Constitutional FAQ Answer #125 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional FAQ Answer #125

<<Previous Question |
Question Index |
Subject Index |
Constitutional Index |
Next Question>>

Q125. “On the Checks
and Balances Page
, it says that a legislative check on the legislature is
that only the House can originate revenue bills. I’ve been told that only the
House can originate spending bills, too — is this true?”

A. In my opinion, the Constitution is unambiguous on the point: “All bills
for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives” (Article 1, Section 7). Thus, I’ve listed the
House’s “original jurisdiction” over revenue bills (laws that affect taxes) as
a check. The House, however, views this clause a little differently, taking it
to mean not only taxation bills but also spending bills.

The plain language of the clause would seem to contradict the House’s
opinion, but the House relies on historical precedent and contemporaneous
writings to support its position. In Federalist 66, for example,
Alexander Hamilton writes, “The exclusive privilege of originating money bills
will belong to the House of Representatives.” This phrase could easily
be construed to include taxing and spending. The Supreme Court has ruled,
however, that the Senate can initiate bills that create revenue, if the revenue
is incidental and not directly a tax. Most recently, in US v
(495 US 385 [1990]), the Court said, “Because the bill at
issue here was not one for raising revenue, it could not have been passed in
violation of the Origination Clause.” The case cites Twin City v Nebeker
(176 US 196 [1897]), where the court said that “revenue bills are those that
levy taxes, in the strict sense of the word.”

However, the House, it is explained, will
return a spending bill originated in the Senate with a note reminding the Senate
of the House’s prerogative on these matters. The color of the paper allows this
to be called “blue-slipping.” Because the House sees this as a matter of some
pride, the Senate is almost guaranteed not to have concurrence on any spending
bill which originates in the Senate. This has created a de facto standard,
despite my own contention (and that of the Senate) that it is not supported by
the Constitution.

Last Modified: 16 Aug 2010

Valid HTML 4.0