The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s yet another way of looking at how unproductive Congress is

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The headline at The Hill reads, "Has Senate hit rock bottom?" And the answer is, well, no. There's still quite a way to slide.

For two years in a row now, we've talked about Congress' most unproductive years in recent history. The Hill article focuses on a way in which the Senate in particular has become less useful of late: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) rejecting Republican attempts to vote on amendments to bills. ("[E]ven some Democrats have chafed" at the procedural blocks Reid has put in place, Alexander Bolton writes.)

The Senate's overall decreased output isn't new, though. It's a trend that's been going on for several years. In fact, the Senate has held more votes on passing bills and resolutions per day worked in 2014 than in 2013.

Using data on votes from (which loads data from the official record on a daily basis) and from the official Congressional calendar, we put together these graphs showing the number of days in each year that the House and Senate were working compared to the number of votes on passage for each of those days. (As always, it's worth noting that all votes aren't created equal;  votes on major pieces of legislation matter far more.)

First, the House, which has worked fewer calendar days per year since 1990 than the Senate (on average, 139 per year) but holds more votes for each of those days (1.05 votes per day, on average). (The votes per day is the blue line graph in each of the next two graphs.)

Then the Senate, which works 156 days a year on average, but only manages 0.29 votes per day. (Again, these votes are on bill and resolution passage only.)

Notice the difference? It's subtle. Here we threw the data into Excel to generate a rough trend line.

The Senate is tending to hold fewer votes per day over time; the House is remaining more consistent. So even setting aside the issue of amendments, the Senate has been getting less done. And that uptick in 2014 could be a fluke. It's safe to assume that as November approaches, the Senate may prioritize votes even less.

When you don't set aside the amendments, by the way, if you look only at the number of amendment votes per day, it looks something like an expert cliff diver, plying his trade.

That's the new problem The Hill was talking about. But it's hardly the only problem.