Sponsorship and Cosponsorship of Senate Bills

Sponsorship and Cosponsorship
of Senate Bills
Betsy Palmer
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
A Senator who introduces a bill or other measure in the Senate is called its sponsor.
Several Senators may submit a bill, but the first-named Senator is the chief sponsor, the
others are considered cosponsors. For more information on legislative process, see
[ http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml] .1
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
Senators typically sponsor bills they support. Cosponsors almost always add their
names to a bill to indicate their support. A Senator may introduce a bill as a courtesy,
such as legislation proposed by the President. Such bills may be designated as introduced
“by request,” and this is indicated when the introduction of the bill is noted in the
Congressional Record.
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cannot be withdrawn.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 formal Senate procedure, cosponsors. The strategy of associating legislation
with the names of more than one Senator is often 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

1 This report was prepared by former CRS Specialist Richard C. Sachs. Please direct any
inquiries to the listed author.

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 typically is 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 indicated, “Mr.
Helms, from the Committee on Foreign Relations, reported the following original bill....”
But, under Senate procedure, Senator Helms was 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 that his or her
name be added. Initial cosponsors can be added until the bill is presented to the clerk.
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 cosponsor a measure, he or she may
request unanimous consent on the Senate floor 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 unanimous consent on the chamber floor.
The names of additional cosponsors are added to the printed version of the bill if
there is a subsequent printing of it. 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’ online 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 greeting “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.
Typically, the letters 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
to contact to become a cosponsor of the measure (see CRS Report RL 34636, ‘Dear
Colleague’ Letters: Current Practices, by Jacob R. Straus).