The government resources here are structured to follow the stages of how a bill is passed: bill introduction, committee action, debate and action by Congress, Congressional votes, Presidential action, and laws issued.
A good general overview of the legislative process is available at Congress.gov, which is "the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. The site provides access to accurate, timely, and complete legislative information for Members of Congress, legislative agencies, and the public. It is presented by the Library of Congress (LOC) using data from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Publishing Office, Congressional Budget Office, and the LOC's Congressional Research Service."
Bill Introduction -
Members of the House or Senate introduce bills for consideration by the Congress. The President, a member of the Cabinet or head of a Federal agency can also propose legislation. Most often, proposed bills go directly to a Congressional committee for discussion, revision and recommendations.
Definitions of the different types of bills and legislation are explained at About Congressional Bills at FDsys.
Texts of bills, legislative history of bills, information tracking the progress of bills through Congress, and links to laws that have been enacted (Public Laws or Statutes at Large) can be found through different database resources (paid and free).
Best for: Searches across all government publications by faceted search; can retrieve bills, testimony, and agency rule-making documentation in the Federal Register, as well as Congressional calendars that show actions in House and Senate from 104th Congress (1996/97) to present.
A Bill is debated on the floor and then sent to committee(s) for revisions. Once revised, a bill is brought again before the House or Senate for approval. The bill may then be referred to a conference committee composed of members of both the Senate and the House to reconcile differences in similar bills in both Chambers.
Hearings are held, with testimony from interested parties
Prints are hearing charters, and reports or studies prepared for the use of a committee, often by the Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Reports Congressional reports originate from congressional committees and deal with proposed legislation and issues under investigation. Reports are issued containing the revised bill, committee's recommendations and background information. Reports can also be issued as a result of investigations by Congress.
Documents (Senate & House) are usually communications from the President or the Executive Branch departments and agencies. They can include reports of Executive Departments and Agencies, often submitted in accordance with Federal law.
The revised bill is brought before the House and Senate for approval. Debate on the floor of Congress is transcribed verbatim in the Congressional Record and can be watched live and archived by video feed.
Specific terminology is used to describe the different versions of a bill as its status changes during the legislative process, like: introduced, agreed to, enrolled, engrossed, laid on table, received, referred, etc.
The Congressional Record began publication in 1873 (43rd Congress) and is published daily by the Government Publishing Office. A permanent copy is bound at the end of the session. Note that the page numbering is different between the daily and the bound versions. Numerous sources include:
Members of both Chambers vote on the final version of the bill.
A bill approved by both House & Senate is sent to the President. The President may comment on the bill (a signing statement or veto message) and then sign or veto it. If the President signs it, the bill becomes law. If the President does not return the bill to Congress with any objections noted within 10 days, the bill automatically becomes a law. If Congress adjourns before the 10 day period, the bill is vetoed (this is called a pocket veto).
If the President vetoes the bill, it may go back to Congress for redrafting, or Congress may vote on whether to override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both Houses.
Presidential signing statements are used by Presidents to comment on the law being signed. The use of signing statements began in the early 19th century and has increased recently. Such comments can include giving the President's interpretation of the meaning of the law's language; asserting objections to certain provisions of the law on constitutional grounds; and stating the President's intent regarding how the President intends to execute, or carry out, the law, including giving guidance to executive branch personnel. However, regardless of the President’s comments, if a bill is signed it is the law.
Bill signings are recorded in the Compilation of Presidential Documents, published weekly 1976-2008, and daily 2009-present.
Once signed by the President, laws are given public law numbers and issued in printed form, first as slip laws. These Public Laws are then bound into the Statutes at Large. Every six years, Public Laws are incorporated into the U.S. Code. Public Laws update the U.S. Code.
Page edited and updated by Julia Robbins, September 2015.