The Legislative Process: From Bill to Law

The Legislative Process: From Bill to Law

( – Did you know only about 4% of bills introduced in Congress become law? That’s because the legislative process is not simple to navigate. Any member of Congress can introduce legislation, but nearly all of the bills die in committee.

The process is purposefully challenging to ensure only solid pieces of legislation become law. So, how exactly does that happen?

The Legislative Process

Way back in 1976, the television show Schoolhouse Rock! aired a segment that featured a catchy song about the legislative process dubbed “I’m Just a Bill.” The short animated show taught kids how a bill becomes a law on Capitol Hill.

It explains how representatives take ideas from their constituents, write a bill, and introduce it. Lawmakers decide where it will go during a committee meeting, and then Congress votes on it; if approved, it will go to the president’s desk. If he signs the bill it becomes a law.

Of course, that’s a simplified version of the process. Ordinarily, it’s very complicated.

Off to Committee

When a bill is introduced to Congress, it is assigned to a committee composed of lawmakers from both parties. They debate on the bill and decide whether or not to release it to the full chamber. This works the same way in both the Senate and the House.

Most bills never make it past this stage.

The Chambers Vote

If the bills make it out of committee, they go to the floor for a vote. The entire House will vote on the legislation and, if a simple majority (218) approves, it is sent over to the Senate.

The Senate will debate on the bill and decide whether or not it should be brought to the floor for a full vote. It might change the language of the bill during this process. If approved, it will go to the floor for a full vote and, if it receives a simple majority, it goes back to the other chamber for approval.

There is a caveat to the process in the Senate. Senators could block the bill with a filibuster. If that happens, the legislation would need 60 votes, not 51, to pass.

After both chambers vote, they send representatives to negotiate with one another to reconcile any differences in the bill. Then both the House and the Senate vote on the final language of the bill.

The President’s Job

If the Senate and House approve the final language, the bill goes to the president’s desk for his approval. He must sign the legislation to make it a law. His other option is called a veto, and Congress would have to override him if they feel strongly enough about the legislation. To override a veto, Congress needs a 2/3 majority vote instead of just a simple majority.

That’s how a bill becomes a law. Sorry, it’s the grown-up and much less entertaining explanation of the Schoolhouse Rock segment but you get point.

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