The POPVOX Blog

How many laws does Congress make every year?

This year we're on track for a banner year in the number of bills introduced and also for fewest bills enacted into law. That means Congress has been both busy and gridlocked.

So far this year Congress has introduced 4,288 bills. That's a lot. Over the last decade Congress has typically introduced 4,000-9,000 bills in a year. Since the year is half over, we're on track for the upper end of that. But few of those bills ever get voted on, and fewer enacted. 20 bills have been enacted into law this year so far, another 312 bills have had some sort of substantive action such as coming out of committee or having a vote in one chamber but not yet in the other. ( 7 of those came to a vote but failed. It’s rare that bills fail because party leadership doesn’t bother to call for votes on bills they know they don’t have the votes for.) The remaining 3,956 are waiting for their moment to shine —- it’s up to the committee chair in the committee they are assigned to to bring the bill up for consideration.

Congress operates in two-year terms. 2011 is the first year of the “112th Congress." The table below shows the breakdown for the last 13 years.

Congress No Major Action Some Action Failed Enacted
106th (1999-2000) 7460 922 28 558 (6%)
107th (2001-2002) 7750 841 5 350 (4%)
108th (2003-2004) 7045 932 13 476 (6%)
109th (2005-2006) 9141 930 22 465 (4%)
110th (2007-2008) 9218 1382 39 442 (4%)
111th (2009-2010) 9239 998 26 366 (3%)
112th (so far) 3956 305 7 20 (0.5%)

Just keep in mind that the 112th Congress is only 1/4th over, so the comparison to other years is tricky. Since 1999, Congress has been consistently passing about 5% of the bills it introduces, though it’s been introducing substantially more since 2005. The 103rd-108th Congresses (1993-2004) were actually more of a temporary lull. Before that, in the 102nd Congress, Congress introduced 9600 bills. So we’re not really seeing a general upward trend here in number of bills introduced, just a return to what had been fairly normal in years before.

The number above include bills (“H.R.” and “S.” bills) and exclude resolutions because they don’t go through the same life cycle and generally don’t end up being enacted as law.

(I originally posted this analysis at http://www.govtrack.us/blog/2011/08/04/kill-bill-how-many-bills-are-there-how-many-are-enacted/ .)

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