Deadlock in Congress tied to Senate, says liberal think tank

The Brookings Institution's appalling statistics depict an organization not living up to its mission

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo News
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, following a Democratic policy lunch. A massive $1.1 trillion spending bill, aimed at funding the government through October and putting to rest the bitter budget battles of last year, is getting generally positive reviews from House Republicans who are eager to avoid another shutdown crisis with elections looming. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, following a Democratic policy lunch. A massive $1.1 trillion spending bill, aimed at funding the government through October and putting to rest the bitter budget battles of last year, is getting generally positive reviews from House Republicans who are eager to avoid another shutdown crisis with elections looming. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The 113th Congress was one of the most ineffective in American history, passing fewer public laws than any other since at least 1947. And according to the Brookings Institution's Center for Effective Public Management, a Washington-based think tank, the gridlock on Capitol Hill was worse in the Democrat-controlled Senate than the Republican-led House.

The House was able to pass nearly twice the rate of bills introduced as was the Senate, where the committee process wreaked havoc on potential legislation, according to Brookings' analysis.

"Even in the traditionally collegial Senate, 87 percent of bills die in committee," Brookings' Molly Jackman, Saul Jackman and Brian Boessenecker wrote in Politico. "While the filibuster may grab all the headlines, committees are a far deadlier weapon."

The report from the left-of-center Brookings measures each member of Congress based on the number of "at-bats" (bills they introduce), "hits" (number of bills that make it past committee) and "batting average" (percentage of bills sponsored that reached the congressional floor calendar).

Of the 1,894 bills introduced in the Senate, 253 made it past the committee stage. The senator with the highest batting average? Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who saw seven of the eight bills he sponsored make it out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

From the Brookings report:

"But the fact is, even if we just focus on the most straightforward of measures, the Senate is not serving its intended role in the U.S. political system. Rather, it is characterized by partisan bickering and contentiousness – far from the 'cooling saucer' George Washington described. Moreover, representation cannot occur if senators cannot get their bills to the floor for a vote, much less to pass."

Another problem, the Washington Examiner noted: lack of time spent on Capitol Hill.

"The only way 100 senators will truly be able to have their say, the only way we'll be able to work through our tensions and disputes, is if we're here more," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this month. "That's how you reach consensus — by working, and talking and cooperating, through give and take."

Just 56 of the 5,700 bills introduced across both chambers of the 113th Congress became law.

"We should not be judged on how many new laws we create," House Speaker John Boehner said last July when asked about Congress' futility. "We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal.”

That kind of approach to gridlock is, in part, why congressional approval is at an all-time low.

A Gallup poll conducted after the 2013 government shutdown showed that Americans' approval of the way Congress is handling its job had dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest level in the polling service's 39-year history of asking the question.

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