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Chapter 12: Congress in Action Honors Classes, November 4 , 2013. How a bill becomes a law. tyeJ55o3El0 As we go through the steps, keep in mind how many opportunities there are to kill a bill. See, for instance,…. …this monstrosity:.

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how a bill becomes a law
How a bill becomes a law
  • As we go through the steps, keep in mind how many opportunities there are to kill a bill.
  • See, for instance,….
speaker of house
Speaker of House
  • The Speaker is the most important person in the House. The speaker --
    • Is 3rd in line in presidential succession
    • Must recognize someone before he/she can speak on the House floor
    • Interprets rules
    • Refers bills to committees
    • Puts motions to a vote and decides whether the motion passed or was defeated
the speaker cont
The Speaker (cont.)

The perennially tanned John Boehner:

majority and minority leaders
Majority and Minority Leaders
  • Wouldn’t you think that Boehner would be the Majority Leader?
  • Well, he’s not. It’s Eric Cantor.
  • The House Minority Leader is

Nancy Pelosi (former Speaker,

and the first woman to hold

that position).

the whips
The Whips
  • Their job is to count votes and whip up support from among party members.
  • The term "whip" comes from a fox-hunting job – the "whipper-in" – to keep dogs from straying during a chase.



the v p s role
The V.P.’s role
  • Virtually nothing (in the Senate, at least).
  • Has power to preside over the Senate but almost never does.
  • Is prohibited by the Senate rules from participating in debates.
  • Only real power: cast a tie-breaking vote.
president pro tem
President Pro Tem
  • 4th in line for presidential succession.
  • Like the president of the Senate, this is a largely ceremonial role.
  • Given to the senior-most member of the majority party.
  • Presides if V.P. is not there (or, likelier, hands the gavel over to some junior Senator)
  • Current: Patrick Leahy (VT)
the real power in the senate
The real power in the Senate
  • Majority and minority leaders (a/k/a “floor leaders”)
  • Majority leader –
    • Schedules legislation and debate
    • Is the spokesperson for the majority party (and in theory the entire Senate)
    • Gets to speak first, which allows him to offer motions and amendments first (a key tactical advantage)
    • Working with the minority leader, he will schedule “unanimous consent” motions – which is how most business gets done in the Senate.
senate leadership cont
Senate Leadership (cont.)

Majority Leader Harry Reid:

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

who looks like --

let s draft a bill
Let’s draft a bill

What does a

“bill” look like?


your turn
Your turn
  • You’ve been assigned to help draft a bill on one of the following two issues:
    • Mandatory alcohol testing in public high schools
    • Mandatory installation of driver tracking equipment in all cars
  • Your job: working in a group, draft a bill that best reflects your POV (roles will be assigned).
    • Bill should address the following:
      • Alcohol testing:
        • How frequent
        • How administered
        • Consequences of a failure
        • Consequences of refusing to take test
      • Driver tracking:
        • What is being recorded
        • Who gets the information
        • Consequences of disabling the device
        • Consequences of violating driving laws
        • Who pays for device
    • 10 points for bill; failure to come to an agreement results in a zero.
introduction of bills
Introduction of bills
  • In the House, bills go in “the hopper.”



  • In the Senate, bills are simply handed to the presiding officer.

The bulk of the work in Congress is done in committees.

  • Two most important kinds:
    • Standing – the vast majority of current committees
    • Conference – between House and Senate, to hammer out differences in bills passed by both chambers
committee chairmen
Committee Chairmen
  • They are the key players. They decide –
    • When the committee meets
    • Which bills will be considered
    • Whether (and when) to hold hearings
    • Who should be called as witnesses
  • Chairs are selected in part based on seniority, in part loyalty.
  • House Republicans have term-limited their committee chairs to 6 years. No other group has.
  • Committee chairs will usually manage debate on a bill once it leaves the committee and goes to the floor.
committee assignments
Committee assignments
  • Each Representative will serve on 2 or 3; Senators on 3 or 4.
  • There are a couple that all MCs would like to be on (like Rules, Ways & Means, Appropriations).
  • Otherwise, they will try to get on one that will most help their district (like an MC from Iowa will try to get on House Agriculture; an Alabama MC might try to get on Armed Services).
  • Seniority and party loyalty help a lot.
committees cont subcommittees
Committees (cont.):Subcommittees
  • Most committees have several subcommittees.
  • Committees and subcommittees hold lots of hearings.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a good ol’ fashioned public humiliation!
most bills die in committee
Most bills die in committee
  • Most bills die in committee (90-95%).

This is called “pigeonholing” a bill.

