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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 September 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 about 285 days between January 2017 and the end of September 2018.

In that period, the House was at work in the Capitol for just 233 days, which is a slight improvement over comparable periods in recent congresses, but well below the number of days it would have worked if it adhered to BPC’s recommended schedule. Since January 2017, the Senate worked 271 days in Washington, a slight improvement over the number of days in the 112th-114th congresses and much closer 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 have been very active in reporting bills. House committees reported 801 bills in the 115th Congress, the highest for any similar periods in the index. Senate committees reported 489 bills, the second-highest in the index. Both chambers have been on an upward trend in reporting bills since the 111th Congress.

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 the last decade. The current Senate has taken just 37 cloture votes compared with 117 in the 114th Congress, 65 in the 113th, 58 in the 112th, 68 in the 111th, and 109 in the 110th. In the 104th Congress, the Senate took 48 votes on cloture. Among the 33 votes in the current Congress, cloture was invoked in 27 instances and failed in 10, suggesting that in most instances, attempts to filibuster were not successful 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—401 between January 2017 and the end of September 2018—of any of the periods tracked in the index. However, the third quarter of 2018 saw greater activity in Senate amendments. In this quarter alone, the Senate considered 143, more than one-third of its total amendments for the current Congress. This was mostly due to the consideration of appropriations legislation, which accounted for 101 of the 143.

Open
Structured
Closed
104th110th111th112th113th114th115th
Open80230251280
Structured39807465627877
Closed19573547666496

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. Since January 2017, 55 percent of rules were closed, meaning no amendments could be offered. This percentage of closed rules marks the highest level in the index.

However, 45 percent of rules were structured, meaning amendments pre-approved 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.

Zero rules were open. Only one other Congress in the index, the 111th, had zero open rules at this point during the two-year period. Members had more opportunities to offer amendments during the 111th Congress, however, with structured rules in effect 68 percent of the time.

Conference Committees

53

104th

14

110th

13

111th

6

112th

3

113th

6

114th

4

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: Since January 2017, four conference reports have been approved by both chambers, the second lowest among the years in the index. Three of the four conference committees occurred during the third quarter of 2018. Two on appropriations-related legislation and one on the annual defense authorization bill.

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 Yet Adopted
Congress
Fiscal Year
House Committee Action on Regular Appropriations by September 30
House Floor Action on Regular Appropriations by September 30
Senate Committee Action on Regular Appropriations by September 30
Senate Floor Action on Regular Appropriations by September 30
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996
12/13
12/13
13/13
12/13
1997
13/13
13/13
13/13
9/13
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008
12/12
11/12
12/12
4/12
2009
5/12
0/12
9/12
0/12
111th Congress
(Obama)
2010
12/12
12/12
12/12
6/12
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
0/12
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
2019
5/12
1
-
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
7

 

*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: Congress had much more success than in recent years when it came funding the government for Fiscal Year 2019, which began on October 1, 2018. President Trump submitted the administration’s budget proposal basically on time, only seven days later than expected. Congress, however, did not adopt a budget resolution for FY 2019, having missed the April 15, 2018, target date.

The House and Senate each passed nine of the 12 bills in a series of three consolidated bills, sometimes called “minibuses”. The Senate has not passed such a high share of the 12 bills since 2010, when it passed six by the start of the fiscal year. This is also an improvement over recent years for the House, which has usually passed about half of the 12 bills before October 1.

The House and Senate came to final agreement on and enacted five of the 12 appropriations bills before the start of the fiscal year. That compares to zero enacted by Congress for the nine previous fiscal years. Funding for the areas of the government covered by the seven remaining appropriations bills was enacted in a continuing resolution.

EXPIRED AUTHORIZATIONS AS A PERCENTAGE OF FEDERAL SPENDING

FISCAL YEAR1995199720102012201420152016
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 AUTHROIZATIONS103121250259270260256

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

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