Ask me to tell you a bit about the legislation that has passed through the House and Senate this last year and I’ll have to be honest with you: I can’t. Truth be told, with the exception of the few highly controversial bits which have made their way onto the evening news (and even most of those didn’t pass in 2013), I have no real idea what my elected officials have been doing.
Transfer this scenario to a business situation and it becomes outrageous. Can you imagine a store manager hiring an employee, telling him he liked his ethics and then leaving him alone without any supervision or direction except to step in periodically when he made a mistake? It sounds ridiculous, yet too many of us do just that after casting our vote. Happy to have “our candidate” in office, we sit back, relax, and leave the steering to our representatives without even once questioning how well they know the very people they are serving.
This lackadaisical approach became evident to me when in the course of a dialogue with a friend she mentioned that she had actually written to her elected officials regarding an issue which concerned her. With a tone of lament indicating that I really don’t have time for such “radical” involvement, admitted that I hadn’t.
Oddly enough, she didn’t let me off the hook. “It wasn’t a long letter,” she explained. “They don’t have time to read epics. But it was long enough to clarify where I stood and why. It took only a few minutes to write and I sent the same letter to each of them via e-mail.” (Click the highlighted links if you’d like to know how to contact your Senators and Representatives.)
It was clear that she recognized something important which I had been ignoring: that it’s our responsibility to ensure that our representatives know what we expect from them, not their responsibility to drag that information out of us. This, of course, highlighted another important problem: if I am responsible for giving direction to those who represent me, then I am also responsible for knowing which direction I want them to go. And that’s a question that I can’t answer unless I’m willing to invest at least a little bit of time in learning about and understanding what is actually going on in Washington. (I say “actually” because it’s all too easy to get our news from secondary sources: a special interest group we sympathize with, a nightly news broadcast, or even a good friend who we trust to “stay on top” of the issues.)
I went in search of a few sources to help me stay informed and found a few that are actually quite useful:
- For information on legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, take a look at www.house.gov/legislative where you’ll find a calendar to keep you up to date on what’s taking place on the House floor and in committee.
- For information on the U. S. Senate, check out http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/ where you’ll find links to floor proceedings, committee hearings, and the Congressional Record.
- For a quick look at the bills, themselves, check out the Daily Digest which provides a condensed list of all the bills currently under consideration in both the House and Senate with a link to the text of each piece of legislation.
- And to look for the text of a specific piece of legislation, visit the Library of Congress and follow the search cues.
There are, of course, some other great sources, but these provide a start. Taking the time to peruse them is the first step for citizens who, like myself, are willing to acknowledge that what happens in Washington isn’t Washington’s fault, but our own. Involvement is what sets our system of government apart. So let’s get involved, make a difference, end the gridlock, and get the government running once more.