The Congressional Record: Fact or Fiction of the Legislative Process

Date01 December 1959
Published date01 December 1959
Subject MatterArticles
Columbia University
ITS STAID British cousin the Parliamentary Debates (Han-
sard), the Congressional Record is at times a lively, and is always
a many-faceted publication.’ It records the debates of the House
and Senate; it summarizes activities of Congressional committees; it is replete
with editorial opinion gleaned from the great and the not-so-great news,
papers of America; and it is dotted with such sundry items as poetry, both
professional and homespun, high school essays on &dquo;what democracy means
to me,&dquo; the results of a particular congressman’s public opinion poll, letters-
to-the-editor and other miscellany, ad in finitum. The Congressional Record
serves also as a local tabloid of events on Capitol Hill, recording, for ex-
ample, the menu and agenda for the serving of the Second Senate Salad, an
epicurian concoction combining the finest in back home specialties, to be
offered in the world’s largest salad bowl ... 3 feet wide and 14 inches deep.
Heaped, it will serve 320 main course salads. Hand-turned, it is made of
solid walnut....&dquo; 2
This paper explores problems implicit in reporting the proceedings and
debates of Congress, the value of the Congressional Record as an instrument
of immediate political control and as a source of information, and its his-
toric value as documentation of the legislative process, both to the scholar
and (as illustrative of the problem generally) to the courts where the Re-
cord serves as evidence of legislative intent of statutes enacted by Congress.
That the CongressionaL Record under present rules of publication is not
altogether accepted by those who write it is evidenced by a speech on the
floor of the House by Representative Thomas Curtis of Missouri3 and an
article by Senator Richard Neuberger in the New York Times.4
The Congressional Record dates from March 4, 1873, 43rd Congress. Earlier volumes
covering the proceedings and debates of Congress consisted of the Debates and Pro-
ceedings (generally known by its binder’s title, Annals of Congress), 1st-18th Congress,
1789-1824 (42 vols., 1834-56); Register of Debates, 18th Congress, 2d Session-25th
Congress, 1st Session, 1824-37 (14 vols. in 29, 1825-37); Congressional Globe, 23d-42d
Congress, 1833-73 (46 vols. in 108, 1834-73). See Constance M. Winchell, Guide to
Reference Books (7th ed.; Chicago: American Lib. Assn., 1951), p. 108.
104 Cong. Rec. 11421-22, 11505-6 (1958). Among other ingredients, the salad was to
contain 2 quarts of Michigan vinegar blended with 30 envelopes of a garlic-type salad
dressing mix and 5½ quarts of salad oil; frozen Florida grapefruit sections; Alabama
watercress from Huntsville, "watercress capital of the world"; California ripe olives
and 32 heads of California iceberg lettuce; lemon-flavored gelatin from Le Roy, N.Y.;
New Jersey tomatoes; Texas gulf shrimp, escarole, and green onions.
104 Cong. Rec. 6594-97 (1958).
"The Congressional Record is Not a Record," New York Times, April 20, 1958, Sec. 6,
14, reprinted in 104 Cong. Rec. 6816-18 (1958). Neuberger reasserted his position on
this subject in a recent Senate speech. See 105 Cong. Rec. 15084-85 (August 20, 1959).

