Frequently Asked Questions
| What is the Congressional Monitor Database?|
The database is a collection, arranged for ease and speed of retrieval, of all legislative initiatives introduced in the U.S. Congress from 2001-2008 that mention Israel or Palestine or have bearing on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These include bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions (see “What is a bill?”, “What is a joint resolution?”, etc. for descriptions of each type of legislation).The Congressional Monitor project is ongoing, and legislation before 2001 and after 2008 will eventually be added to the database.
IPS is simultaneously compiling executive policy statements of the president and secys. of state from the Clinton administration and beyond on the same topics, and when compared to the relevant congressional data, new insights into the process of and the influences upon U.S. foreign policymaking with respect to the conflict can be generated.
| What information does the Congressional Monitor Database include?|
For each bill or resolution the database includes the legislation’s title, number and type, date of introduction, the Congress and session in which it was introduced, the names of the initiative’s sponsor and cosponsor(s) with their state and party affiliations, the topics covered, a brief summary, related measures if any, and the final status of the initiative. Links to view the full text of the measure are also included (see “How do I view the text of a bill or resolution?” for more details).
| Why have a database on legislation passed by the U.S. Congress on Israel/Palestine?|
Through the legislation it passes, the U.S. Congress plays an important role in U.S. policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The database gives users an important view into the range and magnitude of U.S. involvement in the conflict that U.S. lawmakers deem necessary and appropriate. It can also reveal the prevailing attitudes among lawmakers, especially among the initiators of legislation, toward the conflict and regional actors. Moreover, the database allows the user to track how Congressional action on key issues such as military and economic aid, refugees, and Jerusalem has evolved over time. In a practical sense, the database provides a highly focused distillation of the immense volume of the Congressional record while facilitating easy access to the raw data the record provides.
| How do I search the Congressional Monitor Database?|
There are two main ways to search the database. The Legislation Search function allows you to search through the legislation itself by many different criteria including legislation topic, a key word or phrase, legislation type, etc. See “How do I use the Legislation Search function.” for more details. The Sponsor/Cosponsor Search function allows you to search for legislation sponsored or cosponsored by a particular Senator or Representative. See “How do I use the Sponsor/Cosponsor Search function.” for more details. Top How do I use the Legislation Search function?
The Legislation Search function allows you to search for bills and resolutions using any combination of a number of criteria. The Legislation Topic and Search in Bill Text/Title functions allow for quick, general searches if specific details of legislation are not known.
- Legislation Topic: This function allows you to search by certain preselected key topics such as Gaza/West Bank, Israel/Israelis, Jerusalem, or Military Aid.
- Search in Bill Text/Title: Use this function to search the title and text of any piece of legislation for any word or phrase. To the right of the search term entry field is a drop down box containing the following search rules: “Match Any”, “As a Phrase”, and “Match All”. For example, when searching for a phrase such as “Gaza withdrawal” these search rules will give you different results:
- “Match Any” will turn up any bill or resolution containing one or both of the words “Gaza” or “withdrawal” regardless if the words appear next to each other in the text of the legislation or not.
- “As a Phrase” will turn up any bill or resolution in which “Gaza” and “withdrawal” appear next to each other in the text of the legislation.
- “Match All” will turn up any bill or resolution in which both the words “Gaza” and “withdrawal” appear in the text of the legislation but not necessarily next to each other.
- Legislation Type: Use this field to sort legislation by the various types of initiatives that can be introduced: bill, joint resolution, simple resolution, or concurrent resolution. See “What is a bill?”, “What is a joint resolution?”, etc. for descriptions of each type of legislation.
- Congress #: Every two years the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate are up for election. Each two year period is referred to as a Congress and is given a number. For example, the 109th Congress began its term in January 2005 and ran until January 2007 when the 110th Congress began its term. Use this field to sort legislation by individual Congresses. See “Why do you refer to different Congresses?” for more details.
