Over 10,000 bills are expected to be introduced in the 112th Congress. Only a fraction of those bills will pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by the President. The small number of bills signed into law is due to the long process a bill must endure to pass out of committee, pass both chambers of Congress, and make it all the way to the President’s desk. While not all bills are the same, a basic step-by-step process is followed for a bill to become a law. A much more in-depth discussion and presentation of the overall process is available at How Our Laws are Made.
Introduction of Bill
An idea for a bill can come from citizens, advocacy groups, courts, state legislatures, Governors, or local officials, and members of Congress use such ideas to draft a bill. Once the bill is written, it is introduced in the House or Senate and given a number. Members then have the opportunity to sponsor the bill and support it. Senator Murkowski introduces bills to the U.S. Senate. Once introduced, the bill is referred to the appropriate committee.
Committee Hearings, Markups, and Reports
Senator Murkowski is the ranking member on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Committee on Appropriations. Each committee has jurisdiction of different areas of public policy. Each committee also issues regular reports on its activities. Once the bill is introduced to the committee it may be debated during a business meeting. Senators may or may not make changes to the bill in the form of amendments. Committee members vote to pass the bill out of committee after it has been debated. If the bill passes committee it is reported to the Senate floor for consideration.
Floor Action, Proceedings, and Votes
When floor action begins members debate the bill. During debate, amendments to the bill may be offered which can also be debated. After debate ends the Senate will vote on the bill. A roll call vote records how each member voted. Members may vote “Yea” for approval, “Nay” for disapproval or “Present” if they chose not to vote. If the bill passes the Senate it is referred to the House of Representatives. The bill will then go through process in the House. If the bill passes the House with changes from the Senate version, it can be sent for review in a conference committee, comprised of members from both the House and the Senate. If the bill passes the House without any changes, it is sent to the President. The President can sign or veto the bill.