The Least Productive Congress Since The Great Depression

Congress has only written 21 laws this year, on pace to be the least productive gathering of lawmakers since the Great Depression, as members draw more headlines for confrontations than for public policy-making.

With only 21 bills making it into law halfway into November, the 118th Congress, controlled by Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate, is on the most sluggish pace to make law since the Congress that met during 1931 and 1932.

Back then, Herbert Hoover was president, the Great Depression had started and talking movies were still new.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), part of a group in the House that has stopped several spending bills from advancing to the Senate, saw his frustration boil over on the House floor Wednesday.

“One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one! — that I can go campaign on and say we did,” he said. “Anybody sitting in the complex, if you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me, one meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done.”

The lack of productivity puts a punctuation mark on the first half of a Congress that has managed to do the bare minimum ― fund the government, raise the debt ceiling ― while also embarrassing itself with the first-ever ouster of a House speaker mid-session, a subsequent three-week long search for a new one and most recently, a threatened fight between a senator and a committee witness.

The center of the embarrassment has been the GOP-controlled House, which has struggled to pass anything of consequence with its razor-thin four-seat Republican majority. The Senate, meanwhile, has been content to deal with the rare legislation the House sends over while grasping for bipartisan deals on immigration and aid to Ukraine.

“You either laugh or you cry, right?” said Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), the Gen Z freshman congressman. “It’s sad, and it just shows the Republican majority isn’t fit to govern.”

Congress’ approval rating sat at just 13% in October, according to Gallup. Polling also shows widespread voter anger at the state of the economy, immigration and a host of other issues.

HuffPost checked to see how late in the year it took previous Congresses to pass their first 21 public laws, using Congress’ own website as well as compilations of laws passed in each Congress called U.S. Statutes at Large.

President Joe Biden signing a bill requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow easier access to claims information brought the total number of laws made to 21 through Monday. That is the latest it has taken a Congress to get to 21 laws since the 72nd Congress, which only saw its 21st law, to amend a bridge construction authorization in Michigan, enacted on Feb. 5, 1932.

Adding to the bad look: Congress didn’t even start meeting in 1931 until December, meaning they managed to get to 21 laws in just three months.

Prior to the 20th Amendment, which also changed when presidents took their oath of office from March to January, the lame duck sessions of the previous Congresses — sessions held after elections but before a new Congress is sworn in — ran much longer, typically from December of the election year to March of the new year.

In turn, Congress would often not start meeting for the first of the two annual sessions that make up each Congress until December, unless called to Washington by the president.

Of the 21 laws made by Congress so far this year, one was merely to keep the government open, which expires Friday (P.L. 118-15); two were to name local Veterans Affairs clinics after people (P.L. 118-12, 118-16); one was to require the Treasury Department to mint a commemorative coin marking the 250th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps (P.L. 118-10); and one was to nullify a local law passed by the city council of Washington (P.L. 118-1).

To be fair, the 118th Congress has not spent much time voting on renaming post offices, which has padded stats for previous Congresses. Those renamings accounted for fully 64 of the previous Congress’ 362 laws. (The last five Congresses have averaged 355 laws each, a pace well ahead of the 118th’s.)

And while it does take two chambers to tango when it comes to passing bills, the House has by far had the tougher time getting its act together this year.

It started in January, when it took 15 rounds of voting to settle on Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as the speaker. Late spring was dominated by around-the-clock talks on how to avoid a debt default. And then the House was paralyzed for three weeks in October after McCarthy’s ouster, and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) became the new speaker.

All of that turmoil has left scars. Earlier this week, McCarthy was accused of elbowing one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust him, and a Republican chairman referred to a Democrat as a “Smurf.”

With that backdrop, House Republican leaders threw up their hands and let lawmakers go home a day early Wednesday when conference hardliners blocked votes on two more spending bills.

The picture is, however, less bleak if you believe that a Congress that does the least does the best. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made this argument when asked about the performance of the 2011-2012 112th Congress, the first one with a GOP-led House following the midterm elections during President Barack Obama’s first term.

“Most Americans think we have too many laws. And what they want us to do is repeal more of those. So I reject the premise to the question,” he said.

(Repealing laws, however, also requires passing a law to do so.)

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