The Bipartisan Policy Center has released its quarterly Healthy Congress Index (HCI). This is the one-year anniversary of the Index which provides Americans with critical information indicating the extent to which Congress is (or isn’t) governing and functioning.
The latest results demonstrate that Congress still requires some serious medicine and rehabilitation if it is to do more than maintain its current, anemic condition.
The HCI measures the number of working days in Washington; the ability to offer amendments; the number of bills reported by committees, and how many bills are resolved in House-Senate conference committees. The BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, which I co-chair, determined that these are critical elements for a functional Congress. Details about our latest findings can be found here: http://www.bipartisanpolicy.org/congress/
As the BPC has reported:
“Both chambers are about on par with their most recent predecessors in terms of the numbers of days spent working in Washington, but behind the norm prior to 2011 and what BPC recommends. Both chambers have also reported many more bills out of committee compared with recent previous Congresses.
“In terms of floor process, the Senate continues to see high numbers of cloture motions filed on cloture (note: this procedural vote is the best indicator of the threat of a filibuster), suggesting a lack of agreement on when or whether to move forward on legislation. The amendment process in the House is mostly restricted, with few opportunities for members to offer amendments to bills.”
Looking more closely at the results regarding number of working days, “Three months into 2016, the Senate has worked slightly more days than the 113th Congress and about as many as the 112th. Up until the end of last year, the Senate had outpaced the two previous Congresses, but for now that trend seems to have lost steam. The House continues to show no improvement in the number of working days in Washington compared with recent Congresses. Given the calendars announced for the House and Senate for 2016, it will be difficult for either chamber to reach the recommended number of working days BPC endorsed.” In fact, Politico reported in a May 2 article that, for 2016, “the (Senate) is on pace to work the fewest days in 60 years.”
As mentioned above, the assessment of the openness of the amendment process was deeply disappointing for the House of Representatives.
In the House, only 6 out of 104 bills were entirely open to amendments; 54 were considered under structured rules (i.e. only amendments allowed by the majority-controlled Rules Committee were allowed) and 44 were entirely closed to amendments.
The picture in the Senate was brighter. This Senate considered 535 amendments by the end of this March, compared with 299 in the 113th Congress (2013-2014) and the 312 during the 112th (2011-2012). However, the current number is still significantly less than the prior three Congresses we measured.
We were also encouraged that “both chambers continue to report a high number of bills out of committee.” The Senate had the second highest number among the years included in the Index, and the House had the highest.
So credit should be given where it is warranted. And the fact is, the ship of hyper-partisan gridlock cannot be turned around on a dime.
At the same time, the wheel could be turned much further than it has, and when you are calibrating your measurements to, in many instances, the lowest common denominator, any positive movement looks like progress. Moreover, in some of the areas we measured, Congress is actually going backwards. That’s not the direction this country requires, or deserves.
Please let your Senators and your Representative know that you applaud progress in the areas of more bills being reported by committees, and a more open amendment process in the Senate. But, much more progress must be made to increase the number of working days in Washington, decrease the use of filibusters, and open up the amendment process in the Senate.
The only way they will know you care is if they hear from you.