Hating on Congress is a beloved American tradition. Hence Mark Twain’s old joke, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” But the 112th Congress is no ordinary congress. It’s a very bad, no good, terrible Congress. It is, in fact, one of the very worst congresses we have ever had. Here, I’ll prove it:
1. They’re not passing laws.
Let’s start with the simplest measure of congressional productivity: the number of public bills passed into law per Congress. The best data on this comes from the annual “resume of congressional activity,” which goes back to the 80th Congress — the same Congress President Harry Truman dubbed the “do-nothing Congress.” But they did a lot more than this Congress:
The 112th Congress — this Congress — is the last bar on the right. The one that’s way smaller than the other bars. To be fair, the 112th Congress remains in session, while the other congresses on the chart have completed their work. But the 112th is three-quarters done, and it’s not yet half as productive as the next least-productive congress. Plus, Congress doesn’t typically work in last-minute sprints; most bills are passed in the first half of a congressional session. As such, it’s very unlikely that the 112th will manage to pull even with anyone else on the chart.
Now you may say that this simply reflects divided government. But while there are many instances of divided government on that chart — the 104th Congress, for instance, when Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolutionaries faced off against President Bill Clinton and still managed to pass 333 public laws — there’s no session of Congress with such a poor record of productivity.