How a bill becomes a law/XV. Presidential action

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Series: How a bill becomes a law in the U.S. Congress
Main page:
Subpages:
  1. The Congress
  2. Sources of legislation
  3. Forms of congressional action
  4. Introduction and referral to committee
  5. Consideration by committee
  6. Reported bills
  7. Legislative oversight by standing committees
  8. Calendars
  9. Obtaining consideration of measures
  10. Consideration and debate
  11. Congressional budget process
  12. Engrossment
  13. Final action on amended bill
  14. Enrollment
  15. Presidential action
  16. Publication

Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution provides in part that--

  • Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.

In actual practice, the Clerk, or the Secretary of the Senate when the bill originated in that body, delivers the original enrolled bill to a clerk at the White House and obtains a receipt. The fact of the delivery is then reported to the House by the Clerk. Delivery to a White House clerk has customarily been regarded as presentation to the President and as commencing the 10-day constitutional period for presidential action.

Copies of the enrolled bill usually are transmitted by the White House to the various departments interested in the subject matter so that they may advise the President on the issues surrounding the bill.

If the President approves the bill, he signs it and usually writes the word "approved" and the date. However, the Constitution requires only that the President sign it.

The bill may become law without the President's signature by virtue of the constitutional provision that if the President does not return a bill with objections within 10 days (excluding Sundays) after it has been presented to the President, it becomes law as if the President had signed it. However, if Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, it does not become law. This is known as a "pocket veto"; that is, the bill does not become law even though the President has not sent his objections to the Congress. The Congress has interpreted the President's ability to pocket veto a bill to be limited to final adjournment "sine die" of a Congress where Congress has finally prevented return by the originating House and not to interim adjournments or first session adjournments where the originating House of Congress through its agents is able to receive a veto message for subsequent reconsideration by that Congress when it reconvenes. The extent of pocket veto authority has not been definitively decided by the courts.

Notice of the signing of a bill by the President is sent by message to the House in which it originated and that House informs the other, although this action is not necessary for the act to be valid. The action is also noted in the Congressional Record.

A bill becomes law on the date of approval or passage over the President's veto, unless it expressly provides a different effective date.

Contents

Veto message

By the terms of the Constitution, if the President does not approve the bill "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". A bill returned with the President's objections, need not be voted on at once when laid before the House since the vetoed bill can be postponed, referred back to committee, or tabled before the question on passage is pending. A vetoed bill is always privileged until directly voted upon, and a motion to take it from the table or from committee is in order at any time.

Once the relevant Member moves the previous question on the question of override, the question is then put by the Speaker as follows: "Will the House on reconsideration agree to pass the bill, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding?" Under the Constitution, a vote by the yeas and nays is required to pass a bill over the President's veto. The Clerk activates the electronic system or calls the roll with those in favor of passing the bill answering "Aye", and those opposed "No". If fewer than two-thirds of the Members present vote in the affirmative, a quorum being present, the bill is rejected, and a message is sent to the Senate advising that body of the House action. However, if two-thirds vote in the affirmative, the bill is sent with the President's objections to the Senate, unless that body has acted first, together with a message advising it of the action in the House.

The procedure in the Senate is the same as a two-thirds affirmative vote is also necessary to pass the bill over the President's objections. If the Senate joins the House and votes two-thirds in the affirmative to pass the bill, the measure becomes the law of the land notwithstanding the objections of the President, and it is ready for publication as a binding statute.

Line item veto

From 1997 until it was declared unconstitutional in 1998, the Line Item Veto Act provided the President authority to cancel certain individual items contained in a bill or joint resolution that he had signed into law. The law allowed the President to cancel only three types of fiscal items: a dollar amount of discretionary budget authority, an item of new direct spending, and a tax change benefiting a class of 100 or fewer. While the Act has not been repealed, the Supreme Court in Clinton v. City of New York, 118 S. Ct. 2091 (1998), struck down the Line Item Veto Act as unconstitutional.

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