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September 2014

Congressional Velocity (September 2014 Update)

This is the latest in a series of quarterly posts on congressional legislative output.  I started these in June 2013 in response to a flurry of commentary about how the 113th congress was lagging behind in output compared to previous congresses.  Now, it is fundamentally debatable if passing fewer laws is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a completely meaningless number since of course the impact of laws varies widely.  I’m guessing in reality, it is a pretty meaningless number.

But I noticed that in many of these debates, there was a lack of rigor in the ways these numbers were used.  For instance, it seemed common to compare the current number of laws passed in the 113th, to the TOTAL passed in the 112th or 111th.  Or maybe talking about the “pace” at which legislation was being passed as if there was an expectation that this would continue linearly.  Never did I hear a comparison that actually looked specifically at where the previous congresses had been at the same point in the cycle.

In fact, although there are some repeating patterns to be sure, legislation does not tend to be passed at a steady pace throughout the two years of a congress.  Rather, it is very slow for the first six months, then tends to speed up to a more steady pace after that, which aside from fits and starts for vacations and “big days” when the congress passes many small non-controversial laws, continues up until the next election day…  then lawmaking seems to accelerate quite a bit in the lame duck session.

At least that was the pattern in the 111th and 112th.

In any case, despite all the hype, the 113th has generally been close to the 112th on this metric.  Usually a little behind, but close. And at various times it has pulled slightly ahead.

Today’s quarterly update is one of those times.  As I post, we are 635 days into the congress.  At this point the 113th has passed and the president has signed into law 182 public laws.  At the same point in the 112th congress, only 178 laws had been signed.  So at this very moment, the 113th is actually AHEAD of where the 112th was.  Now, this is unlikely to last, as it seems this is just because the 113th scheduled one of their “big days” a little earlier than the 112th did.  So with congress currently in recess, the 112th is likely to catch up in early October.  For the moment though, the 113th is ahead.

Of course, both are far behind the 111th, which had 252 laws signed by this time.

Here are the graphs:

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 20.46.27

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 20.46.17

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