How a bill really becomes a law

This weekend’s Saturday Night Live skit brought with it a nagging question: Should civics classes teach how a bill becomes a law, or how it really does — or doesn’t — become a law?

Related: SNL skit suggests Obama’s immigration executive action is unconstitutional (The Washington Post).

The process feels a lot different from the way Schoolhouse Rock taught it in 1975:

  • Robert Moffitt

    As I recall, executive orders were covered in my classes. (Push him down the stairs again, Mr. President!)

  • Robert Moffitt

    Jokes aside, let’s look at the SNL skit seriously for a moment.

    First, there really IS an immigration bill, sitting on Capitol Hill. It came from the Senate, and it is called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” It’s sitting because the House leadership won’t touch it, fearing backlash from conservatives opposed to ANY immigration reform, beyond bigger fences and more deportations.

    After more that a year and a half of stalling by House Republicans, Obama has now acted on his promise to “do something” on immigration.

    No, the President can’t just “do what he wants.” But the Constitution does give the President the ability to make such decisions, and just about every U.S. President has used this powers, starting with George Washington in 1793.
    While EOs have been declared invalid in the past (FDRs was the first), such action is extremely rare.
    Considering the many options he had, and the actions some Presidents have already taken on immigration, Obama’s EO was pretty mild and narrowly focused, IMHO.

    • JDan

      It doesn’t matter if there is a bill anywhere if the senate, house, and potus can’t compromise. No pointing fingers, all three ate just as responsible to work for the betterment of the country.

      • Robert Moffitt

        Actually, it matters. For a law to get started, someone needs to write it down first (aka, a bill). Then the debate can begin. The House leadership doesn’t want compromise. They don’t want to act on this at all, it seems. The Senate bill was bipartisan, so the House should find something in there it likes — if they had the courage to act.

    • Nick K

      The flaw in your argument is that you are suggesting that the House is somehow obligated to act. If the House doesn’t like the Senate bill and knows that it can’t get a bill it likes passed, why should it waste the time. The House has certainly taken enough heat for trying to pass other bills (like ending ACA) that it knows won’t pass.

      • By “the House”, do you mean the leadership or the members. It seems to me the best way to prove the House doesn’t like a bill is for the House to reject the bill.

        • John Peschken

          Yes, but then you have that no vote that hurts you in your effort to attract more Hispanic voters. It will come up in the next cycle of negative ads. Politics.

      • DavidG

        Enough House members of both parties have publicly stated they would vote for the Senate bill if it came to the floor. That’s exactly why Boehner won’t allow it a floor vote.

        Alternatively, the House could take the Senate bill through their committee process, amend it as they like, and vote on that.

        There is then the conference committee in which both houses would hash out the differences between the two bills. But again, Boehne wouldn’t even allow that to occur.

    • kevinfromminneapolis

      “First, there really IS an immigration bill, sitting on Capitol Hill. It came from the Senate, and it is called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” It’s sitting because the House leadership won’t touch it, fearing backlash from conservatives opposed to ANY immigration reform, beyond bigger fences and more deportations.

      After more that a year and a half of stalling by House Republicans, Obama has now acted on his promise to “do something” on immigration.”

      I’m not familiar with the School House Rock that explains how the Senate gets to decide what the House hears and if the House chooses otherwise it’s considered stalling. We don’t really have a bicameral Congress in that School House Rock, I guess.