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How to Track US Legislation and Congress

How to Track US Legislation and Congress

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Note: While this WikiHow article focuses on federal legislation, use the links to the right to contact your state legislators and to track Michigan legislation.

Want to be involved in politics now that you've registered and voted? The Internet makes it easier than ever to stay in the loop and get involved. Find out what is happening in the Senate and House by following the steps below.


  1. Bookmark these sites:.
    • Thomas, maintained by the Library of Congress, provides legislative information to the public (and to Congress). The most useful features are:
      • Lookup any bill to learn what it is about, its status and sponsors.
      • Links to the House of Representatives and the Senate.
    • Govtrack - a non partisan resource for tracking Congressional activity. Its most useful feature is sending alerts for any area of interest.
    • OpenCongress.org - track legislation by a number of criteria.
    • Congress.org - a generic advocacy site. Includes posts by individuals and advocacy groups.
    • USA.gov - main portal to US government agencies, services, etc.
  2. Find your Representative and Senators. On Govtrack, click on Members of Congress and enter a US zip code. You'll be given the names of your two Senators and Representative as well as a map of the congressional district. You can also get a full list of members of the House and Senate. Keep the address and phone numbers handy when an important issue comes up. News reports sometimes say that phones are ringing off the hook in congressional offices.
  3. Go to the web sites of your Senators and Representative. Sign up for their newsletters to find out what they think is important. You'll also find out which committees they are on.
  4. Find out what committees your Representative and Senators are on. They are listed on Govtrack as well as the member's site. Often one of the three will sit on a committee that covers your area of interest.
  5. Track what's going on in the House this week. Both major political parties have a whip who posts a notice of bills appearing for a floor vote that week along with a one line summary.
  6. Track what's going on in the House today. Click on the Office of the Clerk - Legislative Activities to get a nearly real time summary of actions on the House floor.
  7. Find active legislation by topic for both the Senate and House. This page provides the bill number for legislation currently in the pipeline or that has become public law ("P.L.").
  8. Find the status of a bill. On the Thomas site, enter the bill number, such as HR 100. A more sophisticated query can be entered here.
  9. Learn what the committees are doing. Click for the House or Senate. The real work in Congress gets done in the committees. Tracking the activities of committees also:
    • Lets you know what's in the pipeline before the final vote.
    • In many cases you can send a letter to the committee, which at least gets published as part of their proceedings. For example, the House Ways and Means committee posted witness testimony and citizen submissions for a 2006 hearing on Health Savings Accounts.
  10. Watch CSPAN broadcasts of major events - debates and votes in the House and Senate, committee hearings, press conferences, etc.
  11. Get email alerts on issues important to you. Sign up for the Vote Monitor weekly newsletter or on Govtrack
  12. Craft your message so the Senator or Representative will listen.
  13. Post a note to your Representative or Senator. Senators and Representatives make it easy to post messages by their constituents. They likely prefer posts because of security issues with email and snail mail.
  14. Call your Senators and Representative. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and give them your zip code. They'll find who represents you and connect the call to the right office. See tips below for how to find a toll free number to the Capitol Switchboard.
  15. Find Special interest groups on the internet. Go to Votesmart.org, select a senator or representative and click on Interest Group Ratings. This will ultimately lead you to the interest groups for your issues of interest, and links to their websites. You can also use a search engine with a bill number (e.g. "HR 1234") or a phrase related to issues of interest.
  16. Track rollcall votes. You need to know the date or the vote number to find how people voted, but you can also get information from Congress.org.


  • For a review of how the House and Senate work, read the Legislative FAQs.
  • Because Representatives often visit their home districts over the weekend, Monday and Tuesday bills are usually not significant. Also, votes on these bills are usually held off until early evening.
  • Before reading the text of a bill, read the CRS Summary. The summary is a short paragraph about what the bill enacts. The text of a bill itself is usually quite long and often becomes confusing because it says to drop some text and add other text.
  • Many special interest groups use Capwiz/Capitol Advantage as a portal to Congress and advocacy. Congress.org is a portal directly from Capwiz/Capitol Advantage, which is owned by Roll Call/The Economist.
  • Special interest groups also have toll free numbers to connect you to the Capitol Switchboard. Use a search engine with 202-224-3121 and your area of interest.
  • The Whipping Post notices for both parties have identical content, so don't be concerned about party affiliation here.
  • Learn the proper style of writing letters to your Senator and Representative.


  • All previous bills are dropped in January of every odd year as a new Congress begins and freshman Senators and Representatives are sworn in. Bills then need to be reintroduced and bill numbers again start with one.
  • HR 1 - 10 are reserved for major legislation and may not have a title until later in the year.
  • A small percentage of bills actually get passed by Congress. Frequently there are several bills with the same purpose, each introduced by a different Senator or Representative. Bills are assigned to a committee and that's the end.
  • It can take months before a letter written to a committee gets published on the web, so don't be concerned if you don't see it immediately.
  • The website address for the whips can change every year, as the membership and leadership changes.
  • The body of a bill can change entirely through an amendment.
  • All bills involving raising revenue must originate in the House. However, since the Senate can amend any bill, it has in the past changed entirely a revenue related bill for its own purposes.
  • Bill titles can be misleading. Sometimes the actual content of a bill can be the opposite suggested by its title.
  • Some major bills do not have their text available on the web at the time of the final vote. It may not even be available for the Senators or Representatives for the vote.
  • Beware of viral emails:
    • Members of Congress don't pay Social Security taxes. They have since January 1984.
    • Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.- quote from opinion article originally written by Charlie Reese in the Orlando Sentinal in the 1980's. A current version describes the US as having 300 million citizens, but you can still find the article referencing the US as having 235 million.
  • Avoid nice sounding (but unknown) organizations and their "surveys". Some just collect mailing and phone lists to sell.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Track US Legislation and Congress. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.


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