The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution

Instructor: Jason Tauches

Jason is a writer and attorney who holds a Juris Doctor and a Master of Laws as well as an MFA in Creative Writing

In this lesson, you will learn about the Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution, including its interpretation by the courts and enforcement of its provisions by the House of Representatives.

The Circuitous Path from Bill to Law

You are a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. You recently wrote the bill of your career: a bill that would raise revenue for public schools through the use of a new government funding app created by your nine-year-old daughter, Wendy. The bill passed the House with almost unanimous bipartisan support, and you heard great things about it from the Senators you talked to. Then the bill came back. It was gutted. It was unrecognizable. Sitting on your desk, reading through it, only the app section remains. The rest of it is a Senate bill for raising taxes in order to pay for a congressional valet parking service. You run the bill across the hall to your friend and mentor, Congressman Periwinkle.

''It's ludicrous!'' you say to her. ''They can't do that! It violates the Origination Clause!''

''Oh, my young paduan,'' she says, patting you on the back, ''you still have so much to learn about Congress.''

You decide to research the Origination Clause, and you find the following helpful information:

The Origination Clause

The Origination Clause is found in Article 1, Section 7 of the US Constitution. It states, ''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.'' The clause was created through heated debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. At the time, Senators were elected by state legislators. Members of the House of Representatives, however, were elected by popular vote in each state.

Representatives from large states felt that the power to tax should rest in the congressional body that directly represented the people of each state, the House of Representatives, without the possibility of amendment by the Senate. The representatives from smaller states felt that their power on questions of taxation would be diminished based on the low numbers of their representatives in the House of Representatives and wanted some power over taxation in the Senate, where they were on equal footing with larger states. The debating representatives compromised by creating language that allowed revenue raising activities to originate in the House, but amendments could be proposed and concurred upon in the Senate.

Interpretation of the Clause

The House of Representatives has interpreted the clause to apply to any legislation that affects revenue. This includes revenue that is generated through taxes and that are deposited in the Treasury for the general use of funding the federal government. The House has interpreted the clause to also apply to any measure that would incidentally affect revenues, such as any ban on the import of certain items. If there is a ban on the import of an item, it would mean that item could not be taxed upon import, reducing revenue.

The Supreme Court, however, has interpreted the clause more narrowly. The Supreme Court has stated that the clause applies only to legislation in which raising revenue is its primary purpose, and not just an incidental effect. Furthermore, the legislation must be for raising revenue for general government expenses, not to fund specific programs. For example, in United States v. Munoz-Flores, the Court found constitutional the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, which required people convicted of certain crimes to pay a monetary assessment toward a special Crime Victims Fund. The Court found that even though the bill had originated in the Senate, because the money assessed was for a specific purpose, the law did not offend the Origination Clause.

The two interpretations serve two purposes. The House interpretation governs procedures for passing bills into law within the House and Senate. The Supreme Court's interpretation affects whether a law already passed by Congress is or is not Constitutional.

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