How a bill moves through congress

The first step of a bill's journey through the halls of Congress is introduction into the House of Representatives and/or the Senate by a member of Congress. The Senator who introduces the bill into the Senate is called the Senate sponsor, the Representative who introduces the bill into the House is called the House sponsor. The House and Senate are both divided into committees, which oversee broad topics. Those full committees are then divided into subcommittees, which deal with more specialized topics.

When a bill is introduced, it is referred to a committee where the chairperson and staff determine which subcommittee, if any, it will be referred to. For forest legislation, the House Agriculture and Natural Resource committees are generally the most common referrals. In the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources, Environment and Public Works, and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committees are where forest legislation is debated.

One of the main tasks upon introduction of a bill is to show that the bill has the support of as many members of Congress as possible. This is done by gaining cosponsors, members who are willing to have their names listed as being in favor of the bill. The longer the list of cosponsors, the more likely it is that the bill will move to the next stage in the legislative process: hearings and votes in the subcommittees and full committees.

The subcommittee provides the forum where the bill is first and most thoroughly debated. Hearings occur in which witnesses, including federal officials and experts may testify for and against the bill. If a majority of the subcommittee approves, the bill goes back to the full committee where it must again be approved by majority vote before it goes to the House or Senate floor. House bills must have cleared the Rules Committee where debate time limits are often established. Amendments to the bill may be offered in committee or on the floor.

If the House or Senate passes the bill it is then moved to the other chamber where it is referred to a committee. If that committee approves, it goes to the floor. Approval on the floor means both the House and Senate have separately cleared the bill and conferees from each chamber are then selected to work out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Then they write a conference report, a single version of the bill, which is sent back to the floor of each chamber for final approval.

If the identical bill is then approved by both chambers, it is sent to the President. If the President signs the bill, the bill becomes law. If the President disapproves, it is vetoed and sent back to the originating chamber with objections noted. The veto can be overridden if two-thirds of the Members of both the House and Senate vote to do so.