Making Laws


Our Nation's Lawmakers

Who gets the important job of making laws? Congress! This is the legislature (or lawmaking group) for our country.

Congress is divided into two parts, the Senate and the House of Representatives. When the Constitution was written, a 2-part Congress was the topic of a huge fight! The large states wanted a legislature where representation was based on a state's population -- the more people a state had, the more power it would have. Guess who disagreed? The small states! They wanted a legislature where each state had an equal say. How was this resolved? By creating a Congress with two houses. Let's see how this actually works! 

More people, more power

One part of Congress is the House of Representatives (“House” for short). The more people a state has, the more representatives it gets to send to the House. Each House member represents a district in his or her home state. The map to the right shows the House districts in the state of Texas.

Click on the link, then zoom and pan on the map to see your state’s districts. On the drop-down menu to the left of the map, select your state. Then scroll down to see all your state’s representatives! 

They Work for YOU!

Your House member cares what you and the other people in your district think. Why? Mostly because it’s their job to represent you. But also, citizens elect House members every two years. Voters in your district can choose to re-elect the current representative... or vote for someone else! Even though you may not be old enough to vote yet, this person still represents you.

Follow the link and enter your zip code. (NOTE: If the +4 digits of your zip code are needed, the website will redirect you to the U.S. Postal Services website to find it.)

Equal Power for States

Pop Quiz: How many parts does Congress have? Hopefully you remember the answer is… Two! The other part of Congress is the Senate. Here, each state gets the same number of votes. In fact, each state gets two Senators, which means two votes!  The smaller states really like this because it gives them equal power with the large states.

Just like in the House of Representatives, a Senator's job is to look out for people's interests. But this time, they must think about more than just the people in a town or city. They are responsible for the entire state they represent!

Click on the link to see who your two Senators are! Select your state, and then click on the links to see your Senators' webpages.  

How Laws Are Made

House and Senate members have a really, really important job. They are in charge of making the laws that run this country!  

How is a law made? It starts with having an idea about how to deal with a problem facing our country. Senators and Representatives are called legislators because they have the unique ability to legislate -- a word that means "to make laws."

Follow the link to find a library of videos about making laws. Watch Chapter 4 and Chapter 5. 

Compromise Required!

Remember how both large and small states wanted to make sure they had a voice in making laws? Well, the lawmaking process guarantees that they will! Here’s how: The same bill must pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate to become a law. 

You can imagine that with 435 House members and 100 Senators, there are a lot of different opinions about how problems should be solved. That's why the one thing a bill almost always needs before it can become a law… is compromise! If you’re thinking that sounds difficult, you’re right. But without compromise among our lawmakers, our country couldn’t function.

Follow the link and read about the October 2013 partial government shutdown. (Yep, that means the government partly shut down!) Congress was having a major compromise problem.

What the Prez Says

With enough compromise, the House of Representatives and Senate can finish the difficult job of creating a compromise bill and getting both houses to pass it. Woot! It's a law now, right?

Not so fast! Congress doesn’t get to create laws alone. There’s someone else involved: The President! As the head of the executive branch, the President gets to decide whether to sign the bill into law or veto it. If the President signs the bill, it becomes law… but a veto sends it back to Congress! Time to freak out? Not yet. If Congress can override the veto with two-thirds of members supporting the bill, it will still become law. Then, finally, it’s party time!

Watch the video clip to see how this works.