How a BILL becomes a LAW Description:

Legislation is Introduced



Legislation is handed to the clerk of the House or placed in the hopper.



Members must gain recognition of the presiding officer to announce the introduction of a bill during the morning hour. If any senator objects, the introduction of the bill is postponed until the next day.


         Any member can introduce a piece of legislation

         The bill is assigned a number. (e.g. HR 1 or S 1)

         The bill is labeled with the sponsor's name.

         The bill is sent to the Government Printing Office (GPO) and copies are made.

         Senate bills can be jointly sponsored.

         Members can cosponsor the piece of Legislation.


The Committee Process


         The bill is referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate.

         A bill may be referred to more than one committee, and it may be split so that parts are sent to different committees.

         Failure to act on a bill is equivalent to killing it.


Committee Steps:


         Bill can be assigned to subcommittee by Chairman.

         Hearings may be held.

         Subcommittees report their findings to the full committee.

         Finally there is a vote by the full committee - the bill is "ordered to be reported."

         A committee will hold a "mark-up" session during which it will make revisions and additions.

         After the bill is reported, the committee staff prepares a written report explaining why they favor the bill and why they wish to see their amendments, if any, adopted.

         Committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in the report.

         The report is sent back to the whole chamber and is placed on the calendar.

         In the House, most bills go to the Rules committee before reaching the floor. The committee adopts rules that will govern the procedures under which the bill will be considered by the House.


Full Chamber Debate



Debate is limited by the rules formulated in the Rules Committee. Debate is guided by the Sponsoring Committee and time is divided equally between proponents and opponents. The Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be relevant to the bill - no riders are allowed.



Debate is unlimited unless cloture is invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane - riders are often offered. Entire bills can therefore be offered as amendments to other bills. Unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by "talking it to death."                                                                                                                                                                                                                       




         The bill is voted on by the full chamber.

         If passed, it is then sent to the other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration.

         If either chamber does not pass the bill then it dies.

         If the House and Senate pass the same bill then it is sent to the President.

         If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee.



Conference Committee


         Members from each house form a conference committee and meet to work out the differences.

         The committee is usually made up of senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committee that originally dealt with the bill.

         The representatives from each house work to maintain their version of the bill.

         If the Conference Committee reaches a compromise, it prepares a written conference report, which is submitted to each chamber.

         The conference report must be approved by both the House and the Senate.



The President


         The bill is sent to the President for review.

         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.

         If the veto of the bill is overridden by a 2/3 majority in both chambers then it becomes law.



Adapted From:

"Government 101: How a Bill Becomes Law - Project Vote Smart."Project Vote Smart - The Voter's Self Defense System. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.