Step 1: A Bill Is Born
Anyone may draft a bill; however, only members of Congress can introduce legislation, and by doing so, become the sponsor(s). The president, a member of the cabinet or the head of a federal agency can also propose legislation, although a member of Congress must introduce it.
Step 2: Committee Action
As soon as a bill is introduced, it is referred to a committee. At this point the bill is examined carefully and its chances for passage are first determined. If the committee does not act on a bill, the bill is effectively “dead.”
Step 3: Subcommittee Review
Often, bills are referred to a subcommittee for study and hearings. Hearings provide the opportunity to put on the record the views of the executive branch, experts, other public officials and supporters, and opponents of the legislation.
Step 4: Mark up
When the hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet to “mark up” the bill; that is, make changes and amendments prior to recommending the bill to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report legislation to the full committee, the bill dies. If the committee votes for the bill, it is sent to the floor.
Step 5: Committee Action to Report a Bill
After receiving a subcommittee’s report on a bill the full committee votes on its recommendation to the House or Senate. This procedure is called “ordering a bill reported.”
Step 6: Voting
After the debate and the approval of any amendments, the bill is passed or defeated by the members voting.
Step 7: Referral to Other Chamber
When the House or Senate passes a bill, it is referred to the other chamber, where it usually follows the same route through committee and floor action. This chamber may approve the bill as received, reject it, ignore it, or change it.
Step 8: Conference Committee Action
When the actions of the other chamber significantly alter the bill, a conference committee is formed to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If agreement is reached, a conference report is prepared describing the committee members’ recommendations for changes. Both the House and Senate must approve the conference report.
Step 9: Final Action
After both the House and Senate have approved a bill in identical form, it is sent to the president. If the president approves of the legislation, he signs it, and it becomes law. Or, if the president takes no action for ten days, while Congress is in session, it automatically becomes law. If the president opposes the bill he can veto it; or if he takes no action after the Congress has adjourned its second session, it is a “pocket veto” and the legislation dies.
Step 10: Overriding a Veto
If the president vetoes a bill, Congress may attempt to “override the veto.” If both the Senate and the House pass the bill by a two-thirds majority, the president’s veto is overruled and the bill becomes a law.
It is a long process. We must stay concerned, involved, and vigilant.