Selected members of Congress are currently in the process of conferencing to create a new federal transportation bill. But what is a transportation conference, really?
The process of making a new transportation law is called reauthorization. Historically, Congress re-writes and re-authorizes a new transportation bill every five to six years.
(1) House and Senate bills
During a successful reauthorization process, both the House and the Senate create their own transportation bills.
In the House, the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee writes the bulk of the bill, and a few other committees write other portions, including the section on funding. Once each committee passes its section, the portions are combined. Then, the full bill must pass on the floor of the House.
In the Senate, four committees share responsibility for writing the bill, with the Environment and Public Works Committee leading the process. Once each committee passes its slice, the sections are combined into one bill. The entire bill must pass the floor of the Senate.
(2) Conference committee selected
If the House bill and the Senate bill are different, the two chambers appoint representatives to reconcile the two bills in a conference committee. These appointed negotiators are called conferees.
(3) Conference process begins
The conferees from both chambers make up the bill's conference committee. Conferees are tasked with reconciling the differences between the two bills and producing a consensus bill that is acceptable to both chambers.
(4) Starting points for negotiation
Conferees from the Senate are generally expected to use the Senate bill as a starting position for conference negotiations, while conferees from the House are expected to use the House bill as a starting position.
(5) Producing a conference bill
A successful conference committee will produce a consensus conference report that reconciles the differences between the initial House and Senate bills. Each chamber has one "vote" in approving the conference bill, and it takes two votes for the bill to move forward.
Because each chamber has one vote, it doesn't matter whether one chamber appoints more conferees than the other. For example, even though the current conference committee is made up of 33 representatives and 14 senators, the House and Senate will have equal say on the final bill.
(6) House and Senate floor votes
The conference bill must go back to the House and Senate floors for a vote.
(7) Presidential approval
If both the House and Senate approve the conference bill, the bill goes to the President for approval. If the president chooses to veto the bill, the House may override the veto.
(8) New transportation law
If the President approves the conference bill or the House overrides the president's veto, a new surface transportation bill is implemented.