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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 January 3, 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: While both chambers worked more days in Washington than the previous Congress, neither came close to meeting the standard of a five-day workweek. By BPC’s standard, each chamber should work at least 330 days in a two-year period. The House was at work in the Capitol for just 246 days, which is a slight improvement over the previous congress, which worked 227 days, but about on par with other recent congresses. The Senate worked 299 days in Washington, a notable improvement over the number of days in the 112th to 114th congresses, but still below BPC’s recommendation.

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 were very active in reporting bills. House committees reported 914 bills in the 115th Congress, the highest for any similar periods in the index. Senate committees reported 607 bills, the second-highest in the index and only surpassed by the 110th, which reported 761 bills.

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 are at the lowest level of this decade. The Senate took just 40 cloture votes in the 115th Congress. Among the 40 votes in the current Congress, cloture was invoked in 30 instances and failed in 10, suggesting that in most instances, attempts to filibuster were unsuccessful 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 lowest number of amendments—466—of any of the periods tracked in the index. 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 2017, however, 65 percent of amendments considered were sponsored by the majority Republicans and just 35 percent came from the minority Democrats.

Open
Structured
Closed
104th 110th 111th 112th 113th 114th 115th
Open 83 23 0 25 12 8 0
Structured 40 81 73 65 65 82 77
Closed 19 59 38 50 72 65 98

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 were unable to offer amendments to most of the bills that came to the floor this Congress. Fifty-six percent of rules were closed, meaning no amendments could be offered. This percentage of closed rules marks the highest level in the index. Zero rules were open. Only one other Congress in the index, the 111th, had zero open rules.

Forty-four percent of rules were structured, meaning amendments preapproved by the majority-controlled Rules Committee could be offered. When structured rules were in place, 48 percent of amendments were offered by Democrats, the minority, 39 percent were offered by Republicans, the majority, and 13 percent were offered on a bipartisan basis.

Conference Committees

55

104th

14

110th

13

111th

7

112th

3

113th

7

114th

5

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: Just five conference reports were approved by both chambers in the 115th Congress, the second lowest among the years in the index. Comparatively, the 114th Congress relied on conference committees to resolve differences on seven bills, the 113th on three bills, and the 112th on seven bills. The 111th used conference committees for 13 bills and 110th for 14, while the 104th did so for 55.

Budget Process
Chamber Action on Appropriations
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 Adopted
Congress
Fiscal Year
House Committee Action on Regular Appropriations by Start of Fiscal Year
House Floor Action on Regular Appropriations by Start of Fiscal Year
Senate Committee Action on Regular Appropriations by Start of Fiscal Year
Senate Floor Action on Regular Appropriations by Start of Fiscal Year
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996
12/13
13/13
13/13
12/13
1997
13/13
13/13
13/13
9/13
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008
12/12
11/12
12/12
7/12
2009
5/12
0/12
9/12
0/12
111th Congress
(Obama)
2010
12/12
12/12
12/12
9/12
2011
2/12
2/12
11/12
0/12
112th Congress
(Obama)
2012
9/12
6/12
11/12
1/12
2013
11/12
7/12
11/12
0/12
113th Congress
(Obama)
2014
10/12
4/12
11/12
0/12
2015
10/12
7/12
9/12
0/12
114th Congress
(Obama)
2016
12/12
6/12
12/12
1/12
2017
12/12
6/12
12/12
4/12
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017
-
-
-
-
2018
12/12
0/12
8/12
0/12
2019
12/12
9/12
12/12
9/12
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
0/12
2
-
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017
0/12
1
-
2018
0/12
5
<1 day; 3 days
2019
5/12
2
13
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
0
12

 

*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: In both fiscal years 2018 and 2019, Congress failed to fund all areas of the government on time, which led to several lapses in funding and multiple full or partial shutdowns. Early progress on appropriations for FY 2019 limited the impact of shutdown that began on December 22, 2018. In FY 2019, both chambers passed high numbers of appropriations bills, and enacted the most appropriations bills before the start of the fiscal year since FY 2010.

Expired authorizations as a percentage of federal spending

Fiscal Year 1995 1997 2010 2012 2014 2015 2016
Funds appropriated for programs with expired authorizations $93.9B $89.4B $290.8B $261.1B $301.5B $293.5B $310.3B
Number of programs with expired authorizations 103 121 250 259 270 260 256

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: Over time, spending on programs with expired authorizations has grown as a percent of 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 reviewed and reauthorized by congressional committees has grown since FY 1995, when these programs made up about 17 percent of spending.

Due to the government shutdown that began on December 22, 2018, the Congressional Budget Office has delayed the 2019 release of its annual report that underlies BPC’s analysis for this metric. An update will be made when that report is available.

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