The weather in Washington is downright balmy today, but a big storm is on the way - a blizzard of phone calls, letters, emails, social media messages and even face-to-face meetings about the " fiscal cliff" and what should be done (if anything) to avert it.
With Congress and the White House playing what seems to be an extended game of fiscal-cliff chicken, it's "speak now or forever hold your peace" time. Except you don't even have to speak, what with all the versions of pleading available to lobby lawmakers and other decision-makers in Washington.
Here are six ways you can weigh in:
- Pick up the phone. Call your lawmakers, either in their local or Washington offices, and offer your views. If this issue draws as much attention as past budget battles, congressional offices will be pulling in every intern they can find to field calls from constituents. Not sure who - or where - to call? Simply go to the AARP "Elected Officials Lookup" and enter your ZIP code; in the blink of an eye you'll be looking at all the people who represent you, along with their telephone numbers and other contact information. You can also make your calls through such groups as the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which is organizing a call-in day - Wednesday, Dec. 5 (that's tomorrow) - to oppose any cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Its hotline is 800-998-0180, a number that will connect you to your own lawmaker.
- Write a letter. Snail mail is fine, though time is running short. (The AARP "Elected Officials Lookup" has all the addresses you'll need.) Lots of organizations - from the NCPSSM to the National Taxpayers Union - have organized letter-writing campaigns; all you have to do is find one whose views you agree with. Outlining your views in your own words is the best approach, of course, and you can even let others know what you think by adding your thoughts in the "comment" box below.
- Send an email. Or lots of emails. You'll save money on stamps, and, once again, the AARP "Elected Officials Lookup" will show you how to get your messages where you want them to go.
- Join up with others. Membership and advocacy organizations of all stripes have lobbyists and other folks in Washington to help you make sure that your views get through loud and clear. You can fill out questionnaires and petitions and find out other ways to join with others. AARP, for instance, has earnedasay.org, which urges Americans to tell Congress and President Obama not to raise the Medicare eligibility age as part of a last-minute budget deal. You can even use this form to send your message (and personalize it in any way you'd like).
- Tweet. As journalist Howard Kurtz points out in The Daily Beast's "Fiscal Cliff Countdown" blog, this budget battle is all about modern technology. The hashtag #fiscalcliff wasn't enough for the White House, so they created their own: #my2k. That hashtag refers to the $2,200 tax hike an average middle-class family will face if the standoff isn't settled by the New Year. Just try not to get too distracted on Twitter by #royalbaby or the pope's new Twitter account.
- Make your views known up close and personal. Lots of Capitol Hill lawmakers are holding town-hall meetings and similar sessions for constituents to hear their views on fiscal-cliff issues, so why not see if one of them is coming to a forum near you sometime soon? And you don't have to go to Washington to pay a lawmaker a personal visit; they've all got offices in the home districts and states. It might seem a little old-fashioned, or downright quaint, to go a-calling, but isn't that exactly what all those high-priced lobbyists do?