Everyone has seen the School House Rock song, “I’m just a bill”, which describes how a bill becomes a law in a very catchy song. However, as we get older, it is important to know the details of the actual process! Laws influence all of our lives and getting educated on the topic is a great Smart Girl tool to have.
First, a bill is drafted. Members of Congress, the Administration, or other sources can create a bill, but a member of Congress must be the one to introduce it on the House Floor where all official matters take place. From there, the bill is assessed based on its content and is sent to a committee. For example, a bill about energy will go to the Energy & Commerce committee.
After the bill is sent to a committee, the committee decides whether or not to take action on it. If they decide to do so, a hearing is conducted in which they discuss the bill, and then a mark-up begins where they amend the bill and sometimes even re-write it.
Once the committee and/or sub-committee are finished with the bill, they report it out and it is put on the Legislative calendar. Once it is on the legislative calendar, the bill is read on the floor, amendments are offered, and debate occurs. In the Senate, their debate rules are much less rigid and they can filibuster. Filibusters occur when one or more members stand-up and do things to delay or prevent a vote from occurring. Senators have been known to even read from the phone book! The House of Representatives is much stricter, and their debate process is very structured. Filibusters are not allowed in the House.
If the vote is passed, then it must also pass in the other body of Congress. If the House of Representatives pass a bill, they send it to the Senate where they must vote on that exact bill. If it passes, it is sent to the President, where he can sign the bill into law, veto it, or pocket veto, which means the President does not take any action on the bill if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period in which the president has to act on the bill. If the President does not sign or veto a bill, it becomes a law after 10 days without his signature. Congress can override a veto with a two-thirds both from both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
What happens if the Senate does not pass the House of Representatives bill or they try to change the original bill? The Senate and House of Representatives meet in a conference to resolve their differences, and then a vote occurs in both bodies before it goes to the President.