Week 7: The One with [Seven] Parts

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Monday, July 18, 2022


Aidan Keaveney

Hi y’all! This week, I’m going to talk about bill memos. When there is a piece of legislation that Congressman Foster might be interested in cosponsoring, the staffer in charge of the general policy area the bill falls into will either research the bill themselves, or have an intern draft a memo to be revised and updated later. 


The memo will typically include seven sections: background, summary, arguments for, arguments against, recommendation, cosponsor list, and press release or Dear Colleague letter. The background section covers the state of the problem the bill is trying to address. This is often pretty self-explanatory, as with legislation addressing abortion access or gun violence. Sometimes, the issues can be pretty niche, and require more explanation, such as with H.R.7374, the Jumpstart Act, which would allow unused green cards from one fiscal year to roll over to the next. The number of unused immigrant visas is not common knowledge, so that would go under background. The summary section details the actual provisions of the bill. A summary of most bills is provided by the Congressional Research Service, so I often draw much of my summaries from that. Arguments for and against are exactly what they sound like. Why would one support it? Why would one oppose it? The recommendation section is just a few words: either cosponsor, or do not cosponsor. The cosponsor list is, well, a list of all of the cosponsors currently on the bill. We put the names of Members who are in the same caucuses as Congressman Foster (i.e. the New Democrat Coalition) in bold. The final section contains the Dear Colleague letter for the bill, or the press release if a Dear Colleague cannot be found. A Dear Colleague letter is a correspondence written by the office of the Congressperson introducing the bill, detailing what the bill does and why other Congresspeople might be interested in cosponsoring it. If a Dear Colleague cannot be found, usually the Congressperson will have released a public statement about introducing the bill, and we will steal that for the memo. 


That’s it! Generally when I am asked to write a memo, it’s pretty clear what position we will take on it. This summer, I only wrote memos about legislation Congressman Foster would almost certainly cosponsor. Since I usually already know what Congressman Foster’s position will be, the most difficult sections of the memo are the background information and the summary. The summary is easier, since I can usually draw on the Dear Colleague, press release, and Congressional Research Service information for that. For background information, though, a higher standard of evidence and literature review is required. 


Fortunately, my background in physics and mathematics is very helpful for the background section. Anyone who has done research in STEM knows that research forces you to become a very effective Googler. Quickly becoming a mini-expert on something I’ve never heard of before very quickly is perhaps the most valuable skill I’ve learned in science. Research for memos is no different, except instead of reading scientific journals and textbooks, I’m reading whitepapers and articles from various government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and interest groups. I also happen to have a significant background in this kind of literature review for my research on gifted education programs, but the skill comes just as much from science as anything else. In fact, policy articles are easy compared to scientific articles, with the notable exception of anything related to taxes and finance. None of that makes sense. Anyway, it turns out that my physics background actually makes me more well suited to memo writing. The only skill needed after being able to learn quickly is being able to write well. I’ll leave my writing skills for you to judge. 


For anyone who is interested, here is the list of the memos I wrote this summer and a quick one-liner about them: 

  • H.R.7374 Jumpstart Act: this bill aims to reduce immigration backlogs by allowing Congressionally authorized but unused immigrant visas (green cards) to roll over into the next fiscal year, rather than going unused. Recommendation: cosponsor. 

  • H.J.Res.87 War Powers Act in Yemen: this resolution directs President Biden to remove the U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities against Houthis in Yemen. Recommendation: cosponsor. 

  • H.R.6557 Striking Workers Healthcare Protection Act: this bill would require employers to continue to provide health insurance to workers on strike. Recommendation: cosponsor. 

  • H.R.8051 Assault Weapons Excise Act: this devilishly clever bill would place a 1000% excise tax on the sale of assault weapons, effectively making them prohibitively expensive for manufacturers, distributors, and customers. Recommendation: cosponsor. (Sidenote: Congressman Foster already cosponsors H.R.1808, an outright assault weapons ban)

  • H.R.6117 PrEP Access and Coverage Act: this bill would require that insurance providers cover HIV medication and related treatment costs. Recommendation: cosponsor. 

  • H.Con.Res.89 Opposition to Criminalizing Reproductive Care: this resolution would basically say “hey don’t litigate women trying to access reproductive care”. It doesn’t really have a concrete impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Recommendation: cosponsor. 

  • H.R.8210 Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation (SAD) Act: this bill would direct the Federal Trade Commission to create and enforce rules preventing the dissemination of false information about or advertising for abortion services by Crisis Pregnancy Centers and other organizations. Recommendation: cosponsor. 

  • H.R.2734 Veteran Families Health Services Act: this bill would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans affairs to cover infertility treatments for active duty service members and veterans, unless it can be proven that the infertility condition existed prior to service. Recommendation: cosponsor. 


So far, Congressman Foster has cosponsored one of these bills. One July 26, 2022, Congressman Foster became the most recent cosponsor of H.J.Res.87, to invoke the War Powers Act in Yemen. Did I have anything to do with that? Not really, but I also didn’t have nothing to do with that. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve officially made it. 


It is worth noting, however, that it’s unlikely that any of these bills will make it past committee. It’s not uncommon for bills to have literally a majority of the House as cosponsors and still not get an up or down vote on the floor. About 5.5% of bills that Congressman Foster has cosponsored in his 12 years in Congress became law, a rate that is a bit more than seven times above average. In fact, the likelihood that any bill I worked on this summer, be it memo, constituent letter, or otherwise, will pass is exceedingly low, even if its text gets included on a larger package that does pass. Thus is the nature of Congress. 


Aidan Keaveney