Advancing Your Policy Priorities in a Divided 118th Congress

Last month, we had the opportunity to network with—and learn from—advocacy, government relations, public relations and communications professionals from across the country at the Public Affairs Council’s 2023 Advocacy Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Michael Lisowski and Patrick Meade enjoying Ft. Lauderdale’s fantastic February weather at the PAC Conference

Kicking off with a keynote speech from Sally Susman, chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer, about the lessons she learned from the fast-paced, world-changing experience of working to develop COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, sessions covered the latest developments and best practices in grassroots advocacy, association and coalition management, earned media and op-ed writing and digital communications.

Two top takeaways we left with are the importance of grasstops advocacy when weighing in on public policy debates and strategies for advancing health policy in a divided 118th Congress.

Grasstops Advocacy

While you may be familiar with “Grassroots” advocacy, perhaps “Grasstops” is an unfamiliar term.

Grassroots advocacy involves everyday community members, has a “strength in numbers” mentality, and when coordinated, signals momentum.

On the other hand, grasstops advocacy is more tailored. It involves leveraging individuals with extra influence like industry leaders, experts or those with established relationships with lawmakers, and connects them with the targeted, influential legislators who can influence legislation.

These groups often overlap and have their own unique and important roles to play in advocacy.

As we heard from Chip Felkel, Founder/CEO of Felkel Group and creator of RAP Index, as well as Austin O’Boyle of Aristotle International, grasstops advocacy is an often under-utilized strategy to leverage your limited resources to have an outsized influence by connecting the right people in your community with the right legislators in Congress.

CURA team with Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) and Mark Roeder, President & CEO of Adult Congenital Heart Association
CURA team with Elise Hoover, VP of Research Programs and Vanessa Holliday, Research Strategist, both of Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation on their Hill Day
John Willimann, CEO of Global Life Technologies Corp. maker of Nozin® Nasal Sanitizer®, meeting with the staff of Senator Rick Scott (FL)

With Capitol Hill open again for in-person meetings, CURA’s public affairs team brought grasstops leaders in the heart health, rare kidney disease and infection prevention spaces to meet with key Members of Congress and their staff to build support for their policy priorities.

If your organization is looking to get involved in large-scale grassroots advocacy efforts, our seasoned team has experience managing community-wide Capitol Hill fly-ins, making sure that your advocates are trained and prepared to educate Congress on your priorities.

Opportunities in a Divided 118th Congress

We also had the invaluable opportunity to hear from elections-expert Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections and Dean Hingson of Mehlman Consulting, on the implications of the 2022 midterm elections and the realities of  policymaking in a divided Congress.

With Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives and Democrats expanding on their majority in the Senate, it will take working across the aisle for Congress to do what they have to do (raising the debt ceiling, reauthorizing defense funding, passing a federal appropriations package and reauthorizing expiring laws), in addition to what they (often) agree on (regulating emerging technologies, easing supply chains, expanding access to telehealth) and what they know they should be working on (investing in environmental, public health and data security preparedness, resilience and recovery efforts).

While the nightly news might make prospects for progress on the issues your organization cares about seem bleak, CURA’s bipartisan team of government relations professionals can effectively work with Members of Congress from across the aisle, presenting your organization’s priorities in non-partisan ways that are easily understood and with clear calls to action.

During the divided 116th Congress (Jan. 2019 – Jan. 2021), CURA worked with kidney and transplant community stakeholders, as well as lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum, to ensure access to immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplant patients for life through the Honor the Gift campaign.

After over a decade of the kidney community unsuccessfully advocating to pass the Immuno Bill, CURA worked to convene over 30 stakeholders representing patients, physicians and diagnostic testing companies to raise their voices together in support of the bill.

On Capitol Hill, CURA worked to develop a coalition including conservative Republicans who were impressed by the bill’s CBO score (saving the federal government up to $400M from FY21 – FY30) and progressive Democrats dedicated to expanding access to health care services. This bipartisan coalition and attention to the preferences of individual members made sure that the Immuno Bill was never bogged down by partisan bickering.

Ultimately, a Democratic House and Republican Senate worked together to include the legislation in their 2020 year-end appropriations passage, with President Trump signing it into law in December 2020 and expanded access to immunosuppressive drugs going into effect on January 1 of this year.

How Can We Help You?

Don’t let a divided Congress get you down! Your community’s voice can influence conversations on Capitol Hill this Congress by targeting the right legislators, with productive, non-partisan messaging that seeks to bring people together in support of your mission. 

If your organization has advocacy needs that we can help with, or if you need help getting started in understanding the conversations that your community is already having in Congress and how you can effectively lend your voice, send us a note to see how we can help.

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