PS102 - May 6. How a bill becomes a law--more or less!
There are three elements in the House and Senate. Usually done through committee, but three roles, in a sense, that they play. One is the individual legislatures introducing legislation. Two, they hold hearings to see if they need legislation. So a second is to see if legislation is needed and then introduce it. So one is the introduction of legislation, whether needed or not. Two is to see whether or not legislation is needed. Hearings are held. Three is what we call the oversight function. Overseeing the executive branch to make sure that the legislation is actually being carried out. So those are the three functions. Three functions basically of Congress. Most work is done through committees in Congress. Each member of the House and the Senate serves on two committees, sometimes three. There are 16 permanent committees in the Senate. They're called standing committees. It doesn't mean that they stand. It means that they go from session to session. So every Congress that same committee will be there. The people on that committee usually have first choice to be on it in the next Congress.
Each is two years, I think I mentioned that, because all members of House of Reps are reelected every two years and this is the 106th Congress. If the committee has a vacancy because somebody left Congress then a new person can apply for that committee. I pointed out to you that the committees they want to apply for are the ones that are going to help them bring home the pork and help them get reelected in their district. However, the party leaders determine who is going to be on which committee so they may not get the appointment. If they don't like you -- so you better be nice to your party leaders if you want to get reelected because you want to bring home the bacon to your district.
There are 19 committees in the House that are standing committees. These vary from time to time in small numbers but not greatly. The Senate and the House also have what we call special committees. Special committees are committees that deal with narrow issues and sometimes go from session to session. Generally they're terminated within a short period of time. There's a committee on aging. It's a special committee. Committee on crime. Special committee. So in both House and Senate the total comes to about 22 committees with the special committees. Every now and then they also create other kinds of ad hoc committees. Is it on your word list? Did I leave it there? Yeah. An ad hoc committee is set up for a specific purpose and time. It's got a time limit on it and it has a direct purpose. Ad hoc committees. It's a temporary committee in contrast to a standing committee, or in contrast to some special committees that sometimes are close to standing.
As I indicated before and I'll say it again, 99% of the legislation goes to committees and most of the work is done in committee, from the hearings to the oversight functions. Therefore most of the time if you were to go to Congress to look, you go to the House of Reps, you go to the Senate, you look down, see what's going on there, maybe one person speaking, maybe two or three people are mulling around, they're not there. They're not on the floor. They're in committee meetings. That's where the action takes place. That's where discussions are held, that's where interviews are held, that's where speakers are brought in, that's where people are questioned.
I said the leadership of the House and Senate determine things and that's very much a part of it. We'll talk about that leadership in a minute, but let's talk about it from a different perspective. The person who presides over the Senate, that is to determine basically what's going to happen, he runs the meeting, he calls the place to order, he recognizes people, is the vice president of the United States. He is president of the Senate. I think most of us in this class know that the vice president of the United States is Al Gore. Most of the time he's not there, although he can be. Should be. But they're often doing other things. He's doing state functions going to funerals whatever. So when he is not there he is supposed to be replaced by the president pro tem of the Senate. Temporary president and sometimes tempore. Did I mention who the president of the pro tem of the Senate was in this class before? It's Strom Thurman. Remember we talked about that 95 year old man? Well obviously, he's not extremely strong either verbally or any other way to run a meeting. It's an
honor. Although the person running the meeting when the president's not there, what actually happens is, since most of the time nobody's there, any way he's supposed to be there. He doesn't want to be there, so they turn over the function of sitting and running the meet to some junior senator who really is new and -- sort of like pledging, you know, they're getting even with them in some way.
The person who presides over the House is the speaker of the house. He is a member of the House. The president of the Senate is not a member of Senate except he does have, in cases of a tie, a vote. Because there will always be or should always be an even number of senators, since there are two from each state. So that there is the good possibility that ties could occur. The framers recognize that and they gave the president of the Senate the tie breaking ability.
