Legislative Process 101 - House of Representatives Committee Action
The legislative process can be really confusing, even for those of us who might have first learned about it through Schoolhouse Rock! or 10th grade civics. It takes time for staffers to feel comfortable with how this works, so we put this document together to pass on our knowledge and help you understand the process better. This document also complements our other explainer on regular order that can be found here.
When a bill is introduced in either chamber of Congress (House of Representatives or Senate), it is referred to different committees depending on what the bill proposes to do. These are called committees of jurisdiction. For example, for legislation attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, both the Committee on Energy and Commerce (which has jurisdiction over all matters of health care policy), and the Committee on Ways and Means (which has jurisdiction over taxes and subsidies) have jurisdiction. Energy and Commerce is the primary committee in the House to consider ACA “replace” bills.
After referral to committees, the committees hold public hearings to receive testimony from experts and other affected parties to figure out how best to craft a policy. Some hearings occur first in smaller subcommittees and then graduate to the full committee for more hearings. After holding hearings, the subcommittees and committees then proceed to a bill markup, a process where committee members “mark up” or make changes to the proposed bill. A markup can also just mean a vote in a committee. A full committee markup, where the all members of the committee vote to approve (or reject) a bill, is the final stage in the committee process.
At a markup, Members of Congress (MoCs) can offer amendments to a bill. This process can take several hours or sometimes days depending on the complexity of the policy or the number of amendments that have been proposed. But, in order for amendments to be considered, they must be germane, or within the scope of the policy at hand. For example, as congressional committees consider ACA repeal bills, MoCs can offer amendments related premium tax credits or Medicaid because they are germane (relevant) to the bills being considered. If they tried to offer amendments related to Trump’s connection to Russian officials, those amendments would not be considered because they aren’t germane to the ACA bills.
Once all germane amendments have been considered and voted upon, the bill will go to a final vote in committee. If approved, the bill will be “reported out favorably” for consideration by the full House. Very seldom will a bill not be approved if it is scheduled for markup; similarly on the House Floor, very few bills are voted down or pulled from consideration because the leadership of the majority know they have the votes for final passage.
You should also know that following a markup the committee will also produce a committee report which includes descriptions of the legislation in plain-speak, a description of the process the committee used when it considered the bill, all of the votes taken by the committee, and dissenting views by the minority. All reports are made available to the public through Congress.gov.
Committee of Jurisdiction: the committee responsible for overseeing a particular policy area
Markup: the committee process where MoCs make substantive changes to a bill
Germane: directly relevant
Committee Report: after a markup of a bill, the committee produces a report with a description of the bill and the process used to consider it in committee