The GovTrack blog includes site news and occasional analysis of U.S. legislation.

October 27, 2015

Presidential Candidates Miss Votes

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Analysis.

Update: Check out our real-time presidential candidates missed votes tracker.

—————

The 2016 presidential candidates are under a lot of scrutiny right now, and the five who are sitting senators even more so. Sen. Marco Rubio in particular has been the focus of criticisms that he hasn’t showed up to work, starting in February following a Vocative article and most recently a Washington Post article just last week (both based on our data).

Rubio and fellow candidate Sen. Ted Cruz currently hold the #2 and #3 spots in the Senate for highest percentage of missed votes throughout each senator’s career. (At 11% each, they’re topped only by a senator who suffered a stroke in 2012 and missed a year of service.) But what about the other candidates?

While Running for President

We compared all five candidates who are sitting senators plus former senator Hillary Clinton, who was a senator when she ran for president the first time in 2008 and is now running again. To make it a fair comparison, because not all of the candidates have been serving the same length of time, we looked at only the votes in the last year — the time period when the candidates were running for president. And to compare with Clinton, we looked at her votes during the corresponding time period prior to the 2008 election.

2016 Presidential Election Candidates

(Click image to enlarge.)

They’ve all missed a lot of votes — well, all except Sen. Rand Paul who is close to the Senate-wide median of 1.1%. Rubio takes the lead here at 26% of votes missed, with Graham (20%) and Cruz (20%) not far behind. Sanders, who is still considered a long-shot, missed 11% of votes. They were all eligible to vote in 379 votes. Clinton missed 13% of votes in the corresponding one-year time period that, like today, was 378 days ahead of the 2008 election.

As you’ll see next, our sitting president missed even more votes than the current candidates when he ran for office.

2008

2016 won’t be the first election when presidential candidates took a rain check on their day jobs. We looked at some of the 2008 candidates during the same one-year time period that, like today, was 378 days ahead of the election. Back then, it was Sen. John McCain (51%) and Sen. Barack Obama (29%) who lead the absenteeism, and it seems like it paid off because they were the candidates who won their party’s nomination. Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination to Obama, was a little further behind at the 13% mentioned above.

2008 Presidential Election Candidates

(Click image to enlarge.)

The median percent of missed votes across both chambers of Congress was about 2% at the time. The representatives were eligible to vote in 1,009 votes during this time (982 for Bachman because she took office in 2007) and the senators 396 votes.

Joe Biden, a senator at the time, also ran in 2008, and missed 34% of votes during this time period. He became Obama’s running mate, and then vice president, and he was considered a likely candidate for the 2016 election, but he recently announced he had declined to run.

Prior to Running for President

What about the candidates’ voting records prior to their run for president? We compared the candidates also by looking at the year before the year that we looked at above. That’s votes in 2014 for the current candidates and votes in 2006 for the 2008 election candidates. Here’s how they fared then:

Missed Votes Prior to Running for President(Click image to enlarge.)

As you can see, they missed far fewer votes prior to running for office. Graham, Rubio, and Cruz all missed around 9.5% of votes during this time. Paul at 3.5% and Sanders at 2.6% were close to the median across all senators during this time of 2.2%. Clinton, during the corresponding time period prior to the 2008 election, missed 1.4% of votes, which was right on the median for senators during that time. Similarly for Obama (0.8%). McCain missed 9.6%. Biden, again not shown, missed 10.5% of votes.

(The current candidates were eligible to vote in 342 votes during this time. The 2008 candidates were eligible to vote in 363 votes during their time period.)

Final Thoughts

You might be tempted to ask, Which party is worse? While one party leads in both elections shown here, we’re sure that if we looked backwards in history a little further we’d find that both parties are equally bad at running for office and serving as a Member of Congress at the same time. (That is, two elections is not a large enough sample to say whether one party is worse than the other.)

