Section 7: The process of making laws:
The making of laws for the nation is a complicated process and in the past congress only two percent of bills became laws. Section seven of the constitution is fairly concise but the actual process of passing a bill into law is much more challenging. Unlike the School House Rock bill sitting there on capitol hill, most bills never do become law for various reasons. Below is a quick introduction based on the Constitution and the U.S. Senate’s flowchart and attachments for how a senate bill becomes law.
Bills must pass both houses before they become law and then must be presented to the president for their signature. The passage of a law can be a messy process since both houses of congress must agree to the same provisions in the bill for it to pass both houses. A bill may be proposed by a senator, representative, may come for the White House, be referred to the House or Senate by a State Legislature, Organization, Scholar, or Constituent. A bill will need a sponsoring Representative or Senator to introduce the bill into the Senate and the bill once introduced begins its long process of consideration. The one major qualification that the constitution stipulates is that any bill raising revenue must begin in the House of Representatives
If there are no objections to a bill being considered it is referred to an appropriate committee within the House or Senate, logged in the appropriate house’s journal, given a number, entered into the Legislative Information System (LIS) and made available in the Senate and House document rooms. The committee is then required to conduct hearings and is expected to hear witnesses from both called by the committee chair and the minority party members. Once the hearings are concluded the committee debates and considers amendments to the bill and determines whether the bill will be recommended to the full senate or house of representatives. A vast majority of bills never make it out of committee, in the 114th Congress (our latest congress, which began on January 6, 2015, only has had 6% of the bills make it to the floor for a vote). A bill that makes it through the process of committee markup a member of the committee may move the order the measure reported to the Senate or House of Representatives. It takes a physical majority of the committee to report a measure to the Senate or House of Representatives. The bill may be reported with no changes, with amendments in various sections or in one amendment as a substitute. What this means is that the bill if it comes out of committee may be the same, may have individual portions of the bill altered or amended, or the entire bill may be rewritten as one amendment.
For those bills that make it to floor consideration they are now considered by the entire House of Representatives or Senate (based on which body they are moving through). The floor consideration typically begins with opening statements by the chair and ranking minority member of the reporting committee and appropriate subcommittees. The first amendments are typically those offered by the committee. Each amendment must be disposed of either by agreeing to vote on it directly or to table it (tabling an amendment effectively works as a vote to defeat the amendment if the motion to table passes). While an amendment is on the floor a Senator/Representative may propose an amendment to the amendment (second-degree amendment) and the second-degree amendment must be voted on before the original amendment (first-degree amendment) can change. This can become a complicated process but once all the amendments are acted upon the bill itself can be moved to the voting process.
One fifth of those present can ask for a roll call or recorded vote, otherwise a vote can be by voice vote, unanimous consent or by division (a process for obtaining a more accurate count of a voice vote). For example, if a bill is approved by the Senate then a final copy of the bill (reflecting all the amendments) is prepared, signed by the Secretary of the Senate, and delivered to the House of Representative (if the bill comes from the House then this process is the same except that it goes through the House and is delivered to the Senate).
Following the example of a bill that comes from the Senate and is referred to the House of Representatives, the House will then act upon the bill in a similar manner to what the Senate has. If the bill makes it through the House of Representatives and it has no amendments to the bill the Senate passed (it is exactly the same bill) it is returned to the Senate to be enrolled (this is the final copy of the bill that passes the House and Senate) and is signed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House to be delivered to the White House. If the House has amended the bill the Senate may either agree with the amendment or request a conference. If the House and Senate go to conference, then designated members of both will negotiate to resolve the differences between the two proposed versions of the bill. Once a majority of House and Senate conferees agree to a conference report (a final version of the bill negotiated in the conference committee). Both houses must vote to approve the conference report before it is enrolled, signed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House to be delivered to the White House.
Once the bill finally passes both houses it is sent to the President who has ten days to act, or it they do not act it becomes law in 10 days (Sundays excepted). If the president disapproves a bill (veto), that disapproval may be overridden by a 2/3 vote of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. This does not happen very often (of 2,574 vetoes only 111 have been overridden).
The making of laws for the nation is a complicated process and in the past congress only two percent of bills became laws and yet it is a process that slow down the process to consider the impact of the proposed legislation. It is a process that by nature requires compromise for legislation to become enacted. In theory it should ensure that voice both in favor of and opposed to the legislation should be considered prior to a piece of legislation being voted upon.