• Publius

The United States Constitution Explained: Article I - The Legislature: Part 7 - Let's Legislate!

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

FINALLY! After 6 Sections of who Congress is, how they operate, why they exist, and when they are elected and meet, we get to the meat of WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DO – Legislate. Section 7 is probably one of the main things you remember from government class in school. It is all about how a bill becomes a law.

Section 7 – Clause One

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

The first restriction that the Constitution puts on the process of making laws is that all bills for raising revenue (aka taxes) must come from the Representatives. Do you remember that thing the Founding Fathers cared about a good bit? Taxation without Representation? To avoid that, they wanted all bills that will create, extend, or alter taxes to begin in the House of Representatives so that the people’s representatives are making the decisions on any new taxes and not just what is best for the States themselves. This does not apply to every single instance of a tax, but only to new taxes meant to generally support the government. Everything else can be proposed on a bill by either house as an amendment to a bill.

Section 7 – Clause Two

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. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. 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, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Ok, so here is the part we all remember. When one chamber creates a bill, both houses must approve, and then it has to be approved and signed by the President, and boom, you have a law. If the President disagrees, he can choose to veto (or deny) the bill within 10 days. If he does, it goes back to both houses to be voted on again. If it passes a vote with a 2/3 majority (67 votes in Senate, 290 in the House) of both Houses without being amended, then we have a new law! If the 10 days passes (minus Sundays) and the President does not respond to the bill, and Congress is in session, we have a new law!

Any other outcome and the bill must be reintroduced and amended, and then the process will start again. There is also an interesting tidbit that differs in the veto review process from the initial voting process. The names of who voted yea or nay (for or against the bill) are entered into the journal regardless of whether or not twenty-percent of the respective house votes for them to be. This is because this process is of a higher nature, and it checks the Executive’s veto power.

A critical catch on the veto power is that if the President decides to veto a bill, he or she vetos it in its entirety. Let’s say there is a spending bill that says we will spend x amount on the military, x amount on Social Security, x amount on infrastructure, and a huge amount on cheese for a 75-foot cheese statue of Alexander Hamilton. Suppose the President hates our Founding Fathers and thinks that we have other priorities than spending money on an Alexander Hamilton statue. In that case, he has to veto the spending on military, infrastructure, and Social Security to veto the 75-foot cheese statue. While this is a ridiculous example intended to highlight the issue, it does expose a serious current political problem and an unintended political check on the President’s power.

The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House this week is over 4500 pages long. Over the years, Congress has learned to expertly use omnibus (or all-encompassing) bills to slide in priorities the President disagrees with. These bills make it one hard for him or her to find them, and two politically impossible to veto because of the other crises it will cause by not funding portions of the military, for example.

As you know, it is exceedingly rare that I will use this platform to call you to any political action. However, finding a way to limit the amount of actions bills can take is something I urge you to reach out to your US Senators and US Representatives about. Omnibus bills hurt everyone involved and are merely political cudgels used to limit the President's constitutionally given power.

Ok, now back off my political soapbox. I know that this can be a confusing process and all I have done so far is offer a really long block of text to explain a shorter block of text. For my visual learners in the crowd, here is a helpful flowchart I created to hopefully make the process make a bit more sense.

Section 7 – Clause Three

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

If you have made it this far reading along with me, I am sure you are curious about the difference between Clause 3 and Clause 2 because they look pretty dang similar on their face. There has been some discussion on why this clause was included. The general consensus is that the Framers did not want Congress able to pass an Order or Resolution that is not a bill and have it able to be enacted like a law without the same process of a bill being followed.

Basically, the word necessary is meant to imply that any Order Resolution or Vote that will carry with it the force of Law must be reviewed by the President. Any other Votes, Orders, or Resolutions such as those that happen during the process of lawmaking are generally thought to be exempt from this clause.

- Publius

In our next post, we will continue on with Article I, Section 8. Please remember to follow us on Instagram and Facebook @marchforthfortheconstitution for other Constitution content and share us with your friends. When we reach 100 followers on our Instagram or Facebook page, we will pick one lucky follower to give away a $25 Amazon gift card!

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