- Session #: Each Congress is divided into two sessions, one session for each year of the Congress. For example the 109th Congress ran from January 2005 until January 2007. The first session of the 109th Congress lasted from January 2005 until January 2006, and the second session lasted from January 2006 until January 2007. Use this field to sort legislation by the session of a Congress.
- Year From: Allows you to select a given timeframe in to search through.
- Legislation #: Each piece of legislation introduced is given an individual number which identifies it by the type of legislation and the order in which it was introduced. Take H. R. 1585 for example. “H. R.” is the prefix for a bill introduced in the House of Representatives, and “1585” means that it is the 1,585th bill introduced in the House during that Congress. If you know the legislation number of a particular bill or resolution, use this function to bring up its entry in the database.
Bill and Resolution Prefixes:
H. J. Res.—House Joint Resolution
S. J. Res.—Senate Joint Resolution
H. Res.—House Resolution
S. Res.—Senate Resolution
H. Con. Res.—House Concurrent Resolution
S. Con. Res.—Senate Concurrent Resolution
- Year From: Use this function to view legislation introduced in a given time frame. Note that the database only covers 2001-2008.
How do I use the Sponsor/Cosponsor Search function?
The Search by Sponsor/Cosponsor function allows you to select the name of an individual Senator or Representative and view the legislation he or she has sponsored and cosponsored. Each bill or resolution introduced has a sponsor and many have cosponsors. A sponsor is the Senator or Representative who originally introduced the bill or resolution and is considered its chief advocate. Frequently other Senators or Representatives will add their names to a bill or resolution to show their support for the measure. To use this feature first select a Congress from the Congress # drop-down box, then select a name of a Senator or Representative from the Sponsor/Cosponsor drop-down box, and click Search.
| What is a Legislation Card?|
The Search Result page will display the legislation number and title of the measures brought up by your search. Click on the legislation number next to the title of the bill you want to see to view the Legislation Card. The Legislation Card contains the legislation’s title, number and type, date of introduction, the Congress and session in which it was introduced, the names of the initiative’s sponsor and cosponsor(s) with their state and party affiliations, the topics covered, a brief summary, related measures if any, and the final status of the initiative. From here you can click on the name of the sponsor or cosponsor to see further bills and resolution he or she has sponsored and cosponsored, or click on any of the topics for further legislation addressing the same issue.
| How do I find the text of a bill or resolution?|
To the right of the bill’s title on the Search Result page, and at the top left of each legislation card, is a PDF icon and an Internet Explorer icon. Click the PDF icon to view a PDF of the measure as it stood at the end of the Congress. Click the Internet Explorer icon to view the bill on the THOMAS website. For tips on navigating THOMAS see “What is THOMAS and how do I use it?”
| What is THOMAS and how do I use it?|
THOMAS is an online repository of all of the proceedings of Congress, from 1989 to the present, created by the Library of Congress. It was launched in 1995 after the Congressional leadership at the time directed the Library of Congress to make legislative information available to the public.
When you click the Internet Explorer icon, either on the Search Results page or on a Legislation Card, you will be brought to the THOMAS website. If there is only one version of the bill, the result will be a display of either the entire text of the bill (if it is short enough) or of a set of links to sections of the bill (if it is too long to be quickly downloaded). You can view sections of the bill by clicking these links, or you can view the full text of the bill by clicking the “Printer Friendly Display” or “XML Display” links.
If there are multiple versions of the bill, the result will display a list of those versions, as in this example:
There are 3 versions of Bill Number S.2370 for the 109th Congress
The descriptions in parentheses following the bill title indicate different versions of the bill as it progressed through different stages in the legislative process. The letters following the bill number in brackets also correspond to different stages of the legislative process. Their meaning is largely explained in the preceding parentheses. The entries in the CMBD describe the final version of the bill as it stood at the end of the Congress.
- Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 (Introduced in Senate) [S.2370.IS]
- Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 (Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by Senate) [S.2370.ES]
- Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate) [S.2370.ENR]
A particularly important version to note is an "Enrolled" bill (“.ENR”). An enrolled bill is one that has been passed by both chambers of Congress and sent to the president for signature. It represents the final version of a bill which has become law or been vetoed by the president. Click the link for the version of the bill you wish to see.
| What if the bill does not include the information contained in the summary on the legislation card?|
Sometimes the text of a bill will only deal very broadly with an issue and not address specific details. This is especially true in the case of authorization and appropriations bills. The bill text authorizing or appropriating funds may mention only overall funding for a very large and expansive government program. In such cases a committee report or a conference report detailing specific funding levels for individual components of the larger program will accompany the bill text. For example, the text of an authorization bill for the Dept. of Defense may only broadly authorize funds for research and development for the military as a whole, whereas only one small component of this research and development may be for the ballistic missile defense system for Israel that the U.S. and Israel are developing together. The committee report on this bill will specify funding levels for this component of what is called “defense wide” research and development. For more information about committees see “What is a committee?”. For more information on committee and conference reports see “What are committee reports and conference reports?”. To find out how to access a committee report see “How can I access a committee or conference report for a bill?”.
| How can I access a committee report or conference report for a bill?|
Committee reports and conference reports often provide important information about a bill that has legal bearing but does not appear in the bill text. To view a committee or conference report for a bill, click the Internet Explorer icon of the bill in question to view it on THOMAS. If more than one version of the bill is available, click the link for the latest version. You will be brought to a page showing the bill number and title. Immediately above the bill number and title is a row of links, click “Bill Summary and Status file”. This will bring you to a page that gives basic information about the bill. Links to any committee or conference reports will be on this page. See “What are committee reports and conference reports” for more details
| What is the role of Congress in the U.S. government?|
Congress is the legislative body of the U.S. government. It drafts and passes laws that the President must enforce, and has the sole authority to levy taxes and appropriate money from the U.S. Treasury. No money may be spent by the federal government without having first been appropriated by Congress and it may only be spent for purposes authorized by Congress.
| Who are the members of Congress?|
Congress is made up of men and women elected from each state. Each state elects two Senators who represent the entire state and therefore run in state-wide elections. Representatives represent a portion of each state called a district and are elected only by voters in that district. The number of Representatives each state may elect is determined by the state’s population, so a populous state such as California elects 53 Representatives while Maine, with a much smaller population, elects only two.
| How many members are there in Congress?|
There are 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate.
| How long does each member serve in Congress?|
Representatives are elected to two year terms and Senators are elected to six year terms.
| Where does Congress meet?|
Congress meets in the Capitol building in Washington, DC. While Congress debates and votes on bills and resolutions in the Capitol building, much of the business of Congress is conducted in the House and Senate office buildings located near the Capitol building. It is in these office buildings where House and Senate members have their personal offices, and where the various Congressional committees meet, hold hearings on legislative issues, and ultimately write much of the legislation that is considered by Congress.
| Why do you refer to different Congresses?|
Every two years the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate are up for election. Each two year period is referred to as a Congress and is given a number. For example, the 109th Congress began its term in January 2005 and ran until January 2007 when the 110th Congress began its term. When a piece of legislation is introduced it remains “live” until it is passed or withdrawn and can be amended or acted up at any time. However, legislation that is not passed in a given Congress does not carry over to the next Congress; it must be reintroduced as a new measure.
| What is a bill?|
A bill is the most common form of legislation. It proposes to create a new law or to amend or repeal an existing law. Most of the legislation introduced in Congress is in the form of bills, and may deal with either domestic or foreign issues. Key bills in the Congressional Monitor Database are authorizations bills which permit funds to be appropriated to establish federal programs and agencies and/or to fund their activities, and appropriations bills, which actually provide (appropriate) the funds for these programs and agencies. Bills can originate either in the House of the Senate. For a bill to become law it must be agreed to in identical form by the House and the Senate, and in most cases must be signed by the President. See “What is the process by which bills become law?” for more details.
Abbreviations for bills:
H.R. (House Bill)
S. (Senate Bill)
| What is a joint resolution?|
Joint resolutions are legislative measures that, like bills, will become law if passed. Introduced less frequently than bills, joint resolutions are also the means to propose amendments to the Constitution. Like bills, they can originate in either the House or the Senate. For a joint resolution to become law (but not an amendment to the constitution) it must be agreed to in identical form by the House and the Senate, and in most cases must be signed by the President. See “What is the process by which bills become law?” for more details.