(We didn’t look at the 2012 election because it was a bit different. With Obama running for reelection, there were no other Democratic candidates. And there were only a few Republican candidates that were sitting Members of Congress at the time. The eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, was not one of them.)

UPDATES: In the last paragraph I corrected the year of the last election to 2012 — of course not 2010. Ooops. On Oct. 28 I added a section about the candidates’ votes prior to their run for office.

October 9, 2015

No Speaker since 1933 was elected with more than one vote from the minority party

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Analysis.

With the Republican party now selecting their nominee for the next Speaker of the House, there’s been some discussion of whether a moderate Republican candidate could secure enough Democratic votes to secure a win without the support of the conservative wing of the party. The data says that’s unlikely.

Not since 1856 was a Speaker elected with a significant number of votes from multiple parties, when Nathaniel Banks, a Republican, won the speakership by three votes with the help of Democrats and the American party, according to the below data. Since 1933, no Speaker has been elected with more than one vote from the other party(s).

The table below shows every roll call vote to elect the Speaker of the House that I could find since 1841. The candidates for Speaker and vote tallies are indicated in each row. The column “Minority Party Votes for Winner” is a count of the votes the winner received from outside his or her party (more or less — see note at end). Not every year has a vote. That might be because the vote that year was not a roll call vote. It might have been a voice vote or other archaic form of a non-recorded vote. Or it might not be labeled as a Speaker vote in the underlying data correctly.

