By Jake Greene, Ryan Harrison and Scott Marable


Every bill starts with an idea. The ideas for new bills come from private citizens, the White House, or from special-interest groups.


Whatever its source, a senator or representative must introduce a bill before Congress will consider it. Every bill is given a title and a number when it is submitted. For example, during the first session of Congress, the first bill introduced is called S.1 in the Senate and H.R.1 in the house.


After a bill is introduced, it is sent to the standing committee that is related to the subject of the bill. Standing committees have life-and-death power over bills. the committee can (1) pass the bill, (2) mark up a bill with changes and suggest that it be passed, (3) replace the original bill with a new bill (4) ignore the bill and let it die (which is called "pigeonholing" the bill), or (5) kill the bill outright by majority vote.

Floor of House/Senate

Bills approved in committee are ready for consideration by the full House or Senate. When bills do reach the floor of the House or Senate, the members argue their pros and cons and discuss amendments. The House accepts only amendments relevant a bill. The Senate, however, allows riders--completely unrelated amendments--to be tacked onto the bill.


After a bill is debated, it is brought to a vote. Voting in the House is done in one of three ways. The simplest is a voice vote, in which those in favor say "Yeas" and those against say "No". The Speaker determines which side has the most voice votes. In a Standing vote, those in favor of a bill stand to be counted, and then those against it stand to be counted. The third method is a recorded vote, in which members' votes are recorded electronically.

Conference Committee

The Senate and House must pass a bill in identical form before it becomes a law. When two versions of the same bill are passed, a conference committee with members from both houses work out the differences and submit a revised bill. The House and Senate must either accept it without amendments or completely reject it.


After a bill is approved, it goes to the president. One of four things may then happen. The president may sign the bill and declare it a new law. The president may veto, or refuse to sign, the bill. The president may also do nothing for 10 days. At that point, if congress is in session, the bill becomes law without the president's signature. If Congress has adjourned, the bill dies. Killing legislation in this way is called a pocket veto.
I'm Just a Bill