Articles From December 2010
The curtain will soon fall on the 111th Congress and flights out of DC will soon be packed to the gills (though some have already headed ou t, it seems ) . The House and Senate will soon adjourn “ sine die,” or “without day,” and not reconvene until the new Congress starts on January 5, 2011.
What about bills that never came to a vote in the 111th Congress? The slate is wiped clean; there is no business pending. All of the HR numbers and S-numbered titles that have been discussed and debated for the past two year go away. When Congress reconvenes on January 5, the process will start all over again. Bills will be introduced and given a chronological number. Expect a flurry of activity in the first few weeks. In 2009, over 400 bills were introduced on the first day of the Congressional session. (Source http://THOMAS.gov.)
It is not a given that all bills get reintroduced. Some bills from the 111th became part of other legislation and actually became law. Others will need new sponsors. Some will be put on hold for political reasons or just planning-the-calendar reasons.
Will bills have new sponsors? A bill’s sponsorship is a relatively sacred thing in Congress. It is highly unusual for someone to introduce someone else’s bill, with one exception: bills with bipartisan main sponsors will be introduced under the name of the main sponsor of the majority party. So, for example, a Nancy Pelosi/John Boehner jointly-introduced bill would have been the Pelosi bill in the 111th and will be the Boehner bill in the 112th.
What about bills that were sponsored by Members who are not returning? Those bills are essentially orphans, waiting for someone to take them up and commit to introducing them. In some cases, sponsors who know they are not returning will hand over a bill to a colleague to champion and sponsor in future sessions. If that doesn't happen, it can be a problem for advocates, and a great deal of energy will be spent trying to get a commitment for sponsorship.
Even for bills with returning sponsors, the RE-introduction process can take a while. Most offices plan out their legislative agenda ahead of time, and will want plenty of time to build support and plan a press strategy for reintroduction. Some bills may not be reintroduced for many months, or even until the second session (the second year) of the new Congress. This slow process is frustrating for individuals and organizations trying to build support for a particular issue. The main vehicle for making progress on an issue is showing support in the form of co-sponsorships by other Members of Congress. Organizations rally their lists and volunteers to ask their legislators to sign on to this or that bill. They arrange phone-banking, fly-ins, and district office visits; but all of this needs to be focused around a specific bill.
This is why I am so excited to offer a little teaser of a new POPVOX feature to allow organizations and individuals to build support for bills before reintroduction . Much like Groupon, POPVOX will allow for the demonstration of critical mass of support. Because it's POPVOX, that support is presented in a way that gets the attention of Congress: publicly, by state and district. This feature will help potential bill sponsors understand the energy a particular bill is generating and potential co-sponsors understand support in their district. For orphan bills, this provides an opportunity for supporters to catch the eye of potential sponsors. For new Members looking for issues to take on, POPVOX provides a metric for those issues that have notable support. For organizations, it is an opportunity to demonstrate real support when making the pitch for reintroduction. Watch for more next week...
Looking to weigh in on the Extension of the Bush Tax Cut (3,790,000 results on Google) or the “ Middle Class Tax Relief " bill (only 570,000) and having trouble? There is a good reason for that. The bill you are looking for is H.R. 4853 , which was originally entitled "the Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2010."
That bill was introduced in March by the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; passed the House on March 17, and was sent to the Senate. The Senate then added an amendment, had a vote, and it passed the Senate on September 23, 2010. Since the same version has to pass both Houses of Congress before it can be signed into law by the President , the amended version had to pass the House again, which it did on December 2, this time with an additional House amendment.
So, at the time that the tax cut deal was being discussed, H.R. 4853 was sitting patiently in the Senate, waiting for a vote.
As discussed earlier , "revenue-raisers" are Constitutionally required to " originate in the House ." That includes all tax bills. So, when those making the decisions decided that a vote in the Senate should come before a vote in the House, they needed to find a "vehicle" - that is, a House-originated bill, with a House "H.R." number. H.R. 4853 fit the bill. (pun intended.) The tax provisions were added as an amendment to H.R. 4853. The Senate voted on the whole package on December 15. The bill passed , and was sent yet again to the House for a vote.
