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Blue-slipping is a term that originates from the United States Congress and refers to a procedural action taken by the House of Representatives to assert its constitutional prerogative on matters of revenue and appropriations.

Specifically, blue-slipping is the process through which the House returns a Senate-originated spending or revenue bill to the Senate with a blue piece of paper attached, signifying that the bill violates the Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Origin of “Blue-Slipping”

The term “blue-slipping” comes from the color of the paper used to relay the objection, which is historically blue in color.

The Origination Clause, sometimes referred to as the Revenue Clause, states that “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.”

This clause is intended to ensure that the House, as the chamber of Congress most directly accountable to the people through biennial elections, has the primary responsibility for initiating legislation that impacts the nation’s finances.

Blue-slipping serves as a means for the House to protect its constitutional authority and maintain the balance of power between the two legislative chambers.

It is a way for the House to communicate its disapproval of Senate-originated revenue or spending bills, or bills containing provisions that were not initially approved by the House.

While the Senate can propose amendments to revenue and appropriation bills, it is constitutionally prohibited from initiating such legislation.

If the Senate initiates appropriations legislation, the House practice is to return it to the Senate with a blue piece of paper attached citing a constitutional infringement since all measures are supposed to originate in the House.

The practice of returning such bills and amendments to the Senate without action is known as “blue-slipping.”

As C-SPAN points out:

Without House action, Senate-initiated spending legislation cannot make it into law. So in practice, the Senate rarely attempts to initiate such bills anymore, and if it does, the House is diligent about returning them.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the correct interpretation of the Constitutional provision, the House refusal to consider such Senate legislation settles the matter in practice.

It is important to note that blue-slipping is a procedural tactic and not a constitutional requirement. It is a tradition that has been followed by the House of Representatives for more than a century, but it is not explicitly mandated by the U.S. Constitution or any specific rule of either legislative chamber.

Blue-slipping serves as a powerful tool for the House to safeguard its constitutional authority and uphold the principle of bicameralism – the division of the legislature into two separate chambers with distinct powers and responsibilities.

The term is easily confused with blue slips.

Use of “Blue-Slipping” in a sentence

  • The House of Representatives employed the blue-slipping process to return the Senate-originated bill, asserting that it contained revenue provisions that should have originated in the House as required by the Origination Clause.
  • In an effort to protect its constitutional authority, the House decided to blue-slip the appropriations bill, sending a clear message to the Senate that it had overstepped its bounds by initiating the legislation.
  • The Senate received a blue-slipped bill from the House, which indicated that the House objected to the inclusion of certain revenue-raising provisions and expected the Senate to amend the bill before it could be considered further.