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That Good-for-Nothing Congress Is Actually Getting More Done That Good-for-Nothing Congress Is Actually Getting More Done

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Congress

That Good-for-Nothing Congress Is Actually Getting More Done

That is, if you measure production by the sheer volume of legislative text it's been passing.

(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

photo of Niraj Chokshi
July 9, 2013

That's right, the good-for-nothing, inept, ineffective, partisan, unyielding Congress everybody loves to hate is actually getting more productive, at least according to some measures.

The American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution just released their Vital Statistics on Congress—a trove of legislative data—and it shows that lawmakers have been putting in more hours to pass more legislative text over the past 60 or so years. Despite all the hate, Congress seems to be getting more done, at least by sheer number of words.

Of course, it's all a bit relative. And there are still some reasons to hold on to your bitter hatred of the glacial legislative branch: After passing a peak 2,482 bills in its 1949-1950 session, the House passed an almost-steadily declining number of bills before hitting a low of 561 in the 2011-2012 session. At the same time, the number of recorded votes in the House has been climbing, fueling the argument that lawmakers are more concerned with taking political votes than actually getting stuff done.

 

But that's just one chamber. How does the picture change when you look at Congress as a whole? Using simply the number of bills enacted, it's not all that much better: Congress peaked in the 1955-1956 session and hit a low in the 2011-2012 session.

So Congress isn't passing many bills. But what bills it does pass are bigger—much bigger. In fact, Congress has enacted more and more pages of legislative text, peaking in the 2007-2008 session from a low in the 1951-1952 session.

And both chambers have been putting in more hours per session. You might argue that the bills Congress does pass are worthless, but there's no denying that lawmakers are putting in more hours in session to churn out more pages of text, for what that's worth.

 

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