Decoding Congress: Tools to Understand the Legislative Process

 In Government/Politics

In this age of hyper partisanship on all fronts, exacerbated by fake news and political obscurantism disguised as “alternative facts,” a keen understanding of the political context of your work will help you rise above the noise and focus on your organization’s mission now more than ever.  Understanding relevant congressional developments will allow your work to transcend providing services within your area of expertise into engaging your mission within its political and social context. Through this effort, you will not only increase the number of tools through which you may carry out your organization’s mission but also will help you to hold those in power accountable and forge new partnerships  with other advocates for your cause.

Understandably, the prospect of branching out into legislative advocacy can seem daunting, so it may be best to start with the more manageable step of tracking legislation that affects your work. The list of tools below provides a simple vehicle you can use to get started.

Tool #1: Govtrack.us

Govtrack is a free, nonpartisan, website, maintained by Civic Impulse, LLC, which both tracks the status of federal legislation and provides information about specific members of Congress including their voting record. With this tool, you can not only analyze specific legislation and legislators, but also conduct more detailed issue-based research through Govtrack Insiders, which publishes articles on a variety of political topics.

Tool #2: CQ Roll Call

CQ Roll Call is a privately held company perhaps best known for its weekly subscription-based publication of the same name. The company also provides many other services including multiple daily publications targeted to a wide range of subjects, advocacy and membership management assistance and personalized expert analysis, all of which work to make federal policy accessible.

Tool #3: Politico Pro

Beyond the more commonly known publication, Politico, Politico Pro (paywall) offers in-depth subject based coverage in a wide range of areas both issue-based and specific to government entities. In addition to this in-depth analysis, Politico Pro connects the user to policy-specific reporters who work to meet your specific needs.

Understanding congressional activity is a challenge at the best of times, but a keen grasp of legislation and legislators relevant to your work is an important step towards getting started.

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