HR 2757, the Puerto Rico States Act of 2021, is “in committee.” Bills are introduced to the full House of Representatives, and then they are sent to a committee. In this case, the committee is the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Bills on so many different subjects come up in Congress that it is unlikely that any one member of Congress will have a full understanding of each of those bills. Committees include the members of Congress who are most involved and best informed on the specific issues the committee covers.
What happens in a committee?
The chair of the committee can send the bill on to a subcommittee. If the chair decides not to send the bill to a subcommittee, the entire committee can hold a markup session — a discussion about the bill. In either the main committee or the subcommittee or both, there can also be hearings. Witnesses are invited to give more information about the bill or other factors, and to answer questions about the bill.
In this case, the chair of the committee is Bruce Westerman. His committee is considering the compromise bill on Puerto Rico’s status. Last year, Westerman was one of the Republicans who complained that the Puerto Rico Status Act hadn’t been the subject of hearings and also hadn’t been considered by other relevant committees. The bill’s sponsors hope that Westerman will hold hearings this year.
A bill can also be sent to committee and never come back to the floor of Congress. For example, HR 900, a bill for independence for Puerto Rico, was sent to the House Natural Resources Committee and then to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. It had no cosponsors, no hearings, and no markup session, so it died in committee. That means that it did not become a law. This happens to most bills that are introduced in Congress.
Once the subcommittee or the committee feels that they understand all the issues, there will be markup sessions which allow the committee members to make changes to the bills. Both the subcommittee and the committee can mark up the bills.
If the bill changes a great deal, there can even be a new bill introduced that includes all those changes.
The committee will then vote on the bill. They can report it back to the Congress with a favorable recommendation, saying that they believe it is a good bill. They can also report it back to the House with a negative recommendation or no recommendation at all. They can also choose not to vote on the bill — another chance for the bill to die in committee.