Congressional Overrides of Presidential Vetoes

This report discusses Congress' power to override presidential vetoes. 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.

Order Code 98-157 Updated April 7, 2004 CRS Report for Congress Received through the CRS Web Congressional Overrides of Presidential Vetoes Mitchel A. Sollenberger Analyst in American National Government Government and Finance Division Summary 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. Background 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 1 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 CRS-2 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 chamber. 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. CRS-3 Table 1. Vetoes Overridden, 1789-Present Regular Veto 2 Override — Regular Veto 19 Override 1 Adams — — Cleveland — — Jefferson — — (2nd term) 42 5 Madison 5 — McKinley 6 — Monroe 1 — T. Roosevelt 42 1 — — Taft 30 1 5 — Wilson 33 6 Van Buren — — Harding 5 — W. H. Harrison — — Coolidge 20 4 Tyler 6 1 Hoover 21 3 Polk 2 — F. D. Roosevelt 372 9 Taylor — — Truman 180 12 Fillmore — — Eisenhower 73 2 Pierce 9 5 Kennedy 12 — Buchanan 4 — L. B. Johnson 16 — Lincoln 2 — Nixon 26 7 A. Johnson 21 15 Ford 48 12 Grant 45 4 Carter 13 2 Hayes 12 1 Reagan 39 9 Garfield — — G. H. W. Bush 29 1 4 1 Clinton 36 2 304 2 G. W. Bush 0 0 1484 106 President Washington J. Q. Adams Jackson Arthur Cleveland (1st term) President B. Harrison Totals 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. CRS-4 Table 2. President Clinton’s Vetoes Bill Number H.R. 1158 Date of Veto 06/07/95 Title Second Supplemental Appropriations and Rescissions Act for FY1995 Bosnia and Herzegovina Self-Defense Act of 1995 Legislative Branch Appropriations for FY1996 Increase in the Statutory Debt Limit Second Continuing Resolution for FY1996 Budget Reconciliation Interior Appropriations for FY1996 S. 21 H.R. 1854 H.R. 2586 H.J.Res. 115 H.R. 2491 H.R. 1977 08/11/95 10/03/95 11/13/95 11/14/95 12/06/95 12/18/95 H.R. 2099 12/18/95 H.R. 2076 12/19/95 Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations for FY1996 Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations for FY1996 H.R. 1058 12/19/95 Securities Litigation Reform Act H.R. 1530 12/28/95 Defense Authorizations for FY1996 H.R. 4 H.R. 1833 01/09/96 04/10/96 Welfare Reform Act Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995 H.R. 1561 04/12/96 American Overseas Interest Act of 1996 H.R. 956 05/02/96 Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act of 1996 H.R. 743 H.R. 2909 H.R. 1469 H.R. 1122 06/30/96 10/02/96 06/09/97 10/10/97 Teamwork for Employees and Managers Act of 1996 Amends Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Act Flood Relief Bill Partial Birth Abortion H.R. 2631 11/13/97 Disapproving Cancellations S. 1502 H.R. 2709 H.R. 2646 H.R. 4101 H.R. 1757 H.R. 2488 H.R. 2587 H.R. 2606 H.R. 2670 H.R. 3064 S. 1287 05/20/98 06/23/98 07/21/98 10/07/98 10/21/98 09/23/99 09/28/99 10/18/99 10/26/99 11/03/99 04/25/00 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 H.R. 4810 08/05/00 Marriage Tax Relief Bill Override Attempt No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. House sustained 01/04/96 by 239177. No attempt. 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. No attempt. House overrode 09/19/96 by 285137. Senate sustained 09/26/96 by 57-41. House sustained 04/30/96 by 234188. House sustained 05/09/96 by 258163. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. House overrode 07/23/98 by 296132. Senate sustained 09/18/98 by 64-36. House overrode 02/05/98 by 34769. Senate overrode 02/25/98 by 78-20. P.L. 105-159. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. No attempt. Senate sustained 05/03/00 by 6435. House sustained 09/13/00 by 270158. CRS-5 Bill Number H.R. 8 Date of Veto 08/31/00 Estate Tax Elimination Act Title H.R. 4733 10/07/00 Energy and Water Development Appropriations H.R. 4516 H.R. 4392 H.R. 2415 10/30/00 11/04/00 12/19/00 Legislative Branch and Treasury Appropriations Intelligence Reauthorization Bill Consumer Bankruptcy Overhaul Act Override Attempt House sustained 09/07/00 by 274157. House overrode 10/11/00 by 31598. Senate referred veto to committee. No attempt. No attempt. Pocket veto. References 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 Reports CRS Report RS21750. The Presidential Veto and Congressional Procedure, by Mitchel A. Sollenberger. 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.