The Construction of American Government
The Process of a Bill becoming a Law
The process of how a bill becomes a law in the U.S. federal government is extended and complicated, full of opportunities when the bill can be sidetracked, stalled, or stopped from progressing into a law. Basically speaking, the process of converting a bill into a law consists of 15 distinct steps, which I will explain. The points along this path when the bill could be sidetracked will be pointed out along the way. As a note, bills can be introduced in either the House or the Senate — unless they regard appropriations — and follow roughly the same path. In this example, we follow the path of a bill through its introduction in the House.
The bill is introduced by a member of Congress by placing the text of the bill into the “hopper” on the desk of the Clerk of the House Chamber. Once the bill has been officially introduced in this manner, it can be sent to the Printing Office so that copies can be made available for all Congress members. (2) the bill is referred to at least one of the existing committees on the subject by the Speaker of the House. (3) a report is produced by that committee that outlines their findings regarding the bill. Included in the analysis is commentary by any committees that have considered the bill, as well as public opinion. (4) the House Rules Committee dictates that the bill will be considered in Congress and sets the terms of the debate and amendment of the bill. (5) the bill is considered in Congress in two stages: first in a general debate regarding the merits of the bill; and second, in consideration of amendments that might be made to bill (Chambers 30). By this point, there have already been numerous points and opportunities for the bill to be sidetracked or eliminated from consideration. Though not likely, clerical errors at the Clerk’s office or at the Printing Office could stall the bill. The report of the committee to which the bill was assigned could dictate the like of the bill, as could public hearings on the subject. The decision of the House Rules Committee could also severely limit the terms of debate of the bill, making it more difficult to consider.
6) if enough votes are in favor of the bill and the amendments decided upon, the House passes the bill. (7) at this point, the bill is transferred to the Senate. (8) in much the same fashion as already occurred in the House, the Senate will consider the bill. As in the House, the bill will usually be referred to a Senate committee on the subject for preliminary consideration. (9) Once the bill makes it to the Senate floor, it will be debate and potential amended, with any changes being sent back to the House for their consideration. (10). The House and the Senate must resolve any differences in the bill that have emerged as a result of their independent considerations. Resolutions are usually managed through the addition of amendments to the bill or else through the report of another committee (Chambers 31). Through step (10), the same process of debate, consideration, and amended that occurred in the House already know occurs in the Senate, with all the similar possibilities for derailing the progress of the bill. Attempts to resolve the bill between the two arms of Congress also present the possibility of disagreement and complications.
11) if an agreement can be reached between the House and the Senate regarding the final life of the bill, the bill will be enrolled on parchment and signed by both the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. (12) Then, the bill is sent on to the President of the United States for his consideration of the possible legislation. (13). After consideration, the President will approve or disapprove of the bill that Congress has passed to him. If he disapproves, the bill will be vetoed and returned to Congress with a message that explains the reasons for disapproval. (14) if it seems prudent, the House and Senate can then take steps to override the veto by securing a two-thirds votes in both the House and the Senate. Only if this can happen will it be possible to override the President’s veto. (15) if the veto is successfully overturned — or if the President approved the bill in the first place — the bill will become a new public law and will be filed with the Archivist of the United States (Chambers 31). In these last series of steps, the potential law faces its greatest and most final threat to actualization: the President’s approval. Once both the House and the Senate have approved the bill, the President of the United States represents the most significant threat to the bill’s transformation into a law.
Question #2: The Bully Pulpit
The origin of the term “bully pulpit” can be traced back to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. During his presidency, Roosevelt commonly referred to the White House — and by extension the presidency — as a bully pulpit. Though today we associate the word bully with harassers and mean children, in Roosevelt’s day the usage of the word was somewhat different. By this statement, he meant that the presidency was a terrific platform from which to persuasively advocate a specific agenda (“Bully Pulpit”). Pulpit would have had much the same meaning as it does today — referring to a minister’s pedestal — but bully would have been taken to mean superb, excellent, or terrific. In addition, Roosevelt was also a part of the Progressive Party, which was sometimes called the Bull Moose Party. In addition to the historical difference in meaning of “bully,” Roosevelt may have also been referring to his own party and their politics. In a clever play on words, Roosevelt may have also been indicating that the Presidency was an excellent tool for forwarding the political agenda of the Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party (“Bully Pulpit”).
