7

To override a U.S. presidential veto requires a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Congress. According to this Wikipedia page, this has happened 111 times. What I'm having trouble finding is: What pieces of U.S. legislation passed with a supermajority in both houses of Congress without being vetoed? I'm curious what types have, or time periods had, high support.

13
  • 1
    @MichaelMormon Right. I'm also thinking that the parties have occasionally changed, and those periods might have more because there was only one functional party during the change.
    – ricksmt
    Sep 3 '20 at 19:59
  • 12
    Actually lots of bills do that each congress. They are typically low-impact measures like renaming post offices, but supplementals also tend to be low-drag.
    – dandavis
    Sep 3 '20 at 20:13
  • 1
    @AzorAhai--hehim Yes, I'd count unanimous. Those might be the most interesting.
    – ricksmt
    Sep 3 '20 at 20:49
  • 2
    @MichaelMormon: It also happens for more mundane legislation, such as the CALM Act and the SPEECH Act.
    – Kevin
    Sep 3 '20 at 21:30
  • 2
    @Michael Mormon: There are quite a few such examples - Congress wasn't always as partisan as it is today. Notable are the US declarations of war in WWII: 82-0 in the the Senate, 388-1 in the House against Japan, 82-0 and 393-0 against Germany.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 3 '20 at 23:32
7

What pieces of U.S. legislation passed with a supermajority in both houses of Congress without being vetoed?

Actually, most of the legislation passed by Congress passes unanimously or with supermajority support.

While legislation upon which there are partisan divides is notable and attracts the most media attention, a huge share of all legislation is passed with bipartisan support and is uncontroversial.

For example, most revenue bills receive bipartisan support in their final form, as do a host of uncontroversial bills authorizing transfers of U.S. real property and naming post offices. Some are uncontroversial because they are trivial, but others are significant legislative acts backed by the leadership of both parties in both houses of Congress because compromises were reached.

Statistics on the total volume of Congressional action can be found here. A detailed summary of legislative action in one two year session of Congress (the 115th) can be found here. Recorded votes are identified here and that list can be narrowed greatly by eliminating roll call votes on legislation that didn't pass.

For example, in 2019, Congressional Quarterly identified just 12 "key votes" in the House and just 10 "key votes" in the U.S. Senate, out of about 150 laws passed. Most of those key votes were on the same bills in the respective houses of Congress.

Keep in mind that the vote on a bill to pass it has nothing to do with whether a bill may be vetoed. The supermajority requirement applies to a separate veto override bill, after the legislation has been passed and the legislation is then vetoed.

Nonetheless, common practice is for the leadership of the President's party in Congress (whether in the majority or the minority of a particular house of Congress) to oppose legislation if the President indicates that he or she intends to veto it, and for the President to indicate an intent to veto legislation before a final vote occurs in Congress. There are only a tiny number of cases where both parties in Congress back a bill that is opposed by the President with a veto threat in the legislative process, perhaps 1-2 per year, but not many. And, bipartisan support has been necessary to achieve a supermajority for a put of handful of Congressional sessions.

In cases of divided control of Congress, or cases where the neither party has a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate, this is usually sufficient to prevent any bill a President says he or she will veto from getting a supermajority in the first place.

2
  • 1
    Re that "tiny number of cases" - This is, as you say, very rare. Usually, when it does happen, it's a case of Congress trying to legislate in an area traditionally reserved to the President's discretion, such as foreign policy or military action, with a bill that has broad popular support. Presidents tend to oppose those bills to preserve the strength of their office and for separation of powers reasons, and often because they just don't think the bill fits into their policy agenda. See for example JASTA.
    – Kevin
    Sep 4 '20 at 19:41
  • @Kevin I agree.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 4 '20 at 19:44
4

The Senate.gov website publishes XML data for roll call votes going back to the 101st Congress in 1989 (example), and the House.gov website also publishes the results of roll call votes going back to 1990 (example). By looking at the vote totals for each roll call vote which includes a reference to a bill being passed, we can get a fairly decent list of every bill passed by both chambers in each Congress with a supermajority of 2/3. It is important to note that this only includes legislation which actually went to a roll call vote, and not those passed by voice vote, for example.

