According to Wasserman, the ‘dance of legislation’ is the process when an idea or a bill can become a law. The main job of Congress is to create laws. Laws are usually developed from an idea proposed by politicians or legislation coming from the President of the United States. However, the members of Congress have to write the idea and introduce it as the bill for starting the process.
Nevertheless, such a case as the discussion of free tuition is only an idea because Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, have to provide two ‘dances’ which are authorization and appropriation. If an idea does not cost any money, there will be simply one dance, authorization. If the idea costs money, Congress should authorize this idea in the first place. For example, Congress can state that there will be free tuition, and then it has to provide the separate dance to appropriate the necessary money to carry out the idea.
Thus, the first step of the dance is the introduction of an idea. The Congress is elected for two years, and 10,000-15,000 bills or ideas are introduced by one or both Houses of the Congress during this period. At the end of the two-year period, only about 400 of those ideas end up becoming laws. In other words, many ideas are introduced, but very few can become laws.
After being introduced, the bill is referred to the definite committee (for instance, the committee of education). The members of the committee look through the bill line by line and examine the chances of the bill’s passage carefully. If the committee does not take action on the bill, the legislation is dead. From this point, the dance usually ends without noticeable results. This fact shows the importance of the Congress and the committees within the Congress. If they are not interested in the idea, it is dead, and this statement is relevant in relation to the most ideas being introduced by Congress.
Then, the bill is referred to the sub-committee (for instance, the higher education sub-committee) for further study and hearings. If the Chairman of the sub-committee is interested in the idea, and he wants to move it forward, he has the power to do so. Thus, if the Chairman is interested in the idea, the first thing he should do is to hold hearings on the idea and assemble experts, public officials, and supporters to testify the idea and build a record of testimonies, stating that this idea is a good thing to do. The Chairman can also hold hearings on the idea that he does not like and organize a hearing in such a way to make the idea be discussed as a bad one. The members of the sub-committee meet after the hearings to develop and mark up the bill. Thus, they go line by line through the bill and make the necessary changes and amendments. Then, the members of the sub-committee vote again. If there is a majority vote, the bill is sent to the full committee. However, the bill dies, if there is no majority vote. The full committee finally votes on the bill’s recommendation to the House of Representatives and Senate (simultaneously or one house at a time), and they just accept the vote or object to it.
If the bill is passed through all the committees, it goes to the House Committee on Rules. The House Rules Committee is the speakers’ committee. When the bill is reported out of the committees, the Chairman asks the House Rules Committee to give the bill a rule. The House Rules Committee can vote negatively, and the bill can become dead. If the House Rules Committee votes positively, the bill is given a rule. Nevertheless, the committee first decides on the aspects of amending the bill passed by the committee. Sometimes, the House Rules Committee provides a closed rule, according to which once the bill gets to all 435 members of the House/Senate, they may make no changes in it, and it should or not be accepted as it is. If the House Rules Committee gives an open rule, it means the bill can be amended by any of these members. However, the Rules Committee usually specifies who can make amendments and on what subject. Moreover, once the bill reaches the floor, the time limit for the debate on the bill is set.
Then, the bill and the rule go to the House floor and all 435 members of the floor vote on the rule. If they do not accept the rule made by the Rules Committee, the members can vote negatively and stop the process. The floor can send the rule back to the Rules Committee and ask them to re-write the rule and make some changes if they want this bill to pass. When the rule is passed by the floor, the members have the debate or provide a speech on the bill within the time period specified by the Rules Committee, and then the members vote.
If the bill passes in the House, it goes to the Senate and follows the same process. In other words, the bill will be sent to the committee and then to the sub-committee where they hold hearings, mark up the bill, and vote. When the bill is passed by the committee of the Senate it goes to the desk of the majority leader instead of the Rules Committee of the Senate. Then, the bill is discussed by the majority leader, and he goes to the other 99 senators, represents the bill, and asks them how many amendments they wish to offer to the bill, for example, on free tuition, and how much time they need to speak on each amendment they make because the Senate rule allows the unlimited amendments on any subject and the unlimited debate on each amendment. This fact means that once the bill reaches the floor of the Senate, any senator can offer as many amendments as he wishes and on any subject related to the bill. The members of the Senate are also allowed to have unlimited debates.
The filibuster is the procedure when a senator has a lot of amendments, and he wants to talk about them for a long time. The filibuster shows that senators do not accept the bill, and the purpose of the procedure is to reject it. 51 people should participate in the filibuster if they want to pass the bill. It takes 60 votes to impose a cloture rule, end the filibuster, and pass a vote. This process is different in relation to the House where the Rules Committee states who can offer amendments and on what subject and the committee sets a time limit for the debate. The purpose of the Senate is to protect the minority’s rights. If it is necessary to do something regarding the bill and make a change, the person should vote consensus. From this point, the House of Representatives is like a hot cup of coffee, and the Senate is like the sauce to cool it off.
If there is no filibuster or there is a filibuster and it ends with 60 votes, the bill is discussed as passing the House of Representatives and the Senate. Then, the bill goes to the Conference Committee which is a temporary committee set up to deal with differences between the variants presented by the House and Senate on the same bill. For example, the House passed the free tuition bill, but it is for citizens only. The Senate also passed the free tuition bill, but including all the persons in the country whether they are citizens or not. To send the bill to the President, it must be passed by both chambers in the same way. The House and Senate should compromise or the bill can die. The Conference Committee is composed of the members of the House and Senate that wrote the bill in the first place, and its job is to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate’s visions of the same bill. If the House and Senate reach an agreement within the Conference Committee, a conference report is prepared to describe the changes. The report is sent to the House, and it should be passed by the majority vote (218 votes). Then, it will be sent to the Senate, and it should be passed by 60 votes. If the House and Senate do not reach a consensus, the bill dies.
Once the House and Senate sign the conference report, the bill goes to the desk of the Speaker of the House and the desk of the President of the Senate who is the Vice President of the United States, and it must be signed by them. Once the bill is signed by the Speaker and the President of the Senate, it is delivered to the White House. The President has 10 days to take action. The pocket veto is the procedure when the President does not sign the bill for 10 days, and Congress is not in session and cannot do anything about it. If congress is in session and even if the President does nothing about the bill, the bill becomes law automatically. The President can veto that legislation. The Constitution says when the President vetoes the legislation, he must write a letter, explaining to the first house that passed the bill why he objects to that legislation. The house can override the President’s veto by 2/3 of votes. Then, the veto goes to the next house. The members of that house can also override the President’s veto by 2/3 votes. Then, the bill becomes a law. Nevertheless, the two houses usually do not override the President’s veto, and the legislation is dead.
The purpose of this intricate ‘dance of legislation between the House, Senate, and the President is to stop a lot of bad ideas. 10,000-15,000 bills are introduced every year. The problem is in the fact that many of those bills present bad ideas, and some mechanism is necessary to make sure they will not become the law. However, a lot of good ideas can be also stopped in this process.