WASHINGTON -- The 113th Congress looks to be a sure bet to go down as the most ineffective in history.
Just 56 bills were signed into law so far in 2013, as the first session prepared to wrap up. For the first time in recent memory, the number of new laws didn’t even come close to breaking triple digits.
Even counting Tuesday’s bipartisan budget compromise -- which conservative critics already are threatening to derail -- this Congress is so far behind its predecessors it will need to pass a flurry of laws next year to catch up.
Last year’s 112th Congress currently holds the title as the most inactive, with 231 bills passed into law. Prior to that, 1995’s 104th Congress had the worst track record with 333 laws. And even 1948’s notorious “do nothing” Congress, so called by President Harry S. Truman for its relative inaction, managed to push through 906 laws.
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The first prominent piece of legislation in 2013 was a Jan. 4 partial aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy. The $9.7-billion package fell short of what the region needed, but passing the more comprehensive $50.5-billion bill proved to be difficult and opponents blocked its passage until Jan. 28.
Congress followed up with a March reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which widened the law’s purview to include gay, immigrant and tribal victims of domestic violence. It also passed the Stolen Valor Act in June, criminalizing fraudulent claims about military service in pursuit of profit.
Laws reforming student loans and aiding veterans were also passed, though not without their own partisan battles. And Congress notably passed legislation to end the government shutdown and avoid hitting the debt limit in October, though both were arguably messes that Congress made for itself.
Meanwhile, the chances of gun control legislation faded and immigration reform shifted to the back burner as Republicans and Democrats failed to reach common ground the entire year.
The bulk of the laws passed this year were low-profile or noncontroversial, such as the “Bonneville Unit Clean Hydropower Facilitation Act,” or granting the Northern Mariana Islands parity with Guam and American Samoa. And lawmakers managed to agree on pushing through a law to “specify the size of the precious-metal blanks that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins.”
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The dismal performance can’t be blamed on a lack of time. The Senate has been in session for 145 days, with 153 days for the House as of Dec. 11. The two bodies were in session for 163 and 153 days last year, respectively.
Much of the inactivity was due to bipartisan gridlock that has come to define Congress over the last few years, with legislative stubbornness being cited as the reason for the Senate invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to radically change filibuster rules. Republicans have been reticent to give any ground to President Obama and Democrats.
And the public is well aware of the ineffectiveness, with Congress’ annual approval rating was a mere 14%, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.