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Enactment of a Law

Presidential Action -- Approval or Veto

The President, under the Constitution, has 10 days (Sundays excepted) after the bill has been presented to him in which to act upon it. If the subject matter of the bill is within the jurisdiction of a department of the Government, or affects its interests in any way, he may in the meantime, at his discretion, refer the bill to the head of that department for investigation and a report thereon. The report of such official may serve as an aid to the President in reaching a decision about whether or not to approve the bill. If the President does approve it, he signs the bill, giving the date, and transmits this information by messenger to the Senate or the House, as the case might be. In the case of revenue and tariff bills, the hour of approval is usually indicated. The enrolled bill is delivered to the Archivist of the United States, who designates it as a public or private law, depending upon its purpose, and gives it a number. Public and private laws are numbered separately and serially. An official copy is sent to Government Printing Office to be used in making the so-called slip law print.

In the event the President does not desire to approve a bill, but is unwilling to veto it, he may, by not returning it within the 10-day period after it is presented to him, permit it to become a law without his approval. The Archivist makes an endorsement on the bill that, having been presented to the President of the United States for his approval and not having been returned to the House of Congress in which it originated within the time prescribed by the Constitution, it has become a law without his approval.

Where the 10-day period extends beyond the date of the final adjournment of Congress, the President may, within that time approve and sign the bill, which thereby becomes a law. If, however, in such a case, the President does not approve and sign the bill before the expiration of the ten-day period, it fails to become a law. This is what is known as a pocket veto. The United States Court of Appeals, in the case of KENNEDY v. SAMPSON, 511 F.2d 430 (D.C. Cir., 1974), held that a Senate bill could not be pocket-vetoed by the President during an "intrasession" adjournment of Congress to a day certain for more than three days, where the Secretary of the Senate had been authorized to receive Presidential messages during such adjournment. In the case of BARNES v. KLINE, 759 F.2d 51 (D.C. Cir., 1985), the Court held the same with regard to an intersession adjournment.

If the President does not favor a bill and vetoes it, he returns it to the House of origin without his approval, together with his objections thereto (referred to as the "veto message"). It should be noted that after the final adjournment of the 94th Congress, 1st session, the President returned two bills, giving Congress the opportunity to reconsider and "override" the vetoes.

The constitutional provision for reconsideration by the Senate is met, under the precedents, by the reading of the veto message, spreading it on the Journal, and adopting a motion (1) to act on it immediately, (2) to refer it, with the accompanying papers, to a standing committee: (3) to order that it lie on the table, to be subsequently considered, or (4) to order its consideration postponed to a definite day. The House's procedures are much the same.

If, upon reconsideration by either House, the House of origin acting first, the bill does not receive a two-thirds vote, the President's veto is sustained and the bill fails to become a law.

If a bill which has been vetoed is passed upon reconsideration by the first House by the required two-thirds vote, an endorsement to this effect is made on the back of the bill, and it is then transmitted, together with the accompanying message, to the second House for its action thereon. If likewise reconsidered and passed by that body, a similar endorsement is made thereon. The bill, which has thereby been enacted into law, is not again presented to the President, but is delivered to the Administrator of the General Services Administration for deposit in the Archives, and is printed, together with the attestations of the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of its passage over the President's veto.

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