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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 index covers the 104th and the 110th through 116th Congresses. This latest installment provides updated findings for the 116th Congress, which convened from January 3, 2019 to January 3, 2021.

Healthy Congress Index Field

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

Both chambers fell below the standard of a five-day workweek in Washington this Congress, which would have yielded at least 330 working days during the two-year period. This is perhaps not surprising given the disruption of the pandemic.

The House saw a sharp decrease in working days in the second quarter of 2020 as a result of the pandemic, but it quickly rebounded. The House worked 222 days total in the 116th Congress, largely on track with prior trends, but still more than 30% shy of BPC’s recommendation.

The Senate worked 286 days total in the 116th Congress. Despite the pandemic, this figure is largely in line with the increases seen in working days since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015.

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

The number of bills reported in both the House and Senate fell far below prior trends during the 116th Congress. While the number of bills reported in the House had been steadily increasing since the 112th Congress, during the last Congress the House reported only 587 bills – a 36% reduction from the Congress prior, but still more than the 112th and 113th Congresses. The decline in bills reported was most severe in quarter two of 2020 during which time the House reported only 14 total bills. This imbalance higlights the difficulty with which House committees have had in trying to legislate during the pandemic.

The Senate reported 23% fewer bills during the 116th Congress than the Congress prior. At the end of quarter one of 2020, the Senate had reported the highest number of bills in more than a decade. This record-breaking trend was effectively reversed after the dawn of the pandemic, again demonstrating the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on legislative productivity.

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 slightly ticked up again in the 116th Congress after witnessing a sharp decline in the 115th. The Senate took 53 cloture votes on legislation, 132% of the number of votes in the 115th Congress but still only 44% of the number of votes in the 114th Congress.

Among the 54 votes in the current Congress, cloture was invoked in 29 instances (54%) and failed in 25 (46%), meaning that only about half of the time was the Senate able to agree to move forward with the legislation.

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

During the 116th Congress, the Senate considered the fewest amendments—303—of any congress in the index. During the 104th Congress, the Senate considered six 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, the majority sponsored 64% of all amendments considered.

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 in the 116th Congress, largely in line with recent Congresses. Members of the House were unable to offer amendments on over half of the bills that came to the floor. 54% of rules were closed, meaning no amendments could be offered. 46% 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.

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

Only three conference reports were approved by both chambers in the 116th Congress. This is mostly in line with how often they have been used since the 112th Congress, but is much less often than BPC would encourage.

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)
2019-Not Adopted
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

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.

FY 2020: 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.

FY 2019: The 116th Congress began during a government shutdown and was responsible for enacting FY 2019 funding, which should have been completed by the 115th Congress. It took 22 days for Congress and the president to agree and enact appropriations.

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 percent of spending. From FY 2014 through FY 2020, funding for programs with expired authorizations made up roughly 25% or more of all discretionary spending.

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