How a Bill Becomes Law


  1. A bill is introduced on the House or Senate floor by a member of Congress
      • A bill can be jointly sponsored when it is introduced or members can endorse a bill by co-sponsoring it after it has been introduced
      • Bills are prefixed with HR in the House and S in the Senate
  2. A bill is referred to the appropriate committee within the House or Senate
      • Bills may be referred to more than one committee and may be split apart so that different pieces are sent to different committees
      • Failure of a committee to act on a bill is equivalent to killing it (most bills fall by the legislative roadside)
  3. The bill may be assigned to a subcommittee by the committee chairman for study and hearings.
      • Hearings may be public, closed (executive session), or both
  4. The subcommittee reports to the full committee its recommendations for action and any proposed amendments.
  5. The full committee votes on the bill’s recommendation to the House or Senate. This is called “ordering a bill reported.”
    • After the bill is reported, the committee staff prepares a written report explaining the purpose and scope of the bill, why the committee favors the bill, explaining any revisions
    • If there are committee members that oppose a measure, their dissenting minority statements are included in the report.
  6. The bill is considered on the House or Senate floor
    • The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide what will reach the floor and when.
    • In the Senate, a bill can be brought to the floor whenever a majority chooses.
  7. The bill is debated in the House or Senate floor
    • In the House the sponsoring committee guides limited debate and time is divided equally between proponents and opponents.
    • In the Senate, debate is unlimited. Members can speak as long as they want – this can only be halted by unanimous consent by “cloture,” which requires three-fifths majority of the entire Senate.
  8. After a bill is passed in the House and the Senate it goes to conference committee
    • A conference works out conflicting House and Senate versions of a legislative bill.
    • When conferees have reached agreement, they prepare a conference report embodying their recommendations. This must be approved by each house.