1. Legislation is Introduced
There are two types of legislation: bills and resolutions. Bills seek to create public policy and, if passed, become public law. Resolutions can be used to appropriate money or express a sentiment of Congress. There are 3 types of resolutions - joint, concurrent, or simple depending on whose approval is required. Ideas for bills can come from anyone. However, only a Member of Congress may introduce new legislation. All bills are assigned a number and a title. Bills in the House begin with H.R., and those in the Senate begin with S. The bill is also labeled with the sponsor (and cosponsors) name(s). Bills can begin in either chamber, with one exception. Legislation appropriating money must originate in the House.
2. Committee Action
Once introduced, the bill is referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate. A bill may be referred to more than one committee or it may be split into parts that are sent to different committees. The Speaker of the House may set time limits on committees. Failure to act on a bill is equivalent to defeating it. After a committee receives a bill, it will generally refer the bill to the proper subcommittee. A specific series of steps occur at the subcommittee stage: First, hearings are held in which witnesses are called to testify about the legislation. Next, committee members may offer amendments to the legislation, and each amendment may be considered and voted on. Finally, a final draft of the bill is voted on for approval. If the bill receives a majority vote, the bill will be “reported out” to the full committee. The bill then goes through the same consideration process in the full committee. If approved, it is reported out to the full House or Senate with the committee staff’s written report, describing the intent of the legislation, its impact on existing law and programs, and views of dissenting members. The report is sent with the bill back to the chamber in which it originated and is placed on the calendar for consideration by the full House or Senate.
3. Floor Action
Legislation is placed on the floor calendar for consideration of the full chamber. The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide which bills reach the floor of their respective chamber and when. In the House, the Rules Committee sets the terms of debate. Debate is guided by the sponsoring committee and time is divided equally between proponents and opponents. The committee decides how much time to allot to each person. In the Senate, debate is unlimited unless cloture is invoked (a motion that limits further debate to thirty hours in order to end a filibuster) by a vote of three fifths of the Senators. A bill can also be amended on floor, during debate, under certain circumstances. Following debate, the bill is then voted on. If passed, it is sent to the other chamber for their consideration. Both chambers must pass identical versions of the bill, or it dies. If the House and Senate both pass the same bill then it is sent to the President. If the House and Senate pass different versions of a bill then they enter into a Conference Committee.
4. Conference Committee
Members from both chambers come together in a Conference Committee and meet to work out the differences between two different versions of the same legislation. The committee is usually made up of senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committee that originally dealt with the bill. If the Conference Committee reaches a compromise, it prepares a written conference report which must be approved by both the House and the Senate. If the compromise bill and conference report are approved by both chambers, the bill is sent to the President.
5. The President
After approval from both chambers, the bill is sent to the President for review. A bill becomes a law if signed by the President or if not signed within ten days while Congress is in session. If Congress adjourns during those ten days and the President has not signed the bill then it does not become a law. This process of indirect rejection is known as a pocket veto. If the President vetoes the bill, it is sent back to Congress with a note listing his/her reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers then it becomes law.
6. The Bill Becomes a Law
Once a bill is sent to the President, he has 10 days to either sign the legislation into law, or veto it. If the bill is signed by the President, it becomes law. If it is vetoed, Congress may hold a vote to override the veto. If veto is overridden, the bill becomes a law. The law is assigned an official Public Law number (P.L. #) and is enforced by the government.