Introducing Legislation – How Does Congress Get Ideas For Bills?
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Intriguing is the story of America’s history and ideas at the core of its start. Involved in an interesting mix of proposals on how to meet needs for order, balance of power, and representative government, it began by making sure America on every level would be equipped to develop as free people and remain so, and run without getting in its own way.
The process used in America’s Legislative Branch today came about through concerns to arrive at a type of country that could be run by its people, designed to keep a stable system of governing: the people would direct, and those working in government would respond as directed.
But it did not start out easy, and required adjustments just like governing does today. Though tumultuous at best to obtain, America’s Founders and Constitution Framers wanted to try something different and began thinking outside of the box. Outside of the box meant adopting some other form of running a country besides having a king or other ruler in charge of the people. Rather, it meant having the people in charge of leaders, chosen from among the people, held accountable to the people. The road to make it happen or maintain it would not be smooth by any means. It meant observing ideas that were tried yet had a tendency to fail, and replacing those ideas with ones that tended to work wherever tried.
One could be quick to say ideas Congress gets for bills, or legislation (new laws) mainly come from this or that organization or business or interest group and others who bring desires hoping leaders will fill favors. But, while ideas do come from many sources and at times ideas wanted only by a few, ideas also come from necessity including needs affecting the nation that are constitutionally addressed.
The important key to remember about bringing ideas to Members of Congress is first taking a step back to what the Founders learned. They knew that people are thinkers, innovators – nothing wrong with that, of course. They also knew that people are passionate – nothing wrong with that either. They also understood governing by a system of leading meant maintaining a legislative process that could take ideas to solve problems and put them through a system that enabled to look close and determine in advance the possible outcomes, including unintended consequences. This is, for example, is what the committee process helps, and Floor debate, the Senate as the “cooling factor” does so the best of ideas may come through and get passed as laws. America’s Constitution has in place main checks and balances on one another, however, the branches of government: Congress, the President, or executive, and Supreme Court.
Another example comes from what the Founders learned when Americans settling in the early 1600s realized that some would work but others, though able, would not. Because of this natural tendency including varying personal initiative, each family would tend a parcel of land as their own. They learned that if everyone owns everything, no one would take care of anything, that some would take advantage and a few would do the lion’s share of work, destroying any incentive to produce. They realized human nature could not be dismissed if America was going to be a land of opportunity.
In fact, recognizing that people are unique individuals with personal goals to achieve and be independent was invaluable toward coming up with more ideas that underline a thriving people. An incentive to succeed made the difference as people could take ownership, create, trade goods and skills, keep the work of their hands – tangible means and methods in which to prosper. Lessons like this made it into future ideas that would govern America, and Americans would hold accountable of their leaders to continue.
While the Founders put their heads together and pulled from their learning of the history of governing, what works and does not work, they decided it was worth it to press through. They would work until they found a Constitutional framework that could open doors not only to freedom, but a lasting freedom they were convinced a nation could have if the people of that nation wanted it.
A resolve for victory helped the new nation of America to maintain a desire of the people to want their own freedom and limit what their governing bodies could do would play a significant role in getting a type of nation that could hold fast in maintaining the good it began, scrapping ideas that did not work for ones that did. They knew the risks they were taking but realized it was worth it.
Today, it is just as worth it. Civic involvement that continues good ideas for governing can mean learning America’s history or attending a town hall meeting where Members of Congress, and state and local representatives, hold meetings to listen to ideas about changes needed, and answer questions about what is being done and why.
All those who have gone before made an investment of efforts to design a Congress that could stand the test of time, including how it can be a frustrating process. It is a system that is slow and deliberate on purpose in order to prevent a slew of poor proposals from becoming law.
While at times poor laws do get passed, America has a system where the people possess many opportunities to become engaged in the process of passing or repealing laws. This is why it is imperative that each American citizen see the past investments made by America’s Founders and take part in preserving what they started, in some way.
Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017) and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).
“Continental Congress, 1774-1781” United States House of Representatives Office of the Historian https://history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/continental-congress
“History of Plymouth Plantation” by William Bradford
Thank you Ms Hughes. This essay combined with others reminds us [me] that:
1. our leaders come from us, the people.
2. our elected officials are pulled in many directions, 7 days a week, rarely encouraged, often maligned, disparaged, forever campaigning. How many of us would tolerant much less endure such a job?
3. that in spite of innumerable modes of communication that overwhelm us with information, we [the people and the elected] struggle to truly communicate with one another. Hence the advent of Presidents attending late night shows like Letterman, or Saturday night live, and now Twitter. Yet as Ms Turner highlights in her books and blogs, are we really communicating deep, considered ideas, or just more sound bites fitting for a populace with an ever shrinking attention span.
4. These essays are not sound bites, but in depth, well reasoned treatise on particular subjects. That is why I come back again and again. I enjoy the learning and appreciate the expertise of the essayist.
5. The essays reminds us that reading and learning is not the end goal, but the foundation upon which to act, to do something. “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel.