Capitol Hill Basics: Bills, Resolutions, What’s the Difference?

By PAAIA Government Affairs Office

All Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” — (Article I, Section 1, of the United States Constitution)

October 4, 2010, Washington, D.C. – With the flurry of legislation in the 111th Congress pertaining to Iran and Iranian Americans, we plan to share a series of Capitol Hill Basics with our members, beginning with an explanation of the difference between a bill and a resolution.

Measures in Congress are typically introduced in four forms of legislation: the bill, the joint resolution, the concurrent resolution, and the simple resolution. Identifying the distinguishable attributes between these types of legislation may help in understanding their effects on the law and broader policy or political implications.

Only two of the legislative forms are sent to the President for review and can become a public law. One of them is the bill, which is the form most used for legislation. If both the House of Representatives and Senate pass a bill, the President will sign it into law; allow it to become law without his signature; return it to Congress with a veto message, allowing Congress to override the veto; or pocket veto it, taking away any chance for an override. The designation “S” refers to a bill in the Senate, while “H.R.” refers to a bill introduced into the House of Representatives. A relevant example of a bill would be H.R. 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, which was passed by both chambers of Congress in June of 2010 and was signed into law by President Obama on July 1st, 2010.

The second legislative measure that can become a public law is the joint resolution. Similar to a bill, the joint resolution must pass in identical form through both chambers of Congress and be signed by the President before it can become a law. A joint resolution originating in the Senate is designated as ”S.J. Res.” One that is introduced in the House of Representatives is designated as ”H.J. Res.” Joint resolutions are typically used for continuing or emergency appropriations. They have also been used to amend the constitution or to declare war. For example, H. J. Res.114, Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, was enacted by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by President Bush in October of 2002.

Aside from these law-making vehicles, there are concurrent and simple resolutions. They are not presented to the President for review and do not have the force of law. Concurrent resolutions must pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to be enacted. The designation of “S.Con.Res.” refers to a concurrent resolution in the Senate, while “H.Con.Res.” refers to a concurrent resolution introduced in the House of Representatives. They are used to express opinions or take measures on behalf of both chambers of Congress. An example of a concurrent resolution is S.Con.Res.13, which authorized the congressional budget for 2010 and passed both chambers of Congress in April of 2009.

Simple resolutions, on the other hand, remain only in the chamber where they are introduced. A simple resolution affecting the Senate is designated ”S. Res.’, while a resolution in the House of Representatives is designated ”H. Res.” Common uses for simple resolutions are proposals to change procedures or to voice opinions (e.g..”Sense of Senate” language). For example, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed their own separate but similar resolutions (H.Res.267 and S.Res.463) in recognition of the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) in March of 2010. Another example of a simple resolution in the 111th Congress is H.Res.1553, which expresses support for the State of Israel’s right to defend itself and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force. H.Res.1553 has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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