Obviously being a democrat, the republicans don't want to see too many ties because they want to see -- they don't want to see it broken. Now that I think about it, that was in the House that's why it was a tie. 213 to 213, yeah it wasn't in the Senate. If something is close, the vice-president's going to be there to get to vote. Let me tell you, he knows. If it's important issue specifically. How often does it happen? It happens a couple of times each session. The vice president does get a vote; ties do occur.
The speaker of the house is elected by the house to preside and since one party traditionally has a majority of the house, the speaker of the house is generally the person from that party and the most powerful person in that party.
How they run the meeting, how they make appointments, all of that's determined based on the power of the speaker of the house. We kept hearing the name Newt Gingrich, but of course he was pushed aside as speaker and he resigned his post in the house, and so he is no longer there and a man name Hasket (I am not sure on the spelling) has become the speaker of the house, who seems to be quiet nonchalant, not a lot about him. He certainly isn't the colorful personality that we often identify with the speakers of house. Many of the speakers of the house have become world renowned because they have been fairly colorful personalities. Certainly Newt was.
In both the house and Senate right now, the democratic party is a minority party. The republicans are the majority party. They hold a small majority in the house of reps. I forget the number, it's about 225 to 2 something. 218. Yeah it's pretty close. In the Senate however, the majority is much wider; it's 55 to 45. So there is a very strong power the republicans have in the Senate over the house.
Obviously the president, who can't himself introduce bills, are more likely introduce any bills he wants through a member of the house more than the Senate. Why? Because it's a better chance he'll get through the house or the Senate since the democrats are closer in number in the house than in the Senate. If they were closer in the Senate he will have a senator introduce the bill. It's only logical.
In the house and the Senate both parties have minority leaders. The majority party is called majority leader, the minority party is called the minority leader. The majority leader in the Senate is the most powerful person because he has actually, in many ways, more powers than the vice-president who is just a figure head. The individual who heads the majority party and makes much of the decisions in the Senate, power almost equivalent to the speaker of the house, is Trent Lott. Many people talked about him as a presidential candidate because he had presidential hair. I don't know if any of you have ever seen him, he does have this -- what do you call it when you have this big hair? Pompadour. Which is there's never a hair out of place. It looks lake a wig. It's very, very stiff looking.
No, I'm not jealous of his hair at all. Clinton's got real white, have you noticed how white he's gotten lately? Yeah he's getting -- maybe he's doing that purposely to make him more distinguished. They say that when Jerry Brown ran for president, he was 36 years old when he was trying to, so he dyed the side burns on his hair to make his side burns look older. But in any case, Trent Lott is the majority leader in the Senate. The minority leader is a man named Tom Daschle. He is the most powerful Democrat. In the house of reps, the majority leader, the republican leader is a man that many people thought was going to go bye, but was able to maintain his power when Newt left, his name is Richard Army. Dick Army.
The minority leader in the house is a man who many people thought would run for president too and he chose not to leaving the door open for Gore. It will be very interesting to see. Gore's got one person who may give him the run for the money and that's a man named Bill Bradley, who is a former senator from New Jersey, who played for the New York Nicks, and is a very human dynamic person but not the most exciting personality I've -- in any case the man who everybody thought was going to run against Gore, because he doesn't like Gore, and he is the most powerful person for the democrats in the House, is Richard Dick Gephardt. Dick. The minority majority leaders determine the organization of the party. They determine who serves on committees. And along with other party leaders they determine who's going to chair the committees although, as I indicated the other day, most people who chair committees, in fact the vast majority they chair the committee because of seniority. Meaning they have been there the longest. However they have to be of the majority party because the most members of each committee are from the majority party, because there are more members of that party in Congress, in the House and in the Senate.
Both parties in both the House and Senate have assistant party leaders. The names of the assistant party's leaders we won't worry about but they are called whips. They whip their people in line. Although in actuality I guess maybe it's the same. The term whip that's used for the assistant party leaders comes from the English dog the whippit. They are sort of like greyhounds and used in the fox hunts by rounding up the fox. So the main job of the whips in Congress is to round up the members of the party. To make sure they get out to vote. They've got a secondary important job too and that's fundraising. So they are major fundraisers for the party in the House or in the Senate.
