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Is there a definition of "bipartisan support"? For the Senate in the US, when can you claim a bill was supported/passed by bipartisanship, and when you can't claim thus?

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    Might this be better on English Language & Usage because it’s asking about word usage?
    – divibisan
    Mar 8 at 3:41
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    I think it is more of a political language than plain English language. Also it is political-centric, Don't you agree?
    – r13
    Mar 8 at 4:26
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    There's a definition of this on an online dictionary ... Mar 8 at 6:29
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    @divibisan: The question is tagged united-states. The general term is already fairly specific to countries with a Westminster-style government, but that does include a large swath of English-speaking countries. The specific US interpretation however is more narrow, as is seen in Jontia's answer.
    – MSalters
    Mar 8 at 16:50
  • @MoziburUllah: if only politicians used words exactly as prescribed in dictionaries... time.com/4743660/…
    – Fizz
    Mar 13 at 15:33
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This is entirely dependent on the speaker. But in general senior politicians who have passed legislation are happy to call it Bipartisan on the basis on a single vote.

Nancy Pelosi claimed to have 275 Bipartisan bills that had passed the house prior to 2019, but been ignored by the Republican controlled senate.

FactCheck.org looked into this claim and found large numbers had fewer than 10 republican votes.

H.R. 1644, Save the Internet Act: 1 yea, 190 nays.
H.R. 2722, SAFE Act: 1 yea, 184 nays.
H.R. 582, Raise the Wage Act: 3 yeas, 192 nays.
H.R. 9, Climate Action Now: 3 yeas, 190 nays.
H.R. 7, Paycheck Fairness Act: 7 yeas, 187 nays.
H.R. 6, American Dream and Promise Act: 7 yeas, 187 nays.
H.R. 8, Bipartisan Background Checks Act: 8 yeas, 188 nays.
H.R. 5, Equality Act: 8 yeas, 173 nays.
H.R. 397, Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act (Butch Lewis Act): 29 yeas, 168 nays.
H.R. 1585, Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act: 33 yeas, 157 nays.

Pelosi's office clarified the single vote requirement when questioned by FactCheck.

When asked about the “bipartisan bills,” Pelosi’s office sent us a list of 283 “bipartisan bills” with this explanation: “A bill is considered bipartisan if it received at least one Republican vote on the House floor or if it has at least one Republican cosponsor and was passed by voice vote.”

And to be clear this is not a Democrat only issue. The linked article cites similar language from the House leader in 2014. Republican John Boehner.

In 2014, for example, then-House Speaker John Boehner boasted that “almost all” of the 46 “jobs bills” awaiting action in the Senate “passed the House on a bipartisan basis.” But, as we wrote at the time, half of those bills had fewer than 20 Democratic votes each, including two that received no Democratic votes and 12 others that got 10 or fewer votes each from the opposing party.

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    i.e. it's marketing. Mar 8 at 14:39
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    It's trying to distinguish from bills that passed or failed due to everyone just voting the party line.
    – Barmar
    Mar 8 at 16:47
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    @divibisan I mean marketing as in "saying things that are technically true but sound better than they necessarily are". And I'm not hating, that's just how the game is played. Mar 8 at 18:36
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    @Barmar: Well, you could say something like "the bill received a majority of the minority party's votes" or "the bill was supported by the leader of the minority party in each chamber." I would be perfectly happy to call those bills "bipartisan."
    – Kevin
    Mar 8 at 19:28
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    @Kevin I'd say the honest layperson should use the word based on their idea of what "the party" wants, rather than relying on a hard line drawn somewhere.
    – Brilliand
    Mar 8 at 19:43
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Any political move which is widely supported by the majority of both parties, is considered a bipartisan act.

The simple definition to the term "bipartisan" is "of 2 parties", that's all. The common use of this term, is when the issue is supported by the 2 "Parties", not even referring to individual persons of the party (see Merriam-Webster's definition).

However, some people can opt to use this term when there are a significant amount of people of the other party participating in the act. But when there are hardly a few, the use of this term seems like an appeal for undeserved credibility (I don't deny the obvious facts mentioned by Jontia)

