Monday, February 9, 2009

How a Bill Becomes Law

Chronicles of a Science Policy Intern

At a staff meeting last week, we examined the difference in funding allocation for the CDC in the House and Senate versions of the economic stimulus package. Don’t tell my high school history teacher, but I needed a little refresher on the intricacies of the bill to law process.

The House of Representatives and the Senate often consider two different versions of the same bill. Once the House and the Senate vote on their respective bills, if the bills are different and Congress is in a hurry (as they are with the recovery package), they go to “conference,” which is a small group comprised of members of both houses. The conference committee can pick and choose pieces from the House and Senate versions of the bill if they want. Once they produce a conference report, it is voted on by both chambers. If it passes, it is sent to the president. The president has three options: he can sign the bill, veto it outright, or allow it to sit for 10 days - not including Sundays - while Congress is in session, which kills the bill (a pocket veto).

It’s important to understand the basics of the political process so you can advocate effectively. I’ve discovered that the intricacies you need to know to work in an advocacy organization are a little more than the basics, but most people can rely on a classic teaching tool: Schoolhouse Rock! (This video doesn't include the conference committee step, since not all bills go to conference.)

For more detailed (but concise!) information on how a bill becomes a law, visit Project Vote Smart.

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