Flashcards in 13.2b Legislative Deck (11)
Initiation of bills
Bills can be initiated by any member of Congress but are usually initiated by party leaders in Congress or committee chairs, often on behalf of the president.
Bills need to be signed by a sponsor - and there can be many co-sponsors.
After they have been initiated (the first reading) bills are passed on to the relevant committees (in both House and Senate) where they are debated and amended (or ‘marked up’).
Committees can choose whether or not to ‘hear’ a bill, and bills that are not heard will die in committee.
Legislation brought to the floor
If a bill passes committee stage it goes to the House Rules Committee or the Senate leadership to be scheduled for voting and debate. If a bill is not scheduled in both houses it will die.
Once a bill is scheduled it has a second reading in both houses where it is further debated and amended, this is followed by a vote which the bill must pass in both houses for it to continue.
The third reading is the final chance to debate the bill before a final vote.
As legislation passes through both chambers at the same time, there are often two very different versions of the bill which need to be reconciled.
Sometimes a conference committee is set up to reach a compromise on a final bill, other times this is done by congressional leadership.
The reconciled bill must then pass a vote in both chambers, if it fails in one chamber then it will die.
Once a bill has passed all of these stages it must be signed into law by the president. A president has the power to veto (not sign) a bill and send it back to Congress.
A 2/3 vote in both chambers of Congress can override a veto, as happened to Obama in 2016 with the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
The fact that bills must pass through both houses gives extra checks and balances and prevents potential tyranny.
Rules in the Senate such as the filibuster protect state's rights.
If neither party in the Senate has 60 seats, the minority party can filibuster, meaning that the minority views must be taken into account and compromise reached in order for the majority party to get 60 votes and break the filibuster.
The long process used to pass legislation means that bills are not rushed and should be of a higher quality, with more debate and consideration.
Not effective: gridlock
The increased use of the filibuster in the Senate now means that on most occasions, legislation needs 60 votes to pass in the Senate.
Increased partisanship in recent years has led to gridlock under divided governments and has even led to government shutdowns in 2013 and 2018.
Increased partisanship and subsequent gridlock have also led to a low output of legislation with the 112th Congress (2010-2012) passing only 283 pieces of legislation, the lowest in history, and subsequent Congresses doing little better.
Many argue that committees, in particular committee chairs, have too much power over the legislation that passes through.
Pork barrelling is when members of Congress allocate federal money for projects in and benefits to their own constituencies. This funding usually only serves local interests.
Pork barrelling is often attached to other pieces of legislation as part of a deal to get a bill passed.
During several stages of the legislative process, particularly the conference stage, key parts of the bill may be removed as part of compromises made get the bill passed.
Differences in each chamber: House I
Representatives in the House have restricted time to speak on the floor.
This may be limited during “controlled” time, where members are chosen to speak for or against a bill, and given a specified time and order in which to speak.
Otherwise, this time is not controlled, and speakers are granted permission from the chair of the debate, and usually have five minutes to speak.
During a debate, representatives must limit their speeches to the subject being debated.
Differences in each chamber: House II
Only the House can initiate bills that involve raising revenue, and the Senate can propose amendments.
This makes sure that the ‘power of the purse’ is held by the legislative body that is most representative of the public.