And they are in charge of making sure that people vote. Getting back to Washington if need be. That's pretty much the structure of the leadership. The democrats sit on one side, republicans sit together on the other. Their leaders pretty well dominate what goes on.
There are some hired positions. There are civil service positions in the House and Senate that are important positions. One of those civil service positions is the parlimentarian. What do they do? Does anybody know? The job is to advise the presiding officer on parliamentary procedure. Meaning, how things are supposed to be run.
When you could take a vote, when you can yell out of order, when you can ask for special privileges, when you can ask for a point of information. Most meetings run according to parliamentary procedure. Sometimes it is spelled out in bylaws. Most of the time along with the bylaws we follow in parliamentary procedure a little book called Roberts Rules of Order Revised. If you belong to any basic organizations they always have in there that if it's not spelled out there you will follow the procedure from Roberts Rules of Order Revised. It is the Bible of how to run a meeting.
I learned years ago that by knowing Roberts Rules of Order it gave me a hell of a lot of power when I went to meetings. Sometimes people got annoyed at me, because definitely put you in a position, because people are afraid to violate Roberts Rules of Order, because afraid of the legal suits and things of that nature. The legislature, Congress, House, and Senate have a lot of rules as Roberts Rules of Order. Laws they can make up rules that are in violation of Roberts Rules of Order, that's fine as long as it's in the bylaws, but if not you have to follow the Roberts Rules of Order Revised. So it is the Bible of parliamentary procedure. These are hired positions. They're not members of the Senate or House. They advise the presiding officer. The presiding does not have to follow that advice. However if they don't, you can vote to order them to. That's part of the Roberts Rules of Order Revised.
There is also in the House and Senate a Sergeant of arms. What does a Sergeant of arms do? Keeps order. They are the individuals like the bailiff in the courtroom. They have people working with them but their job is to call things to order, to make sure things don't get out of order, to watch the doors, if you will. And the House and Senate also has a historian. I'm not exactly sure what historians do in the House and Senate since everything is in the minutes anyway, but I'm sure part of their role is to keep scrap books and records of information and newspaper articles and things of that nature for future districts. So those are the hired positions in the House and in the Senate. And that pretty well spells out the structure of the House and the Senate.
So that takes us into the issue of how a bill becoming a law. Many of you are familiar with how a bill becomes a law. We talked about this probably because every Saturday morning you sit in front of the TV and study how a bill becomes a law. Don't you? Junction? School house rock? You remember that? I understand it's back on. How many of you saw the school house rock when you were kids? Wow, it was back there? Oh, yeah, but they put it back on. It was gone for 20 years literally and then they did a show in San Francisco, they made a musical out of school house rock. About a year ago they put it back on. I guess they got tired of commercials they were running. Whole new generation of kids they couldn't -- all they could see was their brain on drugs. I should have brought the cartoon. I picked up a video from Toys R Us a couple of years ago. It would have been fun. I forget we have an open TV in this room, so we can use it anytime. I'm a bill -- on capital hill. The interesting part about the video is it's not bad. It's actually pretty good and as you watch it you begin to realize one element and that is that most bills don't become laws, and it is a complex process.
In fact it is amazing that any bill does become law, but as I indicated the other day, most of the bills that do become laws are personal bills, private bills. They're minor compared to the major bills. I talked about that in my book and I gave the example about the friend of mine who brought his wife into the country through legislation since he wasn't allowed to otherwise.
Legislatures are the only ones that can introduce legislation. You can't. I can't. You have to remember the House or a member of the Senate. The president can't. He has to go through somebody in his party who is a member of the House or member of the Senate. Senators introduce legislation in the Senate, members of House introduce legislation in the House of Reps. They can introduce --
(by interpreter) They can or can't?
