The Congressional Record publishes the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress and has done so since 1873 (earlier debates are recorded in The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (1789-1824), the Register of Debates in Congress (1824-1837), and the Congressional Globe (1833-1873)).
Typically, the easiest way to find Congressional debate regarding a specific law is to consult its legislative history. These legislative histories compile all of the associated bills, House and Senate hearings, reports, and documents, and references to debate in the Congressional Record for public laws. With our subscription database, Proquest Legislative Insight, you can find legislative histories and link out to the affiliated digital hearings, documents and reports, Congressional Record debate, and other materials, as described in Chris Brown’s blog post, “How do I research federal legislative histories?” However, legislative histories are only available for bills that were signed into law, not for bills that were never passed.
To find Congressional debate related to unsigned bills, you can search THOMAS, the Library of Congress’ freely-available database of legislative information. THOMAS provides references to relevant pages of the Congressional Record from the “Bill Text” overview. If you wanted to find debate in the Congressional Record related to the DREAM Act, for example, you could search for a specific bill, such as S.3992 (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2010 or the DREAM Act of 2010), by selecting the “Search Bill Text from Multiple Congresses” option on the main page, typing in the bill number in the search box (3992) and limiting your search to the 111th Congress (2009-2010).
This search will retrieve the Bill Text for S.3992, with the links to Congressional Record references.
Instead of searching by bill number, you can also search by keyword (e.g., dream act), however, be sure that you are searching the Bill Text, in order to obtain the direct link to Congressional Record (CR) references. Although the Bill Summary and Status will also give the CR references, they are listed with other information under the “All Congressional Actions” link.
Another option is to search the Congressional Record directly, either through THOMAS or a different source. Penrose Library has subscription access to the Congressional Record via Proquest Congressional (from 1873-1999) and HeinOnline (1873-2009, Congressional Record Daily from 1980-2012/current). HeinOnline enables you to search the Congressional Record by: keywords in the full text; section date, description, author, and title; and volume date and title. Proquest Congressional offers multiple field searching, including: all fields except full text; all fields including full text; subject; member of Congress; content type; roll call votes; bills, laws, and resolutions; and full text by section, with limits by date or Congress.
Alternatively, you can search the Congressional Record through FdSys, the federal government’s freely-available Federal Digital System. FdSys provides access to the Congressional Record from 1994 to the present and features searching by keyword in the full text and limiting by date. When you obtain the Congressional Record references from THOMAS, you will actually link out to the PDF version provided by FdSys.