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:
So 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|
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.