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Healthy Congress Index: Gridlock Easing Slightly, Much Work Remains

Friday, May 6, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – Congress continued to take small steps forward in easing gridlock over the last quarter, with bills reported out of committee on the rise and conference committees convened on key legislation, according to the latest quarterly update of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Healthy Congress Index, released today.

But as has been the case throughout 2015 and 2016, the 114th Congress lags behind historic precedents in the number of days worked, the number of bills with open amendment processes, and the number of cloture votes in the Senate. BPC believes these metrics give a picture of Congress’ basic operating ability, and each of the past three Congresses has received worse marks than the historic norms.

“Leaders in Congress have called for regular order,” said John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project. “So far this Congress, we have seen improvement in two aspects of regular order: an active committee process and an increased number of amendments offered in the Senate. It is too early to say whether promises from new House leadership to have a more open House floor process will be fulfilled, but the Healthy Congress Index will track these numbers going forward.”

Key findings from the new update to the Healthy Congress Index include:

  • The Senate slowed its working pace slightly over the last quarter, and now both the House and Senate are roughly on-par with the number of working days in the last two Congresses to this point.
  • The House amendment process remains mostly restricted, with 98 of 104 rules reported by the Rules Committee classified as either “closed” or “structured”, with only 6 bills considered under an open amendment process.
  • The Senate has voted on one-third more cloture motions than either of the two preceding Congresses. This is due in part to protracted floor processes and multiple votes on several bills the Senate considered.
  • Both chambers have bested the previous two Congresses to this point in the number of bills reported out of committee.

The Healthy Congress Index tracks key recommendations released in June 2014 by BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, which was created to investigate the causes and consequences of America’s partisan political divide and make recommendations that reinvigorate a political process that works during a time of hyperpolarized 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.