(by teacher) The president does not make law. Can't introduce laws. He's a part of the law making process through the veto process. He's a part of the law making process in that he can recommend legislation which, in the general way such as the State of the Union speech, or he can recommend legislation by going to a member of the House or Senate. The office of the budget and management that he has often works with Congress closely, with the House of Reps I should say, in this case, to introduce and create a budget. We have to go back and forth on it, but the budget itself is developed and introduced in the House by members of the House. In that sense the president is no different from us except that he's got better connections.
Can bills be introduced at the same time concurrently? That often happens. Members of the house and Senate introduce a bill at the same time so that they can work it out and maybe get it through faster. That way it doesn't have to go through the house, get through the house and go to the Senate. They can also get together on an issue, joint resolutions they have, joint committees, sometimes big investigations, be it Watergate or Iran contra controversy scandal, they can bring their committees together or appoint special committees. But generally they work separately. In conjunction with the other house, but separately. Okay.
We want a bill passed. Our legislature decides to go ahead with it. Depending on how you introduce the bill, if the legislator wants he'll require that you introduce the bill to him and even write it out in legal language because bills have to be basically written legally so that it can be fought or developed or carried out in the courts. So if it is not written legally it goes to the group of lawyers who will put the bill in legal language. The consent there is that nobody understands it but lawyers, right? In fact that was a very big issue made by first, Jimmy Carter, then Ronald Reagan. Carter actually gave him executive orders on that that all legislation, that at least from his angle ,on the executive branch, but that all legislation that he have, alleged to make in plain English. It's impossible to make anything in plain English. Lawyers do not speak, they're afraid to put it in plain English because they're afraid people will find loopholes, besides them I guess. I don't know.
So the bill is written up, you will go forth and try and make the bill, if you can, bipartisan. What does bipartisan mean? Bipartisan. Members of both parties. So what you want to do is if you've already introduced a bill you may want to get support from somebody from the other party. The point is that if you get members from both parties there's a better chance of it going through the power of obligation. Once you're ready to introduce the bill and I'm not going to go through all of the details, going through the hopper and the clerk of the court, a bill is introduced and it is given a number based on when it's introduced.
They're consecutive. But also based on the Congress. The first bill introduced in the 106th Congress will have the number one. In the Senate or the house. So the first bill in the house is number one, for the house. The first bill in the Senate is number one for the Senate in the 106th. To distinguish where the bill began we put letters in front of it. In the house the bill has HR in front of it. House of reps. HR-756 would be the 756th bill introduced in the house of reps. On the Senate, we have an S. S-732 is the 732nd bill introduced in the Senate. What would AB-30 be? The 30th bill introduced where? I'm throwing you off here? In the assembly in the state of California. So you can distinguish AB. Now California has a system whether -- what's the other houses in California called? There are two houses in the state legislature; the assembly and what? The Senate.
Yeah. To distinguish between a Senate bill federally and a state bill, state bills often have SB. Senate bill 30 indicates it's a Senate bill in the state. It's a Senate bill federally. Not too much confusion but just to avoid it somehow. The bill, once it's got it's number and name and been written up, is sent to committee. 99.9% of all bills go to committees. Does that mean that once in a blue moon a bill doesn't go to committee? Yeah. But very unlikely and most bills die in committee. They never see the light of day. They stay in the committee. They never get out of committee. There are a number of reasons for this. Oh, by the way -- it goes to the committee pertaining to the bill. If a bill deals with the budget. It goes to the budgetary committee. If it deals with military it will go to an armed services committee. But sometimes there are more than one committee it can go to. The determination will be determined by the speaker of the house. That's another power that they have. If he likes the bill he can send it to a committee that he knows it will go through. If he doesn't, he'll send it to a committee that it will get defeated in.
