We the People of the United States…
As per the Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives makes and passes federal laws. The House is one of Congress’s two chambers (the other is the U.S. Senate), and part of the federal government’s legislative branch. The number of voting representatives in the House is fixed by law at no more than 435, proportionally representing the population of the 50 states.
“All Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
(Article I, Section 1, of the United States Constitution)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The Constitution grants the U.S. House of Representatives a unique set of powers in the federal government, embodying the framers’ intent to make it uniquely responsive to the will of the people. James Madison of Virginia, the father of the Constitution and the House’s most important statesman in the early Congresses, believed the House should have “an immediate dependence on, and intimate sympathy with, the people.”
History of the House
The House is the only branch of government that has been directly elected by American voters since its formation in 1789. Unlike the Senate, the House is not a continuing body. Its Members must stand for election every two years, after which it convenes for a new session and essentially reconstitutes itself—electing a Speaker, swearing-in the Members-elect, and approving a slate of officers to administer the institution. Direct, biennial elections and the size of the membership (currently 435 voting Representatives) have made the House receptive to a continual influx of new ideas and priorities that contribute to its longstanding reputation as the “People’s House.”
Together, the House Office of the Historian and the Office of Art and Archives, under the Clerk of the House, serve as the House’s institutional memory. Their collaborative website, History, Art & Archives, provides resources for Members, staff, and the general public to explore more than 225 years of House history:
- Learn about the origins and development of the House, from the framers’ vision for the newly created Congress to major developments in the institutional powers and duties of the House.
- Discover what happened on a date in House history in a searchable calendar.
- Search the biographies of the more than 11,000 people who have served in the House, as well as the many House Officers since 1789.
- Explore lists of House leadership, including a historical list of Speakers of the House.
- Find historical statistics on election results, House service and seniority, party divisions, session dates, and more.
- Read a series of publications on women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans who have served in Congress and their role in the developing and changing institution.
- Investigate the inner workings of Congress during some of the most influential periods in our country’s modern history through oral history.
- Find out What’s in the Capitol and how the House’s historically significant spaces have evolved with Congress’ many changes.
- Understand the history of the House through art and artifacts in the House Collection.
- Search a selection of the records of the committees and House Officers to better understand how citizens interact with their government and the work of the House.
- Discover ways to bring history to life in the classroom with featured materials, lesson plans, and resources which highlight the House’s people and customs.
- Read the stories behind the legislation and procedure in Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.
- Receive your daily dose of House history through Twitter @USHouseHistory.