How Broken Is Washington?

We constantly hear pundits, the President, and the public discuss how unproductive and broken Congress is.  Partisanship appears to shoulder most of the blame.  With the House controlled by Republicans and the Senate controlled by Democrats, even if a bill is able to get past one of these chambers, it’s likely to stall in the other.

In my post a few weeks ago, “The Light at the End of the Tunnel”, I expressed hope that, at some point soon,  we could overcome the polarization in Congress and start tackling the real challenges facing our nation.  After writing that post, I decided that I wanted to figure out two things: 1) How unproductive is Congress really? and 2) Of what they have been able to accomplish, how much of it is bipartisan?

To answer these question, I went to and looked through all legislation enacted into law for the 113th Congress (2013-2014).  As of today, 95 bills have become law during the current session of Congress.  Alone, this number doesn’t really mean much.  Comparing it to previous sessions though shows a sobering fact.  With just 7 ½ months left, this is by far the most unproductive Congress in 40 years.  Even the 112th Congress, also known to be stagnant, closed out with 272 bills passed.

As we can see, productivity has dipped and risen in the past, but never has it been this low.

I then examined how many of these bills had bipartisan support.  Somewhat surprisingly I found that 67 out of the 95 bills had at least one co-sponsor of the opposite party.  That’s about 70.5%.  In a Congress so embattled by polarization, I was shocked to find such a high number.  As I explored these bills a bit more though, I noticed something else.  Most of them were “fluff” pieces or bills that don’t have a whole lot of substance or make a big impact.  In fact, many of them were for things that I didn’t even know you need a federal law to accomplish.  For example H.R. 185 is a bill “to designate the United States courthouse located at 101 East Pecan Street in Sherman Texas, as the ‘Paul Brown United States Courthouse.’”  In fact, there were seven other bills renaming federal buildings or parts of federal codes.  Interestingly, there is also a bill titled “Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013” which actually had no Democratic cosponsors.  Needless to say, we haven’t really accomplished much this session, bipartisan or otherwise.

My goal is not to belittle these bills because no doubt they are important to some subset of the American population.  My point is that important legislation related to immigration reform, minimum wage changes, education bills, and voting rights – things that the American people think and worry about everyday – are getting stuck while bills with arguably less impact are breezing by.  It’s great that we can pass the “Denali National Park Improvement Act” or the “Reducing Flight Delays Act,” but what about getting computer science in every school?  What about ensuring that our veterans have jobs to come home to?  What about figuring out the right balance between privacy and national security?  These are the things that make a difference in our everyday lives and these are the issues that we really need to resolve.


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  1. […] and Democrats currently agree on almost nothing.  This polarization, as mentioned in my previous blog post, has led to the most unproductive Congress in history.  They do, however, agree on their support […]

  2. […] are important problems we need to solve but the polarization in Congress is preventing us from passing any bills of substance. Who bears the blame for […]