Congressional Information

Types of Legislation

There are four types of legislation - bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions.  It is important to note that though there are thousands of bills introduced every year, very few actually make it all the way through the process and get enacted into law. Any bills or resolutions not enacted into law by the end of the of a Congress die and have to be reintroduced in the next Congress if sponsors want to try again.  Remember, just because the name of the bill says ACT in the title, doesn't mean it actually made it through the process.

  • Bills are the usual form through which legislation is proposed.
  • Joint Resolutions, equivalent to bills, usually are for more limited matters such as constitutional amendments and money.
  • Concurrent Resolutions express facts, opinions, principles or purposes and are passed by both chambers (House and Senate).
  • Simple Resolutions are only considered in one chamber and are usually for procedural matters.

The Library of Congress has a nice overview of the legislative process on their new site Congress.gov [formerly Thomas]. For more information, see "How Our Laws are Made."

If a bill or resolution passes both chambers it then goes to the President for approval.  If the President vetoes a bill it takes votes of two-thirds of both chambers to override it before it can be enacted.  Enacted bills are published in the Statutes at Large.  See the Laws & Statutes tab for more information.

Finding Bills and Resolutions

Here are some of the best locations for finding bills and their status.

Congress.gov - you can search the full text of legislation by words, phrases or bill numbers.  This site will also allow you to search bill summaries and status, browse or search multiple Congresses.

The Government Printing Office's (GPO) FDsys site for Congressional bills provides browseability from the 103rd (1993) Congress to the present. You can also search bills through their search site. FDsys contains all published versions of bills. For more information about congressional bills and the various nomenclature go here.

American Memory Bills and Resolutions (Library of Congress) - available for selected sessions beginning with the 6th Congress for the House and the 16th Congress for the Senate.

Roll Call Votes

If you want see how a particular member of Congress or a particular party votes on major bills or other vote statistics you will need to look at the Roll Call of votes.  This is usually listed by the Congress/year, bill number, member's name and party.  Sources for Roll Call votes includes:

The US House Roll Call Votes site provides voting information from the 101st Congress, 2nd Session (1990) to the present.
The US Senate Roll Call Votes site provides access from the 101st Congress (1989) to the present.

The Congressional Record provides some copies of bills and roll call votes. We have access to the Congressional Record through several sources. The ProQuest Congressional database has the entire run including its predecessor.

Other sources include: