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Healthy Congress Index

The Brief

The index represents a new, long-term effort to bring accountability to Congress and answer the question: how is Congress governing? The period covered by this installment is January 3, 2019 through January 3, 2020 and the numbers presented here are cumulative.

Healthy Congress Index Field
House Schedule
Senate Schedule
House Schedule
104th 153
110th 153
111th 148
112th 135
113th 133
114th 129
115th 138
116th 134
Senate Schedule
104th 199
110th 175
111th 188
112th 147
113th 138
114th 155
115th 153
116th 142

Data Focus

This measure shows how often Congress is in Washington conducting legislative business. The Commission on Political Reform recommended that Congress adopt a five-day workweek with three weeks spent in Washington and one week spent in district or state work periods each month.

Data Findings

Both chambers fell well below the standard of a five-day workweek in Washington in 2019. By BPC’s standard, each chamber should work at least 165 days during the year. The House, which was at work in the Capitol for 134 days, worked about as many days as the previous four Congresses, but many fewer than the 110th or 104th. The Senate worked 142 days in Washington, marking a decline from the gains seen since the 114th Congress when Republicans regained control of the chamber.

House Senate
104th 251 216
110th 330 335
111th 234 163
112th 219 155
113th 227 158
114th 300 255
115th 374 240
116th 292 285

Data Focus

This measure shows whether bills are developed through the traditional committee process, which allows for more input from rank-and-file members, rather than a process primarily controlled by party leaders.

Data Findings

Committees in the House reported a healthy 292 bills in 2019. This is more than many recent Congresses and suggests the House was not slowed by the switch in party control of the chamber. In the Senate, committees reported 285 bills, the highest number reported since the 110th Congress, and much higher than other recent years.

Votes to Invoke Votes Failed
104th 4 15
110th 30 31
111th 33 3
112th 17 10
113th 21 8
114th 29 33
115th 8 0
116th 19 15

Data Focus

Cloture is a vote to end debate on a measure or amendment. Ending debate prevents members from filibustering and possibly holding up a measure indefinitely.

Data Findings

Attempts to filibuster legislation ticked up in 2019 after a sharp decline in the previous 115th Congress. The Senate took 34 cloture votes on legislation.

Among the 34 votes in the current Congress, cloture was invoked in 19 instances and failed in 15, meaning that in most instances, attempts to filibuster were not successful in blocking measures from further consideration.

Majority Minority
104th 575 407
110th 587 450
111th 316 310
112th 134 123
113th 125 130
114th 262 221
115th 110 49
116th 69 48

Data Focus

When bills are considered on the floor, members of both parties should have the opportunity to offer amendments. This is especially important for the minority party, which sometimes resorts to procedural tactics to stall bills when cut out of the amendment process.

Data Findings

In 2019, the Senate considered the fewest amendments—117—of any first year period in the index. Comparatively, during the 110th Congress, the Senate considered nearly ten times as many amendments.

The distribution of amendments tended to favor Republicans, the majority party. In the past, amendments tended to have been split about evenly between majority and minority. In 2019, amendments tilted toward the majority who sponsored 59 percent of amendments considered while 41 percent came from the minority Democrats.

Open Structured Closed
104th 64 % 23 % 13 %
110th 19.6 % 42.1 % 38.3 %
111th 0 % 72 % 28 %
112th 18 % 42 % 40 %
113th 7.6 % 41.8 % 50.6 %
114th 7 % 45 % 48 %
115th 0 % 47 % 53 %
116th 0 % 51 % 49 %
 104th110th111th112th113th114th115th116th
Open56210156600
Structured2045493533405040
Closed1141193340425639

Data Focus

The amendment process in the House is typically governed by predetermined rules specific to each bill: open rules allows all members to offer amendments on the floor; closed rules allows none; structured rules allows only those specified by the Rules Committee.

