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How a Bill Becomes a Law 

Step 1: Introduction and committee referral
Once a Member of Congress introduces a bill and the clerical work of assigning a bill number is finished, it is referred to the appropriate committee in the House by the Speaker, or in the Senate by the Parliamentarian.

Step 2: Committee action
Once the bill reaches a committee, it is put on the committee's calendar. The bill can be referred to a subcommittee, or considered by the committee in its entirety. It is during committee action that the most intense consideration is given to a measure and its chances for passage are determined. If the committee fails to act, it in essence 'kills' the bill. During Committee hearings you have a great opportunity to impact the process. Providing oral or written testimony can be very powerful. It gives you an opportunity to put a face with the issue. IHRSA can help you prepare and submit testimony.

Step 3: Subcommittee review
It's common for bills to be referred to a subcommittee for further study and for hearings. During hearings, testimony from a variety of perspectives and entities is given. Some of you may have testified before committees in your state at IHRSA's request on measures relating to the sales tax, for example.

Step 4: Mark up
'Marking up' a bill means that the subcommittee makes changes or amendments before it recommends the bill to the full committee. If the subcommittee decides not to recommend the bill, the bill is 'killed.'

Step 5: Committee action to report a bill
When the full committee receives the subcommittee's report, it then has two options: it can conduct further study and hearings, or it can vote on the subcommittee's recommendations/amendments. The committee then 'orders a bill reported,' meaning that it votes on what its recommendation to the entire House or Senate will be. If the bill has budget implications, however, the committee report must include the report of the Congressional Budget Office, which 'scores' measures to determine their economic impact. The CBO develops a cost estimate for virtually every bill reported by a congressional committee to show how it would affect spending or revenues over the next five years. WHIP was 'scored' because it has a fiscal impact.

Step 6: Publication of a written report
Once the report vote occurs, the committee chairman will ask for a report on the bill describing the legislation's intent and scope, its impact on existing law and programs, the position of the executive branch vis-'-vis the legislation, and the views of any members who dissent.

Step 7: Scheduling floor action
After a bill is reported back to the House or Senate, it is placed on the calendar in chronological order. While the House has several different legislative calendars, in the Senate there is only one.

Step 8: Debate
If the bills makes it to the House or Senate floor for debate, there are very specific guidelines and procedures governing the debate.

Step 9: Voting
Following debate and approval of any amendments, the bill is either passed or defeated by the members who voted (a bill is voted on by the members present; a quorum is needed to undertake official business).

Step 10: Referral to the other chamber
After the House or Senate passes a bill, it goes to the other chamber. There, it typically follows a similar path through committee and floor action. The chamber has the power to approve the bill as it received it, or it can reject it, ignore it, or even change it.

Step 11: Conference committee action
If the second chamber makes only minor changes, then the bill will usually go back to the first chamber to be finalized. But when the second chamber makes significant changes, a conference committee is formed to resolve any differences If the committee cannot agree, the bill dies. If it does agree, the committee prepares a report describing its recommendations. This report must then be approved by both the House and Senate.

Step 12: Final actions
If a bill is approved by both chambers, it is then sent to the President for approval. If he signs it, it becomes law. If the President takes no action for ten days while Congress is in session then the bill automatically becomes law. If the President opposes the bill, he has two options: a regular veto or a pocket veto, and the legislation dies.

Step 13: Overriding a Veto
In order to override a veto, Congress needs two thirds of a quorum to vote in support of the bill.

Clearly, passing legislation is challenging and often tedious work. In order to pass legislation, agreement must be reached at multiple stages of the process. The many steps in the process present both opportunities and challenges. It is important to remember this when asking your legislator to support or oppose initiatives important to our industry.

Congress considers a vast number of initiatives, many of which have competing objectives or priorities. From adding his or her name as a co-sponsor, to working behind the scenes to keep a bill from dying, to voting once a bill reaches the floor, there are many options for action for a legislator.

Glossary of Legislative Terms

Act: Technically, an act is legislation that has passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate and become law. Many pieces of legislation are introduced with the word 'act' as part of the name, the WHIP Act, for example.

Amendment: A change to a bill or document by adding, substituting or omitting parts of it.

Bill: Legislation introduced in either the House or the Senate. The most common form used to introduce legislation. There are many different types of bills:

  • Appropriations Bill: Provides funds for authorized programs.
  • Authorizations Bill: Establishes a program and sets funding limits.

Companion Bills: Identical bills introduced separately in both the House and Senate.

Omnibus Bill: Bill regarding a single subject that combines many different aspects of that subject. Then, instead of the law on that subject being found in multiple places, it would be found in one- the omnibus act.

Engrossed Bill: Final copy of a bill passed by either the House or Senate with amendments. The bill is then delivered to the other chamber.

Enrolled Bill: Final copy of a bill that has passed both the House and Senate.

Caucus: Meeting of members of Congress of either party to set policy and/or to choose leaders. The Congressional Fitness Caucus is a group of members of Congress brought together by their mutual interest in promoting fitness.

Co-Sponsor: (see Sponsor)

Committee: A group of Congressional members assigned to give special consideration to certain bills/issues.

Conference Committee: Meeting between representatives from the House and Senate to resolve differences when two versions of a similar bill have been passed in the two chambers.

Concurrent Resolution: Legislative action used to express the position of the House or Senate. Does not have the force of law.

Joint Resolution: Legislation similar to a bill that has the force of law if passed by both houses and signed by the president; generally used for special circumstances.

'Marking up' a Bill: The process, usually occurring in committee, of analyzing a piece of legislation section by section and making changes (amendments and substitutes).

Pocket Veto: When the President does not sign or veto legislation submitted to him by Congress within 10 days of adjournment, the bill dies.

Resolution: A measure passed only in one house to express its sentiment. A simple resolution, like a concurrent resolution, does not have the force of law.

Sponsor: The Representative or Senator who introduces the bill (additional sponsors can then sign on as co-sponsors).

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