All Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
~Article I, Section 1, of the United States Constitution
Those simple words grant the US congress the power to make the laws of our land. The actual procedure, by design and even when it works smoothly, is long and tedious.
For instance, say you’re a member of the US House of Representatives proposing a new law—called a “bill”—for consideration. Here’s an example of the legislative process.
- 1. As the sponsor of the bill, you sign it and place it in a box, or “hopper”, at the desk of the clerk, pending formal introduction. Your bill is given a number, assigned to a committee, and printed by the Government Printing Office.
- 2. If the committee releases your bill, as opposed to changing it or tabling it, it will go on the calendar to be debated, amended, and/or voted on by the rest of your colleagues. A “simple majority” yes vote of 218 of the 435 members of the house of representatives will get your bill to the senate.
- 3. In the senate, the process starts over. The senate can pass the bill with a simple majority of 51 senators. If the senate committee changes any of the wording, your bill is sent back to the house for reevaluation.
- 4. The house can accept or reject the senate’s amendments, or the whole bill as now proposed by the senate. A “joint” committee consisting of house and senate members will schedule hearings to work out details that differ between the two versions of your bill. These are known as “markup” sessions.
- 5. When all the issues are resolved and both bills are identical, the next step is a final vote of approval by both the house and senate. After approval, the bill is considered “enrolled.”
- 6. The enrolled bill, which may or may not resemble your original bill, is printed and sent to the president. The president has ten days in which to veto your bill, return it to congress for further revision, do nothing, or sign it. If your bill is vetoed, congress can vote again to override the veto. If the president chooses to do nothing, your bill will become law if congress is in session, or will be considered vetoed if congress has adjourned.
- 7. Once signed, your bill becomes the law of the land. At that point, the new law takes effect immediately, unless you specified a different start date. The document itself is sent to the National Archives and Records Administration, and the executive departments or agencies empowered to carry it out or enforce it begin to create regulations.