The rules committee also makes recommendations in the Senate as to which committee it should go to, generally the first comes from the person who introduces the bill. They also can recommend which committee they want to study it, doesn't mean it will get there, but they can. The bills as I say, in large proportion die in committee. Many of them die right away. From time to time, the committee chairmen have had what is called the ability to pigeon hole. Most pigeon coops have cubby holes where they stay in. What's that got to do with the bill? Pigeon holing a bill is when the chairman of a committee sticks it into a cubby hole and never gets to see it again. Once it goes into the hole, or once it gets to the chairman, he can kill the bill by simply never having it discussed.
That's two. Three and we're out. I'm out of here I tell you. The chairmen also have an ability to ask the committee to table the bill. To table, tabling a bill generally means that it's supposed to be discussed at a later date, but when they do table it, it generally means it will never get discussed. Tabling a bill generally is a way to kill the bill. Tabling a bill. Usually when you say table a bill it's put on the table, which means it's being held off till a later date. In this case they seldom bring it back. Then the chairman will decide which subcommittee a bill will go to and bills will be examined in subcommittee before going before the full committee. The chairman has the capacity that maybe it will kill it or send it to a subcommittee that might want to get it through, depending on whether he likes the bill or not.
So most bills go to subcommittees where their chairmen are pretty powerful. The subcommittees will hold hearings, people will be invited to testify, people will be questioned, and generally they will make recommendations. Most of the time the recommendations will also include word changes or changes in parts of the bill. Then those particular changes go to the full committee. The full committee can discuss it. If the full committee decides, and the committees are much larger in the house and Senate. The Senate only has 100 members, the house has 435. Each person getting their say, each person putting in their two cents can go on and on and on. The committee can decide not to send it out. In other words, the committee can decide to kill it. Write it in committee. Sending it out for full discussion, for the full house. The committee can kill it in committee. They can vote not to send it out without changes or with changes. Or they can vote to send it out with a recommendation for certain changes. Or, which is very unlikely, they can vote to send it out with a recommendation to defeat. If it's a major bill, that everybody is has been looking forward to they probably will send it out, giving everything an opportunity to -- it doesn't mean that's what the house will do or the Senate. Once it comes out of committee.
The functioning of the house and the Senate are a little different. When a bill goes to the floor of the house, meaning to all the members of the house, it is broken down into a smaller group. So you don't need as many people to discuss the bill. There are 435 members of the house and usually they decide that if there are 200 members present they can discuss the bill and take a vote on any recommended changes with only 200 people present, not meeting the full 200. However, once they take their vote and they make any changes or decisions they decide to do then it's got to go to the full house. All 435 members. In so acting, the full house usually limits debate. If you were to continue debating all the time you might be getting nothing done.
The speaker of the house is powerful in this regard. He sets the time for how long you're going to discuss the bill. Let's say 60 people want to discuss - the time, he says we will discuss it for three hours. That means each person who is asked to speak on the bill gets three minutes a person. And maybe that's not realistic considering politicians can't speak in three minutes but -- okay so they're given three minute to discuss the bill. At that point, I may not use my full three minutes. I may use two minutes and then save a minute to rebut somebody else at the end. Rebuttal means after everybody else has made their comments I talk again saying why they were stupid or I may decide not to talk for the full three minutes and speak for two. Fine that I spoke fast and give the other minute, my other minute to someone else. Again the power of obligation, I gave them time, they owe me time or something else in the future.
The house then takes a vote as the committee of the whole -- the house takes a vote. And it's a majority vote can pass the bill. Amendments can be added after discussion but the more interesting, -- he will men -- in the house, is the ability to add a rider to the bill. Riders are interesting because they don't have to, pertaining to the bill in the parliamentary procedure in Roberts Rules of Order, any amendments to the bill must pertain to the bill. Sometimes either to kill a bill or pass the bill or to get legislation pushed through, that they didn't want to go to committee they add a sub to the bill that has nothing to do with it at all.
