More Tools for Covering Capitol Hill — From Outside the Beltway

October 8, 2008

 Reporters on "Main Street" need not feel hindered in covering action on Capitol Hill. Here are more tools for Outside-the-Beltway reporters who want to keep an eye on Congress.

  • LEGISLATIVE REPORTS. Almost every bill that gets to the House or Senate floor is accompanied by a legislative "Report" issued by the committee(s) with jurisdiction. These reports are often a goldmine of background information, and often help translate obscure and legalistic bill language into plain English. Whenever you are looking into a particular bill, get the report or reports that go with it. Reports are not filed until a committee has approved a bill. Look for both House and Senate committee reports, and (rarely) multiple committees.

All legislative reports are available online through the Government Printing Office (GPO) at its new browse feature. You can also find reports corresponding to a particular bill number at the Library of Congress' Thomas site.

  • THE DAILY DIGEST. Even the jaded pros who haunt the House Press Gallery and seem to know what's going on ... sometimes don't. They read the "Daily Digest" section of the Congressional Record for a quick scan of what Congress may have slipped through in the wee hours. The Digest is a capsule summary of all floor action. It is handy for anyone who can't be physically present in the chamber at all times. Use it to track particular bills, or just to watch for interesting stories or monkey business.

Thanks to the miracle of the Web, you no longer need a paper copy of the Congressional Record to read the daily digest. GPO published it online along with the rest of the record (so you can read the full floor discussion of whatever's in the digest). The best starting point is the Congressional Record: Main Page, which includes links to the most recent Daily Digest as well as a browseable index of past Digests.

Incidentally, both Thomas and GPO are key tools you may want to explore in more depth. Thomas allows you to track action on any bill in exquisite detail, and is updated quite promptly except during end-of-session crunches. GPO also publishes the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, and the U.S. Code, as well as an assortment of official White House and executive agency publications (GPO home page).