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Healthy Congress Index: Improvement in Appropriations, Days in D.C.

Washington, D.C.– The 115th Congress worked more days in Washington and completed more appropriations bills before the start of the fiscal year than past congresses, signaling improvement in the legislative process, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Healthy Congress Index released today.

Between January 2017 and the end of September 2018, the House was at work in the Capitol for 233 days, which is a slight improvement over the 215 days in Washington during the 114th Congress, 225 days during the 113th, and 221 days during the 112th.

The Senate also showed improvement, partly due to being in session during the usual August recess, working 271 days in Washington since January 2017, compared with 250 days in the 114th Congress, 235 in the 113th, and 243 in the 112th by this point in the two-year period.

Despite the improvement, it was still shy of the recommendation from BPC’s Commission on Political Reform that both the House and Senate by this point should have worked 285 days in the Capitol.

An improved appropriations process in which Congress enacted five of 12 appropriations bills before the start of fiscal year 2019 resulted in a better functioning Congress. It was the highest number of appropriations bills enacted before the start of the fiscal year since FY 2008.

Other insights from the Healthy Congress Index:

  • In the Senate, the appropriations process accounted for nearly half (183 of 401) of all the amendments considered so far this Congress. The overall number still lags compared with previous congresses
  • In the House, members could not offer any amendments most of the time, as 55 percent of bills came to the floor under closed rules
  • The appropriations process increased the use of conference committees, which had largely been sidelined, to four instances

“What we are seeing is that a healthy appropriations process has ripple effects in improving congressional procedures like allowing amendments to be considered and using conference committees,” John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project, said. “Overall, the latest Healthy Congress Index shows that Congress is functioning better but has a long way to go to meet the public’s expectations.”

View the data and read the full analysis.

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