The Federal Legislative Process
Introducing the Bill and Referral to a Committee
Any member of Congress can introduce legislation. The person or persons who introduce the bill are the sponsors; any member of the same body (House or Senate) can add his or her name after the day of introduction as a cosponsor.
When a bill is introduced, it is given a number: H.R. signifies a House bill and S. a Senate bill. The bill is then referred to a committee with jurisdiction over the primary issue of the legislation. Sometimes, a bill will be referred to multiple committee. The bill is referred sometimes to a subcommittee first.
Committee Action: Hearings and Mark Up
The chairman of the Committee determines whether there will be a hearing on the bill and whether there will be "mark up." Usually, a subcommittee holds the hearing. Sometimes a bill is marked up both in subcommittee and then in full committee, but it can have action taken only at the full committee level. A mark up is when members of the Committee officially meet to offer amendments to make changes to the bill as introduced. After amendments are adopted or rejected, the chairman moves to vote the bill favorably out of Committee. The bill will go to the entire body if the Committee favorably reports out the bill.
The Committee Chairman's staff writes a report of the bill describing the intent of legislation, the legislative history such as hearings in the Committee, the impact on existing laws and programs, and the position of the majority of members of the committee. The members of the minority may file dissenting views as a group or individually. Usually, a copy of the bill as marked up is printed in the Report.
Floor Debate and Votes
The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate determine if and when a bill comes before the full body for debate and amendment, and final passage. There are very different rules of procedure governing debate in the House and Senate. In the House, a Representative may offer an amendment to the bill only if he has obtained "permission" from the Rules Committee. In the Senate, a Senator can offer an amendment without warning so long as the amendment is germane to the underlying bill. A majority vote is required for an amendment and for final passage. Sometimes, amendments are accepted by a "voice vote."
Referral to the Other Chamber
When the House or the Senate passes a bill it is referred to the other chamber where it usually follows the same route through committee and floor action. This chamber may approve the bill as received, reject it, ignore it, or amend it before passing it.
Conference on a bill
If only minor changes are made to a bill by the other chamber, usually the legislation goes back to the originating chamber for a concurring vote. However, when the House and Senate versions of the bill contain significant and/or numerous differences, a conference committee is officially appointed to reconcile the differences between the two different versions into a single bill. If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If agreement is reached, a conference report is prepared describing the committee members' recommendations for changes. Both the House and the Senate must approve of the conference report. If either chamber rejects the conference report, the bill dies.
Action by the President
After the conference report has been approved by both the House and Senate, the final bill is sent to the President. If the President approves of the legislation, he signs it and it becomes law. If the President does not action for ten days while Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes law. If the President opposes the bill he can veto it; or, if he takes no action after the Congress has adjourned its second session, it is a "pocket veto" and the legislation dies.
Overriding a Veto
If the President vetoes a bill, Congress may decide to attempt to "override the veto." This requires a two-thirds roll call vote of the members who are present in sufficient numbers for a quorum.