Creating laws is the U.S. House of Representatives’ most important job. All laws in the United States begin as bills.
Before a bill can become a law, it must be approved by the U.S. House
of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the President. Let’s follow a
bill’s journey to become law.
The Bill Begins
Laws begin as ideas. These ideas may come from a Representative—or
from a citizen like you. Citizens who have ideas for laws can contact
their Representatives to discuss their ideas. If the Representatives
agree, they research the ideas and write them into bills.
The Bill Is Proposed
When a Representative has written a bill, the bill needs a sponsor.
The Representative talks with other Representatives about the bill in
hopes of getting their support for it. Once a bill has a sponsor and the
support of some of the Representatives, it is ready to be introduced.
The Bill Is Introduced
In the U.S. House of Representatives, a bill is introduced when it is
placed in the hopper—a special box on the side of the clerk’s desk.
Only Representatives can introduce bills in the U.S. House of
When a bill is introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, a
bill clerk assigns it a number that begins with H.R. A reading clerk
then reads the bill to all the Representatives, and the Speaker of the
House sends the bill to one of the House standing committees.
The Bill Goes to Committee
When the bill reaches committee,
the committee members—groups of Representatives who are experts on
topics such as agriculture, education, or international
relations—review, research, and revise the bill before voting on whether
or not to send the bill back to the House floor.
If the committee members would like more information before deciding
if the bill should be sent to the House floor, the bill is sent to a subcommittee.
While in subcommittee, the bill is closely examined and expert opinions
are gathered before it is sent back to the committee for approval.
The Bill Is Reported
When the committee has approved a bill, it is sent—or reported—to the
House floor. Once reported, a bill is ready to be debated by the U.S.
House of Representatives.
The Bill Is Debated
When a bill is debated, Representatives discuss the bill and explain
why they agree or disagree with it. Then, a reading clerk reads the bill
section by section and the Representatives recommend changes. When all
changes have been made, the bill is ready to be voted on.
The Bill Is Voted On
Electronic Voting Machine
There are three methods for voting on a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives:
Viva Voce (voice vote): The Speaker of the House asks the
Representatives who support the bill to say “aye” and those that oppose
it say “no.”
Division: The Speaker of the House asks those Representatives
who support the bill to stand up and be counted, and then those who
oppose the bill to stand up and be counted.
Recorded: Representatives record their vote using the electronic
voting system. Representatives can vote yes, no, or present (if they
don’t want to vote on the bill).
If a majority of the Representatives say or select yes, the bill
passes in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is then certified
by the Clerk of the House and delivered to the U.S. Senate.
The Bill Is Referred to the Senate
When a bill reaches the U.S. Senate, it goes through many of the same
steps it went through in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is
discussed in a Senate committee and then reported to the Senate floor
to be voted on.
Senators vote by voice. Those who support the bill say “yea,” and
those who oppose it say “nay.” If a majority of the Senators say “yea,”
the bill passes in the U.S. Senate and is ready to go to the President.
The Bill Is Sent to the President
When a bill reaches the President, he has three choices. He can:
Sign and pass the bill—the bill becomes a law.
Refuse to sign, or veto
bill—the bill is sent back to the U.S. House of Representatives, along
with the President’s reasons for the veto. If the U.S. House of
Representatives and the U.S. Senate still believe the bill should become
a law, they can hold another vote on the bill. If two-thirds of the
Representatives and Senators support the bill, the President’s veto is
overridden and the bill becomes a law.
Do nothing (pocket veto)—if Congress is in session, the bill
automatically becomes law after 10 days. If Congress is not in session,
the bill does not become a law.
The Bill Is a Law
If a bill has passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and
the U.S. Senate and has been approved by the President, or if a
presidential veto has been overridden, the bill becomes a law and is
enforced by the government.