Corrected 4:04 p.m. | When 81 members of the House and 26 senators met on May 12 to start negotiating differences between the House and Senate takes on technology competition bills, it was the first time in 17 months a conference committee met.
Forty-six of the conferees are new to the process. Among them are nine House members and six senators who have been in office for more than a decade.
Conference committees have largely gone out of style, dropping from 66 in the 104th Congress (1995-96) to just three in the last Congress. In recent years, it has been more common for legislative differences between the two chambers to be hashed out by ping-ponging amended bills back and forth or by leadership cutting deals behind closed doors.
In 2020, Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., took to the Senate floor and lamented the lack of debate and legislative effort.
“I have been here for the last two years. We haven’t debated any legislation of substance here … Legislation is just kind of grinding to a halt,” he said. “Some of that is because the House is of a different party, and it is difficult to pass a law when you have different parties in charge of the House and the Senate, but there aren’t a lot of conference committees happening, and there aren’t a lot of attempts to reconcile our differences.”
Although Democrats subsequently won the slimmest of Senate majorities, the unified Democratic Congress has failed to result in more conference committees. The 117th Congress is actually behind the pace of the 116th, which could claim two successful conference committees by this point. If this Congress doesn’t complete this one and cram a couple more into the next six months, it will set a new low.
This report was corrected to accurately reflect comment by Sen. Christopher S. Murphy.