Legislative Powers

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What is the process of passing a law or bill assuming the bill starts in the House of Representatives, is modified in the Senate, and is vetoed by the president?

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When drafting the Constitution of the United States, the authors were heavily influenced by their own experiences living under tyranny and by the examples of representative government, such as they were, provided by history.  Their highest priority was the avoidance of a dictatorial form of government.  The Preamble of the Constitution famously begins with the phrase “We the People of the United States . . .”  This was not an accident and was not intended to be symbolic.  The government of the newly emerging nation was to be a democracy.  To further impress upon contemporaries and future generations alike the importance being placed upon the concept of representative government, these individuals dedicated the first article of the Constitution to the establishment of a legislature comprised of members of the public elected to serve specified terms of two years in the House of Representatives and six years in the Senate. 

The system of “checks and balances” written into the Constitution provides for a process intended to guarantee that laws are not passed that do not reflect a clear majority of the American public.  Toward that end, Article I, Section 7, clause 2 of the Constitution states:

“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.  If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law.”

Put simply, in order to override a presidential veto and make law, two-thirds of each chamber of Congress must vote in favor of the legislation – a daunting task given the difficulty of either political party in either chamber accumulating sufficient support from the other party to account for two-thirds of each chamber.  Consequently, in order for the bill that was rejected by the president to become law, absent two-thirds support in both chambers of Congress, congressional supporters of the bill must negotiate with the White House and attempt to reconcile their differences.  This was precisely what the authors of the Constitution intended.  What they might not have anticipated, however, is the use of what are known as “Presidential Findings” and “Executive Orders,” in which presidents, without the consent, and sometimes even without the knowledge, of Congress single-handedly implement policies that carry the force of law, the violation of which can result in criminal charges.

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