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Congress saw more bills introduced in 2019 than it has in 40 years, but few passed

Partisan divide and Senate’s focus on confirmations among factors cited

UNITED STATES - AUGUST 15: The U.S. flag waves in front of the U.S. Capitol dome on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 15: The U.S. flag waves in front of the U.S. Capitol dome on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It would stand to reason that representatives and senators, dissuaded by the gridlock in Congress, would hesitate to introduce legislation. After all, only 105 laws were enacted during 2019, a poor showing by historical standards.

But that’s not what happened last year. In fact, lawmakers are on a pace to introduce more bills and joint resolutions than they have since the 1970s, when Congresses routinely saw 20,000 or more introduced.

In 2019, they introduced 8,820 bills and joint resolutions, 23 percent more than they did in 2017, the first year of the prior Congress.

[Divided government will pose an obstacle to lawmaking in 2019]

About 2 in 3 of the measures introduced in 2019 were in the House, an indication perhaps of a pent-up desire among Democrats now in the majority to put forward ideas that the previous GOP majority had bottled up. Outside congressional experts also highlighted the fact that there was a large cadre of freshmen eager to make their marks.

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Freshman representatives and senators introduced just under 1,000 bills and joint resolutions, about 11 percent of the total. Of course, the 98 freshmen in this Congress (nine senators and 89 representatives) make up almost one-fifth of the total number of lawmakers.

In 2017, freshmen introduced 434 measures, or about 6 percent of the total that year.

Still, the total of 105 laws enacted is among the lowest in this millennium, exceeding only the 72 new laws of 2013 and 81 of 2011. Given the large number of bills introduced, this Congress is on track to enact a lower percentage of bills than any in modern times.

Robert Browning, Purdue University professor of communication and political science and C-SPAN Archives executive director, noted that divided government and the Senate focusing on confirming judicial and executive branch nominees are two reasons why so many bills have been stymied. “You don’t see the senators doing much,” he adds.

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