Unified Republican 114th Congress Out-Lawmakes Divided 113th Congress

While there’s technically still a few days left in the waning 114th Congress, a slew of recently signed bills by President Barack Obama mean it will edge out its predecessor in terms of the number of laws enacted.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration said Wednesday the number of public laws enacted during the 114th Congress, which will end in early January, stood at 326 with the assignment of public law numbers to 49 bills signed by Obama Dec. 16. That’s up 10.1 percent from the 296 laws enacted in the entire 113th Congress.


Many of the laws in the last batch were so-called commemoratives, such as renaming federal post offices or court houses for local celebrities and that illustrates one of the problems with using the number of laws enacted as a measure for lawmaker productivity.  In the case of the Senate, some also argue executive branch nominations cleared, or not cleared, are also a standard for effectiveness.

Still, a law represents something agreed upon by the House, the Senate and the White House (or at least not objected to by the latter), and some trends are clear. When the White House and the Congress are held by the same party, the number of laws goes up. When they are held by different parties, the number tends to go down.

In the 111th Congress, when Democrats held the White House and Congress in 2009 and 2010, 383 laws were enacted. But in the next Congress, the 112th covering 2011 and 2012, that number dropped to 283, after Republicans won control of the House. That Congress beat out the 1995-1996 104th Congress for the fewest new laws in the post-World War II era. With a new Republican president in the wings and Republicans retaining control of Congress for the 115th Congress, Washington appears poised for a new surge in lawmaking.

But there are no guarantees. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) once said congressional productivity should be measured by how many laws were repealed (which, actually, also takes enactment of a new law, but you get the drift).

Former Speaker Boehner

On the other hand, the current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sent his Republican colleagues a memo in September, touting the number of bills passed in committee, through the House and Senate floors and, of course, enacted into law. At that time, the number was 22 percent ahead of the 113th Congress.