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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 2017 through March 2018 and the numbers presented here are cumulative.

New to the index, two additional elements 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

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BPC recommends 45 working days per quarter

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: By BPC’s standard, each chamber should have worked at least 210 days between January 2017 and the end of March 2018.

In that period, the House was at work in the Capitol for just 171 days, which is about the same as in recent years and well below the number of days it would have worked if it adhered to BPC’s recommended schedule. The low number of working days is consistent with recent practice in the House, however.

Since January 2017, the Senate worked 196 days in Washington, a slight improvement over the number of days in the 112th-114th congresses, but still well below BPC’s recommendation and the number of days worked in the 104th and 110th.

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 both the House and Senate have been very active in reporting bills. House committees reported 487 bills in the 115th Congress, the highest among any years in the index. Senate committees reported 296 bills, the third-highest among the index’s comparative years, and much higher than the lull seen during the 112th and 113th Congresses.

Votes to Invoke
Votes Failed

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 filibuster on legislation in the Senate has mostly been a non-factor thus far in the 115th Congress. The Senate voted on the lowest number of cloture motions of any of the years in the index. It voted on just 15 cloture motions on bills and 14 were invoked, meaning the Senate was not blocked from voting on the measure at hand. Comparatively, there were 73 cloture votes on legislation in the 114th Congress, 45 in the 113th, 40 in the 112th, and 40 in the 111th. The 110th Congress voted on 43 cloture votes on legislation and the 104th voted on 34.

Minority
Majority

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 current Senate considered the lowest number of amendments of any of the years tracked in the index. The Senate considered only 179 amendments in total between January 2017 and the end of March 2018. Comparatively, the 114th considered 535, the 113th considered 299, and the 112th considered 312. The Senate during the 111th Congress considered almost four times as many as the 115th and the 110th considered more than six times as many amendments.

The distribution of amendments between the majority and minority has been out of step with recent norms as well. In the past, amendments tend to have been split evenly between majority and minority, or perhaps a 60-40 split in favor of the majority. Since January 2017, however, 72 percent of amendments considered were sponsored by the majority Republicans and just 28 percent came from the minority Democrats. In the first quarter of 2018, of the 20 amendments considered, only one amendment was offered by a member of the minority.

Open
Structured
Closed
104th110th111th112th113th114th115th
Open5621017660
Structured25535948465457
Closed16442635474472

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: Members of the House have been mostly closed off from offering amendments to legislation this Congress. Since January 2017, 56 percent of rules were closed rules, meaning no amendments could be offered. This is the highest percentage of closed rules among the years in the index.

Forty-four percent of rules were structured, meaning the only amendments that could be offered were those pre-approved by the majority-controlled Rules Committee. When structured rules were in place, 49 percent were offered by Democrats, the minority, 40 percent were offered by Republicans, the majority, and 11 percent were offered on a bipartisan basis. Zero rules were open. Only one other comparative congress, the 111th, had zero open rules at this point in the two-year period.

Conference Committees


32

104th

10

110th

11

111th

5

112th

1

113th

5

114th

1

115th



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: BPC recommends that important legislation should have the benefit of conference committees to reconcile differences between the House and Senate. Since January 2017, only one conference report has been approved by both chambers.

Budget Process
Appropriations/Funding Process
Final Action on Appropriations

 

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 Yet Adopted
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
0/12
2
-
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017
0/12
1
-
2018
0/12
5
<1
2019
-
-
-
Congress
Fiscal Year
Enacted As Stand Alone Measures
Enacted in 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
1
11
2018
0
12
2019
-
-

 

*Transition Year Where the Outgoing President Had Not Submitted a Budget Resolution for the Upcoming Fiscal Year.
**Of the following year.

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 FY 2017 budget process, which normally should have been completed during the 114th Congress, spilled over into the 115th. Congress enacted a final budget resolution for FY 2017 in January 2017, almost four months into the fiscal year. Congress then relied on a series of three continuing resolutions to fund the government until May 2017, eight months into the fiscal year, when it finally enacted appropriations for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The FY 2018 budget and appropriations process functioned even worse. President Trump submitted the administration’s budget 107 days late, though that is not unusual for new administrations. Congress then did not enact its own budget resolution until late October 2017, more than 6 months late and several weeks after the start of the fiscal year. Congress then relied on five continuing resolutions to provide stopgap funding for the government before it enacted full year appropriations in March 2018, more than six months into the fiscal year. This kick-the-can-down-the-road approach Congress took resulted in a brief lapse in funding, or shut down, that lasted less than one day.

For FY 2019, which begins in October 2018, President Trump submitted his budget just seven days late. Congress has yet to act on its own budget resolution or appropriations bills.

EXPIRED AUTHORIZATIONS AS A PERCENTAGE OF FEDERAL SPENDING

FISCAL YEAR1995199720102012201420152016
FUNDS APPROPRIATED FOR PROGRAMS WITH EXPIRED AUTHORIZATIONS$93.9B$89.4B$290.8B$260.1B$301.5B$293.5B$310.3B
NUMBER OF PROGRAMS WITH EXPIRD AUTHROIZATIONS103121250259270260256

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: Over time, spending on programs with expired authorizations has grown as a percent over overall spending. From FY 2014 through FY 2016, funding for programs with expired authorizations made up one quarter or more of all discretionary spending. This finding suggests that the number of federal programs that have not been reauthorized by congressional committees has grown since 1995, when these programs made up about 17 percent of spending.

Keywords: 115TH CONGRESS, HEALTHY CONGRESS INDEXRead Full AnalysisDownloadArchives and SourcesHouse Rules Data

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