Year Candidates Minority-Party Votes for Winner Source
2015 Boehner, 216; Pelosi, 164; Not Voting, 25; Webster (FL), 12; Gohmert, 3; Jordan, 2; Yoho, 2; Cooper, 1; Duncan (SC), 1; Hon. Rand Paul, 1; Hon. Jeff Sessions, 1; Lewis, 1; Gowdy, 1; McCarthy, 1; DeFazio, 1; Colin Powell, 1; Present, 1 0 house.gov
2013 Boehner, 220; Pelosi, 192; Not Voting, 6; Cantor, 3; Allen West, 2; Cooper, 2; Labrador, 1; Jordan, 1; Present, 1; David Walker, 1; Lewis, 1; Colin Powell, 1; Dingell, 1; Amash, 1 0 house.gov
2011 Boehner, 241; Pelosi, 173; Shuler, 11; Lewis (GA), 2; Not Voting, 1; Costa, 1; Present, 1; Cooper, 1; Cardoza, 1; Kaptur, 1; Hoyer, 1 0 house.gov
2009 Pelosi, 255; Boehner, 174; Not Voting, 5 1 house.gov
2007 Pelosi, 233; Boehner, 202 0 house.gov
2005 Hastert, 226; Pelosi, 199; Not Voting, 7; Present, 1; Murtha, 1 0 house.gov
2003 Hastert, 227; Pelosi, 202; Present, 4; Not Voting, 1; Murtha, 1 0 house.gov
1999 Hastert, 220; Gephardt, 205; Not Voting, 7; Present, 2 1 house.gov
1997 Gingrich, 216; Gephardt, 205; Present, 6; Leach, 2; Michel, 1; Not Voting, 1; Walker, 1 0 house.gov
1983 O’NEILL, 259; MICHEL, 155; Not Voting, 18; Unknown, 2 1 VoteView.com
1977 O’NEILL, 290; RHODES, 142; Not Voting, 2 0 VoteView.com
1975 CARL ALBERT, DEM, 287; JOHN RHODES (R), 143; Unknown, 3; Not Voting, 2 1 VoteView.com
1971 ALBERT, 250; Unknown, 176; Not Voting, 2 0 VoteView.com
1969 JOHN MC CORMACK (D), 241; Unknown, 187; Not Voting, 2 0 VoteView.com
1935 BYRNS, 317; SNELL, 95; SCHNEIDER, 9; Unknown, 3; LAMBERTSON, 2 0 VoteView.com
1933 RAINEY (DEM), 302; SNELL (REP), 110; KVALE(FL), 5 1 VoteView.com
1931 J.N. GARNER, 218; B.H. SNELL, 207; G.J. SCHNEIDER., 5; Unknown, 3 2 VoteView.com
1927 LONGWORTH, 225; GARRETT, 187; Not Voting, 19; Unknown, 5 1 VoteView.com
1919 F.H. GILLETT, 228; CHAMP CLARK, 171; Not Voting, 6 0 VoteView.com
1917 CLARK, 217; MANN, 205; OTHERS/PRESENT, 6 5 VoteView.com
1915 CHAMP CLARK (DEM.), 222; J. R. MANN (REP.), 195; Unknown, 5; Not Voting, 1 1 VoteView.com
1907 CANNON, J.G. (REP), 212; WILLIAMS, J.S. (DEM), 162; Not Voting, 14 1 VoteView.com
1905 J. S. WILLIAMS (D), 243; J. G. CANNON (R), 128; Not Voting, 15 0 VoteView.com
1903 J.G. CANNON, 197; J.S. WILLIAMS, 166; Not Voting, 22 4 VoteView.com
1901 HENDERSON (REP), 192; RICHARDSON (DEM), 150; Not Voting, 10; STARK, 1; CUMMING, 1 1 VoteView.com
1897 T.B. REED (R), 200; J.W. BAILEY (D), 114; J.C. BILL, 21; Not Voting, 19; F.G. NEWLANDS, 1 1 VoteView.com
1893 C. F. CRISP, 212; T. B. REED, 121; J. SIMPSON, 9 3 VoteView.com
1889 T.B. REED, 166; J.G. CARLISLE, 154; Unknown, 1 0 VoteView.com
1887 CARLISLE, 163; REED, 147; Not Voting, 13; Unknown, 2 2 VoteView.com
1885 CARLISLE, 178; KEIFER, 138; Not Voting, 9 2 VoteView.com
1883 CARLISLE, 187; KEIFER, 114; Not Voting, 15; ROBINSON, 2; WADSWORTH, 1; LACEY, 1; WISE, 1 3 VoteView.com
1881 KEIFER, 148; RANDALL, 129; FORD, 8 3 VoteView.com
1879 RANDALL, 144; GARFIELD, 125; WRIGHT, 13; Not Voting, 1 7 VoteView.com
1877 RANDALL, 149; GARFIELD, 132 2 VoteView.com
1871 BLAINE, 126; MORGAN, 93; Not Voting, 2 2 VoteView.com
1867 COLFAX (WHIG), 127; MARSHALL (DEMOCRAT), 30 4 VoteView.com
1865 COLFAX (REPUBLICAN), 129; Unknown, 35; Not Voting, 14 7 VoteView.com
1856 NATHANIAL BANKS, 103; W. AIKEN, 100; Not Voting, 18; LEWIS CAMPBELL, 6; Unknown, 5 22 VoteView.com
1853 L. BOYD (DEM), 143; JOS. CHANDLER (WHIG), 35; Unknown, 21; Not Voting, 17; L. CAMPBELL, (WHIG), 11; P. ERVING (WHIG), 7 3 VoteView.com
1847 ROBERT WINTHROP, 110; LINN BOYD, 64; ALL OTHERS, 25; MC CLELLAND, 14; Not Voting, 11; MC CLERNAND, 4 1 VoteView.com
1845 DAVIS, 120; VINTON, 70; OTHER CANDIDATES, 19; Not Voting, 11 0 VoteView.com
1841 JOHN WHITE, 121; JOHN W. JONES, 84; Not Voting, 20; HENRY A. WISE, 8; JOSEPH LAWRENCE, 5; WILLIAM C. JOHNSON, 2; Unknown, 1 0 VoteView.com

Notes

From 1990 to the present, votes are from the House Clerk’s website. Prior to that, vote data is from Rosenthal & Poole’s United States Congressional Roll Call Voting Records, 1789-1990, Carnegie Mellon University. Some of the historical roll call vote data were first collected & entered many decades ago and suffers from significant data coding errors. I am reasonably sure some of the candidate tally totals are incorrect.

