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How a Bill
Becomes a Law

In the Congress there are two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The two chambers use the same process for passing legislation, although there are differences in rules and jurisdiction. During the 111th Congress (2009 - 2010), 10,237 bills were introduced and 366 were enacted.

How to Use the Infographic

We have created an infographic to demonstrate the legislative process and illustrate all the steps that a bill must go through before it becomes a law. Each box represents a unique step in the process. If you move your cursor over the boxes, text appears in the middle of the page that provides additional information related to that step in the process.

A Bill is Introduced

  • Anyone may draft a bill (representative, a state legislature, the people, the executive branch).
  • Only members of congress in the House or Senate can introduce the bill (by doing so, they become the sponsors of the bill).

Referred to Appropriate Committee

  • After the bill is introduced, it is referred to an appropriate committee.
  • The bill is examined carefully and if the committee does not act on a bill, the bill becomes “dead”.

Subcommittee Review and Markup

  • Often, bills are referred to subcommittees for study and hearings.
  • Hearings provide the opportunity to record the views of the executive branch, public officials and supporters, experts, and opponents of the legislation.
  • When hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet to make changes and amendments. The subcommittee then decides whether to report it (recommend it) to the full committee.
  • If a subcommittee votes not to report legislation to the full committee, the bill dies.

Committee Review, Mark Up and Vote on Bill

  • The full committee can hold hearings, and during markups, consider other amendments.
  • The full committee votes to determine if the bill advances to the Floor of that chamber (House or Senate).
  • The bill can fail in full committee and cannot advance without a full committee vote.

Chamber Debates and Votes on Bill

  • Voting is done after debate and approval of any amendments.
  • The bill is either passed or defeated.

Other Chamber Considers Bill

  • If passed, the House or Senate sends the bill to the second chamber where the process repeats.
  • The chamber may approve that bill as it was received, reject it, ignore it, or change it.

Conference Committee

  • It is formed when the actions of the other chamber significantly alter the bill to reconcile differences between the House and the Senate versions.
  • If they are unable to reach an agreement, the legislation dies.
  • If agreement is reached, a conference report is prepared describing the committee’s recommendations for changes.
  • The House and Senate must approve the conference report.

Both Chambers Vote on Final Bill

  • The House and Senate vote on the identical form of the bill.
  • If either chamber does not approve the bill, it dies.

President Signature

  • If the House and Senate approve the bill in identical form, it is sent to the president.
  • If the President approves of the legislation, it is signed and it becomes a law.
  • If the President opposes the bill, it is vetoed.
  • If the President takes no action for 10 days, while Congress is in session, it automatically becomes a law.
  • If the President takes no action after the Congress has adjourned its second session, it is a “pocket veto” and the legislation dies.
  • Congress may attempt to override a veto.
  • If both the Senate and the House pass the bill by a two-thirds majority, the president’s veto is overruled and the bill becomes a law.
Denotes where a Bill can Fail