Part 2: Finding a Bill, and What It Can Tell You

As we mentioned in our first installment, the THOMAS Web site ( can give you a great deal of information about Congress, its day-to-day workings and the many documents that the two chambers (House and Senate) generate. One of the most basic things that members of The American Legion family may wish to know about is the status of some bill that their senator or representative has introduced. Often, Legionnaires do not know the bill’s number, which makes the job of finding information about the bill a bit harder – but not impossible.

After going to the THOMAS main Web site, in the center of the page you will see the heading, “Legislation in Current Congress.” Directly underneath that heading is a subheading, entitled “Search Bill Summary and Status.” This is the place you will begin your explorations.

Just below the subheading are two buttons, labeled “Word/Phrase” and “Bill Number.” If you don’t know the number of the bill for which you’re looking, you should click on the “Word/Phrase” button. Then, just below it, fill in the search box with either a word or short phrase that you believe is either in the bill’s title, in the text of the bill, or in its description. Afterwards, click on the “Search” button next to the search box. If you do know the number of the bill, you should click on the “Bill Number” button, and then fill in the search box with the bill number before clicking “Search.”

Another way to search for a bill is to use the name of your senator or representative (the person who introduced the bill) as the search criterion. Directly below the subheading “Search Bill Summary and Status” is another subheading entitled, “Browse Bills by Sponsor.” Beneath this subheading are two dropdown menus, entitled, “Select a Representative” and “Select a Senator.” Clicking on either menu will show you a complete list of all members of the House and Senate – even those persons who have left Congress because of death or other reasons.

Once you click on the name of a senator or representative, click on the “Go” button next to the dropdown menu. Within moments, a list of bills sponsored by the selected congressional member will appear. The list could be fairly modest, or rather lengthy. For example, Senator Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee; his listing includes 49 bills and amendments that he has sponsored thus far during the 111th Congress. Here is a sample bill listing for Sen. Akaka:

5. S.252 : A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to enhance the capacity of the Department of Veterans Affairs to recruit and retain nurses and other critical health-care professionals, to improve the provision of health care veterans, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Akaka, Daniel K. [HI] (introduced 1/15/2009) Cosponsors (11)
Committees: Senate Veterans' Affairs
Senate Reports: 111-60
Latest Major Action: 7/24/2009 Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 128.

The above listing gives you the following information about this bill:

• The bill number, with a hyperlink to the webpage with complete information of this legislation;
• A brief description of what the bill seeks to accomplish;
• The member of Congress who originally introduced the measure;
• The most current number of co-sponsors of the bill, with a hyperlink to a separate listing of the names of cosponsors;
• The name of the committee or committees to which the legislation has been assigned. This listing will often show a subcommittee to which the bill has been assigned as well;
• The number of the report assigned to the bill (if it has been approved by the committee), with a hyperlink to the text of the report; and,
• The most recent major action that has occurred on the measure.

Clicking the hyperlink on the bill number will take you to a result page with complete information on a particular measure. In addition to the information listed above, this result page also lists:

• Bill titles, which shows previous or alternate titles of the measure;
• Related bills that sometimes seek to accomplish the same action as the listed bill (these are often companion bills from the other congressional chamber);
• Text of the legislation, including different versions of the bill as it works its way through the legislative process;
• A summary of a bill’s text from the Congressional Research Service (CRS);
• A listing of subjects that are addressed by the measure;
• Major Congressional Actions, which shows only the minimum actions taken in the bill’s history; and,
• All Congressional Actions, which shows all action on a measure – from subcommittee level up to and including presidential signature of a bill into public law.

Each of these items has a hyperlink to more pages with complete information. If one of the above items does not have a hyperlink, additional information is not available.


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