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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Congressional Deliberation in 2017

The first year of the 115th Congress mostly saw breakdowns in the legislative process and Congress’s ability to function. Neither chamber gave its members many opportunities to offer amendments to legislation. The Senate was not gridlocked by many attempts to filibuster legislation, but the cause seems to be more that the Senate considered few controversial bills that could be filibustered rather than any trend away from reliance on the filibuster. This may also explain the low utilization of conference committees to resolve differences between the chambers. Congress’s ability to carry out its most basic functions, the budget and appropriations processes, seem to have completely atrophied, and could be considered failures. Though the Senate spent ample time working in Washington, the House continued to lag behind in this area. Halfway through the 115th Congress, there is much room left for improvement.

Members of the House were mostly closed off from offering amendments to legislation on the floor last year. In 2017, 53 percent of rules were closed rules, meaning no amendments could be offered. This is the highest percentage of closed rules among the years in the index.
Forty-seven percent of rules were structured, meaning the only amendments that could be offered were those pre-approved by the majority-controlled Rules Committee. When structured rules were in place, 52 percent were offered by Democrats, the minority, 41 percent were offered by Republicans, the majority, and 7 percent were offered on a bipartisan basis. Zero rules were open. Only one other comparative congress, the 111th Congress had zero open rules at the end of its first year.
Taken together, this is the most closed amendment process among the years in the index.