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Government Documents: U.S. Congress

Legislative Process

The Legislative Process - short viedos with text transcripts 

How Our Laws Are Made - describes the steps in the consideration of the bill and the documents produced at each step fo the legislative process

Congressional Glossary - concise explanations of congressional jargon

Congressional Sessions number and dates

Each Congress lasts two years and is divided into a 1st section (the first year) and a 2nd section (the second year)

Years of the Congresses (1789 - Present)

Session dates of the Congresses(1789 - Present)

Congress News

CQ Roll Call - detailed reporting of activity on Capitol Hill. Coverage of policy areas, influential staffers, lobbying, and more. Register to set up email alerts.

CQ Weekly - news and analysis of key people and events in Congress, including bills and legislation. Available in print only at Shain library

Congressional Digest - a presentation of opposing views on contentious national questions.

The Hill - news that focuses on the workings of Congress, policy makers, and the way decisions are made

National Journal - news coverage of Congress and politics

Politico - news on Congress and Capitol Hill

Congress app - for Android, Kindle, or iOS, this app lets you easily see what's happening in Congress with user-friendly tabs to follow people, bills, the floor, the senate, votes, and committees.

Legistlative Histories

A legislative history traces the chronology of the legislation and provides citations to the various documents relevant to the bill. *

Document Databases

  • ProQuest Congressional
    Access to congressional hearings from 1824 to present. Access also includes Bill text (1989-), Campaign contributions (1987-), Campaign finance data (1989-), Committee reports (1990-), Congressional Record Bound (1789-1997), Congressional Record Daily (1985-), Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports (1916-), GAO reports (2004-), House and Senate Documents (1995-), Legislative Histories (1969-), Public Laws (1988-), US Code, and more.
  • Govinfo
    Includes Congressional bills, hearings, committee prints, and reports, mostly from the 1990s onward, as well as the Congressional Record (1994-), and many other federal collections.
  • Congress.gov
    The official source for federal legislative information. It includes information about legislation since 1973, full text of legislation from 1993, the Congressional Record from 1995, and committee reports from 1995.

Congressional Record

The official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. For every day Congress is in session, an issue of theCongressional Record is printed by the Government Printing Office. Each issue summarizes the day's floor and committee actions and records all remarks delivered in the House and Senate.

The Congressional Record began publication in 1873. Printed by the Government Printing Office, it is the fourth and final series of publications containing the debates of Congress. It was preceded by the Annals of CongressRegister of Debates, and Congressional Globe. The Record is far more comprehensive than its predecessors in reporting Congressional debates. *

There are two editions of the Record, a daily one and a bound version. The daily edition reports each day's proceedings in Congress and is published on the succeeding day. The bound text is an edited, revised and rearranged edition with an index containing a history of bills and resolutions.

ProQuest Congressional - includes the Congressional Record Bound (1789-1997) and the Congressional Record Daily (1985-).

Congressional Record (Govinfo) - contains volumes 140 (1994) to the present.

Congressional Record Index -  print index from 43rd Congress (1873) Goverernment Documents Ground Floor X1.1

What is the Congressional Record? is a good introduction for anyone doing research with the Congressional Record.

Bills and Resolutions

A bill is the most common form of legislation; it proposes to create a new act or to amend or repeal existing law. Typically there are thousands of bills before a Congress, only a small percentage of which will become law.

Bills may be either public or private. They have a prefix of "H.R." when introduced in the House, or "S." when introduced in the Senate, followed by a number assigned sequentially as bills are introduced during a two-year Congress. *

On its way to becoming a law, a bill is introduced in the House or the Senate. It is assigned a number that, along with other key information, is recorded in the House Journal, before the Speaker refers it to the appropriate committee. This is reported in the Congressional Record. Information about, and the text of, bills can be found here:

Laws

After a bill is debated in the House and Senate, reported on, and approved by the President, it is assigned a public law number (slip law), before being compiled in theStatutes at Large.

There are 4 types of federal law: Constitutional - the US Constitution and its amendments;Statutory - the laws that Congress makes; Case law - laws originating in the court system (judicial branch); and Administrative law - found in the rules and regulations of the executive departments and agencies.

All public laws enacted by Congress are compiled chronologically in the United States Statutes at Large. Each session of Congress is considered a statute; each law a chapter. 

For the first hundred years of the nation, each law (statute) appears in Statutes at Large in the order in which it was passed, but there is no numbering system. Public law, or P.L., numbers were first used to number the laws in 1901.

The first law enacted during the 111th Congress is designated as Public Law 111-1; the second, Public Law 111-2. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is Public Law 88-352 - the 352nd law passed by the 88th Congress. *

Because Statutes at Large presents only laws as they are passed, however, and not necessarily the current law,  which may be the result of numerous modifications over the course of years, a codification is needed.

That codification is the United States Code - the law of the land. 

Hearings

Congressional committee hearings serve to gather information from witnesses that can be used to inform the work of Congress: development of legislation, oversight of executive agencies, investigations into matters of public policy, or Senate consideration of Presidential nominations.

Congressional committee hearings are the source of a tremendous wealth of information on a wide array of topics. Community leaders, scholars, and public citizens are among the regular cast of witnesses called to testify. And the published hearings include the reports, exhibits, and other documents that they submit for consideration during their testimony. *

The Serial Set

An invaluable record of American history, the Serial Set is a massive collection of reports and documents published by the House and Senate from 1817 onward. It also includes special reports to Congress, communications from the president, and reports from executive branch agencies.

This overview of it from the Law Librarians' Society is helpful in understanding how it is organized.

If you look at the SuDoc Call Numbers, notice the details for Congress - the Y1s are components of the Serial Set.

  • American State Papers, 1789-1838 (Readex)
    The papers and reports of Congress from 1789-1838, a rich source of primary material on many aspects of early American history. The American State Papers can be considered a precursor to the Serial Set.
  • US Congressional Serial Set,1817-1993 (Readex)
    Beginning with Volume 1 in the first session of the 15th Congress (1817), the Readex U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1993 contains all publications from the 15th through the 103rd Congresses.
  • Wesleyan University Library Catalog
    This is the catalog record for the Serial Set at Wesleyan University with listings of volumes available on site; scattered holdings from 1921 onward. 
  • Congressional Documents, 1975- (Govinfo)
    Documents can include reports of executive departments and agencies, as well as committee prints, that were ordered to be printed as documents. Senate Treaty Documents contain the text of a treaty as it is submitted to the U. S. Senate for ratification by the President of the United States
  • Congressional Reports, 1995- (Govinfo)
    Congressional reports originate from congressional committees and deal with proposed legislation and issues under investigation. House and Senate Reports from congressional committees deal with proposed legislation and/or findings on matters under investigation. Senate Executive Reports from the Committee on Foreign Relations deal with treaties between the United States and foreign nations, or are reports of various Senate committees regarding nomination of individuals.