Between its inception in January 2017 and its final day on Jan. 3, the GOP-led 115th Congress enacted 442 public laws, the most since the 110th Congress (2007-09). Of those laws, 69% were substantive (as judged by our deliberately generous criteria) – not much different from the 71% substantive share achieved by the 114th Congress, in which the Republican-controlled House and Senate faced off against Democratic President Barack Obama. (The 114th Congress passed 329 laws in total.)
Nearly a third of the laws passed by the 115th Congress were ceremonial in nature; it was the third Congress in a row in which the ceremonial share increased. Those ceremonial measures include 109 that renamed post offices, courthouses and the like – a fourth of the Congress’ total legislative output.
In our regular assessments of Congress’ legislative productivity, we’ve cast a wide net regarding what makes a law “substantive.” Basically, anything that makes a change in federal law (however tiny) or authorizes the spending of taxpayer dollars (however few) makes the cut. Besides the measures referred to above on building-renamings, we count laws as “ceremonial” if they award medals, designate special days, authorize commemorative coins or otherwise memorialize historic events. (We exclude entirely “private laws,” which typically exempt a single person from a single provision of general law.)