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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Messaging Bills

number of posts have discussed congressional capacitylegislative productivity, and deliberation.

Matt Glassman at Five Points:

So-called “Sense of Congress” provisions are a particular form of a larger class of legislation in Congress often referred to as “messaging bills/resolutions.” Most messaging bills are actually substantive measures that are not intended to be approved; Members introduce lots of bills and resolutions every Congress simply for the purpose of showing their support for a particular policy idea or issue, with no intention of do anything else to try to get the legislation passed.1 These messaging bills never hit the House floor; their intended for constituent consumption.2

A second type of messaging bill is one produced by a party with the intention of being passed in one chamber, but with little or no expectation of it even begin taken up in the other. In the divided 118th Congress, these are commonplace. Much of what House Republicans have done this year can be put into this category, most notably the immigration provisions in H.R. 2 and the Israel aid that was tied to IRS cuts.

Nonbinding “Sense of the House” or “Sense of Congress” messaging bills are slightly different in that they are intended to be approved, but serve as messaging vehicles because even if they are approved there is no policy change. They are simply statements of the position of the chamber. As such, they can be passed as resolutions (either H.Res or S.Res or concurrent H.Con.Res/S.Con.Res) and do not require the signature of the president.

In fact, the House Republicans have two such measures on the agenda for this week: H.Res. 1213 “regarding violence against law enforcement,” and H.Res.1210, “condemning the Biden border crisis, and the tremendous burdens law enforcement officers face as a result.” This is part of a larger House GOP focus this week on law enforcement. The latter measure is obviously partisan, given its title. How do we know the former one likely is? Because it’s slated to come up under a rule in the House, rather than via the suspension calendar.

Party messaging in Congress is important because it seeks to affect public sphere politics. What you are trying to do is shape the public understanding of political problems and political actions. Often, you don’t need to change anyone’s mind about political issues to win elections or pass legislation; instead, if you can convince the public sphere that your issues are the most important, you win because you set the agenda.

Issues that tend to unite your party and divide the opposition tend to be good for you. Issues that tend to divide your party and unite your opposition tend to be bad for you. This is why Republicans want to talk nonstop about the border and why Democrats want to talk nonstop about abortion. Those are winning issues for them right now in the public, and they also happen to divide the opposition badly.

Indeed, if a Member of Congress told you they introduced legislation on a particular issue, that’s definitely an indication that they agree with the policy in the bill, but almost no indication about how much they care about the legislation. Introducing a bill is a very easy and something any Member can do unilaterally. Often Members introduce them just to show particular constituent/interests groups that they stand with them, or just to get the groups off their backs.

This doesn’t mean such messaging bills are worthless. In fact, in my view they serve a pretty important purpose in a democracy. Members go on record with positions that everyone can see, including the public, interest groups, and future opposition candidates.