Bills, which as essentially proposed laws, are very important to the democratic process. It is elected representatives, who on behalf of their constituency frame and present bills in the Congress. After debates and discussions, the House of representatives and the Senate take votes to approve or disapprove the bill. If the bill is favored by a majority of members in both the houses of Congress, then it is sent to the President for ratification. The President can either assent or decline it using his veto power. In the case of the latter, the houses of Congress can take it up again and if it manages to pass with two-thirds majority, then the bill automatically qualifies into a law with or without the President’s approval. There is another possibility, whereby the President neither assents or declines the bill (also called sitting on a bill), where upon passage of 10 working days, the bill is passed as law. There is an exception to this 10-day rule, commonly referred to as a pocket veto. In a pocket veto, “the President can kill a bill if it goes unsigned and Congress adjourns prior to the 10-day time limit. The term “pocket veto” comes from the fact that if the President knows an adjournment is coming, he can place the bill in his pocket and forget about it.” (Mount, 2010)
While there are several routes through which a bill can be brought to the floor for discussion, the most common path is through specialized committees. For example, since bills usually concern a particular topic, like raising the salary of military personnel, most of them will
“fall into a specific sub-committee’s area of responsibility. There is a Subcommittee on Pay, Promotion, and Retirement that would consider the pay bill. Once a bill is introduced, it is assigned to a committee. A bill is scheduled to have hearings, at which time witnesses may be called to testify as to why a bill is needed, and sub-committee members ask questions of the witnesses to determine the need or validity of the bill. Once the hearings are held, the members of the subcommittee will then vote on the bill to see if it should proceed further, on to the full committee. If the vote fails, then the bill dies.” (Mount, 2010)
After successful passage through both the houses of Congress, as well as no obstruction from the President, the bill transforms into a law. Before being implemented, the law is first sent to the United States Archivist, who assigns it a sequential numerical reference. The Archivist also releases a pamphlet about the new law, called the slip law. This pamphlet contains detailed information about the law, its origins, its context, other laws that would complement or conflict with it, etc. The law is then entered into the United States Statutes at Large as well as the United States Code. During this final step, sections and clauses that are irrelevant or obsolete are removed while new provisions are added. A compilation of these changes will be released in public domain once every six years.
From Bill to a Law, Library of Congress Thomas, retrieved from <http://thomas.loc.gov/home/laws_made.html> on 17th January, 2011
Mount, Steve, Constitutional Topic: How a Bill Becomes a Law, retrieved from <http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_law.html> on 17th January, 2011