H. J. RES. (House Joint Resolution)
S. J. RES. (Senate Joint Resolution)
| What is a resolution (also called a “simple resolution”)?|
Resolutions, also called simple resolutions, are measures that express the opinion of either the Senate or the House on a given subject. They are introduced and passed in only one chamber of Congress, are not presented to the President for signature, and do not have the force of law. Resolutions can also be used to establish rules and procedures for either chamber, but these types of resolutions do not fall within the scope of the Congressional Monitor Database. For a resolution to pass it must receive a simple majority vote in the chamber in which it was introduced. See “How are simple and concurrent resolutions passed?” for more details.
H.RES. (House Resolution)
S.RES. (Senate Resolution)
| What is a concurrent resolution?|
Concurrent resolutions are similar to simple resolutions, but are passed by both the House and the Senate. Like resolutions, they express the opinions of Congress on a given issue and are not legally binding. They do not have the force of law, and are not presented to the President for signature or veto. For a concurrent resolution to pass an identical version must be approved by majority vote in both chambers. See “How are simple and concurrent resolutions passed” for more details.
H.CON.RES. (House Concurrent Resolution)
S.CON.RES. (Senate Concurrent Resolution)
| What is the difference between a bills and joint resolutions on the one hand and simple and concurrent resolutions on the other?|
The main difference is that bills and joint resolutions, when passed, carry the force of law. Bills and joint resolutions must pass both chambers, be presented to the president for his signature, and only become law when they are signed by the president or have remained unsigned for 10 days (not counting Sundays) while Congress is in session.
Simple and concurrent resolutions do not carry the force of law and only express the opinions of Congress, commemorate events, or set rules for the procedures of each chamber. Simple and concurrent resolutions are not submitted to the president for his signature. A simple resolution is considered passed when approved by the chamber in which it was introduced, and a concurrent resolution is considered passed when approved by both chambers. See “What is a bill?”, “What is a joint resolution?”, etc. for details on each type of measure.
| What is the process by which bills become law?|
What follows is a brief description of the legislative process. For an in-depth primer on this process see “How Our Laws Are Made” on THOMAS.
As an example, we will look at a bill introduced in the House. What follows applies equally to bills introduced in the Senate and to joint resolutions introduced by either chamber,
The first step in the legislative process is for the measure to be introduced. This is done by depositing a printed copy of the measure in a box where it is collected, assigned a number (i.e. H.R. 5), and referred to the appropriate committee(s). When “last major action” in the Congressional Monitor is cited as ‘referred to House committee’, that means the measure is in the introductory stages of the legislative process.
It is not uncommon that a committee report summarizing and explaining the bill’s content is submitted when the bill is introduced, but a committee report can also be submitted later in the process. In either case, committee reports contain information that is not listed in the text of the bill, such as details on expense accounts and rationale for spending.
Next, the chair of the House committee to which the bill was referred decides the appropriate steps to take. S/he has three choices: take no action at all, hold hearings with invited guests, or hold a ‘markup’ session, where the committee members discuss the measure internally, submit amendments, and vote on whether to recommend the measure to the full House for consideration. All measures must be passed by the full House, not by the committee alone.
After the bill receives recommendation from the committee, the House majority leader will place the bill on the legislative calendar. When the date arrives, a debate will most likely be held, which could last several days or weeks; at its conclusion, a vote will be taken on the bill. There are two types of votes: voice vote, where those present verbalize their choice, or a recorded vote, where the votes are cast electronically and recorded.
When the bill is passed by the House, the measure as passed is sent to the Senate for consideration (or vice versa if the Senate initiates the measure). The Senate will proceed through a process similar to that of the House: committee referral, amendments, and votes in both the committee and the full Senate. If a bill is amended by the Senate, which can occur in committee or in the full Senate, it then goes back to the House for consideration again, since both chambers must agree on an identical text before it can be passed and presented to the president for his signature. This back and forth continues until the two chambers come to agreement, the measure is tabled, or the Congress ends.
