How a bill becomes law (US)


Step 1. Bill Introduction:

A Member of Congress introduces legislation in a form called a bill. A bill must pass both the House and Senate.

The official process begins when a bill is numbered, (“H.R.” in front of the number signifies a bill originating in the U.S. House of Representatives and “S.” signifies a bill originating in the U.S. Senate). It is then read, printed and referred to a committee or committees.

Step 2. Referral to Committee:

A bill is referred to a standing committee in the House or Senate. The referral is determined by which committee (or committees) has jurisdiction over the issues addressed in the bill.

Step 3. Committee Action:

When a bill reaches a committee, it is placed on the committee’s calendar. If the committee chairperson decides not to hear a bill, or act upon it in some other way, it is the equivalent of killing it.

Step 4: Subcommittee Review:

Often, bills are referred to a subcommittee. Hearings held at the subcommittee or committee level allow the views of the executive branch, other public officials, experts, supporters and opponents to be put on the record.

Step 5. Mark Up:

After hearings are held, the subcommittee may “mark up” the bill (make changes or add amendments) prior to recommending it to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report the bill to the full committee, the bill dies.

Step 6. Further Committee Action:

After receiving the subcommittee’s report on the bill, the full committee can conduct further hearings, or it can vote and “order the bill reported” to the respective chamber where the bill originated: House or Senate.

Step 7. Written Report:

After the bill is reported, committee staff prepare a report on the bill describing the intent and scope of the legislation.

Step 8. Scheduling Floor Action:

The bill is placed in chronological order on a calendar. The House keeps several legislative calendars, and the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader largely determine if, when and in what order bills come before the House. In the Senate, there is only one legislative calendar.

Step 9. Debate:

When a bill reaches the floor of the House or Senate, the chamber must vote on the rules determining the amount of time allocated for debate on the bill.

Step 10. Voting:

After debate and approval of any amendments, the chamber votes. Votes may be recorded electronically or by voice vote. A recorded or “roll call” vote contains the names of members who vote for or against the bill, or who did not vote at all. A voice vote is a simple “aye” or “no” and the presiding officer in the chamber determines the result. If a bill is non-controversial, or has been reviewed sufficiently by each member of Congress before even reaching the floor, it can be voted on without scheduling any debate. This is called “unanimous consent” or “suspension of the rules.”

Step 11. Referral:

When the House or Senate passes a bill, it is referred to the other chamber which may approve the bill, reject it, ignore it or change it through the same committee or subcommittee action as described above.

Step 12. Conference Committee:

If the opposite chamber only makes minor changes, the legislation goes back to the originating chamber for approval of the changes. However, if the bill has been significantly altered, a conference committee with members from both chambers is formed to reconcile the differences. If the conferees can reach an agreement, a conference report is prepared, if not, the bill dies.

Step 13. Presidential Action:

After a bill has been passed in identical forms through the House and Senate (or reported out of a conference committee), it is sent to the President who may either sign it into law or veto (reject) it. If Congress is in session and the President takes no action, it automatically becomes law. If Congress has already adjourned its second session and the President takes no action, it is called a “pocket veto” and the bill is rejected.

Step 14: Overriding a Veto:
Congress may attempt to override a presidential veto, which requires a two-thirds majority roll call vote.

Source: Compiled with help from Congress at Your Fingertips

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