A Bill Becomes a Law
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Unit 1
Legislative Lingo
Strategies and Power Plays
Exceptions to the Rule
Stats, Quirks, and Examples
The Legislative Junkie


Unit 1


1. Welcome to the wonderful world of legislation. German politician Otto Von Bismarck allegedly asserted that "If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made." Despite his admonition, How a Bill Becomes a Law will tempt fate looking behind the scenes at the legislative process in Congress.


2. The legislative process is complex. The "textbook" chart on how legislation is produced implies a number of clearly defined steps set out in a prescribed order. It is important to understand these steps since variations must be justified and weighed for their political costs and benefits. In the real world, however, steps can be skipped, combined, or replaced by alternative mechanisms.

[Animation: Bill becomes a law steps (one house) with arrows and "big bang" conclusion at one side. Simple graphics for each stage.]

3. For each step in the process, we will outline the "textbook" stages and then provide you with examples of exceptions for that stage. Where possible, video examples will be provided. Each stage involves different political strategies outlined in the "Strategies and Power Plays" section. Like any profession, legislating has its own jargon. Bolded glossary terms are defined in the "Legislative Lingo" section. Further information is available in the "Stats, Quirks, and Examples" and "Legislative Junkie" sections.

[Animation: Intro page with arrows to each sub-section.]

4. For simplicity, we will outline the stages in only one chamber and point out the differences in the "House vs. Senate" section. It is important to remember that all bills must pass BOTH houses in identical form. Such redundancy was intended by the Framers to increase scrutiny of legislation and improve its quality.


Redundancy is Really Really Really Important

Home Unit 1: Introduction Unit 2: From Problems to Solutions Unit 3: Origin of Bills Unit 4: Bill Drafting and Floor Introduction Unit 5: Referral to Committee Unit 6: Subcommittee Review Unit 7: Mark-up and Subcommittee Voting Unit 8: Committee Action Unit 9: Scheduling Floor Consideration Unit 10: Floor Debate Unit 11: Floor Votes Unit 12: Ironing Out Differences Unit 13: Presidential Action and Congressional Reaction Unit 14: The Legislative Processes