Backgrounder on Cosponsorship:
Part I: What is Cosponsorship?
Part II: Do Political Players Believe Cosponsorship Matters?
Part III: Is Cosponsorship A Consequential Congressional Activity?
Cosponsorship is not only important by reputation; the act has also been demonstrated to have a consistent legislative impact (Campbell 1982; Wilson and Young 1997). The number of cosponsors for bills passing the House is greater than the number of cosponsors for bills that were voted down (Wilson and Young 1997: 32). This should not be taken as an indication that cosponsorship leads directly to bill success. Rather, cosponsorship seems to help grab the attention of fellow legislators at a particular stage of the legislative process. The number of cosponsorships of a bill is positively and significantly associated with the probability that a bill gains some consideration by a committee rather than simply being “killed” (taken out of consideration). However, the number of cosponsorships is not significantly associated with the probability of a bill’s passage out of the House when the passage of a bill out of committee is controlled for (Wilson and Young 1997: 35-39).
There are two implications of these findings about cosponsorship. First, such findings are not surprising when considering that cosponsorships occur during committee consideration but are not allowed during consideration by the entire House. If cosponsorships represent the pattern of growing support during the period of committee consideration, they should be more associated with committee decisions than full decisions of the House. Second, in conjunction with the finding that cosponsorship activity decreases with House seniority (Campbell 1982; Krehbiel 1995), this finding suggests that the ultimate importance of cosponsorship may be as an exercise in coalition-building to produce change outside the traditional power structure of party and committee leadership. By this definition, cosponsorship efforts are analogous to social movements, even though these efforts occur in the very halls of power from which traditional social movements are often excluded.
As David Mayhew has pointed out, the coalitions represented by cosponsorships could conceivably be simple “paper” coalitions, in which the addition of support is a costless activity requiring little follow-up (Mayhew 1974). To the contrary, however, cosponsorship often seems involve the dedication of time and effort by cosponsors to the passage of the bill of focus. During one hearing alone, six cosponsors of the Marriage Tax Elimination Act rose to speak in its favor (Hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee, 1/28/98). Although it has been said that talk is cheap, the energy spent on the writing and delivery of speeches and on other communications by legislators or their staffs is taken from a limited reserve that could be expended elsewhere. That multiple sponsorship was a common occurrence (especially in an age before easy photocopies, when its practice meant the drafting of an entirely new bill) also suggests that cosponsorship has some importance worthy of effort. The sacrifice of this energy for the cause of a bill indicates the existence of a meaningful coalition.
In sum, evidence of cosponsorship’s substantive importance in congressional politics takes a number of forms. Before the legalization of cosponsorship, legislators devised elaborate and expensive forms of multiple sponsorship that fulfilled cosponsorship’s function. Cosponsorship is an activity that occurs rather often, although the frequency of cosponsorship varies widely from bill to bill and legislator to legislator. Both members of Congress and those that petition them regularly express their belief in the importance of cosponsorship to the legislative process. Finally, the number of cosponsorships of a bill has been shown to be positively and significantly related to the probability of a bill’s passage out of committee. It is fair to conclude that cosponsorship is a significant political event.
Campbell, James. 1982. “Cosponsoring Legislation in the U.S. Congress.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 3: 415-422.
Krehibel, Keith. 1995. “Cosponsors and Wafflers from A to Z.” American Journal of Political Science 39: 906-923.
Mayhew, David. 1974. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Wilson, Rick K. and Cheryl D. Young. 1997. “Cosponsorship in the U.S. Congress.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 12: 25-43