3.3a A Bill is introduced
Any member of either house may introduce a bill. Only such bills that deal with a subject over which Congress has power to legislate can be introduced here. There are a few exceptions to this practice. According to the Constitution, revenue bills as well as resolutions proposing the impeachment of federal officers have to be introduced in the House. Also, Appropriation bills are conventionally introduced first in the House. However, the ratification of treaties, confirmation of appointments and trial of impeachment cases are to be considered by Senate.
A Bill may be written by a private citizen, a lawyer or an administrative officer, but it has to be introduced only by a representative or senator. The member introducing a bill writes his name on the first page. Thus the Act is often known by the representative or senator introducing the bill, for example the Sherman Act. Often a bill originates in a committee and an Act is sometimes known by the names of the committee’s chairman like the Taft - Hartley Act named after Taft and Hartley who were chairmen of the Labor Committees in the Senate and House respectively. The member introducing the bill simply signs his name to the bill and places it on the clerk’s desk, or drops it in a box called "hopper" at the Speaker’s desk. In the Senate, it is usually introduced by the sponsor from the floor, during the morning hour, without any discussion. When a member introduces a bill it does not mean that he endorses it.
The President presents a legislative program for the coming
session in the State of the Union address. While the executive branch
of the government drafts most of the bills, some members the Congress
also do so with the help of their staff. There is a possibility
of similar bills being introduced in both the houses.
3.3b A Bill in Committee
After a member has introduced a bill, it is given an identifying number such as
H.R. 353. (While the prefix ’HR’ indicates that the bill has originated in the House the prefix ’S’ implies that it comes from the Senate.) Next it is read and referred to the appropriate standing committee. Thus agricultural matters will go to the Committee on Agriculture, while military matters will go to the Committee on Armed Services. The standing committee may report the bill to the House without any changes showing that the Committee approves of it in its original form. It is also possible that the bill may be amended in any way it deems fit. Another possibility is that a complete revision of the bill may be reported. Or else, the bill may be pigeonholed and forgotten.
If the bill is important, it is made the subject of public hearings, usually held before a sub committee. At these hearings, there is a lengthy and detailed consideration of the bill. They may be impressive sessions at which the committee seeks the advice of informed persons on the proposed legislation. The hearings may also be proceedings in which the committee desires to publicize its own prejudices. This process may carry on for several days or weeks, during which members of the press are present and help in informing the public about the hearings.
At the end of the hearings, the sub committee makes its recommendations to the full committee, which proceeds to revise the bill and prepare a formal report on it. Often, the committee is split, and thus majority and minority reports are placed before the House or the Senate. These reports are printed and are made available to all the members of the House on the Senate, along with copies of the hearings and of the final bill.
When the Senate Committee recommends a particular bill, it is scheduled for floor action. However, in the House, the bills have to first go through the Rules Committee that is entitled to make important decisions. These include the issues of when the bill can be heard by the full House, whether it can be amended from the floor, and how much time would be needed for debating over it.
3.3c A bill before the full House and Senate
Bills surviving the Committee are reported to the House and are placed upon the appropriate calendar that is the list of business pending before the House. The Committee on Rules may interrupt the regular order of business by special order.
3.3d Consideration by the House
Both houses have different procedures for determining the order of business. Important bills and all bills appropriating money have to be considered in committee of the whole. This device helps to hasten the business and is an informal meeting of the House, free from ordinary rules of procedure. In this case, the Speaker gives the chair to a special chairman designated by him. A quorum is constituted by 100 members. Debate on amendments is carried on under a five-minute rule. A member can speak more than once. Roll-call votes are not allowed. At this stage, the bill is read in full, amendments are made, and the opinion of the House on the bill is ascertained. Bills reported by the House may be debated over or amended.
After the debate, the House votes on the bill, simply by voice or by a standing vote. A demand may be made by one-fifth of a quorum that the voting be done by tellers, or by the ’yeas’ and ’nays.’ In this case, the clerk calls the roll and records the vote of each member. According to the Constitution, a vote to override a presidential veto, has to be determined by ’yeas’ and ’nays’ in both houses.