Blue-Slipping: The Origination Clause in the House of Representatives

Blue-Slipping: The Origination Clause in the
House of Representatives
James V. Saturno
Specialist on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
Article I, Section 7, clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution is known generally as the
Origination Clause because it requires:
All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the
Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.
As generally understood, this clause carries two kinds of prohibitions. First, the
Senate may not originate any measure that includes a provision for raising revenue, and
second, the Senate may not propose any amendment that would raise revenue to a non-
revenue measure. However, the Senate may generally amend a House-originated revenue
measure as it sees fit. See [] for
more information on the legislative process.
The House’s primary method for enforcement of the Origination Clause is through1
a process known as “blue-slipping.” Blue-slipping is the term applied to the act of
returning to the Senate a measure that the House has determined violates its prerogatives
as defined by the Origination Clause. The House takes this action by adopting a
resolution stating that a Senate bill [or Senate amendment(s) to a non-revenue House bill]
“in the opinion of this House, contravenes the first clause of the seventh section of the
first article of the Constitution of the United States and is an infringement of the
privileges of this House and that such bill [or such bill with the Senate amendment(s)
thereto] be respectfully returned to the Senate with a message communicating this
resolution.” This process is called blue-slipping because historically the resolution
returning the offending bill to the Senate is printed on blue paper. This process is
provided for under House Rule IX, clause 2(a)(1), which states:
A resolution reported as a question of the privileges of the House, or offered from the
floor by the Majority Leader or the Minority Leader as a question of the privileges of
the House, or offered as privileged under clause 1, section 7, article I of the

1 The term “blue-slipping” is also sometimes used in an unrelated sense by the Senate in
connection with the nomination of federal judges.

Constitution [emphasis added], shall have precedence of all other questions except
motions to adjourn.
Any Member of the House may offer such a resolution, but normally it is the
Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee who would do so, although another member
of the committee may be designated. Consideration of the resolution takes place in the
House of Representatives under the one-hour rule. Clause 2(a)(2) of House Rule IX
further provides:
The time allotted for debate on a resolution offered from the floor as a question of the
privileges of the House shall be equally divided between (A) the proponent of the
resolution, and (B) the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader, or a designee, as
determined by the Speaker.
Because enforcement of the Origination Clause in the House is based on a
constitutional privilege of the House, it is not subject to restrictions based on timeliness
as points of order based on House rules would be. The House can assert its privilege at
any time it is in possession of the bill and related papers (that is, anytime the actual
documents are not physically in the possession of the Senate or a conference committee).
The House is not limited to enforcing its prerogative through blue-slipping a measure
upon its initial receipt from the Senate or during its consideration on the House floor.
Historically, the House has used a variety of methods to enforce the Origination
Clause. On a number of occasions the House has chosen to ignore a Senate passed bill,
and instead taken action on a corresponding House bill. The House may also refer a
questionable Senate measure to a committee. In such instances, a committee may choose
simply to report a House bill, rather than consider the Senate bill further. The House may
also decide to use a conference committee as a venue for deciding Origination Clause
questions. It may do so by having the subject committed to conference, or it may
determine that an offending provision can be removed in conference without having to
take the formal step of blue-slipping. Such an accommodation would not prevent the
House from enforcing its prerogatives through blue-slipping after a conference if the
offending provision remained in the measure.
The Constitution does not provide specific guidelines as to what constitutes a bill for
raising revenue. What constitutes “a bill for raising revenue” is therefore a question of
interpretation. The precedents and practices of the House apply a broad standard and
construe the House’s prerogatives broadly to include any “meaningful revenue proposal.”
This standard is based on whether the measure in question has revenue affecting potential,
and not simply whether it would directly raise or lower revenues. Examples of legislation
for which this standard would be applicable would include not only legislation to make
changes in the tax code directly, but also legislation involving any fees not intended as
payment for a specific government service, as well as any change in import restrictions
because of their potential impact on tariff revenues.
For additional information on the Origination Clause, see CRS Report RL31399, The
Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement, by James
V. Saturno.