Dr. Kurt Schrader (center), the only veterinarian currently
serving in Congress, talks with Dr. Myron Downs, Georgia's
alternate representative in the AVMA House of Delegates.
Photos by R. Scott Nolen
Congressman Kevin Yoder (right) and fellow Kansan Dr.
Vern Otte discuss the Fairness to Pet Owners Act, which
would mandate veterinarians write prescriptions regardless
of who is dispensing the medication. The AVMA believes
the legislation is redundant and unnecessary.
These are austere times in Washington, D.C.
That Congress is in no mood to approve new spending was a sentiment that 34 members of the AVMA House of Delegates and other veterinary representatives heard frequently during their Oct. 3-4 visit to the nation's capital.
AVMA delegates representing state VMAs, species groups, practice areas, and veterinary students participated in the legislative visit to see for themselves how the Association advocates for veterinary medicine at the federal level. A small number of other AVMA members joined the HOD members, such as area veterinarians and VMA presidents.
The AVMA Governmental Relations Division facilitated the capital visit. Participants were provided with an overview of GRD operations, which included an explanation of the AVMA Congressional Advocacy Network. The online resource is a key means of keeping Association members apprised of federal issues relevant to veterinary medicine and generating grassroots action.
AVMA staff and federal veterinarians described the political process and the current Washington budgetary climate to the HOD members, who also received tips for effective communication with lawmakers.
Participants also learned about how important the nonpartisan AVMA Political Action Committee is to advancing the Association's agenda. "The PAC doesn't lobby. It opens doors and helps us elect candidates supportive of our issues," explained AVMAPAC chair Dr. Ernest Godfrey. Approximately 2 percent of AVMA members contribute to the PAC. The goal is to increase the percentage of PAC contributors to at least 5 percent, he added.
Later, visitors attended an AVMAPAC-hosted event supporting the re-election of Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon—the only veterinarian in Congress—and several other Blue Dog Democrats facing competitive House races in 2012.
The HOD visit culminated in delegates meeting with their respective members of Congress or staff to ask them to support the AVMA agenda.
Specifically, AVMA representatives requested co-sponsorship of bills eliminating the 39 percent tax on Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program awards (S. 518); banning the transport of horses in double-decker trailers for any purpose (S. 1281); and establishing a competitive grant program to strengthen the nation's food safety, public health, and animal health and welfare systems (S. 1053).
Knowing that preventing the creation of bad laws is equally as important as getting good laws passed, AVMA delegates also asked their representatives to oppose two bills. The first would prohibit transporting horses to slaughter for human consumption (S. 1176/H.R. 2966); the second would require veterinarians to write a prescription for a companion animal patient regardless of who is dispensing the product to the client (H.R. 1406).
AVMA GRD Director Mark Lutschaunig counted the HOD visit a success. "The participants put words into action by visiting with their members of Congress to discuss important issues on the AVMA's legislative agenda," Dr. Lutschaunig said.