Out of 5,000 Bills in Every Congress, Guess How Many Become Law?

With all of the dysfunction in Congress as of late, it should come as no surprise to that out of the 5,140 bills and resolutions before Congress, only 5% will ever be signed into law. But the sheer extent of inaction in today's Congress is worth noting. When the 112th Congress came to a close last year, it was deemed the least productive on record, having passed just 561 out of the 6,845 bills introduced, well below the running average of 758 bills passed each session. The 113th Congress is well on its way to beating that record as only 15 bills have passed in the first six months of session; the 112th had signed 23 in that time.

Theoretically speaking, less legislation should be a good thing. Fewer laws and regulations equal a smaller government, thereby putting more power into the hands of the people. However, while we see fewer bills, the bills are becoming larger and larger, wrapped up in massive omnibus packages that fill binders heavy enough to kill your average Hill intern.

Last year, Senator Rand Paul took the Senate floor to call out Congress for not reading the bills in front of them. He bemoans this practice using a 600-page bill he had received only earlier that morning as an example: “600 pages, no one will read it. No wonder our approval rating is 10%, nobody knows what we’re voting on.” Just think, if our representatives don’t have time to read a 600-page bill before voting, how can they possibly make an informed decision to vote on bills that are over 1,000 pages? If you’ve ever tried making sense out of even 20 pages of congressional language, you know this is an impossible task.

The Affordable Care Act, for example, is a daunting 2,700 pages (not including the 20,000 pages of regulations); a number which made the Supreme Court cry “cruel and unusual punishment.” Then, of course, there is former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s infamous “pass it to find out what is in it” comment. This pass now, read later philosophy has continued into this Congress as well. Senators were given only 72 hours to review the 1,200-page immigration reform bill before voting at the end of June.

Is this the way that we want Congress to be run? Votes on thousand-page bills no one reads? What happens when massive legislative packages come before Congress? Pork. Pet projects, bridges to nowhere, obscure regulations, you name it. The special interests win and Americans lose. They get away with it because there is no accountability if no one can feasibly read these packages in their entirety.

So much for the transparency President Obama promised us time and time again. America deserves better. The American people deserve an accountable, transparent legislative process. Americans deserve a Congress that has the time to read bills before they pass them. Is that too much to ask?