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Federal Legislative History Research

A how to guide for pinpointing congressional documents to help determine legislative intent

What is a Floor Debate?

When a bill leaves the markup session, it is reintroduced to the chamber’s floor, where legislators may debate different elements of the bill. Floor debates, when they exist, are strong evidence of legislators’ intent because they often include legislators speaking directly about why or why not a bill should become a law and considering the specific language within a bill.

     Bill dreams of becoming a law

Documents Produced During Floor Debates

Congressional Record entries: The Congressional Record may contain a transcript of arguments for or against a proposed bill or amendment or explanations of provisions that are vague or unclear within a bill.

Locating Floor Debates

Floor debates and remarks regarding bills in the Congressional Record:

  • The History of Bills serves as the index to the Congressional Record. It provides users with page numbers to all locations a bill is discussed within the Congressional Record, including when a bill is debated and commentary on a bill if it exists.
    • Congress.gov: History of Bills, 1989 to the present; coverage is not complete
      • From the bill in Congress.gov > select “actions” from the navigation bar > under “actions overview,” select “Bill History – Congressional Record References” > the History of the Bill will provide page numbers and link you to the notation in the Congressional Record
    • Govinfo.gov: History of Bills, 1983 to the present
      • Select the Congressional Record from the govinfo.gov homepage > select History of Bills at the bottom of the page > locate your bill using the Congress and bill number > the History of the Bill will provide page numbers and link you to the notation in the Congressional Record