Congressional Bills Project


Databases using the same topic classification system

Baumgartner, Jones and Wilkerson's Policy Agendas Project uses the same topic classification to code a range of other policymaking activities since 1947, including (among others) congressional hearings, statutes, executive orders, supreme court decisions, Gallup's most important problem (major topic) and a sample of NYT stories (major topic)

The Comparative Agendas Project. An international team of scholars is now applying the Policy Agendas topic system to policymaking activities in about a dozen nations.

Some users may want to create their own subject variables using a text string in a bill's title. For example, to identify all titles that include the phrase "amend the internal revenue code" or "cancer"). This is easily accomplished in Excel. The following produces a variable that equals 1 when a title contains the string "amend the internal revenue code"

  • Enter the following formula (where H is the column and 2
    is the row that contains the title that you want to search):

    =IF( ISERROR( SEARCH( "amend the internal revenue code",H2 ) )=TRUE, 0, 1 )

If you want the search to be case sensitive, use FIND instead of SEARCH.

Member, Elections and Constituency data

E. Scott Adler's Congressional District Dataset offers information about the demographics of House districts from 1943-1998. Some district data for more recent Congresses is available through the US Census.

The Database of Congressional Historical Statistics compiles information at the level of the individual legislator on biography, elections, committees, roll calls etc. ( Elaine K. Swift, Robert G. Brookshire, David T. Canon, Evelyn C. Fink, John R. Hibbing, Brian D. Humes, Michael J. Malbin and Kenneth C. Martis). The data have not been updated, unfortunately.

We use Poole and Rosenthal's member ID variable in this dataset (ICPSRno). We have constructed this ICPSR crosswalk to assist researchers attempting to merge our data with older ICPSR member ID codes such as those used in the Database of Historical Congressional Statistics.

Biographical Directory of Members of Congress (1789-present)

Congressional Election Statistics (1920-present)

Roll Call Data

Poole and Rosenthal's Voteview website offers data on voting behavior in Congress from 1789 to the present. A crosswalk between the Poole-Rosenthal members IDs and the ICPSR member IDs is available here.

Jeff Lewis and Keith Poole have also created a site for downloading up to the minute data on roll call votes in the contemportary Congress.

David Rohde and Michael Crespin also maintain a valuable roll call database that categorizes roll calls according to (among other things) their type (e.g. final passage or amendment).

Committee and Cosponsorship data

Congressional Committee membership data maintained by Charles Stewart III and Jonathon Woon. A Crosswalk between their committee codes and ours is available here.

Committee Assignment Requests maintained by Sean Q. Kelly and Scott Frisch

James Fowler's Cosponsorship Network Data includes information about individual bill cosponsors for the 93rd-108th Congress. Our bills dataset, in contrast, only includes the number of cosponsors per bill.

Government and Private databases with Bill related information

The Library of Congress' THOMAS website provides detailed information about the progress and content of every bill introduced since 1973. The Congressional Research Service has improved THOMAS substantially since we began our project. It is now possible to search multiple Congresses by key term or subject. However, the THOMAS indexing system has important limitations for researchers that we discuss in Studying Policy Dynamics

The Digest of Public General Bills and Resolutions (Legislative Reference Service, Library of Congress, KF 18 .L5) provides printed information about bills introduced from 1936-1990. The text of bills introduced prior to 1989 are available in microfiche format in some Federal Depository libraries, including the University of Washington (microfiche y1.4-1 (Senate), y1.4-6 (House)). From 1989 forward, the bill texts can be accessed on-line through Thomas and other electronic resources.

The LEXIS-NEXIS U.S. serial set provides information about legislation and legislative activity from 1789 to the present. (access is restricted - most libraries subscribe)

The U.S. Congressional Serial Set is a developing database of .pdf images of congressional documents, including bills, beginning in the early Congress. According to their website, this database will eventually extend forward to 1980, but it currently runs from 1815-1870 (access is restricted)

The University of Michigan Library offers an excellent list of resources for information about congressional legislation


Recent research related to the Bills Project

CONGRESS AND THE POLITICS OF PROBLEM SOLVING, 2012, Cambridge University Press. E. Scott Adler and John Wilkerson. Drawing heavily of the Congressional Bills Project, this book investigates legislative agenda setting and policy change. Examining decades of lawmaking, we find that problems that "must" be addressed dominate the legislative agenda, and that indicators of problem solving goals are the most robust predictors of legislative policy change.

Intercoder Reliability Sam Workman. Intercoder reliability results at the major topic and subtopic levels for two coders and about 750 bills.

Computer Assisted Topic Classification Dustin Hillard, Stephen Purpura, and John Wilkerson. This paper reports on a supervised machine learning approach to classifying congressional bill titles for topic Journal of Information Technology and Politics). A 2012 article (also in JITP) by Loren Collingwood and John Wilkerson extends this research.

Intended Consequences E. Scott Adler and John Wilkerson. Reconsiders the "failed" Bolling-Hansen jurisdictional reforms of the 1970s. Using bill referrals to study jurisdictional change, finds that the reforms substantially improved the organization of the House committee system (Legislative Studies Quarterly ).

The Scope and Urgency of Legislation E. Scott Adler and John Wilkerson (2005 APSA) This was the first paper where we categorized bills by their substance to show that agenda setting processes in Congress vary dramatically depending on the type of issue being addressed. A very large portion of the legislative agenda is "required" as opposed to "chosen" by lawmakers or parties. This is something that Jack Walker (1977) and John Kingdon (1989) observed long ago, but their observations seem to have had little impact within legislative studies of agenda setting and policy change.

Representation and American Governing Institutions Bryan John, Heather Larsen-Price and John Wilkerson. Correlates attention to policy topics across decision-making venues with public's most important problem statistics over 50 years. We find substantially greater responsiveness to changing prorities in some venues (e.g. bill introductions; state of the union addresses) than in others (e.g. public laws, executive orders). (Revisions in progress - please contact us for ther most recent version)

Politics of Health in Denmark and the United States Christoffer Green-Pedersonand John Wilkerson. An example of a systematic approach to comparing legislative policy agendas cross-nationally (in this case Denmark and the U.S.). In this paper, we compare quantitative trends in health-related political attention over 50 years in the two nations (Journal of European Public Policy, 2006).

Tracy Sulkin's Ph.D. Dissertation (2002), " Rethinking Responsiveness: Campaign Themes, Legislative Agendas and the Politics of Issue Uptake" used our bills data to study how issue attention in campaigns affects behavior in office. Her dissertation won the E.E. Schattschneider Award for the Best Dissertation in American Politics in 2004. The next year, she won an award for the best legislative studies paper presented at the APSA. In 2006, her newly published book "Issue Politics in Congress" (Cambridge) received two (!) APSA Legislative Studies Section book awards. Sheesh.

In addition to publishing her dissertation project as a book, Issue Politics in Congress, Tracy has recently published The Legislative Legacy of Congressional Campaigns.

T. Jens Feeley's dissertation (2003) used the bills data to apply Petrocik's concept of issue ownership from the elections literature to party-related bill sponsorship activity in the House. Jens found, among other things, that the majority party's policy discretion is constrained by its governing responsibilities. Jens then took a high level job at NASA.

Ten Bills that Really Mattered Roll Call Magazine asks the experts (and concludes that some are less expert than others!)

If you are aware of additional resources, projects or publications that may be of interest to users of this site, please send us the link


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