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Congress & Laws - Chapter 7


Section 1:        How a Bill Becomes a Law

Section 2:        Taxing and Spending Bills

Section 3:        Influencing Congress

Section 4:        Helping Constituents






Section 1:        How a Bill Becomes a Law



  • private bill

  • public bill

  • simple resolution

  • rider

  • hearing

  • veto

  • pocket veto

Types of Bills and Resolutions


"Bills are prefixed with H.R. when introduced in the House and S. when introduced in the Senate, and they are followed by a number based on the order in which they are introduced. The vast majority of legislative proposals are in the form of bills. Bills deal with domestic and foreign issues and programs, and they also appropriate money to various government agencies and programs."


Two types of bills are introduced in Congress

     Private bills deal with individual people or places.


"A private bill provides benefits to specified individuals (including corporate bodies).  Individuals sometimes request relief through private legislation when administrative or  legal remedies are exhausted.  Many private bills deal with immigration–granting citizenship or permanent residency.  Private bills may also be introduced for individuals who have claims again the government, veterans benefits claims, claims for military decorations, or taxation problems.  The title of a private bill usually begins with the phrase, "For the relief of. . . ."  If a private bill is passed in identical form by both houses of Congress and is signed by the president, it becomes a private law."



     Public bills deal with general matters and apply to the entire nation.


      A simple resolution covers matters affecting only one house of Congress and is passed by that house alone.


      A joint resolution is one passed in the same form by both houses.



"Joint resolutions are designated H.J. Res. or S.J. Res. and are followed by a number. Like a bill, a joint resolution requires the approval of both Chambers in identical form and the president’s signature to become law. There is no real difference between a joint resolution and a bill. The joint resolution is generally used for continuing or emergency appropriations. Joint resolutions are also used for proposing amendments to the Constitution; such resolutions must be approved by two-thirds of both Chambers and three-fourths of the states, but do not require the president’s signature to become part of the Constitution."


      Earmarks are a way that members of Congress can specify that some part of a funding bill will go towards a certain purpose.


A rider is a provision on a subject other than the one covered in the bill.


     Lawmakers attach riders to bills that are likely to pass.


-      Fewer than 10 percent of all bills introduced in Congress become laws for several reasons:


     Creating law is a long complicated process involving as many as 100 steps.


     A bill’s sponsors must be willing to bargain and compromise with others.


Members introduce many bills



     knowing they have no chance of becoming law.


Introducing a Bill



      To introduce a bill in the House, a member drops the bill into the hopper, a box near the clerk’s desk.


      To introduce a bill in the Senate, the presiding officer must first recognize the senator, who then formally presents the bill.



      When a committee decides to act on a bill, it holds hearings in which the committee listens to testimony from experts on the bill’s subject, government officials, and interest groups that are concerned with the bill.



      After hearings are over, the committee meets in a markup session to decide what changes, if any, to make to the bill.



      When all changes have been made, the committee votes to either kill the bill or report it—to send it to the House or Senate for action.



Floor Action



Because the pros and cons of a bill were argued in committee hearings, only a few lawmakers usually take part in a floor debate



      A vote follows the debate. House and Senate members can vote in one of three ways:



     voice vote: together members call out “Aye” or “No”,

     a standing vote, or division vote: the “Ayes” stand to be counted, and the “Nos” stand to be counted, and



     roll-call vote: each member says “Aye” or “No” as names are called in alphabetical order.



      The House uses a fourth method, the recorded vote, where votes are recorded electronically and displayed on panels.



Final Steps in Passing Bills



      To become a law, a bill must pass both houses of Congress in identical form.



         If one house will not accept the version passed by the other house, a conference committee must work out the differences the two chambers have.



      After both houses have approved an identical bill, it is sent to the president.



      A presidential veto returns the bill to the house where it originated, along with an explanation of why the president vetoed it.

         The president can also kill a bill by pocket veto, meaning the president refuses to act on a bill passed during the last ten days of the session, effectively killing it.



         Congress can override a president’s veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses.



         A line-item veto allows a leader to reject specific lines or items in a bill while accepting the rest of the bill.



         After a bill becomes law, it is registered with the National Archives and Records Service.



         To find out about all legislation Congress is considering, one can go to an online information resource called THOMAS, after Thomas Jefferson.





Section 2:        Taxing and Spending Bills


  • tax

  • closed rule

  • appropriation

  • authorization bill

  • entitlement


Making Decisions About Taxes


      The national government gets most of its revenues from taxes—money that people and businesses pay to support the government.


      Most important work on tax laws occurs in the House of Ways and Means Committee.


      For many years, the committee’s tax bills were debated on the House floor under a closed rule which forbids members from offering any amendments to a bill from the floor.


      In the Senate, the Committee on Finance has primary responsibility for tax matters.


Appropriating Money


      The power of appropriation, or approval of government spending, belongs to Congress.


      Congress follows a two-step procedure in appropriating money—an authorization bill and an appropriations bill.


     An authorization bill sets up a federal program and specifies how much money can be appropriated for it.


     An appropriations bill is necessary to receive the money that was authorized.


         Both House and Senate appropriations committees have 12 subcommittees covering the same policy areas.


      Uncontrollablesare expenditures the government is legally committed to.



     Some uncontrollables are known as entitlements because they are social programs that entitle individuals to a certain program or monetary benefit.




Section 3:        Influencing Congress


  • lobbyist

  • lobbying


Influences on Lawmakers


      There are several factors that influence how a lawmaker votes:


     temperament—some may be willing to take risks while others “play it safe”


     the nature of the issue


     congressional staffers


The Influence of Voters


      Lawmakers’ decisions (and political careers) are influenced by voters in several ways, including:


     voter expectations based on lawmakers’ voting records,


     visiting the districts of their constituents to gauge their opinions,


     messages from voters to find out what issues concern them most, and


     the opinions of their key supporters, including those who work in their campaigns and contribute money.


The Influence of Parties


Both major political parties—Republicans and Democrats—take stands on major issues and come out for or against certain legislation


      Both Democrats and Republicans tend to vote with their parties.


      Very few issues are unaffected by party identity.


         Lobbyists try to convince members of Congress to support policies favored by the groups they represent.


      Lobbying is their effort to persuade officials to support their point of view.


      Political Action Committees (PACS) are political fund-raising organizations established by corporations, labor unions, and other special-interest groups.





Section 4:        Helping Constituents


  • casework

  • pork-barrel legislation

  • logrolling


Handling Problems


      Helping constituents with problems is called casework.


      Lawmakers respond to thousands of requests from voters for help in dealing with executive agencies.


      All lawmakers have staff members called caseworkers to handle constituent problems.


      Casework serves three important purposes:


     It helps lawmakers get reelected.


     It is one way in which Congress monitors the performance of the executive branch.


     Casework provides a way for the average citizen to cope with the huge national government.


Helping the District or State


      Members try to bring federal projects to their districts and states in three ways:


     through pork-barrel legislation,


     winning federal grants and contracts, and


by working to keep existing federal projects


      When Congress passes laws to appropriate money for local federal projects, is often called pork-barrel legislation.


      When two or more lawmakers agree to support each other’s bills, it is called logrolling.


      Lawmakers do not vote on grants and contracts as they do on pork-barrel legislation; however, they do try to influence decisions.