Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Congress Down for the Count

Just when you think there’s nothing negative left to say about the 112th congress, the men and women on the Hill get slammed again— this time, for being the “least productive Congress in the post-World War II era.” Already characterized by finger-pointing, name-calling and super failures, House and Senate members have felt the public heat.

As a DC intern over summer 2011, I experienced this frustration firsthand when the appointed Super Committee proved inadequate to solve the budget crisis.

Congress can now add record-setting inertia to the list of insults. To prove it, the media selected apparent and readily available data: the mere 61 laws passed this session. Many are quick to compare this number to the 80th US Congress, the “Do Nothing Congress,” as coined and criticized by President Harry Truman. Because they opposed the Truman’s Fair Deal and others of the Roosevelt administration, Congress in 1947 appeared stubborn and idle. But by today’s standards, they would be called Congress on Adderall. A glance at history reminds us that the 80th US Congress actually passed a large amount of legislation, many of which was pro-business. Indeed, the difference in score is significant: 906 to 151.

Even the experts are troubled by this unprecedented lack of productivity.  Americans are dissatisfied and looking for a scapegoat. An obvious choice is the polarization we see in today’s Congress. The GOP has shifted the center of gravity even further rightward while the Democrats sail steadily along left edge of the political chart. Considering the partisan stalemate, it’s not surprising that few bills became laws.

So, if you calculate the productivity of Congress as the ability to generate laws, then yes, the 112th Congress is undoubtedly desolate, and worthy of its newest title. An important factor, however, has been neglected in the measurement of productivity, and that is the following: it’s all about perspective.

Less government regulation has been a Republican mantra since the days of its founding. There are those who think naming a building is as much influence as government should have. The number of laws passed since 1947 is approximately 20,335 (number calculated from House Clerk’s Office data). Some would call that excessive.

20,335 bills passed in 65 years is 312 new laws per twelve months. Some were minor, some world-changing, like declaring World War II, or the War on Poverty, or passing ObamaCare, which led to civil war, Washington-style.

If you only measure paper passed you miss the magnitude.  Not all new laws are
equal.  Reorganizing a Cabinet is not at all like reorganizing healthcare.

The U. S. House and Senate have plenty of activity, debate and symbolic, polarizing
votes, all laced with drama and excitement.  After all, Coke and Pepsi compete, but
they don’t call each other liars.

Families and businesses have taken great action to survive, even thrive.  Popular
opinion feels Congress has done less, increasing debt while families have shaved their
financial obligations. Meanwhile, many businesses hold cash, waiting for a sign of

Key leaders hold out hope that in between Election Day and the holidays some
milestones might be reached.  Big questions loom over taxing, spending and the rules
we live by — and there are deadlines.

Were Congress to embrace big votes, and find agreement on decision, we might count blessings instead of mere bills.



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Congress Down for the Count