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How Washington Works

Springtime news from our nation’s capital makes me think of the annual rhythms of creating national policy and what those cadences mean for us here in Kentucky.

I worked in Washington for several years and remember April and May as the months of heavy lifting. These months come after the year-opening ceremonies, and before the summer holidays and fall election campaigns.

Washingtonians start the year in late January with the president’s State of the Union speech. While the rest of the country listens for what the chief executive prescribes for the country, people in Washington already know what he will say. For weeks they’ve been reading excerpts of draft speeches. Instead, all over town they gather around TVs in groups of like-minded friends for pizza and cheering or heckling in a kind of national policy Super Bowl party.

Their real interest comes a few days later when the White House releases the proposed federal budget. In Washington this collection of several soft-cover books thick with figures and fine print gets studied like a Shakespeare play in English class.

By spring members of Congress and their staffs are well into sorting out details of the income and expense proposals. They’re beginning to figure out how the details will affect individuals, and the country as a whole.

That’s where you can be especially effective at affecting public policy. If you have a special concern about a program or an idea, a phone call or letter at this point can help decision-makers craft a successful policy for your cause.

Keeping up with national laws and budgets is nearly impossible for most of us. Many people join groups that follow all the complicated issues. Participating in groups that care about the things you care about is one way for you to influence things you wouldn’t be able to by yourself. One example of belonging to that kind of group is your membership in your local electric cooperative. Electric co-ops closely monitor national legal and regulatory issues, in order to protect the price and service of your electricity.

Washington really is a different kind of place. But if you know just a little about how it works, it’s a place that lets you affect national policy just by expressing your opinion.

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