Start learning about the process of a bill becoming a law by watching the following videos. Each video breaks down the process for a bill passing through Congress and becoming a law. Try to follow the different steps in each video that we will break down.
Before reading through the steps, try to follow the flow chart after watching the two videos.
Image provided by Aaron Hughes
Step 1 - A Bill is Written by a Sponsor
The first step in a bill becoming a law is someone needs to write it. It might seem pretty straightforward, but the president can't a sign a bill that hasn't been written, which means there would be no laws!! ANARCHY!! Typically, there will be one or two sponsors on any given bill.
Step 2 - Committees
The next place we need to look is the role of committees. There are a few different types of committees: Standing, select, joint, conference, and rules (only in the House). They each have a different purpose. Committees occur and meet to discuss things in smaller groups than the entire Senate or the entire House.
These committees are permanent and the most common type of a comittee. They are typically made up Congressman who are interested in a certain topic. For instance, if you had an interest in the conditions of farmers, you might try to get on the Committee on Agriculture. If you have an interest in the military, you might try to get on the Armed Forces Committee of Committee on Foreign Affairs. These committees are typically labeled by what chamber they are in. Examlpe: the Senate Committee on Education.
Another name for Select committees would be special comittees. These are temporary committees that are set up for a particular purpose. Once they have finished, the committee will dissolve.
Joint committees are exactly what they sound to be. They are committees that are made up of members from both the Senate and the House.
A conference committee is a specific type of joint committee. It is therefore made up of members of both the House and Senate. In a conference committee, the goal is to reconcile any differences between the House and Senate regarding a specific bill. If both house have passed different versions of the same bill, they will not send two versions to the president. They will instead send it to the conference committee and work out changes. Once they have agreed on a compromise, they will send it back to each chamber, and then send one version to the president for a signature.
Within each standing committee, there are typically subcommittees where bills will be initially reviewed. If they are reported out favorably, they will go to the entire committee. If they are reported out favorably here, they will then go to the floor for debate. In the committee session, most bills will be "marked up" to try and give them the best chance of passing. This means changes and amendments to the bill will happen with the hope of strengthening the bill. Sadly, this is where most bills end. Most bills will "die" in committee, meaning they are not voted out. Once a bill "dies", its life is over. The only way it can get another chance is if a legislator writes another bill and starts the process all over again.
Step 3 - Rules Committee (HOUSE BILLS ONLY)
Before entering the House floor, bills will go through the Rules Committee to receive the rules that will govern debate on the given bill. These rules will be limits on how long someone can speak on bill, and what changes (if any) can be made to the bill when it is debated in the house.
Step 4 - Bill Enters the Floor For Debate
Once a bill enters the floor, the real debate begins. Senators and Representatives will review the bill and make their decision. While most of the "mark-ups "happen in committee, amendments can still be made with the entire Senate of House of Representatives. For a bill to pass, a simple majority is needed. If the bills is passed, it will move on to step 5.
Step 5 - Bill Moves On To Other House
After a bill is passed through one chamber, it must move on to the other. For a bill to make it to the president, it has to pass both chambers. Once a bill is received from the opposite chamber, it will begin debate. For a bill to be passed here, it is again a simple majority. If the bill is passed with not chnages it will move to step 7 . If the bill is passed but amended, and is now different from how it passed the other chamber, a conference committee will be set up with step 6. If the bill does not pass with majority, it has died.
Step 6 - Conference Committee
When a bill passes one chamber, and the other chamber passes a different version, how do you decide which one will go to the president? The answer, as you should know from above, is a conference committee. Members of both the Senate and the House will meet to make a compromise and agree on one version. Once they have agreed, this will be sent back to each chamber to be voted on, hopefully passing both. If is passed, it will move on to step 7 and the president.
Step 7 - President's Signature
Once a bill has passed through the legislative branch and onto the president's desk, the president has two options. He can either agree to make it a law by signing it (or not doing anything to it for 10 days when Congress is in session) or not make it a law by vetoing it (or not do anything to it for 10 days when Congress is NOT in Session - POCKET VETO). If the president signs the bill, it becomes a law, and the bill has made it through the difficult journey! If it is vetoed, not a pocket veto but a regular veto, there is still hope!
Step 8 - Override the Veto
If the president decides to veto the bill, there is still a small glimmer of hope. The last chance: the veto override. For a veto override to occur, and the bill to become a law without the president's signature, both chambers to pass it one last time. But this time, it is more difficult. They need to pass it with a 2/3 vote. This is much more difficult and explains why veto overrides are so rare. If they are able to pass 2/3 in each chamber, the bill becomes a law, and its journey is over!! If it does not pass with a 2/3 vote, the bill has exhausted all hope of becoming a law, and would need to go back to step 1 to try again.
Using an idea for a bill starting from step one, let's see if we can follow the process.
YouTube video courtesy of Aaron Hughes