Working to find actionable solutions to the nation's key challenges.

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 December 2017 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

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 spend more days tending to their duties in the capital.

Data Findings: Following CPR’s recommendation, each chamber should have spent about 165 days in Washington in 2017.

In 2017, the House was at work in the Capitol for just 138 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. Since Republicans took over the majority of the chamber in the 112th Congress, the House has had a lighter work schedule than during the two Congresses under Democratic control.

The Senate has noticeably increased the number of days spent working in Washington since Republicans took over the majority in the 114th Congress. In 2017, the first year of the 115th Congress, the Senate worked 153 days, and in 2015, the first year of the 114th Congress, it worked 154. Both of these are about on par with BPC’s recommended schedule, which would have the chamber in session for at least 165 days per year.

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 in 2017. House committees reported 372 bills in the first year of the 115th Congress, the highest among any years in the index. Senate committees reported 240 bills last year. This robust number is the third-highest among the index’s comparative years.

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 almost completely disappeared during the 115th Congress’s first year. The Senate voted on the lowest number of cloture motions of any of the years in the index. It voted on just eight legislative cloture motions and each was invoked, meaning the Senate was not blocked from voting on the measure at hand.

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: Last year, the Senate considered the lowest number of amendments of any of the years tracked in the index. The Senate considered only 159 amendments in total during the first year of the 115th Congress. Also interesting is the distribution of amendments between the majority and minority. In the past, they tend to have been split somewhere between 50-50 and 60-40. In 2017, however, 70 percent of amendments considered were sponsored by Republicans, the majority, and 30 percent came from Democrats, the minority.

Open
Structured
Closed
104th110th111th112th113th114th115th
Open5621015660
Structured20454935334050
Closed11411933404256

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 mostly closed off from offering amendments to legislation on the floor last year. In 2017, 53 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-seven 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, 52 percent were offered by Democrats, the minority, 41 percent were offered by Republicans, the majority, and 7 percent were offered on a bipartisan basis. Zero rules were open. Only one other comparative congress, the 111th Congress had zero open rules at the end of its first year.

Taken together, this is the most closed amendment process among the years in the index.

Conference Committees


26

104th

9

110th

11

111th

3

112th

0

113th

4

114th

2

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: In its first year, the 115th Congress relied on conference committees for only two measures. This continues the trend seen in recent years of few conference committees between the 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
C(Obama)
2012
7 Days Late
Not Adopted
2013
Yes
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

 

*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 budget and appropriations processes in Congress completely broke down. President Trump, for his part, did not submit his fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget to Congress by the first Monday in February. The president’s budget was submitted 107 days late. Congress did not enact its budget resolution until late October, six months later than the deadline. Even worse, neither chamber passed a single stand-alone appropriations bill of the 12 by the start of the fiscal year or by the end of the calendar year. Consequently, to fund the government from October 1 through the end of 2017 and prevent a shutdown, Congress enacted a series of three continuing resolutions, which are stopgap measures that keep the government funded at current levels for a limited period of time. This can be fairly described as “kicking the can down the road.”

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: 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 in 2018.

Join the Conversation