To compute the minority party votes, I first assumed the winner was the candidate that received the most number of votes. Then I looked at the party totals for that candidate and assumed the party that made up the most number of votes for that candidate is the majority party (because I don’t know the actual party of the candidate). The minority party votes is the sum of those party totals excluding the majority party.

October 4, 2015

GovTrack Updates for Spring/Summer 2015

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Site News.

Here’s what’s new on GovTrack this Spring & Summer:

GovTrack Insider

After running a summer-long experiment with intern Ben, we successfully funded the launch of GovTrack Insider, where we’ll be posting in-depth articles on bills in Congress and major Congressional activity. GovTrack Insider is made possible by the generous backers of our Kickstarter campaign that ended in early September, which raised more than $35,000! Thank you, backers!

We’ve hired four part-time reporters to help us all track Congress, and they began just last week.

Sign up to get our new posts by email, or head to the redesigned GovTrack homepage where you’ll see all of our latest posts.

GovTrack Insider

 

New Bill Action History

For the last year and a half we’ve been showing major bill events in a horizontal timeline with big icons representing the major steps. The new layout is vertical and has clearer links to related information such as vote details.

New Bill History Timeline

The new timeline also includes:

  • other relevant actions that weren’t included before, including major events on previous incarnations of the bill in previous Congresses
  • a clearer display of events that are occurring on other current bills, including rules and companion bills (identical bills in the other chamber)
  • new links to the text of a bill as it was after each major action and to comparison views that let you see how the text changed between major actions, since such changes can be substantial

Roll Call Votes

Thanks to the work of volunteer Sergei Shevlyagin, votes can now be sorted by most supported, most opposed, and widest/narrowest margin.

img

The list of votes now also displays vote summaries when we’ve written them.

On the vote details page, you’ll now also see:

  • A new statistical analysis called Statistically Notable Votes, which picks out Members of Congress who voted in a statistically unpredictable way.
  • Asterisks which denote voters that are likely to have voted strategically rather than by their actual beliefs, in order to help explain otherwise inexplicable actions. This currently includes when a party leader votes against their party in order to vote yes, which is a procedural method to gain the right to call for a second vote. The asterisk links to an explanation of what we think occurred.
  • Votes on amendments now link to Congress.gov’s amendment details (since we don’t have amendment details here) and to the sponsor’s page on GovTrack.
  • The layout of the page has been updated to be a little clearer.

Two major issues were also fixed:

I have to apologize for messing up vote counts in some historical (prior to 1999) votes. From October 2014 through July 2015, we displayed incorrect vote totals for some historical votes. Although the total correctly reflected the announced positions of Members of Congress, the totals incorrectly included “paired” votes, which is when two Members of Congress, one planning to vote in favor and the other against, plan ahead of time to both abstain. The totals now omit paired votes and so now more closely reflect the official totals.

Relatedly, in historical votes, when a Member of Congress changed party mid-session they may have been displayed with the wrong party in the vote and the party totals for the vote may have been incorrect.  In so far as we have the data on mid-session party changes, these issues have now been fixed.

Improvements to Bill Search

When using our advanced search to search bill titles and text by keywords, bills that match in their title are now listed higher up in search results. That should make it easier to find the bills you’re looking for.

The advanced search also has a new filter option for current status: “Enacted — Including via Companion Bills.” This is helpful when you’re looking at bills by a particular sponsor and want to know what bills that sponsor has enacted. Since bills are often introduced in identical pairs, one in the Senate and one in the House, but at most one can be enacted, a sponsor’s bill may have been “enacted” via a different bill that they are not officially the sponsor of. This filter includes in search results not only bills that were themselves enacted but also when they had a so-called companion bill that was enacted.

The Library of Congress has updated their historical data on bills to apply current top-level subject area terms to historical bills, and we’ve updated our database with that information. That means that when using our subject term pages to search for historical bills, you can see bills by subject back to the 93rd Congress (1973) rather than only back to the 111th Congress (2009).

