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BPC Launches “Healthy Congress Index”

Washington, D.C. – The new Congress is showing signs of life after its first three months in session, according to the inaugural quarterly installment of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Healthy Congress Index. This first-of-its-kind index found increases in the time both houses have been in session and in the number of amendments considered when compared with the past two congresses at this early stage.

“I’m pleased to see early signs of progress toward a better-functioning Congress, but there’s still a long way to go,” said former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a co-chair of BPC’s Commission on Political Reform (CPR). “Over time, our quarterly check-ins will start to paint a clearer picture of how effectively this Congress is working.”

The Healthy Congress Index provides Americans with crucial metrics for evaluating Congress’s ability to effectively legislate and govern and compares the results against past congresses. The index represents a new, long-term effort to bring accountability to Congress and answer the question: how is Congress governing? The criteria are based on key recommendations released last June by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, which was created to investigate the causes and consequences of America’s partisan political divide and make recommendations to reinvigorate a political process that can work during a time of hyper-polarized politics.

The key measures of the index include: the number of days Congress spent on legislative business; how open the Senate was to debate and amendments; and how effectively the Congress followed regular order by allowing a substantial committee process, robust floor debate and resolving of House and Senate differences in conference committees.

Following the 2014 midterm elections, congressional leaders in both chambers publicly pledged to preside over a better-functioning and more fairly-run Congress, with a fuller calendar, a more open amendment process and reinvigorated committees. And for the first quarter of 2015, the index shows some early hopeful signs of a healthier Congress, including:

  • Both the House (36 days out of a total of 44 days in session) and Senate (43 days out of 46 days in session) have had more working days in Washington thus far than the past two congresses. However, the 104th, 110th and 111th Congresses were all in session more often up to this point. These numbers also fall short of the CPR report’s recommendation for five-day work weeks, with Congress in session for 3 consecutive weeks, followed by a week in their home states/districts with constituents. At this point in the 114th Congress the House has had votes on 34 legislative days and the Senate has had votes on 30 legislative days.
  • The Senate has considered more amendments thus far than any Congress dating back to 2007. So far, 202 amendments have been considered: 97 offered by Republicans and 105 offered by Democrats.

However, the debate process on the House floor is not as open as it should be. The first quarter saw a substantial number of bills reach the floor for debate, but the vast majority of those were debated under closed rules. Under closed rules, only amendments approved by the rules committee are voted on in the full House.

Read the full results of the index and further analysis on BPC’s website.

“Our index aims to shed light on how well Congress does its job,” said former Representative and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, a CPR co-chair. “The ability of Congress to tackle the issues Americans are concerned about is based on a functioning legislative process. When the process doesn’t work—as it hasn’t in recent years—we are left with gridlock.”

“The Healthy Congress Index presents an enormous opportunity to ensure that Congress returns to solving problems and confronting our greatest challenges,” said former Senator Olympia Snowe, also a CPR co-chair. “It will provide Americans with the concrete information they need to communicate effectively with their elected officials. With information from the index, citizens can provide positive reinforcement for consensus-building, and champion our reform recommendations when improvements are critical.”

“This index gives us basic vital signs for Congress,” said former Senator Trent Lott, a CPR co-chair. “Those vital signs tell us whether Congress is ready and able to tackle our nation’s challenges.”

The index compiles and analyzes data from a variety of publicly available records for both the current and past congresses, including the Congressional Record and House and Senate daily calendars.