The index represents an effort to bring accountability to Congress and answer the question: how is Congress governing? The index covers the 104th Congress and the 110th Congress through the first session of the 117th Congress. Charts reflect data from the first session of each Congress. Please contact us for the full dataset.
Healthy Congress Index Field
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.
The House of Representatives fell far below BPC’s standard of a five-day workweek in Washington during the first session of the 117th Congress. A five-day workweek yields 330 total working days across the two-year Congress, or about 165 days per session. During the first session, the House worked a record low of 102 days in Washington, a 27% reduction relative to the average number of days worked during the first session of the last seven congresses.
At the end of the 116th Congress, BPC theorized that the record-low number of working days seen in the House was due primarily to the pandemic. The partial return to normalcy seen in the 117th Congress—coupled with the even fewer number of days worked—indicates that the downward trend of House working days might be part of a broader systemic change in House operations, not COVID-19 alone.
The Senate, by contrast, worked 14 more days in the first session of the 117th Congress than the congress prior. The Senate exceeded BPC’s five-day workweek recommendation by one day, the first time either chamber has met the standard since the 111th Congress.
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.
The number of bills reported in the House in during the first session of the 117th Congress was on par with that of the 116th, with committees reporting one additional bill relative to the same period. House committees reported 293 bills, just above the average of 282 bills per first session of the last seven congresses.
Contrary to the House (and despite a far greater number of working days), Senate committees reported 100 fewer bills during the first session of the 117th Congress than the 116th (from 285 to 185, respectively). This downward trend began during the second session of the 116th Congress, after the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
Attempts to filibuster legislation have declined in the 117th Congress after spiking during the 116th. The Senate took 20 cloture votes on legislation during the first session, 41% fewer than in the 116th Congress. The Senate remains far below its record high of 62 cloture votes attempted on legislation seen in the first session of the 114th Congress.
Among the 20 votes in the current Congress, cloture was invoked in 12 instances and failed in 8, meaning that only 60% of the time was the Senate able to end debate and move forward with the legislation.
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 Senate made progress during the first session of the 117th, nearly doubling the number of amendments considered relative to the 116th. Across both sessions of the 116th Congress, the Senate considered record low numbers of amendments.
Most notably, the share of amendments considered from the minority party has increased. Amendments considered typically favor the majority party. From the 110th through the 116th Congress, 56% of amendments considered were sponsored by members of the majority. That is, until the 117th Congress; in the first session, a record 69% of amendments considered were sponsored by the minority.
Nearly three quarters of all amendments were to five pieces of legislation: 40% to two concurrent resolutions (S.Con.Res.14 and S.Con.Res.5) and 32% to three amendments (S.Amdt.891, S.Amdt.1502, and S.Amdt.2137). Both concurrent resolutions focus on setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government. The three amendments amended focused primarily on landmark legislation, including the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
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.
The amendment process in the House remained tightly restricted in the 117th Congress. Members of the House were unable to offer amendments to nearly two-thirds of the bills that came to the floor. A record high of 65% of rules were closed, meaning no amendments could be offered. Only 35% of rules were structured, meaning only amendments preapproved by the majority-controlled Rules Committee could be offered. Zero rules were open, which would allow any member to offer an amendment. For comparison, 58% of rules were open in the 104th Congress.
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.
No conference committee reports have been adopted thus far in the 117th Congress. This is mostly in line with how often they have been used since the 112th Congress but is still less often than BPC would encourage.
|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|
|111th Congress (Obama)||2010||94 Days Late*||29-Apr|
|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 Adopted|
|2021||7 Days Late||Not Adopted|
|117th Congress (Biden)||2022||116 Days Late||Not Adopted|
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.
FY 2022: Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown when it passed continuing resolutions on September 30 and December 2, 2021; the continuing resolution kept the government funded through February 18, 2022.
FY 2021: The FY 2021 budget and appropriations process was characteristically rocky and unorthodox during the 116th Congress. Neither the House nor Senate considered a budget resolution. The House made some progress on appropriations bills, having reported all twelve out of committee and passed 10 of the twelve by the end of the fiscal year on September 30th.
The Senate, however, made little progress. None of its twelve bills were reported out of committee and none received floor consideration by the start of FY 2021. After a series of five continuing resolutions, lawmakers narrowly avoided a government shutdown with the passage of the FY2021 Omnibus and COVID Relief and Response Act on December 21st, 2021, 81 days after the fiscal year began. President Trump signed the omnibus package into law on December 27th, 2020, the day before government funding was set to expire.
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.
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% of spending. From FY 2014 through FY 2020, funding for programs with expired authorizations made up roughly 25% or more of all discretionary spending.