Data Findings

The amendment process in the House was tightly restricted in 2019, but it improved slightly over the previous Congress. Members of the House were unable to offer amendments to nearly half of the bills that came to the floor. Forty-nine percent of rules were closed, meaning no amendments could be offered. Fifty-one percent of rules were structured, meaning only amendments preapproved by the majority-controlled Rules Committee could be offered. Zero rules were open, which would allow any member to offer an amendment. In the 115th Congress, more than half of rules were closed.

25 104th 9 110th 11 111th 3 112th 0 113th 4 114th 1 115th 2 116th

Data Focus

Conference committees are essential to resolving differences between legislation passed by the two chambers. Important legislation should have the benefit of a conference committee to ensure greater member participation in the policy process.

Data Findings

So far, only two conference reports have been approved by both chambers in the 116th Congress. This is mostly in line with how often they have been used since the 112th Congress.

CongressFiscal YearPresident Submits Budget to Congress by First Monday in FebruaryCongress Adopts Final Budget Resolution By April 15th
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996Yes29-Jun
199743 Days Late13-Jun
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008Yes17-May
2009Yes5-Jun
111th Congress
(Obama)
201094 Days
Late*
29-Apr
2011YesNot Adopted
112th Congress
(Obama)
20127 Days LateNot Adopted
20137 Days LateNot Adopted
113th Congress
(Obama)
201465 Days LateNot Adopted
201530 Days LateNot Adopted
114th Congress
(Obama)
2016Yes5-May
20179 Days LateNot Adopted
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017-13-Jan**
2018107 Days Late*26-Oct
20197 Days LateNot Adopted
116th Congress
(Trump)
2019--Not Adopted
202035 Days LateNot Adopted
  • Budget Process
  • Chamber Action on Appropriations
  • Final Action on Appropriations
  • Final Action on Appropriations (cont’d)

Data Focus

Congress and the president must take actions before certain deadlines to ensure the government is funded before the start of the next fiscal year on October 1. When these deadlines are not met, Congress often takes stopgap measures outside of the regular process.

Data Findings

The 116th Congress began during a government shutdown and was responsible for enacting FY 2019 funding, which should have been completed by the 115th Congress. It took 22 days for Congress and the president to agree and enact appropriations.

FY2020: The Trump administration’s budget proposal was sent to Congress 35 days past the statutory deadline and Congress never adopted a formal budget resolution before funding the government.

The House Appropriations Committee reported all 12 appropriations bills and 10 were passed by the full House before the state of the fiscal year on October 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported only 3 of the 12 bills, and the full Senate passed none. Because appropriations were not enacted by October 1, two continuing resolutions were required to prevent a government shutdown. Fiscal Year 2020 funding finally was enacted through two consolidated appropriations bills in December, nearly two full months past the October 1 start of the fiscal year. No standalone appropriations bills were enacted.

The House was slightly ahead of the last Congress in moving appropriations bills through committee and to floor votes, while the Senate was behind and had not made any committee or floor progress. Both chambers have until October 1, 2019 to fund the government for FY2020.

1995 17.2 %
1997 16.8 %
2010 21.6 %
2012 20.3 %
2014 25.6 %
2015 25.1 %
2016 26.2 %
2019 23 %
 19951997201020122014201520162019
Funds Appropriated$93.9B$89.4B$290.8B$261.1B$301.5B$293.5B$310.3B$306.7B
Number of Programs103121250259270260256257

Data Focus

Authorizing committees in Congress should routinely review government programs and renew, adjust, or eliminate their authorizations for funding. To measure how diligently committees are conducting this oversight, the index identifies programs receiving appropriations for which the underlying authorization has expired. This measure is likely only to be updated on an annual basis.

Data Findings

Congress has been neglecting its duty to review existing federal programs and, when necessary, make adjustments. The number of federal programs that have not been reviewed and reauthorized by congressional committees has grown since fiscal year 1995. At that time, these programs made up about 17 percent of spending. From FY 2014 through FY 2019, funding for programs with expired authorizations made up about one-quarter or more of all discretionary spending.

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