How Can A Congress That Passed 219 Bills Be Called “Unproductive”?


According to the Huffington Post, the 112th Congress is set to steal the “ignominious distinction” of being the least productive Congress since the 104th Congress (1995 – 1995):

WASHINGTON — As 2012 comes to a close, the 112th Congress is set to go down in American history as the most unproductive session since the 1940s.

According to a Huffington Post review of all the bills that hit President Barack Obama’s desk this session, Obama has signed 219 bills passed by the 112th Congress into law. With less than a week to go in the year, there are currently another 20 bills pending presidential action. In comparison, the last Congress passed 383 bills, while the one before it passed 460.

The 104th Congress (1995-1996) currently holds the ignominious distinction of being the least productive session of Congress, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s Office, which has records going back to 1947. Just 333 bills became law during that two-year period, meaning the 112th Congress needs to send nearly 100 more bills to Obama’s desk in the next few days if it wants to avoid going down in history — an unlikely prospect, considering that both chambers are squarely focused on averting the “fiscal cliff” before the new year.

Just to put this into perspective, 1 out of every 3 days of this Congress saw a new bill being passed. That hardly seems “unproductive,” but we shouldn’t be buying into the idea that indiscriminate lawmaking is somehow a virtue.

It seems a little childish to use legislative volume as a measure of legislative accomplishment. But clearly our friends on the big-government left feel differently.

It’s a little scary to think about, but over the centuries of this nation’s existence each Congress has left us with more laws on the books than the previous Congress. Even a supposedly “unproductive” Congress such as the current one will have put hundreds of new laws and regulations on the books for Americans to live by.

I don’t think a measure of the number of bills passed by a given Congress is a very good measure of accomplishment. After all, a bill passed can get rid of laws (or lower taxes, cut spending, etc.) just as easily as it can create new laws to live by. But generally speaking, the more Congress does the less free we are.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Matthew

    It is 1 out of every three days

    • Rob

      You’re right, I didn’t write that correctly.

  • Bat One

    The low approval of Congress metric is deliberately bogus. For while there are a barrage of “surveys” showing how low the approval rating of “Congress” is compared to that of the president or other national institutions, I don’t recall seeing even a single one that distinguishes between the job done by the House of Representatives and that being done (or NOT done) by the Harry Reid -controlled Senate. The Democrat runSenate hasn’t passed a federal budget in nearly four years, despite the fact that the House, run by Republicans, has done so. And the ones who refuse to even allow a vote by the Senate are, without a trace of irony, the ones who are pleased to call themselves “Democrats.”

  • itsmesteph11

    The fewer bills passed the better. Even so, passing a bill isn’t the only way America was screwd. Obama chose to just implement many on his own.

    • Rob

      Of course, it all depends on what the bills are too. If they passed a thousand bills, but each one did something like simplify taxation, reduce regulations, eliminate unnecessary government agencies, I think that’d be pretty good.

      It’s about the quality of the bills, not the quantity.

  • Larry

    The Us had 219 post offices without names? Oh, the horror!!

  • Guest

    LOL @ Rob who thinks the number of bills coming out of Congress isn’t indicative of the quality but simultaneously contends “the more Congress does the less free we are.” The number of bills doesn’t indiciate their productivity unless it’s a low number! Derp! The cognitive dissonance he displays is astounding. Can’t even be consistent in one post!

    • Rob

      I think I’m being entirely consistent. Generally speaking, the more laws Congress passes the less free we are. And that’s what they do, session after session. After all, we’re not talking about hundreds of bills passed to eliminate regulations and reduce the size of government.

      But thanks for agreeing with me that bigger government makes us less free. It’s not often I hear a liberal go along with that.

      • Guest

        You’re being entirely inconsistent, Mr Hack. On the one hand you contend the productivity of Congress is entirely divorced from the number of bills passed but simultaneously hold that the less Congress does the more free wich, a contention has the same flaw that you object to in former statement, namely that the number of laws passed has no relation to the amount of freedom we have. A Congress might pass one amendment its whole session repealing all rights we have while another might pass a thousand laws expanding our rights. Thanks again for putting your cognitive dissonance and faulty reasoning on display for all to see!

        • Rob

          My first statement was to point out that the number of bills passed really doesn’t tell us anything about whether or not Congress is doing a good job, mostly because we all have different interpretations of what a good job is. A thousand bills raising taxes and spending might be OK to you but not to me.

