Close enough for government work

November 7, 2011

The postal-employees union (APWU) is up on the air today with a new political ad. The  second-to-last  line of the narration is:

“Tell your Representative to vote ‘No’ on House Resolution 2309.”

As soon as I heard it, I knew someone had messed up:

1. There’s no way 2309 resolutions have already been introduced this Congress (it turns out only 460 have); and, more importantly,

2. There’s no way the APWU would be spending television ad money to fight a House resolution.

The problem, as I’m sure most Congress-jocks have already noticed, is that the APWU has seemingly confused the concepts of a bill and a resolution.  And indeed, that’s what has happened: the APWU is almost certainly concerned with proposed bill H.R. 2309, the Postal Reform Act.

My guess is that someone involved with the production of the ad thought the “H.R.” in “H.R. 2309” stood for “House Resolution” rather than “House of Representatives.” That’s a minor slip up, but it’s pretty sloppy and it’s pretty  important: a bill and a resolution are completely different things legislatively. Bills change laws. Resolutions do not. It doesn’t matter in the big-picture, but it doesn’t speak particularly well of the APWU’s legislative affairs acumen. (In the APWU defense, they do call it “a bill” in another part of the ad.)

It does, however, give us a good reason to review the different types of measures introduced in Congress:

Bills are proposed measures that will become law if passed in identical form by both chambers and not vetoed by the president (or signed over his veto). They are numbered with either an S. or H.R. prefix, depending on the chamber of origination.

Joint Resolutions, which are designated as H.J.Res. or S.J.Res. depending on chamber of origin, are identical to bills, but are only used for certain specific purposes, including proposing constitutional amendments, declaring war, and temporarily extended appropriations (known as a “continuing resolution” or CR).

Simple Resolutions, which are designated as H.Res. or S.Res. depending on chamber of origin, are not used to make laws. Instead, they tend to deal with internal chamber housekeeping, or non-binding public policy statements. As such, they do not require the concurrence of the other chamber. Examples of the uses of resolutions include: special rules from the Rules Committee in the House, commemorative legislation, creation of special or select committees, funding resolutions for committees, electing chamber officers, treaty ratifications in the Senate, and “sense of the House” or “sense of the Senate” legislation.

Concurrent Resolutions, which are designated as H.Con.Res. or S.Con.Res. depending on chamber of origin, also do not make law. They are otherwise like simple resolutions, except they address matters of the internal affairs of both chambers. Examples include annual budget resolutions and resolutions providing for the adjournment of Congress.

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One Response to Close enough for government work

  1. How a Bill Becomes a Law | Matt Glassman on December 5, 2011 at 11:55 am

    […] House of Representatives is scheduled to take up Senate Concurrent Resolution 32 today, a concurrent resolution to authorize the Clerk of the House to make technical corrections in the enrollment of H.R. 470. […]

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