Reading up on the SOPA and PIPA bills in both Houses of Congress right now, I wondered:
are these bills the same?
if so, why are they differently titled?
also, what happens with both of them? In Britain’s Parliament, a bill is introduced in one House, goes through all the legislative stages, then goes to the other House, where it goes through the same process. Then any amendments made get thrashed out in negotiation between the two Houses. As the US Congress seems to have both bills in both Houses ‘in parallel’, how does this work?
They’re different bills. SOPA is HR 3261, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, and PIPA is S 968, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy.
In the US federal system, bills can originate in either chamber (with the exception of revenue bills, which must originate in the House.)
In order to become law, the exact same bill must be passed in both the House and the Senate. Frequently, if there is a pressing issue, both chambers will begin work on similar bills independently.
Whenever one chamber passes a bill, it is sent to the other chamber for their assent. They can pass it, ignore it, pass their own separate bill, pass an amended version of the bill that was sent to them, or do nothing at all.
In the event that the two bills are not the same, or that each chamber did its own version, the two houses will form a special Conference Committee whose job it is to form a single compromise bill that both chambers can be happy with. If they are successful, then they have to convince both chambers to pass the new conference committee bill.
And then, of course, you have to convince the president to sign the damn thing.
The mechanics of this were on display in an interesting way with the health care reform bill. At the start, the Democrats basically controlled both chambers, and both started work on a version of the bill. Most folks thought that the House’s version was better, but then, due to the death of a senator, the Democrats effectively lost control of the Senate, and it became politically impossible for the Senate to pass any version of the bill. So the only way to get it through was for the House to scrap what they had, and to vote on the Senate’s already-passed version with no changes whatsoever, since any changes would have to be approved by the now-hostile Senate.
It’s interesting to me (I’m a constitution geek). Here in the UK, a Bill can start in either House, but the standard practice is that once it’s in one House for the other House to simply wait until House #1 has done its work on the Bill and passed it down the corridor. Seems a bit odd to duplicate work like that…