Bill fall into two categories. Private bills concern individual people or places. Public bills apply to the entire nation and involve general matters like taxation, civil rights, or terrorism.
Congress also considers different kinds of resolution, or formal statements expressing lawmakers; opinions or decisions. Many resolutions do not have to force of law. Joint resolutions are passed by both houses of Congress and do become law if signed by the president.
Ideas for bills come from members of Congress, citizens, and the White House. Other bills are suggested by special-interest groups, or organizations of people with some common interest who try to influence government decisions.
Only senators and representatives may introduce bills in Congress. Every bill is given a title and number, and is then sent to an appropriate standing committee.
The committee chairperson decides which bills get ignored and which get studied. Those that merit attention are often researched by a subcommittee.. Experts and citizens may voice opinions about a bill in public hearings or written statements.
Standing committees can (1) pass the bill without change, (2) mark changes and suggest that the bill be passed, (3) replace the bill with an alternative, (4) pigeonhole the bill (ignore it and let it die), or (5) kill the bill by majority vote. When a committee is against a bill, it almost never becomes law.
Bills approved in committee are put on the schedules to be considered by the full House or Senate. The Senate usually takes up bills in the order listed. In the House, the Rules Committee can give priority to some bills and not let others get to the floor.
When bills reach the floor, members debate the pros and cons. The House accepts only relevant amendments. The Senate allows riders—completely unrelated amendments—to be tacked onto the bill.
The House Rules Committees puts time limits on the discussion. Senators may speak as long as they like and need not even address the topic at hand. Sometimes they filibuster, or talk a bill to death. A three fifths vote for cloture can end a filibuster.
In a simple voice vote, those in favor say “Yea” and those against say “No”. In a standing vote, those in favor stand to be counted ,and then those against stand.
The House uses a computerized voting system that records each representative’s vote. Senators voice their votes in turn as an official records them in a roll-call vote.
A simple majority of members present passes a bill. After passing one house, the bill then goes to the other. If either house rejects the bill, it dies.
Both Houses must pass an identical bill. If either changes the bill it receives from the other house, a conference committee is formed to work out the differences. The House and Senate must then either accept the revised bill as is or completely reject it.