Who’s blocking the bills? The numbers don’t help much.

M.M. asks:

There is much discussion about which part of Congress does more (or less)  than the other. Some people are fixated on the number of votes taken in each chamber. For example some people are slamming the Senate saying that there are 390 bills that were voted on in the House that the Senate is sitting on because Sen Reid refuses to bring them to a vote.

Is this what the numbers say?

There are 347 bills (including joint resolutions) that the House has passed that the Senate hasn’t yet picked up (352 if concurrent resolutions are included). But the number doesn’t really tell us much.

Both sides only hold votes when they’re reasonably sure the measure will pass. So when a bill doesn’t get a vote, it doesn’t mean the bill is being blocked but that there isn’t enough support for it to pass anyway. Reid could hold a vote on all of those bills, but he knows that his Democratic majority in the Senate won’t vote for them anyway.

Both sides want to look good by passing bills without thinking any further ahead about whether what they’re passing has any support in the other chamber. When a bill doesn’t get a vote in the other chamber, it shows a failure on both sides to reach consensus.

The Senate has picked up many House bills. It’s passed 124 of them, or 26%. Most of those are already or on their way to becoming law.

For comparison, the Senate has passed 108 bills in all (including joint resolutions). Of those, the House has passed 40, or 37%, and those are already or are on their way to becoming law. That leaves 68 bills that the House has yet to pick up.

I know 37 is bigger than 26, but in the big picture these numbers are actually pretty close. I wouldn’t read much into the difference.

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17 Comments

  1. I’m so glad we have a congress that points fingers at the other side. And a media that is no longer telling the facts

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  2. For all I hear from various news outlets of a “do nothing congress” , it really seems both share the same behavior. Maybe they both should hold the bills for debate/vote to show their support (or not).

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  3. Thank you for the analysis. You shed some light on the subject, so each side can quit throwing stones at the other.

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  4. I appreciate the summarization but 347 is far larger than 68. The Senate was designed to be more deliberative and to be a potential brake against a tide of popularism. That was why they were not directly elected in the Constitution and it remained that way until the 1900s.

    One chamber may not bring vote on a bill not only because they know it would or wouldn’t pass. The leadership might be protecting the voting record of their side so members don’t have to take a position that would be unpalatable in their district. This might cause the majority party to lose a seat.

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  5. Thank you for the information and educational. I know whose holding up the Legislation as the a Republicans made a pact on President Obama’s Inauguration Day to block him at all costs, including sacrificing the American people and lying with every breath to destroy and blame the President at all costs. They are all despicable inept Racists. Sorry I know this isn’t the type of comment that belongs here but it ‘s a fact.

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  6. For a website that analyzes patterns and numbers, I find your statement about the number of bills passed to be very odd. “I know 37 is bigger than 26, but in the big picture these numbers are actually pretty close. I wouldn’t read much into the difference.”

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    1. Hi,

      I was avoiding jargon to make the post more understandable, but what I meant was that the difference between 37 and 26 is likely to be statistically insignificant. What that means is that if we looked over long periods of time there will be fluctuation in the numbers just due to chance. Not every difference is meaningful. Often differences are just random, coincident situations that are unrelated to the thing (in this case partisan strategy) that we’re really looking at. So I was saying that my prediction, based on my experience with this, is that the numbers will be so jumpy if we look over several decades of legislative statistics that we’d conclude that a difference in 11 bills would look more like statistical noise than a difference due to partisan strategy.

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  7. I value the information you collect, but the difference between 37% and 26% is not 11 bills. What I find more important/odd is it normal for the House to pass about 5 time as many bills as the Senate? Thanks.

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  8. The simple fact that that congress with a republican majority is always voting for bills while dems vote against. Same with the Senate with a dem majority. The people in this country no longer have a voice. What the hell! You people are voted in to give us a voice! Do your job or be defeated in the elections. People like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi no longer deserve their jobs.

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  9. I just wish Harry Reid didn’t have the power to decide which bill gets a vote or not. He should stop sitting on the Audit the Fed bill.

