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How Laws Are Made in the US

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The United States Congress is responsible for making and approving federal laws – rules that everyone in the country must follow. But exactly how do those laws get made? The process is not easy, and it takes a long time.

A law begins when someone proposes an idea. The idea can come from anyone, but it has to get to a U.S. lawmaker who wants it to become legislation. In time, the idea is further developed into a written proposal, called a bill.

Then, a member of Congress – that is, a senator or a member of the House of Representatives – officially proposes the bill. In other words, a lawmaker sponsors it. Lawmakers usually sponsor bills that are important to them or the people who live in the area they represent.

After the bill is introduced, it is sent to a small group of lawmakers, called a "committee." Committees are responsible for a specific public policy or area of government. For example, both the Senate and the House have committees that deal with agriculture, education, and international relations.

Sometimes committee members seek more information about the proposal by holding hearings. Sometimes the committee changes the bill. Sometimes it decides not to take any action. In that case, we say lawmakers "table" the bill, or let it "die in committee."

But now and then, they offer the bill to lawmakers not on the committee. Those lawmakers debate the bill further. They might change the bill again.

Finally, the full House or Senate votes on the bill. If it does not earn the majority of votes, the bill does not advance.

But if it does get approved, the bill goes to the other chamber of Congress. So, bills approved by the House go to the Senate; bills approved by the Senate go to the House.

Lawmakers in the second chamber repeat the process. If the second chamber also approves the bill, lawmakers from both the House and the Senate may have to discuss it again to settle any differences.

Finally, the agreed-upon bill is sent to the president. The president has a few choices about what to do.

If the president signs it, the bill becomes a law.

If the president does nothing and Congress is officially meeting, the bill becomes a law.

But if the president does nothing and Congress is not in session, the bill does not pass.

Or the president can officially reject – or veto – the bill. If that happens, the bill is not stopped. Instead, it is returned to both the Senate and the House.

If two-thirds of the senators and two-thirds of the House members approve the bill once again, they override the veto. That is, even with the president objecting, they turn the bill into a law.

I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

sponsor - v. to take the responsibility for someone or something

advance - v. to go forward; to make progress

chamber - n. a group of people who form part of a government

session - n. a period of time that is used to do a particular activity

override - v. to make something no longer valid

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