What is the Congress Project?
The Congress Project provides stories and context behind important legislation considered by the U.S. Congress. It also includes links to published research readers can consult for further information. These stories and context most commonly take the form of detailed legislative histories written by undergraduate researchers and edited by faculty. In other cases, it may be a set of assorted notes, citations to other work related to the measure and other information.
Under the direction of Professor Anthony Madonna, the website is still in its early stages. We have over 60 written legislative histories and over 2,000 sets of assorted notes that we will be systematically posting here starting on June 15, 2018. Please consult the "Recent Updates" page for measures and notes added.
This project spun out of an undergraduate research and data collection project that originated at the University of Georgia in 2010. The data collection project, co-supervised with Professor Michael Lynch, is discussed in greater detail at https://www.tonymadonna.com/uga-congress-project/.
How is this organized?
The legislative histories are organized by Congress. However, again, clicking on the "Recent Updates" page will allow you to see what has been added and when.
Otherwise, if you click on a year range above, you can then select a given Congress from the drop-down menu. Each Congress website will provide some information pertaining to that specific Congress. It will also provide a list of "important" legislation considered. Legislation with notes and/or histories available will have hyperlink embedded. The important legislation data set was constructed by combining several lists of "landmark legislation" compiled by scholars with several routine appropriation bills considered in each Congress. The decision to focus on important enactments was motivated by several factors, which are discussed in greater detail in Appendix A of this working paper.
We will be posting assorted notes on all legislation listed. These notes will include information like bill numbers, companion and related bill numbers, roll call votes cast, and floor amendments considered. In addition, undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty that worked on the undergraduate research and data collection project have also compiled more detailed legislative histories on a number of the measures listed. Those histories have followed this template and a set of more detailed instructions. Generally, the histories are drawn directly from the Congressional Record, historical newspaper coverage and other listed sources.
Why post this?
A number of reasons. First, we are devoted to making the United States Congress and its legislation accessible and understandable to everyone. Consistent with this goal, scholars of congressional politics have made great strides in generating important new data sets on congressional activity. However, data alone is likely insufficient for members of the general public interested in congressional lawmaking. Most casual observers of politics are unlikely to download a data set and analyze it. Making readable landmark bill histories available, however, should aide both scholars and enrich the knowledge of the general public.
We believe this is especially important given the lack of publicly available material on congressional law-making. Accurate and objective information on legislation is currently difficult for journalists, researchers, and the public to find. Sources like Wikipedia often lack detail and reliability. The Library of Congress's congress.gov website has extremely detailed information on bills, but it is presented in a way that is difficult for non-experts to comprehend. This is particularly problematic as congressional process is exceptionally dense and confusing—far more so than classic "I'm Just a Bill!" (Schoolhouse Rock) video would suggest.
Second, in many cases excellent work on a given bill or enactment exists (often across academic disciplines), but locating and tracking that work is difficult. Our hope is that we can better promote that work here in a centralized location.
Third, as previously noted, the Congress Project spun out of a tangentially related data collection project and class. A good amount of the material presented here was collected during those classes. We decided to make it publicly available here to better inform those interested in congressional politics and to publicize the excellent work done by our undergraduate students. Many of student contributors have been able to use their work on the website and undergraduate research course when applying for jobs, graduate and law school programs.
Finally, as we hope is clear to readers, we love the U.S. Congress. The laws made by Congress effect the lives of American citizens in important ways. However, it is also exceptionally complex. And this complexity has made it difficult for more Americans to understand the motivations behind decisions made by members. Many key policies are not the result of a well thought out vision, rather they are the unforeseen product of a compromise, trade-off or obscure procedural choice. Our hope is that by providing the stories behind this legislation, readers will come to a better understanding (and in some cases appreciation) for the work Congress does.
How can I contribute?
Absolutely. If you have work that relates to a given measure and would like it cited or if you caught an error in a legislative history or a set of notes posted, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additionally, if you are an instructor or student and would like to either submit a legislative history to the website or add to an existing history, please contact us as well. We are happy to provide templates, instructions and additional resources for anyone interested.
Finally, if you would simply like to go on an angry rant about something, feel free to contact us about that as well.
Are you going to explain some of this confusing jargon?
I promise you we will. We are currently working on a "Glossary and Key Terms" page that we will be using to define the jargon. Our plan is to then go through the cases already posted and provide links in the terms to the page.
Congressional process is exceptionally dense and difficult to navigate. As stated above, one of the primary goals of this project is to teach people legislative process through these cases. The key terms page should be online by May of 2019. In the meantime, please consult our "Links" page for links to additional information on legislative rules, procedure and congressional politics.
How do I cite one of the histories?
Please cite using the following format:
Author name or names (found in the top left corner). Year. “Title.” The Congress Project, Month Day. Link.
So citing the Naval Appropriations Act of 1905 case would look like this:
Madonna, Anthony. 2016. "Naval Appropriations Act of 1905." The Congress Project, January 20. https://www.thecongressproject.com/naval-appropriations-act-of-1905