As described in The Legislative Process tab, a bill must work its way through both houses of congress before it is sent to the president for his/her signature.
The introduction of a bill or a joint resolution in Congress is clearly explained in this video: The Legislative Process: Introduction and Referral of Bills which is available at congress.gov. The video explains:
Legislation may take one of several forms, depending on the intended purpose. Bills and joint resolutions may become law if enacted during the two-year Congress in which they were introduced. Simple resolutions and concurrent resolutions are the other options; these measures cannot make law, but may be used by each chamber, or by both, to publicly express sentiments or accomplish internal administrative or organizational tasks, such as establishing their rules for proceeding.
Only members of each chamber may introduce legislation, though occasionally a member introduces legislation by request of the President. Members and their staff typically consult with nonpartisan attorneys in each chamber’s Legislative Counsel office for assistance in putting policy proposals into legislative language. Members may circulate the bill and ask others in the chamber – often via Dear Colleague letters – to sign on as original co-sponsors of a bill to demonstrate a solid base of support for the idea. In the House, a bill is introduced when it is dropped in the hopper (a wooden box on the House floor). In the Senate, the bill is submitted to clerks on the Senate floor. Upon introduction, the bill will receive a designation based on the chamber of introduction, for example, H.R. or H.J.Res. for House-originated bills or joint resolutions and S. or S.J.Res. for Senate-originated measures. It will also receive a number, which typically is the next number available in sequence during that two-year Congress.
Bills and joint resolutions can be used to find information on the original intent of the bill's sponsor and can be helpful in charting the modifications of a bill from introduction to enactment. Most bills and joint resolutions actually never become law. If a bill is not passed by the end of the congressional term, it is not carried over to the next congress rather, it “dies” at the end of the term.
A traditional bill will include at least five versions of the bill in its legislative history:
- Engrossed (passed by 1 chamber),
- Enrolled (passed by both chambers),
- Enacted (signed by the President).
About Bills in Congress
- Only about 6% of legislation introduced in Congress actually passes.
- Many bills are introduced with no intention or expectation of actually passing.
- Some bills are introduced purely for reassurance of constituents or other special interest groups.
- Most bills that are passed by Congress are ceremonial, technical, or private.
- Most of these less controversial bills pass by voice vote, sometimes unanimously.
- Appropriations and authorization bills must be passed by both houses in order to appropriate money.
- These bills are usually passed last-minute by consolidated or omnibus bills.
- They are also often loaded with amendments because the amendments are more likely to pass as attachments rather than as separate bills.
About Resolutions in Congress
- Resolutions can be found in most of the same sources as bills.
- New appropriations cannot be made via resolutions.
- Presidential signatures are not usually required on resolutions.
Types of Resolutions:
- Joint Resolutions
- JRs can be introduced for Constitutional Amendments, new legislation, or continuing appropriations.
- They can provide a sense of Congress on a particular issue.
- They can be introduced in both chambers and, with presidential signature (except constitutional amendments), have the force of law.
- Concurrent Resolutions
- CRs primarily deal with the Congressional Budget.
- They also can provide a sense of Congress on a particular issue.
- They are considered “internal” and can be introduced in both chambers.
- They do not require presidential signature.
- They have no force of law.
- Simple Resolution:
- SRs address minor issues such as housekeeping rules and rules for debate, etc.
- They are normally introduced in only one chamber of Congress.
For additional information about Bills and Resolutions, see GPO.gov’s About Congressional Bills.
Freely Available Government Sources:
- Congressional Bills, Includes authenticated .pdf images, 1993 – present.
- Congress.gov (does not have information for all years - see Coverage Dates for Legislative Information for date coverage):
- Easily search bills or browse by number.
- Provides Tips for effective searching.
- Includes “Most-Viewed bills,” active legislations, and appropriations.
- Includes bill information such as status, actions, sponsors, etc.,
- Library of Congress (loc.gov):
- American Memory Collection:
- Documents from the Continential Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 - 1789.
- A Century of Lawmaking For a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875.
- ProQuest Congressional, 1789 - current:
- General searching available via “Advanced Search” option.
- “Search by Number” option is available with citation.
- Historical Proposed Legislations (Bills).
- Federal information available from 1995 – 2008 (collection development is in progress).
- State information dates vary.
- Historical Enacted Legislation (Session Laws).
