Action on the Floor The course a measure follows at this phase is determined by whether it is in the House or the Senate. The law will be debated in both chambers of Congress, changes, including riders, can be made, and a final vote will be held. If you have an opinion on how a bill should be handled, write your senator or representative to express your view. Otherwise, don't worry about it; it has already been decided how this particular bill will be dealt with.
The length of time that a bill remains pending before being passed into law depends on how quickly it reaches the floor for debate. Generally, the longer a bill remains pending, the more likely it is that something will happen to change its fate. For example, if the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, the version approved by each body becomes law. However, if they don't reach agreement on a single version, then nothing gets voted on and the bill dies. Since neither chamber has the ability to kill legislation through procedural moves, these bills usually get settled during conference committee proceedings.
There are two ways that a bill can come up for a vote. The first is known as legislative action. If there is enough support for a bill in either house of Congress, members will offer it up for consideration. If the bill passes, it is sent to the other chamber for similar treatment.
To take up a measure on the floor, the Senate must first agree to bring it up—typically by agreeing to a unanimous consent request or by voting to accept a resolution to advance to the bill, as previously mentioned. Senators may submit changes to a bill only after the Senate has decided to take it up for consideration. A senator can delay action on a bill by refusing to consent to motions to proceed to it. As with other forms of parliamentary procedure, there is no requirement that a bill be considered by Congress during its current session. A newly elected president has the power to make appointments and nominations, which include filling judicial vacancies, and this authority cannot be overridden by Congress.
In the House, members can bring legislation to the floor by using one of three methods: motion, suspension, or discharge. A motion requires a member to state his or her intention to offer an amendment or a series of amendments to the bill and give those amendments sufficient time for debate. The House may also vote on certain procedural matters without offering amendments by means of a rule that permits the chamber to act on certain measures directly. For example, the House could vote to recommit a bill to a committee or force immediate consideration of a bill by taking it from the legislative calendar. Neither of these procedures allows for the introduction of amendments, but they do have other important effects when used in conjunction with other actions.
A suspension prevents further action on the bill until the end of the current Congress.
When a bill reaches committee, its members—groups of Representatives who are specialists on issues such as agriculture, education, or international relations—review, study, and rewrite it before voting on whether or not to return it to the House floor.
The measure will be heard in both the House and Senate. Following committee deliberation and amendment approval, the measure is scheduled for discussion on the floor of the chamber, which will normally debate and then vote to pass or defeat it. It is referred to as a "act" if it is passed in only one chamber.
The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader select what and when will be debated on the House floor. (A discharge petition can also be used to bring legislation to the floor.) Legislation is put on the Legislative Calendar by the Senate. Bills can be brought to the Senate floor anytime a majority of the Senate so desires. If no action is taken, the bill would automatically become law without further debate or action.
When the Senate votes on whether to proceed with debate on a bill, only those portions of the bill that have been previously agreed to by both chambers will be considered for final passage. The entire bill cannot be passed in one vote; rather, it must be broken down into individual sections or provisions and voted on individually.
If an amendment is being considered when the Senate decides not to proceed with debate, then the amendment itself cannot be part of the vote counting toward passage. Rather, the vote is based on whether to proceed with the bill itself without debating it first. This allows senators to express their views on particular issues within the bill without defeating it entirely.
For example, under this process if an immigration bill contains language protecting special interest groups from future changes to the law, these provisions could be included in a separate vote and would not affect the overall vote on proceeding with the bill.
After all of the discussion has completed and amendments have been deliberated upon, the House will vote on final passage. A vote to "recommit" the measure to committee is requested in several instances. This is frequently an attempt by opponents to modify or table a component of the proposal. If this motion fails, then the legislation will remain intact as reported from committee.
The Senate will hold a vote on its version of the bill, which may include changes made by it during its own deliberations. If there are no changes, then the bills will be merged into one document for approval by both chambers. If there are differences between the versions passed by each chamber, then these issues must also be resolved by joint session or through conference committee.
Once approved by Congress, the president signs the bill into law.
First, a bill is sponsored by a legislator. If the measure is released by the committee, it is placed on a calendar to be voted on, discussed, or changed. If the measure is approved by a simple majority (218 votes out of 435), it will be sent to the Senate. The bill is allocated to another committee in the Senate and, if released, discussed and voted on. This process can happen many times before or after changes are made. Finally, the Senate votes on its version of the bill which becomes the final product.
All bills start in the House of Representatives with a member proposing an amendment to existing law. If this amendment is agreed to by the member who proposed it and others, then the bill's author has the opportunity to release it from committee. (A minority report can delay release of the bill.) If the bill is not released from committee, it cannot become law without being passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.
Bills may also be introduced by senators. These measures are called resolutions because they have the same effect as laws - they can be used to create new laws or change existing ones. Resolutions must pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president to become law.