This gives us a total of 272 bills which passed both chambers with roll call votes which produced supermajorities. The nine examples from this Congress are:

  1. H.R. 6074 - Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, which passed the House by 415 - 2, and the Senate 96 - 1;
  2. H.R. 6172 - USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, House 278 - 136, Senate 80 - 16;
  3. H.R. 6201 - Families First Coronavirus Response Act, House 363 - 40, Senate 90 - 8.
  4. H.R. 748 - CARES Act, House 419 - 6, Senate 96 - 0.
  5. H.R. 5430 - United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act, House 385 - 41, Senate 89 - 10.
  6. H.R. 4378 - Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020, and Health Extenders Act of 2019, House 301 - 123, Senate 81 - 16.
  7. H.R. 1327 - Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, House 402 - 12, Senate 97 - 2.
  8. S. 151 - Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, House 417 - 3, Senate 97 - 1.
  9. S. 47 - John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, House 363 - 62, Senate 92 - 8.

I've created a visualisation of this data, shown below. Red points represent bills introduced in the House, blue points represent bills introduced in the Senate, however the use of shell bills may throw this off somewhat. Average support level is calculated by taking the average proportion of 'yea' votes in each chamber.

enter image description here

There are a total of 15 bills which achieved unanimous consent in a roll call vote in both chambers, the most recent of these was in 2015; H.R.203 - Clay Hunt SAV Act, which passed 403 - 0 and 99 - 0. The bill with the lowest level of support was H.R.2 - Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, which passed 289 - 139 and 66-32.

With regard to support over time, we can either look at the raw number of bills passed with a supermajority, or the average support level broken down by Congress in each case. Below are the results of these analyses - the 108th Congress, for example, saw a relatively high number of supermajority bills passed, as well as a relatively high level of support.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Below is the list of bills & votes identified by my search.

