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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pelosi’s Bipartisanship Boast

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have been pushing back at Republican complaints of a “do-nothing Congress” by claiming the Democratic-controlled House has passed “more than 275 bipartisan bills” that are being blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate. But that list includes bills with as few as one Republican vote.

A day after the House approved a bill that would provide legal status to farm workers in the U.S. illegally, Pelosi boasted that the House had passed “[o]ver 275 bipartisan bills” and criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not taking them up. She referred to McConnell as “the Grim Reaper.”

Pelosi, Dec. 12: Over 275 bipartisan bills are sitting on the desk of the Grim Reaper while he says, ‘All you’re doing is impeachment.’ No, it’s not all we’re doing. We’ve sent you bills that have not only bipartisanship in the House, but also in the country.

For example, the bipartisan background check bill supported by 90 percent of the American people; Paycheck Fairness; VAWA – Violence Against Women Act; Save the Internet Act; Equality Act, ending discrimination against LGBTQ community; Dream and Promise Act, keeping our promise to our Dreamers; SAFE Act to protect our federal elections – why would the Republicans not want to protect our federal elections? To whose advantage is that blocking? Raise the Wage Act, raising the minimum wage – over 30 million people will get a raise; 20 million, around 23 million of them are women. So, it helps women again. The Butch Lewis Act to protect our pensions. And Climate Action Now.

So we have many, many other pieces of legislation that are sitting there on his desk as he whines about us, what we’re doing here, while he does nothing there.

Pelosi offered 10 examples of substantive legislation passed in the House and now in the Senate, but eight of those bills received eight or fewer Republican votes each — including two that received just one vote from across the aisle. None of the bills she mentioned got close to receiving a majority of support from among the 197 House Republicans in the 116th Congress.

Here’s a list of the “bipartisan bills” Pelosi cited and the number of Republican votes for or against each one:

In addition to Pelosi, we found about a dozen other Democrats who referred to “275 bipartisan bills,” and some of them also offered examples of major pieces of legislation that, in fact, didn’t receive much bipartisan support.

For example, Rep. Dan Kildee issued a press release after the House passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act on Dec. 6 that said: “The House has sent U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) more than 275 bipartisan bills that the Senate so far has refused to take up.” The release then listed 16 pieces of legislation as examples of “bipartisan bills.”

Kildee’s list included all 10 of the bills cited by Pelosi. Five of the other six measures Kildee cited as examples of “bipartisan bills” received 14 or fewer Republican votes each:

  • H.R. 1, For the People Act: 0 yeas, 193 nays.
  • H.J. Res 46, a privileged resolution to terminate President Trump’s national emergency declaration related to the U.S.-Mexico border: 14 yeas, 181 nays.
  • H.R. 986, Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Act: 4 yeas, 183 nays.
  • H.R. 987, Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act: 5 yeas, 183 nays.
  • H.R. 4863, United States Export Finance Agency Act of 2019: 13 yeas, 179 nays.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which was the subject of the press release, received just one Republican vote. Only one of Kildee’s bills — H.R. 1994, SECURE Act — had clear bipartisan support, passing 417-3.

In some cases, Republicans oppose the “bipartisan bills” touted by the Democrats not because they oppose the goals of the legislation, but they disagree over the language of the bill. For example, Kildee’s list of “bipartisan bills” included H.R. 4863, United States Export Finance Agency Act, which would reauthorize the federal Export-Import Bank for 10 years.

On the day the House approved the bill, 235-184, the Washington Times quoted McConnell as saying Senate Republicans “want to extend Ex-Im,” but they did not support the Democratic version of the bill. McConnell said Congress should temporarily reauthorize the agency in a short-term budget resolution, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, until the parties can work out their differences.

Washington Times, Nov. 15: The White House and McConnell have supported restoring the bank but rejected the House’s long-term approach. McConnell said the bank would be temporarily reauthorized through a short-term budget continuing resolution instead. “We’re not going to pass the House bill,” he said Thursday. “We do want to extend Ex-Im. A logical place to do that would be on the CR.”

That’s exactly what now appears likely to happen. The House is scheduled to take up the stop-gap budget bill on Dec. 20 that would temporarily renew the Export-Import Bank, according to Roll Call.

The political tactic of exaggerating bipartisanship support for major legislation is itself a bipartisan tradition in a divided Congress.

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.

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.”

Of the 283 bills, 169 of them passed by voice vote, and included such commemorative bills as the renaming of post offices in Indiana and Pennsylvania, and a wildlife refuge in New York.

There were floor votes on just 114 of the 283 bills, and 28 of those bills received no more than 17 Republican votes each — including three bills that received just one Republican vote. Six were appropriations bill that will eventually be signed into law in some form — or else the government would have to partially shut down. 

Pelosi’s office also noted that “more than 300 bills, or 80% of the bills the House has passed, are stuck in the Senate,” referring us to data collected by GovTrack. As of Dec. 16, there were 336 House-approved bills that were awaiting action in the Senate, according to GovTrack. In four of those cases, the bills were incorporated into other legislation — leaving 332 House bills that truly remain “stuck in the Senate.”

But it’s not unusual, either, for the Senate not to act on hundreds of House bills, regardless of party control.

When the Republicans controlled the House and Senate in 2017 and 2018, the House passed 991 bills, including 284 that became law. The Senate did not approve 707 of those bills, the GovTrack data show, although 92 of them were incorporated into other legislation — meaning ultimately 615 House bills did not pass the Senate in any form.  

For example, Pelosi’s list includes the VA Website Accessibility Act, which passed by voice vote in November. But that bill passed the Republican-controlled House in the last Congress by a unanimous 387-0 vote, and yet did not become law because the Republican-controlled Senate didn’t take it up.

Similarly, Pelosi’s list includes the Federal Register Modernization Act, which passed the House on March 12 with 195 Republican votes. But that same House bill passed in 2014 with 206 Republican votes when the Republicans controlled the House, then it died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

There’s no question that it is tougher for House Democrats to enact legislation in a divided Congress and with a White House controlled by the opposite party. But the Democrats exaggerate when they claim the House has passed “bipartisan bills” on such major issues as health care, net neutrality, minimum wage and climate control.