Legislator Subject Areas

On pages for Members of Congress, we now show the top subject areas that their sponsored bills fall into so you can get an idea of the sorts of bills your representative is working on:

Legislator Subject Areas

Other Changes

  • When tracking bills, when there’s a new cosponsor, the event details in your email update or RSS feed shows the new total number of cosponsors and the breakdown by party.
  • The bill prognosis factors were tweaked a little bit to make it easier to understand the “show factors” details.
  • The site loads a little faster now.
  • If you have an account on GovTrack, the email/password update form works better now.
  • And as previously announced, we discontinued state-level legislative tracking.

 

August 28, 2015

Users report GovTrack makes them more confident about approaching government

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Site News.

This summer GovTrack ran a survey of its users to learn more about the site’s effectiveness. The survey, run in collaboration with mySociety, revealed something pretty interesting:

As peope use GovTrack more, they report GovTrack giving them greater confidence when approaching government.

Here are some of the details.

Who uses GovTrack?

We asked users about themselves. Who are they?

Interested citizens 71%
Students 9%*
Non-profit advocates 7%
Government employees
(except congressional staff)
6%
No response 2%
Journalists 2%
Legislative affairs professionals (for-profit) 2%
Congressional staff 0%**

* The survey was taken during the summer, so the number of students during most of the year is likely underestimated.

** Although <1% of respondents identified as Congressional staff , we know from separate analytics that Congressional staff account for about 3% of site traffic when Congress is in session.

Did you learn something about how Congress works?

We asked users if they learned something about how Congress works during their current session of the site. Responses varied widely by segment. Here it is for selected segments:

Segment Learned something
First-time interested citizens 43%
Returning-user interested citizens 50%
Students 58%
Non-profit advocates 45%

 

This was disappointing.  One of my primary goals is to teach America about how Congress actually works, and I’m not sure whether 50% indicates if I’m succeeding at that.

Has using GovTrack.us made you more confident about approaching government?

We asked users:

Has using GovTrack.us made you more confident about approaching public/political individuals and organizations directly for information, to make a complaint or for any other reason?

The results indicate that the more a user uses GovTrack, the more confident they become. First-time users were evenly split between yes (more confident) and no (no difference). But as GovTrack use goes up, so too does the user’s belief that GovTrack has made them more confident.

How regularly do you visit GovTrack? GovTrack has made you more confident N
This is my first visit 51% 322
Less than once a month 59% 112
Between once a month and once a week 70% 126
Between once a week and once a day 73% 112
More than once a day 78% 28

Of course, this was a survey at a single point in time. The results don’t show that repeated use makes one more confident. But the repeat users believe GovTrack had a greater impact on their confidence, and that’s very suggestive.

Respondents could also choose GovTrack made them “less confident” but almost no one did.

Have you achieved what you set out to do on this website today?

We asked users why they came to GovTrack and whether they found what they were looking for:

Why they came Fully achieved their goal Partially achieved their goal N
To find information about my representatives 50% 37% 268
To contact my Member of Congress 44% 36% 107
To find information about a particular issue 48% 40% 356
Other/No reason 39% 31% 184

Overall, 89% of users are partially or fully achieving their goal. That’s great. One category stands out as not well served, though:

We did poorest achieving the goals of those who wanted to contact their Members of Congress. That makes sense since we’ve never focused on that and only offer one method: calling Congress about a bill. We don’t offer any other forms of contacting Congress. Many people are looking for this, but fortunately it was the smallest category of why users were coming to the site (and less than other/no reason).

About the survey

We surveyed a random sample of 1,231 GovTrack users for a one month period beginning on June 19, 2015. Users spent on average 50 seconds on the site before being asked to take part in the survey. Thanks to mySociety for partnering on this. We’ll see more interesting results from mySociety later in the year.

