Last week, I watched several comedians make fun of the current Congress, joking that the 113th Congress will make the Guinness Book of World Records for doing nothing. I did a little research since then and determined two facts:
The 113th Congress will not be in the Guinness Book of World Records, because they don't have a record for this type of behavior.
The 113th Congress is the least productive Congress since we began to collect and correlate data in 1947.
The 112th Congress was considered the least productive, because they only passed 283 public bills and 1 private bill. So far, the 113th Congress has only passed 57 bills, and the House is scheduled to adjourn this Friday, December 13th with the Senate working until (tentatively) December 20th.
But numbers are not the sole indication of productivity. A small number of important bills can get a lot of work done. Let us analyze what these 57 bills do:
The first two bills (113-1 and 113-2) passed provided relief for those effected by Hurricane Sandy.
Four bills dealt with renaming a bridge (113-18), a section of the IRS code (113-22), an air route traffic control center (113-25), and the Coast Guard headquarters in D.C. (113-31).
One bill (113-10) specified the size of the blanks used to create National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins.
One bill (113-13) extended the areas that citizens are allowed to fish.
Two bills posthumously gave medals to the four little girls killed in 1963 in a church bombing in Alabama (113-11), and to a unit in World War 2 (113-16). The bills include where to display the medals as well, since the people are dead.
Congress also passed a bill (113-12) making it criminal to fraudulently claim to have earned:
a Congressional Medal of Honor,
a distinguished-service cross,
a Navy cross,
an Air Force cross,
a silver star,
a Purple Heart,
a Combat Infantryman's Badge,
a Combat Action Badge,
a Combat Medical Badge,
a Combat Action Ribbon,
a Combat Action Medal, or
any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.
Nine bills are reauthorizations of legislation passed by other Congresses, though the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act (113-55) also includes legislation to fund retirement for 90% of the NIH research chimps. The bills also include 113-4, 113-5, 113-14, 113-38, 113-43, 113-47, 113-49, 113-56, and 113-57.
The Small Airplane Revitalization Act (113-53) really only effects people wealthy enough to own and operate a small airplane.
Most of these bills represent administrivia - administration work that needs to be done, but involves neither debate nor in depth effort. Most years, I wouldn't blink at such bills. But the list represents almost half of what Congress accomplished this year.
As for the rest of the bills? Bill 113-7 nullifies part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (STOCK Act), allowing congressional staff and executive branch employees to keep their financial trading private. At least three bills (113-3, 113-6, 113-39) dealt with what to do when Congress doesn't pass a budget, but they never did pass a long-term budget. Eight bills dealt with the military and veterans, but no where did anyone acknowledge the war these men and women are currently fighting.
If you read the first article of the Constitution, it is the responsibility of Congress to raise and manage funds for the U.S. government. In other words, it is their job to create a working and balanced budget. Yet both the House and the Senate spent an extraordinary amount of time doing anything except that.
Yet, these number do not tell the whole story. This year, the House introduced 3,664 bills while the Senate introduced 1,777 bills, for a total of 5,441 bills introduced. That means just over 1% of all legislation got approval by Congress. The average for other Congresses is around 5%.
As for Presidential vetoes? President Obama has only vetoed two bills, both in 2010. He has not vetoed anything that made it to his desk this year.
Standing back, a picture emerges of a new political dynamic in Washington. Where before the numbers showed a division between Congress and the President (President Clinton issued 36 vetoes), now you can see the division in Congress itself. Unable to work together, Congress itself holds back the functioning of the government, with its inability to create a working budget and its inability to compromise.
To quote a friend of mine, it's time for the member of Congress to put their Big Boy (or Big Girl) pants on and deal with it. Their country needs them to stop in-fighting and start doing their jobs.