How Our Laws Are Made
IV. Forms of Congressional Action
SoThe work of Congress is initiated by the introduction of a proposal in one of four forms: the bill, the joint resolution, the concurrent resolution, and the simple resolution. The most customary form used in both Houses is the bill. During the 109th Congress (2005–2006), 10,558 bills and 143 joint resolutions were introduced in both Houses. Of the total number introduced, 6,436 bills and 102 joint resolutions originated in the House of Representatives.
For the purpose of simplicity, this discussion will be confined generally to the procedure on a measure of the House of Representatives, with brief comment on each of the forms.
A bill is the form used for most legislation, whether permanent or temporary, general or special, public or private.
The form of a House bill is as follows:
For the establishment, etc. [as the title may be].
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of
America in Congress assembled, That, etc.
The enacting clause was prescribed by law in 1871 and is identical in all bills, whether they originate in the House of Representatives or in the Senate.
Bills may originate in either the House of Representatives or the Senate with one notable exception. Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution provides that all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives but that the Senate may propose, or concur with, amendments. By tradition, general appropriation bills also originate in the House of Representatives.
There are two types of bills—public and private. A public bill is one that affects the public generally. A bill that affects a specified individual or a private entity rather than the population at large is called a private bill. A typical private bill is used for relief in matters such as immigration and naturalization and claims against the United States.
A bill originating in the House of Representatives is designated by ‘‘H.R.’’ followed by a number that it retains throughout all its parliamentary stages. The letters signify ‘‘House of Representatives’’ and not, as is sometimes incorrectly assumed, ‘‘House resolution.’’
A Senate bill is designated by ‘‘S.’’ followed by its number. The term ‘‘companion bill’’ is used to describe a bill introduced in one House of Congress that is similar or identical to a bill introduced in the other House of Congress.
A bill that has been agreed to in identical form by both bodies becomes the law of the land only after—
(1) Presidential approval; or
(2) failure by the President to return it with objections to the House in which it originated within 10 days (Sundays excepted) while Congress is in session; or
(3) the overriding of a presidential veto by a two-thirds vote in each House.
Such a bill does not become law without the President’s signature if Congress by their final adjournment prevents its return with objections. This is known as a ‘‘pocket veto.’’ For a discussion of presidential action on legislation, see Part XVIII.
Joint resolutions may originate either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate—not, as is sometimes incorrectly assumed, jointly in both Houses. There is little practical difference between a bill and a joint resolution and the two forms are sometimes used interchangeably. One difference in form is that a joint resolution may include a preamble preceding the resolving clause. Statutes that have been initiated as bills may be amended by a joint resolution and vice versa. Both are subject to the same procedure except for a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution. When a joint resolution amending the Constitution is approved by two-thirds of both Houses, it is not presented to the President for approval. Rather, such a joint resolution is sent directly to the Archivist of the United States for submission to the several states where ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states within the period of time prescribed in the joint resolution is necessary for the amendment to become part of the Constitution.
The form of a House joint resolution is as follows:
Authorizing, etc. [as the title may be].
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America
in Congress assembled, That, etc.
The resolving clause is identical in both House and Senate joint resolutions as has been prescribed by statute since 1871. It is frequently preceded by a preamble consisting of one or more ‘‘whereas’’ clauses indicating the necessity for or the desirability of the joint resolution.
A joint resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated ‘‘H.J. Res.’’ followed by its individual number which it retains throughout all its parliamentary stages. One originating in the Senate is designated ‘‘S.J. Res.’’ followed by its number.
Joint resolutions, with the exception of proposed amendments to the Constitution, become law in the same manner as bills.
A matter affecting the operations of both Houses is usually initiated by a concurrent resolution. In modern practice, and as determined by the Supreme Court in INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), concurrent and simple resolutions normally are not legislative in character since not ‘‘presented’’ to the President for approval, but are used merely for expressing facts, principles, opinions, and purposes of the two Houses. A concurrent resolution is not equivalent to a bill and its use is narrowly limited within these bounds. The term ‘‘concurrent’’, like ‘‘joint’’, does not signify simultaneous introduction and consideration in both Houses.
A concurrent resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated ‘‘H. Con. Res.’’ followed by its individual number, while a Senate concurrent resolution is designated ‘‘S. Con. Res.’’ together with its number. On approval by both Houses, they are signed by the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate and transmitted to the Archivist of the United States for publication in a special part of the Statutes at Large volume covering that session of Congress.
A matter concerning the rules, the operation, or the opinion of either House alone is initiated by a simple resolution. A resolution affecting the House of Representatives is designated ‘‘H. Res.’’ Followed by its number, while a Senate resolution is designated ‘‘S. Res.’’ together with its number. Simple resolutions are considered only by the body in which they were introduced. Upon adoption, simple resolutions are attested to by the Clerk of the House of Representatives or the Secretary of the Senate and are published in the Congressional Record.