August 11, 2015

Discontinuing state-level legislative tracking

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Site News.

Today I’m turning the lights off on GovTrack’s state-level legislative tracking pages.

I added state-level legislative tracking in 2012, through a partnership with LegiNation, Inc. and LegiScan, Inc., with some additional data from Open States. This meant you could get email updates on bills going through your state legislature, besides bills in the U.S. Congress.

In practice, however, I wasn’t able to dedicate enough time to this aspect of the site to bring it to a level of quality that I was comfortable with. In short, it wasn’t working. These pages weren’t getting much use either, accounting for about 1% of site traffic.

There are more than 100 state-level legislative bodies: Two in every state except Nebraska, Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, the Council of the District of Columbia, and governing bodies in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Each of these bodies has a different legislative process, and so the level of effort to make good legislative tracking for 100+ legislative bodies was far more than we could tackle here.

Discontinuing the state-level pages will free up some time for us to focus more on what we do best.

If you were a user of the state-level pages on GovTrack, I’d recommend taking a look at LegiNation, LegiScan, and Open States.

 

June 24, 2015

Launching GovTrack Insider

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Site News.

Legislative data is only the beginning to understanding what Congress does and how it works. That’s why earlier this month GovTrack.us launched GovTrack Insider, a blog on Medium covering Congress’s daily activities. Each post on GovTrack Insider summarizes recent major legislative activity that would be hard to find just by looking at the official record. Recent posts have looked at amendments to the must-passNational Defense Authorization Act and the controversial Trade Promotion Authority(TPA).

Congress works in complex ways that make legislative activity incredibly difficult to follow, so GovTrack Insider will be a living user guide to the official record. If you were looking for the House votes on TPA, you probably wouldn’t have looked under “Concurring in portion of senate amendment preceding title II” or “Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act” — but that’s how Congress officially labeled it. GovTrack Insider will find the votes on hot topics so you don’t have to.

We also published a political cartoon: Cartoon Congress: How Democrats got nothing on TPA.

The cartoon and our GovTrack Insider posts are by GovTrack summer intern Ben Hammer. Whether we’ll continue this beyond the summer will depend on user feedback and if we can find a sustainability model.

Please follow GovTrack Insider on Medium and recommend our posts to others.

This is actually the second incarnation of GovTrack Insider. In 2010 I launched a short-lived spin-off experiment with coverage of congressional committee meetings.

April 19, 2015

Reader Question: How many laws are there in the United States?

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Questions.

Edward asks:

Hello, trying to find out how many laws there are within our federal government.  Nowhere can I find an answer citing back to 1982 when a government program was implemented to find the total and failed.

This is a fantastic question because it highlights how complex government is when you look under the hood.

Answer: It depends on how you define what “one law” is.

Statutes

Our statistics page lists the total number of statutes enacted by Congress since 1973.  This is statutory law only, meaning only the laws that Congress passes. If you wanted to look further back, The United States Statutes at Large is the official compilation of the statutes enacted by Congress (1789-18911891-1951; 1951-present).

But a statute doesn’t necessarily mean “one law.” Some statutes are temporary, such as budget bills that apply to a single fiscal year, or are not general in nature. (For instance, some enacted bills address immigration issues of a single family.) Some statutes merely repeal other statutes. Others make small amendments to earlier statutes. Some statutes contain multiple unrelated laws. The number of statutes isn’t a good measure of the number of laws.

What we normally think of as “a law” is really a compilation of statutes, with amending language in later statutes worked into the text of the original. You’ll often see “Such and Such Law, As Amended” to indicate that it reflects how the original statute combined with later statutes to form what you would think of as the complete and current law.

Another way to count statutory law would be to look at the number of chapters or sections in the United States Code. The U.S. Code is a compilation of the “general and permanent” statutes in such a way that it is easy to see what the current (“as amended”) law looks like. But there too, a chapter or section doesn’t necessarily correspond with “one law.”

