Some congressional idiosyncrasies to bear in mind:

Most bills are stillborn: Only 5 percent become public law.

Death-by-dismemberment. Major bills, particularly those dealing with health, energy and environment, are farmed out to several committees. Multiple referral usually reduces the odds for legislation to be enacted into law.

Stalling tactics: It's easier to block a bill than to shepherd it through Congress.

Expect surprises: There is a tendency to attach non-germane provisions to a bill on an unrelated issue.

Monitoring legislation: Don't go by bill number only: You'll lose track of the measure. In 1980, for instance, the Senate Fiance Committee attached its tax-cut measure to a House bill waiving import tariffs on six bronze bells destined for the United Methodist Church of Washington.

Sunshine in Government act: Although all committee meetings are supposed to be open to the public (unless there are national security reasons), many policy decisions are made in closed session.

Shadow government: Most of the work on the Hill is not done by the 535 members of Congress, but by personal aides and the committee staff.

And finally, as should be clear from this guide to Capitol Hill, precise order and predictable procedures are not to be found. As one veteran Hill staffer puts it, "What's the difference between Congress and kindergarten? Congress doesn't have adult supervision."