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Action Tips and Tools: The Legislative Process

From a bill's introduction to the president's signature or veto -- and everything in between

1. A Bill is Introduced
The legislative process begins when one or several members of Congress introduce, or sponsor, a bill or resolution. The bill then receives a number preceded by "H.R." if it's a House bill, or "S" if it's a Senate bill.

2. Committee Assignment and Review
The House has 19 permanent committees and the Senate has 17. Each committee has jurisdiction over bills concerning particular issues. When a bill is referred to the appropriate House or Senate committee for consideration, the committee may choose to hold hearings on the bill, send the bill to a subcommittee for review, or conduct a vote on whether to send the bill directly to the full House or Senate.

3. Committee Action
Hearings are usually conducted by subcommittees, and allow experts, government officials, members of the public, and other interested parties to offer, on the record, their views either in support of or in opposition to a bill. Testimony may be given in person or submitted in writing.

After hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet for a mark-up, where it can change or amend a bill before returning it to the full committee. The subcommittee can also choose not to send a bill back to the full committee, effectively killing the bill.

4. Reporting a Bill
After receiving a bill from a subcommittee, the full committee can conduct further study and hold additional hearings, or it can vote on the subcommittee's recommendations and proposed amendments. The full committee can then vote to recommend that the full House or Senate consider the bill. This procedure is called "ordering a bill reported."

After a committee votes to report a bill, the committee staff prepares a written report describing the intent and scope of the legislation, its impact on existing laws and programs, the administration's position on the bill, and the views of any dissenting committee members.

5. Scheduling Floor Action
After a bill is reported back to the chamber where it originated, it is placed in chronological order on the calendar for debate.

6. Floor Debate
When a bill reaches the House or Senate floor, the rules of the chamber determine the debate procedures and the amount of time allowed for debate. After debate and approval of any amendments, members vote. If a bill passes, (most bills need a simple majority to pass), it then moves to the other chamber for consideration.

7. Action in Other Chamber
When a bill is referred to the other chamber, it usually follows the same route through committee review and action on the floor. The second chamber can approve the bill, reject the bill, change it, or let it die.

8. Conference Committee
If the chamber that originates the bill approves it, and the other chamber makes only minor changes to it, the legislation often goes back to the first chamber for quick acceptance of the changes. If the actions of the second chamber change the bill significantly, however, a conference committee, made up of members of both the House and Senate, attempts to reconcile the differences between the two versions. If the members of the conference committee cannot agree on a final form of the bill, the legislation dies. If they reach agreement, they prepare a conference report describing the recommended changes. Both the House and the Senate must then approve the revised version of the bill.

9. Final Congressional Approval
Once both houses of Congress approve the same form of a bill, it is sent to the White House for action by the president.

10. Presidential Action
The president can act on the bill in one of three ways: approve the bill by signing it into law; veto the bill, returning it to Congress with an explanation of his or her objections; or take no action on the bill. If the president holds the bill for ten days while Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes law without his or her signature. If Congress adjourns its second session within this ten-day period, however, the bill dies (this is called a "pocket veto").

11. Congressional Override of a Veto
A bill can become law despite a presidential veto if two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to approve the bill over the president's objections.


ACTION TIPS AND TOOLS
Communications Tips | Congressional Staff | Legislative Process | Budget Process

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