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
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.
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.
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.
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|
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 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.
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.
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.
|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 %|
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 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|
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.
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.
|Congress||Fiscal Year||President Submits Budget to Congress by First Monday in February||Congress Adopts Final Budget Resolution By April 15th|
| 104th Congress|
|1997||43 Days Late||13-Jun|
| 110th Congress|
| 111th Congress|
| 112th Congress|
|2012||7 Days Late||Not Adopted|
|2013||7 Days Late||Not Adopted|
| 113th Congress|
|2014||65 Days Late||Not Adopted|
|2015||30 Days Late||Not Adopted|
| 114th Congress|
|2017||9 Days Late||Not Adopted|
| 115th Congress|
|2018||107 Days Late*||26-Oct|
|2019||7 Days Late||Not Adopted|
| 116th Congress|
|2020||35 Days Late||Not Adopted|
|2021||7 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.
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.
|Number of Programs||103||121||250||259||270||260||256||257|
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 FY2014 through FY2019, funding for programs with expired authorizations made up about one-quarter or more of all discretionary spending.