constant dollars) by 20%. South Korea and Brazil by 10%. Germany by 9% while US federal investment has gone down 5%. NIH purchasing power has declined 20% since 2003!

Potential of losing a generation of research talent
Percentage of US students earning bachelor degrees in science and engineering in last 10 years has barely kept even with population growth while the number in China quadruples. Today, China graduates 5 engineering students for every 1 in US. An entire generation of biomedical innovation may be lost as students switch careers or move to another country with stronger scientific support (18% of academic scientist “are considering completing research in another country”). NIH’s 5% sequestration cuts in FY13 caused the loss of 703 competitive grants (from 8986 total) and FY 14 will likely be even deeper if 7% more is cut.

Biomedical NIH R&D collateral damage resulting in lack of regular order (appropriations)
Congressional committees failing to develop and Congress can’t pass annual appropriations bills, appoint conference committees and govern. NIH has lost $1.7 million in FY13 and FDA lost $200 million. More ridiculous is the sequestering of $85 million in FDA user fees in FY 13. Hundreds of use fees built into Federal budget – including $148 million lost in FY 13 user fees by US patent and Trade Office earmarked by industry agreement for replacing a 30 year old computer system that is causing a backlog of 750,000 patent applications, each taking an average 30 months to process.

Keep in Mind

      • Stay on Point
        Do not respond or talk about “weather back home,” Obama Care, or other policy issues. Regardless of the question, bring the answer back to one of the key points. Never take the bait drawing changing the focus to partisan politics. NIH funding is not a partisan issue and neither should any of comments. Time is short so make the most of it.
      • Staff are Powerful
        Never underestimate the influence of Congressional staffers. They are often young but they have the ear of the Member of Congress. While generally smart, don’t assume they understand biomedical research or the connection between research, innovation, jobs, and health and well-being.
      • Keep it Simple
        This is one of dozens of meeting on dozens of topics that will be held just today. Numbers and details will be forgotten. Paint a picture and they will remember it. Make it personal about how research saved a specific life or personal antidote and they will tell others. Give convincing statistics and they will forget everything the moment you leave the room. Don’t be a scientist with facts and numbers – speak from your heart.
      • Don’t Try to Know it All
        Your job is to sell three simple points (see policy goals above). Your job is not to figure out how to balance the budget, solve how to make cuts in other programs to shift money around, or figure out how Democrats and Republicans can play well together. Sequestration is killing biomedical innovation and the job is to convince Congress they must find a solution.

An FAQ on how to be an effective citizen advocate for medical and biological engineering.

Lobbying Rules

What is lobbying?

Lobbying is an individual or organization’s attempt to influence legislation by contacting (Direct Lobbying), or urging the public to contact (Grassroots Lobbying), members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing specific legislation. For example, policy makers in Washington are continually debating and making decisions which will impact your ability to conduct research. Public officials cannot make fair and informed decisions without considering information from a broad range of interested parties. Lobbyists and organizations that engage in lobbying help to provide information from all viewpoints in order to produce fair federal policies. While most people think of lobbyists as paid professionals, anyone can lobby, and all who do so are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Can AIMBE Lobby?

Yes. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, AIMBE may engage in some lobbying.
Over its twenty year history, AIMBE has scored major achievements in influencing public policy. AIMBE enjoys high credibility and respect based on the status of our Fellows.

AIMBE may, however, may be involved in public policy or advocacy without the activity being considered lobbying. For example, AIMBE has conducted educational meetings on Capitol Hill in the form of Congressional Briefings on the regulatory process at the Food and Drug Administration and biomedical engineering research at the National Institutes of Health. Preparing and distributing educational materials or otherwise considering public policy issues in an educational manner is not lobbying. Also, staff researching legislation, regulations, or other public policies is not lobbying.

Can AIMBE get involved in political activity?

AIMBE may not engage in political activity defined as participating in, or intervening in any political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.  Doing so would threaten AIMBE’s tax-exempt status. This includes endorsing specific candidates or political parties for office, and donating to campaigns, political parties, and political action committees.

AIMBE members and staff may be involved in political activities on a voluntary basis, not on behalf of AIMBE, or while in the course of their normal business activities.