For example I remember years ago I think the bill dealt with building bombers, and they added to the bill a rider that would allow for prayer in the school. Absolutely totally different subject here, we need to pray when the bomb comes at us. They knew it was defeated, so the bombers were defeated, but a long was the -- which they knew was blatantly unconstitutional. Hey I voted for prayer, I want prayer in school, it's not my fault that the atheist Congress defeated it. Well they didn't defeat prayer in the schools. They defeated the bomber bill. It bombed. So riders are a tricky way to, you know, in the house and Senate, you have to be present to vote. You can if you, for example if you need to go fishing, you can work out a deal with somebody else. This guy's going to a junket to Hawaii and you're going to be there and you've worked out you're going fishing. So you're voting yes, he's voting no, so you can swap votes. If you have somebody voting yes and you're voting no, you can swap the votes and don't have to be there. That's what's a junket.
Did I define it? Oh, okay. A junket is when legislators go on vacation, supposedly to do some business and the government pays for it. We're going to study the case of shells and fish poisoning in Hawaii, so we're going to Waikiki and spend some days on the beach. Political organizations often pay for them, for the trip, themselves, to go too on these trips and journeys supposedly for investigations, yes. The PACS. Political action committees. So junkets are government expense, paid tours that people question as to whether or not they have value.
If the bill passes the house . It has to go to the Senate. The Senate has a different way of after it comes out of committee. The Senate has unlimited debate. The house has limited, the Senate unlimited debate. The reason, well the fact that there's unlimited debate in the Senate opens the door to what we know as a filibuster. A Filibuster is unlimited debate that allows a minority in the Senate to talk a bill to death. Basically to talk it to death. Once a filibuster starts, they can keep talking and no business can occur. And they can talk all the time. Against the bill whatever they want to talk about.
I mentioned Strom Thurman, he has the record for the longest one person filibuster. He spoke for 24 hours and 6 minutes and I think I mentioned that while he was doing the talking, most of the time all he actually did was read from the Washington D.C. phone book. Which probably took at least a few of those hours. Parliamentary procedure says you're supposed to talk to the bill, but the house and Senate allow you to talk on other subjects and so he didn't talk to the bill. Usually you talk and then you pass the ability of the podium to somebody whose a friend of yours.
Now the reason the filibuster is strong is because nothing else can be done and that means you can't get paid, you can't get any legislation through, and so, many times people will just say oh, to hell with it ,let the bill die, even though it's a small minority we have got to get this work done.
You can now end the filibuster. There was a period of time you couldn't end a filibuster, then there was a period of time where it took 75% of the senators, then 2/3 of the senators. Presently 3/5 of the senators can end filibuster. It's still not easy to do, basically step on somebody's toes. But you can end it. Okay. Let's say the bill goes through the Senate. It's gone through the house, it could have gone through the Senate and then the house. The bills that come out of the Senate and the house, the vast majority of them have different wordings. Why? Because membership in the house is quite different from the Senate and they may not agree on the same kind of issues. A bill cannot become a law unless it's worded exactly the same in the Senate and the house. So what happens now? Now a conference committee is established. Conference committees an ad hoc committee just for that bill and on that conference committee you sometimes have from about 9-27 members. The Congress committee is made up of usually the leadership who have pushed the bill and perhaps the leadership of the house and Senate. So the people that have pushed the bill in the house and the Senate get together to iron out the differences in the wording of the bill in this conference committee. Each bill has a different conference committee. So the bill is said to go to conference. So that the words can be changed. Who can be changed to what -- what can be changed to -- you know, the Senate gave a 5% raise -- so maybe the conference will recommend a 3 1/2% raise.
They try to work it out. If they can't work out the differences in the conference committee, the bill dies in conference, it's dead. If they can work out some compromise in the conference committee the bill then has to go back to the house and Senate for another vote. So once the conference committee works out the differences the house and Senate get to vote again. And the house says okay, the Senate says we don't like it, send it back to conference. So it goes back to Congress they work out more deals, then it goes back to the house, the house says, okay ,we like it now. The Senate says. we still don't like it the bill is dead. Okay? So they can send it back to Congress or they can vote no. If by some strange circumstance they vote yes and both vote Yes, sir by majority vote the bill then goes to the president of the United States.
