Tactic 14: Ask the “And Next” Question

As a young congressional staff person (actually, very young—I hate to break it to you, but our government is being run by 20-year-olds), I was assigned the responsibility of developing a piece of legislation regarding the transfer of nuclear waste through state and local jurisdictions. We were opposed to having highly radioactive materials transported through our district, which would have been likely had efforts to move waste to a centralized location been successful.

Unfortunately, a proposal to simply ban the shipment of these materials through our congressional district would never have flown. No one else in Congress cared enough about our district to support such a bill—and would likely be concerned that, if such a bill were to pass, the waste might wind up trekking through their area. In addition, the bill would face Constitutional challenges for violating the interstate commerce clause. If you have better things to do than read the Constitution every day word-for-word, I’ll tell you that the interstate commerce clause basically states that Congress may not make any laws that restrict commerce between states.

We got around these issues by proposing something a little sneakier. Rather than suggesting that no waste could go through our district, we suggested that all jurisdictions could decide whether they wanted to accept the transport of waste through their area. Ingenious, right?

Proud to have come up with that idea, I skipped (figuratively, not actually) over to an office known as legislative counsel and asked them to draft a bill to do just that. The legislative counsel’s office is filled with really smart people who know the U.S. legal code inside and out. Whenever one of the 20-year-olds on Capitol Hill needs someone to turn brilliant ideas into legislation, they work with legislative counsel. These smart people dotted all the i’s, crossed all the t’s, and turned my beautiful idea into a piece of legislation that my boss promptly introduced.

Here’s where I screwed up. I never asked what would happen after the bill was introduced. I knew that the first step on its journey was the Parliamentarian’s office, where it would be referred to a specific committee for consideration or, in this case, four different committees. It’s hard enough to get a bill through one committee—a referral to four committees spells disaster.

This happened because I did not ask the and next question over and over and over again until I understood the whole process. What happens after drafting the bill? And next? And next? And next?

What is YOUR and next question?  The and next question can make or break your influence effort.

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