Showing Your Support for Legislation

by Jennifer L. Crull

We live in the digital age. We expect to be able to do most of our communication through the Internet, while also being able to find almost anything we want to know from the Internet. We have access to all legislative bill information from Congress.gov or THOMAS.gov. Now we have another Website to add to the list of Websites geared to bring transparency to the legislative process. CoSponsor.gov is a new endeavor brought to you by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.[1]

While transparency seems to be the buzzword of the 21st century, it’s not a new concept. THOMAS.gov was first introduced in 1995 under the leadership of the 104th Congress. This leadership felt that the role of the Library of Congress was to facilitate the ability “to make federal legislative information freely available to the public.”[2] Since THOMAS.gov’s inception the range of offerings has grown to include the following information:

• Bills, Resolutions
• Activity in Congress
• Congressional Record
• Schedules, Calendars
• Committee Information
• Presidential Nominations
• Treaties
• Government Resources[3]

THOMAS.gov was a wonderful addition to the Internet in the mid-1990s. But as technology changes and advances, so does the need to update and modernize the Website. With that in mind, the Library of Congress has launched Congress.gov. THOMAS.gov will continue to be maintained through the end of 2014, at which time it will be retired.[4] Then everything will be on Congress.gov after 2014.

Congress.gov is designed to be the one-stop shop for all information from Congress. This information includes finding your elected officials, what is going on in the House of Representatives and Senate, the Congressional Record, and videos explaining the legislative process.[5] I would encourage you to take a little time to check out all the features and information contained on Congress.gov.

If you understand the legislative process, you know that in the past a member of Congress would have to go around and ask his or her colleagues for support of a piece of legislation. The 21st century version of this is Cosponsor.gov. If you don’t know how the legislative process works, the Congress.gov Website has a nine-part video series which will help you understand the process. Majority Leader Eric Cantor launched this Website back in June 2013, and it allows individual citizens to “cosponsor” legislation.[6]

Cosponsor.gov includes legislation that has been introduced by a member of Congress. Individuals can go in and search the legislation and add their sponsorship for legislation they agree with. Even though the Majority Leader launched this Website, this Website is about both Republican and Democrat bills that have been introduced in Congress. Right now if you visit the Website you will see that there are 4,208 bills to choose from to cosponsor.[7]

When you visit the Website you have the ability to see bills listed by categories. The categories are:

• Economy and Jobs
• National Security
• Working Families
• Healthcare
• Energy and Environment
• American Leadership
• Education and Workforce
• Science and Technology[8]

So if you click on “Economy and Jobs” you will see all the pieces of legislation on the site that pertain to that category. Then you can see the bill and the number of citizen sponsors. When you click on a bill it brings up the name of the bill, what congressional member introduced it and when, the number of congressional cosponsors, the number of citizen sponsors, and a summary of the current status of the bill. You also have the ability to see the complete bill. Additionally, you can follow the piece of legislation and/or cosponsor it. The site also allows the user to find bills depending on their status, such as Introduced, Referred to Committee, Passed Committee, and Passed House.[9]

When interviewed by National Review concerning the role of the Website, Majority Leader Cantor had the following to say about the emphasis on the number of citizen cosponsors: “I don’t think there’s necessarily going to be a threshold, I think that it certainly will be one of the things that our Members, both Republican and Democrat, will be able to weigh in terms of how they look at particular issues and bills making their way through the process.”[10] He also stated that:

We never can forget that this is a government that belongs to the people and should be working for the people. This town of Washington is chock full of dinosaur-like agencies sitting on troves of information and data. If we can hook some hoses up to that and allow for innovation to occur, I really believe you can rely on the American people to help innovate so we can solve some of these problems.[11]

This Website has been a work in progress since Republicans took over the House in 2010. Their goal was to “facilitate online accessibility of information about legislation.”[12] So you should take the time to check out Cosponsor.gov and see how the House is working to increase transparency in government. Then if you feel like it you can choose to “cosponsor” some legislation while you explore the Website. Happy exploring!

(Endnotes)
[1] Jonathan Strong, “Cantor Launches Cosponsor.gov,” National Review, June 4, 2013, <http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/350027/cantor-launches-cosponsorgov-jonathan-strong> accessed on November 4, 2013.
[2] “About THOMAS,” Library of Congress, <http://thomas.loc.gov/home/abt_thom.html> accessed on November 20, 2013.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “About Congress.gov,” Congress.gov, <http://beta.congress.gov/about> accessed on November 20, 2013.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Strong.
[7] “Citizen Cosponsor Project,” <https://www.cosponsor.gov/> accessed on November 12, 2013.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Strong.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is published by Public Interest Institute at Iowa Wesleyan College, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, research and educational institute whose activities are supported by contributions from private individuals, corporations, companies, and foundations. The Institute does not accept government grants.

Contributions are tax-deductible under sections 501(c)(3) and 170 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER, a monthly
newsletter of Public Interest Institute.”

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute.

If you have an article you believe is worth sharing, please send it to us. All or a portion of your article may be used. The articles in this publication are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry, because IDEAS DO MATTER.

 

Iowa Transparency Logo

only search Iowa Transparency
 

Projects

Favorite Links