Government » American Congress » The Legislative Process

Summary of The Legislative Process


In the classic legislative process, bills are introduced and sent to the appropriate committee. Within the committees, hearings are held and the bill is debated and ultimately sent to the floor of the chamber. On the floor, the bill is debated and amended until passed or voted down. If passed, it moves to the second chamber where the debating and amending begins anew. Eventually, if the bill makes it that far, the two chambers meet in a joint committee to reconcile what are now two different bills. Over the last few decades, however, Congress has adopted a very different process whereby large pieces of legislation covering many different items are passed through the budgeting process. This method has had the effect of further empowering the leadership, to the detriment of the committees. The modern legislative process has also been affected by the increasing number of filibuster threats in the Senate and the use of cloture to forestall them.

Practice Questions

  1. Briefly explain the difference between the classic model of legislating and the modern process.
  2. The framers of the Constitution designed the Senate to filter the output of the sometimes hasty House. Do you think this was a wise idea? Why or why not?
  3. Congress has consistently expanded its own power to regulate commerce among and between the states. Should Congress have this power or should the Supreme Court reel it in? Why?
  4. What does the trend toward descriptive representation suggest about what constituents value in their legislature? How might Congress overcome the fact that such representation does not always best serve constituents’ interests?
  5. What factors contributed most to the transformation away from the classic legislative process and toward the new style?


cloture: a parliamentary process to end a debate in the Senate, as a measure against the filibuster; invoked when three-fifths of senators vote for the motion

filibuster: a parliamentary maneuver used in the Senate to extend debate on a piece of legislation as long as possible, typically with the intended purpose of obstructing or killing it

markup: the amending and voting process in a congressional committee

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