The bill that is up for consideration in the House is the “ Senate amendment to the House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 4853 .” That is not a typo.
Want to know how things will happen on the House Floor? See the “ Rule ”. This is a resolution that sets the procedure for the vote.
In start-up language, it’s called a “pivot.” You have a theory of how something should work. You build it. You launch it. You listen. And the you “iterate,” meaning making changes, if necessary, based on what you learn. That’s a pivot. (Thanks, LUXr !)
Today, we implemented a pivot based on what we learned from six weeks of beta and lots of user surveys (thanks to all who participated!)
Originally, POPVOX required a written comment in order to count a person’s vote of “support” or “oppose” for a specific bill. We know that a personal story helps Congress understand the sentiment of constituents and increases the effectiveness of advocacy, which is why it was required at first. We found that many people wanted to take a position on bills they find interesting, but did not always feel like composing a comment to send in to their legislator. As of today, that comment is optional.
Learning about your needs and preferences is one more step to building more effective communication with Congress. With this adjustment, we are better able to quantify overall sentiment and better ensure that the comments that are collected are prompted by genuine sentiment rather than a technical hurdle. After all, those are just the letters that have the most impact in Congress./p>
Now on POPVOX, when you choose to support or oppose a bill, you are asked if you would like to share a personal story (which starting with the new Congressional session in January, will be sent to your Members). If you do not write a personal comment, your opinion still registers into the POPVOX pie chart and tally. As before, the registration process allows us to verify your address and associate your opinion with the correct Congressional district.
Let us know what you think in the comments here.
Below is a Google embed of the information currently available on the 2011 Legislative schedule. Â We will keep it updated.
For those not familiar with the amazing functionality of Google Calendar, click the + button in the lower right-hand corner to add to your own calendar.
Hope you find it helpful!
UPDATE: 12/07/2010 8:50 AM - The bill text is up on THOMAS now.
On December 2, Senators John Ensign (R-NV) Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA), introduced a bill designed to address recent Wikileaks activity. (In Congress-speak, they “dropped” the bill.)
You can read more about the ‘‘Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination Act” (SHIELD Act) in this press release from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs or view an unofficial version of the legislative language on Scribd.com.
You can now take action on the bill on POPVOX, but we do not have a link to the official language because it has not yet been posted on the Library of Congress’ website for legislative information: www.Thomas.gov . We thought this was a good opportunity to explain why that takes a while.
Unfortunately, the system for introducing a bill in Congress still includes a lot of paper and the system for making that information available to the public is not exactly real-time. Lots of people are working to make the system better, but for now, this is how it works when a Member (like Senators Ensign, Lieberman, and Brown) decides to introduce a bill:
- The bill language is printed and signed by its sponsor(s). There are few formatting requirements for these written bills - it is not uncommon for them to have handwritten corrections, strikethroughs or additions in the margins. Usually, the bill is drafted by Legislative Counsel and follows the standard format, but leaves a space for an official number to be added (as in the SHIELD version on scribd.com.) The only hard rule is that the bill must be signed by its sponsors.
- In the House, the printed bill language is placed in the Hopper . In the Senate, it is handed to the Bill Clerk at the front of the Chamber.
- The House or Senate Clerk assigns a number to the bill in order of receipt.
- The Parliamentarian of the House or Senate then refers the bill to the appropriate committee(s) and then sends it to the Government Printing Office for printing.
- The House or Senate Clerk sends information about the like bill title and number, status and actions directly to THOMAS , the official government site for bill information, hosted by the Library of Congress. Bill language is not available until it is released by GPO.
- Information on THOMAS is not very easy to work with for developers and others trying to parse bill information, so our CTO, Josh Tauberer created GovTrack six years ago to scrape THOMAS every day to search for new bills or changes in the status of bills. GovTrack is open source and makes all of this information available in an API. This GovTrack API is the basis for sites like OpenCongress and MapLight, among many others.
