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 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.
It is too early to judge the health of the legislative process just three months into a new Congress. However, the index provides some insight into how Congress may function over the next two years. So far, Congress is spending more time in Washington and committees are actively producing bills. The Senate—with a lack of filibusters on legislation—has had little difficulty moving forward with what legislation it has considered. This trend is likely to change, though, as more significant and controversial legislation comes before it. The House has not opened up the amendment process thus far, and the Senate has not seen many amendments offered or considered. As the 115th Congress progresses, the index will continue to track these critical elements of the legislative process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.