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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 3, 2019 through March 31, 2019 and the numbers presented here are cumulative.

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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 came close to meeting the standard of a five-day workweek in Washington during the first three months of 2019. By BPC’s standard, each chamber should work at least 45 days in that period. The House was at work in the Capitol for 40 days, which is on par with the previous congress, but an improvement over recent congresses. The Senate worked 44 days in Washington, which is on par with the previous two congresses, but an improvement over the two before that.

House
Senate

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 just 12 bills in the first quarter of the 116th Congress, which is well below all of its recent predecessors except the 113th Congress. In the Senate, committees reported 17 bills, which is about on par with most of its recent predecessors.

Votes to Invoke
Votes Failed

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 compared to this period during the last congress. The Senate took 19 cloture votes on legislation between January and the end of March. In that period last congress, the Senate took just 1 cloture vote. The 114th Congress (2015-2016) and the 110th Congress (2009-2010) saw similar numbers of cloture votes, but the current Senate is well above the 113th, 112th, 111th, and 104th Congresses.

Among the 19 votes in the current congress, cloture was invoked in only 7 instances and failed in 12, meaning that in most instances, attempts to filibuster were successful in blocking measures from further consideration.

Majority
Minority

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: The Senate considered the second fewest amendments—17—of any first three-month period in the index. In some recent congresses, the Senate considered more than ten times as many amendments in that time. The only congress with fewer amendments was the 115th.

The distribution of amendments between the majority and minority was out of step with recent norms. In the past, amendments tended to have been split about evenly between majority and minority. Since January 2019, however, 76 percent of amendments considered were sponsored by the majority Republicans and just 24 percent came from the minority Democrats.

Open
Structured
Closed
104th110th111th112th113th114th115th116th
Open194040000
Structured686559157
Closed112764152511

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 mostly restricted in the first quarter of 2019. Members of the House were unable to offer amendments to more than half of the bills that came to the floor. Sixty-one percent of rules were closed, meaning no amendments could be offered. Zero rules were open. Thirty-nine percent of rules were structured, meaning amendments preapproved by the majority-controlled Rules Committee could be offered.

A lack of open rules and high number of closed rules has become the norm in recent Congresses. The 114th and 115th Congresses also had zero open rules and more than 60 percent closed rules. Similarly, the 111th Congress had zero open rules and 54 percent closed rules while the 113th has zero open rules and 44 percent closed rules.

Conference Committees

2

104th

0

110th

1

111th

0

112th

0

113th

0

114th

0

115th

1

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, one conference report has been approved by both chambers in the 116th Congress. Comparatively, the 110th, 112th, 113th, and 114th Congresses had not relied on conference committees to resolve differences on any bills by this point. The 111th enacted one bill through a conference committee and the 104th did so for two.

Budget Process
Chamber Action on Appropriations
Final Action on Appropriations
Final Action on Appropriations (cont'd)

 

Congress
Fiscal Year
President Submits Budget to Congress by First Monday in February
Congress Adopts Final Budget Resolution By April 15th
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996
Yes
29-Jun
1997
43 Days Late
13-Jun
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008
Yes
17-May
2009
Yes
5-Jun
111th Congress
(Obama)
2010
94 Days Late*
29-Apr
2011
Yes
Not Adopted
112th Congress
(Obama)
2012
7 Days Late
Not Adopted
2013
7 Days Late
Not Adopted
113th Congress
(Obama)
2014
65 Days Late
Not Adopted
2015
30 Days Late
Not Adopted
114th Congress
(Obama)
2016
Yes
5-May
2017
9 Days Late
Not Adopted
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017
-
13-Jan**
2018
107 Days Late*
26-Oct
2019
7 Days Late
Not Adopted
116th Congress
(Trump)
2019
--
Not Adopted
2020
35 Days Late
Not Yet Adopted
Congress
Fiscal Year
House Committee Action on Regular Appropriations by March 31
House Floor Action on Regular Appropriations by March 31
Senate Committee Action on Regular Appropriations by March 31
Senate Floor Action on Regular Appropriations by March 31
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996
0/13
0/13
0/13
0/13
1997
0/13
0/13
0/13
0/13
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
2009
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
111th Congress
(Obama)
2010
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
2011
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
112th Congress
(Obama)
2012
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
2013
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
113th Congress
(Obama)
2014
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
2015
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
114th Congress
(Obama)
2016
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
2017
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017
-
-
-
-
2018
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
2019
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
116th Congress
(Trump)
2019
-
-
-
-
2020
0/12
0/12
0/12
0/12
Congress
Fiscal Year
Regular Appropriations Bills Enacted by Start of Fiscal Year
Number of Continuing Resolutions to Prevent Funding Gap
Days Spent In Gov't Shutdown/With Funding Gap
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996
0/13
13
5 Days; 21 Days
1997
13/13
0
-
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008
0/12
4
-
2009
3/12
3
-
111th Congress
(Obama)
2010
1/12
2
-
2011
0/12
8
-
112th Congress
(Obama)
2012
0/12
5
-
2013
0/12
2
-
113th Congress
(Obama)
2014
0/12
4
16 Days
2015
0/12
5
-
114th Congress
(Obama)
2016
0/12
3
-
2017
1/12
2
-
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017
-
1
-
2018
0/12
5
1 day***; 3 days
2019
5/12
2
13
116th Congress
(Trump)
2019
-
1
22
2020
-
-
-
Congress
Fiscal Year
Enacted As Stand Alone Measures
Enacted in Consolidated or Omnibus Measure(s) or Continuing Resolution
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996
8
5
1997
7
6
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008
1
11
2009
0
12
111th Congress
(Obama)
2010
6
6
2011
0
12
112th Congress
(Obama)
2012
0
12
2013
0
12
113th Congress
(Obama)
2014
0
12
2015
1
11
114th Congress
(Obama)
2016
0
12
2017
0
1
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017
0
11
2018
0
12
2019
0
5
115th Congress
(Trump)
2019
0
7
2020
-
-

 

* Transition Year Where the Outgoing President Had Not Submitted a Budget Resolution for the Upcoming Fiscal Year.
** Of the following year.
*** Funding expired at midnight on February 8th, 2018 but resumed later in the morning of February 9th

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 partial government shutdown that was initiated during the prior congress, and, as a result, inherited responsibility for funding the government for fiscal year 2019. After 22 additional days of the shutdown in 2019 and reliance on one continuing resolution, the government was fully funded by a consolidated appropriations bill.

Initial steps for funding the government for FY 2020 have not been successful. The Trump administration’s budget proposal was sent to Congress 35 days past the statutory deadline and Congress had not adopted a budget resolution by the end of the first quarter.

Expired authorizations as a percentage of federal spending

Fiscal Year19951997201020122014201520162019
Funds appropriated for programs with expired authorizations$93.9B$89.4B$290.8B$261.1B$301.5B$293.5B$310.3B$306.7B
Number of programs with expired authorizations103121250259270260256257

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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