Why your Favorite Media today only tells you Half about Congress

More partisan bickering, finger pointing, and let us blame Obama justifications as “answers” to any and all problems within the United States of America.

That’s modern day politics, and regardless of your own personal political ideology do you see any SOLUTIONS coming out of anyone’s “answers?”

Now if one argues that too many laws, rules, and regulations exist, please remember that in most cases it will take a new law to revoke the law, rule, or regulation currently on the books. Something must reach the President’s desk for him to sign, allow becoming law without signature, or given how often Congress is not in session in today’s environment an increased likelihood of a pocket veto.

Yes, I’ve been reminded so many times of the pen and phone statement. Since George Washington, Presidents of the United States have issued Executive Orders, Actions, or Proclamations. Some people even use the term Executive Legislation. Like most things regarding numbers, such as the information offered in this piece, on can twist the statistics to “prove” a point. I’ll contend, however, that numbers tell only a portion of the story here because all Executive Orders are not created equal.

Another point to consider with legislation by Executive Order is that it is actually the easiest to overturn. Congress can easily nullify any action after the fact just by addressing the issue and not just flapping their gums or waiting for the court to possibly declare the action null and void. Also, Executive Orders issued by the President cannot be issued directly to the people. The Orders affect only state or federal agencies which then pass the affect onto the people who are dealing with that particular agency.

Simply stated, it is the current “do nothing” Congress who should be making the decisions instead of passing the responsibility to others in some cases and just shirking their responsibilities in others.

If you’re curious:

As of 30 June when I last ran the numbers Congress had passed 125 bills. During the first 544 days of any Congress during my lifetime, the amount of bills passed by the 113th Congress is the lowest in my lifetime. The historical average of bills passed during this period of time during my lifetime is approximately 250.

Even with the limited number of bills passed, those 125 bills represent 2,597 pages of new law which while low does exceed both the previous Congress with 2,324 pages and the 106th Congress with 2,465 pages.

The Washington Post earlier this year ran some figures on the number of votes taken in each Chamber.

While the 113th Senate has taken fewer votes than average, it is not the lowest number during my adult lifetime as the 112th (of course) and others such as the 102nd had approximately 100 fewer votes by this time in the session. The 113th House runs about average with other Congresses in my adult lifetime, but a number of votes taken by the 113th have been for what I’ll term as “for show” only and often repeat votes as House Members know that the legislation would never pass.

Yes some will only see the partisanship from my usage of statistics and feed me the lines of the House has passed all these bills, but Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate refuse to vote which proves that they are the do nothings.

Ok, I’ll agree with you according to the numbers. I’ll help you out by not only telling you the number, 347 (352 if you want concurrent resolutions added), and provide a listing of these bills that have not been brought to the Senate Floor for a vote which are two things most who made or make that argument to me could not or would not produce.

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/browse#current_status=4&bill_type=3&bill_type=7

Now the Senate has passed 124 House Bills which is about 26 percent of the total.

For comparison to the other Chamber, the House has passed 40 Senate Bills which is about 37 percent of the total.

That leaves 68 bills passed by the Senate which have not been brought to the House Floor for a vote. Here’s a listing of these bills to be fair to both Chambers.

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/browse#current_status=5&bill_type=2&bill_type=8

Even if you chose not to consider “duplicates” or bills which in essence are the same in application, the 11 percentage point difference is not an overwhelming difference with these numbers.

Students are yelling out, “that’s an entire letter grade” (most places I’ve taught have a 10 point grading scale). Others will argue that no reputable poll would have an 11 percent margin for error, but this isn’t a poll.

I could argue from the statistical position of just comparing the number of bills introduced and voted upon in each Chamber, but the statistics can be skewed however we want them to be to “prove” one contention or the other.

My position, however, is to simply place the numbers and any interpretation regardless of what you or I use to convince ourselves or others into context.

