Updated August 3, 1999
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Introducing a House Bill or Resolution
Richard C. Sachs
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Developing Ideas for Legislative Language. Ideas and recommendations for
legislation may come from private sources, such as ordinary citizens or interest groups;
executive branch agencies and the White House; state and local initiatives; and, of course,
individual Members, committees and other work groups, and party and chamber leaders.
Any or all of these entities may also participate in drafting legislation (resolutions as well
Some of the most common considerations that may be taken into account when
drafting a bill are:
Will the measure attract cosponsors?
To what committee or committees is the measure likely to be referred?
Does the measure have bipartisan appeal?
Is the measure best introduced at the start of a session of Congress, or later?
What are the budgetary or appropriations implications?
House Office of Legislative Counsel. Although there is no requirement that bills
and other measures introduced in the House be drafted by the House Office of Legislative
Counsel, the office usually plays a critical role. Its staff attorneys are both subject-matter
specialists and experts in legislative drafting. The office is located at 136 Cannon House
Office Building (5-6060).
Legislative counsel staff are often assigned to a specific committee or committees and
focus almost exclusively on related policy areas in which they are expert. They act as
nonpartisan, shared staff, working closely with committee members and staff. Personal
office staff assigned responsibility for drafting legislation may seek assistance from
legislative counsel at any stage. Numerous drafts of a bill or resolution may be required
before a measure is formally introduced.
Seeking Cosponsors. The chief sponsor of a bill or resolution commonly seeks
cosponsors prior to its introduction as an indication of support.
One of the most common techniques for informing Members of the pending
introduction of a bill or resolution, and for soliciting support, is the “Dear Colleague”
letter, sent to most or all Members. These letters are so called after the appellation with
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
which they nearly always begin. Typically, “Dear Colleague” letters briefly state the issue
the bill addresses, its major components, and remedial impact, and include an appeal to
become a cosponsor. Almost always, they carry the name and phone number of a staff
aide. (See CRS Report 98-222, Sponsorship and Cosponsorship of House Bills.)
A Representative who wishes to become a cosponsor may contact the chief sponsor's
office and request that his or her name be added. A form listing cosponsors is kept, usually
by a staff aide, and submitted along with the bill or resolution when it is introduced. Before
a bill is reported, a Representative may remove his or her name as a cosponsor by seeking
unanimous consent on the floor.
Introducing a Bill. House Rule XII deals with the introduction of measures in the
House, but in fact, the formal procedures that govern the practical activity of introducing
legislation are few. Former House parliamentarian Wm. Holmes Brown in House
Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House (Washington:
GPO, 1996) states: “The system for introducing measures in the House is a relatively free
and open one.”
When a Member has determined that a bill or resolution is ready for introduction, the
measure is printed in a form that leaves room for the parliamentarian’s office to note the
committee or committees of referral and for a clerk to insert a number. The Member must
sign the measure and attach the names of cosponsors. The Member then deposits the
measure in the box, or “hopper,” at the clerk’s desk in the House chamber. A Member
need not seek recognition in order to introduce a measure.
Bills and resolutions may be introduced at any time when the House is in session.
House rules do not limit the number of bills a Member may introduce. Moreover, House
precedents permit a Member to introduce a measure at the request of an individual who
is not a member of the House, for example, the President, even though the Member may
be personally opposed to its passage. In such a case, the phrase "by request" appears on
the bill following the name of the primary sponsor.
If a Member has second thoughts after introducing a measure, he or she may reclaim
it from the clerk so long as the measure has not been assigned a number and referred to
committee. Thereafter, once a measure has been referred and numbered, it becomes the
property of the House and cannot be reclaimed. The House has the authority to consider
an introduced bill or resolution even if the sponsor resigns from the House, or dies.
Referral. From the hopper at the clerk’s desk in the chamber, most measures are
taken to the parliamentarian’s office where they are referred to one or more committees
(per Rule XII, clause 2). (Most of the time, the referral is determined before a bill is
assigned a number.) Formal authority to refer legislation is held by the Speaker but
exercised through the parliamentarian. Almost all legislation is referred to committees
pursuant to jurisdictions set forth in Rule X. The Speaker has the authority to make
multiple referrals, to designate a "primary" committee, and to impose time limitations on
the referral. (See CRS Report 98-175, House Committee Jurisdiction and Referral:
Rules and Practice).