How Easy is it to Pass Legislation in Congress?

Have you ever watched a Congress or Parliamentary session, in which politicians are going through the seemingly never-ending process of passing a bill, and, exasperated with the slowness of its passing, started furiously shouting at your television: “What is taking them so long?!”? Admittedly, that would be an overreaction, although you might well have wondered it: how difficult is it to pass legislation?

The answer is, a lot more difficult than you first thought.

In the US, it is definitely more difficult to pass legislation than fail. Article I of the Constitution, created by the Founding Fathers, grants all legislative powers to a bicameral Congress: a House of Representatives and a Senate. However, it has been argued that the fact that both houses possess equal power makes the legislative process more difficult. In the 110th Congress, only 3.3% of bills succeeded- out of the 14,042 bills introduced, only 460 became law– a tiny number in comparison!

If this is a question you have to do for an A Level Politics essay– you’re in luck! Today we’ll be looking at why it is that it is often much easier to defeat legislation than pass it.

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As a side note, even when the government is not divided, it’s still difficult to pass legislation! This is because unlike in the U.K, party discipline in the U.S Congress has tended to be weak as members of Congress are not required to toe the party line.

The sheer length of the process, which has to be completed in such a short period of time, with so many obstacles- filibustering, presidential vetoes, equal powers of both houses- makes it particularly difficult to pass legislation. You can picture the passing of a bill like a play at Temple Run- (the really addictive iPhone game), with obstacles at every turn. On the other hand, a difficult legislative process was intended by the Founding Fathers, and perhaps for good reasons too- bills need greater support to pass, making them more democratic and legitimate.


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