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Email Your Members of Congress about the Debt Ceiling Bills

July 30, 2011 - by David Moore

This week, OpenCongress unveiled version 3 of our site, featuring Contact-Congress: the easiest way to write a letter to your members of Congress.

Unbelievably, there has never before been a free & open-source & non-profit online tool for emailing all of your members of Congress from one Web page. Now, with OCv3, all the data & Message-Builder features you need to write a compelling letter to your federal legislators is free & open to everyone, all for the public benefit and a more accountable government. The buttons shown at right are in the right-hand sidebar of every bill page on OpenCongress. After sending your letter, you’ll instantly have a permalink to your letter-to-Congress on our site, along with one-click social sharing tools to spread the word.

Take on the debt ceiling. Write your members of Congress and let them know what you think about H.R. 2693, the Senate Democratic version of the debt ceiling bill, which is being sponsored by a Republican in the House for parliamentary reasons. (Bill profile page, full bill text w/ permalink-able sections, bill comment forum — other data surrounding this bill, from its news & blog coverage & social media mentions to the campaign contributions around it & special interest group analysis of it, is forthcoming. More analysis of the #debtceling back-and-forth via various links last night on micropublishing.)

More extensive background on the debt ceiling debate & details of relevant parliamentary procedure can be found on the OC Blog, but in short: the GOP-led House voted yesterday (roll call: 218-210, feat. nice visualizations, it’s really quite accessible) on House Majority Leader Rep. Boehner’s debt-ceiling bill: i.e., to raise the debt ceiling by $900 billion without approval from Congress in exchange for $756 billion in unspecified spending cuts over 10 years and the creation of a special congressional committee, or “Super Congress,” to propose more deficit-cutting proposals in the future. For legislative reasons, the House did this as an amendment to a Senate bill, S. 627, now titled the Budget Control Act of 2011.

But because the U.S. Congress & the Library of Congress continually refuse to comply with the community-generated Open Government Data Principles, OpenCongress does not have access to the full bill text of that amendment at this time. (If you’d like to help us tackle this problem and make Congressional-tracking more real-time by liberating more structured bill data, get in touch and make a donation to support our non-profit, non-partisan work.) So, due to these frustrating data limitations, S. 627 on OC doesn’t have the special-amendment bill text from Rep. Boehner & the GOP leadership on our page for that bill, though you can read it in full here. (To address this deficiency, in part, PPF supports the Sunlight Foundation’s House Rules Proposals… more to say on that topic.)


Earlier today (Sat. 7/30/11), Donny reported that, by circumstances of timing & design of parliamentary maneuvers, the House was going to vote this afternoon on H.R. 2693 — which they did, voting it down 246-173. (We’ll follow-up tmw with more analysis of that vote outcome, or check the political blog resources linked in our OC Blog sidebar if you’re hankering for an explanation now.) Note: the OC Message Builder’s roll call info for H.R. 2693 won’t reflect this afternoon’s roll call passage until approximately Sunday 7/341/2011, time unsure, so the data is still in-process, a recognized issue…we wish it was real-time, but it’s not, until our government agrees to some true accountability & radical transparency. We’re working on it. Re: H.R. 2693, Donny wrote, “This is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s debt ceiling bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Dreier for procedural purposes. It would allow the debt ceiling to be raised by $2.7 trillion in exchange for deficit reduction of $2.2 trillion over 10 years.”

Now, for other parliamentary reasons it had looked as though the Democratic-controlled Senate would vote on Sen. Reid’s debt ceiling bill around 1 am Sunday (7/31/2011), but now Talking Points Memo and others are reporting the vote has been postponed by Senate Dem Leadership until Sunday afternoon. So write your members of Congress and let them know what you think about H.R. 2693, the Senate Democratic version of the debt ceiling bill, which is being sponsored by a Republican in the House for parliamentary reasons. On our custom Message Builder, you can bring over the OpenCongress summary, as well as the most-commented sections of bill text, and most importantly, type your own thoughts & personal stories in the text editor. Since H.R 2693 is relatively new, we haven’t yet been able to aggregate news & blog & social media coverage of it, and we’re not yet bringing in the same breadth of campaign contribution data & special interest group analysis as we do for other bills. (See examples of what Contact-Congress can do to help you craft a compelling letter to your reps). But it’s still a significant step forward in open-source constituent communication. If all this seems a bit arcane, it’s only going to get better — keep in mind, the bill info behind the debt ceiling is still in flux — with other issues, this process will be more user-friendly and widely-accessible.

Last, head over to find your MyOC profile’s About page (where to find it) — or browse the Groups homepage — to find your Groups for your state & Congressional district and post your letter there as a link, specifically the permalink to your letter that you receive upon completing a letter — users can find their previous letters on the top of their MyOC profile’s Actions pages. To get it started, here are two examples of links I just posted on the New York State MyOC Group — please feel free to add your own, in compliance with OC’s general community comment policy. My OC Groups for states, Congressional districts, and issue areas are just getting started, and we’ll be encouraging more community participation there as our OCv3 rollout continues.

We offer it as a not-for-profit public resource — OpenCongress is different because all our data (except for personal info) is liberated into the public commons for outside developers to remix & share. We’re building the foundation for truly open-source constituent communication — continual engagement with our elected officials for a more deliberative democratic process — resulting in a far more accountable government than has ever been possible.

Previously, constituents had to visit at least three different websites to send emails to their two U.S. senators & U.S. representative. Various political blog communities & issue-based groups have custom software solutions for their grassroots members to write-their-reps, but the public at large didn’t have a one-stop tool for something as basic as sending an email to all three of their federal legislators.

What’s more, Contact-Congress offers free-of-charge a unique Message Builder that allows you to drag-and-drop in relevant info about bills, campaign contributions, special interest group positions, and more. Users can set their letters to public or private, then track their correspondence in a transparent public forum- commenting on any responses they receive from Congressional offices, then sharing them with their new MyOC Groups. It all comes together to constitute a free, user-friendly new suite of organizing tools for communities of all types around everything about which they care.

Contact-Congress is a powerful & useful new tool for any topic in Congress: most-viewed bills, most-voted-on bills by MyOC users, major bills in the news, hot issue areas, and more. But to take on the most pressing topic in the news, the debate over the debt ceiling, use OpenCongress version 3 to send an email immediately to all three of your members of Congress with your factually-informed opinion & feedback, then share it with fellow constituents in your state & Congressional district.

If you support this work on open-government and the ability to write your reps about any bill in Congress, please make a tax-exempt donation — we need additional funding just to keep this free & open-source public resource running. Questions? writeus @ opencongress d0t org. More to come tomorrow on the debtceiling bills and how to contact your members about them.

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