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Healthy Congress Index: Bills Get Few Amendments, Few Filibusters

Monday, July 31, 2017

Washington, D.C.– Six months into the 115th Congress, both the House and Senate show few signs of a promised return to regular order, according to the latest Healthy Congress Index data released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The Senate considered only 18 amendments through the end of June, by far the lowest number of any of the five congresses tracked in the index. Most of the previous five congresses had considered hundreds of amendments by this point in the year. Also notable, there were very few attempts to filibuster legislation, with cloture votes—which are used to block or end filibusters—taken on just two measures.

In the House, the amendment process was mostly closed, meaning members could not offer amendments to legislation. Fifty-seven percent of the rules were closed in the first six months of this year, which was the highest share of closed rules in the House compared to the same period in the previous five congresses.

So far, the Senate has considered very few amendments and had few attempted filibusters on legislation.

“So far, the Senate has considered very few amendments and had few attempted filibusters on legislation. This is likely because the Senate spent its first few months on nominations and bills that couldn’t be amended or filibustered, and did not take up much other controversial legislation in the first six months,” said John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project, “Similarly, to push legislation through, the House mostly did not allow members to offer amendments to bills.”

Meanwhile, President Trump and Congress missed two deadlines in the budget and appropriations process: The president submitted his fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget 107 days late (not unusual in a new administration), and Congress did not pass an FY 2018 budget resolution by April 15. Missing both of these deadlines has become more of the norm in recent years. The Healthy Congress Index has added tracking on these metrics in 2017.

Among the new Healthy Congress Index findings:

  • The House was at work in Washington for 75 days in the first half of the year, higher than the three previous Congresses, but below BPC’s recommendation, which would have them at around 90 days.
  • The Senate worked in Washington for 85 days, about on par with the previous Congress and higher than the numbers of days in the 112th and 113th.
  • Senate committees reported out 139 bills, the highest number since the 110th Congress when 148 were reported out. House committees reported out 137 bills, which was lower than the 145 reported out in the 114th Congress, but higher than many previous years.
  • The Senate took just two cloture votes and considered only 18 amendments in the first half of the year. Both were smaller numbers than in the previous five congresses.
  • The House relied on closed rules for amendments 57 percent of the time, a higher amount than in the previous five congresses reflecting a long-term trend away from an open amendment process to one more controlled by House leadership.

KEYWORDS: 115TH CONGRESS, FY 2017, FY 2018, HEALTHY CONGRESS INDEX, JOHN FORTIER, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP