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Healthy Congress Index

The Brief

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 3, 2019 through June 30, 2020 and the numbers presented here are cumulative.

Healthy Congress Index Field
House Schedule
Senate Schedule
House Schedule
104th 217
110th 221
111th 219
112th 199
113th 200
114th 193
115th 210
116th 179
Senate Schedule
104th 281
110th 258
111th 273
112th 220
113th 210
114th 230
115th 236
116th 220

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

So far this Congress, both chambers fell below the standard of a five-day workweek in Washington. By BPC’s standard, each chamber should work at least 165 days during the year. The House has failed to meet this standard for every congress in our index, and this Congress only exacerbates this downward trend. While the number of working days in the House was on par with the last four Congresses going into 2020, the number of working days fell substantially below prior trends in the second quarter of 2020, in line with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate has worked 220 days so far this Congress, marking a decline from the gains seen since the 114th Congress when Republicans regained control of the chamber. Unlike the House, the Senate was already experiencing a decline in working days in 2019 that remained steady through 2020, indicating that the decline was not so much a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but rather a pre-existing trend.

House Senate
104th 379 347
110th 489 540
111th 306 316
112th 372 255
113th 371 250
114th 515 402
115th 645 401
116th 347 350

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

House committees have reported 347 bills so far this Congress, about half of the total number of bills reported in the same period of the last Congress. While the number of bills reported in the House had been steadily increasing since the 112th Congress, the current House has consistently reported fewer bills than the last two Congresses over the entire eighteen-month period. That said, the decline in bills reported was most severe in quarter two of 2020, showing the difficulty that House committees have had in trying to legislate during the pandemic.

The Senate, in contrast, is more on par with recent Congresses. At the end of quarter one of 2020, the Senate had passed its highest number of bills since the 110th Congress. This positive trend slowed in quarter two of this year, again demonstrating the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on legislative productivity.

Votes to Invoke Votes Failed
104th 7 39
110th 51 44
111th 44 10
112th 27 19
113th 37 18
114th 46 58
115th 23 10
116th 24 22

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 have once again ticked up in the 116th Congress after witnessing a sharp decline in the 115th Congress. The Senate took 46 cloture votes on legislation, 139% of the number of votes in the 115th Congress but still only 44% of the number of votes in the 114th Congress.

Among the 46 votes in the current Congress, cloture was invoked in 24 instances (52%) and failed in 22 (48%), meaning that only about half of the time was the Senate able to agree to move forward with legislation.

Majority Minority
104th 765 555
110th 723 554
111th 430 366
112th 234 216
113th 172 152
114th 382 321
115th 175 83
116th 105 55

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

This Congress, the Senate considered the fewest amendments—160—of any congruent period in the index. Comparatively, during the 110th Congress, the Senate considered eight times as many amendments.

The distribution of amendments tended to favor Republicans, the majority party. In the past, amendments tended to have been split about evenly between majority and minority.

This Congress, amendments tilted toward the majority who sponsored 66% of amendments considered.

The Senate considered fewer amendments during quarter two of 2020 than any other Congress in our index, once again highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on congressional activity.

Open Structured Closed
104th 60 % 26 % 14 %
110th 15 % 50 % 35 %
111th 0 % 72 % 28 %
112th 20 % 46 % 33 %
113th 9 % 46 % 45 %
114th 6 % 52 % 42 %
115th 0 % 45 % 55 %
116th 0 % 48 % 52 %
 104th110th111th112th113th114th115th116th
Open752202511800
Structured3272695757677248
Closed1851274155548752

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

The amendment process in the House was tightly restricted so far this Congress, largely in line with the prior Congress. Members of the House were unable to offer amendments to over half of the bills that came to the floor. 52% of rules were closed, meaning no amendments could be offered. 48% 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, 60% of rules were open in the 104th Congress.

36 104th 12 110th 12 111th 6 112th 2 113th 5 114th 1 115th 2 116th

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

So far, only two conference reports have been approved by both chambers in the 116th Congress. This is mostly in line with how often they have been used since the 112th Congress.

CongressFiscal YearPresident Submits Budget to Congress by First Monday in FebruaryCongress Adopts Final Budget Resolution By April 15th
104th Congress
(Clinton)
1996Yes29-Jun
199743 Days Late13-Jun
110th Congress
(Bush)
2008Yes17-May
2009Yes5-Jun
111th Congress
(Obama)
201094 Days
Late*
29-Apr
2011YesNot Adopted
112th Congress
(Obama)
20127 Days LateNot Adopted
20137 Days LateNot Adopted
113th Congress
(Obama)
201465 Days LateNot Adopted
201530 Days LateNot Adopted
114th Congress
(Obama)
2016Yes5-May
20179 Days LateNot Adopted
115th Congress
(Trump)
2017-13-Jan**
2018107 Days Late*26-Oct
20197 Days LateNot Adopted
116th Congress
(Trump)
202035 Days LateNot Adopted
20217 Days LateNot Adopted
  • Budget Process
  • Chamber Action on Appropriations
  • Final Action on Appropriations
  • Final Action on Appropriations (cont’d)

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

FY2021: The FY2021 budget and appropriations process is off to a typically slow start. President Trump submitted the administration’s budget proposal to Congress seven days past the statutory deadline. Neither the House nor Senate has considered a budget resolution and it seems likely they will forgo one altogether. The House made some progress on appropriations bills, having reported all twelve out of committee. None were passed by the full chamber. The Senate made little progress on appropriations. None of its twelve bills were reported out of committee and none have received floor consideration.

FY2020: The Trump administration’s budget proposal was sent to Congress 35 days past the statutory deadline and Congress never adopted a formal budget resolution before funding the government.

The House Appropriations Committee reported all 12 appropriations bills and 10 were passed by the full House before the state of the fiscal year on October 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported only 3 of the 12 bills, and the full Senate passed none. Because appropriations were not enacted by October 1, two continuing resolutions were required to prevent a government shutdown. Fiscal Year 2020 funding finally was enacted through two consolidated appropriations bills in December, nearly two full months past the October 1 start of the fiscal year. No standalone appropriations bills were enacted.

FY2019: The 116th Congress began during a government shutdown and was responsible for enacting FY2019 funding, which should have been completed by the 115th Congress. It took 22 days for Congress and the president to agree and enact appropriations.

1995 17.2 %
1997 16.8 %
2010 21.6 %
2012 20.3 %
2014 25.6 %
2015 25.1 %
2016 26.2 %
2019 23 %
 19951997201020122014201520162019
Funds Appropriated$93.9B$89.4B$290.8B$261.1B$301.5B$293.5B$310.3B$306.7B
Number of Programs103121250259270260256257

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

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 FY2014 through FY2019, funding for programs with expired authorizations made up about one-quarter or more of all discretionary spending.

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