Laws are an important part of society, setting rules that help to guarantee our rights, determine what is or isn’t a crime, and determine how our tax dollars will be spent. Before a new idea can become law, it must be approved by the United States Congress. This is why members of Congress are often referred to as lawmakers. Congress consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. A bill must go through a series of steps to be approved by the federal government and become a law.
Step 1: Introduction of Legislation
The first step in the process of creating a law is for an initial bill to be proposed in Congress. A bill may be proposed by any member of Congress, but the process is different based on if the bill is introduced in the House of Representatives or in the Senate. If the bill is proposed in the House of Representatives, it is given to the clerk, who will assign a number to the bill. This helps members of Congress keep track of all of the bills that are being discussed. In the Senate, a bill may be introduced by giving it to the presiding officer or by introducing it directly on the Senate floor.
- What Are the Differences in the Ways the House and Senate Conduct Debates on a Bill?
- How a Bill Becomes a Law
- How Laws Are Made
Step 2: Committee Action
Once a bill has been introduced in Congress, it is then typically sent to a committee for review. Committees are small groups made up of members of Congress. These small groups focus on one subject, like education, trade, or energy, and they make sure that bills are properly reviewed. Both the House and Senate have their own committees to help review bills during the lawmaking process.
- The Role of Committees in the Legislative Process
- List of United States Congressional Committees
- The Importance of Committees
- The Congressional Committee System
Step 3: Floor Action
After a bill has been reviewed by a committee, the committee can send it to the floor for debate. At this point in the process, members of Congress may propose adding amendments, or changes, to the bill. While the House of Representatives has strict rules on debate, the Senate does not. Senators may choose to extend the debate by speaking for a long time in an effort to block a vote on the bill. This is called a filibuster.
Step 4: Chamber Vote
After the debate has finished, the bill will come to a vote by all members of the chamber. In the House of Representatives, a majority vote is required to pass a bill. However, in the Senate, 60 of the 100 members must vote yes. The 60-vote rule in the Senate is designed to ensure that all bills have at least some support from both parties.
Step 5: Conference Committees
Once a bill has passed one chamber of Congress, it must then be sent to the other. For a bill to become law, it must be approved by both chambers. When a House bill is sent to the Senate or a Senate bill is sent to the House, the new chamber often amends the bill so enough people will support it for it to pass in that chamber. Conference committees are formed to work out the differences in the two versions of the bill until the two chambers can agree on a final version.
- How a Congressional Conference Committee Works
- When Bills Go to a Conference Committee, What Happens?
- Legislative Process 101: Conference Committee
Step 6: Presidential Action
After a bill has been debated, voted on, and approved by both chambers of Congress, it is sent to the president. The president can then approve and sign the bill, making it a law. If the president chooses not to approve the bill, they can instead choose to veto it. If a bill is vetoed, it is sent back to Congress. Beginning with the chamber that first proposed the bill, Congress may choose to change the bill to get the president’s approval. But if enough members of Congress support the bill, they can vote to override the president’s veto so that the original bill will become law.
- The Presidential Veto
- Can the President’s Veto Be Overridden?
- The Presidential Veto in the Passage of Law
- Presidential Vetoes
Step 7: The Creation of a Law
Once a bill has passed through all of the legislative steps in Congress and been approved by the president, the Office of the Federal Register assigns a number to the new law and publishes it for everyone to read and follow.