In Washington D.C., you are constantly hearing the phrase “how the sausage is made” to describe the political process. Capitol Hill, where most people think the sausage is made, draws all the attention. Everyone’s fixation is on the most pressing legislation, the congressional press releases, and what Congress accomplishes while in session. But what happens after Congress passes a vast stimulus package or omnibus bill? Where does that hot-topic piece of legislation go after the congressional process? The answer is the Executive Branch, which enforces these laws within the administrative state. While much of the political process focuses on the legislative process, it is essential to know about the regulatory process and how regulations affect the art of governing.
First, it is critical to understand the roles of a congressional law and a regulation issued by an agency. Laws go through the bill process before becoming established as a law. Like School House Rock exhibited, the theory of passing a bill is simple, pass an identical bill through the House and Senate and then get the president to sign it into law. In reality, the process is anything but simple. Just like sausage, the actual process is extremely messy. Members of each house have to introduce the bills for its first reading, committees have to have hearings and amendments on the legislation, then floor debates on the second reading, and a final vote is then necessary. After all this, it must go through the same process in the second chamber. Eventually, if everything works ideally, the bill will go to the president’s desk for signature.
After the president signs legislation into law, the Executive Branch departments and agencies must implement it. This passover to the Executive Branch is where the regulatory process goes into full effect. A regulation is a statement issued by a federal agency with the force and effect of law. A governmental agency creates a regulation, often to actually implement a given law. These rules specify the requirements necessary to fulfill and enforce legislation passed by Congress.
Unlike a bill, the rule-making process does not go through the legislative process. Within the rule-making process, the general idea is that an agency holds a public hearing on a given rule and then decides to adopt, change, or decline a rule. Just like the passage of a bill, the rule-making process can break down into smaller parts. First, the rule-making process can be spurred by agency initiatives – regulations under the agency’s statutory authority, or by statutory mandates – regulations stemming from the passage of a law. Next, these agencies publish proposed rules in the Federal Register and allow the public to provide comments. Finally, the Federal Register publishes the final rule with an implementation date.
The legislative and regulatory processes are mammoths, each with different branches of government in mind. Like sausages, some argue that the laws and rules should never be watched made. However, it is essential to know how these two processes govern the laws and authorities of the federal government to lobby for changes within the policy process.
The Fertilizer Institute
Washington, D.C. | Summer 2021