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  10. To the “Anonymous” person that does not have the guts to show a name, I take offense your suggestion that all Republicans are racist just because the republicans look to block the presidents goal to Fundamentally Change this country. Only democrats use race, sex, or any other identifier for political gain. I am an american and want what is best for our country…NOT what is best for certain folks. Democrats obvious hate this country and want to change it to a government ran society, where as, republicans desire a society mostly free from government control (the reason we founded this county in the first place). The government gives money and benefits as they see fit and in time, they will take from the people that have assets in order for the gov to continue to hand out benefits as it deems in order to continue its equalization of all Americans. The gov will do it in the name of fairness, which they have no right. We are loosing our country in the name of fairness. Where does it say in our constitution that I must work 60 hours a week, pay ridicules amount of taxes, so jack ass dems in Washington can GIVE my money away to folks that have not earned it. Don’t deserve it. So Obama is doing his best to transform this great nation… To a weak poor nation where everyone is broke and dependent upon the Government to provide… Harry Ried’s job is to put bills up for a vote… Not to prejudge what may or may not pass. If senators don’t vote, we can not hold them accountable. Sort of how Obama hardly voted or voted “Present” during his few days in the senate. I am of the 50% of Americans that stands firmly against most of Obama’s goals. I want him stopped. I am not racist because I want this.

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  11. This topic and information seems helpful, but I’d have to ask how do the leaders of the house and senate KNOW that the bill “won’t pass anyway?” You can’t know that unless you vote, right? It seems that the dems and the reps are both blocking about the same amount from this article, so I’d ask the moderator to take out any inflammatory comments about either party. However, I’m still curious about how they can block bills. Is there a certain number of people who have to call for it to be put to a vote? If so, what is that number? Thanks.

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  12. i expect I’ll be dead by the time they pass the Ft McClellen registry act. my daughter has numbers problems that are not familial and not seen at her age-I think it was due to my exposures. I was also exposed in thailand and can’t get registered because i went over in aug 75 and the cut off was may 75 I have since corresponded with someone stationed there (thailand) and left a couple of months before my arrival who has cancer. I already have a tumor on my thyroid (when i was a nurse i saw a lot of female patients who went to Ft McClellan that have had thyroid cancer

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  13. I agree with the ray fristrom who claims that Congress continues to point fingers at each other rather than look at the issues that the American people want resolved.

    Congress, both the House and the Senate, pass more bills that solve our deep seated social problems.

    Listen to what President Obama is trying to do. Shake up the system to get them to vote on these very relevant and important bills.

    Someone has to stick their neck out to get action. As a Republican, I’m proud of our President for doing just that.

    Get off the revolving finger pointing merry go round and pass some legislation that solves our most damaging problems.

    Lisa Vander

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  14. How is the fact that the Senate has more than 340 bills in front of it that were passed by the house – but then you say in the end there isn’t much difference in the productivity of the 2? You realize that the House hasn’t acted on dozens of the Senate passed bills but the Senate hasn’t acted on HUNDREDS of the bills passed by the house. The switch to percentages or from is a common trick to hide the true difference. Most times those on the left use it to try to mitigate the fact that even though higher income earners pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, because the absolute number of dollars left over is higher in the higher wage earner, the left loves to use that to show that taxes can be even more progressive because the other guys can “afford it”. The fact is the Senate, for many reasons, won’t act on HUNDREDS of bills. The very fact that they won’t pass is exactly why they need to be voted on. It’s the Senate’s refusal to actually take a position and then maintain they aren’t getting bills that they can pass is where the obstruction lies. By failing to vote they are avoiding having to explain their positions on the bills and pass the blame to the side that is actually taking a stand on a position and voting yes or no. Your analysis is very, very misleading and while technically accurate fails to address the underlying truth: the Senate avoids the vote to avoid being pinned for the position and force the President to vote on a bill. He prefers to blame inaction and thus keep himself from being blamed for passing legislation that is unpopular with his base.

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  15. And then there’s the other aspect of congressional voting, Princeton’s study that says the only things congress takes action on are those that are of interest/benefit to Wall St and PACs. Zero movement on things of interest/benefit to the public. Schwing! Out the window with any meaningful democracy.

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  16. There should be a law that if the House or the Senate passes a bill it would be mandatory that the other legislative body to bring it to a vote within a short time period. Harry Reed has been sitting on bills for 6 years, not because of a lack of votes needed to pass it but that Senators won’t have to go on record for the votes they would cast for or against it. It’s past time for term limits for all. And we can’t expect this to come out of Congress. It’s time for action on Article 5 of the Constitution.

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