  1. Leadership, regardless of Party affiliation, will only hold votes with some reasonable belief that the bill will pass that Chamber.
  2. A lack of vote does not always mean that a bill is being blocked by the other Chamber. Leadership could be trying to whip up support for the measure which is the reason for the delay.
  3. Also one needs to take into account the different voting rules and procedures used in each Chamber. For links to the relevant documents, please see here.

For an overview of House procedures please see this CRS publication. 

For an overview of Senate procedures please see this CRS publication.

In my opinion one of the prevailing differences between the Chambers is the amount of time that can be used to prevent or delay a vote and the ability to change the overall impact of a bill.

To summarize in the House:

“The standing rules of the House include several different parliamentary mechanisms that the body may use to act on bills and resolutions. Which of these will be employed in a given instance usually depends on the extent to which Members want to debate and amend the legislation. In general all of the procedures of the House permit a majority of Members to work their will without excessive delay.

The House considers most legislation by motions to suspend the rules, with limited debate and no floor amendments, with the support of at least two-thirds of the Members voting. Occasionally, the House will choose to consider a measure on the floor by the unanimous consent of Members. The Rules Committee is instrumental in recommending procedures for considering major bills, and may propose restrictions on the floor amendments that Members can offer or bar them altogether. Many major bills first are considered in Committee of the Whole before being passed by a simple majority vote of the House. The Committee of the Whole is governed by more flexible procedures than the basic rules of the House, under which a majority can vote to pass a bill after only one hour of debate and with no floor amendments.”

To summarize in the Senate:

“The standing rules of the Senate promote deliberation by permitting Senators to debate at length and by precluding a simple majority from ending debate when they are prepared to vote to approve a bill. This right of extended debate permits filibusters that can be brought to an end if the Senate invokes cloture, usually by a vote of three-fifths of all Senators. Even then, consideration can typically continue under cloture for an additional 30 hours. The possibility of filibusters encourages the Senate to seek consensus whenever possible and to conduct business under the terms of unanimous consent agreements that limit the time available for debate and amending.

Except when the Senate has invoked cloture or is considering appropriations, budget, and certain other measures, Senators also may propose floor amendments that are not germane to the subject or purpose of the bill being debated. This permits individual Senators to raise issues and potentially have the Senate vote on them, even if they have not been studied and evaluated by the relevant standing committees.”

Both historically and from personal experience, I will argue that the Floor schedule in the House is typically predictable whereas the Senate is unpredictable except for when Senators agree by unanimous consent to limit debate and to no introduce amendments which are not germane to the legislation. Regardless of opposition, business in the House, at least what the leadership considers the important business, continues without much delay. In the Senate, opposition from anyone can ground business to an absolute halt for a significant period of time.

In addition to the “Congress 101” terms used throughout this piece, two additional terms have become more relevant in recent years with their implementations in the respective Chambers.

The “nuclear option” in the Senate does not apply to any legislation. As invoked it is applicable only during confirmation procedures for lower level Presidential appointees. Essentially it enables the Senate to suspend a rule or precedent by a simple majority vote and not a 3/5 vote. In my opinion the nuclear option most recently invoked has a far lesser impact on curtailing the voice of opposition than the 1975 rules change which change cloture from a 2/3 vote to the 3/5 vote.

“Martial law” in the House directly affects legislation. The majority party under martial law can move for immediate debate and vote on legislation without the traditional 1 day waiting period. Essentially it limits or often prevents an opportunity for anyone to read the actual wording of the legislation.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published this piece in 2005 referencing the GOP leadership at the time. Both Parties, however, have employed martial law while having the House majority. While this piece references the specific event, it provides the relevant House Rules which both Parties have utilized to their advantage during respective Congresses.

Now with both sides and your favorite media sources giving you their answers and with whatever you take from my comparisons, have you heard about any SOLUTIONS?

Stay tuned because while they may not be solutions, I’m going to offer a few questions that should be asked by more people regardless of one’s personal political ideology.

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