How does a bill become a law at the national level?
1-3. Bill to Law- What is a bill?
- A bill is an idea that may or may not become a law.
- Members of either the US Senate or the US House of Representatives can propose bills at the National level of government.
- Sometimes legislators get ideas for bills from citizens or lobbyists.
- Click here to see examples of bills:
Example of a BillFlag Bill
Anne Frank BillEqual Rights BillWar Bill
To See More Bills click HERE
All bills begin in the US Congress!
4-5.Bill to Law- Where does a bill begin?
- In the House of Representatives all members must submit their bills to the clerk of the House.
- The bill is then referred to a specific committee by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
- A committee hears bills and then recommends changes to them based on the testimony of the public and experts.
- Once in committee the bill is generally given to a sub committee.
6. Bill to Law- Committees
There are many committees in the House of Representatives and the US Senate. Some of the more powerful committees include (click on any below to see their website):
Ways and Means
Education and Labor
House Armed Services
Inside the US House of Representatives Chamber
7. The Speaker of the House is the person in charge of the political party with the most seats in the House of Representatives. Today, the Democrats control the House and Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker
Bill to Law- What is a committee?
- A committee is made up 10-45 members of the House of Representatives who craft bills pertaining to a similar subject such as education, defense, transportation, energy, etc.
- For example, if a bill was introduced to create a national test for each high school subject the bill would must likely be referred to the Education Committee where it would be debated and altered based on the testimony of experts and the public.
US House of Representatives Committee Rooms
8. Bill to Law- House of Representatives Committees Continued
- A draft bill is released to all appropriate government agencies and the public for comment.
- If the bill is not killed in a sub-committee than it is sent to the whole committee to vote on.
- The committee then meets to prepare a report on the bill. In preparing the report they might recommend that the bill be changed or amended when it is debated on the floor of the House before every member.
9. Bill to Law- House of Representatives Committees Continued
After the report a committee decides on whether or not to pass the bill on to the entire House of Representatives during the mark-up hearing, in other words, the committee can recommend that the entire House of Representatives debate the advantages and disadvantages of the bill. They also typically send a report explaining why the bill should be passed from the committee’s majority. There may also be a an explanation from the committee’s minority explaining why it should not be passed.
Bill to Law- Example: A bill to mandate testing
For example, if a the bill mandate every student to take a national test on each subject they take in high school it would probably be sent to the Education Committee by the Speaker of the House. The Education Committee chairperson would then send it to the Secondary Education sub-committee to review and report on. Only after the subcommittee reviewed the bill would the entire committee meet to discuss its merits, hear testimony from the public and decide whether or not to mark the bill up to the entire House of Representatives.
10-11. Bill to Law- Before the entire House of Representatives
- Once the bill has been marked up it is sent to the Rules Committee who decides the time allotted to debate the bill and other rules regarding the debate of the bill
- The Rules Committee then sends the bill before the entire House of Representatives who can decide to pass or reject the bill. If the bill is rejected the process stops there. If a majority of the members of the House of Representatives pass the bill it then goes to the US Senate.
- If the bill is passed in the House of Representatives entire process begins again in the US Senate.
12. Bill to Law- US Senate
Often times bills are introduced at the same time by a member of the US House of Representatives and a member of the US Senate. Either way the bill must begin in the committee it is assigned to by the Majority Leader in the US Senate.
The US Senate
Bill to Law- US Senate Continued
- Similar to the House of Representatives the bill is studied in a Senate Committee only Senate committees have far fewer members because there are only 100 Senators.
- If the bill is marked-up from committee it then goes before the entire US Senate
US Senate Committee
13. Bill to Law- US Senate Continued
Unlike the House of Representatives the bill will not go before the Rules Committee. In the Senate there are very few rules. As a result Senators can add many amendments and riders (laws or appropriations having little to do with the actual bill) to the bill. Occasionally Senators are very opposed to a bill and decide to hold up Senate debate by filibustering the bill (delaying any action on a bill by talking a bill to death- the longest filibuster was by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond who spoke for over 24 hours straight in opposition to the 1959 Civil Rights bill). A filibuster can not be stopped unless 60 members of the US Senate agree to end the filibuster.
14-15. Bill to Law-Conference Committee
- If the bill does not pass through the Senate it dies.
- If the bill passes through the Senate in the same form as it was passed in the House of Representatives it goes to the President who can either sign it or veto it.
- If the bill passes, but in a different form from the House of Representatives it goes to a Conference Committee.
15-16. Bill to Law-Conference Committee
- A Conference Committee consists of senior (longest serving) members from each the House and the Senate assigned to it by each the Senate’s and House of Representatives’ presiding officers (most powerful members).
- They in turn come to common terms on the bill and write a report to send back to both the House of Representatives and the US Senate for a second floor vote.
- Most major legislation is sent to a Conference Committee.
Bill to Law-Conference Committee
Example: Bill to Law- Bill to mandate testing
- Lets say the bill to mandate testing in all high school subjects passed in the House and passed in the Senate, only the Senate version contains a rider on it to ensure $30 million of funding to the National Knitting Museum and the Largest Yarn Ball in America. The bill would then go to Conference in order for the House and Senate to resolve their differences.
17-18. Bill to Law- The President
- A bill becomes law if signed by the President or if not signed within 10 days and Congress is in session.
- If Congress adjourns before the 10 days and the President has not signed the bill then it does not become law ("Pocket Veto.")
- If the President vetoes the bill it is sent back to Congress with a note listing his/her reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers then it becomes law.
- Once a bill becomes law it is given an official number and can not be changed unless it is challenged in court or Congress alters it.
19. Bill to Law- Overriding a Veto
- If the President vetoes a bill the Congress can override it only if 2/3rds of both the US Senate and the House of Representatives agree to override the Presidential veto. Rarely are vetoes overridden.
Bill to Law in Greater Details
Live Footage of Congress debating whether or not children should receive health care
Senator Clinton Questions General Petraeus on the War in Iraq
Clips from Presidential Debate Debate
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- Democrat Presidential Debate Clip
- Presidential Press Conference