The Congressional Record is not the official record of the proceedings
of the House and Senate, that function being fulfilled by the journal of
each house in accordance with the constitutional requirement that &dquo;each
house shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish
the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgments require Se-
crecy....&dquo; 5 The Record is, by law, &dquo;substantially a verbatim report of pro-
ceedings,&dquo; to be printed under control of the Joint Committee on Printing.6
The daily edition of the Congressional Record is a formidable document,
printed on newsprint and containing stapled pages measuring eight-and-one-
half by eleven inches. A single issue may have upwards of 200 pages. Each
day’s proceedings follow a set pattern, the Senate debates preceding those
of the House, which, in turn, are followed by a voluminous Appendix and
the well-prepared and informative Daily Digest. A semimonthly printing
of the daily Record is issued in limited edition together with an index for
that period. Thereafter, the Congressional Record is &dquo;revised, printed, and
bound promptly, as may be directed by the Joint Committee on Printing, in
permanent form, for distribution during and after the close of each session
of Congress.&dquo; 8
The significant thing about the Congressional Record is that, by statute,
it is not intended to be an exact reproduction of the remarks uttered on the
floor. The language, &dquo;substantially a verbatim report on proceedings,&dquo; re-
flects accurately what the Record is, the less-than-verbatim status being
derived from custom and practice of the two houses: a member may revise
his own remarks and, in the House of Representatives, may insert into the
Record as a speech material never uttered on the floor of the House. The
official reporters work in relays: one reporter takes down the debates for
several minutes and immediately transcribes them, so that before the print-
He has also introduced a resolution (S. Res. 168, 86th Congress) to curb certain
practices in the Senate. The text of the resolution follows: Resolved, That the
Standing Rules of the Senate are amended by adding at the end thereof the follow-
IN THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD. Except as provided herein, the remarks of
Senators in proceedings of the Senate shall be recorded in the Congressional Record
as actually made. Changes in the recording of such remarks shall be permissible only
to correct grammar and syntax, and to correct actual errors made in the reporting of
such remarks. No changes of a substantive nature or changes concerning remarks of
another Senator made in the proceedings shall be permitted."
U.S. Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 5, cl. 3. On the proposition that the Journal, not the
Record, is the official record of the proceedings, see Hinds’ Precedents of the House
of Representatives, Vol. IV, Sec. 2727.
Title 44 U.S.C. Sec. 181. Section 182a of that title provides, "The public proceedings of
each House of Congress, as reported by the Official Reporters thereof, shall be printed
in the Congressional Record." See also U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Printing,
Rules for Publication of the Congressional Record, March 2, 1956.
Joint Committee Rules, Sec. 1. The rule contains a proviso authorizing the House debates
to be printed first, when the Senate debates are not received in time.
Title 44 U.S.C. Sec. 182a.

ing deadline a member has full opportunity, timewise, to revise his own re-
In the Senate revision is done as a matter of course. Senator Neuberger
in his Times article described one aspect of the process as follows:
After a major debate in the Senate over an issue which stirs profound emotions ... I have
seen many Senators ... virtually rewriting the speeches and retorts just delivered on the
floor of the Senate. Some will totally expunge comments made in the heat of debate that
may seem indiscreet or unwise in the cold, gray light of the next dawn and in the inflexible
type of the Congressional Record. Others will be adding afterthoughts, which may furnish
an extra fillip to a reply that was flat or ineffective when uttered under the duress of
argument in the Senate Chamber.’
In a recent volume on Senate procedure and precedents, it is stated, &dquo;A
Senator in making a revision of his remarks is not supposed to make any
substantial changes therein. (He has no rule of the Senate for guidance.)&dquo; 10
In the House of Representatives it is customary and universal for a mem-
ber to ask and to obtain unanimous consent to revise remarks made, usually
with leave to extend. Revision, but not the right to extend, may be done
without such express permission of the House, although the precedents
speak of a necessary consent of the Speaker. The Joint Committee Rules do
not, in terms, authorize revision, but speak of revision as accepted fact. Sec-
tion 3 states, &dquo;When manuscript is submitted to Members for revision...&dquo;;
Section 5 states, &dquo;Proofs of ’leave to print’ and advance speeches will not be
furnished the day the manuscript is received... &dquo;; and Section 6 refers to
manuscripts returned too late for printing in the day’s Record. House prac-

tice prohibits a member from changing the remarks of another member, nor
can he alter his own remarks &dquo;in such a way as to affect the remarks of an
opponent in controversy without bringing the correction to the attention
of that Member.&dquo; 11 Representative Curtis of Missouri has pointed out that
under present practice some far-reaching results are obtained: &dquo;This privi-
lege has been abused to the extent that even in a colloquy which has oc-
curred in debate the remarks of one of the debaters has been so changed as to
render meaningless the printed remarks of his opponent which remain un-
revised.&dquo; 12 Under permission of the House to extend remarks, a member
may add to his own spoken remarks or have inserted as a speech statements
never made on the floor.13 Some curious results follow: A
member may ask
and obtain leave for another member to extend even though such member
is absent from the floor; where an authorized...

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