Skip to Main Content

Legislative Process: Getting Started

How a bill becomes a law in the US, with the government documents associated with each step of the process

Using this guide

Congress passes over 500 laws during each two year session. What is the process? How does a bill become a law? This guide will help you follow a bill through Congress and identify Congressional procedures, terms and organization.

Questions this guide will help answer

How can I track a bill through the federal legislative process?
What do various terms used in Congress mean?
How do I determine the role and responsibilities of a Congressional committee?
How do I find what was said and written about a proposed bill throughout the process?
When did a bill become a law?
What is the legislative history of long term issues? (eg. environmental issues, trade policy, telecommunications)

Background Information

Congress A to Z (CQ)
Dictionary of terms and concepts relating to Congress. Perkins Reference
Congress and the nation: a review of government and politics in the postwar years
Provides a birds-eye view of the work of Congress.  Especially useful for seeking out broad trends, such as environmental issues, health care, welfare, etc.
1945-present.  Perkins Reference and online through the CQ Electronic Library database
Congressional Quarterly Almanac, and Congressional Quarterly Almanac plus
Comprehensive yearly summary of the activity of, and issues addressed by Congress.  Provides voting information by bill for every member. Includes major political events of that year and text of important statements. 
1948 - present. Perkins Reference
We the People: an introduction to American Politics
Good refresher on how the US government works. See the chapter on Congress for a discussion beyond the rules and process, of outside influences, etc. Perkins Reference

Commentary, News & Analysis

Congressional Digest
Each issue addresses a different topic.  Provides pros and cons, analysis and a short bibliography.  Excellent source for an overview on a topic.
1921 - present. Latest in Current Periodicals; earlier Perkins stacks. Online in Academic Search Complete
CQ Researcher
Comprehensive analysis and discussion of current issues facing Congress and the United States.
1991 - 2003 Perkins stacks.  Online 1991 - present in CQ Electronic Library
CQ Weekly
Current analysis and updates on the work Congress and national political issues. Includes votes and status of legislation.
1957 - present Perkins Current Periodicals and stacks. Online 1983 - present in CQ Electronic Library
LexisNexis Academic
Full text coverage of major general periodicals and newspapers.  Includes polls under the "Reference" menu selection.
National Journal
1975 - present.  Latest in Current Periodicals; earlier in Perkins Stacks JK1 .N28.  Also available through database. (Use Advanced Search to access all the way back to 1977.) Provides a broad but thorough view of issues facing the nation.  Looks at all branches of the federal government as well as some state coverage.  Covers elections nationwide.  Less statistical than CQ Weekly Report but provides more analysis and commentary.
Excellent resource for political and public policy research. Indexes scholarly materials.
Political Science Complete
Covers the core Political Science journals and many other materials.

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Ryan Denniston

Perkins 233
PO Box 90175
Durham, NC 27708
Website Skype Contact: rdennist