Legislative Process

What is a government other than a group of people creating laws to govern society? The philosophy, theory, and ideologies of where that power comes from are sources of constant political debate. But at its core, the function of government is to make laws. Often maligned for its slow and cumbersome nature, the legislative process in which a proposed bill becomes a law in the United States is a nuanced and sometimes complicated system to understand.

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At what point in the process is the actual language of a bill written in the legislative process? 

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True or False: The Legislative Process is a system of rules and processes used to create a law in the U.S. Congress that cannot be altered. 

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Who sets the legislative agenda for the House and Senate? 

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Bills regarding taxation and budget must originate in the _____________________. 

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The process to determine a bill's final language is called ___________. 

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The process of having 60 votes in the senate to close and limit debate time is called a __________. 

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True or False: the Filibuster is a tactic that is only used in the Senate, as there are no established limits on debate time and amendments. 

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Who has the final step in the legislative process to make a bill into a law? 

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What is the most common method of ensuring that the bills from both chambers are the same? 

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If a bill is sent to the president within the last ten days of the legislative session, the president may have the option to not sign the bill, nullifying the process. This is called a_____________. 

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To override a presidential veto, both chambers must have _______ majority in favor of the bill. 

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At what point in the process is the actual language of a bill written in the legislative process? 

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  • Immunology
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  • Mo

True or False: The Legislative Process is a system of rules and processes used to create a law in the U.S. Congress that cannot be altered. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Who sets the legislative agenda for the House and Senate? 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Bills regarding taxation and budget must originate in the _____________________. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

The process to determine a bill's final language is called ___________. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

The process of having 60 votes in the senate to close and limit debate time is called a __________. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

True or False: the Filibuster is a tactic that is only used in the Senate, as there are no established limits on debate time and amendments. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Who has the final step in the legislative process to make a bill into a law? 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What is the most common method of ensuring that the bills from both chambers are the same? 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

If a bill is sent to the president within the last ten days of the legislative session, the president may have the option to not sign the bill, nullifying the process. This is called a_____________. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

To override a presidential veto, both chambers must have _______ majority in favor of the bill. 

Show Answer

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Table of contents

    Legislative Process: Definition

    In the U.S. Government, lawmaking power is held by the Legislative branch, described in Article I of the U.S. Constitution and the guiding directives of Article I Section 7 for the legislative process.

    Legislative Process:

    The rules and function of the legislative branch between the House of Representatives and the Senate to create a law. Originating as a proposed bill in either the House or the Senate, the piece of legislation moves through an established process, in theory, toward a vote of approval or disapproval in both houses and then to the President for signature into law.

    Legislative Process The U.S. Capitol Building houses both the Senate and the House of Representatives StudySmarterFig. 1 - The U.S. Capitol Building houses the Senate and the House of Representatives.

    The details of the legislative process can be incredibly complex, but its basic concepts are relatively simple. Before a piece of legislation can become a law, it must pass, in identical form, by both the House and the Senate and be signed by the president. If the president vetoes the bill, it can still be passed with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

    Legislative Process: Steps

    How does the process work, at least based on the established systems in Congress? And, is there more than one process to create a law? Let’s look at what is supposed to happen first; then, we will discuss the other methods of law-making.

    The Established Process:

    In the early years of the U.S. government, Congress established a system to create laws. Over time, they have tweaked the process and added more steps. The process in its most basic function is described below:

    • A member of Congress introduces a bill (any bill relating to budget or taxation must originate in the House of Representatives).

    • A subcommittee and committee craft the bill, meaning they write the actual language of the bill.

    • Floor action on the bill takes place in the chamber the bill originates from, either the House or the Senate, often called the “first chamber,” when discussing legislation.

    • Committee and floor action take place in the second chamber.

    • The conference committee works out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

    • The floor of each chamber passes the final conference committee version.

    • The president either signs or vetoes the final version.

    • If the bill is vetoed, both chambers can attempt to override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

    With a bit more detail...

    The list above is the nuts and bolts of how the process should work. Let’s take a closer look at the process.

    Creating a bill:

    The first part of the process, unchanged from the earliest Congresses, is the bill's introduction. Only members of Congress can introduce a bill, either by dropping the proposal into an actual wooden box called the “hopper” in the House or to a clerk of Senate leadership. The leadership of both chambers determines what bills will be added to the agenda of the Congressional session; if leadership feels the bill does not fit the political agenda of the session, it may be tabled.