How a Bill Becomes a Law

Introduction: A Member of Congress introduces legislation. The official process begins when a bill is numbered, (“H.R.” signifies a bill originating in the U.S. House of Representatives and “S.” signifies a bill originating in the U.S. Senate) referred to a committee and printed.

Step 1 – Referral to Committee: A bill is referred to standing committee in House or Senate. The referral is determined by which committee, or committees, has jurisdiction over the issues addressed in the bill.

Step 2 – Committee Action: When a bill reaches a committee, it is placed on the committee’s calendar. If the committee chairperson decides not to hear a bill, or act upon it in some other way, it is the equivalent of “killing the bill” – meaning it will progress no further.

Step 3 – Subcommittee Review: Often, bills are referred to a subcommittee from the originating committee. Hearings held at the subcommittee or committee level allow the views of the executive branch, other public officials, experts, supporters and opponents to be put on the record.

Step 4 – Mark Up: After hearings are held, the subcommittee may “mark up” the bill (make changes or add amendments) prior to recommending it to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report the bill to the full committee, the bill “dies,” and will not be considered further.

Step 5 – Committee Action: After receiving the subcommittee’s report on the bill, the full committee can conduct further hearings, or it can vote and “order the bill reported” to the respective chamber where the bill originated: House or Senate.

Step 6 – Written Report: After the bill is reported, committee staff prepares a report on the bill describing the intent and scope of the legislation.

Step 7 – Scheduling Floor Action: The bill is then placed in chronological order on a calendar. The House keeps several legislative calendars, and the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader largely determine if, when, and in what order, bills come before the House. In the Senate, there is only one legislative calendar.

Step 8 – Debate: After being placed on the schedule, a bill reaches the floor of the House or Senate.  The chamber must vote on the rules determining the amount of time allocated for debate on the bill.

Step 9 – Voting: After debate and approval of any amendments, the chamber votes. Votes may be recorded electronically or by voice vote. A recorded or “roll call” vote contains the names of members who vote for or against the bill, or who did not vote at all. A voice vote is a simple “aye” or “no” and the presiding officer in the chamber determines the result. If a bill is non-controversial, or has been reviewed sufficiently by each member of Congress before even reaching the floor, it can be voted on without scheduling any debate. This is called “unanimous consent” or “suspension of the rules.”

Step 10 – Referral: When the House or Senate passes a bill, it is referred to the other chamber which may approve the bill, reject it, ignore it or change it through the same committee or subcommittee action as described above.

Step 11 – Conference Committee: If the opposite chamber only makes minor changes, the legislation goes back to the originating chamber for approval of the changes. However, if the bill has been significantly altered, a conference committee with members from both chambers is formed to reconcile the differences. If the conferees can reach an agreement, a conference report is prepared, if not, the bill dies.

Step 12 – Presidential Action: After a bill has been passed in identical forms through the House and Senate (or reported out of a conference committee), it is sent to the President who may either sign it into law or veto (reject) it. If Congress is in session and the President takes no action, it automatically becomes law. If Congress has already adjourned its second session and the President takes no action, it is called a “pocket veto” and the bill is rejected.

Step 13 – Overriding a Veto: Congress may attempt to override a presidential veto, which requires a two-thirds majority roll call vote.

Effective Letter Writing to Your Representative

A well-written and constructed letter to policymakers is an important part of influencing legislation and can be written to voice either support or opposition. It is suggested that all members with an interest in particular legislation send individual letters rather than form letters.

If writing about an AIMBE legislative priority, be sure the view expressed is consistent with AIMBE policy. Of course, any citizen may send a personal letter to a representative advocating a personal opinion or point of view but you can only speak on behalf of AIMBE if your information is consistent with AIMBE position statements and guidelines.  Please contact the AIMBE office at 202-496-9660 if you need assistance

