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The Hill 101

What happens to bills after Congress adjourns? (Updated)

Lights out: The 113th Congress will soon adjournAt the end of a two-year session, Congress adjourns “sine die,” or “without day,” and not reconvene until a new Congress starts some time the next January.

After that, the slate is wiped clean; there is no business pending. All of the "H.R." and "S." numbered titles that have been discussed and debated for the past two years will be archived.

When Congress reconvenes, the process starts all over again. Bills are introduced and given a chronological number and there is always a flurry of activity in the first few weeks. In 2009, over 400 bills were introduced on the first day of the Congressional session; in 2011 the number was 239; in 2013, there were 184; in 2015 there were 241.  (Source Congress.gov.)

Some Members of Congress are methodical about bill reintroduction. For example, Rep.
Rob Woodall [R, GA] waits every session to introduce his "Fair Tax Act" in a way that guarantees him the same bill number – H.R. 25. Rep. John Conyers [D, MI] does the same with his "Medicaid for All" bill, always H.R. 676.

Not all bills get reintroduced. Some bills that were sponsored by members who are not returning are essentially orphans, waiting for someone to take them up and commit to introducing them. In some cases, sponsors who know they are not returning will hand over a bill to a colleague to champion and sponsor in future sessions.  

Even for bills with returning sponsors, the RE-introduction process can take a while. Most offices plan out their legislative agenda ahead of time, and will want plenty of time to build support and plan a press strategy for reintroduction. Some bills may not be reintroduced for many months, or even until the second session (the second year) of the new Congress. This slow process is frustrating for individuals and organizations trying to build support for a particular issue.  The main vehicle for making progress on an issue is showing support in the form of co-sponsorships by other Members of Congress. Organizations rally their lists and volunteers to ask their legislators to sign on to this or that bill.  They arrange phone-banking, fly-ins, and district office visits; but all of this needs to be focused around a specific bill.

On POPVOX, all bills from the 114th — and the user and organization comments on those bills — will be archived and available at the same URL. When the 114th Congress is over, you will no longer be able to send a message to Congress for or against the archived bill.

Many advocates turn their attention early in the new Congress to pushing for "reintroduction" of bills they support. This is an opportunity to rally original cosposors and build momentum for a bill's new life in the 114th Congress. For orphan bills, this is an opportunity for supporters to catch the eye of potential sponsors.  For new Members looking for issues to take on, POPVOX provides a metric for those issues that have notable support.  For organizations, it is an opportunity to demonstrate real support when making the pitch for reintroduction. 

If your organization is planning a push around reintroduction of a bill, contact us for more information and to plan your widget strategy for 2017.