Law making Process of the U.S. Government

The Law Making Process of the United States Government

The law making process in the United States government is carried out by the Congress, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In fact, law-making is the chief function of the Congress, and the legislative powers have been provided to it by Article I, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution that states: "All Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." The legislative process comprises a number of steps, starting with the introduction of a Bill in the House or the Senate, and ending with its signing into law by the President. This research paper describes the steps in detail.

Different Forms of Legislation

Most proposed legislation is introduced in the form of a "bill" in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, except that all bills for raising revenue have to originate in the House of Representatives. A bill becomes the law after its approval by both Houses and Presidential approval. Bills may be of two types of bills -- public and private. A public bill is one that affects the public generally, while a private bill affects a specified individual or a private entity rather than the public at large. Most bills presented in the Congress are of a public nature ("Enactment of a law")

Other forms of legislation dealt with by the U.S. Congress are the joint resolution, the concurrent resolution, and the simple resolution. Joint resolutions are similar to bills, except that a joint resolution for amending the Constitution approved by two-thirds of both Houses is not presented to the President for approval, but requires to be ratified by the legislature of three-fourths of the States to become law. A concurrent resolution is concerned only with the rules, operations or opinions of both the Houses; it may originate in either House, does not require approval of the President, and according to a ruling of the Supreme Court, is not legislative in character. A simple resolution is similar to a concurrent resolution except that it is concerned with the rules, operations and opinions of either House alone (Johnson 7).

Introduction of Bills

Legislative proposals may come from any of the executive departments of the Government including the President, from private organized groups or associations, or from any individual U.S. citizen. However, a bill can only be introduced for consideration in either House by a member of the respective House, while it is in session ("Enactment of a Law," para on "Origins of Legislation").

In the House of Representatives, any member of the House may introduce a bill at any time while the House is in session by pacing it in the "hopper"; no permission is required for introducing the bill. The member who introduces the bill is called the primary sponsor and the bill may have an unlimited number of co-sponsors. The bill must carry the signature of the primary sponsor for it to be accepted. Co-sponsors' signatures on the bill are not required.

The procedure for introducing a bill in the Senate is slightly different where multiple sponsorship of a bill is permitted. A bill (or resolution) is usually presented in the Senate by presenting it to one of the clerks at the Presiding Officer's desk without comment; at other times a Senator may introduce the bill from the floor and make a statement about the measure when introducing it (Johnson 9)

Role of Committees in the Law making Process

Perhaps the most important role in the law making process is performed by the House and Senates Committees that give an exhaustive consideration to each bill before it can move further on the road to approval. There are, at present, 20 standing committees in the House and the same number in the Senate besides a number of select committees. In addition, there are four standing joint committees of the two Houses, with oversight responsibilities but no legislative powers. The House and the Senate may also create special select committees or task forces to study specific issues relating to a bill, and for reporting on them to the House (Schneider 1-3).

The twenty standing Committees in the House of Representatives include the ones on Agriculture, Appropriation, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Ways and Means etc., each committee having jurisdiction over its own designated subject. Besides, there are three joint committees on Economics, Printing, and Taxation and two select committees on Intelligence and Energy / Global Warming ("Committee Offices" -- House of Representatives).

Most of the Senate Committees have also been created on the same lines as in the House of Representatives save a few exceptions. For example, currently, the four special / select committees in the U.S. Senate include select committees on Ethics, Intelligence, and Aging and a special committee on Indian Affairs ("Committees" -- United States Senate).

Standing committees generally have legislative jurisdiction; subcommittees handle specific areas of the committee's work, and the select and joint committees are given oversight or housekeeping responsibilities.

Referral of Bills to Committees

Immediately after a bill is introduced and is assigned an appropriate legislative number, it is sent to an appropriate committee(s) by the Speaker of the House or the Presiding Officer. The printed and electronic versions of the bill (along with the committee(s) to which they have been referred are then made available in both Houses as well as to the public.

Until 1975, the Speaker of the House could refer a bill to only one committee but according to current rules, a bill may be sent to multiple committees for consideration of the relevant parts of the bill that may fall within the jurisdiction of each committee. However, the Speaker is usually required to designate a primary committee of jurisdiction on bills referred to multiple committees (Johnson 10).

Consideration by Committee

One of the first actions taken by a committee, after receiving a bill for consideration, is to seek the input of the relevant departments and agencies, including the General Accounting Office about a bill. Although reports from these departments are given serious consideration, they are not binding on the committee.

Public Hearing: Typically, a committee sends the bill to an appropriate subcommittee for further consideration and public hearing, unless the full committee votes to retain the measure at the full committee. Anyone, including government officials, industry experts, or a member of the public with an interest in the bill, can present testimony (in person or in writing) about a bill at these hearings (Ibid, 13).

Mark-up: After the hearings, the subcommittee considers the bill in a markup session, in which the views of both sides are studied in detail and a vote is taken to determine the action of the subcommittee. The action may consist of reporting the bill favorably to the full committee, with or without amendment, or unfavorably, or without recommendation. If the subcommittee votes not to report a bill to the full committee, the bill "dies" at this stage (Ibid. 14-15).

Reporting" of the Bill: After receiving the bill from the subcommittee, the full committee reviews the recommendations of the subcommittee. The committee may, at this stage, conduct further review, hold additional public hearings, or just vote on the report from the subcommittee. If the committee decides to support the bill, it shall send its final recommendations to the House or Senate. Once a bill has successfully passed this stage it is said to have been "reported." (Ibid. 16-17)

Committee Report: The final committee action consists of the publication of the Committee Report that comprises the purpose of the bill, its impact on existing laws, budgetary considerations, and any new taxes or tax increases that will be required by the bill. The report also typically contains transcripts from public hearings on the bill, as well as the opinions of the committee for and against the proposed bill (Ibid. 17-18)

House Floor Consideration

All reported bills next enter the stage of debate by the members on the floor of the House.

Calendars: The first step in this stage is the placement of the bill on the legislative calendar of the House or Senate. The House has several "calendars" such as the Union Calendar, the House Calendar, and the Private. Those public bills, which involve raising of revenue, or a tax or charge on the public, are placed in the Union Calendar; public involves that do not involve a cost to the government are placed on the House calendar and the private bills are placed on the Private Calendar. The Senate, on the other hand, deals with fewer bills and has only one calendar (Johnson 20). The bills are taken up in chronological order for debate on the floor of the House but the more urgent public bills may be taken up for consideration, out of turn, following a ruling by the Committee on Rules.…