Congress lagging in legislative output

Fewest bills passed in recent memory

WASHINGTON — Congress is close to wrapping up one of its least productive sessions in recent memory, as the House and Senate have passed a scant number of bills compared with other nonelection years, and President Obama has signed the fewest measures into law in at least two decades.

Congressional popularity is at an all-time low and at least one presidential candidate, Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas, is trying to win votes by calling for a part-time legislature. Some Americans may think Congress is doing too much, and others say it is not enough.

Regardless of whether you want more or less from Capitol Hill, it is hard to argue with the numbers.


Through Nov. 30, the House had passed 326 bills, the fewest in at least 10 nonelection years, according to annual tallies in the Congressional Record.

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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.

Before this year began, House Republican leaders deliberately decided to pare back the chamber’s agenda.

“The goal for this Congress is to stress quality over quantity in terms of the flow of legislation on the House floor,’’ House majority leader Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, wrote to his colleagues.

“I intend to lengthen the time for consideration of bills in order to improve quality and deliver results. Gone are congratulatory resolutions. Post office namings will be handled on a less frequent basis.’’


Laena Fallon, Cantor spokeswoman, said Republicans had followed through on that pledge.

“We have eliminated commemorative legislation and have increased the percentage of bills brought to the floor under rules rather than suspension to allow for more transparency and deliberation in the legislative process,’’ Fallon said.

“In the view of House Republicans, good governance is not measured by the tally of bills passed or the expansion of the federal government but by the quality of the legislation and its impact on reducing the size, scope, and overreach of government.’’

The fact that the House is no longer passing measures applauding college volleyball champions helps explain some of the decline in bills passed, but even subtracting such resolutions from the total, other recent Congresses still approved more measures than this one has.

Of course, the House may have less incentive to pass additional bills, since so many measures passed by the chamber have piled up on the Senate’s doorstep without a vote. House Republicans have approved more than 20 pieces of legislation that they say would boost job creation, but the proposals have not been considered by that chamber.

Democrats dispute the notion that many of the GOP’s favored bills would help the economy.

And the Senate’s drop in bills passed, depending on whom you ask, reflects either the obstructionism of the Republican minority or the unwillingness of the Democratic majority to negotiate on key bills.