Order Code 98-157
Updated April 7, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Congressional Overrides of
Mitchel A. Sollenberger
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The President’s veto authority is among his most significant tools in legislative
dealings with Congress. It is effective not only in preventing the passage of legislation
undesirable to the President, but also as a threat, sometimes forcing Congress to modify
legislation before it is presented to the President. Students of executive-legislative
relations suggest that Congress’s strength rests with passing statutes and the President’s
in vetoing them. Illustrative of this point is the fact that Presidents have vetoed 1,484
bills and Congress has overridden only 106 of them.
President William Clinton vetoed 37 bills. Congress overrode two of these vetoes;
one was pocket vetoed. President George W. Bush has not yet vetoed a bill. As a veto
threat is carried out, Congress is faced with choices: letting the veto stand, achieving the
difficult task of overriding the veto, meeting the President’s objections and sending a
new bill forward, or resubmitting the same provisions under a new bill number.1 In the
case of vetoed appropriations bills, the result can be the closure of federal agencies and
the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal employees, with the inevitable
disruption of federal programs and services. See CRS Report RS21750, The
Presidential Veto and Congressional Procedure; CRS Report 98-148, Presidential
Vetoes, 1789-Present: A Summary Overview; and CRS Report 98-147, President
Clinton’s Vetoes. All veto reports are updated regularly.
Historically, the veto power granted the President in the Constitution has proven to
be an effective tool for the chief executive in his dealings with Congress. Article I,
Section 7, of the Constitution provides, in effect, that a President needs the vote of only
For example, H.R. 1854 was vetoed October 3, 1995; see Legislative Branch Appropriations
Act, 1996 — Veto Message from the President of the United States (H.Doc. 104-122), in
Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 141, Oct. 6, 1995, pp. H 9741-9742. H.R. 2492, the
Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1996, identical to H.R. 1854, passed the House October
31, passed the Senate November 2, and was signed into law on November 19 (P.L. 104-53).
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
one more than one-third in either the House of Representatives or the Senate to sustain
a veto. Congressional procedure and tradition, not the Constitution, have determined that
a vote of two-thirds of either or both houses of Congress means a vote of two-thirds of
those Members present and voting (provided there is a quorum) and not, as is the practice
in some states, two-thirds of those elected.
The Constitution states that, when the President vetoes a bill, “he shall return it with
his objections to the House in which it shall have originated.” This type of veto is
referred to as a regular or return veto. The returned veto then becomes a question of “high
privilege”; in other words, it takes precedence over other pending business before
Congress. Neither house, however, is under any legal, constitutional, or procedural
obligation to schedule an override vote attempt, although it may do so anytime during a
Congress. It is not unusual for Congress to make no effort to override a President’s veto
if party leaders feel they do not have sufficient votes. In still other cases, vetoes have
been challenged and sustained in one house, eliminating the need for a vote in the other
Although a measure may have passed originally by a large majority vote in both
houses, a two-thirds majority of those present in each chamber is required to override the
President’s veto. Prior to 1969, Congress overrode approximately 1 of every 18 (5.7%)
regular vetoes. Since 1969, Congress has been more successful, overriding about 1 out
of every 5 (18.3%) regular vetoes. See Table 1.
Table 1. Vetoes Overridden, 1789-Present
W. H. Harrison
F. D. Roosevelt
L. B. Johnson
G. H. W. Bush
G. W. Bush
J. Q. Adams
Cleveland (1st term)
President Clinton’s Vetoes
Of the 37 vetoes exercised by President Clinton, all but one were regular vetoes,
which were returned to Congress and subject to congressional override votes. Table 2
provides information about the Clinton vetoes.
Table 2. President Clinton’s Vetoes
Date of Veto
Second Supplemental Appropriations and Rescissions Act for
Bosnia and Herzegovina Self-Defense Act of 1995
Legislative Branch Appropriations for FY1996
Increase in the Statutory Debt Limit
Second Continuing Resolution for FY1996
Interior Appropriations for FY1996
Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development
Appropriations for FY1996
Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations for FY1996
Securities Litigation Reform Act
Defense Authorizations for FY1996
Welfare Reform Act
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995
American Overseas Interest Act of 1996
Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act of 1996
Teamwork for Employees and Managers Act of 1996
Amends Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Act
Flood Relief Bill
Partial Birth Abortion
D.C. Student Vouchers
Iran Sanctions bill
Education Savings Account
FY1999 Agriculture Appropriations
Foreign Affairs Reform
Tax Relief Bill
D.C. Appropriations, FY2000
FY00 Foreign Operations Spending
Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations, FY00
District of Columbia Appropriations, FY2000
Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments of 2000
Marriage Tax Relief Bill
House sustained 01/04/96 by 239177.
House sustained 01/03/96 by 240159.
House overrode 12/20/95 by 319100. Senate overrode 12/22/95 by
68-30. Public Law 104-67.
House sustained 01/03/96 by 240156.
House overrode 09/19/96 by 285137. Senate sustained 09/26/96 by
House sustained 04/30/96 by 234188.
House sustained 05/09/96 by 258163.
House overrode 07/23/98 by 296132. Senate sustained 09/18/98 by
House overrode 02/05/98 by 34769. Senate overrode 02/25/98 by
78-20. P.L. 105-159.
Senate sustained 05/03/00 by 6435.
House sustained 09/13/00 by 270158.
Date of Veto
Estate Tax Elimination Act
Energy and Water Development Appropriations
Legislative Branch and Treasury Appropriations
Intelligence Reauthorization Bill
Consumer Bankruptcy Overhaul Act
House sustained 09/07/00 by 274157.
House overrode 10/11/00 by 31598. Senate referred veto to
U.S. Congress, Secretary of the Senate, Presidential Vetoes, 1789-1988 (Washington:
GP0, 1992), 595 pp. S. Pub. 102-12.
U.S. Congress, Secretary of the Senate, Presidential Vetoes, 1989-1991 (Washington:
GPO, 1992), 12 pp. S. Pub. 102-13.
CRS Report RS21750. The Presidential Veto and Congressional Procedure, by Mitchel
CRS Report 98-148. Presidential Vetoes, 1789-Present: A Summary Overview, by
Mitchel A. Sollenberger.
CRS Report 98-147. President Clinton’s Vetoes, by Mitchel A. Sollenberger.