I need help writing a letter to my congressmen about The Bailout!
September 22, 2008 7:21 PM   Subscribe

I need help writing a letter to my congressmen about The Bailout!

I'm feeling helpless about this catastrophic bailout, (READ:trillion dollar unconditional giveaway to the lunatics who are running the financial asylum) and I want to write a short letter to my congressmen to explain how I feel about it. I mean if William Kristol and Paul Krugmen are in agreement on how bad the terms of the bailout are, then I know it has got to be bad.

Any ideas of where I can find some great write up about this so I can send it to my congressmen? I am looking for some shortish, factual, easy to understand analogies, written in plain english that even a congressman can understand.

Thanks in Advance.

p.s...I think it crazy beyond belief to go ahead with this bailout without having a LOT of oversight and accountably!!!
posted by MiggySawdust to Law & Government (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Bailout is not a trillion dollars, it is not unconditional, and most importantly, it is not a giveaway. I would recommend doing some more reading on the topic so as to write an informed letter.
posted by Jairus at 7:39 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend Robert Reich's post at Talking Points Memo as a good place to start for what's wrong with Paulson's original proposal.

And Jairus is at least partly right-- the number they've been tossing around is $800 Billion, not a trillion. Paulson did ask for pretty much no conditions on it, but one hopes he is denied that. And it's not a giveaway in the sense that we will be getting what everyone recognizes is bad debt in return for our money.

Actually, partly right, but still not particularly helpful.
posted by hwickline at 7:47 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess that was the point I was trying to make. Sure, Im being lazy, but can you MeFites point me in the right direction of what to read. Something that meets my criteria above? There is just so much information out there that seem confusing, contradictory, and overwhelming for the average troglodyte, like myself:)
posted by MiggySawdust at 7:52 PM on September 22, 2008

Best answer: I'm not sure if this is entirely helpful, but as someone who helped answer letters to a representative, it doesn't matter much how you say what you want to say. That is, whether you send a letter that says, "This bail-out sucks, dude, wtf!" or a letter that's well thought-out with lots of information, it's going to carry about as much weight and you'll likely get the same response with very little variation.

If you look at it from the point of view of a politician, they basically need to know how strongly people feel about an issue, and how many people are on one side of the fence or other. When a politician does not have his mind made up, or when he's particularly concerned with doing what his constituents want him to do, then the letters can make a difference in the sort of things he will vote for. That's why it's worthwhile to write. The actual content of the letters, though, aside from the basics, isn't going to matter much. For example, you could do a lot of research and send him or her lots of good arguments, but if he even reads the letter -- and for most, this is a big if -- it's likely not going to be something he isn't already aware of.

And no matter what you do, you're going to get back a form letter that says either one of two things:

1. Most likely: Thank you for writing, I will keep your considerations in mind as I go to vote on blah blah blah.
2. If you're lucky, and you'll need even more luck if he disagrees with you: Thank you for writing, this is my stance on the issue and how I intend to vote.

There is a third option, which is for the super-lucky: he (or more likely, a staffer) might actually address a unique argument that you brought up. More often than not, even if they'd like to do this, they simply don't have the time, though.

Basically what I'm saying is don't obsess too much over the content, because it doesn't matter a whole lot. The best use of your time as far as influencing the process is to just keep it short and to the point. Say you don't like bail-outs because of "X," or "X, Y, and Z" if you want, but spending more time on it isn't going to accomplish anything extra. If your congressman is open to influence on the matter, you'll have done as much as you can.

FWIW, this doesn't apply to every situation, just major policy things. If you ever need personal help from a politician who represents you, like you've been treated unfairly by some government system or something like that, then be as detailed as you want because it's a lot more likely he will read the letter personally and act on it, or, failing that, a staffer will be assigned to help you personally. Good politicians will take constituent service seriously, so I don't mean to imply that nothing gets read at all. In this case, though, a staffer is going to read your letter and put it in a "opposes bail-outs" pile with everyone else who did much less research than you did. So don't sweat it, your letter will be fine.
posted by Nattie at 8:10 PM on September 22, 2008 [8 favorites]

Here's a web page with some talking points to look over.
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:36 PM on September 22, 2008


what about if you want to say something more nuanced-- e.g. "Bail-out is a good idea but make sure X, Y or Z is part of the package"?

(Yes I realize it's not my question, but the OP will hopefully find this useful as well)
posted by nat at 8:37 PM on September 22, 2008

Best answer: In the post on Bill Kristol and Paul Krugman's columns on the bailout proposal, tgrundke mentioned four sites that helped me a lot when I wrote my angry letter. They are Naked Capitalism, The Big Picture, Calculated Risk, and Global Economic Analysis. I found this post from Naked Capitalism to particularly useful and informative.

Thanks to tgrundke for originally posting these sites!
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 8:41 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oops. I meant of course, that I found the post from Naked Capitalism to be particularly useful and informative.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 8:43 PM on September 22, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - this is not a thread about the bailout this is a thread about letter writing, please keep answers on topic, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:44 PM on September 22, 2008

They aren't going to read it very carefully, much less consider it fairly as a counterpoint to their own strategy. They want tallies on either side. Someone sent me a link earlier from the American Freedom Campaign to send an email to your congressman asking for, at the very least, some oversight on the organization responsible for handling these buyouts. This addresses the most egregious offense, to me, the part which reads:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

Link is here. There are many questionable things going on with this bill, but the idea of handing over hundreds of billions of dollars to an agency that has no accountability is undoubtedly the stupidest.
posted by sophist at 8:59 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid Paulson's proposal has soo very many bad points, it's hard to hit them all in one letter. So focus on the major stuff, but maybe don't mention Obama if your guy is Republican.