    Legislative Process U.S. Representatives announce a bill in 2005 StudySmarterFig. 2- Republican members of the House of Representatives announced the CHINA bill in 2005.

    Even the President would need to have a Hosue member or senator introduce a bill on their behalf.

    Entering Committee:

    The next step is to send the bill to the relevant committee. House and Senate rules specify committee jurisdictions, and the bill is matched with the committee that best fits its subject matter. In the House, the bill may be sent to multiple committees, in practice known as multiple referrals, but one of the committees is designated the primary committee.

    Legislative Process House Financial Services Committee StudySmarterFig. 3- The Hosue Financial Services Committee meets to hear testimony from witnesses in 2007.

    Once the bill goes to the committee, the committee chair refers it to the relevant subcommittee, where much of the legislative work occurs.

    There are many stages in creating a law in which the bill can be “killed”, meaning the decision is made by someone or some committee that the bill should not be considered. Most bills will “die” in committee before any debate on either chamber floor.

    For bills that see some action, the subcommittee holds hearings, calls witnesses and experts, and gathers information necessary to write, amend, and edit the bill. The bill's final language is determined by a collaborative process called “mark up”.

    Mark Up:

    One of the steps through which a bill becomes law is determining the bill's final wording.

    During this meeting, members debate the aspects of the issue and offer amendments to change the language or content of the bill. After markup, a final vote is taken to send the bill to the full committee. The full committee then considers whether to pass the bill to the floor of the first chamber. At this point, the full committee also hold the option to amend the bill, pass it as is, or table it - which effectively kills the bill.

    Tabling: The act of delaying the discussion or adding amendments to a bill to push the proposed bill of the legislative calendar, effectively ending that version of the bill.

    Purpose of Debates in the Federal Legislative Process:

    When the bill makes it to the floor, it is placed on one of the various legislative calendars. Bills are removed from the calendar for consideration by the floor under a broad range of rules. When a bill reaches the floor, the majority party and minority party designate a bill manager, who is responsible for guiding the debate.

    Due to the number of representatives in the House, debate in the House proceeds according to tight time limits and rules governing the nature of amendments. Senate debate is much more open and unlimited in most circumstances.

    The debate of bills in the Senate is unrestricted unless there is a previous unanimous consent agreement, meaning Senators may speak for as long as they want and to offer any amendment to the bill, even if the amendment is not related to the bill. Debate may be cut off only if a supermajority of sixty senators agree on a process known as invoking cloture. Therefore, one senator can stop any bill by threatening to talk the bill to death if forty of his or her colleagues agree. This practice, known as a filibuster, strengthens the hand of the minority party in the Senate, giving it veto power over legislation unless the majority party has sixty senators who support the bill.

    Cloture:

    The process through which the Senate can limit the amount of time spent debating a bill - cutting off a filibuster - if a majority of 60 senators agree.

    Filibuster:A tactic used by senators to block a bill is to hold the floor and speak until the bill’s supporters back down.

    Legislative Process Senator Rand Paul Filibuster for 13 hours StudySmarterFig. 4 - Though often used in the legislative process, the filibuster is used in other aspects and powers of the legislative branch. Senator Rand Paul, above, filibustered the nomination of the CIA Director, which needs Senate confirmation, for 13 hours.

    What if the House and Senate Versions of the Bill are Different?

    The discrepancies must be resolved if the bill passes the House and Senate in different forms. In cases of minor bills, often one chamber will move to accept the other chamber's version. In other cases, two processes are used to resolve the issues: Amendments between chambers and Conference Committees.

    • Amendments between chambers process: One chamber modifies a bill passed by the other and sends it back. These modifications can go back and forth several times before both chambers agree on an identical bill.

    • Conference Committee: The most common way to resolve significant legislation differences is through a committee comprised of key House and Senate members. A majority of bills go to a conference committee. Sometimes the conference committee cannot resolve the issues, especially if different parties control the chambers and the bill dies. If the committee agrees on changes, each chamber must pass the conference committee's version, and neither chamber can add amendments.

