Congress works diligently to ensure that the United States has laws and regulations to help this country run well and efficiently. Congress consists of the Senate and House of Representative who work together in the law-making process. Senators and Representatives create legislation, also called bills, to propose new ideas. The goal of creating bills is to someday have it passed into law, but the process that legislation must go through can be time consuming. In this article you will find a simplified yet detailed outline of this process.
How a Bill Becomes a Law:
Develop an Idea.
Write a Bill.
Discuss the Bill in Committee.
Debate on the Floor of the Senate or House of Representatives.
Send the Bill to the President for a signature.
Click here to watch a short presentation on the process of how a bill becomes a law from IFFGD’s 2020 Virtual Advocacy Event.
1. Develop an Idea
Bills are created from an idea. A bill is a new idea or an idea to change an existing law . The intention of all bills introduced is to improve the United States. Although a Senator or Representative must introduce a bill, a member of Congress does not have to be the source of the idea. The need for new legislation often comes from the community and/or constituents. Constituents are the people that live within the district or state that a Representative or Senator works for.
Many organizations, such as the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), make specific needs known to Congress and provide the base idea for new bills.
2. Write a Bill
Once an idea is developed and thoroughly defined, Members of Congress work to propose language for a bill. The goal of this bill is to provide a solution for the idea. A single Representative or Senator can create and introduce a bill; however, often multiple members of Congress will work together to draft a bill that best addresses the issue. Members of the Senate and House can also work together to ensure that similar or the same bills are introduced in both the House and the Senate. This saves from future discussion and debate. The Legislator(s) who introduce the bill are known as sponsors. By introducing a bill, they are known as the primary champions of that bill. Other members of Congress who want to show strong support for the bill, can sign on as a cosponsor. After being introduced, the bill is sent for assignment to a specific committee(s) for further deliberation.
3. Discuss the Bill in Committee
When a bill is introduced, the House or Senate introduces the bill to the relevant Committee to review it. The committee chair will thoroughly review the bill if they feel that it is necessary. This is conducted by a hearing in the committee. During this process, the policy experts, agency representatives, and other stakeholders are invited to testify on the pros and cons of the bill. They do this to ensure that it will positively affect the country. After holding one or more hearings, the chair of the committee can decide to hold a markup. A markup occurs when committee members debate, amend or change, and ultimately vote for or against the bill. If the majority of the committee members vote in favor of the bill, it is advanced to the Senate or House floor. Once advanced to the floor every Senator or Representative, relative to the chamber the bill is in, has an opportunity to review and debate the legislation. Sometimes, smaller, less debated bills will be included in related larger bills as amendments. This is done to help speed up the process a bill must undergo.
4. Debate on the Floor of the Senate or House of Representatives
After the committee chooses to pass the bill, it is then sent to the full Senate or House of Representatives for a vote. Here, the Majority Leader decides when a bill is brought up to be voted on. There are different types of voting for different bills. A bill that is non-controversial may be passed by the Majority Leader and Minority Leader. This is done after a discussion occurs among their colleagues in the House or Senate. This method saves time if a unanimous decision is shown when the bill is being discussed and does not require a full roll-call vote to take place. Bills will often require more discussion and debate. This requires a bill to be thoroughly debated on the floor of the House or Senate.
The House or Senate must agree to think about the legislation by voting on a "Motion to Proceed." As the first voting process, this indicates the start of debating a bill. Every Senator or Representative is able to speak for or against a bill during the floor debate. Multiple votes may occur during this process to move the bill closer to being passed. After everyone has had the chance to discuss the legislation, a “Motion to End Debate” is made. Once a bill has been fully debated, the Majority Leader will schedule a vote with all the Representatives or Senators. Once this vote occurs there is a final vote deciding whether the bill will be passed or not.
The other branch of Congress is responsible for introducing and voting on a companion bill of its own. The general processes must occur in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Ultimately, a law can only be passed if both the Senate and the House of Representatives introduce, debate, and vote on similar pieces of legislation.
It can occur that the Senate bill and the House bill will have minor differences. These differences have to be discussed before each chamber can approve the final bill text and then send it to the President to be signed into law. When this happens, a special conference committee made up of members from both the Senate and the House will work together to come to consensus about the different provisions in the bill.
After the committee discusses the bill, changes are made to reach an agreement. The House and Senate versions of the bill are made to cover the same information, adapting the desires of each chamber of Congress. Both the House and Senate bring the bill back to vote again with the final bill text. After this process the bill is either approved or denied by Congress.
5. Send the Bill to the President to sign
If the bill passes both the House and the Senate, the President then receives the bill. It is then up to the President to decide if the bill will be signed into public law or not. If the President agrees with the bill and decides to sign, the bill then becomes a law. If the President decides not to add their signature, the bill does not become a law. The failure of the President to sign a bill that has passed Congress is considered a veto. If both the Senate and the House vote to overrule the President’s veto, Congress can pass the President’s decision. For this to occur, it must pass Congress by a two-thirds majority vote. If that happens, the President's veto is overruled, and the bill becomes a law.
Visit Congress.gov to learn event more about how a bill becomes a law.