How a Bill Really Becomes a Law

For Your Reading // Learn Something

In a recent GQ satire (although it’s not really that satirical, because it’s largely true), writer Stephen Sherrill outlines how a bill really becomes a law down in Washington. Let’s go through the basic steps.

1. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, headed by Tom Donohue, spends millions supporting Republican members of Congress. Donohue then hears from member corporations about how profits could be increased if a certain regulation were repealed or loophole added. He then reaches out to GOP members of the relevant committee, to whom the Chamber laundered anonymous campaign funds.

2. Organizations and “think tanks” funded by the shadowy billionaire Koch brothers go into action, sending “experts” to appear on cable-television networks funded by Australian billionaires. Various Republican lobbying firms reach out to Republican members of the relevant committee, to whom industry lobbying groups have given donations.

3. A lobbyist at one of those firms contacts his old colleagues on the relevant committee and goes to lunch to discuss the legislation. The member introduces a bill on the floor of Congress; then the lobbying group flies House members to a resort on a fact-finding mission, in which the fact that business-class air travel and prime tee times are pleasant is found.

4. The bill is introduced into the relevant committee, and hearings are held in which experts employed by the lobbying group testify in support of the bill. Occasionally experts not employed by the lobbying group will argue against the bill. Some of these experts make less than $100,000 a year and thus should not be listened to.

5. The bill goes into “markup,” the process by which the language of the bill is refined by committee staff and overseen by representatives from the lobbying group, where committee staffers will soon be employed. Other lobbying groups who have donated to other members may choose at this point to have those members introduce amendments to the bill.

6. A vote is taken. The bill passes. The same process then takes place in the Senate, the only difference being that rooms must always be full ocean view and not partial. After the bill passes in both chambers, the president signs it and it becomes law. The Koch brothers celebrate by anonymously creating another organization devoted to restoring democracy.