How a bill becomes a law
The 1976 Schoolhouse Rock! segment I’m Just A Bill is a great summary of how Congress turns an idea into a law:
These reports from Congress’s research organization CRS are more in-depth explanations:
- Introduction to the Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress
- The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor: An Introduction
- The Legislative Process on the House Floor: An Introduction
- The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction
The links above describe the formal procedure by which a bill becomes a law. But virtually all of the research and negotiating in the law-making process ocurrs off the record in meetings between the staff that work for senators and representatives, members of the public, lobbyists for nonprofits and businesses, and federal agencies.
What happens after Congress makes a law?
Making a law is only the very first step in creating national policy.
Legally speaking, after a bill becomes a law, it is assigned a number and then published in the United States Statutes at Large. Laws of a general and permanent nature are then incorporated into the United States Code.
Many laws direct federal agencies to take certain actions, like creating or ending a government program. After a law is enacted, it is up to the agencies to determine how that law will be implemented. They may create new regulations, which are also laws! For more about regulations, see What is the law?.
What are the checks and balances on laws crated by Congress?
There are many checks and balances limited Congress’s power to create laws. The executive branch — meaning the President and federal government agencies — can choose how to enforce the law, within the limits set by Congress. The federal courts can rule that Congress acted outside of the limitations of the Constitution when enacting a law (i.e. it is un-Constitutional). And the people of the United States can elect new representatives and senators in the next election.