Administrative and other law

There are other sorts of federal laws: administrative law, case law, and common law. Administrative law is made up of the regulations written by executive branch agencies, under authority delegated by Congress. For administrative law, see the Federal Register (which is like the Statutes at Large for administrative law) and the Code of Federal Regulations (which is like the U.S. Code for administrative law).

Or did you mean crimes?

Not all federal law creates crimes. Much of statutory law is about how the federal government will spend its money and, through that, directing how the executive branch of government operates. Much of administrative law regulates commercial activity (such as minimum standards for food and commercial equipment). Some federal law creates crimes (such as bribery). Unfortunately I am not aware of any count of the number of federal crimes.

December 18, 2014

GovTrack’s Summer/Fall Updates

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Site News.

Here’s what’s been improved on GovTrack in the summer and fall of this year.

  • Permalinks to individual paragraphs in bill text is now provided (example).
  • We now ask for your congressional district so that we can customize vote and bill pages to show how your Members of Congress voted.
  • Our bill action/status flow charts on bill pages now include activity on certain related bills, which are often crucially important to the main bill.
  • The bill cosponsors list now indicates when a cosponsor of a bill is no longer serving (i.e. because of retirement or death).
  • We switched to gender neutral language when referring to Members of Congress. Instead of “congressman/woman”, we now use “representative.”
  • Our historical votes database (1979-1989) from voteview.com was refreshed to correct long-standing data errors.
  • We dropped support for Internet Explorer 6 in order to address with POODLE SSL security vulnerability that plagued most of the web.
  • We dropped support for Internet Explorer 7 in order to allow us to make use of more modern technologies, which has always been the point of GovTrack.
December 17, 2014

It wasn’t the least productive Congress after all

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Analysis.

UPDATE: 12/25/2014: Because of a discrepancy in bill status as published by Congress, I over-counted by 1. There were 296 new laws in the 113th Congress, not 297.  S. 2244 was published by Congress as having passed the House and Senate. Congress failed to indicate that the House passed S. 2244 in non-identical form as the Senate, which at the 11th hour sent it back to the Senate for another vote — not to the President, as I thought. That vote didn’t occur, so the bill did not become law. I apologize for the error.

UPDATE: 12/19/2014: The table of numbers at the bottom of the post has been corrected. This affected the position of the 113th Congress in terms of number of words of new law enacted. I had said it was the 4th least wordy out of 11 Congresses, but it was the 5th — so, actually, right about in the middle in terms of wordiness.

Original post follows:

We were wrong. This Congress won’t have enacted the fewest new laws in modern history. At 297 new laws plus bills now awaiting the President’s signature, that beats last Congress’s count of 284. It’s not the fewest, but that is the second fewest since 1947, which is as far back as we looked.

Congress caught up fast. In the first 23 months of the 113th Congress (2013-2014), Congress had sent just 201 bills to the President. Then in the first 16 days of December Congress passed another 96 bills. The President has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign the remaining 94 bills presented to him but not yet signed. So we’ll have a final count by the end of December.

(list of 203 enacted laws; list of 94 bills at the President’s desk)

Keep in mind that it takes a law to repeal a law. At least one of those 297 projected new laws did repeal an existing lawH.R. 5050: May 31, 1918 Act Repeal Act repealed a law that took land from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation in 1918 (as best as I can tell).

But at 4,264,363 words of new law (6,459 pages), this Congress is the fourth least wordy right in the middle of the 10 preceding Congresses, being more wordy than the 104th, 106th, 107th, and 112th Congresses.

Many, including us, projected that this Congress, the 113th Congress, would enact the fewest bills in modern history. At 72 new laws enacted in 2013, the first session of the 113th Congress, it was the lowest count in any first year of a Congress at least since World War II, which is as far back as we checked. That trend continued right until two weeks ago. We had been following’s Congress’s productivity closely the last two years (in July 2014, in December 2013in May 2014, and in July 2014).

Here are the numbers. I’ve also counted up the number of House and Senate votes by Congress. (See below for notes.)

