Order Code RS22477
Updated November 25, 2008
Sponsorship and Cosponsorship
of House Bills
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
A Representative who introduces a bill or other measure in the House is called its
sponsor. Under House Rule XII, clause 7, several Members together may submit a bill,
but the first-named Member is the chief or primary sponsor; the others are cosponsors.
A bill can have only one primary sponsor. For more information on legislative process,
Sponsorship of a Bill. Representatives introduce bills in the House chamber by
placing them in the clerk’s “hopper,” a box at the rostrum, when the House is in session.
The original signature of the primary sponsor must appear on the measure when it is
introduced. Cosponsors do not have to affix their signatures to the bill; the primary
sponsor need only submit a list of names when the bill is dropped in the hopper.
Cosponsors commonly ask the sponsors to add their names to a bill to signal support for
Members typically sponsor bills they support. On occasion, a Representative may
introduce a bill as a courtesy, such as legislation proposed by the President or a senior
Administration official. In such a case, the sponsor may designate the bill as introduced
“by request.” As House Rule XII states, “When a bill or resolution is introduced ‘by
request,’ those words shall be entered on the Journal and printed in the Congressional
The primary sponsor may withdraw the measure he or she has placed in the hopper
only until it receives a number and is referred to committee. Once referred, neither the
sponsor nor any cosponsor nor any other Member may withdraw the bill, even by
unanimous consent. The measure becomes the property of the House, and the House may
act on it even if the primary sponsor resigns from the House, or dies.
Cosponsorship of a Bill . Representatives may cosponsor a bill either at the time
of its introduction or subsequently. Members whose names are submitted with a bill at
the time of introduction are commonly referred to as “original cosponsors.” Once a bill
has been introduced, Members may add their names as cosponsors until the bill has been
This report was originally prepared by former CRS Specialist Richard C. Sachs. Please direct
any inquiries to the listed author.
reported from all the committees to which it is referred (or been discharged from the
The names of added cosponsors appear in the Congressional Record and in any
subsequent prints of the bill. Sponsors and cosponsors of bills and amendments may be
found by searching the Legislative Information System (LIS), CRS’s online legislative
resource. House Rule XII provides that a bill may be reprinted if 20 or more cosponsors
have been added since the previous printing, and the primary sponsor submits a written
request for the Speaker to reprint the bill.
A cosponsor may also have his or her name removed from a bill until the last
committee of referral has reported it. For this purpose, either the cosponsor or the primary
sponsor of the bill must request unanimous consent on the House floor.
Rules governing the number of cosponsors permitted on a bill have changed over the
years. From 1967 to 1979, House rules limited the number of cosponsors to 25 per bill,
requiring the introduction of identical bills when the number of cosponsors exceeded 25.
Since 1979, an unlimited number of cosponsors has been allowed. Private bills are
prohibited from having cosponsors.
Gaining Cosponsors. Supporters of a bill often seek cosponsors in hope of
demonstrating its popularity and improving its chances for passage. One of the most
common techniques for soliciting support for a bill is the “Dear Colleague” letter, a mass
mailing to selected or all Members. These letters are so called after the salutation with
which they begin.
No House rules or formal procedures govern “Dear Colleague” letters. They are, in
effect, a sponsor’s advertisement for a bill (or, sometimes, an amendment). Typically, the
letters briefly state the issue the bill addresses, its major components, and its policy
importance, and include an appeal to join as a cosponsor. Almost always, they carry the
name and phone number of a staff aide to contact. A new system for distributing “Dear
Colleagues” through the Internet was implemented in the 110th Congress. (See CRS
Report RS21667, ‘Dear Colleague ’ Letters: A Brief Overview, by Jacob R. Straus.)
Before a bill is formally introduced, a Member or an aide acting at his or her
direction, who wishes to become a cosponsor may contact the sponsoring Member’s
office and request that his or her name be added to the bill. A form listing cosponsors is
kept, usually by a staff aide, and submitted along with the bill at introduction. After the
bill is introduced, a Member may also contact the primary sponsor’s office and ask to be
listed as a cosponsor. The primary sponsor decides when to submit these additional
cosponsors to the House Clerk for publication in the Congressional Record.