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There is plenty of blame to go around for the government’s failure to create jobs, according to U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta. But little of it falls on Congress, the New Hampshire Republican said last week as he filed for re-election.
"It is frustrating. Now, in the House of Representatives, we have 40 different jobs bills that have passed and almost all of them have been bipartisan," Guinta said June 13, 2012 after he filed his re-election papers with the N.H. Secretary of State. "That’s significant."
It’s not hard to believe that Congress passed 40 jobs bills during the 2011-12 session. But, with all the partisan gridlock coming out of Washington, are a majority of them really bipartisan? We decided to check the Congressional voter rolls.
First, we went first to Guinta’s office, which identified a list of jobs-related bills that have passed the House as part of the House Republicans’ Plan for American Job Creators.
The list, published on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s website, includes 42 pieces of legislation proposing to rework the country’s tax code, to repeal business regulations and to increase access to energy, among other actions. We are well aware that the two parties define "jobs bills" differently, due to philosophical differences about what sorts of policies are useful for expanding jobs. (We address this question here.) However, for this item, we will use Cantor’s list while acknowledging that it’s not the final word on what constitutes a jobs bill.
Of the total 42 bills, 11 of which were signed into law by President Barack Obama, at least 38 received some level of support from both parties, according to searches of THOMAS, the Library of Congress’ searchable database. Vote totals for two of the bills were unavailable.
Some bills, including H.R. 2433, the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act, drew strong support from both sides of the aisle; 235 Republican votes and 183 from Democrats. And, H.R. 3606, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, earned support from 232 Republicans and 183 Democrats. Both bills have become law.
But other proposals drew only a handful of votes from the minority party. H.R. 10, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, for instance, passed the House with 237 Republican votes and four Democratic votes. And, H.R. 658, the FAA Transportation Modernization & Safety Improvement Act, passed with 221 Republican votes and only two from Democrats. The transportation act was signed into law, while the regulations act has stalled in the Senate.
Further, the Fiscal Year 2012 and 2013 budget proposals, known as the Ryan budget plans, both passed the House without any Democratic support.
So, this begs the question, what makes a bill bipartisan?
In Guinta’s view, bipartisan legislation means any bill that reflects the interests of members of both parties.
"Bipartisanship is being able to stay true to your principles, while finding common ground to work together on issues you can find agreement on," Derek Dufrense, Guinta’s legislative assistant, wrote in an email statement.
This definition has been used for decades by politicians looking to tout their bipartisan credentials. But, political scientists, analysts and journalists take a different view.
Though there is no formal definition for a bipartisan bill, many political scientists defer to the terms defined by Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, the Washington publication group which has long tracked partisan bills as those that receive support from less than 50 percent of both parties, which would be at least 121 votes from Republicans and 85 votes from Democrats.
"If you take the inverse, that gives you a good sense of how partisan things are," said David Hawkings, editor of CQ’s Daily Briefing.
"When I first came to town 25 years ago, you wouldn’t refer to something as having a bipartisan tone to it unless it had a few dozen members of both party. Today, you hear ‘bipartisan’ when there’s only five, six members of the minority party," Hawkings said. "That’s the new reality."
Under the CQ terms, six of the 42 jobs bills meet the publication’s 50 percent standard, earning votes from half the members of each party.
-- H.R. 2433 and H.R. 3606, referenced above.
-- H. Res. 72, Review of Federal Regulations: 238 Republican votes, 153 Democrats
-- H.R. 674, 3% Withholding Rule Repeal: 295 Republicans, 170 Democrats; passed the Senate, signed into law.
-- H.R. 1249, the America Invents Act: 168 Republicans, 136 Democrats; passed the Senate, signed into law.
-- H.R. 4105, Applying Countervailing Duty to Nonmarket Economy Countries: 294 Republicans, 176 Democrats; passed the Senate, signed into law.
A 50 percent threshold is pretty high in today's polarized environment, but even if you reduce it to at least 25 percent support from both parties, only 10 bills qualified.
"There are a number of ways you could talk about it, but having only a handful of members of the opposite party, that seems like a big, big stretch," said James Pigg, director of the Waggonner Center for Bipartisan Politics and Public Policy at Louisiana Tech University. "I’d have a hard time calling that bipartisan."
Guinta claims that "in the House of Representatives, we have 40 different jobs bills that have passed and almost all of them have been bipartisan."
The House of Representatives has indeed passed more than 40 bills that Republicans consider jobs legislation. But whether they are truly "bipartisan" depends on your definition.
Thirty-eight of them had support from at least one Democrat. But, according to political analysts, one vote does not a bipartisan bill make. Political analysts and academics alike commonly refer to Congressional Quarterly’s definition of a bipartisan bill as one that receives majority support from both parties. Only a fraction of the 42 bills referenced by Guinta meet that standard -- six to be exact. And even if you lower the threshold to 25 percent, it's only 10 bills.
Guinta makes a sweeping claim that suggests broad support for nearly every bill. But in fact, the levels for bipartisanship are pretty skimpy. We rate this claim Mostly False.
Email interview with Derek Dufresne, legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, June 19, 2012
Interview with Laena Fallon, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, June 19, 2012
112th Congress, Roll Call 785, H.R. 2433
112th Congress, Roll Call 110, H.R. 3606
112th Congress, Roll Call 901, H.R. 10
112th Congress, Roll Call 33, H.R. 658
112th Congress, Roll Call 277, H.Con.Res. 34
112th Congress, Roll Call 151, H.Con.Res. 112
112th Congress, Roll Call 33, H.Res. 72
112th Congress, Roll Call 815, H.R. 674
112th Congress, Roll Call 491, H.R. 1249
112th Congress, Roll Call 96, H.R. 4105
Interview with Ellis Brachman, spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus, June 21, 2012
Email interview, James Thurber, director of Center for Presidential and Congressional Studies at American University, June 20, 2012
Interview with Jason Pigg, associate professor of political science at the Joe D. Waggonner Center for Bipartisan Politics and Public Policy at Louisiana Tech University, June 21, 2012
Interview with David Hawkings, editor of Congressional Quarterly Roll Call’s Daily Briefing, June 21, 2012.
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