Learn the Legislative Process in Three Minutes

U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling advises colleagues to watch Schoolhouse Rock to learn about the conference committee process.
Thu December 22, 2011 3:20 am

It’s a sure sign political discourse has reached a historic low when elected officials bring up Schoolhouse Rock  on the House Floor to explain the legislative process. McClatchy Newspapers ’ William Douglas reported that Congressman Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, brought up the 1972 educational song “I’m Just a Bill” on Tuesday during a “heated debate” about the necessity of the Senate and House of Representatives forming a conference committee to come to a resolution on the payroll tax cut, which is set to expire on January 1.

“Since the dawn of the republic, these are how differences are settled between the House and Senate,” Hensarling said on the House floor. “If you don’t remember your civics 101, maybe if you have small children like I do, you can go back and watch the ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ video. It’s very clear.”

But, Douglas fact checks Hensarling and finds that “I’m Just a Bill” merely discusses the legislative process in broad outlines and does not delve into the process of forming a conference committee.

Dave Frishberg, the song’s 78-year-old author, lamented that he was not able to squeeze an explanation of how conference committees work into the three-minute song. “[I]t should be in there. But I had three minutes to fill, and you’ve got to pick and choose when you’ve got three minutes,” Frishberg said.

Douglas provides a handy summary of what the song does contain:

In the cartoon, the bill croons: “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.” He offers a step-by step primer on how he goes from idea to law, a process that takes him from being developed and voted on in a committee — such as Judiciary or Ways and Means — to the House floor for a vote.

With a “yes” vote, the bill moves to the Senate “and the whole process starts all over again,” the cartoon bill says.

From there, the song takes the process directly to the White House and the threat of a presidential veto. No mention of House-Senate conference committees or what happens if the House and Senate disagree on a bill.

Frishberg told Douglas he is honored that the song has become a part of popular culture, but he was “horrified” to learn that the song was used to school freshman lawmakers on the legislative process.

Take three minutes to learn how to be a senator or congressman:

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