As an Advocate who supports legislation that impacts the spondylitis community, it's important to understand how Congress works.
The U.S. Congress has two chambers: the House of Representatives (435 members) and the Senate (100 members).
The United States Senators are elected to six-year terms by voters from their home states. There are two Senators per state. In any election year, roughly one third of Senators are up for re-election. Visit www.senate.gov to find your Senators.
Members of the United States House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms by voters of "districts" within a state. The number of districts a state has (and thus the number of Representatives in the House) is determined by its population, with a minimum of one Representative per state. All members of the House of Representatives are up for election every election year. Visit www.house.gov to find your Representatives.
According to the US Constitution, your House and Senate representatives are elected to represent your interests to the Congress. To do that, they must hear from YOU.
The US Congress works through a system of Congressional Committees. These Committees are where politics and policy intersect as members negotiate details of new legislation and/or funding before a bill emerges for a floor vote.
One or more elected officials introduce the bill. The person who originally introduces the bill is called the sponsor. The bill can be introduced simultaneously in both chambers, or it can be introduced only in one chamber.
Once a bill is introduced, any member of the chamber where the bill was introduced can co-sponsor the bill. This basically means they sign on to the bill, voicing their support - and their constituents' support - for passing this legislation. The more co-sponsors a bill has, the more support it has, and the faster it should move through the legislative process. That's why it's important for you to advocate for your elected officials to co-sponsor legislation that can have a positive impact on the spondylitis community.
The bill is assigned to the appropriate committee. In most cases, it is then assigned to the appropriate subcommittee. Because Congress has so many bills to consider, each chamber is divided into 20-25 committees, which cover everything from the Judiciary to Veterans' Affairs that consider relevant legislation according to the following process.
The chair of the subcommittee schedules the bill for a hearing and a vote. Members of the subcommittee can help speed up this process by urging the chair to bring the bill to a vote. Once the bill passes the subcommittee by majority vote, it then moves on to full committee.
The same process happens in full committee - it's important to voice your support to the committee chair and committee members at this point.
The bill then moves to the floor for a full vote. The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate schedule a bill for a vote. The Majority and Minority Whips inform the members of their party when the vote is taking place and rally up party votes for or against a bill. The bill must pass by majority vote.
Different versions of the bill may pass in each chamber. If this is the case, a conference committee meets to resolve differences. This committee usually includes members of the original committees that considered the bill in each chamber. It is usually chaired by one of the committee chairs. The conference version of the bill that this committee writes must then pass by majority vote in each chamber.
The bill then moves to the President, who will sign the bill into law or veto the bill and send it back to Congress.