Congress Laws Pages Words House Votes Senate Votes
103 (1993-1993) 473 7695 5095897 1122 724
104 (1995-1995) 337 7017 3977333 1340 919
105 (1997-1997) 404 6656 4727171 1187 612
106 (1999-1999) 604 5127 3364794 1214 672
107 (2001-2001) 383 5628 3771658 996 633
108 (2003-2003) 504 7089 4804109 1221 675
109 (2005-2005) 483 7327 5687617 1214 645
110 (2007-2008) 460 7394 4992177 1876 657
111 (2009-2009) 385 8015 6071465 1655 696
112 (2011-2012) 284 4425 3402712 1606 486
113 (2013-2014) 297* 6459* 4264363* 1204* 657*

* Includes enrolled bills (expected to be signed by the President) and assumes no other bills will be passed by Congress before Congress adjourns on Jan 2, and assumes no further votes.

The two vote count columns are the total number of roll call votes in each chamber. Note that there are other sorts of votes besides roll call votes (unanimous consent, without objection, and so on), and they are on a range of questions besides the final passage of bills.

September 5, 2014

Did my representative enact enough bills?

By Josh Tauberer. Categorized in Analysis.

One common way legislator performance is measured is by how many laws a representative or senator got enacted. Like all quantitative measures, a count of bills enacted addresses only a small part of what makes an effective legislator. But here’s a starting point:

A congressman/women on average enacts….
* for Republicans, 1 bill for every 2.7 years of service
* for Democrats, 1 bill for every 3.4 years of service

I don’t know whether 2.7/3.4 are good or bad (see the notes for why there may be a difference), but it can tell us which congresspeople are ahead of the pack and which are lagging. As I always say, it takes a law to repeal a law so no matter whether you want bigger government or smaller government you want Congress to be passing laws.

Here are the top 5 lagging representatives:

Bills Enacted Years of Service Expected Difference Representative
1 21 6 -5 Rep. Xavier Becerra [D-CA34]
0 17 5 -5 Rep. Mike McIntyre [D-NC7]
4 25 9 -5 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R-CA48]
4 30 9 -5 Rep. Marcy Kaptur [D-OH9]
2 17 6 -4 Rep. Pete Sessions [R-TX32]

“Expected” is the Years of Service ÷ 2.7 (for Republicans) or 3.4 (for Democrats).

Here are the top 5 representatives ahead of the pack:

Bills Enacted Years of Service Expected Difference Representative
34 23 7 +27 Del. Eleanor Norton [D-DC0]
31 26 10 +21 Rep. Lamar Smith [R-TX21]
15 7 2 +13 Rep. Richard Nolan [D-MN8]
19 21 8 +11 Rep. John Mica [R-FL7]
15 15 6 +9 Rep. Greg Walden [R-OR2]

Some notes:

  • These statistics are based on the 424 Members of Congress who have been serving up to 30 years. The 14 Members who have served longer than 30 years throw off the statistics — they got a lot more bills enacted — and so are not comparable the same way.
  • We’re counting as enacted the bills and joint resolutions which were themselves enacted or if they had an identical “companion” bill in the other chamber which was enacted.
  • Although Republicans seem to be enacting laws faster than Democrats by these numbers (1 bill every 2.7 years for Republicans and every 3.4 years for Democrats), this doesn’t say that Republicans are more effective legislators. The difference likely results from the Republicans controlling both the House and the Presidency for more time than the Democrats controlled both the House and the Presidency (in the last 30 years).
  • Enacting laws isn’t the only thing that makes an effective legislator. Many representatives have other roles in Congress, such as being a party leader (including the Speaker of the House) or a member of a committee that is primarily not legislative (e.g. the House Rules Committee).
  • The statistical model is a simple linear regression where the predictors were years in service and years in service crossed with party. (There was no intercept term.) The cross term for party was statistically significant at p < 0.005. The R^2 was about 0.64.