- Federal information available from 1973 to current.
- State information dates vary.
- Congressional Bills. Includes text of all available congressional bills and resolutions introduced into the current session of congress.
- CRS Bill Summaries. Summaries prepared by the Congressional Research Service for bills introduced into the current session of Congress.
Tracking Bills & Staying Current with Congress
- Congressional Bills. Includes all published versions of bills from 1993-current.
- Provides accurate, timely, and complete legislative information for members of congress, legislative agencies, and the public.
- Include a Most-Viewed Bills feature.
- The Senate’s Legislation and Records page provides a variety of ways to find current legislations from a convenient menu on the left side of the page.
- The House's Legislative Activity page also offers a variety of ways to locate and follow current legislation.
- Bill Tracking.
- Provides “summaries and status information concerning current legislation for all 50 states, DC and Congress.
- Also includes a legislative calendar providing the latest information about session status, adjournment dates, and action deadlines.
- Bill Tracking: Historical. 2005 to previous Congress.
- Includes summaries and status information for bills that were considered during past state and federal legislative sessions.
- Summaries are included whether or not the bills were passed into law.
- Congressional Bills.
- Includes text of all available congressional bills and resolutions introduced into the current session of congress.
- CRS Bill Summaries.
- Includes summaries prepared by the Congressional Research Service for bills introduced into the current session of Congress
- ProQuest Congressional:
- Bill Tracking Reports are available via the “Search by Number” feature.
- Select the “Bill Tracking” facet on the left of your search results.
- Bill tracking reports include sponsors, status, actions, synopsis, and links to full-text.
Government transparency organizations:
- Allows tracking of legislation as well as members of congress, voting records, committee work, and some “limited” state infomraiton.
- Sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation (a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for open government), OpenCongress.org provides information about pending legislation from bill introduction to floor vote.
- Also includes information on senators and representatives and how to take action to support or oppose pending legislation
Staying Current with Congress
Freely Available Government Sources:
- Congressional Record, 1995 to present
- Senate.gov and House.gov:
- Both the Senate and House websites have lists of current proceedings, daily schedules, hearing schedules, recent and upcoming votes, and links to pending legislation.
C-SPAN (Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network):
- c-span.org: “A public service created by the American Cable Television Industry.”
- Video Library. Includes searchable video of all C-SPAN programming including floor proceedings and hearings; 1987 – present.
Emory Subscribed News Sources:
- QC Roll Call:
- Provides “essential intelligence and grassroots advocacy resources to take action. As the premier source of timely news, objective facts and analysis, and coverage of elections and the politics of legislation, we keep our fingers on the pulse of the legislative process and give our clients the tools they need to maximize their influence. We are the ultimate insider, and our unmatched network of relationships and expertise has powered the productivity of those who rely on us since 1945."
- The Hill:
- Comprehensive newspaper including videos, blogs, special reports, policy analysis, campaign issues, opinions and editorials.
- National Journal:
- “Regarded as the most credible and influential publication in Washington, providing more than 3 million influentials in public policy and business with the insights they need to make government work. Fiercely honest and scrupulously non-partisan, National Journal has a four-decade history of serving leaders in Washington—and around the country—with trustworthy, in-depth analysis on legislation, politics, and the structural trends shaping America.”
Finding General Background on Bills
For those cases when you don’t want (or need) a complete “legislative history” of a bill, rather, you are just interested in some background information, CQ Press (below) can also be a good source of information in addition to government transparency organizations.
Freely Available Congressional Sources:
- Roll Call Votes, House and Senate votes from 1989 – present
- Senate: Sponsors and Cosponsors, 1973 – present
- House: Sponsors and Cosponsors, 1973 – present
Government transparency organizations:
- GovTrack.us. Allows tracking of legislation as well as members of congress, voting records, committee work, and some “limited” state infomraiton.
- OpenCongress.org. Sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation (a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for open government), OpenCongress.org provides information about pending legislation from bill introduction to floor vote. Also includes information on senators and representatives and how to take action to support or oppose pending legislation.
CQ Political Reference Suite:
- CQ Congress Collection. Includes information and tools to help analyze the “history and development of legislation, powers, and personalities of the U.S. Congress.”
- CQ Almanac. Offers narrative accounts of every major piece of legislation that lawmakers considered during a congressional session.
- Politics in America. Includes information on members of Congress and their districts.