Key US Decision Makers on S&T Policy: Members of Congress

One benefit of working on the Hill is that you quickly learn which Members and Committees you might be able to influence on particular issues.  There are usually only a few. 

Most Members vote the party line decided by the leadership, and your chances of changing this pattern are slim.  More than 90% of Members are in safe seats where incumbents are reelected with only token opposition; these Members may want your friendship, but they don’t need it. 

Most committees are authorization bodies that have little power over appropriations that drive real actions.  Unfortunately, the House and Senate science committees are this type, useful for airing your views, but with not much influence on outcomes.  In some industries, authorization committees do dictate regulations that are important to corporations, but, except for telecommunications and high-tech immigration, S&T mostly doesn’t fall into this class. Committees that control taxation, like Ways and Means in the House, are as powerful as Appropriations, because they have an even bigger effect on a corporation’s bottom line.

Thus the most important of the 535 Members for increased support of S&T are: (1) in swing districts or states that are evenly divided between parties, (2) in the (small) middle of the political spectrum so that they might be swayed by a good policy or political argument, (3) on the most powerful committees for S&T, and (4) particularly in the House, have the clout that comes from seniority.  (They need to be predisposed to support S&T, but, except for a handful of Flat Earth Society supporters, Members do–it’s a motherhood, God, and apple pie issue.) This is a manageable short list, and I will try post a series on several of them.

R. D. Shelton

PS: It’s not enough to just get lukewarm support; to push anything through Congress, you need at least one champion to take the lead–by expending hard work, time (in very short supply), and some of their own precious political capital.  This must be a Member of Congress; staff will not do.  This principle has been around for awhile: the 19th Century term for Congressional champion was horse–to pull your wagon.  And who might be willing to be that champion?  I have some ideas, which I will post later.