Understanding the history of the bully pulpit and its linguistic origins is an excellent starting point for a discussion of the significance of the term for the presidency. Without the concept of the bully pulpit in play, the role of the president would be much more limited when it came to setting public policy. As it stands, the president has no Constitutional ability to affect public policy through the enactment of laws or the passing of judgments in court cases. The roles are well played by the other two branches of the government. The best it would seem that the president can manage, at times, is to manage the armed forces, veto bills, and appoint justices to the Supreme Court. While all of these roles have an effect on public policy, they are far from direct forces in the shaping of national policy on a day-to-day basis.
The concept of the bully pulpit provides the president with just that means he seems to otherwise be lacking. The initial role of the president in the days after the Revolutionary War was much more limited than it is today. The fear of electing a king was still strong in an American populace that just liberated itself from the rule of another monarch. Therefore, the role of the president and the executive branch was never imagined to be a force for shaping national policy, at least not to the extent that the bully pulpit allows. Nonetheless, over time presidents have increasingly realized that their position at the head of the executive branch in an election that the entire nation follows, is an excellent position from which to give speeches and make statements that will affect policy in the nation. Roosevelt was simply the first to give this implicit power a name. Even if he hadn’t, though, the bully pulpit would have continued to persist and have an effect on the success of presidents and their capacity to affect public policy.
Question #3: The Levels and Jurisdictions of the Federal Court System
Established by Article III of the Constitution, the federal court system was designed to, in essence, be the highest law in the land. The federal court system, as we know it today, was refined and created with the Judiciary Act of 1989 (Chambers 54). No matter what local or state statutes exist in the nation, all courts must defer to the decisions made in the federal court system. Therefore, a clear grasp of the levels and jurisdictions of the federal court system is important. This discussion of the federal court system will start at the highest level — the Supreme Court — and work its way down from there through the layers of the federal court system.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, as dictated by the U.S. Constitution. On the Court, since the beginning, has sat a Chief Justice. Since 1869, eight associate justices have complemented the Chief Justice, though this number is not set in stone. Congress has the right to manipulate the organization of the Supreme Court, and has over the years varied the number of associate justices from as few as six to as many as ten. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court has been originally applied to cases affecting ambassadors, public ministers, or any case in which a State is a party. Congress has also given the Supreme Court the authority to review any decision made in the lower federal courts and the highest courts of the States (Chambers 54).
There are other courts in the federal system besides the Supreme Court. The 94 District Courts are the trial courts in which the majority of federal cases are first tried and decided. Each state in the Union, plus each territory like the District of Columbia or Guam, has its own District Court. Each District Court has anywhere from one to twenty-eight judges presiding, though each case is assigned only one judge (Chambers 55). In addition to the District Courts, the federal system also includes Courts of Appeals, which are sometimes referred to as circuit courts. The Courts of Appeals are divided geographically throughout the country into twelve circuits, each of which contains between six and twenty-eight judges. The jurisdiction of these courts covers appeals from the District Courts and any appeals made to the federal system because of actions made by government agencies (Chambers 55). In addition, there are some specialized courts in the federal system, such as the U.S. Claims Court that hears claims against the United States, the Court of International Trade whose jurisdiction is claims against the government from federal laws surrounding imports, or the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals (Chambers 56). There are other specialized courts in the federal court system, each of which covers specific aspects of federal law.
Speaker of the House: This is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, elected formally by the members of the House. However, in actuality, he or she is chosen by the majority party (“U.S. Civics”).
Senate Majority Leader: This individual is part of the first-ranking party in the Senate, and is usually a distinguished senior member of the Senate. The Senate majority leaders schedules actions regarding bills and guides legislative programs through the Senate (“U.S. Civics”).
Secretary of State: The role of Secretary of State is to work with individuals in other nations around the world to facilitate better international relationships.
Secretary of Defense: This individual is the head of the Department of Defense, and manages issues that pertain directly to the armed services and the military. Because this is theoretically the purview of the President, the Secretary of Defense acts as direct advisor to the President on these matters.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the individual assigned to the Supreme Court by the President of the United States as mandated by the Constitution. He or she is currently accompanied by associate justices who aid in rendering a final decision on matters before the Court (Chambers 54).
Bully Pulpit.” C-SPAN Congressional Glossary. 23 Nov. 2007 http://www.c-span.org/guide/congress/glossary/bullypul.htm.
Chambers, Ann B. Our American Government. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993.
U.S. Civics: How the U.S. Government Works.” History Central. 2000. 23 Nov. 2007 http://www.historycentral.com/Civics/index.html.
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