Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Bittersweet Lobby Day 2012

Virginia White
It was a bittersweet Lobby Day on Tuesday, June 12. Our National Gathering occurs every other year (and this was the off year), so our numbers at Capitol Hill were smaller this year. But we did have a group of very impressive and enthusiastic Hunger Justice Leaders, as well as board members like myself, Joe Martingale, Megan Marsh, Elizabeth Henry, Sharon Thornberry and others.

 And I was impressed that several long-time Bread advocates (Al and Ellen Fisher from Iowa, Phil Goerner from Colorado, and Bud and Barbara Miller from Michigan, to name a few) made it to Washington for Lobby Day on their own.

A visit to 703 Hart Senate Office Building
Why do I say that this was a bittersweet experience?  One of my three scheduled visits was to Sen. Jeff Bingaman's office.  I have fond memories of my first visit to that office nearly two decades ago because I was greeted very warmly by the staff, especially Sen. Bingaman's administrative assistant Virginia White, who immediately informed me that I should feel free to take off my coat so I could be comfortable.  I don't remember how many times I've visited Sen. Bingaman's office in Washington since that day 18 years ago, but Virginia White has always been there to greet me before I started my business with Sen. Bingaman's legislative aide. There were a couple of times when Sen. Bingaman himself sat in the meeting.

Like every congressional office on Capitol Hill, Sen. Bingaman's legislative staff has had a little bit of turnover since that first visit. Every staffer has treated us with courtesy and taken our requests very seriously over the years.  In the past three or four visits, I've met with Jeffry Phan, who has come to know me by name.

Sen. Bingaman is retiring at the end of the current term, so I'll miss both Virginia and Jeffry when I go on future trips to Capitol Hill.

With Rep. Heinrich's aides Tony Samp & Elizabeth Hill
We have started to build a relationship with Sen. Tom Udall's staff both locally and in Washington.  It was good to finally sit down with Matt Padilla, who reassured us that the senator is on board with us in our efforts to create a circle of protection around programs that help poor and vulnerable people.

Mr. Padilla also asked me about my work at the Latin America Data Base, since Sen. Udall is very interested in keeping up with Latin America.

I must confess, I had been invited to a constituent coffee with Sen. Udall on Wednesday, and I had intended to go.  But in the end, logistics became too difficult for me to attend.

'We are hearing from consitutents'
One of the highlights of my visit to Rep. Martin Heinrich's office in Cannon House Building was when aide Elizabeth Hill mentioned that the congressman had been receiving many letters about protecting funding for domestic nutrition programs, tax credits for working families, and poverty focused foreign assistance.  In particular, she mentioned a group of messages hand-written on post cards. (And I immediately thought, those came for Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary parish.  Thanks Ellen Buelow!)  Both Ms. Hill and legislative aide Tony Samp were very cordial.

I did not have visits scheduled with the offices of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and Rep. Steve Pearce, but I did drop by a packet of information about our Offering of Letters campaign and petitions (which many of you signed) indicating that churches cannot make up for the void if nutrition programs were to be cut drastically.  Those petitions were also given to Sens. Bingaman, Udall, and Rep. Heinrich.

A difficult political climate on the Hill
In some ways, I had it easy with my three visits.  My representative in the First Congressional District and  my two US Senators are generally on board with our efforts to protect funding for these very needed programs. But make no mistake, there is strong sentiment on Capitol Hill to make deep cuts.  Here is what fellow advocate and board member Megan Marsh wrote about her experience during a visit with an aide to Rep. Doug Lamborn.
I had an awful meeting on the Hill with my representative's staff, where I was belittled and berated for suggesting that the cuts we need to make to pay down our deficit should not be born by the the people who can afford it the least. He's not a bad person. I'm sure he cares about poor people in his own way. He has different ideas about how to balance the budget. But the way he conducted our meeting was another example of everything that is wrong with this country: we don't see each other as people on two sides of an issue. We see each other as politician and special interest group. We don't begin with dialogue, we begin with defensiveness. There is no where to go from there.
Megan wrote a very passionate piece on her blog about her entire Lobby Day experience, entitled Why We Run.  It's worth  a read.

And click here if you want to read other accounts (sent via Twitter) and from Bread advocates, Hunger Justice Leaders and staff about Lobby Day.

But despite our setbacks, we have a responsibility as Christians and people of conscience to remain faithful to God's call for social justice.  And there are times when we can tangibly see our efforts bear fruit.  Two days after Lobby Day, we heard the news that the Senate voted to table an amendment that would dramatically cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). If passed, the amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) would have turned SNAP into a block grant, permanently freezing annual funding levels at $45 billion per year—$37 billion less than the projected funding needs for the program for fiscal year 2013.  Many of the senators who voted to table the amendment heard from Lobby Day participants the day before.

1 comment:

Kay E. Huggins said...

Thank you Carlos for all the advocacy you do and the support you give to others along the way. Peace, Kay Huggins