How Congress Used to Work

How Congress Used to Work
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Back when I was in high school in the 1960s, we all studied something called civics, which told us how our government worked. One part was about how our laws are made. It started with a congressman or senator introducing a bill, having it considered by a subcommittee and then a full committee, where hearings would be held and the bill would be “marked up.” This meant that members of the committee would discuss its merits, the staff would prepare analyses and amendments would be offered.

Only after a bill had been exhaustively examined would it be placed on the House calendar for full debate. If anyone tried to short-circuit this process and bring up a bill that had not had hearings or a full markup, one of the senior members would inquire of the bill's manager whether these things had been done. If the answer was no, that would usually be sufficient to kill a piece of legislation, regardless of merit.

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