About Congress

Want to know more about how Congress works? A House of Representatives bill goes through this process before becoming federal law:

1. Introducing a Bill

Any member of the House of Representatives can introduce a piece of legislation. Once the bill is written, it is submitted to the Clerk of the House (also called “placed in the hopper”).

The Clerk then assigns the bill a number and title; for example, H.R. 7176. The Representative can also garner support from colleagues by writing letters and setting meetings. Gaining support for a bill does not have to be a partisan issue, and often strong representatives work with all interested parties to benefit their constituents.

If you have an idea for a bill, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact my office and speak with a member of our campaign staff.

2. Committee Review

Typically, the Speaker of the House directs the bill to the appropriate committee. However, the House Parliamentarian can also refer the bill to the committees. Some bills are referred to several committees, often  split into various components, with each part being sent to a different committee. Bills are then written on the committees’ calendar. If the committee fails to take any action on the bill, it is tabled and effectively “dead.”

If a majority of committee members vote in favor of the bill, it is then forwarded to the House floor calendar for debate. The House Leadership and the House Rules Committee then determine if the bill will actually be called up for debate and the rules for such debate.

3. The Great Debate

Once the bill is approved by it’s committee and sent to the House floor, Representatives debate the bill. Representatives may try to modify (amend) the bill, and if so, all changes must be made prior to the final vote.

If the bill is defeated in the House, the bill cannot go on to become law. The bill can be voted on using a voice vote, with Representatives saying “aye” or “no;” division vote, where Representatives supporting the bill stand up and are counted; or recorded vote, where Representatives use the electronic voting system.

If a majority of Representatives approve the bill, the Clerk certifies it and sends it to the Senate. If a majority of both chambers of Congress vote for the bill, it is then sent to the President. The same version (exact bill number and text) must be passed by both the House and the Senate in order to move on to the President.

4. Conference Committee

Sometimes, both the House and the Senate pass similar bills but with minor differences. In this scenario, the bill goes to a joint conference committee of Members of Congress seeking a resolution of differences between the two proposals.

5. White House

The bill can become law if the President signs the bill. However, if the President does not support the legislation, the President can also veto (deny) the bill by refusing to sign it. If the President vetoes the legislation, it returns to the chamber of Congress in which it originated. If that chamber stills wishes to pass the legislation, the President’s veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

6. A New Law is Made

Now that the bill has made it through both Chambers of Congress, and has been signed by the President, the bill becomes public law.

Modified from an excellent resource written by Melanie Snail, Fall 2013 Intern of Representative Karen Bass.