Congress Has Lowest Output Since 1947

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

If you thought Congress hit rock-bottom in terms of how many laws they enacted last session, check out the current House and Senate.

Congress will close the year with 58 public bills (the congressional term for measures with broad impact) enacted into law, assuming that President Obama signs the budget deal as promised. They may add a few to that in the last few days of the year. But it won't change substantially.

That's the lowest one-year output since at least 1947, and only the tiniest fraction of the 6,366 bills introduced by lawmakers, according to House and Senate records.

"It certainly feeds into the narrative that people find congenial—which is that Congress is not doing its job," suggests Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist. "But I think that doing a kind of legislative body-count as the metric of an effective or ineffective House and Senate can be specious."

He added: "I think James Madison would have been baffled at that."

But the legislative performance in the first half of the 113th adds more fodder to the narrative building in recent years that it has become a dysfunctional, polarized, overly partisan legislative body.

Of course, House leadership has done away with "feel-good" and commemorative bills that helped inflate totals in previous years. But those reductions do not account for the increased inability to agree on and enact laws, highlighted this year by a government shutdown when lawmakers could not agree on a spending bill in time to prevent it.

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