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Legislative Adventure Game: See Why It’s Difficult for a Bill to Become Law

By Lauren Camera — May 13, 2015 3 min read
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Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have been trying to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the beginning of January. So far, it’s the most serious attempt to overhaul the law since it was last rewritten back in 2001 and branded as the No Child Left Behind Act, the current iteration of the federal K-12 law. But, as has happened with other major pieces of legislation, momentum has stalled.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican leadership has yet to reschedule a vote on a reauthorization bill that was yanked from the floor amid waning GOP support back in February. Meanwhile in the Senate, a bipartisan reauthorization is in the queue for floor debate among several other legislative priorities.

That’s not entirely surprising seeing as most bills that are introduced never become law. In fact, in 2013, members of Congress introduced a whopping 5,584 bills, and only 15 Senate bills and 41 House bills became law, according to the Sunlight Foundation. That’s barely 1 percent.

A majority of the bills introduced are done so as a matter of principle and their authors know full well that they’re more or less sending them out into the ether. For example, a Republican-controlled Congress isn’t likely to take interest in a bill that would, let’s say, provide free tuition for community college or allow student loan borrowers to refinance at market-based interest rates. But that hasn’t stop a slew of Democrats in both chambers from offering such proposals.

And the bills that do get off the ground must run a gantlet of committee hearings and markups, stand up to stakeholder input, and contend with the congressional calendar. Even when a bill is making marked progress in moving through the legislative process, it’s never truly home free, so to speak, until it’s gotten the president’s signature.

Remember that little, innocuous and much-needed education research bill that Congress still hasn’t cleared for ostensibly ... no reason at all?

And then there’s the wild card ambush, where something out of left field just plops directly on top of a bill, crushing its forward momentum. Take, for example, the bewildering collapse of the ESEA reauthorization in the House.

GOP leadership was forced to pull the Republican-backed bill from the floor after a post on an anti-Common Core State Standards blog that slammed the bill for not being conservative enough went viral. The kicker? The post was riddled with misinformation. More than two months later, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House education committee and author of the bill, still hasn’t successfully cobbled together enough support for leadership to reschedule the vote.

Across the Capitol, things don’t look much easier.

The co-authors of the Senate’s bipartisan ESEA bill, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., had hoped Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would schedule their overhaul proposal for debate before the May 22 Memorial Day recess. But with McConnell having just teed up a debate on trade instead, that timeline seems unlikely. (Hopes are still high for the bill to get on the floor in early June.)

Going forward, getting the ESEA rewrite across the finish line will only get more difficult. Politicking surrounding the looming 2016 presidential election, for example, will likely be responsible for plenty of legislative casualties.

To illustrate just how difficult it is for a bill to get to the president’s desk, we’ve created this choose-your-own-adventure legislative game. Try your luck and see if you can steer a bill through the often nonsensical legislative process.

The interactive game referenced in this article is no longer available.