Oh, Congress: They Really Just Can’t Agree on Much of Anything


While some might say the lack of activity in Congress in 2011 is a good thing (the no action, no harm mentality), the numbers certainly back up the feeling that Congress has been largely missing in action when it comes to proactively enacting laws to better our country.

No political fights here about who is to blame. Just some statistics from The Washington Post that demonstrate the depth of what has not taken place.

Through Nov. 30, the House had passed 326 bills, the fewest in at least 10 non-election years, according to annual tallies in the Congressional Record. The Senate had approved 368 measures, the fewest since 1995.

By comparison, the House approved 970 bills in 2009 and 1,127 in 2007. The Senate totals for those years were 478 and 621, respectively. (Both chambers are expected to pass more bills before adjourning this month, but probably not enough to change the overall picture.)

And the White House need not fear an ink shortage — Obama had signed only 62 bills into law through November. The last time there was a new Republican majority in the House and a Democrat in the White House, 1995, President Bill Clinton signed 88 measures.

James Thurber, the director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, called the overall numbers “Exhibit A in showing how dysfunctional the Congress has become.”

In particular, Thurber noted that Congress has spent significant time and political effort this year squabbling over a series of short-term spending bills and raising the debt ceiling.

“The failure of the appropriations process has limited their ability to do other things,” Thurber said.

As for bills becoming law, split control of Congress has obviously played a role in the relatively low number; the House and Senate have had difficulty agreeing on anything this year.

The last comparable dynamic came in 2001, when Republicans controlled the White House and the House and Democrats held the Senate after May, when Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) left the GOP. President George W. Bush signed 136 bills into law that year. 

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