Ilona Nickels
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Accountability of Elected Officials
Career Paths to Congress
Chaplains in the U.S. Congress
House Ethics Process
House/Senate Differences
Lame Duck Congress: Attendance and Voting
Members of Congress: A Job Description
Members of Congress: Who Do They Represent?
Oath of Office for Members of Congress
Pledge of Allegiance: Standing for the Pledge
Pledge of Allegiance: Use in Congress
Qualifications to Run for Congress
Senate: 50-50 Split?
Senate Majority Leader: A Job Description
Sessions of Congress: Lengths
Size of House and Senate
Speaker of the House: a Job Description
Amending the Constitution
Constitutionality of Legislation
August Recesses
First Congress
GOP: Origins of Term
Ideology: Left or Right
Lame Duck Congress: Definition
Party Animals: the Donkey and the Elephant
Statue of Freedom
U.S. Citizenship Test
Amendment Tree in the Senate
Changing a Law
Conference Committees: In Decline
Conference Committees: Procedures
“Deem and Pass” Procedure
Executive Orders
Holds in the Senate
How to Find Basic Legislative Information
How to Keep Up With Congress
Types of Legislation

Capitol Corner

Types of Legislation

What is the difference between a "bill," a "resolution," "a joint resolution," and a "concurrent resolution"?

Types of Legislation by Ilona NickelsThe key distinction among them is that two make law, and two don't. The measures that make law are bills and joint resolutions, while concurrent and simple resolutions do not.

While "bill" is used commonly to describe any legislative proposal, and that is okay, it is not procedurally correct. Bills are numbered “H.R.” in the House and “S.” in the Senate. All legislative measures are numbered in the order in which they are introduced in their category. So the 900th bill introduced in the House would be "H.R. 900", and the 900th bill introduced in the Senate, “S.900”.

Joint resolutions are numbered “S.J.Res.” in the Senate and “H.J.Res.” in the House. So the 100th joint resolution introduced in the Senate would be “S.J. Res. 100” and the 100th joint resolution introduced in the House, “H.J.Res. 100”.

Using the same pattern, concurrent resolutions are numbered “H.Con.Res.” or “S.Con.Res.” respectively. Simple resolutions are identified as “H.Res.” in the House and “S.Res.” in the Senate.

When the goal is to make national law, Members must draft their proposals as either a) bills or b) joint resolutions. While there is no technical requirement to do so, the tradition is to use the form of a joint resolution for any measure seeking to amend the Constitution, for continuing appropriations (known as "continuing resolutions"), or for disapproving executive actions or federal agency regulations (known as "disapproval resolutions"). Most everything else is drafted in the form of a bill.

The two types of measures that make law, bills and joint resolutions, must go to the President for review. He may (1) sign them into law; (2) allow them to become law without his signature; (3) return them to Congress with a veto message, which gives Congress a chance to vote to override the veto; or (4) pocket-veto them, which provides no opportunity for an override.

Concurrent resolutions must pass both the House and Senate to be enacted, but do not go to the President and therefore do not become the law of the land. They are used to give an opinion of the Congress, but without the force of law, as in so-called "sense of Congress" resolutions. They also are used to create a new joint committee of the Congress, to establish a congressional budget, to authorize use of the Capitol rotunda for a ceremony, or anything else that takes action on behalf of both bodies.

Simple resolutions stay within the chamber they are introduced. They do not go to the other body, nor to the President, nor do they become law. They give the opinion of one chamber only (e.g. "Sense of the Senate" language), or they seek to create a new committee in one chamber only, or propose to change the rules of procedure in one chamber only.