In order to resolve differences between the two chambers on a bill, each chamber appoints conferees who meet and form a committee to resolve the outstanding issues. This committee writes a report detailing the differences and how they were resolved.
After both chambers agree on a bill, it is presented to the president for his signature. The bill becomes law if the president signs the bill or takes no action on it for ten days while Congress is in session. Alternatively, he may veto the bill, and if Congress is in session, Congress can override this veto with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber. If Congress is not in session, the bill is considered vetoed if the president takes no action within 10 days (not counting Sundays) of its presentation, and Congress does not reconvene to overturn what is called a ‘pocket veto’.
| How is a simple or concurrent resolution passed?|
The process for passing a simple or concurrent resolution is very similar to that for a bill or joint resolution. Like a bill or joint resolution, simple resolutions (labeled H. Res. or S. Res.) and concurrent resolutions (labeled H. Con. Res. or S. Con. Res.) are introduced by a Representative or Senator and given a number based on the order in which they were introduced. After introduction both are submitted to the relevant committee(s) for consideration, amendment, and/or approval. Should the simple or concurrent resolution be passed by the committee(s) they are then scheduled for consideration by being placed on the legislative calendar of the relevant chamber. After consideration they are both voted on by the full chamber. Unlike a bill or joint resolution, if a simple resolution is approved by the chamber in which it is introduced it is considered passed and is not sent for consideration in the other chamber. A concurrent resolution however, must be approved by both chambers, so after passage by the House for example it is then sent to the Senate for its approval. If passed by both chambers the concurrent resolution is considered passed and is not presented to the president for his signature as are bills and joint resolutions. For more details on the how measures are considered and passed see “What is the process by which bills become law?”.
| What is a committee?|
A committee is a subgroup of Congress that considers legislation dealing with a certain topic. So, the House Committee on Appropriations for example will consider a bill making appropriations for the Department of Defense. Within a given committees there may also be subcommittees which deal with specific topics within the jurisdiction of the overall committee. So this same Department of Defense appropriations bill will be considered by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Currently there are nineteen standing committees in the House and sixteen in the Senate each with its own jurisdiction over bills dealing with different topics. For more information on the role of committees see “What is the process by which bills become laws?” and “What are committee reports and conference reports?”.
| What are committee reports and conference reports?|
All bills and resolutions that are introduced must be submitted to and/or approved by one or more congressional committees. For example, a bill making appropriations for the Dept. of Defense, if not introduced having already been through the committee, will pass through one or both of the House and Senate appropriations committees. While reviewing the bill, the committee[s] may submit a report which, among other things, will detail funding levels for specific programs that are addressed only broadly by the bill itself.
Additionally, a conference report may also accompany a bill. Frequently the House and Senate will pass different versions of the same bill, but for it to become law an identical version must be passed by both chambers. Members of the House and Senate are selected to form a committee to reconcile the differences between the two versions. The committee will produce a compromise version of the bill called a conference report. Both houses vote on the conference report which, if passed, becomes law when signed by the president. For more information on committees see “What is a committee?”. For more information on the legislative process see “What is the process by which bills become law?”.
| What are appropriations?|
Appropriations are funds provided through the passage of a bill or joint resolution on which federal agencies may draw from the U.S. Treasury. Federal agencies may use these funds only for purposes specified in the bill or joint resolution.
| How is aid to foreign countries approved?|
The process begins when the President submits the annual budget request to Congress. The budget request specifies which countries are to be recipients of the aid, how much aid should be given, and a justification for providing the aid. The president’s request is considered by the appropriate committees in the House and Senate, and a bill is drafted authorizing the funding levels Congress deems appropriate. The funding levels may or may not match those requested by the President, and Congress may place restrictions and conditions on where and how the funds may be spent. After passage of the authorization bill, an appropriations bill is passed that actually provides the funds to be spent as foreign aid.
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