The legislative process in America is special. 535 ordinary citizens are elected as members of Congress. They gather on a regular schedule to present, debate and discuss, improve, and pass into law proposals given to them from their constituents. This is in order to benefit the nation as a whole. Too bad it really doesn’t work that way.
Without addressing the other flaws in the real functioning of Congress (too much), the fact is that roughly half of the members are millionaires. Then there is the fact that the most common profession of members of Congress – before taking office – is a career politician. That’s followed by lawyers (averaging about a little more than 1/3 of the members), who make up some 0.6% of the jobs in America.
Bills creation and number passed
But this is about legislation. The 115th Congress introduced 10,750 pieces of legislation. It passed into law, or will have passed (awaiting Presidential signature), 448 Bills. The House of Representatives passed more than 1000 Bills itself in 2018 – but the Senate took action on just a small number of these Bills. Currently, there are about 330 Bills facing the 116th Congress after a day of session.
Almost every Bill introduced to Congress has been written by a think tank or committee. A few Bills, like H Con Res 94 and its companion in the Senate, S Res 747, come from constituents and special interest groups. Major Bills, like HR 247 – the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act – are written by partisan political Party and special interest. At this point, there is no Bill ever written in whole by a single member of Congress anymore.
Post Office names
Of the small Bills, things like naming post offices and monuments, it’s basically a copy and paste effort. With all the influence of political Party and special interest groups, one might imagine that far more Bills would be written. Or that each Bill might be more important. But in fact 20% of all Bills enacted by Congress, as of September 2018, have been naming Post Offices, statues, and other federal property. The leaders of this cause are Rep. Henry Cuellar (a total of 6) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (a total of 5).
Dead legislation of 2019
But even with all this, the vast majority of Bill never see the light of day. Whether it’s a hyper-partisan cause, or pet project, or just a concept that the overwhelming majority of Americans and members of Congress just don’t care about. The vast majority of Bills fall into this category. Often they are submitted just so a member can say they fulfilled a campaign promise, fully aware that there will be little to no support and the effort is a waste of time.
As of this article being published, there are no text of Bills originally introduced as of January 4, 2019. Even so, the title of several Bills give solid indications of both partisan hype and lack of interest. These are our predictions of some of the hundreds of Bills that will fall into this category with the 116th Congress (focusing on the House of Representatives).
This series of Bills, and there are many versions, all say the same thing – if there is no budget for the Federal Government, members of Congress should not be paid. This has been introduced in some cases every session since 2011. It has garnered as much as 79 co-sponsors, and bi-partisan support. It’s dead as a doornail, and will never pass the House let alone the Senate. Great for re-elections though.
Another series of Bills (including in the Senate), several dating back to earlier sessions of Congress, that state that term limits should be enacted. Another topic that is popular with a bi-partisan section of America – we wrote about this in 2010 and expect a similar reaction now. Dead on arrival, though some versions have gotten as much as 10 co-sponsors (14 in the Senate). Also great for re-elections.
HR 153 –
Funding for Sanctuary cities and States are a controversial subject. While it is lauded by a splinter of a political Party, it is opposed by a far larger number of Americans (as seen by the scant number of such sanctuary locations versus the counter). Still, since H J Res 17 –
A vanity Bill to create a new Constitutional Right for health care that originated in 2017. Given all the hype that fringe political groups and college campuses make about this (assuming that this is already the law) it has had 0 support when introduced. Though the leadership and proportion of fringe elements for the 166th Congress have changed since first submitted, this will go nowhere – again.
Another hyper-partisan vanity Bill. This is targeted to affect the current President, who is vilified by the opposition Party. It’s intent is to severely limit the power of a President to pardon. But, since this potentially affects all future Presidents, and given the political divide in the nation that makes any Constitutional Amendment virtually unthinkable, it’s just a talking point for pundits, political commentators and fringe political organizations. A similar Bill did get 37 co-sponsors in 2017 – but this version had only 3 co-sponsors.
Time spent on dead weight
There are literally hundreds of other pieces of legislation that will go nowhere with the 116th Congress. If we consider that 115th Congress introduced 10,750 Bills of which 448 passed into law, then there will be an average of 40 Bills per working day that are D.O.A. But that might be an overreach.
Under Speaker Nancy Pelosi it was announced Congress will work less than the 145 days in 2017. The 2018 mid-term session had just 121 days due election efforts. Given the 2020 presidential race, even fewer working days may occur in comparison.
Still, the result is that Congress works less and accomplishes less than you probably thought. Of what it does accomplish, most consistent is naming things. The priority after that are dead Bills that pander to constituents and help maintain a 90% re-election rate.
** Side notes:
Over the past 50 yrs the combined reelection rate for Congress is 86.6%. For the Senate, in that timeframe, the rate is 82.2%. For the House of Representatives the rate is 91%.
There have only been 3 elections in 40 years where the House of Representatives had a less than 90% reelection rates. Those are 2010 (85%), 1992 (87%), and 1974 (86%). The reelection rate has never dropped below 85% since 1948.
The Senate is relatively more volatile. The reelection rate of Senators has dropped under 80% only twice in 20 years. Those were in 2000 (79%) and 2006 (79%). The all-time low of Senate reelections in the last 50 years was in 1980 at 55%.