The president of the United States has four options. As of a few months ago he had five. He now has four. What was the fifth option? The line item veto that was given to him by Congress was taken away by the courts. So, he no longer has a line item veto. He's got four options according to the Constitution. Remember the line item veto was where he could cross out any line or segment of the bill or page. It could be overridden but it was a line item veto. A bill comes to the president's desk, he signs it into law.
Okay he signs it into law when does it become a law? Well if there's no date as to when it -- it becomes effective immediately upon his signature. In very important legislation, big legislation, the president will sign his name with a different pen for each signature. Anybody have any idea why? Well it's ceremonial but it's more than that. Why a different pen for each? Because he takes those pens and gives them to the people present. Especially those that work for the bill, and then they frame it and pass it on to their great-grandchildren. Symbolic gesture which again creates obligatory power. It's amazing how those little things become so important in politics. The thank you letters that you frame become important because you know this is coming out of the president of the United States. You know grandchildren and great-grandchildren and my great-grandfather met with president Lincoln. What would happen if he signed it with one pen? He probably have to give it to Monica Lewinsky. I mean I could, obviously. But the game playing becomes very important for the power of persuasion. And the power of obligation.
So he signs the bill into law or he refuses to sign. Okay? He doesn't want to sign the bill. What happens when he doesn't sign a bill? It sits there. For how long? A week or two, or something like this. No specific time limit. You're right, it's between a week or two. It sits there for ten days. Then what happens? It becomes law automatically. I guess I didn't tell you that in this class. If the bill sits there for ten days without him signing it after it is sent to him, it becomes a law without his signature. Note that is not a veto if he doesn't sign it. He simply didn't sign it. Why would a president not sign a bill? Rather than veto it? Anybody think of a reason somebody might not sign a bill and not veto it? Maybe it's against his principles? Yeah it could go against his principles but -- the bill is important. I was just going to say maybe he doesn't want to look like he's taking sides on the issue. Maybe not wanting to take sides on an issue and yet you know it's important enough to let it go through. There are a lot of reasons that they might not sign it. It might embarrass him if he were to sign it. But he lets it go. So it becomes a law within ten days.
The third option the president has, number three, is to veto the bill. If the president should veto a bill, he has to say why. He specifically writes why he vetoes it. Then it goes back to the house it originated in. Where it started. If it started in the house of reps it goes back first to the house. If it started in the Senate it goes back to the Senate. Then the legislature has a right to override the veto. If it goes to the house and the house overrides the veto with a 2/3 vote, it originally passed with 50% or more but they need 2/3 to override. If it went back to the house, the house overrides it. Then it's got to go to the Senate and the Senate also has to override the veto. Let's see, the house didn't -- I'm sorry the house did override but the Senate didn't. The veto holds. The bill is dead. If the house gets the bill and votes not to override, it never has to go to the Senate. Because the bill is dead anyway. It has to be overridden in both the house and the Senate for the override to take effect. I said this before, I'll say it again. The veto is a very powerful force. Only 4% of presidential vetoes have been overridden. Are you saying it's also 2/3 or just the house? No.
Both the house and the Senate have to override with 2/3 vote. It's a 2/3 vote in the house and a 2/3 vote in the Senate to override separately though. If the bill is overridden, the veto is overridden, if the veto is overridden the bill becomes a law at that point. or on a day that it's on itself bill. But only 4% of it is overridden. So who would see it? Nobody. It doesn't have to be. Well I mean not nobody it may -- before a bill goes to the president it's validated and delivered, it is signed officially by the speaker of the house and the president of the Senate. They're certifying that it's passed, so it may well be, but it may well be that they have to sign that the veto was passed. It's something that they're just testifying to whether they agree with it or not. It wouldn't surprise me.
