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. So I made one.
Now the new stuff:
Bottom line, although the 113th Congress lagged slightly behind the 112th congress for most of its existence, with only a handful of short periods being ahead, on December 16th the president signed 32 bills into law, and the 113th pulled ahead of the 112th. Then on the 18th the president signed 51 more bills. On the 19th he signed 10 more. With all this activity the 113th left the 112th in the dust in terms of laws enacted.
So all the hand wringing about how little this congress got done (by this metric at least) in the end just disappears in a flurry of legislative activity during the lame duck congress. Now, as usual, many of these bills aren’t all that consequential, thus the caveats in the first paragraph. Never the less, the 113th matched and exceeded its predecessor in terms of number of laws enacted, and in fact even came close to the 111th.
The totals for each of the three congresses on the 727th day of their existence (Dec 31st for the 113th and 111th, Dec 30th for the 112th):
- 111th: 349 bills passed and signed into law by the president
- 112th: 239 bills passed and signed into law by the president
- 113th: 294 bills passed and signed into law by the president
In both the 111th and 112th congresses, there were additional laws from that congress signed by the president well into January… even after the next congress took office on January 3rd. I’ll of course keep an eye out to see if that happens again, but with the big flurry of signing in mid December and congress not in session since then, it seems unlikely there will be much, if any, of that this time around.
Here are the graphs:
Next up, we’ll see how the 114th does!