Order Code 98-279 GOV
April 21, 2003
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Sponsorship and Cosponsorship
of Senate Bills
Richard C. Sachs
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
A Senator who introduces a bill or other measure in the Senate is called its sponsor.
Senators may together submit a bill, but the first-named Senator is considered the chief
sponsor. The others are considered cosponsors. A bill can have only one chief sponsor.
For more information on legislative process, see
Sponsorship of a Bill
Senators introduce bills in the Senate chamber by handing them to a clerk at the table
below the dais. The chief sponsor’s signature must appear on the measure when it is
In a strictly formal sense, sponsorship of a bill only identifies the Senator who
introduces it, and does not necessarily indicate support. Practically, however, Senators
sponsor bills they support. And cosponsors almost always add their names to a bill to
indicate support. A Senator may, however, 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.”
Once a bill has been handed to the clerk, it becomes the property of the Senate and
cannot be withdrawn. If a Senator desires that no action be taken on the bill, the Senator
may by unanimous consent request that action on the bill be indefinitely postponed.
As noted above, only one Senator can be the sponsor of a bill. Sometimes, a bill
may become popularly known by the names of more than one Senator, for example, the
1995 Kassebaum-Kennedy health care bill. Only the first named Senator is the chief
sponsor, in this case, Senator Kassebaum. Others identified, even though they may be
seen both in Congress and by the general public as equally responsible for the bill, are,
according to Senate procedure, cosponsors. The strategy of associating legislation with
the names of more than one Senator is sometimes useful in gaining support across
partisan or ideological ranks.
A Senate committee may report legislation it has drafted itself as an original bill.
In such a case, there is no sponsor and there are no cosponsors. When the legislation is
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
reported and a final draft printed, a Senator brings the draft to the clerk on the chamber
floor, the draft is assigned a bill number, and the name of the Senator who brought the
legislation forward is indicated on the bill. That Senator may be the committee chairman,
but he is not, under Senate procedure, the sponsor.
For example, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported an original bill
in September 1997, on the issue of administration of national au pair programs. The
legislative language was drafted, marked up, and reported by the committee. Because the
chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee presented the legislation to the bill clerk,
the bill indicates, “Mr. Helms, from the Committee on Foreign Relations, reported the
following original bill....” But, under Senate procedure, Senator Helms is not the sponsor
of the bill.
Cosponsorship of a Bill
When a Senator introduces a bill, he or she commonly attaches to the bill a form
with the names of cosponsors. Before a bill is formally introduced, a Senator becomes
a cosponsor by contacting the office of the chief sponsor and requesting his or her name
be added to the bill. Initial cosponsors can be added until the bill is presented to the clerk
in the Senate chamber. There is no limit to the number of cosponsors that can be added
to a bill.
After a bill is introduced, if a Senator wishes to become a cosponsor, he or she may
request unanimous consent to be added as a cosponsor. A Senator may also contact the
chief sponsor’s office and ask to be included, or may add his or her name by calling the
party cloakroom. However, a Senator’s name can only be formally added to a bill by a
unanimous consent request on the chamber floor.
The printed names of additional cosponsors are added if there is a subsequent
printing of the bill. However, under the regulations of the Joint Committee on Printing,
a bill cannot be reprinted solely for the purpose of adding cosponsors. Additional
cosponsors also are listed in the Congressional Record and in Congress’ computerized
legislative information system. Unless agreed to by unanimous consent, a bill, upon
introduction, may be held at the desk for a day, but no longer, for the purpose of adding
one or more cosponsors.
The number of cosponsors that a bill attracts is usually seen as a measure of support,
and Senators and aides use a variety of techniques to encourage colleagues to sign on.
One of the most common is the “Dear Colleague” letter, a mailing to some or all Senators
soliciting support for a bill. The letter is so named because it nearly always begins with
the appellation “Dear Colleague.”
No Senate rules or any formal procedures govern “Dear Colleague” letters. They are,
in effect, advertisements for the sponsoring Senator’s (or Senators’) legislation. The
letters might briefly state the issue the legislation addresses, the major components of the
measure, the likely impact of the legislation, and an appeal to join as a cosponsor. Almost
always, the letters carry the name and phone number of a staff aide.