The fourth option is the pocket veto. The pocket veto only occurs in the last ten days, actually nine, of the session of Congress. If a bill should arrive to the president and Congress is going out of session in ten days, and then the president doesn't sign it, this bill is dead. It is vetoed. Pocket veto. It then can't be overridden. It is the most powerful force that the president has. It's an absolute. Now when I say the last ten days of the session, let us say for argument's sake, which is not the case that a session of Congress should be 365 days. It's not a whole year, but let's say it was. But if a bill came to the president within the first 355 days and the president didn't sign it, that bill would become a law after ten days, right? But if it should arrive on the president's desk between day 355 and 365 and he doesn't sign it, then that bill is pocket vetoed. There is nothing that legislature can do it. They could reinstitute the bill in the next session of Congress. Questions on the pocket veto? Okay.
Let's say that the bill becomes a law, then what? Well, there's another option interestingly. Somebody breaks the law and challenged the bill in the courts as being unconstitutional. Strange part about our society is that before you can challenge a bill you have to have standing, and standing means, basically, have to break the law to question the legality of a bill. So somebody breaks the law, and takes it to court arguing it's unconstitutional.
Now depending on the bill it may take a couple of years or a couple of weeks but it has to go to the Supreme court at the ultimate end to determine whether it is constitutional or not. If there is, if they're willing to take it. Not a lot of bills have been declared unconstitutional on the federal level by the courts. A lot of state bills have in violation of the federal Constitution. But they do just like they did with the line item veto. There are nine judges. It takes five of those nine, five of them minimum, to declare a law unconstitutional. Meaning it violates the words, concepts, and spirit of the Constitution. If a law or part of a law or one line in a law is declared unconstitutional the whole law is out. So what do you do? Well, you introduce a new law without the unconstitutional part.
That's what's usually done. However in many cases Congress decides to amend the Constitution. It can't be unconstitutional if the constitution says it's constitutional. So they amend the Constitution. That has seldom if ever worked. The American legislature, the American state legislatures, the public, do not like amending our federal Constitution. So I can only think of one law that was declared unconstitutional that they made constitutional, and it is not constitutional and that was the income tax. The information act was originally declared unconstitutional. The 16th amendment was passed, 1913. At that point it became -- and so we pay an income tax. But when I think about it I have to go through the amendments pretty carefully, but as far as I can recall that's about the only one that was actually based -- there have been many attempts from flag burning to abortion to make those things illegal and many times they've gone through Congress with a 2/3 vote, but they've died in the state legislature, they have not passed.
One of the ones that was very, very surprising, and I'm still surprised it hasn't passed. Most of the states before 1966 divided their state senates and assemblies differently. The state senates for example, in California, were divided by county. Each county had one senator which made 58 senators. Therefore, Yolo county, which probably has about three people in it, had one senator. San Francisco county with 700,000 people also had one senator. The assembly was divided by population so Yolo county would have one -- San Francisco county let's say 35. The Supreme Court said that that was unconstitutional. It violated the concept of one person one vote. Well how can we have a U.S. Senate and the house of reps divided differently? Because that's in the Constitution. But it didn't permit the states to do it. The big thing that was interesting was that the whole politics changed when it was declared unconstitutional, because previously the rural areas dominated state legislature. People in San Francisco were being ripped, used. People in Los Angeles were -- because all the money and all the decisions were being made for the rural counties in the senates. Which made sense they had the power because they had an easier time of getting people into the Senate.
Once, after 1966, they had to have equal representation by reputation in the Senate and the assembly, it took power from the rural areas and put it into the cities. Now most of the major cities are really controlling the state legislatures. That was passed. An amendment was passed in the house and Senate to allow the state legislatures to be a divided according to section, not by population. At least one of the houses. And you would think that would have passed all in all, but it did not get through all of the 38 required states. It is still sitting out there. I don't know how many states have signed it today. It wasn't one that had a time limit on it like the equal rights amendment. So there is a possibility that it might still change. Any questions on a bill becoming a law or any elements of conference committee or the term that I gave you? None? Are we sure? Positive. Speaks for all of you. So for the second time this semester you're going to get out two minutes early. I will start the judicial system on Thursday. A week from today.