Congress      Issue    House Senate
     101  H.R. 4328    424-0  68-32
     101  H.R. 5399  292-117  72-24
     101  H.R. 5769   327-80   92-6
     101  H.R. 5114  308-117  76-23
     101  H.R. 5803   322-97  79-16
     101  H.R. 5257   359-58  76-15
     101  H.R. 5241   300-72   93-6
     101  H.R. 2061   396-21   98-0
     101  H.R. 5158   355-48   90-8
     101  H.R. 5268   335-86  79-19
     101    S. 1511   406-17   94-1
     101  H.R. 5021   358-55   91-7
     102      S. 12  308-114  73-18
     102    S. 1696  282-123  75-22
     102  H.R. 5487   312-99   88-9
     102   H.R. 776   381-37   93-3
     102  H.R. 5518   306-74  74-22
     102  H.R. 5677   345-54  82-13
     102  H.R. 5620  297-124  84-10
     102  H.R. 3575   396-30   91-2
     102  H.R. 5504   328-94  86-10
     102    H.R. 11   356-55  70-29
     102  H.R. 5368  297-124  87-12
     102  H.R. 5679   314-92   92-3
     102    S. 1745   381-38   93-5
     102  H.R. 4095    404-8   94-2
     102  H.R. 2686   345-76   93-3
     102     H.R. 4    415-0   99-0
     102    S. 1722  294-127  69-30
     102   H.R. 556    412-0   99-0
     102  H.R. 1282   380-19   98-1
     102  H.R. 1281   365-43   92-8
     102   H.R. 707   395-27   90-8
     102     H.R. 3    421-0   99-0
     102  H.R. 2622   349-48   91-8
     102  H.R. 2698   368-48   92-7
     102  H.R. 2608   338-80  86-13
     102  H.R. 2707   353-74  78-22
     102  H.R. 2942   379-47   95-3
     102  H.R. 2427   392-24   96-3
     103  H.R. 4426   337-87   84-9
     103  H.R. 4453   380-42   84-2
     103  H.R. 4554  278-127   92-8
     103  H.R. 4556   363-59   91-9
     103  H.R. 4606   339-89  87-13
     103  H.R. 4624   344-84   86-9
     103  H.R. 4650   330-91  86-14
     103  H.R. 4299   410-16   97-2
     103  H.R. 4506   393-29   91-8
     103     H.R. 6  289-128   94-6
     103     S. 208   386-30   90-9
     103    H.R. 20   333-86  68-31
     103  H.R. 1804  307-118  71-25
     103  H.R. 3167   302-95  76-20
     103  H.R. 2750   312-89   90-9
     103  H.R. 2445   350-73  89-10
     103  H.R. 2518  305-124  82-17
     103  H.R. 2295  309-111  88-10
     103  H.R. 2491  313-110   91-9
     103  H.R. 2519   327-98  87-13
     103  H.R. 2493  304-119  90-10
     103  H.R. 1876  295-126  76-16
     103  H.R. 3759   337-74  85-10
     103     S. 349  315-110   95-2
     104  H.R. 3448   414-10  74-24
     104  H.R. 3610  278-126  72-27
     104  H.R. 3603   351-74   97-1
     104  H.R. 3540   366-57   93-7
     104      S. 39   384-30  100-0
     104  H.R. 3754   360-58   93-6
     104  H.R. 3675    403-2   95-2
     104  H.R. 3396   342-67  85-14
     104  H.R. 3539   398-17   99-0
     104  H.R. 3525    422-0   98-0
     104  H.R. 3816   391-23   93-6
     104  H.R. 2202   333-87   97-3
     104  H.R. 1617   345-79   95-2
     104   H.R. 660    424-5   94-3
     104  H.R. 2880   371-42   82-8
     104       S. 2    390-0   98-1
     104  H.R. 1058  319-100  69-30
     104  H.R. 1058   325-99  69-30
     104  H.R. 1817  319-105  84-10
     104      S. 21  298-128  69-29
     104  H.R. 2002   361-61   98-1
     104  H.R. 1976   313-78   95-3
     104  H.R. 1868   333-89   91-9
     104   H.R. 927  294-130  74-24
     104    S. 1322   374-37   93-5
     105  H.R. 2431   375-41   98-0
     105  H.R. 3150  306-118   97-1
     105  H.R. 4103   358-61   97-2
     105  H.R. 1151    411-8   92-6
     105     H.R. 6    414-4   96-1
     105  H.R. 2676    426-4   97-0
     105  H.R. 4101   373-48   97-2
     105  H.R. 2169    424-5   98-1
     105  H.R. 2158   397-31   99-1
     105  H.R. 2016   395-14   98-2
     105  H.R. 1871   348-74  78-21
     105     H.R. 5    420-3   98-1
     105  H.R. 1003   398-16   99-0
     105  H.R. 1385   343-60   91-7
     106  H.R. 4762   385-39   92-6
     106   H.R. 782    405-2   94-0
     106    S. 2796   394-14   85-1
     106  H.R. 4733   407-19   93-1
     106  H.R. 4733   315-98   93-1
     106  H.R. 4461   339-82  79-13
