Friday, October 31, 2014

The New, Do Nothing Washington

Now that we're in the final days of the 2014 mid-term elections, let's take a brief look at how much time America's legislators actually spend doing the business of the nation and how much they accomplish.

Here is a calendar showing the days that the House sat/will sit in the Second Session of the 113th Congress:
  

That's a total of 112 sitting days in 2014 or an average of 9.3 sitting days per month.  You'll note that during the ISIS and Ebola crises that are destined to bring the United States to its knees, the House has been rather empty.

Here is a calendar showing the days that the Senate sat/will sit in the Second Session of the 113th Congress:


That's a total of 193 sitting days in 2014 or an average of 16.1 sitting days per month.

Since the Resume of Congressional Activity is not yet available for the Second Session of the 113th Congress, let's look back one year to the First Session of the 113th Congress to see what was accomplished by the same cast of characters in the period between January 3, 2013 to January 3, 2014, starting with the House:

Days in Session: 160
Time in Session: 767 hours 33 minutes
Average Session Length: 4 hours 48 minutes
Pages of Proceedings: 8138
Pages of Proceedings per hour of sitting: 10.6
Public Bills Enacted into Law: 56
Total Bills Passed per day of sitting: 0.35 
Bills Introduced: 3810
Yea and Nay Votes: 299

Now, let's look at the Senate:

Days in Session: 156
Time in Session: 1095 hours 12 minutes
Average Session Length: 7 hours
Pages of Proceedings: 9124
Pages of Proceedings per hour of sitting: 8.33
Public Bills Enacted into Law: 17
Total Bills Passed per day of sitting: 0.11
Bills Introduced: 1894
Yea and Nay Votes: 291

Please note that in both cases, there were no private bills enacted into law.

Here for your perusal is the Resume of Congressional Activity for the Second Session of the 113th Congress:
  

As a bit of background, according to the Congressional Research Service, the 2014 pay for Members of Congress is $174,000 annually.  The Speaker of the House makes $233,500 and the President pro tempore of the Senate  and the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate each make $193,400.  On top of that, Representatives and Senators are allowed to make up to 15 percent of the annual rate of basic pay for level II of the Executive Schedule for federal employees ($26,550 in 2013) in outside earned income.  Outside earned income cannot include the following:

"...a Member may not receive compensation for affiliating with or being employed by a firm, partnership, association, corporation, or other entity providing professional services involving a fiduciary relationship, except for the practice of medicine; allowing his/her name to be used by such a firm, partnership, association, corporation, or other entity; practicing a profession involving a fiduciary relationship; serving as a member or officer of the board of an association, corporation, or other entity; and teaching without prior notification to, and approval from, the House Committee on Ethics, in the case of Representatives, or the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, in the case of Senators."

Both Representatives and Senators are not allowed to accept honoraria.  There is, however, no limit on the amount of non-salary income that members can retain from their corporate dividends, investments or profits.

Now that we have some background, let's look back at the First Session of the 80th Congress, Harry Truman's famous "Do Nothing Congress" and compare their activities to that of the current Congress, again, starting with the House:

Days in Session: 144
Time in Session: 686 hours 2 minutes
Pages of Proceedings: 5739
Pages of Proceedings per hour of sitting: 8.4
Public Bills enacted into law: 275
Private Bills enacted into law: 94
Total Bills Passed per day of sitting: 2.56
Bills Introduced: 4831
Yea and Nay Votes: 84

Now let's look at the Senate:

Days in Session: 143
Time in Session: 807 hours 36 minutes
Pages of Proceedings: 6150
Pages of Proceedings per hour of sitting:7.6
Public Bills Enacted into law: 120
Private Bills enacted into law: 37
Total Bills Passed per day of sitting: 1.1
Bills Introduced: 1924
Yea and Nay Votes: 138

Here for your illumination is a screen capture showing the Resume of the 80th Congress for both the First and Second Sessions:
  


When you compare what American taxpayers are getting for their Congressional dollar today, you can see that even when compared to the 80th "Do Nothing Congress", the 113th Congress was mired in partisan bickering.  While roughly the same number of bills were introduced in both sessions and the number of sitting days was comparable, the "do nothing" Congress was able to enact nearly ten times the number of bills into law than the current crop of Washington's best and brightest.  One thing that the current Congress is better at than their peers in the 80th Congress, however, is the number of pages of proceedings issued per hour of sitting.

Mediocrity would seem to be the slogan of the new "Do Nothing Washington".  Perhaps if the honourable Members were to spend less time fundraising and more time doing what they actually get paid to do, things would get done.