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016 Who makes federal laws?

16. Who makes federal laws?
• Congress
• Senate and House (of Representatives)
• (U.S. or national) legislature

Making a federal (or national) law in the United States is a complex (or complicated and not simple) process that takes a lot of time. This is good, because it means that the laws can’t be easily changed. New laws can be made only when a lot of people agree that they are a good idea.

Federal (or national) laws can be made only by the national legislature (or the part of the government that makes laws), which is known as Congress. Congress is a bicameral legislature, meaning that it has two chambers (or parts). The two parts are the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate and the House are equal partners, meaning that they have the same amount of power. A law cannot be enacted (or created) without the consent (or agreement) of both chambers.

When people want to create a new law, they speak with their senator or representative, who will then write a bill, which is a proposal or an idea for a new
law. That bill is given a special number to identify it and then copies are made for all the people in that chamber. Then the bill is sent to a committee (or a small group of people working together for a specific purpose) that specializes in that topic. The committee discusses (or talks about) the bill and the committee can make changes to the bill if it wants to. Then it tells the full chamber what it thinks about whether the bill should become a law.

Next, the full chamber debates (or talks about the reasons for or against the bill) and votes on the bill. If the bill passes (or is approved) in one chamber, then it is sent to the other chamber. For example, if it passes in the Senate, then it is sent to the House of Representatives. Just like in the other chamber, a committee discusses the bill and might make changes before it is debated and voted on by the full chamber. If the second chamber also approves the bill, then committees from both chambers meet to work out the differences (or to find a way to agree) on the two different versions of the bill.

Once the final version of the bill is passed in both chambers, both the House and the Senate, it is sent to the president. If the president signs it, then the bill becomes a law.


complex – complicated; not simple; with many different parts that are not easy to understand
* Many math teachers believe that algebra isn't as complex as calculus is.

Congress – the legislative (lawmaking) part of the U.S. government; the group of elected national representatives
* How many representatives does your state have in Congress?

bicameral – with two chambers or parts; an organization with two major parts
* Does your country's government have just one part where laws are made, or is it bicameral like the U.S. Congress?

to enact – to create; to make
* When did the United States enact a law to allow women to vote?

consent – agreement; permission to do something or to allow something to happen
* When Jimmie asked whether he could use the car, his father nodded in consent.

bill – a proposal or an idea for a new law
* Some people want Congress to discuss a bill that would make it legal to use some illegal drugs for medical treatment.

committee – a small group of people working together for a specific purpose
* Darcy is working on the party committee, helping to organize the high school's year-end dance.

to debate – to talk about the reasons for or against doing or supporting something
* They spent months debating whether they should buy a home or continue to rent an apartment.

to work out the differences – to find a way to agree on something
* Even though they love each other very much, they need to find a way to work out their differences before they get married.