How Legislation is Passed or Vetoed


How all legislation is passed, vetoed, or stalled.

Click for AUDIO version.

For our younger readers, and those requiring a refresher course, it might be a good idea to review the process by which legislation is passed or vetoed. This process is used for all bills, large or small, be it Obamacare, to appropriate funds, and more. Such a process can be quite complicated, but in a nutshell, here is how it works:

1. Anyone can introduce legislation, assuming they are a U.S. Citizen. However, due to the language needed, most legislation is introduced by a Congressman, be it a member of the House or the Senate. If you wish to write legislation, let me suggest you first meet with your Congressman and discuss your Bill and the process.

2. Each piece of legislation requires a sponsor who is either the author of the bill or the champion of it. The sponsor introduces it into one of the chambers of Congress, either the House or Senate.

3. Each bill is issued a unique number to identify it, be it in the House or the Senate. The public can then follow the bill’s journey using “Thomas” under the US Library of Congress (named in honor of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who sold his grand collection of books to the Library to help get it started).

4. Depending on where the bill is introduced, be it in the House or the Senate, the bill goes to a subcommittee or committee for deliberations. The committee must approve the bill before it can be presented to the overall chamber. Here, the committee vote and recommendations are reviewed and deliberated, before being voted on by the chamber, which must pass by 2/3 percent.

Should the bill have problems in the subcommittee, committee or chamber, it might be necessary to revise the language of the bill before proceeding. Otherwise, it may just die in committee.

5. Assuming the bill has passed the chamber, it then goes to the other congressional chamber where the last step is repeated. Here it may also require revision, or may die in committee.

If any revisions are made, it must go back to the other Congressional chamber for deliberations and approval again. Such give and take between chambers can take considerable time. Assuming both chambers pass the bill by 2/3, the bill is signed by the Speaker of the House and Vice President (as president of the Senate), before being sent to the president for his consideration.

6. The president has ten days to sign or veto the legislation. This is an important part of the “checks and balances” of our system of government.

If the president vetoes the bill, he returns it to the Congress with an explanation of his rationale for doing so.

If the president fails to sign or veto the bill within ten days, it becomes law without his signature.

However, if the Congress adjourns “sine die” (for an indefinite period) before the ten day period has finished, and the president takes no action, then the bill is “pocket vetoed” (defeated).

7. Assuming the bill is vetoed, the Congress can override the veto by having the bill pass both chambers of Congress by 2/3 percent whereby it becomes law.

Obviously, the journey of a bill can be long and arduous. However, if a high profile piece of legislation is urgently needed, the heads of both chambers can take extraordinary steps to expedite the process.

If the leadership of both houses is at odds with each other, as was the case in our last Congress, led by Democrats in the Senate, and Republicans in the House, then gridlock ensues. To illustrate, in the 113th Congress (2012-2014), the House introduced 352 bills to the Senate for processing. Of these bills, 98% were passed with bipartisan support, 50% unanimously, 70% passed with 2/3 support in the House, and more than 55 bills were introduced by Democrats. However, Senator Harry Reid (D-NEV), the Majority Leader, allowed these bills to either die in committee, or didn’t even pass his desk for deliberation. Now, with Republicans running both chambers, this is unlikely to reoccur.

In the six years President Obama has been in office, he has only vetoed two bills, neither of which were overridden by the Congress. This number is low primarily due to Senator Reid impeding deliberations in the Senate.

Now, with Republicans in control of both chambers, it will be interesting to see how many bills will pass, how many will go to the president’s desk, and how many will be either approved of vetoed by the president. Either way, look for the Congress to take a much more active role than the previous session.

As an aside, a bill does not require a Feasibility Study, complete with requirements, proposed solution, and a cost/benefit analysis. In the corporate world, implementing anything of substance without a Feasibility Study is unimaginable, yet in government it is perfectly acceptable, as in the case of Obamacare. Hmm, maybe I should write some legislation…

Keep the Faith!