Washington, D.C.– A group of senators calling for the cancellation of August recess, citing the need to get more work done before the fall midterm elections, may be right that the 115th Congress has spent a less-than-optimal amount of time working in Washington, but the current Congress differs little from its recent predecessors on this count, according to new Healthy Congress Index data released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
From the opening of the 115th Congress last January through the end of March 2018, the Senate had worked 196 days in Washington while the House had worked just 171 days. These numbers are roughly in line with the number of days worked to the same point by the last five congresses. BPC’s recommended schedule of three five-day weeks working in Washington followed by one week working in districts and states would have yielded at least 210 working days in Washington over the same period.
“Working hard in D.C. followed by working hard in the district is a formula for true representation,” wrote John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project, in The Hill Thursday. “But if Congress continues to fall short on its work for the American people in Washington, it is hard to justify sending them home for August.”
The 115th Congress is unique, however, in being the least open for members to offer amendments of any in the index. The Senate had considered only 179 amendments through March, about half the previous lowest number, and the House considered 56 percent of bills under closed rules, with no bills considered under completely open amendment rules. Only one other Congress tracked in the index had no open rules at the same point.
The Healthy Congress Index, launched in 2015, tracks the number of days Congress spends on legislative business, how open the Senate is to debate and amendments, and how effectively Congress follows regular order by allowing a robust committee process, floor debate, and conference committees to resolve legislative differences between the houses. Both the current Congress and recent congresses are measured to provide historical benchmarks.
The index is part of BPC’s 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 year 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 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.