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Branches of Government

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Legislative Branch

The legislative branch is made up of the House and Senate, known collectively as the Congress. Among other powers, the legislative branch makes all laws, declares war, regulates interstate and foreign commerce and controls taxing and spending policies.

The following are legislative branch organizations:

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Executive Branch

The executive branch consists of the President, his or her advisors and various departments and agencies. This branch is responsible for enforcing the laws of the land.

The following are legislative branch organizations:

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Judicial Branch

The judicial branch consists of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal Judicial Center. According to the Constitution, “[t]he judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” The Federal Judicial Center is the education and research agency for the federal courts.


Legislative Process

How Are Laws Made?

Laws begin as ideas. First, a representative sponsors a bill. The bill is then assigned to a committee for study. If released by the committee, the bill is put on a calendar to be voted on, debated or amended. If the bill passes by simple majority (218 of 435), the bill moves to the Senate. In the Senate, the bill is assigned to another committee and, if released, debated and voted on. Again, a simple majority (51 of 100) passes the bill. Finally, a conference committee made of House and Senate members works out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The resulting bill returns to the House and Senate for final approval. The Government Printing Office prints the revised bill in a process called enrolling. The President has 10 days to sign or veto the enrolled bill

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Bills & Resolutions

Forms of Congressional Action

The work of Congress is initiated by the introduction of a proposal in one of four principal forms: the bill, the joint resolution, the concurrent resolution, and the simple resolution.


A bill is the form used for most legislation, whether permanent or temporary, general or special, public or private. A bill originating in the House of Representatives is designated by the letters “H.R.”, signifying “House of Representatives”, followed by a number that it retains throughout all its parliamentary stages. Bills are presented to the President for action when approved in identical form by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Joint Resolutions

Joint resolutions may originate either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate. There is little practical difference between a bill and a joint resolution. Both are subject to the same procedure, except for a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution. On approval of such a resolution by two-thirds of both the House and Senate, it is sent directly to the Administrator of General Services for submission to the individual states for ratification. It is not presented to the President for approval. A joint resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated “H.J.Res.” followed by its individual number. Joint resolutions become law in the same manner as bills.

Concurrent Resolutions

Matters affecting the operations of both the House of Representatives and Senate are usually initiated by means of concurrent resolutions. A concurrent resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated “H.Con.Res.” followed by its individual number. On approval by both the House of Representatives and Senate, they are signed by the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate. They are not presented to the President for action.

Simple Resolutions

A matter concerning the operation of either the House of Representatives or Senate alone is initiated by a simple resolution. A resolution affecting the House of Representatives is designated “H.Res.” followed by its number. They are not presented to the President for action. Source:

Introduction & Referral

Any member in the House of Representatives may introduce a bill at any time while the House is in session by simply placing it in the “hopper” at the side of the Clerk’s desk in the House Chamber. The sponsor’s signature must appear on the bill. A public bill may have an unlimited number of co-sponsoring members. The bill is assigned its legislative number by the Clerk and referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker, with the assistance of the Parliamentarian. The bill is then printed in its introduced form, which you can read in Bill Text.

An important phase of the legislative process is the action taken by committees. It is during committee action that the most intense consideration is given to the proposed measures; this is also the time when the people are given the opportunity to be heard. Each piece of legislation is referred to the committee that has jurisdiction over the area affected by the measure.


In Committee

Consideration by Committee
Public Hearings and Markup Sessions

Usually the first step in this process is a public hearing, where the committee members hear witnesses representing various viewpoints on the measure. Each committee makes public the date, place and subject of any hearing it conducts. The committee meetings scheduled for today are available along with other House Schedules. Public announcements are also published in the Daily Digest portion of the Congressional Record.

A transcript of the testimony taken at a hearing is made available for inspection in the committee office, and frequently the complete transcript is printed and distributed by the committee.

After hearings are completed, the bill is considered in a session that is popularly known as the “mark-up” session. Members of the committee study the viewpoints presented in detail. Amendments may be offered to the bill, and the committee members vote to accept or reject these changes.

This process can take place at either the subcommittee level or the full committee level, or at both. Hearings and markup sessions are status steps noted in the Legislative Action portion of Bill Status.

Committee Action

At the conclusion of deliberation, a vote of committee or subcommittee members is taken to determine what action to take on the measure. It can be reported, with or without amendment, or tabled, which means no further action on it will occur. If the committee has approved extensive amendments, they may decide to report a new bill incorporating all the amendments. This is known as a “clean bill”, which will have a new number. Votes in committee can be found in Committee Votes.

If the committee votes to report a bill, the Committee Report is written. This report describes the purpose and scope of the measure and the reasons for recommended approval. House Report numbers are prefixed with “H.Rpt.” and then a number indicating the Congress (currently 107)


House Floor

House Floor Consideration

Consideration of a measure by the full House can be a simple or very complex operation. In general a measure is ready for consideration by the full House after it has been reported by a committee. Under certain circumstances, it may be brought to the Floor directly.

