If you are an American, then we feel pretty comfortable in making the following assumption: You think Congress is not doing a good job. As of this week, about six out of every seven Americans agrees with that sentiment, according to Gallup; the others are presumably the blood relatives and paid staffers of Congress, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is (overly) fond of joking.
Over the course of its two years, the outgoing 113th Congress set a new record for unpopularity, hitting 9 percent approval last November when, we assume, some of those paid staffers had bailed for K Street. An approval rating of 15 percent -- Gallup's current figure -- is actually pretty high for this Congress, which is like how Knicks fans (myself among them) were happy when the team finally broke its 10-game losing streak over the weekend. It's as though you've been scraping the bottom of the barrel and then find a bit of something rancid to eat. Success!
Anyway, it gets worse. There is now zero chance that this Congress will not be the least productive in modern history. GovTrack.us has compiled statistics on the number of bills passed in each Congress since 1973, and the 113th will end somewhere just above the 200-law mark. At this point, some of you are thinking, Good, we don't need more laws. Well, we will remind you that even if you want to get rid of laws, Congress needs to do something. Obamacare is still the law because Congress hasn't voted to repeal it. That's how it works.
Here's how the last nine Congresses have looked in terms of productivity and popularity. Correlation, the first-year philosophy student tells you, does not equal causation; the decrease in productivity and the decrease in popularity are not necessarily linked. They are, however, headed in the same direction over the last decade.
(Notice that Congress is currently a little above where it was in 2010. That's another bit of rancid meat at the bottom of the barrel.)
What's interesting about this Congress is that the number of bills that were introduced was in line with past Congresses. They just never made it across the finish line. (A note: The talking point that the Senate has been sitting on House bills at unusual rates is inaccurate.) Which suggests that the breakdown is more in the politics than the policy.
Gallup figures that the divided House and Senate give Americans of both parties a reason to hate Congress: Democrats hate the House; Republicans the Senate. So, perhaps, these numbers will go back up.
We offer this proposal, then: Let us refer to the incoming 114th Congress as the Dead Cat Congress. Copyright Philip Bump, 2014, all rights reserved.