Closing Out 2013 With Policy Unfinished [Update #3]

As the 2013 session of the 113th Congress comes to a close, everyone wants to know just how bad was it? Pretty bad indeed. With 72 new laws enacted in this session, it is the lowest in any first year of a Congress at least since 1973, which is the first year we have the data to check.

Is this bad? Keep in mind that it takes a law to repeal a law. Unless you think today’s America is perfect, there are probably more than 72 laws you want passed.

The next least productive session was the preceding Congress’s first session, in 2011, with 80 new laws. Prior to 2011, the average was 162 new laws. That puts 2013 at less than half of normal.  This trend continues what we first reported on in July, when only 21 bills had been enacted.

Here’s how the number of laws enacted looks in a chart:

Chart of Bills Enacted: First Session of Each Congress Since 1973So far this Congress has passed Hurricane Sandy relief, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a bill to reduce flight delays caused by the sequester, a bill that eliminated government transparency provisions for conflicts of interest, funding for school emergency supplies of epinephrine, a change to make student loans more predictable, funding for the military pay during the shutdown, renewal of a law that bans plastic firearms, some laws to name buildings, and various other smaller matters. See the full list.

Update #1 – Dec. 20: We’ve also now counted the number of pages in those enacted laws. At 694^H^H^H 709 pages this year, that’s the lowest at least since 1993 — before that we don’t have the data. Prior to this year, the average was 1,800 pages. This doesn’t indicate a lack of productivity in the same way as other numbers might, since a law that repeals a law need only be one sentence, but it is notable.

Update #2 – Dec. 25: Eight more laws were enacted after this post was first published on Dec 18 bringing the count from 58 to 66 and the total page count from 694 to 709 (65 laws and 669 pages as of today plus the 40-page budget deal that is expected to be enacted soon). We apologize for assuming that no more laws would be enacted this year. (There are six other bills that have passed the House and Senate and are just awaiting the President’s signature, so the count may go up further if the President signs those bills before the Senate adjourns.)

Update #3. Jan 8, 2014: Although Congress passed no new bills since the last update, it had previously sent six to the President which were signed on Dec. 26. That brings the total and final count for 2013 up to 72 (from 58 in our original post and 66 in our most recent update). The defense appropriations bill was one of those bills, and at 493 pages brings the total page count of new laws up to 1,209 pages (nearly double what we previously reported as 709 pages). The average number of new pages of law in a first year of a Congress before 2011 was 1,914 pages, so it’s low but it’s not unprecedented: see the table below. The image above has been updated. We also mis-counted the number of laws in 1973 and 1979. Each had one more law, and we’ve updated the table below accordingly.

Here are the numbers:

Session Laws Enacted Pages of Law
1973 244
1975 177
1977 235
1979 227
1981 104
1983 163
1985 194
1987 212
1989 172
1991 245
1993 159 1,549
1995 88 959
1997 84 1,556
1999 109 1,503
2001 90 885
2003 173 2,489
2005 147 2,676
2007 141 2,134
2009 122 3,480
2011 80 1,295
2013 72 1,209

Each row in this table refers to bills introduced and enacted within the first session of a Congress, which is from January 3 of the indicated year to the winter adjournment at the end of that year. 1973 is the first year bill status is available from the Library of Congress. Page counts are based on the most recent bill print from the Government Printing Office and start in 1993 which is the first year bill text is available.

We have additional historical statistics too, but keep in mind when looking at full-Congress statistics that 2/3rds of the bills that will be enacted during a Congress are enacted during its second session, yet 2/3rds of the bills that will be introduced are introduced in the first session.

Counting bills enacted isn’t the only way to measure legislative progress, but it’s a good place to start.

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7 Comments

  1. If the average american worker was this unproductive I/they would be fired. 2014 may just be the year of the “great firing”.

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  2. I’ve been an independent voter for some 20 years or so because of my frustration with the shenanigans of my previous party and my openness to evaluate ideas from the other party. Having this same mindset I have been able to review the ideas and proposals offered up by the Democrats while the Republicans offer nothing but harmful opposition, stalling tactics, and name-calling.
    The austerity solutions they’ve offered have been proven in the EU to more harmful than helpful to their economy with some nations recording up to 70% unemployment of their young people among other issues.
    Their hatred and disrespect towards our President has been egregiously harmful to the our country and the offices of our government.
    And for the record, when the Speaker authorizes fewer work days for Congress he is not only disserving our nation but he is in-effect giving Congress pay raises.
    Peace on earth and good will toward men is supposed to be extended throughout the year not during this season.
    Change and do good!

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  3. Since this year Congress has been seen to be frozen on every aspect of their job, it would have been more helpful to show us the bills introduced as well as those passed. In math you can’t tell progress from one data point and let’s face it, that’s what we want to see.

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  4. The house is set right now to be in session 27 days out of the last 5 months. Why am I thinking we won’t get much done?

    Sounds like a good gig…complete with generous travel subsidy and VERY generous retirement benefits.

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  5. This has been a totally non-productive year in the House of Representatives. The Republicans have wasted more time and effort in an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And what is more amazong to me, is they are still tryong to repeal it. Give it up and let’s get moving on other problems our Nation is facing like creating more JOBS !!!

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  6. Thank heavens that Congress has been so un-productive. What this country needs are fewer laws and a greater commitment to limited government, that government envisioned by the Founders. This Congress, most especially the Democrats, exist only to perpetuate entitlement preservation governance so they can remain in power. They are obstructionist bullies and for the most part racists as they are quick to play the race card if one criticizes their anointed. Case in point: late night passage of obamacare WITH NO REPUBLICAN support! This is a disaster of epic proportion. Already it has cost the country in jobs, resources, and prestige. Make no mistake, the democrats are not out to help the poor and middle class; they are out to advance the pocketbooks of their crony capitalist friends the unions and insurance companies. You can take it to the bank that when Congress is “productive” money flows out of your wallet to line the pockets of politicians and their friends. Note how Congress exempted themselves and their staffs from obamacare. It takes an idiot not to recognize these people are not our friends but our economic and political enemies. When the Congress is less active we the people are richer and freer for it.

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