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Breakpoint 2023: Veep or House of Cards? How Washington Makes Decisions

A deep dive into the mechanics of decision-making in Washington, debunking misconceptions and highlighting the human aspect of politics.

The notes below are AI generated and may not be 100% accurate. Watch the video to be sure!


The Breakpoint 2023 panel titled "Veep or House of Cards? How Washington Makes Decisions" offers a candid look into the inner workings of the U.S. government. The panelists, all experienced professionals who have served in different capacities within the government, share their insights on common misconceptions about how decisions are made in Washington D.C., especially within the context of Web 3 communities. They discuss the processes behind crafting legislation, the human element inherent in government affairs, and the importance of engagement from the public in shaping policy.

Key Points:

Understanding Washington's Decision-Making Process

A frequently asked question regarding political process in Washington is whether its nature resembles the comedic mishaps of "Veep" or the shrewd maneuvering of "House of Cards". The panelists collectively agree that it is somewhat a mix of both, depending on the context. Michael Cameron, a professional staff member with the U.S. House of Representatives and Landon Zinda, policy counsel at Coin Center, shared stories that illustrate the sometimes humorous and chaotic nature of political offices, reinforcing the understanding that despite the serious veneer, government operates with the same human foibles found in any workplace.

The Three Branches of Government and Their Roles

The panelists emphasize the importance of understanding the roles of the three branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial – in policy-making. A particular focus is placed on the executive branch, which houses several agencies with significant power in implementing policies that affect the daily operations of industries, citing specific examples such as Treasury's influence through regulations. This underscores the notion that much of the detailed work in policy creation happens at an agency level rather than in the legislative chambers.

Engaging with Government Officials

The discussion demystifies the process of engaging with government officials, highlighting the importance of storytelling and tailoring messages to elected officials' interests. The panelists unanimously agree that establishing personal connections with members of Congress and their staff is crucial and attainable for individuals and companies seeking to effect change. They also debunk fears surrounding 'making oneself known' to members of Congress, reassuring that seeking out political engagement does not lead to negative repercussions.

Facts + Figures

  • The panel comprises Washington insiders from the Solana Foundation, U.S. House of Representatives, Coin Center, and Caplin & Drysdale.
  • Michael Cameron hints at the blending of comedic and strategic elements in decision-making akin to "Veep" and "House of Cards."
  • Arjun Ghosh, a key author of the Gillibrand-Lummis bill, speaks to the often spontaneous and hurried preparation for policymakers' speeches.
  • Government officials, including those at the SEC and other agencies, are not monolithic in their approach to regulation and engagement.
  • The executive branch agencies play a monumental role in policy-making, sometimes overshadowing legislative activities.
  • Constructive engagement with government entails tailoring your message to resonate with specific concerns and interests of elected officials.
  • There is no 'hit list' for engaging with Congress, and members are typically open to meetings with constituents and other interested parties.
  • Amir states that stories of human errors and mishaps, like an accidental upside-down appearance on a Zoom call, serve as reminders that politicians are as human as the rest of us.

Top quotes

  • "Washington operates through agencies, with so much policy done through those agencies" – Arjun Ghosh.
  • "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu" – Common phrase in D.C., as relayed by several panelists.
  • "Members of Congress, we just want to be liked by people" – Michael Cameron citing an unnamed first member he worked for.
  • "Inception might have happened with your former boss" – Speaking on how subtle persuasion influences political decisions.
  • "If you give a member money, they're going to do something against the interest of their constituents or themselves, they're going to do what's right for them" – Arjun Ghosh on money in politics.

Questions Answered

What's the decision-making process in Washington like?

The decision-making process in Washington is best described as a mixture of strategic negotiation and occasional comedic errors. Echoing the sentiments of shows like "Veep" and "House of Cards," the process involves human elements, such as personal interests, eagerness to be liked, and last-minute decision changes amidst more structured procedures like hearings, markups, and legislative votes.

How can someone engage with their member of Congress?

To engage with a member of Congress, individuals can request a meeting by calling their office or scheduling via their website. Staffers are generally receptive to constituent meetings, and there is no negative repercussion, such as being placed on a 'hit list,' for making your presence and viewpoints known.

Is financial influence necessary to successfully engage in politics?

Money can facilitate access in politics, but it is not the only means to do so. Panelists emphasized the importance of face-to-face meetings and personal storytelling in influencing elected officials. While significant financial contributions may open doors, strong arguments and aligned interests ultimately sway decision-makers.

Do government officials make decisions uninfluenced by constituent input?

No. Constituents and industry experts have a substantial role in influencing the decisions of government officials. Politicians operate with the intent to be liked and supported by their stakeholders and often welcome engagement and input from those impacted by their policies.

What is the process of crafting a bill in the United States?

Crafting a bill involves several stages, starting from issue identification, bill drafting, committee hearings and markups for amendment and discussion, followed by voting in both chambers of Congress, and eventually requiring the President's signature. It is an intensive process, often requiring input from a range of stakeholders and subject to both human interests and technical scrutiny.