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Responsibilities of Congress, The Legislative Process

majority of bills, president vetoes, president signs, House bills, houses of Congress

The legislative process begins when a member of Congress introduces a bill—a proposed law—to the House or the Senate. When a bill is introduced in one of the houses of Congress, it is assigned a number and forwarded to an appropriate legislative committee. The committee decides whether a need exists for such legislation and whether the bill fits the need. The committee discusses the bill and may conduct hearings or consult outside experts. After considering the bill, the committee may approve or amend it and pass it on to the full House or Senate. If the committee fails to approve the bill or votes to take no action on it, the bill dies. The majority of bills that are introduced to Congress die in committee.

If the committee approves the bill, it is placed on the calendar of the house where it was introduced and debated according to the rules of that chamber. During the debate, amendments may be suggested and voted on. After the debate, a vote is taken. If a majority votes for the bill, it then goes to the other house of Congress, where it is considered under the same basic procedures.

If both houses pass the bill in the same form, it is submitted to the president, who may either sign or veto it. Usually, however, Senate and House bills differ somewhat because of amendments added by either chamber. In this case a conference committee made up of both senators and representatives settles the differences. The revised bill is then sent back to the House and the Senate. If both houses approve it, the bill is sent to the president.

If the president signs the bill, it becomes law. If the president vetoes it, it can become law only if both houses of Congress again pass it—this time by a two-thirds majority. Any bill that has not been passed by the end of each session of Congress is considered dead and must be reintroduced in the next Congress.

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