- POPVOX receives available bill information from the GovTrack API, adds the functionality for organizations to endorse/oppose and for you to comment and share; then we put all of that information in one place so that staffers, media and members of the public looking for information on these bills can see what people have to say.
- As for the bill language, GPO prints and disseminates copies, which takes a couple of days. All sponsoring Members receive printed copies. ( I always found this to be a colossal waste of paper. ) The GPO forwards the bill information to the Library of Congress, which makes it available on THOMAS .
Regarding t he SHIELD Act , as of December 7, we have a page for it and the ability to weigh in on POPVOX . However, since the official bill language is not yet publicly available, we strongly urge you to wait to see the actual language before weighing in, even though a version is available. The version on Scribd.com may be an earlier version that later changed. (Remember, even handwritten notes on the introduced bill make it into the official language.)
We know this system is not seamless, but we’re working with what is currently available and want to keep you informed about what that means.
Roll Call reports that the Food Safety Legislation that passed the Senate on November 30 may be “blue-slipped” by the House because its Section 107 contains “some fees that are classified as revenue-raisers.”
Since that bill has received a lot of attention from POPVOX users, it seemed like a good time to explain exactly what “blue slipping” means. Short version: any bill with a tax has to start in the House of Representatives. Best info: CRS Report from May 10, 2002: “ The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement .”
Article 1 , Section 7 of the Constitution (sometimes referred to as the “Origination Clause”) states, “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." That little sentence is the basis for the formation of the House Committee on Ways and Means , the oldest Congressional committee. (So much so, that a few years ago the “Article 1, Section 7s,” was in the running for the name of the W&M staff softball team... yes, I was a very non-essential/sometimes member of that team.)
According to Wikipedia , the origin of the Origination Clause (ha) is with the English parliamentary system, to ensure that the “power of the purse” remained with the House of Commons. The specific clause was part of the Great “ Connecticut Compromise ” of the 1787 Constitutional Convention between big and small states.
In law school, one of the first lessons of statutory construction is that you first look to plain language. When that plain language is not just in a statute, but actually appears in the Constitution, it carries a lot of weight. The U.S. Supreme Court has looked at the issue a few times (see the CRS doc) but has respected the Legislature’s determination of a bill’s origination, indicated by whether the bills has an “H” or “S” prefix. This is why you sometimes get long Senate-initiated bills that “ride” on an unrelated House bill with a House bill number.
Trivia: Do you remember the official name of the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program” bill? (Hint: “The Bailout” is not right.) Visit GovTrack for the answer.
If a law passes with a “revenue raising measure,” that did not “originate in the House,” it can be “Blue-Slipped” by any House Member (but is usually handled by the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee). The name comes from the piece of paper that is attached to the offending Senate bill and volleyed back across the Capitol.
My own observation is that this is not a partisan question - Ways and Means Members generally defend blue-slipping as their Constitutional duty, whether it affects a bill from their own party or not.
The potential outcomes for S.510 are laid out in the Roll Call article, so I won’t repeat them here. The gist is a complicated endgame for Lame Duck passage.
As Rachna described in her recent post, POPVOX will provide a platform for advocacy and endorsements of bills to continue even after the current Congressional session ends, before these bills are reintroduced in the next session. So, for now, for those for or against, continue to register your opinion on POPVOX. Those comments will be archived, searchable, and publicly available -- whether now or in the new Congress next year.
UPDATE: Roll Call reports that on Sunday, December 19, the Senate again voted and passed the Food Safety legislation, this time in House-passed "vehicle," H.R. 2751 , the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, which passed the House in June 2009. At the request of Senator Reid, the text of S. 510 replaced the original text of H.R. 2751, and the bill passed by voice vote. It now has to go back to the House for a final vote before it can be signed into law by the President.
(For media inquiries, please contact Marci Harris, POPVOX’s CEO, at email@example.com.)
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