A bill is a proposed new law or a proposed amendment to an existing law which has been introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. After a bill is passed by both chambers of Congress, it has to be approved by the President of the United States to become enforceable.
The first step in the legislative process is to introduce a bill in either chamber of Congress. Only a member of the House of Representatives or Senate can introduce a bill for consideration. The Representative or Senator who introduces the ill becomes the “sponsor” of the bill. A bill may also have cosponsor(s). Any bill that has officially been introduced in either chamber is then assigned a number. Bills originating in the House of Representatives will have “H.R. #” and Bills originating from the Senate will have “S. #”.
Once the bill is formally introduced, it will be referred to one or more House or Senate standing committees. The committee may consider the bill in detail or may further refer it to a subcommittee. The subcommittee conducts hearings based on the bill. Anyone having an interest in the bill can give their testimony either in person or in writing. After hearings on the bill have concluded, considering its outcome, the subcommittee may make changes and amendments to the bill. The subcommittee then reports or recommends the bill back to the committee for approval. If the subcommittee does not report a bill to the committee, the bill dies there.
The committee, after reviewing the deliberations and recommendations of the subcommittee, may conduct further review and hold more public hearings, or may simply vote on the report from the subcommittee. The committee then sends its recommendations to the House of Representatives or Senate. Once a bill has been reported, a written report about the bill is published. Then the bill is scheduled for “floor action” or debate before the full membership by placing it in chronological order on the legislative calendar of the House of Representatives or Senate. When the bill reaches the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate, debate for and against the Bill is conducted, and amendments may be made to the bill. Once debate is concluded and any amendments to the bill have been approved, the full membership will vote for or against the bill.
A bill approved by one chamber of Congress is then sent to the other chamber. The other chamber may approve, reject, ignore, or amend the bill. If only minor changes are made to the bill by the other chamber, the bill will go back to the first chamber for concurrence. However, if the second chamber makes significant changes to the content of the bill, a “conference committee” will be formed to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. If the committee succeeds in reaching a compromised version of the bill, it will prepare a conference report detailing the changes that have been made. Both the House of Representatives and Senate must approve the conference report.
Once both the House of Representatives and Senate have approved the bill in identical form, it becomes “Enrolled” and sent to the President of the United States. The President may sign the bill into law. If the President is opposed to the bill, he can “veto” it.