A type of measure that Congress may consider and act upon, the other types being bills, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions, in addition to treaties in the Senate.
Like a bill, a joint resolution must be approved, in identical form, by both the House and the Senate, and signed by the president. Like a bill, it has the force of law if approved.
A joint resolution is distinguished from a bill by the circumstances in which it is generally used. Although no rules stipulate whether a proposed law must be drafted as a bill or a joint resolution, certain traditions are generally followed. A joint resolution is often used when Congress needs to pass legislation to solve a limited or temporary problem. For example, it is used as a temporary measure to provide continuing appropriations for government programs when annual appropriations bills have not yet been enacted. This type of joint resolution is called a continuing resolution.
Joint resolutions are also often used to address a single important issue. For example, between 1955 and January 1991, on six occasions Congress passed joint resolutions authorizing or approving presidential requests to use armed forces to defend specific foreign countries, such as Taiwan, or to protect U.S. interests in specific regions, such as the Middle East. Two of these resolutions—the tonkin gulf resolution of 1964 (78 Stat. 384) and the Persian Gulf Resolution of 1991 (105 Stat. 3)—were used, in part, to justify U.S. participation in a full-scale war.
Another use of joint resolutions is to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Resolutions proposing constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds of both houses. They do not require the president's signature, but instead become law when they are ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Finally, joint resolutions are commonly used to establish commemorative days. Of the ninety-nine joint resolutions that became law in the 103d Congress, for example, eighty-three were items of commemorative legislation.
Congressional Quarterly. 1991. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to Congress. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.
——. 1983. Congress A to Z. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.
Dickson, Paul, and Paul Clancy, eds. 1993. The Congress Dictionary: The Ways and Meanings of Capitol Hill. New York: Wiley.
"Only Bills and Joint Resolutions Can Become Law." 1994. Congressional Quarterly News (December 19).