Who is my congressman and what do they do? —ProPublica

Here’s a reminder of how the legislators we elect are supposed to make laws.

  1. A senator or representative introduces a bill.
  2. The bill is submitted to a committee for hearing and approval.
  3. It is debated and voted on from the House and Senate floors.
  4. Often a compromise version is worked out.
  5. The resulting bill is passed.
  6. If it passes and the president signs it, it becomes law.


But most of the time — as Derek Willis, a former ProPublica reporter and current professor at the University of Maryland School of Journalism (who was involved in this project) taught me — it’s not at all how it works.

Here is a more realistic overview of the legislation:

Congress passes many bills through the legislative process. But these are mostly uncontroversial bills that do things like bestow honors, rename a post office Where erect statues. There is no debate and no deliberative, committee-driven process is required.

As far as legislation is concerned, you do hear about – big politically controversial things like the Cut Inflation Act or the US bailout, both of which passed, or the Advancing Voting Rights Act, which didn’t adopted – the process does not always work as expected.

OK, how does Congress really work?

One of the reasons for the impasse is that bills dealing with major national issues these days are drafted under the supervision of the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House. (Currently it is Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosirespectively.) They often only receive advice from a small group of other influential congressional brokers rather than rank-and-file legislators who were helping the process by working on legislation in committees.

For example: the recent Inflation Reduction Act was largely drafted in secret by Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin. After it went public, lawmakers made only a few changes to onboard other senators, and it passed.

This has slowly changed since the mid-2000s and intensified over the past decade, according to a 2018 in-depth analysis by ProPublica and The Washington Post. But the current Congress has been one of the most productive in years.

How do I know if my representative is doing their job?

To assess your legislators in this new reality, you can look at what they are do and what issues they spend their time on, either through legislation (on topics that don’t necessarily make the headlines) or in public statements.

1: Legislation: is your representative getting things done?

One way to find out what representatives are doing is to check the bills they have sponsored. This is all public information, and Representation application of ProPublica can help you navigate to the parts that matter to you.

To understand your rep through their invoices, you want to look for three things:

  1. What the bill is about.
  2. How far he went.
  3. Who else supports the bill.

What the bill is about: Think about the things that matter to you and your community, and ask yourself:

  • Does your representative sponsor invoices on these topics?
  • If your legislator seems to ignore your problems, why?

How far he went: Every bill that is introduced is automatically referred to a committee. Many measures never go beyond this stage and have never been intended to – because they’re primarily meant to let lawmakers go to town halls and say, “I introduced an important bill.” But this type of posture is not enough for those of us who want to see things done. That’s why our site allows you to focus on recent invoices that have made beyond the presentation phase.

Who else supports the bill: Pay attention to who co-sponsored the bill – does it have bipartisan support? Maybe you want a lawmaker who’s willing to compromise, or maybe you see compromise as giving in, but either way, bipartisan support can mean your representative has done some work to make the rounds. of the bill and help get it passed.

2: What They Say: Is your representative speaking out on issues that matter to you?

Legislation is not the only way to compare representatives’ concerns to yours. There are also the things they talk about. On Represent, you can see what your representative is focusing on in their press releases, as well as which topics they discuss more than other members of Congress.

Since your representative is the person in the federal government closest to you, the more specific issues they discuss should, ideally, sound familiar to you. Do they?

Now that you know the basics of using ProPublica Represent Database, also take the time to review the legislative work of your legislators in the Senate. What does that tell you about what they are doing on your behalf?

About Michael S. Montanez

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