Here’s a behind-the-scenes look into the process a House of Representatives bill goes through before becoming a federal law:
1. Introducing a bill
Any member of the House of Representatives can introduce a piece of legislation. Once the bill is written, it is submitted to the Clerk of the House or “placed in the hopper."
The hopper is attached to the Clerk's desk:
The Clerk then assigns the bill a number and title; for example, H.R. 1732. The Representative can also garner support from colleagues using Dear Colleague letters.
If you have a bill idea, we’d love to hear from you. Please call my Washington DC office at 202-225-7084 and speak with a member of my legislative staff.
2. Committee Review
The Speaker of the House refers the bill to the appropriate committee. The House Parliamentarian can also refer the bill to the committees. Some bills are referred to several committees, and are at times divided into various components, each of which may be sent to a different committee. Bills are subsequently placed on the committees’ calendar. If the committee fails to take any action on the bill, it is tabled and effectively “dead.”
Sometimes committee members send bills to the related subcommittee for further examination, usually in the form of subcommittee hearings.
Within the subcommittee, the bill is more closely studied and voted upon before the subcommittee sends the bill it to the full committee.
Committees of jurisdiction also have the opportunity to amend bills through a process called “markups.” This is a formal process during which Members of Congress amend bills and vote to forward bills along for full House consideration.
Watch me speak at a House Foreign Affairs Committee markup about my resolution concerning the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
If a majority of committee members vote in favor of the bill, it is then forwarded to the House floor calendar for debate. The House Leadership and the House Rules Committee then determine if the bill will actually be called up for debate and the rules for such debate.
3. The Great Debate
Once the bill has been approved by a committee and sent to the House floor, Representatives begin debating the bill. Representatives can offer amendments to the bill. When all necessary changes have been made to the bill, the Representatives cast their votes on final passage.
If the bill is defeated in the House, the bill cannot go on to become law. The bill can be voted on using a voice vote, with Representatives saying “aye” or “no;” division vote, where Representatives supporting the bill stand up and are counted; or recorded vote, where Representatives use the electronic voting system.
If a majority of Representatives approve the bill, the Clerk certifies it and sends it to the Senate. If a majority of both chambers of Congress vote for the bill, it is then sent to the President.
The exact same bill, with the exact bill number and text must be passed by both the House and the Senate for the bill to move to the President.
4. Conference Committee
At times, both chambers of Congress may pass similar bills but with some differenes. In this scenario, the bill goes to a joint conference committee of Members of Congress in order to resolve the differences between the two versions of the legislation.
5. To the White House
The bill can become law if the President exercises his executive authority and signs the bill. Conversely, the President can also veto the bill by refusing to sign it. If the President vetoes the legislation, it returns to the chamber of Congress in which it originated. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
In 2011, I had the great honor of being present as the President signed the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act.
6. A New Law is Made
Once the bill has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, and has been signed by the President, the bill becomes public law and is now enforceable by the U.S. government.
This page was written by Melanie Snail, Fall 2013 Intern. Learn about our internship program here.