Healthy Congress Index
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Healthy Congress Index provides Americans with crucial metrics for evaluating Congress’s ability to effectively legislate and govern. It compares results against past Congresses and will be updated on a quarterly basis. 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 2017 through September 2017 and the numbers presented here are cumulative.
New in 2017, two additional elements of the index will further examine how well the current Congress is functioning relative to those in the past. We will track 1) programs receiving appropriations after authorizations have expired and 2) progress on the budget and appropriations processes. Read the Full Analysis
Healthy Congress Index Field:
Data Focus: This measure shows how often Congress is in Washington conducting legislative business. The Commission on Political Reform recommended that Congress spend more days tending to their duties in the capital.
Data Findings: Following CPR’s recommendation, each chamber should have spent about 120 days in Washington between January and the end of September.
The House was at work in Washington for 100 days during that period. This was about on par with the number of days it worked in recent years, but below the number of days worked in the 104th, 110th, and 111th Congresses. It was also below the number of days we would expect the House to work if it adhered to BPC’s recommended schedule.
The Senate, which worked in Washington for 113 days, came close to the number of days BPC recommends. This was about the same number of days worked as last Congress and more than the 113th and 112th Congresses. The 111th, 110th, and 104th Congresses each were in Washington considerably more days than the current Senate, however.
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 115th Congress continued to report a high number of bills. In the House, committees reported 251 bills between January and the end of September. This number was the highest among any of the years in the index. Senate committees also reported a high number of bills. Committees in that chamber reported 195 bills, the second-highest among any of the years in the index.
Data Focus: Cloture is a vote to end debate in the Senate and proceed to vote on a measure. By ending debate, the chamber prevents members from filibustering and possibly holding up a measure indefinitely.
Data Findings: The Senate took the fewest number of votes on cloture among the years covered by the index. There were just seven cloture votes on legislation between January and September 30. The closest comparative Congress, the 104th, had more than twice as many at this point. Also unlike other congresses in the index, each cloture motion was invoked, meaning debate was ended and members did not successfully filibuster the measure before the Senate.
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: This year, the Senate considered the fewest number of amendments compared with recent congresses. Only 103 amendments were considered on the Senate floor. With the exception of the 112th Congress, which considered 117, each of the other congresses in the index considered 100 to nearly 800 percent more amendments.
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: So far, there have been zero open rules, which allow any member to offer amendments. Only one other comparable year, during the 111th Congress, had zero open rules at this point. The House operated under closed rules, meaning no amendments can be offered, fifty-four percent of the time. This finding represents the highest percentage of closed rules among the comparative years in the index. Structured rules, where some pre-determined amendments can be offered, accounted for 46 percent of rules.
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: The House and Senate have yet to rely on a single conference committee to resolve differences between their bills. Comparatively, the 104th had used 10 at this point, the 110th had used six, and the 111th had used five. Similar to this year, the 112th and 113th Congresses also had not relied on conference committees between January and September 30. The 114th Congress had convened one.
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: This year, like many recent years, the president and Congress failed to adhere to the budget process timeline outlined by the Congressional Budget Act. President Trump, for his part, did not submit his fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget to Congress by the first Monday in February. By the end of September, Congress was five months late on fulfilling its responsibility to adopt a budget resolution by April 15. Congress also failed to enact any of the 12 regular appropriations bills before the September 30 deadline and October 1 start of the new fiscal year. To prevent a government shutdown, the current Congress enacted a continuing resolution—a stopgap measure—to keep the government funded at current levels for a limited time.
Data Focus: This measure gives some sense of how diligently authorizing committees in Congress are working to provide oversight and review of government programs, and to renew, adjust, or eliminate authorizations for their funding.
Data Findings: The initial data presented in the index shows that over time, spending on programs with expired authorizations has grown as a percent over overall spending. This finding suggests that the number of federal programs that have not been reauthorized by congressional committees has grown since 1995. Further analysis on this metric is expected early in 2018.