The Legislative Process
The Legislative Process
The primary duty of Congress is to administer the legislative process and, through this process, enact the laws that govern the country. To accomplish this, Congress annually considers thousands of individual bills via this process which, while somewhat complex, can be traced chronologically through these stages:
Step 1 – The Introduction
All bills must be sponsored and introduced by a member of Congress, although they can originate from a variety of sources.
Step 2 – Committee Referral
Once introduced, the bill is referred to the appropriate committee (in some cases, multiple committees) for study and assessment.
Step 3 – Subcommittee Review
Once assigned to a focused subcommittee, the bill is researched extensively and, where appropriate, subjected to public hearings.
Step 4 – Mark-up
Using the results of research and hearings, the bill is “marked-up” with changes and amendments and sent back to the referring committee.
Step 5 – Committee Action
Depending on the information provided by subcommittee, the referring committee may elect to take no action (letting the bill die) or vote on whether the bill will be ordered for reporting to the House or Senate. A committee report outlining the bill’s provisions and the committee’s position on it usually accompanies the bill.
Step 6 – Chamber Debate
Having survived committee review, the bill is next scheduled for debate on the chamber floor. At this stage, the bill can be either passed or defeated. If passed, the bill is now considered an “act.”
Step 7 – Chamber Exchange
If the bill is passed by the House, it is then referred to the Senate for analysis and debate. If passed in step 6 by the Senate, it is similarly referred to the House. If the chamber receiving the bill is already considering a similar bill, the additional analysis and debate is generally waived. In any event, the receiving chamber may at this point approve, reject, ignore, or modify the bill.
Step 8 – Bicameral Determination
If, after both chambers have debated the bill, there are substantial differences between the House and Senate versions, a bicameral conference committee is assigned responsibility for achieving reconciliation. The results are provided to both the House and the Senate for approval (both must approve an identical version of the bill). If there is no agreement at this point, the bill dies.
Step 9 – Presidential Review
The jointly approved bill is now sent to the president, becoming law if it is signed. The president may allow the bill to sit unsigned for a 10-day period, which allows it to become law if Congress is in session during the period. If Congress adjourns during the 10-day unsigned period, the bill also dies (this is referred to as a “pocket veto”). The president may also veto the bill at this point and return it to Congress for further analysis and re-submission.
Step 10 – Veto Override
If the president vetoes the bill, either directly or via a pocket veto, the rejection can be overridden by Congress by re-voting. To become law after a veto, a bill must receive affirmative votes from a two-thirds majority in both chambers.