Current Congress Has Passed Fewer Bills than any Since at Least the 1940s

Monday, December 31, 2012

If the job of Congress is to pass laws, then the 112th Congress is the laziest in modern history. Of the 6,600 bills introduced, lawmakers passed only 231—and only a couple handfuls are pending. At least 45 of the successful bills involved the naming of federal buildings, while many others were similarly insignificant, such as six commemorative coin bills and five correcting “technical errors” Congress made in past legislation.


In comparison, the 111th Congress passed 383 bills, and the one before it passed 460.


Less than 70 real bills went to President Barack Obama’s desk for signing, and he signed every one, with nary a veto. This paltry productivity means the 112th Congress will be the least productive in modern history. Even the 80th Congress, which President Harry Truman branded the “do-nothing Congress” in 1948, passed 906 bills, more than three times as many.


The 104th Congress of 1995-1996 (also controlled by the GOP), which passed only 333 laws, used to be the least productive session of Congress, according to the U.S. House Clerk's Office, which has records dating back to 1947.


Obama has signed several significant laws in the past two years, including the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (“STOCK” Act), the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charge, and a reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows warrantless wiretapping and interception of email communications. However, important bills that have received bipartisan support in past years, such as raising the minimum wage and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act have been blocked by Republicans.


At the same time, House Republicans held more than 30 votes to repeal Obamacare and at least 10 votes to restrict abortion access, despite the fact that they had no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate or being signed into law by Obama.


Not surprisingly, Congress has seen the highest level of political polarization since the end of Reconstruction in 1877. In April, Democrat Thomas Mann of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution and Republican Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute published an Op-ed in the Washington Post blaming Congressional Republicans for the polarization and lack of productivity.


“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”


The 112th Congress, which opened on January 3, 2011, and will expire on January 3, 2013, is one of the most unpopular in history, with an approval rating currently standing at 18 percent.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

112th Congress Set To Become Most Unproductive Since 1940s (by Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post)

Signed Legislation (White House)

Congress on Track to Set Do-Nothing Record (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


anonymouse 11 years ago
You equate output with productivity. But much congressional "output" is harmful to the country (NDAA for example). I equate real productivity with the production of a positive good. Please rate Congress on that criterion and get back to us.

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