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How Functional was Congress in 2019? We Crunched the Numbers

Washington, DC – The Bipartisan Policy Center today released its Healthy Congress Index and found that the 2019 legislative process in both chambers was mostly dysfunctional. The normal budget and appropriations processes were largely ignored. The filibuster became even more of an obstacle in the Senate. Conference committees were rarely used. And the leadership of both parties in both chambers took few steps to restore Congress’s ability to deliberate and govern effectively.

“Throughout 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell traded barbs over whose chamber was worse: the “graveyard” Senate or the “impeachment obsessed” House,” says Michael Thorning, associate director of BPC’s Governance Project, who oversees the HCI. “The data suggests that, despite some modest improvements in the House, both chambers have a lot to answer for.”

The HCI finds that House Democrats fell short on their promises to allow more amendments to be debated on the floor, and, similarly, Senate Republicans continued to preside over an amendment drought, which they initiated in the previous Congress.

Early in the year, both chambers put in a respectable number of working days in Washington, but those numbers dropped precipitously as the year went on.

In 2019, neither chamber came close to a five-day workweek in Washington. The House worked for 134 days, more than 30 days short of the five-day workweek standard. The Senate worked 142 days in Washington, more than 20 days short of the five-day workweek. On average, the House and Senate each worked only about three days per week throughout the year.

“BPC has been recommending that Congress put in a five-day workweek in Washington for three straight weeks followed by one week of work for members in their states or districts,” says Thorning. “This schedule would allow predictable, uninterrupted time for members to tend to both their legislative duties and interact with constituents. If adopted, it would translate to between 45 and 50 working days in Washington per quarter. Allowing for the traditional August work period at home with constituents, we would expect each chamber to work about 165 days per year in the Capitol.”

For all the data, visit the Healthy Congress Index