How is a law created?

Before a law can be passed, a member of Congress must introduce a bill, a joint resolution, or a concurrent resolution. The most common form of proposed legislation is a bill. A bill originating in the House is referred to by the abbreviation "H.R." for House of Representatives and then followed by a number. For example, H.R. 100 is the hundredth bill introduced in that particular session of the House of Representatives. A bill originating in the Senate is abbreviated "S." followed by a number.

Any member of Congress (the House or Senate) can introduce a bill when the body is in session. The bill must then pass both Houses of Congress in identical form. This can be a difficult process, as members of each House may have strong positions about particular language in a bill.

Once a bill has been passed with identical language in both Houses, it goes to the president for signing. If the president signs the bill, it becomes law. If the president refuses to sign the bill into law, he exercises his veto power. If the president vetoes the bill, then Congress can override the presidential veto by passing the measure with a two-thirds majority.

What happens after a bill is introduced?

After a member of Congress introduces a bill, the measure is often referred to a committee. The committee then will discuss the measure in a mark-up session. Many bills never make it out of the committee. The common saying is that the measure died in committee. However, if the bill makes it out of committee, it can reach the full House for an official vote.

Committees are often formed by Congress in order to study the merits of a bill before it goes up for a vote (iStock).

Committees are often formed by Congress in order to study the merits of a bill before it goes up for a vote (iStock).

What are the various House Committees?

The House Committees include:

• Committee on Agriculture

• Committee on Appropriations

• Committee on Armed Services

• Committee on the Budget

• Committee on Education and Labor

• Committee on Energy and Commerce

• Committee on Financial Services

• Committee on Foreign Relations

• Committee on Homeland Security

• Committee on House Administration

• Committee on the Judiciary

• Committee on Natural Resources

• Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

• Committee on Rules

• Committee on Science and Technology

• Committee on Small Business

• Committee on Standards of Official Conduct

• Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

• Committee on Veterans Affairs

• Committee on Ways and Means

• Joint Economic Committee

• Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Celebrations

• Joint Committee on Taxation

• House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

• House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

What are public hearings?

If a bill is considered important enough, then the committee may hold a public hearing on the measure. The committee will hear testimony from experts who have specialized knowledge in the subject matter addressed in the bill.

What are some other powers of Congress mentioned in the U.S. Constitution?

Article I, Section 8 lists numerous powers of Congress. Among these powers, the Congress can:

• Set and collect taxes.

• Regulate commerce between the various states and with foreign nations, to coin money.

• Declare war.

• Provide and maintain a navy.

• Raise and support armies.

• Create post offices.

• Create courts lower than the U.S. Supreme Court.

• Establish uniform rules on naturalization and bankruptcy.

Why is the Commerce Clause so important?

The Commerce Clause is so important because it might be Congress' greatest control over what occurs in various states throughout the country. In other words, it is probably Congress' greatest power. Congress' ability to "regulate commerce" has proven to be a very important way in which the federal government regulates the states. Congress has used the power of the Commerce Clause, for example, to pass laws prohibiting racial discrimination in local restaurants, such as in the famous decision in Katzenbach v. McClung (1964; see LegalSpeak, p. 26). More recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gonzalez v. Reich (2005; see LegalSpeak, p. 28) that Congress validly exercised its Commerce Clause powers when it passed the Controlled Substances Act, which criminalized marijuana even in those states that had allowed medicinal uses of marijuana.

One of the powers of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce (iStock).

One of the powers of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce (iStock).

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