How Our Laws Are Made
IV. Forms of Congressional Action
Bills - Joint
Resolutions - Concurrent Resolutions - Simple
The 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 104th Congress (1995-1996), 6,545 bills and 263
joint resolutions were introduced in both Houses. Of the total number introduced,
4,344 bills and 198 joint resolutions originated in the House of Representatives.
For the purpose of simplicity, this discussion will be confined generally
to the procedure on a House of Representatives bill, 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 provided in the Constitution. 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 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 the letters "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 the letter "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:
- Presidential approval; or
- failure by the President to return it with objections to the House
in which it originated within 10 days while Congress is in session; or
- the overriding of a presidential veto by a two-thirds vote in each
It does not become law without the President's signature if Congress
by their final adjournment prevent 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 often 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 have later
been 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. Following congressional approval, a joint resolution to amend
the Constitution 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
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 all, etc.
The resolving clause is identical in both House and Senate joint
resolutions as prescribed by statute in 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.
Matters affecting the operations of both Houses are usually initiated
by means of concurrent resolutions. 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.
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