Good news, Congress! You are no longer the “do-nothing Congress” you once were.
But you're still not doing a whole lot, relatively speaking.
With the 114th session of Congress coming to an end, we can now take stock of just how much was accomplished over the past two years. And for this entire decade, the answer to that question has essentially been: not much.
The count of bills that have passed through both the House and the Senate in recent years, in fact, has set or flirted with record lows; hence the “do-nothing Congress” moniker. This isn't the only measure of Congress's productivity, of course — it says nothing of how much Congress dealt with more substantive issues and instead treats every bill equally — but it's as objective a measure as we have.
With that said, let's get to the numbers.
In the 114th Congress, 329 bills passed both chambers and were sent to President Obama to sign, according to data compiled and charted by the good folks at Quorum.
That's up from each of the past two Congresses. The 112th Congress (from 2011 to 2013) set the bar historically low, at 272 bills, and the 113th came close to lowering it, but nosed across the finish line with 282.
At the same time, the 329 bills passed is still significantly lower than the average — and remains low despite Republicans having attained full control of Congress in the 2014 election. (The last time one party held the advantage in both the House and the Senate: the 111th Congress, when Democrats were in control.)
That 329 is also the fourth-lowest of any Congress since the 101st in 1989 and 1990. In third place behind the past two Congresses was the 104th (1995-96). So, better than the last two and the 104th; still historically low.
But why the uptick? Well, it mostly has to do with the House. The chamber of Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) passed 773 bills this Congress, which is the second-most since 1989 and is up significantly from the past two Congresses.
But the Senate is filling its traditional role as the saucer that cools legislation sent by the House: Just 29 percent of those 773 bills the House has sent across the Capitol have actually been passed by the Senate — the lowest since at least 1989.
In other words, there are signs of movement in Congress. And that could continue apace now that Republicans control both chambers, and the presidency.
Then again, the nation is still bitterly divided. And Congress is still Congress.