Congress Takes Christmas Vacation – Recovering From its Stressful Two-Year Vacation


Here is a small test. Given today's unemployment level, how angry do you get reading this headline? “Critical Plant Productivity Declines for 8th Straight Year – Employees Keep Jobs.” Most likely, you would be wondering what kind of employer this was, how could the company stays in business, and why no one has been fired.

Guess what? This describes Congress. No congressional session has passed fewer bills that this one.

Congress did not keep records on the number of bills considered or / or passed until 1947. But since then, here is the outlook:

Just how bad was the 112th Congress? Using the date bills became public law (through last week) and not counting bills that named post offices or other federal buildings, honored people, appointed members of the Smithonian Institution Board, authorized commemorative coins or congressional medals, or were routine business, only 158 bills were passed. This is 42 percent less than the 111th Congress. This total includes major legislation as well as simple text changes to existing law.

As the mock headline states, the decline in productivity is not new. Going back to the 107th Congress, 2001-2002, the 112th is the fourth straight session where the number of bills passed declined. But given the other declines, I believe the current Congress can be officially classified as dysfunctional.

Session  # Bills Passed  Adjusted # Passed / %    % Diff Last Session   

112             211               158 / 75%                                -42%

111             385               274 / 71%                                -8%

110             460               297 / 65%                                -13%

109             482               343 / 71%                                -7%

108             498               370 / 74%                                +25%

107             377               269 / 79%       

Just over one week remains in this session. Fiscal cliff negotiations are still extremely contentious. Both the House and Senate are on break until after Christmas. Given their performance, I’d say they have been on break for two years.