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112 th Congress Since Republicans took the House Is Least Productive on Record
According to the New York Times, the 112th Congress passed 173 laws as of last month. By comparison, the 80th Congress, the Congress that President Harry Truman dubbed the “do-nothing Congress,” looks positively productive, passing 906 laws in its two years. To be fair, it is likely additional legislation will pass in a lame duck session after the November elections. Still not resolved are, among other things, income and payroll tax cuts that are slated to expire at the end of the year and steep, across-the-board budget cuts to defense and domestic programs that have been triggered by Congress’ failure to come up with a package of revenue increases and budget cuts to reduce the deficit. (The combination of the expiration of tax cuts and budget cuts are popularly called the “fiscal cliff.”) There is also the farm bill, the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, a bill to save the U.S. Postal Service from default, and the list goes on. (Here is another evaluation of the 112th Congress, with charts and graphs.)
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:
2. They’re hideously unpopular.
According to Gallup, the 112th Congress set a record for unpopularity in February, when only 10 percent of Americans said they approved of the job Congress was doing. The previous record was set in December of 2011, when only 11 percent approved of Congress. So this Congress is number one … in being hated by their constituents. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado made this memorable graph of all the things that are more popular than Congress.
3.3. They’re incredibly polarized.
The best measure of congressional polarization — which is to say, the distance between the two parties — is the DW-Nominate system developed by political scientist Keith Poole. DW-Nominate works by measuring coalitions. It looks to see who votes together and how often. And it works. Its results line up with both common sense and alternative ways of measuring ideology, like the scorecard kept by the American Conservative Union.
So what does it say about this Congress? Well, the 112th Congress is the most polarized since the end of Reconstruction:
4. They’ve set back the recovery.
In 2011, congressional Republicans came closer than ever before to breaching the debt ceiling and setting off a global financial crisis. In the end, they pulled back moments before we toppled into the abyss. But by then, they had already done serious damage to the recovery.
Early in the year, the economy seemed to be gathering momentum. In February, it added 220,000 jobs. In March, it added 246,000 jobs. In April, 251,000 jobs. But as markets began to take the Republican threats on the debt ceiling more seriously, the economy sputtered. Between May and August, the nation never added more than 100,000 jobs a month. And then, in September, the month after the debt ceiling was resolved, the economy sped back up and added more than 200,000 jobs.
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