If the House version is defeated, does the Senate bill die too?

Q:”What happens to an approved Senate bill with respect to an identical House bill? If the House version is defeated, does the bill end?”

This is a great legislative process question. Let me rephrase it: What are companion bills and how do they work?

The usual legislative process is that either the House or Senate introduces a bill, they pass it, it goes to the other chamber, etc. etc. In this process, we’re talking about a single bill

that goes back and forth between the chambers one chamber at a time.

Another common route is that two identical companion bills

are introduced simultaneously. A representative introduces a House bill in the House (e.g. “H.R. 1234”) and around the same time a senators introduces a Senate bill in the Senate (e.g. “S. 5678”). This is useful because both chambers can consider the bill simultaneously, though they may end up proposing different sets of amendments and working up different consensuses.

The bottom line here to remember is that these two bills are, procedurally speaking, entirely separate. That means both have a life of their own, both could bounce back and forth between the chambers until one (or both!) are passed. (Of course, never would Congress actually pass two identical bills.) Both have a life of their own, and a death of their own. If one comes to a vote and is defeated, the other bill lives on. But, say it was the Senate version that was defeated, the House bill is probably not going to come up for a vote because our lawmakers know what will happen in the Senate: it will probably be defeated too.

Typically, the House and Senate will each vote on their own bills with a roll call vote. Then only one of the two bills is pushed forward. That bill goes to the other chamber. Say it was the Senate bill that goes forward: it then goes to the House. If the Senate bill remained identical with the House bill after any amendments both chambers may have made to their own bills, the House will then typically approve the vote via voice vote (or unanimous consent in the Senate), where the position of each Member is not kept: they are already on record on their own bill where they took a full vote. If substantial changes were made, they may or may not conduct a roll call vote.

Usually companion bills are identified as “identical” bills on GovTrack. In fact, the Congressional Research Service, an arm of Congress, does the research to keep track of companion bills and GovTrack just makes use of their work to do this.



  1. Our Constitution states that revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives. The Bail-Out Bill did start out in the House, but it failed to pass there. Is the bill that passed constitutional since it actually originated in the Senate?


  2. I’m in no position to talk about constitutionality, but the relevant questions are what it means for something to start somewhere, and whether the bill was a revenue bill. There might be legal precedent, though if I had to guess there probably isn’t much.

    The bill that passed was, indeed, a House bill. That is, it was a bill that originated in the House, had an “H.R.” designation, etc. That bill might have had something to do with appropriations. It just so happens that when that bill got to the Senate, the Senate tacked on a bunch of other provisions (some of the original provisions might have remained in one of the side provisions added to gather support). Or to ask another question, what kind of changes can the Senate make to a revenue bill before it hasn’t really “originated” in the House anymore? Small amendments surely would be ok. It’s probably a slippery slope.

    On the other hand, the bill had more to do with spending than revenue. But I am not up to snuff on constitutional law so I don’t know what the relevance is.


  3. Don’t worry about it — the House protects its prerogatives. If they believe that the bill originated in the Senate, then they won’t even bring it up for consideration. So it has no chance of passing, or becoming law.


  4. Wahat he means is that Who works out the differances beetweenthe house and the senate when two “idenical” bills pass?


  5. Congress realizes that there are bills that are not very “popular”, so they start one in the House and one in the Senate and run them both. If one fails, the other might go through.

    But if either of them violate the Constitution in any way, they won’t even be valid if the Prez signs them.


  6. Anonymous: I don’t know. I expect that staffers from the two sponsoring offices get together for a chat, but I don’t really know.

    John: I don’t think your point about constitutionality is really right. I’m certainly no lawyer or constitutional expert, but it seems to me that a law is valid just until it is thrown out by a court. That is to say, a law isn’t/can’t be “unconstitutional” until a judge says so, and that doesn’t happen over night, so even if a law turns out eventually to get thrown out, there still may be a long time in which it’s essentially “valid”.


  7. If we may use the SCHIP reauthorization bill as an example, I have additional questions. In this case, there are two separate bills that contain largely identical provisions. The House version passed and was sent on to the Senate, but the Senate was busy working away on its own version. The Senate is expecting to vote on its version any day/minute now. If the Senate version receives the votes to move forward, what happens next? Does it go to the House, even though they approved its very similar version weeks ago?


  8. Yes, the Senate version goes to the House. The House version also went to the Senate, even though the Senate decided to ignore it and work on a different bill. So they each have the other’s bill in front of them. I’m not sure on the details here, but basically one side will continue with the other’s bill. For instance, the House may now amend the Senate version so it looks like *it’s* version and then pass it essentially a second time (probably with a voice vote rather than roll call). Then the bill goes to conference committee where representatives and senators agree on a final form.


  9. Lord have mercy! if you don’t an answer for the poor guy, just say so. You change the question and then spend five paragraphs not answering that question either!

    The answer is – Nothing happens to the Senate bill if the identical House version is defeated, in the House or in the Senate after passage by the House.

    If the Senate passes it and sends it to the House the House can ignore it, defeat it or pass it. If the House passes it it might get sent to the president.

    Do you get paid for this nonsense?


  10. I’m pretty sure I answered the original question when I wrote “If one comes to a vote and is defeated, the other bill lives on.”

    Paul, if you would like to take over answering questions because you think you would do a better job, by all means. I’ll be happy to off-load that responsibility to someone else. As for whether I get paid, see http://www.govtrack.us/ads.xpd.


  11. Can anyone explain how a bill passed in one chamber is re-negotiated in the other? Who does the negotiating? If one of the negotiated changes is unacceptable to someone who voted to pass it, how does it proceed. Example… if one of the spending cuts removed from the Senate stimulus bill reappears in the House version.


  12. After the two chambers pass a bill but in non-identical forms, each chamber appoints members to a ‘conference committee’ which meets together. They issue a report with revised bill text which then goes to each chamber for approval, generally by another vote.


  13. What happens if the House passes a bill in the 110th Congressional session and the Senate does not act on its version of the bill, and the session ends?

    Does the House have to start all over again in the 111th Congressional session? Or can a bill be passed by the House in one session and the Senate in the next?


  14. John T.

    Actually, I believe that the other John is correct regarding an unconstitutional law not being valid.

    “American Jurisprudence” says: “The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and the name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void and ineffective for any purpose since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it; an unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed … An unconstitutional law is void.”

    Of course, I realize that until it is struck down (if it ever is) the powers that be will enforce it even though it is not a valid law. And violators will still face fines or imprisonment.


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