The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement


Publication Date: May 2002

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Government



Article I, Section 7, clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution is known as the origination clause because it provides that "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." The meaning and application of this clause has evolved through practice and precedent since the Constitution was drafted.

The Constitution does not provide specific guidelines as to what constitutes a "bill for raising revenue." This report analyzes congressional and court precedents regarding what constitutes such a bill. 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 raise or lower revenues directly. As a result, the House includes within the definition of revenue legislation not only direct changes in the tax code, but also any fees paid to the government that are not payments for a specific service, and any change in import restrictions, because of the potential impact on tariff revenues. The precedents of the Senate reflect a similar understanding. The Supreme Court has occasionally ruled on origination clause matters, adopting a definition of revenue bills that is based on two central principles that tend to narrow its application to fewer classes of legislation than the House: (1) raising money must be the primary purpose of the measure, rather than an incidental effect; and (2) the resulting funds must be for the expenses or obligations of the government generally, rather than a single, specific purpose.

Second, this report describes the various ways in which the origination clause has been enforced. Given the fact that originating revenue measures is the House's prerogative, it falls to the House to enforce this provision of the Constitution most frequently. The House's primary method for enforcement is through 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. This is done by voting on a privileged resolution. Less typically, the House may choose to enforce its prerogative by taking no action on the disputed Senate measure, or referring it to committee. The Senate may also address whether a measure contravenes the origination clause. As with any question of constitutionality, it may be submitted directly to the Senate for its determination. Such a question would be debatable and decided by majority vote. The Supreme Court has a role in enforcing the origination clause as well, as it would in any question of constitutionality.

Finally, this report looks at the application of the origination clause to other types of legislation. It examines precedents concerning public debt legislation, as well as the unanswered question of whether the origination clause grants the House the exclusive prerogative to originate bills to appropriate money, as well as to raise revenues.

This report will be updated to reflect any changes in practice.