Order Code 98-222 GOV
April 21, 2003
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Sponsorship and Cosponsorship
of House Bills
Richard C. Sachs
Specialist in American National Government
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 Representative is considered the chief or primary sponsor; the others
are considered cosponsors. A bill can have only one primary sponsor. For more
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Sponsorship of a Bill. Representatives introduce bills in the House chamber by
placing them in the clerk’s “hopper,” a box at the rostrum while 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 their names when the bill is dropped in the hopper.
Cosponsors commonly add their names to a bill to signal support or sentiment for the
In a strictly formal sense, sponsorship of a bill only identifies the Representative who
introduces it, and does not necessarily indicate his or her support for the legislation. A
Member may, for example, introduce a bill as a courtesy, such as legislation proposed by
the President. 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 Record.”
After a bill is placed in the hopper, the primary sponsor may withdraw it unilaterally
until it receives a number and is referred to committee. Once referred, neither the sponsor
nor any cosponsor nor any other Member may withdraw it, 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
reported from all the committees to which it is referred (or been discharged from the
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The names of added cosponsors appear in the Congressional Record and in any
subsequent prints of the bill. 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. 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. Cosponsors are
prohibited under the rules on private bills, but have appeared from time to time.
Becoming a Cosponsor. Before a bill is formally introduced, a Member or an
aide acting on his or her direction, who wishes to become a cosponsor may contact the
sponsoring Member’s office and request 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
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 appellation 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. 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
Finding Sponsors and Cosponsors in LIS. Sponsors and cosponsors of bills
and amendments may be searched by Member name in the automated Legislative
Information System (LIS). From the LIS home page, under the “Home” tab, click on
“Sponsors/Cosponsors.” The resulting list may be searched alphabetically. Sponsors and
cosponsors are also identified under the summary of each bill that has been introduced.