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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Just How Many Bills Has Kerry Passed?

Bush said Kerry passed five bills. Kerry said he's passed 56. Who's right? That depends on the definition of 'passed' and 'bills.'


At the final presidential debate, Bush said Kerry had passed only five bills during his career, and Kerry said he had passed 56. Actually, we found eleven measures authored by Kerry have been signed into law, including a save-the-dolphins law, a law naming a federal building, a law giving a posthumous award to Jackie Robinson last year, and laws declaring “world population awareness weeks” in 1989 and 1991.

Bush counted only measures technically defined as “bills,” leaving out four “joint resolutions” that also have the force of law, and he also omitted two laws whose House versions were adopted in a form nearly identical to Senate versions authored by Kerry.

When Kerry said “I’ve actually passed 56 individual bills that I’ve personally written” he was counting everything that had passed the Senate, whether or not it cleared the House. He also counts 24 resolutions that have no force of law.


During the Oct. 13 debate in Tempe, AZ,  Bush and Kerry contradicted each other on the number of bills Kerry has passed. Both can’t be right, so we asked each campaign for their list of specific bills, and we took a look. What we found is that both men were playing word games.

Bush: “Passed Five”

Passed How Many Bills?

Bush: He introduced some 300 bills and he’s passed five.

Kerry: Once again, the president is misleading America. I’ve actually passed 56 individual bills that I’ve personally written and, in addition to that, and not always under my name, there is [sic] amendments on certain bills.

When Bush said Kerry “passed five” bills, he was counting five bills Kerry authored that passed the Senate, the House, were signed by the president, and became law.

That’s technically accurate but omits six other pieces of Kerry legislation that have become law.

The Bush campaign’s backup lists five bills, which we verified:

  • S.791: Authorizes $53 million over four years to provide grants to woman-owned small businesses. (1999)
  • S.1206: Names a federal building in Waltham, Massachusetts after Frederick C. Murphy, who was killed in action during World War II and awarded (posthumously) the Medal of Honor. (1994)
  • S.1636: A save-the-dolphins measure aiming “to improve the program to reduce the incidental taking of marine mammals during the course of commercial fishing operations.” (1994)
  • S.1563: Funding the National Sea Grant College Program, which supports university-based research, public education, and other projects “to promote better understanding, conservation and use of America’s coastal resources.” (1991)
  • S.423: Granting a visa and admission to the U.S. as a permanent resident to Kil Joon Yu Callahan. (1987)

The Bush campaign left out two bills authored by Kerry which passed the Senate and later became law in a slightly different form approved by the House, under the same titles and mostly same substance. (This occurs when House and Senate versions differ so slightly that one house adopts the other’s version rather than go to the trouble of a House-Senate conference to work out a compromise.) The citations were provided by the Kerry campaign, and we verified them:

  • H.R.1900 (S.300): Awarded a congressional gold medal to Jackie Robinson (posthumously), and called for a national day of recognition. (2003)
  • H.R.1860 (S.856): Increased the maximum research grants for small businesses from $500,000 to $750,000 under the Small Business Technology Transfer Program. (2001)

In a related article in January we quoted an Associated Press article that turned up only eight laws that bear Kerry’s name. The AP’s count omits these two House measures which technically don’t bear Kerry’s name and a private law (S.423) granting a visa and permanent residency to Kil Joon Yu Callahan  that we are including in our count of 11.

We’ve also included — as did The AP — four “joint resolutions” that are not technically “bills” but which have the same force when passed by both houses and are signed into law by the president. All four created national events:

  • S.J.Res.158: To make the week of Oct. 22 – Oct. 28, 1989 “World Population Awareness Week.” (1989)
  • S.J.Res.160: To renew “World Population Awareness Week” for 1991. (1991)
  • S.J.Res.318: To make Nov. 13, 1992 “Vietnam Veterans Memorial 10th Anniversary Day.” (1992)
  • S.J.Res.337: To make Sept. 18, 1992 “National POW/MIA Recognition Day.” (1992)

Kerry: “Passed 56”

Kerry counted all measures he wrote that were approved by the Senate. While Bush defined “bills” in the strictest sense, Kerry included billsjoint resolutions, concurrent resolutions with no force of law, and even simple Senate resolutions that aren’t even considered by the House. Kerry would have been more accurate to say he wrote 56 “measures” that passed the Senate, including 11 that became law. (Kerry’s total of 56 does not include the private law.)

Padding the Numbers

Of Kerry’s total, 24 were concurrent resolutions or simple Senate resolutions that had no chance of becoming law. Some examples.

  • S.Res.123: To change the name of the Committee on Small Business to the “Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.” (2001)
  • S.Res.133: To make May 21, 1991 “National Land Trust Appreciation Day.” (1991)
  • S.Res.144: To encourage the European Community to vote to ban driftnets for all European Community fishing fleets. (1991 )
  • S.Res.216: Honoring Milton D. Stewart for his leadership and service at the Small Business Administration. (2002)
  • S.Con.Res.26: Calling for the United States to support a new agreement providing for a ban on commercial mining of minerals in Antarctica. (1991)

Kerry’s total also includes 10 Senate-passed bills that would have done nothing more than grant waivers to specific foreign-built vessels to transport cargo or people along the US coastline despite a 1920 law requiring that only US-built vessels be allowed to operate between US ports. Because there were 10 different vessels, Kerry introduced 10 separate bills. All died in the House.


Supporting Documents

View Text of S.791

View Text of S.1206

View Text of S.1636

View Text of S.1563

View Text of H.R.1900

View Text of H.R.1860


“Civics 101: John Kerry’s Thin Senate Record,” press release, Bush-Cheney ’04, 14 Oct 2004.

“56 Bills and Resolutions Kerry Passed,” press release, John Kerry for President, 13 Oct 2004.