  • Write early – Begin to encourage approval disapproval of a bill while it is in committee, if possible.
  • Identify yourself – Let the reader know if you are writing on your own behalf or as a representative of an organization.
  • Put your return address on the letter because envelopes are often discarded.
  • Identify your issue – Do this right up front. Include the bill number and subject matter.
  • State your position – Also try to do this up front when you identify the issue. For example, “I am writing to request your support for House Bill 1212 which requires reporting of hospital-acquired infections.”
  • Establish your credibility and expertise – Let them know your professional credentials and years of experience. Be sure to communicate that you are a registered voter from his/her district.
  • Be brief – Keep the letter to one page. If your background information or supporting material is lengthy, attach it as a separate, supporting document to the letter.
  • Use facts – Facts will validate your position. Numbers and statistics are very persuasive but don’t overload the letter with them.
  • Be reasonable – Be firm, confident, positive, and courteous but do not give the reader an ultimatum.
  • Use personal/human terms – Don’t fill the letter with jargon; it will distract the reader. Add a short personal story to tie the issue to a real problem.
  • Ask for a reply – Indicate that you would appreciate a reply containing the reader’s position on the issue.
  • Follow-up – If the decision-maker proceeds in a manner that pleases you on an issue, express your gratitude with a thank-you letter or offer to provide support to them on other issues. On the other hand, if you believe the decision-maker has acted contrary to your interest, let them know politely.

Effective Phone Calls to Your Representative

You can contact your Congressperson by phone at his/her district or Washington, D.C. office. A Congressional directory may be found . The following are some tips on what to say on the phone.

  • A staff assistant will probably be the one to answer the phone. You can leave your message with him or her, or ask to talk with the legislative aide working on your issue.
  • Make sure you get the name of the person with whom you are speaking.
  • Identify yourself by name and hometown. Make sure you state that you are a constituent, your occupation and a member of AIMBE.
  • Keep your call short and to the point.
  • Identify the issue or bill (by bill number if you have it available) you wish to address.
  • State your position and how you want your legislator to vote.
  • Leave your name, phone number or address even if the person says it is not necessary.
  • Follow-up your phone call with a short note to the staff member with whom you spoke, emphasizing your position and your appreciation of his/her attention to the issue. This can help build your relationship with the staff person and the legislator.

Visiting Your Representative

Visiting your legislator is the most direct way to have your voice heard. It can also be the most intimidating. But, remember legislators and staff are people just like you. And, more importantly, they depend on you to bring issues to their attention which are important to you.  Remember, the difference between an activist or public policy advocate and the novice, is ONE visit. Following are some tips for visiting your legislator’s office:

  • Make an appointment – Contact your Congressperson’s office in advance for an appointment when she/he is working in district. A legislators schedule in Washington is very full.  They, or their staffs will be glad to meet with you here in Washington, but you are more likely to meet with the actual elected official in their district, where they are looking to meet constituents.
  • Create an agenda – Inform the scheduler about the topic you wish to discuss with your legislator and who will be accompanying you. If at all possible, pull together a group three people or so for the visit. A group that represents different experiences and backgrounds broadens your base and influence. Be sure to coordinate your remarks and discuss the agenda before your meeting. Select a spokesperson.
  • Anticipate your audience – In Washington, due to your legislator’s demanding schedule, you will most likely meet with a legislative aide or “staffer”. Don’t underestimate aides/staffers. They often are well informed and knowledgeable on a specific issue.
  • Come prepared – Know your representative’s voting record and his/her position on the issue you will be discussing. Have background information on the issue and know the specific legislation relating to it. AIMBE Public Policy staff has available a one-page summary of its legislative priorities and will assist you in preparing talking points for your issue prior to the meeting.
  • Consider timing – Have two talks ready: one that is 15 minutes and another that is 90 seconds. This will ensure that you will be prepared if the legislator is called out in the middle of your visit.
  • Provide effective insight – At the visit be clear, positive, and constructive. Use examples from your personal experience.
  • Clarify your stance – Before leaving, provide a definite request. Leave a short, one-page written summary of your position and supporting materials.  Make sure your legislator knows how you want them to vote on a particular issue.
  • Volunteer to be a local resource – Legislators often set up advisory panels consisting of local experts to provide them with the “local view” on major policy issues. By volunteering to serve on these advisory groups, you will be in a central position to provide input.
  • Follow-up!

Call AIMBE’s offices at 202-496-9660 if you need assistance in setting up a meeting.