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Federal Legislative History: Debates

About Floor Debates

The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress.  The Congressional Record began publication in 1873. Prior to 1873, the proceedings were published in the Annals of Congress (1789-1824), Register of Debates (1824-1837) and the Congressional Globe (1833-1873). 

The Congressional Record is first published as a daily edition.  From 1967, the page numbers in this edition begin with a letter: S for Senate, H for House, E for Extension of Remarks, or D for Daily Digest.  After each session of Congress, a permanent, bound edition is published as a single volume with multiple parts.  This bound edition has the same volume number as the daily edition, but the page numbers are different.  Bluebook Rule 13.5 says to cite to the permanent edition and to cite to the daily edition only when the permanent version has not yet been published.  Example: 123 Cong. Rec. 12,455 (1977).  To convert a daily edition citation to a permanent edition citation, use either the "Index" or "Daily Digest" volumes in print or HeinOnline's daily to bound locator. 

The Congressional Record can be useful for discerning legislative intent because it may contain legislators' arguments for or against a proposed amendment.  The statements from bill sponsors or cosponsors may be given more weight than statements from other members of Congress not as involved with the bill. 

However, the Congressional Record  is not considered to be the best source of legislative intent for two reasons.  First, because several different members of Congress may take the floor to speak on the bill, the Congressional Record may contain contradictory statements from the various legislators.  Second, legislators may alter their statements before final publication.

Where to Find Floor Debates

Internet Congressional Record (daily edition) 103rd Congress (1994) to present and Congressional Record (bound edition) 105th Congress (1998) to 107th Congress (2002)

Library of Congress (A Century of Lawmaking):  Journals of Congress Collection

Subscription Database

HeinOnline: U.S. Congressional Documents Library

  • Congressonal Record (daily edition), 96th Congress (1980) to present, and Congressional Record (bound edition) 43rd Congress (1873) to most recent bound volume
  • Congressional Globe, 23rd Congress Congress (1833) to 42nd Congress (1873)
  • Register of Debates, 18th Congress (1824) to 25th Congress (1837)
  • Annals of Congress, 1st Congress (1789) to 18th Congress (1824)

Lexis:  Congressional Record (daily edition) 99th Congress (1985) to present

LLMC DigitalCongressional Record (bound edition), selected volumes, 43rd Congress (1873) to 2008

ProQuest CongressionalCongressional Record (daily edition) 99th Congress (1985) to present

ProQuest Legislative Insight: Selected, 71st Congress (1929) to present; access Legislative Insight via the law library landing page.

Westlaw:  Congressional Record (daily edition) 99th Congress (1985) to present

Eckstein Library

Print (KF35.C663): Congressional Record (daily edition) current year in stacks and previous 5 years in archives

Microfiche (KF35.C663): Congressional Record (bound edition) 43rd Congress (1873) to 109th Congress (2007)