Intro to American Government For Dummies Part 1: How A Bill Becomes a Law

I wrote this over at the Cracked.com forums and just remembered it now.  It is an accurate and factual representation of the inner workings of the U.S. federal legislative branch.  I hope it isn’t too dry.


How A Bill Becomes a Law

1. Introduction

The United States Congress has two houses, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.  These are actually groups of people, not literal houses, differing from governments you may familiar with, such as Canada or France, where two large inanimate buildings make all the legislative decisions.  A bill can be introduced in either house.

In the Senate, the sponsoring Senator must run down a long, narrow gauntlet leading to the Senate floor.  On either side of the gauntlet are Senators from the opposing party, armed with slingshots, crossbows, and spears.  (Longbows were forbidden in 1957 after the infamous Kennedy incident.)  Without aid, and wearing only the traditional light armor provided for in the Constitution, the Senator must safely carry his bill through the gauntlet to the Senate floor.  While the sponsor is allowed to return fire, he generally does not, as dealing a serious injury to another senator can adversely affect his chances of getting that senator’s vote on his bill later.

Curiously, the Constitution actually provides that all senators man the gauntlet, not only those of the opposing party, but as time passed, senators were so half-hearted when firing on members of their own party, often “accidentally” firing into an empty corner or across the gallery at an opposing party senator, that all involved eventually came to agree upon the convention that they would simply abstain, out of courtesy.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, requires bills to be presented to the clerk of the House, who is guarded by a series of elaborate traps, which have evolved from the simple trapdoors and tripwires of George Washington’s day to high tech lasers and motion sensors of today.  When planning out national strategy, each party makes certain to have a good number of professional jewel thieves and trained ninjas elected to the House, generally at least one per state.

2. Committees

Once the bill has been submitted, it is sent to one of various committees.  Committees are sort of like covens, made up of the most powerful magicians in Congress.  Congressional committee members are probably not quite like what you think of when you imagine a wizard.  They don’t wear hats.  Also, most of them don’t communicate with the underworld.  That is a privilege reserved for the committee chairmen.

When a committee receives the bill, they usually place it on a pedestal in the center and perform their various scrying spells, coaxing out its dark secrets and evaluating its economic impact.  After they have satisfied themselves as to its nature, each of the circle approaches the center one by one and places his or her own enchantments upon the bill.  Each committee member brings a different aspect of magic to the bill, some imbuing it with ancient earth magic, others enchanting it by the power of the moon goddess, a few calling upon the powers of the elements, and most using dark magic or summoned demons.

After bestowing their gifts upon the bill, the now laden document is taken to the floor for its moment of glory.

3. Debate

The debate portion of a bill’s life can be very chaotic, filled with shouting, threats, and the sounds of war drums.  However, battle is not actually joined until the vote begins, so all of this is mostly posturing.  At the beginning, the bill’s sponsor takes up his position on one side of the hall, while the opposing party selects a champion, who takes up his position on the opposite side.

As the bill is read aloud, congressmen rise from their seats, take up arms, and file in behind the side they plan to fight for.  When the bill has been read, the first gong is sounded – one gong.  This is the signal for the debate phase to begin.  The debate is not moderated, so both sides shout their taunts and threats at each other simultaneously, with only the loudest and boldest getting their points heard.  Eventually the points on either side coalesce into a united chant, such as, “NO MORE TAXES!” or “FREE SPEECH!  FREE SPEECH!” or “MY BODY, MY RIGHT!”, and the war drums kick in to back up the chants.

At this point, the Speaker of the House, or the Senate president pro-tem, sounds the gong again, twice.  This signals both sides to prepare themselves for combat.

4. Vote

After a minute to prepare, whereupon congressmen load their weapons, take up sniper positions, file into formations, and are mounted onto their charges by squires, the final signal, three gongs, is sounded.

The battle then begins, and continues until one side yields, or until lunch, whichever comes first.  Congressional battles are not required to observe the Geneva Conventions, so any and all tactics can be used.  Due to great controversy, however, nerve gas is by convention not used.  Nuclear weapons and other large-scale explosives are also excluded due to practicality.

The objective is to capture or neutralize members on the other side of the vote, who can be identified by their colored headbands.  Removal of one’s own headband is a violation resulting in immediate expulsion from Congress, and the nullification of your vote.

Every incapacitated (killed, unconscious, mortally wounded) enemy has their vote nullified, and every captured enemy has their vote changed to match yours.  The value of a captured opponent therefore has helped keep in check the number of casualties over the years.

When the lunch bell sounds, or one side yields by waving a manila folder, the battle is ended.  If the bill has received a majority vote, it is sent to the President to sign.

5. Sign or Veto

The President can now sign the bill by inscribing his Presidential rune onto it, a ceremony often performed in the White House Rose Garden, which results in an impressive and beautiful pillar of magical light filling the sky of Washington D.C. upon the moment of inscription.  When done in the Oval Office, it just temporarily blinds the staff.

The president can also refuse to sign the bill, and strike it down with a veto, a powerful dark magic spell bestowed upon him at inauguration.  Former presidents indeed still have this power, but without the Elder Staff of Veto and the presidential vestments, the spell has a completely different effect.  It is unable to affect bills, but instead will conjure a library from the ether.

If the president vetoes the bill, Congress is alerted by the crackle of thunder and the dark smoke rising from the White House.  They then have ten days to mount an assault upon the White House.  If they are successful in taking the fortress, the bill will pass.  If they fail, the veto stands.

In the assault, Senators are generally given positions of command, while Representatives generally are placed in infantry roles.  Although in the past, Representatives have fought hard and earned great honors for their bravery, they also traditionally exhibit a high casualty rate.  Over the years, laws have been amended to place a greater restriction on presidential power in this area.

For example, the President is limited to the use of White House staff and cannot bring in outside reinforcements or hire mercenaries.  Likewise, he must remain in the White House to command the forces himself and cannot retreat into the secret tunnels.

The Congressional objective is to secure the Oval Office and capture the President and his cabinet.  They are required to reach the Oval Office with at least 10 Congressmen, at least one being a Senator, and must capture the President, Vice-President, and three Cabinet members.  Common strategy usually dictates going for the weaker Cabinet members, such as the Secretary of Agriculture or Secretary of Veterans Affairs, but a surprise ambush on the Secretary of State can also be successful once in a while if the White House, expecting an attack on one of the lesser Secretaries, allocates less defenders to him.

If the goals have been secured at the end of three hours, the veto is overridden and the bill becomes law.  If Congress fails to take the White House, the leader of the assault must kneel before the President and receive, without flinching, a slap to the face.  The President then intones the ceremonial words, “I don’t want to ever see that bill on my desk again,” and the matter is ended.

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