Numbers confirm what we already pretty much know: Congress this year isn’t getting much done. The number of bills enacted this year is lower than it has ever been in at least 30 years. If you think Congress should be passing fewer laws, then you got your wish this year.
An analysis of GovTrack data shows only 66 bills and joint resolutions were enacted this year. The last time the number was even close to this low was in 1995, the year Republicans took Congress under the Democratic administration of President Clinton, when 88 bills were enacted. Then, like now, the Congress and the Presidency were split between the parties.
But that wasn’t a barrier to lawmaking in other years. An average of 167 bills were enacted in the first year of the two subsequent Congresses after 1995 (that is, 1997 and 1999), during which Republicans retained control of Congress under a Democratic president, and about the same were enacted in 2007, 175 in all, when Democrats controlled Congress and the President was still Republican. (Congress operates in two-year sessions each called a Congress. I’m looking at the first year of each Congress.)
Since 1995, the most comparable year to this year was 2001, when Congress was divided for part of the year after Sen. Jeffords left the Republican party. Only 110 bills were enacted that year.
In 2003 and 2005, when Republicans controlled Congress and the Presidency during the middle of President Bush’s terms, the average number of bills enacted was 191. In 2009, when Democrats controlled Congress and the Presidency, President Obama’s first year, the number of bills enacted was 125 — ironically less than the Republicans who these days tend to believe Congress should be doing less.
Edit: Derek Willis points out that the number of bills passed isn’t necessarily a measure of productivity. Procedures have changed over the years that make comparisons across years difficult. For instance, he wrote, more bills are passed under special rules that makes widely-supported bills go through faster.