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In the United States, How Does a Bill Become a Law?

The president is the last step for a bill to become law.
Both houses of Congress must OK a bill before sending it to the president.
A senator or congressperson writes and formally introduces a bill to either the Senate of House of Representatives.
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2014
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The process of making a law in the United States is relatively straightforward. The system encourages input from a number of branches of government, as well as from citizens, ensuring that lawmaking is beneficial for the country as a whole. Understanding the lawmaking procedure can make it easier for citizens to be more active in their government.

The first step in making a law is visualizing the law and introducing it to the House or Senate. Anyone can think up legislation, but only members of Congress can actively introduce bills. For example, a committee of civilians might approach their senator about introducing a piece of legislation, or the executive branch might propose a bill. A member of the legislature may also come up with a bill independently, because he or she feels that a law about a particular issue will benefit the American people.

A senator or congressperson writes the bill and formally introduces it, at which point he or she is regarded as a sponsor. In some cases, a bill has multiple co-sponsors, suggesting that it is a cooperative effort that represents the desires of multiple constituencies.

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Once a bill is introduced, it is sent into committee. Both the House and Senate have numerous committees covering issues from natural resources to the military, so a law pertaining to changes in the tax law, for example, would be sent to the Committee on Taxation. Once in committee, the proposed law is reviewed by members of the committee. They can choose to table it, meaning that the bill essentially dies, or they can make recommendations and release the law back onto the floor for voting. This step is important, because it collects input from the committee and organizations that might have contributions to the text of the law. In the case above, for example, members of the committee might hold hearings which include members of the Internal Revenue Service to discuss the proposed changes.

Voting and debate are the next steps in making a law. Once the committee has recommended a bill, it can be further discussed and modified until a vote is taken. If the bill is approved, it is sent to the other house of Congress, where the entire process is repeated. If both the Senate and the House approve a bill, it is sent to the president for signing. More commonly, both houses approve the bill with variations, forcing a joint committee to reach an agreement somewhere in the middle. With controversial legislature, the efforts of this joint committee may be a crucial aspect of creating a law.

When a law is sent to the president, he or she can sign it, indicating approval, or veto it, rejecting the law and requesting that Congress re-write it. If the president does nothing for 10 days, the bill automatically passes into law. If Congress adjourns before the 10 day period is up, the result is a “pocket veto,” and the bill does not pass into law. The entire process can be rushed through in a matter of days with important legislation, or it can be dragged on for an extended period of time as the law bounces between houses and committees.

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anon129441
Post 5

I think you are missing who could recommend a bill. But apart from that everything is fine. Sincerely, A student

MrPolitic99
Post 4

I always find it funny that people will often blame the sitting president for the passing of legislation or a specific bill. The truth is that while the president has the final action to put the bill into law by his or her signature, there are many things that happen first and there must be an actual author of the bill that is a member of congress. The president can sponsor legislation but in the end, a senator or congressmen must be capable of actually writing the words of the bill.

Our process can seem very convoluted at times but i think it is important to remember that we have come a long way from the days of answering to a king and not having any say in the laws that we are subject to. No doubt that politically, times are better then the past. That doesn't mean that the legislative process is perfect and I think that it is far from that but it still allows us to govern ourselves in a base type of moral law.

GraniteChief
Post 3

The part of the legislative process that never made sense to me is the way that the two houses of congress are capable of conforming the laws they pass into a single piece of legislation that can be signed by the president.

What committees or groups within these houses actually make the compromises that are sometimes necessary to continue the push of the bill into a law? Obviously there are differences that happen when the two parts of congress try to come together but it obviously works sometimes because we do have laws that have been passed and continue to do so. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that we are having issues getting timely legislation pushed through in a timely manner. I am not sure if this advantage of going slow to watch for error is the best method when we are in emergency circumstances. We need be able to act quickly as a nation, not just as a slow monolithic beast.

Burlap
Post 2

I think that the most incredible and stead fast way that our system turns bills into laws is the balance and check system that has to go through many levels in order to finally reach the president's desk.

Realizing that even after a bill becomes a law, the scrutiny that it faces never ends and that is a good thing. Even after our legislature and president have passed and signed a law, the judicial branch will continue to examine the law and hear appeals and law suits brought in the name of the law and can even be considered at the highest level of the supreme court to validate the legislation.

This massive and often slow system may seem like a waste of resources and a bureaucracy that has no means of over coming but it is because of this slow and steady movement that we are able to ensure that the laws being passed are quality and legal within the limitations of our constitution.

While lawyers will always be lawyers, there is some good that they do when they try cases on very critical and human rights significant laws.

fitness234
Post 1

I can't help but think about the classic song by School House Rock that sings about a bill becoming law. It always makes me think about just how uneducated people really are about this kind of process that is at the very fundamental base of our democracy. It is very disturbing that while many people actually have been taught how our law process works in elementary school history lessons, this seems to be forgotten very easily.

I think because people never really see the process take place and do not ever bother to follow legislation on its path to becoming law, they can't really connect to the sequence and fully comprehend what the individual steps are. Only when we treat this subject with great importance will the general public start to accept it as universal and needed knowledge.

Hopefully at some point we as a society will gain an advantage as being one of the most educated people on the planet. Unfortunately, we are far from it right now as surveys all over the world have continually confirmed.

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