Laws are made in order to govern behavior in society. There are many types of laws including civil law, administrative law, criminal law, constitutional law, and international law. In order for these laws to be put into action, there is a process that must be followed. Laws start out as a bill. Anyone can draft a bill such as parties, interests groups, or presidents; and it is up to Congress to act favorably in order for the bill to become a law.
According to Article I, Section 7 in the U. S. Constitution, “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” (Turner 580). In guiding a bill through Congress, both houses need to pass the bill in identical form. In doing so, it can then proceed to the president. Once a bill is presented to the President several things can happen. First, the president can sign the bill, thus making it official law. However, if he chooses not to sign it, he can also veto, or turn down the bill. If the President vetoes the bill, three different results may occur.
Congress can either override the veto, table it for further revision, or the bill will die. The president may also pocket veto the bill, meaning that if he does nothing at all the bill and Congress adjourns before 10 days pass, the bill dies. However, if Congress is still in session after 10 days without the president’s signature, the bill will automatically become a law. First, the president may choose to sign the bill into law. At this point both the House and the Senate have spent countless hours discussing and reviewing the bill. When they have both decided on an identical form for the bill, it is finally sent to the president to review.
However, the Senate and House rarely pass bills in identical form. If there are minor changes made by one house, the other will usually agree to the changes and send the bill to the president for signature. If there are major differences, a House-Senate Conference committee reconciles them and then the bill makes it to the president’s desk. He may sign it at any time upon its arrival within a 10 day period (Constitutional Topic: How a Bill Becomes a Law 2). If the he approves of the bill in its entirety, he will then sign it thus declaring it official law.
An example of this process would be President Clinton’s signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993. This was President Clinton’s first legislation to be signed into law during his administration. The Family and Medical Leave Act enabled millions of workers to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to care for a new baby or ailing family member without jeopardizing their job (The Clinton Presidency: Eight Years of Peace, Progress and Prosperity 1). According to the article History of the FMLA, Congress passed the legislation in 1991 and 1992 however, it was vetoed both times by President George H. W. Bush. Clinton claimed, “It was then and remains today the embodiment of my governing philosophy of empowerment through opportunity and responsibility. ” (Bill Clinton: Why I signed the Family and Medical Leave Act 1).
Another action the president could take with a bill is to veto it. In this case, a veto means that the president can cancel or postpone a bill from transforming into a law. The president might choose to veto a bill because he feels it needs to be altered to best fit the needs of the country. Though, he might veto it because he disapproves of the bill entirely.
In 2006, President Bush used his power to veto a bill due to the fact that he felt it crossed a moral line. The bill favored the use of government funds to support stem cell research. Bush used his first veto after being in office for 5 years. According to Bush the bill, “would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others,” and also claimed, “it crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect” (Babington 1). If vetoed, the bill goes back to Congress and other steps might be taken. After the bill has been vetoed, different results may occur.
If the president chooses to veto a bill a few different things might happen. Once the bill makes it back to Congress while they are still in session, they can vote again on the issue. This is known as overriding a veto. However, in order to go against the president’s veto, there are rules. According to Article I, Section 7 of the U. S. Constitution, “ . . . being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives. . . ” (Turner 580). If this is done, the president’s veto is overruled and the bill becomes a law (How a Bill Becomes a Law 2).
Congress first used their right to veto on March 3, 1845. John Tyler was president at the time and had vetoed an appropriation bill which prohibited the President from authorizing the building of Coast Guard ships without approved appropriations from Congress. According to the article The First Congressional Override of a Presidential Veto, Tyler vetoed this bill to, “protect existing contracts and to retain presidential prerogative”. Congress spent hours debating the issue and ultimately the House voted 126–31 in favor of an override, nullifying Tyler’s veto (The First Congressional Override of a Presidential Veto 1).
There have been many vetoes over the decades. Out of 2,571 vetoes, 110 of them have been overridden (Summary of Bills Vetoed, 1789-Present 2). Although overriding a veto has been done, it is not the only option that can happen when the President vetoes a bill. Sometimes, the president vetoes a bill because he wants some changes to be made to it. Although the veto power does not give the President the power to amend or alter the content of legislation, he can make suggestions in order to get it passed.
The president can influence and shape legislation by a threat of a veto (The Presidential Veto and Congressional Veto Override Process 1). By doing so, the president can persuade legislators to alter the content of the bill to be more acceptable to the president, and then it might pass into a law later. Once revised, if both houses and the president approve of the bill, it becomes a law. Also, if no immediate revote is taken, the bill can be tabled for later vote or sent back to the committee to have further work done ( Constitutional Topic: How a Bill Becomes a Law 4).
Another option that can happen after a president vetoes a bill is that it could die. If the president vetoes a bill back to Congress and they vote on it again to override, and the vote fails, the bill dies (Constitutional Topic: How a Bill Becomes a Law 4). An example of this would be President Nixon’s veto of S. 518, a bill which would require Senate confirmation of those who serve as Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Nixon claimed, “This legislation would require the forced removal by an unconstitutional procedure of two officers now serving in the executive branch.
In view of my responsibilities, it is my firm duty to veto this bill” (159 – Veto of a Bill 1). Both the House and the Senate were required to vote with a two thirds majority in order to pass the bill. However, because the House failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote, President Nixon’s veto of S. 518 was sustained and the bill died (The Presidential Veto and Congressional Veto Override Process 3). In addition to these options, the president might also choose to sit on the bill, or in other words do nothing.
If the president chooses to sit on the bill, neither signing or vetoing it, it could still become a law. According to Article I in the Constitution, “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a law, in like Manner as if he had signed it. . . ” (Turner 580). This means that if Congress is still in session after the 10 day requirement has passed, the bill is automatically made a law. However, if Congress adjourns their meeting sooner than the 10 days, the bill fails (Constitutional Topic: How a Bill Becomes a Law).
If the president sits on a bill for longer than 10 days and Congress adjourns, a pocket veto has occurred. Article I, Section 7 verifies this by dictating, “. . . Same shall be a law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a law” (Turner 580). A working definition of a pocket veto is “ an indirect veto of a legislative bill by an executive through retention of the bill unsigned until after adjournment of the legislature” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). The first pocket veto was used in 1812 by President James Madison (Fisher 1).
President Ronald Reagan brought much controversy about the pocket veto during his administration. During his years in office he pocket vetoed 39 bills (Summary of Bills Vetoed, 1789-Present 1). A popular example of this controversy is the El Salvador Certification. On November 30, 1983, he pocket vetoed a bill to require certification of human rights practices in El Salvador as a precondition for sending military aid. As a result a group of 33 Members of the House of Representatives decided to file suit in order to require that the bill be published as a public law.
In 1987, the Supreme Court held that the controversy over the El Salvador legislation was moot because the bill had expired by its own terms, regardless of whether it had been previously enacted into law or not (Fisher 10). Overall, there are many things that can happen to a bill once it is presented to the President of the United States. The president can sign the bill, thus making it official law. The president might also choose to veto a bill because he feels the bill does not meet the needs of the country. Occasionally when the bill is sent back with the president’s objections it can be revised and later make it into a law.
However, sometimes Congress might disagree with the president’s choice to veto the bill and they can override that decision with a two thirds majority vote from both the House and the Senate. If they do not meet the two thirds requirement, the bill fails. If the president chooses to sit on the bill, neither signing or vetoing it, it could still become a law if Congress is still in session after the 10 day requirement has passed. Alternately, a pocket veto could occur if congress adjourns before the 10 days is over, resulting in the failure of the bill.