Find Out What Congress Is Doing
Public interest in Congressional activity surged in recent years. Confusion, misinformation, and outright lies abound. But we can get accurate information without extensive web searches. All official Congressional activity is available on one website.
Have you ever wanted to read the text of a bill for yourself, while Congress debates it? Do you want to know which committees consider nominees for particular cabinet positions? Or the status of the federal budget? It’s much easier to find that information than you might think.
Thomas.gov. It’s easy to remember. And it’s your link to all Congressional activity.
Article I, Section 1, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution says
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
That means that Congress makes all of our laws. Not the president. Not the corporations. Not the political parties. Congress. For much of our history, most Americans paid little attention to what Congress was doing. But now, people who never paid attention before want to know about bills, treaties, nominations, constitutional amendment proposals, hearings, and more. The Affordable Care Act, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, CISPA, gun violence bills, and the federal budget are all hot topics.
Most Americans have no idea how Congress works, who their representatives are, how laws are made, or what committees do. That’s because our schools do an excellent job of producing politically ignorant citizens. They spend far too much time on historical minutiae instead of teaching our children how their government works. And those clueless children become clueless adults.
Members of Congress introduce thousands of bills every year. Those bills absorb tens of thousands of person-hours in meetings, hearings, briefings, debates, and reports. Only about five percent ever become laws.
Yes, members of Congress are too busy to study all of that information every day. That’s why each member employs a staff whose job is to read the bills and reports, follow developments, and make recommendations to the members. Each staffer specializes in a particular policy area such as social services, business, foreign relations, climate change, etc., and they do read the information. Yes, really, all of it. I’ve met with many Congressional staffers and they are incredibly intelligent, talented, dedicated people. They really like this stuff.
Bills, committee reports, and the rest have always been public information. In the “olden days”, we had to request copies in writing and wait weeks for their arrival. But now, EVERY bill introduced to Congress is posted at the Library of Congress website within a few days. Yes, every single one of them. In January 1995, Congress directed the Library of Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public online. They named that part of the LOC website “Thomas”, in honor of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson donated thousands of books to become the foundation of the Library of Congress.
Even the site’s name is easy to remember: Thomas.gov.
Thomas contains complete information about every piece of legislation pending before Congress, back to the 101st Congress in 1989. You can search for bills by number or by key words and phrases. The search results will tell you the names of the sponsors, committees, amendments, status, roll call votes, the complete text of the bill, and dates of all actions. There are even quick links to the current popular items. Right now, those are the gun control, border security, and cyber intelligence bills. You can link to the top ten most prominent bills without even searching.
You can read the Congressional Record, Public Laws, schedules and calendars, committee reports, Presidential nominations, US Code of Federal Regulations, and every treaty back to 1967.
There are links to the House of Representatives, Senate, Supreme Court, Law Library of Congress, U.S. Code, and the Global Legal Information Network.
There are additional resources for teachers, documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, and the Library of Congress online catalog.
So you the next time you’re interested in a bill, law, nomination, or hearing that’s in the news, check it out for yourself. You can even subscribe to get email updates from the site. See your tax dollars at work. And then teach your children, because their schools surely won’t do it.
For more information:
U.S. House of Representatives
Committees Hold the Real Power in Congress
Why Congress Can’t Get Anything Done
Tales Exaggerate Congressional Pay and Pensions
Why Does Congress Take a Five Week “Vacation”?
Contact Your Legislators
Why We Need More Lobbyists
Read our Constitution
Visit Pat’s Column, “Community Matters”.