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What Is a Congressional Bill?

Potential bills undergo congressional hearings.
Congressional bills can be introduced in either the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate, although bills to raise revenue must originate in the House.
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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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A congressional bill is one type of proposal that can be introduced as the first step toward creating a new law in the US. There are two types of congressional bills: public and private. A public bill is one that affects the general population and is the most common type of congressional bill. A bill that affects a private entity or specified individual is a private bill. Regardless of the type of bill, the process of making a bill into law is the same.

In the United States, any citizen can write a congressional bill, but the author must appeal to a member of either the House of Representatives or the Senate to introduce it in Congress. Each bill gets a label to indicate which chamber it originated in, along with a number. Congressional bills can be introduced in either chamber of Congress with the exception of bills to raise revenue, which must come from the House.

Once a House or Senate member sponsors a congressional bill, it is then sent to a committee or subcommittee related to the topic, where it will be studied. Hearings may be called and witnesses questioned as part of this process. After a vote, the bill is sent from the subcommittee, if it was so assigned, to the full committee, where it is debated again. If it passes the full committee, it moves on to be considered by the full chamber, House or Senate.

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A congressional bill must pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives by a simple majority. If there are differences in the version of the bill passed by the House and the version passed by the Senate, those differences are worked out by a conference committee. A final bill is then returned to the House and Senate for yet another vote of approval. If it passes, it moves on to the president.

In addition to congressional bills, the US Congress carries out its work using three different types of resolutions — joint, concurrent, or simple — that can also be introduced. A joint resolution is very similar to a congressional bill, in most cases, but is typically used for different purposes, such as to declare war. A concurrent resolution does not have the force of law, but is used instead to govern matters that directly affect how both the House and Senate operate. Like a concurrent resolution, a simple resolution is related to congressional operations, but affects only one chamber rather than both.

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