1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

The Legislative Process

US Government Quick Study Guide


The Legislative Process - How a Bill Becomes a Law
In a typical session of Congress, well over 10,000 pieces of legislation are introduced for consideration, but only about 2 percent will make it through the legislative process to end up being signed into law by the president.

Introduction of the Bill
The bill is introduced in either the House or Senate. Spending (appropriations) bills may only be introduced in the House.

First Reading
In the past, all bills were read aloud, in full by the clerks of the House or Senate. This time consuming practice has been replaced by the printing of the bill in the House Senate journal. Once entered in the journal, the bill is referred to the appropriate committees.
Committee Consideration
The committee or committees considering the bill get input from the affected government agencies. In the case of especially important bills, public hearings may be held.

Subcommittee Markup
Subcommittees recommend that the full committee approve, disapprove or table the bill. The subcommittees may also recommend amendments to the bill.

Final Committee Action
After considering any proposed amendments, the full committee votes on the bill. The committee may vote to send the bill on to the full House or Senate, or to table it. Many bills die in committee. For more information on the congressional committee system, see: The Congressional Committee System.
Second Reading
The bill may now be considered by the full House or Senate.
Bill Reported
The committees report their actions on the bill to the full House or Senate, and the bill is placed on the official calendar.

Floor Debate
Senators or representatives debate the bill. They may also offer amendments to the bill, which are debated and voted on separately.

The Filibuster (Senate Only)
A tactic used in the Senate by opponents of a bill to block its passage. A Senator, once granted permission to speak by the presiding officer, may continue to speak indefinitely in an effort to delay a vote and defeat the bill. To halt a filibuster, the Senate must pass a "cloture" resolution by a three-fifths majority (60 votes). Rules in the House limiting the time allowed for all debates prevent filibusters.
Third Reading and Vote
The clerk will read the title of the bill and the full House or Senate votes on it. Votes may be taken by simple voice vote or by roll call.

Bill Sent to Other Chamber of Congress
All bills must be passed in exactly the same form, including any amendments, by both the House and Senate. Once received from the other chamber, the bill may be passed as is, defeated or passed with additional amendments.
  • If new amendments are added, a joint House and Senate conference committee is appointed to resolve differences in the House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill
  • The conference committee issues a conference report on the reconciled bill.
  • Both the House and Senate must vote on and either pass or defeat the reconciled bill.
Bill Sent to President
The President of the United States receives the bill from Congress and may either sign it into law or veto it.

Other Quick Study Guides:
The Legislative Branch
The Executive Branch
The Judicial Branch

Government 101
Expanded coverage of these topics and more, including the concept and practice of federalism, the federal regulatory process and our nation's historic documents.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.