The consideration of a measure may be governed by a “rule”. A rule is itself a simple resolution, which must be passed by the House, that sets out the particulars of debate for a specific bill—how much time will be allowed for debate, whether amendments can be offered, and other matters.

Debate time for a measure is normally divided between proponents and opponents. Each side yields time to those members who wish to speak on the bill. When amendments are offered, these are also debated and voted upon. If the House is in session today, you can see a summary of Current House Floor Proceedings.

After all debate is concluded and amendments decided upon, the House is ready to vote on final passage. In some cases, a vote to “recommit” the bill to committee is requested. This is usually an effort by opponents to change some portion or table the measure. If the attempt to recommit fails, a vote on final passage is ordered.

Votes on final passage, as well as all other votes in the House, may be taken by the electronic voting system which registers each individual member’s response. These votes are referred to as Yea/Nay votes or recorded votes, and are available in House Votes by bill number, roll call vote number or words describing the reason for the vote.

Votes in the House may also be by voice vote, and no record of individual responses is available.



To the Senate

Senate Action

After a measure passes in the House, it goes to the Senate for consideration. A bill must pass both bodies in the same form before it can be presented to the President for signature into law.

Resolving Differences

If the Senate changes the language of the measure, it must return to the House for concurrence or additional changes. This back-and-forth negotiation may occur on the House floor, with the House accepting or rejecting Senate amendments or complete Senate text. Often a conference committee will be appointed with both House and Senate members. This group will resolve the differences in committee and report the identical measure back to both bodies for a vote. Conference committees also issue reports outlining the final version of the bill.


To the President

Consideration by the President

After a measure has been passed in identical form by both the House and Senate, it is considered “enrolled.” It is sent to the President who may sign the measure into law, veto it and return it to Congress, let it become law without signature, or at the end of a session, pocket-veto it.


Open Government


The House provides the following disclosure documents:

  • Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimates
    Cost estimates related to the federal budget.
  • Financial Disclosure Reports
    Information about the source, type, amount, or value of the incomes of House members, officers, and staff as well as employees of related offices and candidates for House office.
  • Foreign Travel Reports
    Reports of certain official foreign travel expenditures by House members and staff.
  • Franked Materials (Mass Mailings)
    Samples and descriptions of the contents of mass mailings from House members to their Congressional districts.
  • Gift and Travel Filings
    Reports detailing certain travel-related expenses of and charitable contributions to House members, officers, and staff.
  • Legal Expense Fund Disclosures
    Disclosure information about funds established to assist individual House members with certain legal expenses.
  • Office of Congressional Ethics
    Names of OCE board members and staff who have signed an agreement to not run for Congressional office until three years after their OCE service has ended.
  • Post-Employment Notifications
    Information concerning departing House members, officers, and certain covered House employees previously notified regarding statutory post-employment restrictions on lobbying and other activities and the beginning and ending dates of those restrictions.)

Legislative Resources

The House provides the following legislative resources:

  • Bills to Be Considered on the House Floor
    Weekly list of the legislation scheduled for consideration, with links to the full text of each bill.
  • Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimates
    The Congressional Budget Office is required to develop a cost estimate for virtually every bill reported by Congressional committees to show how it would affect spending or revenues over the next five years or more.
  • Congressional Committee Publications
    The Government Printing Office maintains electronic versions of printed bills, documents, hearings, prints, reports, and calendars of House committees.
  • Congressional Record
    The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the U.S. Congress. Also available as an iPad app.
  • Document Type Definitions (DTDs) for legislative documents in XML
    Information about work to use Document Type Definition files (DTDs) in the creation of legislative documents using eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Roll Call Votes are currently available in XML at the Office of the Clerk’s website, and legislation prepared in XML (starting in January 2004) is available at
  • Roll Call Votes
    House Tally Clerks compile votes through an electronic voting machine.
  • (formerly Thomas)
    The Library of Congress’s comprehensive legislative information research website.

Office Expenses

The House provides the following office expenses disclosure documents:

  • Statement of Disbursements
    The Statement of Disbursements (SOD) is a quarterly public report of all receipts and expenditures for U.S. House of Representatives members, committees, leadership, officers and offices.
  • Franked Materials (Mass Mailings)
    For mass mailings to their congressional district, House members may use their signature, or frank, instead of a postage stamp. Copies of franked mail content samples and / or descriptions are available for all franked materials sent by House members.

Video Resources

The House provides the following video resources:

Other Tools And Resources

For more information related to the House’s ongoing transparency efforts, contact your Representative and/or the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, non-partisan entity that assists the House in upholding high standards of ethical conduct.

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