To me, the most important point is that government should take controlling equity in the bank like they did with A.I.G. So I said that I supported the A.I.G. bailout because taxpayers can recoup part by selling off the company later, but I would not support any bailout where taxpayers didn't hold equity in the bank.

It's also vitally important that we punish those who vote for Paulson's proposal by donating money to their opponents. $1T over 300M people is over $3K each. Or much more if your above the average income.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:33 PM on September 22, 2008

posted by telstar at 11:54 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I subscribe to a few right wing newsletters, from one of them I received this template, you might find it useful:
I rarely write my Representatives but I fear that we are going to carelessly ram this bailout through the political process. You’ve most likely been told to sign on the dotted line and accept this proposed $700 billion bailout by the same men that have put our great country into this horrible economic situation.

The true dollar amount of the bailout is enormous. These bailouts grow by the day and even now it is impossible to tell how large the final cost to us taxpayers will be. The total financial obligations could easily be over 4 trillion dollars. And what is this for? To bail out the poorly managed financial institutions that made poor business decisions. These bailouts will just transfer the burden of these bad decisions from a small group of people to the entire American Public. This is not free market capitalism. It is Socialism.

I urge you NOT to vote for this proposed bailout. It will bring about an economic future for this nation that is exponentially worse than the one we would have without this proposed bailout by destroying the value of our currency.

You can start from there, I suppose.

The Bailout is not a trillion dollars, it is not unconditional, and most importantly, it is not a giveaway

you're incorrect, this is a very popular website, your inaccuracies have remain undeleted so they must be corrected: it's probably going to be more than a trillion in the end, 700 billions is just for starters, it'll depend on Paulson's will. It is unconditional, as clearly stated in the legislation itself:
"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
and it's not exactly a giveaway because in exchange for cash you'll get junk debt priced at Paulson's discretion, unreviewable by the courts.

For the record.
posted by matteo at 5:17 AM on September 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

Oh, yeah and if the Congressperson is running for reelection tell him/her that in case of a vote in favor of the bailout, you'll donate to the opponent, tell them you've become a one-issue voter and your issue is the bailout.
posted by matteo at 5:20 AM on September 23, 2008

I'd recommend a call (or many calls) rather than a letter. This is supposed to move forward in the next couple days, so time is of the essence. A letter might not be the best approach right now.
posted by csimpkins at 7:29 AM on September 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks Everybody! I have emailed all relevant congressional parties and then some. But keep the ideas and links coming. I have to get my likeminded friends some more ammuniton so they can do the same.

Again, Thanks.
posted by MiggySawdust at 8:23 AM on September 23, 2008

what about if you want to say something more nuanced-- e.g. "Bail-out is a good idea but make sure X, Y or Z is part of the package"?

It depends on the volume of letters saying the same nuanced thing. Your example, while nuanced, might be a popular idea. Politicians get a lot of form letters from constituents, too, who fill out a form on an advocacy website, and those letters usually have very specific policy proposals and opinions. In that case, they might have three (or more) piles: "opposes bail-out" "supports bail-out" "supports in case of X,Y,Z" "opposes in case of Q," etc. The nuanced proposal might get a different form letter, unless they decide to go the wholesale "thanks for writing, I'll think about it" route. (In case anyone cares, don't underestimate the value of those form-letters on websites. It makes the whole thing run more smoothly for the staffers, you get a response much sooner, and the politician gets a good idea of how much people support a very specific proposal.)

Sometimes, though, you don't have enough of the same kind of nuanced letter to draft a form letter. When I was answering letters, I tried to make an effort to address something if I felt like the form letter would come as an insult in light of what they had said. For example, if someone sends "supports bail-out when it includes X,Y,Z" it might annoy them to receive a letter that says, "Sweet, I support it too!" without addressing those three things.

This causes some hold-ups, though. The guy I worked for cared a lot about communicating with constituents, so he had to personally approve every letter that left the office. (I would sometimes get drafts back where he added in a paragraph or changed some words around, etc.) This is sped up a lot by form letters, because the politician only has to approve each form letter instead of hundreds or thousands of letters. In the case where a staffer has to draft a letter specifically for you, or maybe you and a few other people, it will take considerably longer to get a response. Politicians are very busy. The guy I worked for worked himself to the bone and would have to go home and read and change constituent letters before going to sleep, and sometimes it would be a few weeks before he'd get the chance to read a batch of drafts again. We'd have to go through the process again if he changed my letter, because then I'd have to make the changes and he'd have to read it again, etc.

The other thing that holds up letters in these situations is that maybe I don't know what the politician thinks of X, Y, and Z. Chances are slim that I'll have an opportunity to ask him about it. I have to research X, Y, and Z, blindly draft a letter that probably doesn't say much for or against X, Y, and Z, and hope the politician will clarify these things when reading the draft. (Mine did.) This takes a lot more of a staffer's time, which isn't a terrible thing. That's what staffers are there for. But, if you care about speed of response, it makes a difference. For example, if I have 250 form letters to send out, and some other easier letters to answer, I'm going to address and stuff those 250 envelopes first, then knock out the easier letters, then maybe attend to other work before starting on your more complex letter. Writing a nuanced letter can literally end up adding months to your response time, depending on who you're writing to and how serious they take constituent communication.

Also, if X, Y, and Z are not talked about much, chances are the letter you get back isn't going to say anything concrete about them.

The letters his constituents got back were actually helpful, though. Other politicians don't care nearly as much and trust their staff to do everything, or encourage them to just send form letters. I've heard that there are politicians who have only a single form letter where they just fill in the policy: "thanks for writing about X, I'll think about it." So on the upside, you get a fast response, but on the downside, chances are your carefully crafted, nuanced letter wasn't appreciated like it should have been.
posted by Nattie at 8:46 AM on September 23, 2008

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