  • But committee can report it

out in 4 ways:

    • Favorably
    • Favorably in amended form (typical)
    • Unfavorably (rare; done to give full

House chance to weigh in)

    • As a whole new committee bill
  • If a committee is sitting on a bill for 30 days (or 7 in Rules Committee), someone can file a “discharge petition.” A simple majority can dislodge the bill.
so let s take your bill to committee
So let’s take your bill to committee
  • For the sake of time, we’ll select one bill from the House and one from the Senate and put it through an abbreviated hearing process.
  • Stay in character; ask questions that are consistent with your assigned role.
    • All members of one chamber who worked on the alcohol testing bill (and then driver tracking bill) will ask questions of members of the other chamber who worked on that bill;
    • the drafting group is to pick one “great idea” and one “not so sure” person to testify;
    • each member gets 3 minutes to ask questions, make statements;
    • Committee then votes to take one of the four possible actions.
a bill leaving committee
A Bill Leaving Committee
  • It goes first to the Rules Committee

in the House.

  • The Rules Committee must grant a “rule” before the bill will be considered.
    • Doesn’t always happen.
    • Or rule may be granted that imposes lots of limits.
    • The Rules Committee is VERY powerful.
on the house floor
On the House floor

If bill makes it to the floor, it may get a quick reading by title only (for noncontroversial bills) or it may get a line-by-line literal reading.

  • Often done in the “Committee of the Whole”, which is basically the entire House just sitting in committee.
    • Why do that? b/c you only need 100 members to have a quorum (as opposed to 218 for the full House).
  • Each section is read, amendments are offered and debated.
    • Amendments in the House MUST BE GERMANE.
house floor cont
House floor (cont.)
  • This is how the House is supposed to work:
  • This is how it can work:
house floor cont1
House floor (cont.)
  • Limit on debate: each Representative may speak (with Speaker’s OK) for fixed time. NO FILIBUSTERING(i.e., talking a bill to death) in the House. House majority and minority leaders will set the schedule for debate.

Jimmy Stewart filibusters

in “Mr. Smith Goes to


  • Voting: each bill may be subject to many votes, often procedural. Lots of opportunities to derail or at least delay action.
house floor cont2
House floor (cont.)
  • If approved by the House, it is “engrossed” – i.e., printed in final form.
  • Then “read” a third time, by title, and a final vote is taken.
  • Speaker then signs it and it goes to the Senate.
bills in the senate
Bills in the Senate
  • Procedure less formal in the Senate.
  • Functions by using “unanimous consent” (UC). If any one Senator objects, the UC procedure fails.
  • A Senator may filibuster.
    • Threat of a filibuster usually is enough.
    • Need 60 votes to invoke cloture.
  • A clip of an actual filibuster:
  • What a man looks like after filibustering for 21 hours:
  • How big a problem is the filibuster? See next slide.
filibuster cont
Filibuster (cont.)
  • This has prompted talk of a “nuclear option.”
  • Harry Reid (the Speaker) has threatened to change the Senate rules to allow the Senate to invoke cloture with a simple majority.
  • Why such a big deal? Because a simple majority could get a lot more (mischievous) laws passed than is possible today.
more senate floor maneuvers
More Senate floor maneuvers
  • May also use motions, quorum calls, other maneuvers to delay a bill.
  • Amendments need not be germane in the SENATE.
    • So you can tack on, say, a bill to reform healthcare to a bill about immigration.
a few more differences between house and senate
A few more differences between House and Senate
  • We’ve already seen differences in
    • Structure (House led by the Speaker, Senate by the Senate Majority Leader)
    • Germaneness rule (applies in House, not in Senate)
    • Filibustering (an option in the Senate but not in the House)
  • A few other differences:
    • All revenue bills (i.e., tax bills) start in the House
    • Senate is the only body whose “advice and consent” is required for Presidential appointments and treaties.
conference committees
Conference Committees

For any bill to become law it must be passed in the identical form by both H and S. Any differences? First chamber to pass usually agrees to the modified version.

  • But if differences persist, then either
    • The bill is ping-ponged or
    • the bill goes to conference.
  • Theory of conference committees: limited to a consideration only of those points on which the bills disagree. Practice: new material gets added all the time.
    • It’s another place to kill a bill.
the president acts
The President Acts


  • Sign into law.
  • Veto (which may be overridden by 2/3 vote of both chambers’ full membership).
  • Allow it to become law by not acting within 10 days.
  • If Congress has adjourned, failure to act within 10 days = a pocket veto.
the line item veto
The Line-item Veto
  • If a President doesn’t like a bill, he has only the previous 4 options. He can’t approve part of it and not others.
  • Congress tried to give him the power to veto part of a bill – called a “line-item veto” – but the Supremes said that was unconstitutional.
  • In Clinton v. City of New York (1998) the court said that this violated the “presentment clause” of the Constitution.
line item veto cont
Line-item veto (cont.)
  • Arguments for:
    • Smaller government and therefore fewer dollars spent
    • Strengthens checks and balances
  • Arguments against:
    • Legislation is often a delicate compromise; without the part that is vetoed, the whole bill might not have passed.
    • Gives President a LOT more power; may upset the “checks and balance” balance that we have now
how a bill becomes law
How a Bill Becomes Law

Putting the pieces together – “The Making of a Law”

jeopardy review
Jeopardy Review