a Bill Becomes a Law -- A Brief
Introduction in Congress
bill may be written by anyone but
it must be introduced by a
senator or congressman and by
doing so they become the sponsor(s).
Bills, joint resolutions,
concurrent resolutions, and
simple resolutions are the four
basic types of legislation. When
a bill or resolution is numbered
H.R. signifying a House bill or S.
a Senate bill, it is referred to
a committee and printed by the
Government Printing Office, the
official legislative process
Referral to Committee
to carefully delineated rules of
procedures, bills are usually
referred to standing committees
in the House or Senate.
bill is placed on the committee's
calendar when it reaches a
committee. It can be referred to
a subcommittee or the committee
as a whole considers it. A bill
is examined carefully at this
point and its possibility for
passage are determined. A bill
that is not acted on by the
committee is the equivalent of
killing it. The vast majority of
bills never makes it beyond this
study and hearings, bills are
often referred to a subcommittee.
The opportunity to put on the
record the views of the executive
branch, experts, other public
officials, supporters and
opponents are provided by
hearings. Testimony can be
submitted in writing or in person.
sub-committee may meet to "mark
up" the bill when the
hearings are completed. This
means the bill is examined line
by line and alterations and
amendments are made prior to
recommending to the full
committee the bill. The bill dies
if a subcommittee votes not to
report legislation to the full
Committee Action to Report a Bill
full committee can conduct
further hearings and study, or it
can vote on the subcommittee's
recommendations and any proposed
amendments after receiving a
subcommittee's report on a bill.
On its recommendation to the
House or Senate, the full
committee then votes. "Ordering
a bill reported," is what
this procedure is called.
Publication of a Written Report
chairman instructs staff to
prepare a report on the bill
after a committee votes to have a
bill reported. The intent and
scope of the legislation, impact
and existing laws and programs,
position of the executive branch,
and view of dissenting members
are described in this report.
Scheduling Floor Action
bill is placed in chronological
order on the calendar after it is
reported back to the chamber
where it originated . The Speaker
and Majority Leader largely
determine if, when, and in what
order bills come up because in
the House, there are several
different legislative calendars.
However, there is only one
legislative calendar in the
are rules or procedures governing
the debate when a bill reaches
the floor of the House or Senate.
The conditions and amount of time
allocated for debate are
determined by these rules.
bill is passed or defeated by the
members voting after the debate
and the approval of any
Referral to Other Chambers
bill is referred to the other
chambers where it usually follows
the same route through committee
and floor actions when it is
passed by the House or the Senate.
The bill may be approved as
received, reject it, ignore it,
or change it by this chamber.
Conference Committee Action
is common for the legislation to
go back to the first chamber for
concurrence if only minor changes
are made to a bill by the other
chamber. A conference committee,
however, is formed to reconcile
the differences when the actions
of the other chamber
significantly change the bill.
The legislation dies if the
conferees are unable to reach
agreement. A conference report is
prepared describing the committee
members' recommendations for
modification if agreement is
reached. The conference report
must be approved by both the
House and Senate.
President receives a bill after
it has been approved by the House
and Senate in identical form. The
legislation is signed and it
becomes law if the President
approves it. Or no action can be
taken for ten days while Congress
is in session by the President,
and it becomes law automatically.
The bill is vetoed if the
President opposes the bill, or it
is a "pocket veto" and
the legislation dies if he takes
no action after the Congress has
adjourned its second session.
may attempt to "override the
veto," if the President
vetoes a bill. A two-thirds roll
call vote of the members who are
present in sufficient numbers for
a quorum is required for this.
the Legislative Information