One of the most frequent arguments offered by Republican members of the House of Representatives to demonstrate how hard they're working is to point out that there are over 300 bills passed by the House that are now waiting for action in the Senate. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) mentioned them on "Meet the Press." Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) mentioned them when arguing that Congress should spend more time in session. (On which he has a point.) Potential 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee mentioned them when discussing the impeachment of President Obama on the radio. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) even made a video about it.
The argument is often used to rebut claims that this is a "do-nothing" Congress, or, particularly recently, to counter Obama's insistence that he must act because Congress won't. And the thing is: Those Republicans are right. There are over 300 bills waiting for Senate action. But the other thing is: That's pretty much how things have always been.
We used data from GovTrack to assess the number of bills passed by the House that never saw action in the Senate. The site, which compiles data on legislation stretching back for decades, flags each bill by its current status. For hundreds of bills from each of the past 20 Congresses, the current status is what it was when the Congress adjourned: waiting for Senate consideration that will never come.
In 11 of the past 19 Congresses -- more than half -- more than 300 bills were waiting for Senate action by the time the Congress completed its work. Here's the number of bills passed by the House in each Congress that the Senate never took action on. And, anticipating your response, we've color-coded the bars with the color of the party that controlled the House during that Congress -- red for Republicans and blue for Democrats.
There was a big spike in the number of bills ignored by the Senate -- when it was Democrats who controlled both chambers.
It works the other way, too, of course. Lots of bills are passed by the Senate that the House ignores. There are over 70 bills that meet that criterion at this moment.
You'll notice a big drop-off in the number of bills that the Senate passed over to the House. We're speculating here, but it's safe to guess that it's a drop-off linked to the dramatic increase in use of cloture votes in the 110th Congress. More filibustering means fewer bills passing in the first place.
We parsed the data in a ton of different ways, trying to see if there was any reason that bills the House passed in this Congress are exceptional. We looked at the number of stalled bills as a percentage of the total number of bills introduced, at the size of the margin by which a party dominated the House, at the relationship between control of the House and control of the Senate. And there's nothing that makes the existing total of bills waiting for Senate action unusual. Nothing at all.
This Congress has introduced fewer bills than most past Congresses and put far fewer in front of the president to sign. It is, in fact, a remarkably unproductive Congress. But when it comes to House legislation that the Senate is ignoring, it's the same as it ever was.