     106  H.R. 4205   353-63   97-3
     106  H.R. 4475   395-13   99-0
     106    S. 2323    421-0   95-0
     106  H.R. 4425   386-22   96-4
     106  H.R. 4576   367-58   95-3
     106   H.R. 800   330-90   98-1
     106  H.R. 1376    424-0   95-0
     106  H.R. 2084    429-3   95-0
     106   H.R. 833  313-108  83-14
     106  H.R. 1883    419-0   98-0
     106     H.R. 5    422-0  100-0
     106  H.R. 2466   377-47  89-10
     107  H.R. 3167   372-46   85-6
     107    H.R. 10   407-24   90-9
     107  H.R. 2944   327-88  75-24
     107  H.R. 3061   373-43  89-10
     107  H.R. 2330   414-16   91-5
     107  H.R. 3162   357-66   98-1
     107  H.R. 2904    401-0   97-0
     107  H.R. 2500   408-19   97-0
     107  H.R. 2620   336-89   94-5
     107  H.R. 4775  280-138  71-22
     107   H.R. 333  306-108  82-16
     107  H.R. 2216   341-87   98-1
     107     H.R. 1   384-45   91-8
     107  H.R. 2506   381-46   96-2
     107  H.R. 2311   405-15   97-2
     107  H.R. 3275   381-36   83-1
     107  H.R. 5011    426-1   96-3
     107  H.R. 5121   365-49  85-14
     107  H.R. 5010   413-18   95-3
     107  H.R. 5005  295-132   90-9
     107    S. 2690    401-5   99-0
     108  H.R. 4755   327-43   94-2
     108  H.R. 4837    420-1   91-0
     108  H.R. 4567    400-5   93-0
     108  H.R. 4759  314-109  80-16
     108  H.R. 4613   403-17   98-0
     108      S. 15    414-2   99-0
     108  H.R. 3104    423-0   98-0
     108  H.R. 1828    398-4   89-4
     108  H.R. 2673   347-64   93-1
     108  H.R. 2622   392-30   95-2
     108  H.R. 3108    397-2   86-9
     108     S. 877    392-5   97-0
     108  H.R. 2989   381-39   91-3
     108  H.R. 2115    418-8   94-0
     108  H.R. 2657   394-26   85-7
     108  H.R. 2559    428-0   91-0
     108  H.R. 2330    418-2   94-1
     108  H.R. 1307    422-0   97-0
     108  H.R. 2754   377-26   92-0
     108  H.R. 2658   399-19   95-0
     108  H.R. 2658   399-19   95-0
     108  H.R. 3161    412-8   95-0
     108  H.R. 2555    425-2   93-1
     109    S. 2271  280-138   95-4
     109  H.R. 5682   359-68  85-12
     109  H.R. 6061  283-138  80-19
     109  H.R. 4954    421-2   98-0
     109  H.R. 5631   407-19   98-0
     109     H.R. 4  279-131   93-5
     109     H.R. 9   390-33   98-0
     109    S. 3504    425-0  100-0
     109  H.R. 5441    389-9  100-0
     109  H.R. 4939   348-71  77-21
     109  H.R. 3058   405-18   93-1
     109  H.R. 2361   329-89   94-0
     109  H.R. 2528    425-1   98-0
     109  H.R. 2744   408-18   97-2
     109  H.R. 2862    418-7   91-4
     109  H.R. 3673   410-11   97-0
     109  H.R. 3057   393-32   98-1
     109  H.R. 2360    424-1   96-1
     109  H.R. 2419   416-13   92-3
     109     H.R. 3    417-9  89-11
     109  H.R. 1268   388-43   99-0
     109  H.R. 2863   398-19   97-0
     109     S. 256  302-126  74-25
     110  H.R. 4040    407-0  79-13
     110    S. 2739  291-117   91-4
     110   H.R. 493    420-3   95-0
     110  H.R. 6124  317-109  77-15
     110  H.R. 7081  298-117  86-13
     110  H.R. 5501  308-116  80-16
     110    S. 3001   392-39   88-8
     110  H.R. 5140   385-35  81-16
     110  H.R. 6304  293-129  69-28
     110  H.R. 4986   369-46   91-3
     110  H.R. 6124  306-110  77-15
     110  H.R. 3688  285-132  77-18
     110  H.R. 2419  316-108  79-14
     110     H.R. 2  315-116   94-3
     110     S. 214  306-114   94-2
     110  H.R. 1495   361-54   91-4
     110       S. 1    411-8   96-2
     110   H.R. 976   360-45  68-31
     110  H.R. 2642    409-2   92-1
     110  H.R. 1124  268-100   96-0
     110  H.R. 1585   397-27   92-3
     110  H.R. 1495   394-25   91-4
     111  H.R. 3357   363-68  79-17
     111  H.R. 3081  318-106  69-30
     111  H.R. 1586   328-93   93-0
     111    S. 1963    419-0   98-0
     111  H.R. 3082    415-3  100-0
     111  H.R. 3548   331-83   98-0
     111  H.R. 3326   400-30   93-7
     111  H.R. 3183   320-97   85-9
