Amidst frustration and disappointment, the 118th Congress, consisting of Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate, has been labeled as the least productive Congress since the 1930s. Only 21 bills have passed into law by mid-November, a pace that mirrors the sluggishness of the Congress during the Great Depression. Representative Chip Roy (R-Texas) articulated his exasperation on the House floor, demanding his Republican colleagues to provide him with something significant to campaign on. The lack of productivity highlights the Congress’ minimal accomplishments, such as funding the government and raising the debt ceiling, while also facing embarrassing incidents such as the removal of a House speaker and confrontations between senators and committee witnesses.
The GOP-controlled House has been the center of embarrassment, struggling to pass substantial legislation due to its narrow Republican majority. Meanwhile, the Senate has been content with dealing with the limited legislation sent over by the House and aims to achieve bipartisan agreements on matters like immigration and aid to Ukraine. Representative Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) expressed his disappointment, stating that the Republican majority is unfit to govern. Congress’ approval rating plummeted to a mere 13% in October, with polls indicating widespread anger among voters regarding the state of the economy, immigration, and other pressing issues.
In comparing the current Congress to previous ones, it becomes evident that it has taken the longest to pass 21 laws since the 1930s. The 72nd Congress achieved the same milestone by February 5, 1932. In contrast, Congress in 1931 only commenced its meetings in December, reaching 21 laws in just three months. Before the adoption of the 20th Amendment, lame-duck sessions of previous Congresses typically extended from December of the election year to March of the following year. Consequently, the first session of each Congress would often begin in December unless the president called them to Washington.
Out of the 21 laws passed by Congress thus far, one aimed to keep the government functioning and is set to expire soon. Two laws were enacted to name local Veterans Affairs clinics after individuals, one compelled the Treasury Department to mint a commemorative coin for the 250th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps, and another annulled a local law passed by the Washington city council. While it is fair to note that renaming post offices has been a common activity in previous Congresses, accounting for 64 out of 362 laws in the last Congress, the amount of time and effort spent on passing significant legislation this year has been relatively minimal. The House, in particular, has faced numerous challenges, beginning with the prolonged process of selecting a speaker in January. The spring was consumed by all-night negotiations to avoid a debt default, and in October, the House was paralyzed for three weeks after the removal of the previous speaker. All of these incidents have left their mark, with recent accusations of physical altercations and inappropriate remarks between members.
Given this backdrop, House Republican leaders decided to let lawmakers leave a day early when hardline conservatives thwarted votes on two spending bills. However, some argue that less productivity equates to better performance. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made this argument, asserting that most Americans believe there are already too many laws and calling for the repeal of existing legislation.