If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?
– Thomas Jefferson –
Historically, ProQuest Congressional (PQC) was, and still is, a great resource for Congressional information that you won’t find just by reading the text of the law. But PQC is more than just a collection of Congressional publications. It also provides information on members of Congress, Congressional committees, regulations, and political news. In this post we’ll first review how to use PQC to obtain legislative history documents. After that we’ll delve into PQC’s “Members and Committees” feature to illustrate how PQC has incorporated additional features you’ll find both useful and fun.
Searching for Legislative History Using Congressional Publications Search
One way to find out the legislative intent behind a law, or what policies drive the existence of a law, is to research the law’s legislative history. Fortunately, there is a paper trail that links a bill with its history, which provides us with a record of a bill’s trip through Congress right on up to the day the President signs it into law (or, on occasion, vetoes it). PQC coverage for two of the most important legislative history documents (hearings and committee reports) goes back to 1789. For a comprehensive chart listing coverage for everything in PQC, click on Content Coverage Chart on the home page.
PQC provides three search options for Congressional Publications — basic, advanced, and by number. Use the basic search (see below) to perform keyword searches that retrieve documents (often in full-text) where your keyword represents a main theme. If you can’t think of an appropriate keyword to use, click on Index Terms just below the search box. From the window that opens, you have the option to browse for potential keywords by subject, issuing source, or popular name. To enter more than one keyword/phrase, click on the plus sign in the box, to add an additional row for your search. Adding a row also gives you the option to use the Boolean connectors AND, OR, and NOT.
For more complex keyword searches and to refine your search using fields (such as by subject or Congressional source), use advanced search (see below). As with your basic search, you can add additional lines and utilize Boolean connectors if you wish. Notice too that you can narrow your search to document type under the “Limit to” box. Don’t know what some of these categories are? No problem. Click on the yellow “i” to view detailed information about each category. By the way, if you get stuck or lost — or even just curious — click on PQC’s Help at the top right of the screen. Expand the table of contents, consult the index, or search across Help to locate the information you need.
Lastly, you can search by number. Use this search form to retrieve Congressional publications when you know the citation of a document or a related bill or law. Legislative citations include: the bill number, public law number, Statutes at Large citation, chapter, public resolution, or U.S. Code Section! If you don’t have any of these citations, sometimes a Google search can help you out. For instance, if you’d like to see more about the “Obamacare” law, a search for “Obamacare bill number” will probably retrieve what you need. (Hint: it’s H.R. 3590 and was passed in the 111th Congress). Enter the bill number like the example below.
This is great! Look at the information that comes up on your search results page (see below). And the first item is a legislative history of the Obamacare law — more formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. On the right you have options to narrow the results list, but for now let’s open the legislative history.
As you can see in the screenshot below, the legislative history is divided into a number of document segments (see left column). PQC links the segments to help you move quickly through the legislative history and avoid a lot of scrolling. Keep in mind that in a basic subscription, PQC provides only selected transcripts of hearings and you may have to go elsewhere (such as the House or Senate websites) to obtain them. In addition, some transcripts are never published. You should, however, be able to obtain all committee reports.
With “Obamacare” we got lucky and found a legislative history already compiled for us. If your search doesn’t bring up a compiled legislative history, you can still search for Congressional documents related to a bill and create your own. That’s legislative history on PQC in a nutshell!
Additional Cool Features on PQC — Members & Committees
PQC isn’t just legislative history. There is much more. PQC has additional features of interest, such as Members and Committees, which holds a wealth of information on members of Congress. You can find everything from the names and contact information for key staff members to campaign financial information. PQC has a detailed profile for every member of Congress. Think of it as the Facebook page for those in Congress — but one they don’t get to manage!
Not only that, but you can easily round up a list of members who share an attribute and can set the parameters of that group. Further, you can locate specific information on the various Congressional committees. PQC’s Members and Committees has three categories: Member Records, Demographics, and Committees. Let’s begin with Member Records.
Want the Down Low? Search Member Records
What if you have a member of Congress in mind and want some really detailed information about that Congressman? I’m sure most of you reading this post are familiar with Montana’s longtime Senator, Max Baucus. I bet PQC has some stats and information on him that you might not know about. Here’s how you can locate that information.
Go to PQC’s home page and select Members and Committees and then Member Records. Enter his first name and last name in the search boxes (see below). If you aren’t sure of the spelling of a Congressman’s name, click on “Look Up a Member” and browse the list. As we’ve seen before with PQC, there are additional search refinements that we can make. For now, we’ll just search by name.
Our search returns over 11,700 hits! Fortunately, there are several ways to narrow your results, including the “search within results” at the top of the screen and the filters and narrow by options on the right side of the screen. What to do? If you want to view his composite profile, you can click on the first document. Keep in mind that this document references one particular session of Congress — the 107th. If you want a different time period, use the date or Congress filters on the right. In the screenshot below you can get an idea of the information that come with a composite profile. Notice the document segments on the left, similar to what we found with our legislative history document above. And like that document, you can use these segments to move easily from one part of the profile to another.
Maybe you’d like to quote the Senator from a speech he made. On the right, select “Legislative Career-Floor Statements.” From the list that appears, you might be interested in a floor speech he gave in support of a 2002 bill designed to clean up “brownfield sites” — areas that need restoration before they can be used again, most often because they contain high levels of commercially made pollutants. Or perhaps you’re interested in his financial disclosures. Again, look to the right, but this time select “Campaign & Finance Information–Financial Disclosures.” Next, select “Financial Disclosure Statements 2002.” You can browse the information to trace, for example, stocks he purchased and sold in 2002.
If You’ve Ever Wondered — Demographics Search
Have you ever wondered how many members of Congress have a law degree? Or how many who have a law degree graduated from Harvard? This is where a demographics search comes in handy. As you can see below, you can search a variety of demographic categories. Let’s see how many members of Congress do in fact have a law degree from Harvard, a school second only to Yale (notwithstanding the University of Montana School of Law, of course!).
It looks like 29 Congressmen have a law degree from Harvard. Notice in the screen shot below that you can narrow your results further using the filters on the right. A quick glance already tells you that 22 of the 29 Harvard law grads are Democrats and 7 are Republicans. Hmm.
Saving the Best for Last — Comic Relief via Committee Search
Let’s wrap us with a Committee Search that provides a bit of comic relief. Did you know that in September 2010 the satirist Stephen Colbert (silent “t”), host of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” testified in front of the House Judiciary committee’s subcommittee on Immigration — in character? Wouldn’t it be fun to get a transcript of that? You can use PQC’s Committee Search to track it down.
To use Committee Search to locate Colbert’s testimony, you need the committee name. We happen to know it’s the Judiciary Committee. Also enter Colbert’s name in the keyword box. (See below).
The search returns exactly one document and it’s the one we want. To locate hearing transcript information, click on the document link and look for Full-Text. Unfortunately, the transcript to this hearing is not available! As mentioned earlier, PQC only offers transcripts of selected hearings and sadly Colbert’s in not one of them. Not to worry, however. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of his 5-1/2 minutes of Congressional testimony. It’s better than reading it. Enjoy!Authored by Drew Dickerson, 2L at the University of Montana School of Law. Drew has a background career working in political campaigns. He is currently interning at Skjelset and Geer in Missoula and plans to practice generally in civil litigation after graduation. Photo credits: U.S. Capitol & Stephen Colbert: wallyg via photopin.com cc