Every two years, at the start of a new Congress, there’s a flurry of new legislation that’s introduced that sends people into a panic. Understandably so – some of the bills introduced are completely crazy. And some of them aren’t necessarily crazy so much as they are red meat for supporters of specific parties. Here are some examples of bills introduced already in this 115th Congress that started last month, in the House of Representatives alone:

  • giphy4H.R. 193, American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 (which would terminate the United States’ membership in the United Nations).
  • H.R. 490, Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017, which would prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat is established
  • H.R. 586, Sanctity of Human Life Act, which declares fertilization as personhood.
  • H.R. 861, To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • H.R. 997, To declare English as the official language of the United States, to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress’ powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution.

Since January 3rd, as of my writing this post, 1,719 bills have been introduced. How many of those do you think will even make it to committee, let alone a floor vote? Here’s some historical context thanks to GovTrack:

  • in the 114th Congress (2015-16), 12,063 bills were introduced. Of those, 86% went no where after their introduction, 5% went to a vote, and 3% became law.
  • in the 113th Congress (2013-14), 10,637 bills were introduced. Of those, 86% went no where after their introduction, 4% went to a vote, and 3% became law.
  • The stats remain about the same in every Congress since the 93rd (1973-74). The largest number of bills since then ever introduced was in that 93rd Congress: 26,222 bills introduced, 3% of which became law.
  • The largest percentage of bills introduced that became law was 7% in the 100th Congress (1987-88), out of the 11,278 bills introduced during those two years.

giphy6All this context to say, please stop freaking out about every red meat bill that is introduced. Those bills will likely not go anywhere. And often times, they are reintroduced from the previous Congress, during which they didn’t go anywhere either. Some of the bills have been introduced every year by the same lawmakers, never to even make it to Committee for discussion.

So why do Members of Congress even bother introducing or cosponsoring bills like that? You know why: so they can tell the folks back home they’re working hard on [name that partisan issue]! And/or, so they can continue getting that 100% rating from the NRA/Susan B Anthony List/Heritage Foundation/etc. And just to be clear, our side does this too for the exact same reasons.

When should you start to panic/get active? See if the bill has legs. Is it on the schedule for a committee meeting/hearing? That’s the first step to show the life of the bill. If it doesn’t, set an alert to see when/if it does. Also, be vigilant when it’s time for appropriations and omnibus bills. That’s when things can and often do get snuck in to make people happy. We’re a few months away from this year’s set of those bills.

(Need a review of how a bill becomes a law and/or some of the terms associated with lawmaking? Check out this helpful nonpartisan Government 101 guide from Project Vote Smart.)

So now what?

Now that we’ve hopefully taken a little stress off your shoulders, let’s focus on issues that are sounding alarms everywhere. By now you’ve likely celebrate the departure of Michael Flynn from his three-week post as National Security Advisor. You’re also likely even more concerned about this Administration’s ties to the Russian government – and rightly so. Since the last time we recapped the fire hose of information about Russia + the Administration, even more has come out and even more needs to be addressed.

To that end, here are some questions to ask of your Senators and of your Representative:

Hi, my name is [name], and I live in [town]. I have a few questions of the Senator/Representative.

  • giphy5Where do they stand on demanding an investigation of President Trump and the Russian government?
  • Where do they stand on President Trump releasing his tax records?
    • For your Representative: have they signed onto Congressman Pascrell’s “dear colleague” letter to the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee requesting the Secretary of the Treasury use their authority to do so, as they last did with President Nixon? This is the letter.
  • Where do they stand on investigating Michael Flynn’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador prior to Inauguration Day?
  • Where do they stand on the Justice Department conducting a full investigation of everything related to the Administration’s ties to the Russian government, including the links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government?
    • Where do they stand on demanding Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuse himself entirely from this investigation?

If they are in support of all of this: That’s great to hear. Thanks for your time!

If they are against or undecided:  I hope that the Senator/Representative puts country first and looks further into these matters. I am deeply concerned about these issues and what they mean for our national security. I would like a written response about all of this. My address is [fill in].

If voicemail: My name is [name] and I live in [city, zip code]. I have deep concerns about President Trump and his Administration’s ties to the Russian government, dating back to the presidential campaign. I would like to know where [Senator/Representative NAME] stands on demanding thorough investigations about this. I would like a written response. My address is [fill in].