The United States federal government is made up of three branches: the executive, the judicial, and the legislative. The legislative branch is made up of the two chambers of Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. They are the ones who make laws, but how?
Introducing a Bill
Imagine you wanted to make ice cream free to every American, and you convinced either a senator or a representative to help make it happen. That member of Congress would write a bill that, if passed into law, would make ice cream free.
The Ice Cream Bill would first be introduced to the House or the Senate by your legislator friend. Once introduced, it would be sent to a committee where representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties would discuss it. Some wouldn’t want ice cream to be free. Some might suggest making only certain flavors free while others insist all flavors should be covered. In this way, laws can change from the time they’re introduced.
Eventually, the committee would hold a vote to decide whether or not the bill should go to the full House or Senate so that the whole chamber can debate the proposal. For the bill to pass the House, a simple majority of votes is needed meaning. A simple majority means 50% plus one. Right now, that’s a minimum of 218 votes. In the Senate, bills must pass by a two-thirds majority. That’s 60 senators.
Once the bill passes whichever chamber it was introduced to first, it moves to the other to repeat the process. After passing in both chambers of Congress, the bill would go to the president. The president might sign the bill into law. Instead, he might veto the bill, meaning that he rejects the bill and sends it back to Congress.
Off to the President
Uh oh! It looks like the president thinks the Ice Cream Bill is a bad idea. In this case, he would decide to veto the bill. No free ice cream for America!
There is still another way to guarantee ice creamy goodness for the population. If both chambers of Congress manage to get two-thirds of lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill – or any bill that has been vetoed – they can override the president’s veto and the bill will become law anyway.
The Founding Fathers set made it so that it takes a lot of work to pass a law. The idea was that if it’s hard to pass laws, the government won’t be able to pass bad laws as easily that hurt Americans.