RESOLUTIONS, CONGRESSIONAL. In each chamber of Congress, four forms of legislative measures may be introduced or submitted, and acted upon. These include bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate follow similar rules when making decisions on any of these actions. Both bills and joint resolutions are used when the focus is on making laws; a joint resolution can also be used to propose an amendment to the Constitution. Both concurrent and simple resolutions are used to delegate official internal Congressional business.
Although easily confused, resolutions are not laws but rather the statements of intent or declarations that affect the operations of Congress. Resolutions, which are not legislative in character, are used primarily to express principles, facts, opinions, and the purposes of both the House and the Senate—that is, until they pass both houses. When Congress seeks to pass a law, however, it uses either a bill or a joint resolution, which must be passed by both houses in identical form, and then presented to the president for approval or disapproval.
There are a variety of uses for each of the four types of measures. A bill, when presented to both the House and Senate, can be either an authorization or a reauthorization of federal policies or programs, or it may be a reconciliation bill, which alters spending authority. A bill follows a path originating from a member of either the House or the Senate, and then it must be approved by both chambers and the president. Similarly, a joint resolution, with the exception of those joint resolutions to amend the Constitution, follows the same path and could include measures such as transfer of appropriations; adjustment of debt limits; establishment of a date for the convening of Congress; declarations of war; abrogation of treaties; extensions of expirations or reporting dates for existing laws, including the dates for the president to submit budgets; and resolutions of either approval or disapproval. Joint resolutions can be used for important foreign policy measures, such as the delegation of broad powers to the president in the case of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, or the joint resolution authorizing the use of the U.S. military against those responsible for the attacks launched against the United States on 11 September 2001. Both bills and joint resolutions can eventually become laws or statutes if both chambers and the president approve. In the case of joint resolutions intended to amend the Constitution, the approval of the president is not required.
The two internal types of resolutions, concurrent and simple, also need only the approval of both houses, and do not become law. A concurrent resolution, introduced in either the House or the Senate, can call for the creation of a joint committee, provide for a joint session of Congress, call for a recess of either house of more than three days, or correct conference reports or enrolled bills. A resolution may also express an opinion of Congress, as in the example of the 1962 Berlin Resolution, which declared that all measures should be taken to prevent violations in Berlin by the Soviet Union. A simple resolution can establish a standing order, elect committee members, or create a special committee, such as an investigating committee.
107th Congress of the United States. "Authorization for Use of Military Force." SJ 23 ES. Available from http://www.law.suffolk.edu/library/terrorism/SJRes23.html.
Beth, Richard S. "Bills and Resolutions: Examples of How Each Kind Is Used." Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 98-706 GOV (27 January 1999). Available from http://www.house.gov/rules/98_706.pdf.
———. "Bills, Resolutions, Nominations, and Treaties: Origins, Deadlines, Requirements, and Uses." Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 98-728 GOV (27 January 1999). Available from http://www.house.gov/rules/98_728.pdf.
Rundquist, Paul S. "'Sense of' Resolutions and Provisions." Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 98-825 GOV (2 March 1999). Available from http://www.house.gov/rules/98-825.pdf.
Sachs, Richard C. "Introducing a House Bill or Resolution." Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 98-458 GOV (3 August 1999). Available from http://www.house.gov/rules/98-458.pdf.