To pass a bill you first of all have to be a member of Congress. What if I'm not, you ask? Well, you can still try to influence Congress by lobbying, which would be like writing letters to, calling, or even meeting with your congressmen. In any case, it is a good idea to know the steps in passing a bill into a law. They are as follows:
The Bill is Introduced
A member or members of either the Senate or the House of Representatives writes up and proposes a bill. This is the starting point for all bills. Bills dealing with revenue and appropriation are only introduced in the House, although the Senate can amend them.
Committees, Committees, Committees!
The bill is given a nice big number and delegated to a committee for research. A bill may fall under the jurisdiction of more than one committee.
Say there's a certain type of fertilizer used on many crops. It does really well in promoting growth, but has a slight side effect: it kills all animals it comes in contact with. A member of the Senate, receiving letters of complaint from environmental lobbyists, writes up a proposal for a bill banning the use of the fertilizer. The Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Environment and Public Works; and Science and Technology committees are all assigned to research the bill and its ramifications.
The Bill is Scrutinized
The committee then researches the bill and its effects. The committee can amend the bill or even rewrite the whole darn thing. The committee can also hold hearings, that is, interview people who would be affected by the bill.
Speaking of amending, one thing senators will do is add a bill of lesser importance onto a bill that is going through the senate already. The senators hang these "ornaments" on the bills so they don't have to spend time on them individually.
The committees investigating our hypothetical brand of fertilizer begin investigations. They may (or more likely, have someone else) research the chemicals in the product or look for precedents (similer cases that have happened before). They could hold hearings with people such as manufacturers of the fertilizer, scientists that have studied the fertilizer, and/or predominant members of the agricultural community. They discover that there is a certain type - type 6C-H - which they will allow, since it is found to be reletivly harmless. They also hang an amendment on the bill stating that the mango will be our national fruit.
The bill (assuming the committee doesn't discontinue research) is then submitted to the chamber in which it was introduced. Bills that are favorably recommended come with a report.
The Bill is Debated
Here members of Congress debate on whether to make the bill law. This is also where congressmen get to filabuster, or stand up and yammer on like a stuck record until it's too late in the day to vote.
To the Other Chamber
The longest continuous filibuster in history was made by Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon. He went on for 22 hours and 26 minutes without stopping. The record for the longest filibuster ever is held by Sen. Bill Meier of Texas. He talked for 43 hours on one bill. 43 hours! That's like humming the theme to "Jeopardy" 5,160 times!
When (or if) the bill gets this far, it goes to the other chamber. Bills that have survived the Senate are brought to the House for approval and vice-versa. Most of the time people will start similar bills in each chamber at the same time anyway.
Here We Go Again!
The bill goes through the same process (steps 2 through 5) in the opposite area of Congress. You don't have to read them again if you don't want to.
Back to our example:
The bill is investigated and debated by the House of Representatives. They eventually come up with a bill that bans all types of the ferilizer, including 6C-H. They also change the clause about the national fruit to include the kiwi.
If the other chamber's bill comes out different, then the House and Senate must come together and hammer out a compromise.
The Senate and House get together and duke it out. After much give and take by each chamber, they decide to ban the fertilizer and only allow the use of 6C-H for noncommercial purposes. The papaya, a cross between a mango and a kiwi, will become the national fruit.
To the President
Whew! The bill has made it through Congress. It is now sent to the President for approval.
Veto or No?
Now the President has ten days to either veto (reject) the bill or sign it, making it a law. If the President doesn't do either of these things, the bill becomes law, so long as Congress is in session. If Congress is not in session when the ten days is up, the bill is not law. This is called a "Pocket veto."
If the bill is vetoed, it goes back to Congress. Congress debates some more and votes on it again. In order to pass the bill over the President's veto, it must gain at least 2/3 of the popular vote by the congressmen.
Once again, ladies and gentlemen, the example:
The President, in an effort to win the reelection votes of farmers, vetoes the bill. Congress must now review and possibly rewrite the bill and vote again.
Bills affecting only the House of Representatives or only the Senate are voted on and passed or failed in their respective chambers.
A member of the House suggests they stay in session an extra day in January. The House votes on it and either passes it or doesn't. End of story.