The Difference Between a Bill and a Law

In the United States, a bill is a proposed law, whereas a law is a bill that has gone through the legislative process to become one that has been approved by the the president. Legislation is law that has been enacted by a legislature or by the process of making it. A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a city, county, state or country. A bill is often broadly referred to as legislation during the process by which it passes through the two chambers of the United States Legislature (Congress) where it is deliberated in the House of Representatives and the Senate before being sent to the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

An Idea

A bill starts of with an idea for a law. Anyone can come up with an idea that they want to have enacted into law but only a congressperson can introduce it to Congress. Anyone can draft and propose a bill to present to their congressperson in the hopes that it makes it out of committee but only a congressperson can present it to congress to be passed on to the House of Representatives (also referred to as, the House) where it will hopefully be approved and passed on to the Senate. Congress typically has a member research and collect facts about a bill and the bill is sent out to different organizations that it may affect for their input.


Most bills do not get to this phase of legislation but the ones that do, get passed on the House of Representatives for a vote. If the bill is approved by the House, it gets passed on to the Senate where this whole tedious process is repeated but this time by members of the Senate. If the Senate votes in favor of the bill, it is passed on to the Executive Office for the president to sign. If the president approves the bill, it will become a law. This process often takes many years from when an idea for a bill is born until it makes it to Congress, and many more after this before it makes it through Congress to the Executive Office.

A president has ten days to take action on a bill that has been presented to their office. If the president fails to take action in this time, by default, the bill becomes a law. The president can also veto a law and send it back to Congress where the whole tedious process of presenting, researching and passing the bill on, begins all over again. This process can take decades and is a key reason why bills that have been vetoed, rarely get turned into laws.

Congress can override a president’s veto of a bill with a ⅔ majority vote.  

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