WASHINGTON — The 113th Congress began its turbulent life two years ago battling over whether to help Hurricane Sandy victims. Its members did, eventually.
By the time Congress limped out of town last week, one of its last acts was to honor the 100th anniversary of the extinction of passenger pigeons. In between were mostly modest achievements overshadowed by partisan gridlock, investigations, and sharp clashes capped by a government shutdown.
If productivity is measured by laws enacted, this Congress was near the bottom.
Congressional and White House records showed that President Obama signed 296 bills into law as of Friday, the second lowest total, by 13 measures, for any two-year session since the 1940s.
The session that President Harry S. Truman dubbed the ‘‘do-nothing Congress’’ of 1947- 48? It enacted more than 900.
Each party accused the other of scuttling bills for political purposes ahead of November’s elections, which gave Republicans firm control of the House and Senate in the new year.
Leaving the Capitol last week, outgoing Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, lamented that lawmakers should have achieved more, ‘‘but that’s what we got.’’
Republicans contended that Democrats forced blatantly political votes on issues from the minimum wage to pay equity that had no chance of passing.
Such tactics were ‘‘designed to make us walk the plank. It had nothing to do with getting a legislative outcome,’’ the Senate’s outgoing minority leader, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, said last week.
Revamping the immigration system, tightening background checks for gun buyers, starting work on the Keystone XL oil pipeline — they all foundered as the Republican-run House and Democratic-led Senate blocked the other’s priorities.
Across-the-board spending cuts took effect after they proved not painful enough to force the two parties to negotiate a plan for reducing the deficit, attempts to overhaul the tax code went nowhere, and each chamber passed a budget that the other ignored.
The partisan impasse was complicated by lawmakers in the Tea Party movement whom GOP leaders often found unmanageable. That helped lead to a 16-day partial government shutdown that voters decried.
It became a hallmark of this Congress.
On the last day, the Democratic-led Senate confirmed a dozen of Obama’s judicial appointees and sent the White House legislation extending tax breaks for working-class people and special interests alike.
But an 11th-hour attempt to renew a federal program helping cover the cost of losses from terrorism was derailed by departing Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who called it a giveaway to the insurance industry.
While Obama signed scores of bills into law last week, they were mostly minor. One honored golfer Jack Nicklaus with a Congressional Gold Medal for his ‘‘excellence and good sportsmanship.’’
Through two years, the bar for accomplishments dipped so low that routine functions such as averting a federal default and keeping government agencies open seemed like crowning achievements.
Republicans led investigations of the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of conservative groups and the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Both parties decried poor medical care by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Democrats unilaterally weakened filibusters, the Senate’s century-old rule that helps the minority party block action it opposes. Unimpeded, Democrats then confirmed a pile of Obama’s stalled judiciary and executive branch nominees.
Before leaving, Congress approved legislation financing federal agencies through September but not without revolts in both parties. Conservatives bolted because it did not halt Obama’s executive actions deferring deportations of millions of immigrants in the United States illegally. Liberals rebelled against its eased restrictions on banks and big political donors.
Other accomplishments included a modest budget deal that capped spending and rolled back some governmentwide cuts. Lawmakers provided $60 billion for victims of Sandy, passed a farm bill, and eased flood-insurance costs.
The House voted more than 50 times to kill or weaken Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul, a law that is perhaps his proudest achievement. It voted to block the administration from curbing carbon emissions from coal-fired plants and from protecting streams and wetlands from pollution, deport many immigrants in the country illegally, and ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
None of these bills cleared the Senate.
The Senate voted on bills raising the federal minimum wage, pressing employers to pay women the same as men, letting students refinance college loans, and extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. All died.