The diminishing productivity of Congress, in one chart

December 2, 2013

If you're even a casual observer of Congress, you're probably already familiar with the following reality: The 113th Congress has done very, very little.

Just how little? The Washington Post's Paul Kane put it into perspective in an article in Monday's paper. He writes:

According to congressional records, there have been fewer than 60 public laws enacted in the first 11 months of this year, so below the previous low in legislative output that officials have already declared this first session of the 113th Congress the least productive ever. In 1995, when the newly empowered GOP congressional majority confronted the Clinton administration, 88 laws were enacted, the record low in the post-World War II era.

To be exact, this Congress — which is set to adjourn for the year later this month — has enacted 52 public laws. By comparison, as the following chart shows, 90 laws were encated during the first year of the 113th Congress and 137 were put in place during the first year of the 111th Congress.


(Data via Federal Register)

Divided government certainly doesn't make it any easier to put new laws on the books, with the Democratic-controlled White House and Senate frequently at odds with the Republican-controlled House. But consider the 110th Congress. Following a 2006 wave election, Democrats took control of the House and Senate for the final two years of Republican George W. Bush's presidency. Still, they managed to enact 180 public laws during the first session of that Congress and a total of 460 overall.

That number decreased in the 111th Congress — during which time Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House — and again in the 112th Congress, after Republicans took control of the House.

It's a pretty safe bet at this point that at the end of the 113th Congress, we'll once again be writing about how the numbers slipped even further.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · December 2, 2013