          The second statement recognizes the historical reality of what Congress does. Most of what they pass is expansion of government. They certainly aren’t reducing spending, or the number of laws we must live under.

          I think those are entirely consistent positions.

          • Guest

            Except for the fact there entirely inconsistent, Mr Hack. Just as the number of bills passed really doesn’t tell us anything about whether Congress is doing a good job, the number of bills passed is entirely divorced from whether we have more freedom. The PATRIOT ACT, after all, was only one act, which did more to undermine freedom than any act in recent memory. Thanks again for putting your cognitive dissonance and faulty reasoning on display for all to see!

          • Rob

            I’m not sure you actually know what cognitive dissonance means. Just because you’ve read when I’ve used that term doesn’t mean you understand it.

          • Guest

            Sure I do, I’m pointing out you have two conflicting ideas; you acknowledge that the number of laws is totally irrelevant to what Congress is accomplishing, but that conflicts with what you believe when it comes to what those law are accomplishing in terms of our freedom. Seems you don’t know what it means, but that’s not surprising since you too dull to even recognize you have it.

          • Rob

            I don’t think the ideas that a) the number of bills passed isn’t inherently indicative of good or bad (especially in that we no doubt define those things in this context very differently) and b) most of what Congress does is grow government are mutually exclusive ideas.

            It can be true that Congress mostly does stupid things while it also being true that the number if bills passed is sort of meaningless in and food itself.

            As you yourself pointed out, one bill can do a lot of bad things (like the patriot act) and several bills can do things of little consequence (like naming post offices).

            I can keep articulating this entirely consistent position to you, but I suspect you’ll just want to keep attacking me.

          • Guest

            The fact that you don’t think that your contention that you can’t glean whether Congress is doing anything from the number of bills but you can glean whether it’s restricting our freedom (a subset of the first contention) is extremely amusing. Thanks again for putting your cognitive dissonance and faulty reasoning on display for all to see!

          • Guest

            LOL @ Rob- The # of laws passed in no way informs us of whether Congress is getting its work done, but it does somehow give us a strong indication of whether we have less freedom! Derp! If you can’t assume that a law gets anything done, how you can assume it’s taking away freedom. What a hack!

          • Rob

            I guess the nuances of this topic are too difficult for you to understand.

            Oh well.

          • Guest

            Wow, attacks only against me. Seems you abandoned your argument rather quickly this time. Thanks for your consequent constructive acknowledgement that your position is totally devod of merit, hack!

  • Lynn Bergman

    If past congresses had seriously adopted Frederick Bastiat’s suggestion that a law be both permanent and favor no single group over another before it be eligible for “rule of law” status and implementation, our once great nation might have been saved from socialism. The redemptive irony is that the socialists are the first idiots killed by communists near the end game of totalitarian communism.

  • camsaure

    Rather then unproductive, I think they are more anti productive.

    • Rob

      Well, it depends on how you define productive.

      It may be very productive of them to pass a bunch of laws that serve the special interests important to them, and that accumulate wealth and power to them. That these laws make it harder for individual citizens to be productive is apparently irrelevant.

      • camsaure

        Yes, they could be productive if they wanted to but it seems less and less likely every day. I can see why the dems are doing it to advanve their destructive agenda. But it irks the heck out of me to see RINOs go along with it.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    NO budget from the Senate in 4 years is unproductive. A failed stimulus is unproductive. GM owing tax payers $60 billion is unproductive. 8% unemployment average over 4 years is unproductive. $6 trillion in new deficit under obama is unproductive. Record levels of entitlement is unproductive….obama isn’t working.

  • Wayne

    At least they’re ‘doing something’. That’s a good enough reason for gun control after all.

  • Stuart

    How many of those Bills were naming Post Offices? Or trival subject matter such as this.

  • Stuart

    It certainly must have been productive for the auto industry for the Feds to buy back 200 Million shares at $2.00 more than the share was worth !

  • MG

    Great post Rob. The ND Legislature will likely consider 1,000 bills this session. It always astounds me that even local officials feel the urge to pass laws to justify their election to office.

  • Snarkie

    “generally speaking, the more Congress does the less free we are”

    I thought Jindal said you guys were going to stop being punchline morons.