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Government Documents and Resources: Legislative

This guide provides information and links to documents and resources from the U.S. Federal Government, as well as international, state, and local resources.

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Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government is comprised of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the Congress. Congress has sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.

The U.S. Congress:

  • House of Representatives -- the House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. In addition, there are 6 non-voting members, representing the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other territories of the United States. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency. Members of the House are elected every two years and must be 25 years of age, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state (but not necessarily the district) they represent. The House has several powers assigned exclusively to it, including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie.
  • Senate -- the Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. Until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by popular vote. Since then, they have been elected to six-year terms by the people of each state. Senator's terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Senators must be 30 years of age, U.S. citizens for at least nine years, and residents of the state they represent. The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and may cast the decisive vote in the event of a tie in the Senate. The Senate has the sole power to confirm those of the President's appointments that require consent, and to ratify treaties. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: the House must also approve appointments to the Vice Presidency and any treaty that involves foreign trade. The Senate also tries impeachment cases for federal officials referred to it by the House.
  • Legislation:
    • The Legislative Process -- This succinct summary from the White House website explains the process of legislation, the powers of Congress, and the role of oversight in government.
    • History of Bills -- The History of Bills from 1983 to the present. For information on bills predating this period, use the print Congressional Record and Congressional Record Index, which can be located using the Library catalog.
    • Congressional Bills Database -- All published versions of bills from the 103rd (1993-1994) Congress forward.
    • Congressional Record and Congressional Record Index -- The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress, and volume 140 (1994) to the present are available online. Congressional Record Index issues from 1983 to the present are available online. Earlier volumes of both publications are available in print and can be located using the Library catalog.
    • House Journal --Available online from 1992-1999. Historic issues (1789-1875) are available online through the Library of Congress American Memory website.
    • Public and Private Laws -- Contains laws enacted from the 104th to the present Congresses. For earlier laws, see the Statutes at Large.
    • United States Code --The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States, and is published every six years. The 1994-2000 editions are available online.