     111  H.R. 2346   368-60   86-3
     111  H.R. 1256  298-112  79-17
     111   H.R. 627   357-70   90-5
     111     S. 896   367-54   91-5
     111     S. 386   367-59   92-4
     111  H.R. 1388  321-105  79-19
     111   H.R. 146   394-13  77-20
     111     H.R. 2  289-139  66-32
     111  H.R. 2892   389-37   84-6
     112    S. 2038    417-2   96-3
     112  H.R. 5949  301-118  73-23
     112  H.R. 6156   365-43   92-4
     112  H.R. 3606   390-23  73-26
     112  H.R. 3672   351-67  72-27
     112  H.R. 2072   330-93  78-20
     112  H.R. 3079  300-129  77-22
     112  H.R. 1249  304-117   89-9
     112  H.R. 2055    411-5   97-2
     112     S. 679  261-116  79-20
     112     H.R. 4  314-112  87-12
     112   H.R. 674   405-16   95-0
     113  H.R. 5771   378-46  76-16
     113  H.R. 5021   367-55  79-18
     113    S. 2244    417-7   93-4
     113  H.R. 3370   306-91  72-22
     113   H.R. 527    394-1   97-2
     113      S. 47  286-138  78-22
     114  H.R. 6297    419-1   99-0
     114    S. 1890    410-2   87-0
     114     S. 524    400-5   94-1
     114  H.R. 3236   385-34   91-4
     114  H.R. 2048   338-88  67-32
     114   H.R. 757    418-2   96-0
     114  H.R. 1191    415-0   98-1
     114     S. 178    420-3   99-0
     114     H.R. 2   392-37   92-8
     114   H.R. 203    403-0   99-0
     114    H.R. 26    416-5   93-4
     114   H.R. 644  279-137  78-20
     115  H.R. 6157   359-49   85-7
     115  H.R. 5515   351-66  85-10
     115     H.R. 6   396-14   99-1
     115  H.R. 2810   344-81   89-8
     115  H.R. 3364    419-3   98-2
     115  H.R. 1865   388-25   97-2
     116      S. 47   363-62   92-8
     116     S. 151    417-3   97-1
     116  H.R. 1327   402-12   97-2
     116  H.R. 4378  301-123  81-16
     116  H.R. 5430   385-41  89-10
     116  H.R. 6074    415-2   96-1
     116  H.R. 6201   363-40   90-8
     116   H.R. 748    419-6   96-0
     116  H.R. 6172  278-136  80-16
6
  • What were the total numbers of bills passed in your sample period (percentages are more meaningful than raw numbers because a bill can be broken up in to arbitrarily many or few chunks)? Also, of course, the fact that "this only includes legislation which actually went to a roll call vote, and not those passed by voice vote, for example" means that almost all of the omitted bills from the sample reviewed as a whole were supermajority bills.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 17 '20 at 19:28
  • 1
    @ricksmt I pulled in the data from the web into a dataframe using python, filtered out votes unrelated to a passage of a bill, and those without a supermajority vote, and then used the seaborn & matplotlib packages to create the graphs. Glad you found it interesting!
    – CDJB
    Sep 19 '20 at 8:30
  • 1
    @ohwilleke I've made the changes to include the number of bills passed through a super-majority roll-call vote as a percentage of bills passed through a roll-call vote. While I was doing that I discovered that there was an issue with the data for 2007 which meant I'd ommitted some bills from that year - that's also now fixed. Hope this makes it a bit more meaningful!
    – CDJB
    Sep 22 '20 at 11:36
  • 1
    More than 50% every single year once you adjust for non-roll call votes. But what's up with 2010?
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 22 '20 at 19:25
  • 1
    @ohwilleke investigating 2010 led me to a pretty large flaw with my answer in that the process I used to compare the House & Senate votes didn't consider a bill as the same if the votes in both chambers occurred in different calendar years. I've changed the analysis to focus on the Congress level, rather than the year level to rectify this, and fixed the way in which I pulled in the data which identified a few more supermajority bills. Thanks for your help in improving this!
    – CDJB
    Sep 23 '20 at 10:37

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