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Federal Legislative History Research

How to perform federal legislative history research.

What Are Floor Debates?

Where to look for floor debate and proceedings held in the House and Senate varies by year: 

  • Annals of Congress, 1st Congress (1789) to 18th Congress (1824)
  • Register of Debates, 18th Congress (1824) to 25th Congress (1837)
  • Congressional Globe, 23rd Congress (1833) to 42nd Congress (1873)
  • Congressional Record, 43rd Congress (1873) to Present.

Sets predating the Congressional Record were generated out of summaries of floor speeches or newspaper reports. Coverage of floor debate expanded over time and, by the mid-nineteenth century, the Congressional Globe contained an almost complete account. In 1873, Congress finally produced its own transcript, the Congressional Record. Note that members of Congress may edit and insert material into the Record before it is printed.

There are two versions of the Congressional Record: the "daily edition" and a repaginated permanent bound edition. The bound edition is the preferred source for citation purposes. Page numbers in the daily edition start with a letter from one of four sections: H=House, S=Senate, E=Extension of Remarks, and D=Daily Digest. In the permanent edition, pagination runs from the beginning to the end of each session. 

To locate debates in the bound edition while only having the daily's page numbers, use the "Index" or the "Daily Digest" volumes. These volumes are published each year, at the end of each session of Congress. HeinOnline also offers an online daily-to-bound conversion tool.

See also: LLSDC's guide to the Congressional Record.

Please note, access to certain databases linked in this guide may be restricted to UT Law or the UT community; please see the library's Databases page that lays out access privileges.

Example of Floor Debate

An Excerpt from the Congressional Record--a speech by Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001:

Bluebook citation, Rule 13.5:

147 Cong. Rec. 10179 (2001).

Excerpt from Congressional Record.

View full-text at HeinOnline.

Where to Find Floor Debates - Online

Where to Find Floor Debates - Print

C-SPAN Footage of Sen. Hutchison's June 7, 2001 Speech

The C-SPAN Congressional Chronicle is an index to the video recordings of the floor proceedings and are matched with the text of the Congressional Record. Coverage: House (1979 to Present) and Senate (1986 to Present).

In addition to C-SPAN, video and audio recordings of the proceedings on the House floor are available through Go to the website or click on the links below to view the latest activity on the House floor. See also

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Senate Floor Webcast

Stream live Senate floor proceedings while a meeting is in progress. Search, watch, and download previous proceedings by date. The Advanced Search option is run against the proceedings' name, description, Notes, Motions/Votes, and captions. Searches (with or without a date range) can be run for "All these words," "This exact phrase," any one word form a set, or minus results containing specific words. Links are also provided to a summary of what was on the Senate floor for any given date.  The available videos start in January 2012, with the beginning of the 2nd session of the 112th Congress.

How GPO Prints the Congressional Record

A video from the U.S. Government Printing Office, which prints the Congressional Record.