The least productive Congress ever

July 17, 2013

Congress, in case you have been living on another planet for the last few years, doesn't do all that much these days.


The Capitol building hasn't been getting much done these days.

There's plenty of reasons for that but the largest is that House Republicans have been riven by factionalism that, when combined with Democrats unwilling to cross the aisle to lend support for the GOP's agenda has made passing anything extremely difficult.

(The farm bill in the House is a good example of this trend. After the initial farm bill vote failed thanks to the revolt of five dozen Republicans, a second bill, which stripped out provisions for food stamps, was approved without a single Democratic vote.)

So, how does this House stack up against past years when it comes to productivity? Not so well, according to the new Vital Statistics on Congress, which shows that the 112th Congress passed just 561 bills, the lowest number since they began keeping these stats way back in 1947.

The second lowest number of bills passed in a single Congress -- 611 -- was back in the 104th Congress, the two-year session that followed Republicans re-taking control of the House in 1994 after four decades of Democratic control.

An important caveat: A raw count of bills passed is a decidedly simplistic way to measure true legislative productivity. Not all legislation is created equal; some bills matter more in the grand sweep of things. So, passing some sort of immigration legislation isn't really the same thing as naming post offices and the like. But, it's seen that way in this chart.

Still, it's quite clear that this Congress didn't exactly tear it up legislatively speaking over the past two years. What's all the more remarkable about the relative dearth of bills passed through the House in the 112th Congress is the incredibly high number of recorded votes that took place over that same time period. There were 1,607 recorded votes in the 112th Congress, the fifth highest total since Vital Stats began collecting data. (Also worth noting: Three of the five Congresses with the most recorded votes have been the last six years.)

So, the House was voting more but passing less. Republicans will ascribe that seeming contradiction to Democrats forcing pointless procedural votes to slow things down. Democrats will insist it's the result of a hyper-ideological majority that has refused to even consider working across the partisan aisle.

Either way, the conclusion is clear: The 112th Congress got less done than any Congress in more than six decades.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | July 17, 2013