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    I tend to agree with this response more, it is the way it should be. But what Jontia told was fact in today's political environment.
    – r13
    Mar 8 at 15:46
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    @dividbisan, I just searched a few news sites for articles containing the word "Bipartisan". In each and every single one of the examples given, the word Bipartisan was used in accordance with the abovementioned simple interpretation. I don't see bringing hundreds of search results, as suitable for this platform. You can choose to do your own search.
    – Jacob3
    Mar 8 at 19:17
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    Sometimes the phrase 'broad bipartisan support' is used to distinguish this from a more superficial idea as described in Jontia's answer.
    – JimmyJames
    Mar 8 at 19:56
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    @Jacob3 It's fairly easy to find counterpoints. Trump's impeachment is described as "An Unusually Bipartisan Impeachment" at npr.org/2021/02/14/967807182/… and "an unusually bipartisan one" at nytimes.com/2021/01/14/briefing/… as an example. A majority of Republicans were certainly not involved.
    – ceejayoz
    Mar 9 at 14:05
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    @ceejayoz, Thanks for your comment. The simple definition to the term "bipartisan" is "of 2 parties", that's all. The common use of this term, is when the issue is supported by the 2 "Parties", not even referring to individual persons of the party (see Merriam-Webster's definition). However, some people can opt to use this term when there are a significant amount of people of the other party participating in the act. But when there are hardly a few, the use of this term seems like an appeal for undeserved credibility (I don't deny the obvious facts mentioned by Jontia).
    – Jacob3
    Mar 9 at 14:39
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Merriam-Webster defines bipartisan as "marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties". So a bipartisan bill is a bill where neither party has the required votes on its own (because some members of the majority party vote against the bill, or because the upper and lower house have a different majority party), but where the two parties together do have enough supporters of that bill to get it passed. Note that in case the upper and lower house have a different majority, every bill that passes both houses is by (this) definition bipartisan, but some bills that fail to pass both houses might still have passed one of the houses with bipartisan support.

If one of the parties has the numbers to push a bill through on its own, but a few members of the other party also vote for that bill, that's not typically considered bipartisan because such a bill required no compromise or cooperation with the other party. In the extreme case where almost everyone votes for a bill, that's most often called wide support and not usually described as bipartisan support either for the same reason (unless a serious effort has been done to get both parties on board, often for a symbolic reason).

Note that Merriam-Webster also includes the wider definition of "of, relating to, or involving members of two parties" which allows politicians to claim bipartisan support whenever any politician of another party is involved in a bill. But that's not the way people typically use the term.

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    I don't think anything in that definition requires a single party to not have the votes on its own. Something that passes with unanimous support from both sides would "marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties". I agree though that this probably fits a better ideal of bipartisanship, I just don't agree that this is how the word is actually used by politicians and journalists.
    – Jontia
    Mar 9 at 10:24
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    @Jontia Depends a bit. If both parties work together to get something voted that's a compromise everyone can agree on, that would indeed be a bipartisan effort. If one party just pushes a bill declaring that kittens are cute, and the other party just votes for it because it's going to pass anyway and they don't want to be the anti-kitten party, that's hardly bipartisan. It might be spun that way of course, I can't deny that. Mar 9 at 13:02
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    Nothing personal, but I routinely vote down answers that rely on the authority a dictionary definition over common usage. Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. People are the authority. Any human being who has seen it in use more than 10 times has far more info in their head about its meaning that can possibly fit in that one sentence, and could probably talk for at least 5 minutes about how its wrong or misleading.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 9 at 17:05
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    I don't think the dictionary definition supports this very limited view of bipartisanship - if even a single member of the opposite party votes for a bill, there is some level of "cooperation and agreement" between the two parties. I also don't see why a bill that could be passed by one party alone should be considered a partisan bill regardless of the support of the other party - with this definition, a partisan bill could become a bipartisan one by having fewer people support it, which strikes me as very odd. Mar 9 at 18:50
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    @FrederikVds: While people who hear the word "bipartisan" may expect that it describes actions which were not vehemently opposed by either party, people who favor a measure may describe it as "bipartisan" even if one of the parties is almost unanimously opposed to it. Whether such a description is honest or dishonest is an exercise for the reader.
    – supercat
    Mar 9 at 20:35
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Here the term "bipartisan support" has several senses:

  1. Aggregate bipartisan congressional support. The two dominant parties, taken as a whole, mostly agree to support or not support some bill, law, rule, action, or principle.

  2. Bilateral bipartisan congressional support. Each of the two dominant parties, taken separately, and as a whole, mostly agree to support or not support some bill, law, rule, action, or principle.

  3. Aggregate bipartisan public support. Any statistical majority of voters from the two dominant parties mostly agree to support or not support some person, group, action, or system.

  4. Bilateral bipartisan public support. A statistical majority of voters from the two dominant parties, taken separately, and as a whole, mostly agree to support or not support some person, group, action, or system.

These four things are not the same. For example, in 2021 USA there is aggregate bipartisan public support for a $15 minimum wage; but there is not yet bilateral bipartisan congressional support. Or to the contrary, Congress might have bilateral bipartisan support for some military action which the aggregate public does not support.

The term bipartisan is often used equivocally, to suggest the likelihood of one kind of (missing) support, when only some other kind is truly present.

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Since the United States has a two party system, "bipartisan support" requires "Yea" votes from members of both parties in order to qualify as bipartisan. It only takes one vote. For instance, in the recent vote on HR-1, the so called "For the People" bill, if one Republican had joined the Democrats in voting for the bill, it would have been considered a bipartisan bill.

Because the US has more than two parties, a bill could qualify as bipartisan if members of parties vote for a bill that normally caucus with one of the two dominant parties. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would qualify as a vote from the Democrat party, as an example.

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