Washington Matters


Obama's Hot Bat in Congress


President Obama is facing some difficult congressional votes coming up on health care, cap-and-trade energy legislation and possibly immigration. But even with some votes not going his way, he's on track this year to set a modern record as the most successful president in more than a half century in getting Congress to go along with him.

Most presidents start off strong in their ability to win congressional approval of agenda items, nominations and such in the first and second year of their term when it comes to roll call votes in the House and Senate in which they take a clear position for or against.

Obama looks likely to set the modern record, though. According to research by the independent and nonpartisan Congressional Quarterly publication, which has tracked presidential vote scores since 1953, Obama has a success rate of 95.2% on roll call votes when the White House's position was clear. That's a batting record of .952 for those inclined toward baseball math.

He's lost only a few votes, in fact, notably the recent House vote on the defense authorization bill, which he opposed because it included more money for the large F-22 combat fighter program than he or the Pentagon wants. He also lost when the Senate voted earlier this year in opposition to closing the detention camp in Guantanamo

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To be sure, Obama still faces a long year in Congress, and he may lose a few more votes. But he's unlikely to lose a whole host.

He'll probably set the modern record for the first-year success rate with Congress, in fact. He has an advantage with a solid Democratic majority, and he also benefitted from very high public approval ratings as he entered office and from the urgency to act quickly on the economy. The current Senate party ratio is 60 Democrats to 40 Republicans, and in the House there are 257 Democrats and 178 Republicans.

Closest to Obama in the first year ranking is Dwight Eisenhower, who scored 89.2% in 1953 with the benefit of a large Republican congressional majority. After him is Lyndon Johnson in 1964, who scored 87.9% with the push for the Great Society programs. Former President George W. Bush had an 86.7% rating with Congress in 2001, when a Republican majority was able to do his bidding on tax cuts and other measures.

The lowest score? Gerald Ford in 1974, following the resignation of Richard Nixon. Ford racked up a score of 58.2%. Right above him is George H.W. Bush in 1989, who scored 62.6% with a Democratic Congress following the departure of Ronald Reagan, who left office with low popularity and in the wake of the Iran Contra scandal.   



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