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Congress How a Bill Really Becomes Law Artemus Ward Department of Political Science Northern Illinois University

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1 Congress How a Bill Really Becomes Law Artemus Ward Department of Political Science Northern Illinois University

2 Introduction In the following lecture we will discuss how a bill really becomes a law. We will see how legislation is created when political staff interact with professional staff and interest groups/lobbyists. We will discuss what really goes on in committee and on the House floor. We will discuss what really goes on in committee and on the House floor. Ultimately, we will see how American government functions much like High School student government.

3 Knowledge is Power Because the average life expectancy of a Hill staffer is three years, more permanent players are the policy experts that staff must turn to when policy matters arise: CRS, Leg Counsel, Lobbyists.

4 Congressional Research Service (CRS) Professional, non- partisan research staff for members of Congress and their staffs. Policy experts draft reports on policy issues and routinely update the reports. Easily available by phone if staffer/member has questions on an issue.

5 Legislative Counsel Nonpartisan bill-drafting service for members and committees started in Run by the Legislative Counsel of the House who is appointed by the Speaker. Staffed by 35 attorneys and 15 support staff. One or two attorneys are experts on particular policy areas. All legislation, including proposed amendments must go through leg counsel before they are introduced. It is routine for an attorney in the Office who has drafted a bill for a committee to then draft floor amendments for individual Members on all sides of issues raised by the bill.

6 Interest Groups Interest groups/lobbying firms are composed of former Hill staffers and members. They have the time and resources to do the work (research, drafting bills, organizing meetings and public hearings) that staffers and members simply cannot do. They routinely attend strategy meetings with staffers and members – as if they were on the staff! Indeed, because of their resources they often are the key players at these meetings.

7 How a Bill is Introduced Any member can put a bill into the hopper by walking on the House and dropping it in. The member can then say, I introduced legislation to...

8 Hearings Committee and Subcommittee hearings are generally shows to generate press coverage. Celebrity witnesses and victims are key. Should the majority party fail to schedule hearings on an issue, the minority can stage a hearing-like event.

9 Markup After hearings, the bill is marked up by the full committee. The bill is debated. Amendments are considered. A final disposition of and vote on the bill is taken.

10 Committee Reports The Committee Report describes the purpose and scope of the bill and the reasons for its recommended approval. Generally, a section-by- section analysis is set forth explaining precisely what each section is intended to accomplish. Committee reports are perhaps the most valuable single element of the legislative history of a law. They are used by courts, executive departments, and the public as a source of information regarding the purpose and meaning of the law. The minority party files a minority views report. They have two days to complete it after the final committee vote.

11 The Rules Committee Rules 13 members: 9 majority party, 4 minority. Before each bill is considered on the House floor, a rule is adopted that stipulates how it is to be considered. Open Rule – Historically, most bills had an "open rule'', that is, a rule under which anyone could offer an amendment to the bill. Modified Open Rule - More recently the norm is either a rule making in order a short list of amendments submitted in advance to the Rules Committee, or a rule prescribing a limited time within which consideration of the bill, and all amendments thereto, must be completed. The Rules Committee is the only committee that is exempt from having to make a public announcement of the date, place, and subject matter of all hearings at least one week before the commencement of that hearing. The disparity in majority-minority members, so-called "modified open rules,' and the ability to meet on a moments notice are generally used by the majority party to cut off debate. The result is that bills are rarely debated or modified on the House floor.

12 Debate and Vote on House Floor Each side gets a set amount of time to speak on the bill before the vote. That time is apportioned among members who want to say something. During the vote, staffers and members lobby their colleagues on the floor with handouts and arguments. Knowledge is power.

13 Ideological Polarization Since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It's been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furthest to the right that they've been in 100 years.

14 Party Polarization: Causes and Implications Party polarization has occurred largely because of districting. Every ten year, the census is taken and legislative districts in the states are redrawn. Both Democrats and Republicans have banded together to create safe seats – districts that are overwhelmingly composed of one party or another as opposed to districts that are competitiveequally composed of Democrats and Republican voters. In this increasingly polarized climate, legislators have little incentive to compromise and vote against their party. If they do, they will face more extreme challengers when they run for re-election.

15 Conclusion In the House, the majority has complete power and the minority has limited resources: public hearings, minority views (report), the press, etc. The people who know the most (read all the newspapers, bills, reports, etc.) have the most power. Interest groups/lobbyists work closely with members and their staffs and are composed of former members and staffers. Party polarization makes compromise unlikely. The U.S. Congress operates very much like High School student government: slapdash, rushed, petty...

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