Dec 18, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Capitol Hill stunner: 2023 led to fewest laws in decades

Bills enacted, by congressional session
Data: Quorum; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

The 118th Congress is on track to be one of the most unproductive in modern history, with just a couple dozen laws on the books at the close of 2023, according to data from data analytics firm Quorum.

Why it matters: It's the product of not only divided partisan control of Washington, but infighting within the House Republican majority that has routinely ground legislative business to a halt.

  • That includes the three-week period this fall in which Congress was paralyzed Republican's inability to find a replacement for ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

The big picture: Just 20 bills have been passed by both chambers and signed into law this year, with another four currently awaiting President Biden's signature, according to the Quorum data.

  • That's far below even historically unproductive first years: The 104th, 112th and 113th Congresses, in which Republicans controlled one or both chambers with Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the White House, passed between 70 and 73 laws.
  • 2023 also marks the low point in a years-long trend toward gridlock: Five of the six most unproductive first years have been since 2011.

Zoom in: When you dig into the laws passed by this Congress, the picture becomes even more bleak.

  • The vast majority were uncontroversial bills that passed either by unanimous consent or with minimal opposition, including multiple measures to rename Veterans Affairs clinics and another to mint a coin commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Marine Corps.

What we're watching: Next year is unlikely to see an uptick in productivity, with the 2024 presidential election and looming legislative fights on spending likely to consume lawmakers' time and energy.

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