Government Relations Report

Fall 2011 CSANews Issue 80  |  Posted date : Sep 02, 2011.Back to list

In the summer edition of CSANews, I outlined our plan of attack in our fight for a Retired Persons' Visa. Since that last column, CSA officials have now met with 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate and/or senior members of their staff. To say that our proposal has received a positive response would be an understatement. Of the 50 members with whom we discussed this, 49 have pledged their support. That's a great start but, with 435 congressional members and another 100 senators, we still have a great deal of work ahead of us. The good news is that we don't have to meet with all of them. During our multiple trips to Washington, D.C., we made some invaluable contacts and allies who have been very helpful in giving us much-needed insider information and advice regarding who to target. The politicians with whom we have spoken recognize how valuable our snowbird dollars are to the health of the economies in their home districts. Rightly or wrongly – and regardless of how beneficial our proposal is for the country as a whole – in Washington politics, it's all about the home district.

Interestingly, one of the ways in which we have broadened the appeal of this initiative is by reminding lawmakers of the limitations that they currently place on Canadians visiting the United States. Many snowbirds who spend their maximum six-month allotment of time in the United States live within a reasonable drive of many U.S. border districts. With a strong Canadian dollar, there is a desire to spend some time south of the border doing summer shopping and sightseeing. Most Canadians who spend the majority of the winter in the U.S. are not legally permitted to return until they have been back in Canada for six months. Guess what happened when we highlighted all of that lost revenue to members of Congress who represent border states? We suddenly gained a lot more allies in our fight for a Retired Persons' Visa. Of course, we didn't confine our strategy to just members of Sunbelt destinations and border states. When you talk to a representative from Boston, Massachusetts and remind him that there are probably many snowbirds who would love to spend two weeks in Boston this summer, but are potentially restricted from doing so, you make another friend in Congress. When you represent an organization that has virtually zero members who can cast a vote for any politician in the United States, you darn well better have a very strong economic argument with broad appeal. Thankfully, this is it and it has gotten the attention of U.S. politicians who, just two months ago, were not even aware that this is an important economic issue.

Congress is currently on hiatus until September and that's when we will be back in Washington. During that visit, we will be meeting with members of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Established in 1813, the House Judiciary Committee is the second-oldest standing committee in Congress. Its jurisdiction often places it at the centre of American politics.

The committee has been called the guardian of the Constitution and each of its subcommittees has roots in that document. The House Judiciary Committee usually sends the greatest number of substantive bills to the House floor each year. In the last Congress, more than 1,000 bills and resolutions were referred to the committee involving such subjects as terrorism, crime, immigration, bankruptcy, civil liberties, constitutional amendments, patents and copyrights.
Before almost anything can go before the House of Representatives for a vote it has to be approved by the Judiciary Committee. So why, one might ask, didn't we start by approaching this body before meeting with more than 50 members of Congress? Well, one piece of advice which we have received time and time again is that one of the first things members of the Judiciary Committee ask is who is supporting/sponsoring your proposal? You better have some key members of Congress on that list when you answer. Thankfully, we do and I have no doubt that our list will be longer by the end of September.

At that time, we will also be meeting with senior officials from the United States 
Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the nation's largest lobbying groups and spends more money than any other lobbying organization on a yearly basis. Chamber President Tom Donohue has identified the easing of the "hassle factor" in visiting the United States as a key component in their strategy to get the U.S. economy back on stable ground. He put it as well as I've heard it described by anyone just last month, when he said:

"Our businesses tell us all the time that before they can hire more people, they need more customers.

Well, 95% of the world's customers live outside our borders – many in economies that are growing faster than ours. They like American products. They like American culture. And they have the cash.

So let's go sell them something over there – and bring them to the United States as visitors and investors – and sell them something over here."

That is a key part of our message. We have a long road ahead of us, but we have a sound strategy and we are now implementing that strategy. We'll keep you posted as we move forward.