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Healthy Congress Index: Will the Next Speaker Open Up Floor Debate?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Washington, D.C.– Congress has been in session more often and strengthened the role of committees this session, but has seen a significant jump in bills considered in the House under closed rules without the opportunity for floor amendments, according to the third quarter update to the Healthy Congress Index released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).

BPC found that 37 bills were considered under closed rules, 29 under partially open rules, and only six under open rules. The 37 bills are the most considered under closed rules of any recent Congress, continuing a longer-term trend away from open rules. Read the results specific to House rules on BPC’s website.

These findings come as Congress faces several major legislative hurdles this fall, including raising the debt ceiling, funding the government past Dec. 11 and replenishing the highway trust fund, all of which may be on the table for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) successor.

“Congress has made some actual legislative progress this year. In the critical months ahead, it will be discouraging if the House and Senate retreat from the hard work of governing in favor of partisan brinksmanship,” said BPC President Jason Grumet. “The health of our economy and our nation’s fundamental obligations hang in the balance.”

“This Congress has shown considerable improvement over recent congresses,” said John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project. “In the Senate in particular, working days in Washington and amendments are up.”

“The trend over the past thirty years has been for the House to consider fewer bills under open rules,” notes BPC resident scholar and former staff director of the House Rules Committee Don Wolfensberger. “BPC’s Commission on Political Reform recommended a return to regular order, which includes the need for robust debate on the floor of the House.”

(View our detailed chart measuring the frequency of open rules and closed or structured rules dating back to 1975.)

Key metrics tracked by the Healthy Congress Index include: the number of days Congress spent on legislative business; how open the Senate was to debate and amendments; and how effectively Congress followed “regular order” by allowing a substantial committee process, robust floor debate and resolving of House and Senate differences in conference committees.

Other findings of the third quarter update to the Healthy Congress Index include:

  • The Senate has considered a much higher number of amendments than in the two most recent congresses, increasing member participation in the floor process.
  • Thus far, committees in both chambers have reported out more bills in the 114th Congress than in the past three congresses measured at the same point.
  • The Senate has had 188 working days in Washington, more than the previous two congresses.

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

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. The index will next be updated in early 2016.

KEYWORDS: 114TH CONGRESS, DON WOLFENSBERGER, HEALTHY CONGRESS INDEX, JASON GRUMET, JOHN BOEHNER, JOHN FORTIER