|Ramsey Library Research Guides
Congress is disorganized, overworked, and very little of what it does becomes
Lawmaking is the chief function of the United States Congress, although 95% of the
bills and resolutions introduced are never enacted into law. Revenue measures must
originate in the House of Representatives, but most other legislation can be introduced in
either chamber. Although less glamorous than floor debates, committees do most of the work
of Congress. There are numerous standing committees in the House and Senate that issue
important reports on pending legislation, hold hearings, or commission background reports
(Committee Prints) for their own use.
For an overview of the legislative process, see:
OF LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN CONGRESS
||H.R. + number
S. + number
||H.J. Res. + number
S.J. Res. + number
||H. Con. Res. + number
S. Con. Res. + number
|Formal statement issued from both houses
||H. Res. + number
S. Res. + number
|Formal statement from either house affecting itself
Bills can be "public bills," affecting the general public, or classes of
citizens, or "private bills," pertaining to specific individuals or
organizations. Public bills become public laws; private bills, private laws. Both are
printed in the United States Statutes at Large (REF KF50 .U5x).
Approved concurrent resolutions are also published in the Statutes.
Passage of a typical public bill through Congress
- A member of Congress must introduce the bill in the House or Senate. Similar or
identical bills may be introduced in each chamber. Bills are numbered consecutively
throughout a Congress, which has two one-year sessions.
- The bill is referred to the appropriate committee in the originating chamber, either
House or Senate. The committee may:
a. Never take action on the bill, letting it "die"
b. Combine several bills on one subject
c. Hold hearings, i.e. public testimony, on the bill or several related bills
d. Arrange for a special background report (Committee Print) for Committee use
e. Produce Committee Reports, issued as House Reports or Senate Reports.
- The bill is favorably "reported out" of Committee. an unfavorable report would
be very unusual, since such bills would simply be allowed to die in committee. The report
is followed by floor action:
a. Debate, which will appear in the Congressional Record. There
may not be debate.
b. Voting by the whole, or plenary session, of the originating chamber, recorded as a
voice vote, tally, or roll call. The bill must pass before it can be sent to the other
- In the other chamber, the bill, now called an "Act," is referred to an
appropriate Committee. The procedure described in 2, above, is again followed. However,
hearings will probably not be held again on the same bill.
- The bill is reported out of Committee for a vote by the whole or "plenary"
session of the second chamber. Debates can be held again, appearing in the Congressional
- If the bill passed by the second House differs from that passed by the originating
House, a Conference Committee is convened to iron out differences and agree on a uniform
text. The Conference Committee may issue its own report, which will be issued in either
the House Report or Senate Report series.
- The final version of the bill must be passed by plenary sessions of the House and
Senate. There may be further debate.
- The Act, passed by both Houses, goes to the President. If he signs it, the Act becomes a
public law. If he does nothing, the bill becomes public law within ten days. If Congress
adjourns within ten days, the bill "dies" on the President's desk ("pocket
veto"). The president may also veto the bill, but a two-thirds vote in both house and
Senate can override it.
The first six months it's "How did I get here?" the next six months
it's "How did they get here?"