The Capitol Hill Experience How a Bill Really Becomes Law Dirksen Congressional Center Congress in the Classroom Peoria, IL, July 31, 2006 Artemus Ward Assistant Professor Department of Political Science Northern Illinois University 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. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Professional, nonpartisan 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. Legislative Counsel Nonpartisan bill-drafting service for members and committees started in 1919. 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. 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. 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 . . .” 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. 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. Committee Reports The Committee Report describes the purpose and scope of the bill and the reasons for its recommended approval. Generally, a section-bysection 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. 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 moment’s 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. “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. 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 work closely with members and their staffs. The U.S. Congress operates very much like High School student government: slapdash, rushed, petty . . .