How a Bill Becomes a Law
How It Works
Any member of the House or Senate can introduce a piece of legislation. In the House, legislation is handed to the clerk of the House or placed in the hopper. In the Senate, members must introduce the bill during the morning hour. Each bill is assigned a number (HR 1 or S 1) and labeled with the sponsor’s name.
The bill is then referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate. Bills can be sent to more than one committee or may be split into parts. Bills are placed on the calendar of the committee. In committee, comments are requested by government agencies, bills can be assigned to a subcommittee and hearings may be held. Subcommittees report their findings to the full committee. The committee will hold a “mark-up” session to make revisions and additions and finally, the full committee votes.
In the House, most bills go through the Rules committee before going to the floor to set rules under which the bill will be considered in the House. In the House, bills are place on the House Calendar although some bills will never reach the floor. The Speaker of the House or the Majority Leader decide which bills will reach the floor and when. In the Senate, bills are placed on the Legislative Calendar. Scheduling of the legislation is the job of the Majority Leader although bills can be brought to the floor whenever a majority of Senate chooses. Debate in the House is limited by the Rules set in the Rules Committee. In the Senate, debate is unlimited unless cloture is invoked. Therefore, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure unless a cloture is invoked. Cloture requires a 3/5 vote of the full Senate and limit debate to 30 hours. The bill is voted on and if it passes, it is sent to the other chamber. If either chamber does not pass a bill, it dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill, it then goes to the President. If they pass different bills, the legislation goes to Conference Committee â€“ a committee formed by members from each chamber who will work to reach a compromise. If a compromise can be reached, it must be approved by both the House and the Senate before going to the President.
A bill becomes a law when it is signed by the President or if it is not signed within 10 days when Congress is in session. If Congress adjourns before the 10 days and the President does not sign the bill then it does not become law, also known as a pocket veto. If the President vetoes a bill, it is sent back to Congress. In order to override a veto, both the House and Senate must have a 2/3 vote of those present.
- U.S. Government Manual
- Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids
- Project Vote Smart. Government 101: How a Bill Becomes Law. 2006. Available at: http://www.vote-smart.org/resource_govt101_02.php. Accessed Nov. 11, 2007.