How a bill becomes a law in Congress2019-09-16T12:35:26-06:00

Remember School House Rock? The legislative process is still the same today! Every federal bill starts with an idea or as a potential solution for a problem. These solutions originate with government agencies, lobbyists, special interest groups, or even constituents like you! From there, every bill must go through the following legislative process in order to become U.S. law:

  1. The bill is drafted. Legislators shape the idea into a bill using data, resources and research. They rely heavily on their staff, committee staff, and resources such as the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, and other experts. 
  2. The bill is introduced. Any congress member can introduce a piece of legislation, but they most often introduce bills related to the committees on which they serve. All bills must have a sponsor who is a member of the House or Representatives or Senate. The bill is given to the House Clerk or the Presiding Officer of the Senate for introduction.
  3. Referral to committees. The bill is then referred to a committee with jurisdiction over the primary issue of the bill. Sometimes a bill will be referred to multiple committees or subcommittees.
  4. Hearings and markup. The chair of the committee holds a lot of power. They set the schedule for hearings and markup.  During public hearings, witnesses may share different viewpoints on the bill. During markup the bill is debated, amended, and rewritten. This process of amending the bill will sometimes happen multiple times in different committees.
  5. Referral to the Rules Committee. In the House, the bill is often sent to the Rules Committee before consideration. The committee determines rules regarding the procedures for the bill. They may set strict time limits or prohibit new amendments from being made.
  6. Floor action. In the House, a bill is debated on the floor, but debate rules are determined by the Rules Committee. Each opposing side is given equal time with members getting a set amount of time for debate. Any new amendments must be germane to the bill. In the Senate, members can speak for as long as they want, which is how filibusters happen. 
  7. The vote. The bill is voted on by present members of the body. In the House it is passed with a simple majority of 218/435 votes; in the Senate a bill must receive a simple majority of  51/100 votes to pass. 
  8. The bill is moved to the other chamber. If passed, the bill is sent to the other chamber. If either chamber does not pass the bill, it does not move forward. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then it is sent to the President. If the House and Senate pass different bills, both versions go to conference committee to work out the differences before it is sent to the president for a signature or veto.
  9. Bill is sent to the president. The president has 10 days to sign or veto the bill. If the president signs or takes no action on the bill, it is passed into law. If the president vetoes the bill, it is sent back to Congress. Congress can override the veto with a 2/3  yea vote in both houses.