Federal Legislative Process
- Any member of the United States House of Representatives ("House") or Senate may introduce a piece of legislation, most commonly called a bill. The Parliamentarian of the respective chamber assigns it a number, labels it with the sponsor's name, and sends it to the printing office for copies.
- The Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate then refers the bill to the appropriate committee -- or committees in cases of multiple jurisdictions. The panel may then:
A committee may "kill" a measure simply by taking no action on it at all. If after these steps the full committee votes to approve the bill, it is "ordered to be reported," and sent to the full chamber for consideration on the "floor."
- Request comments from government agencies on the bill's merits;
- Assign it to a subcommittee through the chairman for further recommendations;
- Conduct hearings; and
- Hold a "mark-up" session during which it will make revisions and additions to the bill.
- In the House, most bills also go to the Rules Committee before reaching the floor. This Committee adopts the procedures that will govern the floor debate and the policies for amending a bill. The Senate has no such committee procedure. Senators may speak as long as they want on a particular bill, and offer amendments that are not germane to the subject. Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by debating it endlessly until it is removed from consideration.
- In the House, bills are placed on the calendar in the order that they are reported, yet they may never reach the floor at all. The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide which measures will reach the floor and when. In the Senate, the Majority Leader schedules for floor consideration bills that are placed on the calendar, but a measure can be brought to the floor whenever a majority of the Senate chooses. If passed, a bill 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, it is then sent to the President. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to a conference committee. Most major legislation goes to a conference committee.
- Members from each chamber form a conference committee, and meet to work out the differences in their respective measures. The committee is usually made up of senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committee that originally had jurisdiction over the bill. If the conference committee reaches a compromise, it prepares a written conference report that is submitted to each chamber. Both the House and the Senate must approve the conference report. The bill is then sent to the President for his signature to become law.
- A bill becomes law if signed by the US President, or if not signed within 10 days while Congress is in session. The President may not sign the bill, and veto the measure. It is then sent back to Congress with a note listing his reasons. The chamber in which the legislation originated 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 of the land in the United States.
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