When do bills get a number?

Sara from Kentucky asks:

I don’t know if I am hearing accurate information. Some of us want bill numbers listed in newspapers so we can look them up. “America’s Healthy Future Act”  has no number and Baucus’s office says that it will not receive a number until it goes to the Senate Floor. It is not on GovTrack. Would it be on ?

HR 676 has never gone to the House floor, yet it has a number.  Why is this?

The issue that Sara raises is an important one for government transparency: where does the legislative process begin? the first step in the parliamentary procedure for a bill to become law is for the sponsor of the bill in the House or Senate to submit the bill formally to the clerk of the chamber. At that point, the clerk assigns it a number. Then the bill gets assigned (“referred”) to committees which begin the deliberations for the bill, and eventually, if it is lucky, it may come to the full chamber for a vote.

The tricky thing for us on the outside is that there’s no stopping congress from deliberating on an idea before it is submitted to the clerk and officially becomes a bill under consideration. And if it’s not an official bill, it’s not on the government website THOMAS or on GovTrack. This isn’t something you can prevent. There will always be deliberations outside of the official way things work. And I think that’s fine. It does make things difficult to follow, though.

That’s what happened with the stimulus bills a year ago. There were a number of drafts and revisions all before the bill actually became an actual bill. And that’s what’s happening in the Senate with drafting its health care bill. (The House drafted .) Until the bill gets formally submitted, it’s not “in the system”. You can only get a draft — an essentially unofficial bill — from the congressman’s or committee’s website that is working on it, if they care to share.

The Senate Committee on Finance posted a

. It’s called a Chairman’s Mark because it is the draft bill with the markups (i.e. revisions) that the chair of the committee (Max Baucus) wants to push forward. It’s what the committee voted on, and subsequently passed. I expect this to be submitted to the Senate clerk and get a bill number soon.

I would like GovTrack to start collecting draft bills where we can find them, but I haven’t had the time yet to build the infrastructure on the site for it yet.

Thanks for the question, Sara.

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