Understanding the legislative process can help service members and other citizens become more active participants in the development of laws that benefit them. As a bill advances on Capitol Hill, it’s important for lawmakers to hear from their constituents about the measure they’re considering. It’s easy to share your views with your elected officials using FRA’s online Action Center.
Ideas for new laws originate from many sources, but only a member of Congress can introduce legislation. Constituents, either as individuals or through organizations such as FRA, may ask or “petition” legislators to introduce a bill. FRA sends an annual legislative agenda to Capitol Hill and frequently meets with lawmakers and their staff to propose legislation that will benefit our members.
Once legislation is introduced, it is referred to the committee or committees with jurisdiction over the subject of the bill. A committee will usually pass the legislation on to a subcommittee, which is smaller and has a more narrow focus than the full committee.
The subcommittee can amend, or “mark-up,” the legislation to make it more specific or address specific concerns. When the mark-up is complete, the final version of the bill is voted on by the subcommittee. If the bill fails to get a majority vote in subcommittee, it dies. If the measure is approved by the subcommittee, it is sent back to the full committee, or “reported out.” The full committee may further amend the measure or vote on it as it was approved by the subcommittee.
During this process, committees and subcommittees conduct hearings to facilitate a full and open discussion about a pending bill. Witnesses with expertise on the subject at hand are invited to testify about the merits and shortcomings of particular bill, either in person or in writing. FRA is regularly invited to share its views during hearings and in written statements presented to the committee or subcommittee holding the hearings. This discussion often results in improvements to a bill or in the eventual defeat of the measure if it’s determined to be an unwise proposal.
If approved at the committee level, the bill is reported out to the House or Senate and is placed on the chamber’s calendar for debate by the full body. The House Rules Committee sets the parameters of the debate in that chamber, determining what, if any, floor amendments shall be considered and what length of time will be set aside for floor debate. The Senate has fewer restrictions on floor debate, but any senator can filibuster a bill indefinitely. A filibuster (endless debate on the bill) can be stopped by a cloture vote that requires 60 votes. When debate concludes, the bill is voted on by the full chamber.
Often similar bills move through the House and Senate at the same time. For example, the House and Senate advance different versions of the annual defense authorization legislation. After each chamber approves its respective version of the bill, a conference committee is appointed to reconcile the differences between the two measures.
Both chambers must approve identical legislation before it can be sent to the White House for final approval, so it is the conference committee’s job to draft a compromise measure, or “conference report,” that is presented to the House and Senate for a final vote. If approved in both chambers, the bill is sent to the President, where he may do one of the following:
- Sign the bill into law;
- Veto the bill and send it back to Congress with suggested changes;
- Take no action while Congress is in session, in which case the bill will become law in 10 days; or
- Take no action and let the bill die after Congress has adjourned for the session (pocket veto).
If the President vetoes a bill, Congress may override his decision with a two-thirds vote in both chambers (67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House).
FRA is celebrating 86 years of strong, principled advocacy for its members. Becoming part of this proud tradition demonstrates your support for the legislative advocacy undertaken on your behalf and helps perpetuate the Association’s legacy of legislative victories. Join FRA today!