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How a Bill Becomes a Law

Although it can differ from bill to bill, in general the following steps are involved when each bill becomes a law:


Step 1

A bill is drafted.

Senators or Representatives may work to draft a bill or a joint resolution which may become law. Simple resolutions and concurrent resolutions don’t make law but may be used to publicly express sentiment or accomplish internal administrative or organizational tasks.


Step 2

The bill is introduced in the U.S. Senate or in the U.S. House of Representatives (or both).

Once the bill has been introduced, it receives a number.


Step 3

The bill is referred to the appropriate committee(s).

The committee members analyze the bill to determine if they will send it to the House or Senate floor. A committee markup must take place before the bill is sent to the House or Senate floor. Committees often hold formal hearings at which they solicit feedback on the policy proposal. The bill might also be sent to subcommittee for further analysis.


Step 4

The bill is reported.

The committee approves the bill and sends it to be placed on the respective House or Senate floor for debate. In the House, majority party leadership decides which bills the House will consider. In the Senate, majority party leadership does not use the same set of rules. The Senate can agree on a motion to proceed and ultimately to begin consideration of the bill. Additionally, the majority leader can ask for unanimous consent and if no one objects, the Senate immediately begins consideration of the bill.


Step 5

The bill is debated.

Members of Congress discuss why they support or oppose the bill.


Step 6

The bill is voted on.

In the House of Representatives, the bill passes with a simple majority (218 of 435). In the Senate, a simple majority is also necessary (51 of 100).


Step 7

The bill goes to conference.

If the House and Senate versions of the bill differ, a conference committee made of both House and Senate members will work out the differences. The resulting bill returns to the House and Senate floors for a final vote. Often, however, a bill is voted upon by one chamber and then the exact same bill is voted upon by the second chamber, upon which the bill is sent to the President.


Step 8

The bill is sent to the President.

Once the bill passes the House and Senate, the President must make a decision and has three options: (1) sign the bill and pass it into law; (2) refuse to sign, or veto, the bill—it will then be sent back to the House and Senate who need a 2/3 vote in support of the bill to override the veto; or (3) do nothing (pocket veto)—if Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes law after ten days. If Congress is not in session, the bill does not become law.


Learn More

Learn more about the legislative process as outlined by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Learn more about the legislative process as outlined by the U.S. Senate. 

Learn more about the legislative process at Congress.gov.

Learn more about the committees in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

To find a specific bill, visit Congress.gov.

Important Facts about the Legislative Process

  • There are 435 Members of the House and 100 Members of the Senate.
  • The Senate is led by the Majority Leader. The House is led by the Speaker.
  • Congress is bicameral and both chambers (the House and the Senate) are equal in their legislative roles and functions.
  • Only the House can originate revenue legislation.
  • Only the Senate can confirm Presidential nominations and approve treaties.
  • Enactment of law always requires both Chambers to separately agree on the same bill in the same form before presenting it to the President.
  • House and Senate rules and procedures differ.

References:

Congress.gov. (n.d.). The legislative process.
Retrieved from here.

U.S. House of Representatives. (n.d.) Kids in the house: How laws are made.
Retrieved from here.

U.S. House of Representatives. (n.d.). The legislative process.
Retrieved from here.

U.S. Senate (n.d.). Learning about the legislative process.
Retrieved from here.

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