In the United States Congress, a joint resolution is a legislative measure that requires approval by the Senate and the House and is presented to the President for his approval or disapproval, in exactly the same case as a bill.
Generally, there is no legal difference between a joint resolution and a bill. Both must be passed, in exactly the same form, by both chambers of Congress, and then must — with one exception — be presented to the President and signed by him/her (or, re-passed in override of a presidential veto; or, remain unsigned for ten days while Congress is in session) to become a law. Laws enacted by virtue of a joint resolution are not distinguished from laws enacted by a bill. Constitutional amendments are passed by joint resolutions, which are not presented to the President. Instead, they are sent to the states for ratification under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
While either a bill or joint resolution can be used to create a law, they are used differently in current usage. Bills are generally used to add, repeal, or amend laws codified in the United States Code, and twelve annual appropriations laws. Joint resolutions are generally used for, among other things, the following:
- To authorize small appropriations;
- For continuing resolutions, which extend appropriation levels adopted in a prior fiscal year, when one or more of the twelve annual appropriations acts have been temporarily delayed from becoming law on time;
- To create temporary commissions or other ad hoc bodies (e.g., the 9/11 Commission);
- To create temporary exceptions to existing law, such as joint resolutions providing a day other than January 6 for counting electoral votes or providing for a Saxbe fix reducing the pay of an office so that a member of Congress may avoid the Ineligibility Clause;
- To declare war; and
- To take permanent possession of other territories/nations, more easily than the formal and somewhat slower method of passing a treaty of annexation, (e.g., Texas and Hawaii).