What Happens to Bills After Congress Adjourns?
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...