How a Bill Becomes a


Several complex steps are Involved In taking an Idea and turning It Into a law.

Key Terms joint resolution, special-interest group, rider, filibuster, cloture, voice vote, roll-call vote, veto, pocket veto

Reading Strategy Sequencing Information

As you read, create a graphic organizer similar to the one below. In each box write a step In the lawmaking process, showing how an idea becomes a low. Add as many boxes as necessary.


• How are bills Introduced and how do they work their way through Congress?

• What actions can a president take once a bill has been passed by Congress?

lit ii "if sriaans to Action

"I have never seen a better example of Members standing together, working together, swallowing our legalistic desires and our budgetary restraint feelings. These are difficult times. We have got to act decisively. The American people expect it of us, and they will accept nothing less. We are doing that. We are moving today to provide humanitarian funds to assist in the cleanup, disaster assistance, and military action that Is necessary."

—Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, September 14, 2001. in the process of passing legislation in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001

Members of Congress honor the memory of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Types of Bills

It is Congress's job to pass laws that the nation needs. However, have you heard people say there are two things you should never watch being made—sausages and laws? Strange elements may go into the final product, and the process requires patience. One scholar has compared lawmaking to running an obstacle course. More than 10,000 bills are often introduced during each term of Congress, yet only several hundred pass all the hurdles and become law.

Bills generally fall into two categories. Private bills concern individual people or places. They usually deal with people's claims against the government. Public bills apply to the entire nation and involve general matters like taxation* civil rights, or terrorism. They may be debated for months and get much media coverage.

Along with bills, Congress considers different kinds of resolutions, or formal statements expressing lawmakers' opinions or decisions. Many resolutions, such as those creating a new congressional committee or permitting a ceremony in the Capitol, do not have the force of law. joint resolutions, however, which

Wr \W% jmjfr'-fet tere are passed by both houses of Congress, do become laws if signed by the president. Congress uses joint resolutions to propose constitutional amendments, to designate money for a special purpose, and to correct errors in bills already passed.

*ilpi?*-P Vfl> Concluding Why might public bills take months to debate?

From Bill to Law

Every bill starts with an idea. Some of these ideas comc from members of Congress or private citizens. Many more ideas begin in the White House. Other bills are suggested by special-interest groups» or organizations made up of people with some common interest who try to influence government decisions.

Whatever their source, bills can be introduced in Congress only by senators and representatives, Any bill that involves money must start in the House. Every bill is given a title and a number when it is submitted. For example, during the first session of Congress, the first bill introduced is called S.T in the Senate and H.R.i in the House, 'JLTic bill is then sent to the standing committee that seems most qualified to handle it.

Profile of the 108th Congress


How Bill Becomes Law Diagram

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Evaluating Charts

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What percentage of United States senators are women?

158 Chapter 6 Congress

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Public Hearing Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, speaks during a hearing on the president's 2002 budget before the Senate budget committee. Why are public hearings of bills held?

Committee Action

Committees receive far more bills than they can process.The chairperson is the main person to decide which bills get ignored and which get studied.'ITiose that merit attention are often researched and reported 011 by a subcommittee. Public hearings may be held to allow experts and concerned citizens to voice their opinions. People may also submit written statements for or against the bill.

Standing committees have life-and-death power over bills.The committee can (1) pass the bill without changes, (2) mark up a bill with changes and suggest that it be passed, (3) replace the original bill with a new alternative, (4) ignore the bill and let it die (which is called "pigeonholing" the bill), or (5) kill the bill outright by-majority vote. The full House or Senate can overrule the decisions of its committees, but this rarely happens. When a committee is against a bill, it almost never becomes a law.

Floor Debate

Bills approved in committee arc ready for consideration by the full House or Senate. 'Jlie bills arc put on calendars, or schedules, in chronological order as they come out of committees. The Senate usually takes up bills in die order listed. The House schedule, however, is controlled by the powerful Rules Committee, 'ITiis "traffic cop"

can give priority to the bills that are most important. It can also kill a bill by not letting it get to the floor.

When bills do reach the floor of the House or Senate, the members argue dieir pros and cons. Amendments may be discussed as well. The House accepts only amendments relevant to the bill.The Senate, however, allows riders—completely unrelated amendments—to be tacked onto the bill. Senators include riders to bills that arc likely to pass. Sometimes they attach these riders to benefit their constituents.

In the House, the Rules Committee sets the terms for debate. It usually puts time limits on the discussion, for example, to speed up action. The Senate, because it is smaller, has fewer rules. Senators can speak as long as they wish, and they are not even required to address the topic at hand. Now and then they take advantage of this custom to filibuster, or talk a bill to death. One member can hold the floor for hour after hour, delaying a vote until the bill's sponsor gives up and withdraws the measure.

The Senate can end a filibuster if three-fifths of the members vote for cloture. Under this procedure, no one may speak for more than one hour. Senators rarely resort to cloture, though. In 1964, during debate on the Civil Rights Act, the Senate waited out a 74-day filibuster by senators opposed to the legislation.