    The bill is then sent to the president. If the president approves and signs the legislation within ten days, it becomes law. If the president objects to the bill, they may veto it within ten days by sending it back to the originating chamber, along with a statement of objections. The bill dies unless the House and the Senate have a two-thirds majority in favour of the bill to vote to override the veto. If the president does not act within ten days and Congress is in session, the bill becomes law without the president’s approval. The bill dies through a pocket veto if Congress is not in session.

    Veto:

    The president's rejection of a bill that Congress has passed. It can be overridden with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber.

    Pocket veto: The automatic death of a bill passed by Congress when the president fails to sign the bill in the last ten days of a legislative session.

    Changes to the Established Process:

    There are four methods a bill can become law that does not follow the intended method for various reasons.

    Other Systems for a Bill to become Law

    Change in Rules, Leadership, or Petition

    A discharge petition is when a majority of the members of a chamber forces a bill out of its assigned committee. In some cases, a form of the bill may be introduced by leadership and then removed from the committee to the floor.

    Adjustments Post-Committee and before floor debate

    Supporters of the bill may do this to increase the chances of passage. Sometimes the bill goes back to the committee after these changes, and sometimes it does not.

    Summit Meetings

    Meetings between the president and congressional leadership may bypass or jump-start the legislative process. The best example of this is budgeting targets. Rather than going through the Budget Committee, the president may meet with top leadership from both parties to work out a compromise that is presented to Congress as a done deal.

    Omnibus Legislation

    Massive bills that run hundreds of pages long and cover many different subjects and programs often require creative approaches by the leadership to guide the bill through the process.

    Legislative Process: Example

    Now that we have discussed the established legislative process and its possible deviations, let’s look at a real-world example: The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, H.R.1 (House Resolution 1) of that year.

    For our information and understanding of the political climate, Democrats control the House; Republicans control the Senate and the White House with President Donald Trump.

    How the 2017 Tax Bill was passed:

    In the House:

    In the Senate:

    The House Ways and Means Committee crafted the H.R.1, the House version o the bill, as all tax bills must originate in the House.

    Simultaneously, the Senate Finance Committee crafted the initial Senate version.

    The House Passes H.R.1.

    The Republican-controlled Senate is threatened with a Democrat filibuster and cannot pass the Finance Committee version without 60 votes.

    The bill is sent back to the committee, but this time to the less deadlocked Budget committee. The Budget committee re-packages the bill with a bill on drilling for oil - a bill that only needs 51 votes and cannot be filibustered. It keeps the title of the House bill, H.R.1, to “preserve” the bill originating in the House.

    During this time:

    10 Democratic senators try to slow the bill down by pushing it back to the Finance Committee.

    Several Republican senators state they will vote against the bill if any changes are made, forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cut deals on other legislation to add amendments to H.R.1.

    The Senate Votes: after 355 amendments to the oil reconciliation bill are proposed, McConnell’s deals are worked out, and the Democrat’s efforts to delay the bill are defeated in an all-night voting session. The Senate Passes H.R.1.

    The conference committee works out the differences between the House version of H.R.1, the heavily modified Senate version, and the House Passes the conference version.

    The Senate passed the conference report with additional amendments allowed through rule changes.

    President Trump signs the bill into law.

    Legislative Process: Significance

    The legislative process may be messy, but knowing how laws are made is vital for being an effective legislator and well-informed citizen. Understanding how a bill becomes a law, seeing the various stages of the process, and recognizing the various veto points at which a bill may die all help put into context the often simplistic complaints about gridlock and conflict. With a better understanding of the process, you can evaluate what Congress is doing more substantially.

    Legislative Process - Key takeaways

    • The legislative process is the rules and function of the legislative branch between the House of Representatives and the Senate to create a law.
    • There is an established method of moving a proposed bill through to law, as created by the systems and rules of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
    • Often, bills do not follow the established process and use other methods to bypass steps, committees, and rules. Often, a bill dies and does not move through the process at various stages.
    • Understanding the process and its deviations can help us better understand the gridlock, conflict, and partisanship that can take over Congress and the legislative process.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    At what point in the process is the actual language of a bill written in the legislative process? 

    True or False: The Legislative Process is a system of rules and processes used to create a law in the U.S. Congress that cannot be altered. 

    True or False: the Filibuster is a tactic that is only used in the Senate, as there are no established limits on debate time and amendments. 

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