Chapter 6 Congress 159

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* How a Bill Becomes Law

Bill Becomes Law Diagram President

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Evalu a t Ing Charts

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Voting on a Bill

When members of Congress arc ready to vote on a proposed law, they may do so in several ways. In the House and Senate, the simplest is a voice vote> in which those in favor say "Yea" and those against say "No." In a standing vote, those in favor of a bill stand to be counted, and then those against it stand to be countcd, Today the House uses a computerized voting system to produce a permanent record of each representative's vote. In the more tradition-bound Senate, members voice their votes in turn as an official rccords them in a roll-call vote.

A simple majority of all members that arc present is needed to pass a bill. If a bill passes in one house;, it is sent to the other. If either the Senate or the House rcjccts a bill, it dies.

The Constitution requires that the Senate and House pass a bill in identical form before it becomes law. If either house of Congress makes changcs in a bill after receiving it from the other house, a conference committee is formed with members from both houses.They meet privately to work out differences between the two versions of the bill. Oncc they have a revised bill, the House and Senate must either accept it without amendments or completely rcjcct it.

Presidential Action

After a bill is approved by both houses of Congress, it goes to the president. One of four things may then happen.The president may sign the bill and dcclarc it a new law. The president may veto, or refuse to sign, the biD. The president may also do nothing for 10 days. At that points if Congress is in session, the bill becomes law without the president's signature. If Congress had adjourned, the bill dies. Killing legislation in this way is called a pocket veto.

If the president vetoes a bill, Congress has one last chancc to save it. As you read earlier, Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds vote of each house. This is not an easy task, though. In recent decades, Congress has managed to overturn only about one in five regular vetoes.

^¡ijLiLUxi^zh^lij Defining What happens when a bill is pigeonholed?


Checking far Understanding

1. Key Terms Use lhe following terms in sentences that relate to the lawmaking process: joint resolution, special-interest group, rider, filibuster, cloture, voire vote, roll-call vote, veto, pocket veto.

Reviewing Main Ideas

2. Contrast What is the difforoncc between public and private bills? What are resolutions?

3. Summarize Describe what can happen to a bill oncc it passes Congress and reaches the president's desk.

Critical Thinking

4. Making Inferences Why do you think members of the House of Representatives consider assign menl to Ihe Rules CommiLlee an important appointment?

5. Determining Cause On a web diagram like the one below, wrile all Lhe points in the lawmaking process at which a bill can bo stopped or killed.

Analyzing Visuals

6. Conclude Review the sleps lhal a bill must go through to bocomo a law on page 160. What do you think is lhe sLep in which the bill is most closely examined by Congress?


7. Organize Review what you have learned about the characteristics of the two houses of Congress. Create a chart Lhal compares and contrasts the basic characteristics of each body. Present your chart lo lhe class.

Assessment & Activities

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Section 1

• Congress is organized into two bodies.

■ Leadership powers include committee selection, bill monitoring, and leading sessions.

Section 2

• Congress has broad powers dealing with defense, -finance, and lawmaking.

• Congressional support staffs research bills, deal with public inquiries, and arrange appointments.

Section 3

• Members of Congress receive a salary, plus benefits.

• The support staff of Congress helps with the workload.

Section 4

♦ Bills are introduced in either the House or the Senate, travel through a committee approval process, and then are voted on.


Using Your Foldables Study Organizer

After you have read the chapter and completed your foldable, close the four tabs. Then write one more fact under each heading on the tabs. Check the facts you have written against your text. Are they correct? Are they different from the information you wrote under the tab?

Reviewing Key Terms

Write the chapter key term that matches each definition below.

1. president's power to kill a bill, if Congress is not in session, by not signing it for 10 days

2. government projects and grants that benefit the home district of a member of Congress

3. system that gives most desirable committee assignments to members of Congress who have served the longest

4. dividing a state into odd-shaped election districts to benefit a particular party or group

5. the part of the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to do whatever is necessary and proper to carry out its expressed powers

6. people from a legislative district

7. permanent committee of Congress that focuses on a particular topic

8. court order guaranteeing a person who is arrested the right to appear before a judge in a court of law

9. tactic for defeating a bill in the Senate by talking until the bill's sponsor withdraws it

10. person who tries to persuade government officials to support a particular group or position

Reviewing Main Ideas

11. Between the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate, which position has more power? Explain.

12. How are committee assignments made and leadership positions filled in Congress?

13. Describe two nonlegislative powers of Congress.

14. Describe three powers denied to Congress.

15. What are the three major jobs of Congress?

16. What are the qualifications for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate?

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17. What four things can happen after a bill has been approved by both houses of Congress and goes to the president?

18. Explain why the Rules Committee is such an important committee in the House.

Critical Thinking

19. Analyzing Information What is the relationship between the census and gerrymandering?

20. Categorizing Information Create a web diagram for this chapter. On each strand write as many details as possible.





Practicing Skills

Making Comparisons Reread the paragraphs under "Congressional Leaders" on pages 140-142. Then answer the following questions.

21. Which party—majority or minority—holds the most power in Congress? Why?

22. How do the duties of majority and minority floor leaders and party whips differ?

Economics Activity

23. Congress has the power to pass tax legislation. Explain how Congress might use its power to tax to influence our economy.

24. With a partner, research in the library or on the Internet how a bill becomes a law in your state legislature. Compare the steps in the state lawmaking process to the steps in Congress. Create a chart that shows the similarities and differences.

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  • valtteri
    Why might public bills take months to debate?
    4 years ago

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