There’s a pervasive sense of legislative paralysis gripping Capitol Hill. And it’s been there long before the impeachment inquiry began.
For months, President Donald Trump has fired off tweet missives accusing House Democrats of “getting nothing done in Congress,” and being consumed with impeachment.
Trump may want to look to the Republican-controlled Senate instead. Democrats in the House have been passing bills at a rapid clip; as of November 15, the House has passed nearly 400 bills, not including resolutions. But the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee estimates 80 percent of those bill have hit a snag in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is prioritizing confirming judges over passing bills.
Congress has passed just 70 bills into law this year. Granted, it still has one more year in its term, but the number pales in comparison to recent past sessions of Congress, which typically see anywhere from 300-500 bills passed in two years (and that is even a diminished number from the 700-800 bills passed in the 1970s and 1980s).
Ten of those 70 bills this year have been renaming federal post offices or Veterans Affairs facilities, and many others are related to appropriations or extending programs like the National Flood Insurance or the 9/11 victim compensation fund.
This has led to House Democrats decrying McConnell’s so-called “legislative graveyard,” a moniker the Senate majority leader has proudly adopted. McConnell calls himself the “grim reaper” of Democratic legislation he derides as socialist, but many of the bills that never see the Senate floor are bipartisan issues, like a universal background check bill, net neutrality, and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
“From raising the minimum wage to ensuring equal pay, we have passed legislation to raise wages. And we have passed legislation to protect and expand health coverage and bring down prescription drug prices,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement to Vox. “We continue to urge Senator McConnell to take up our bills, many of which are bipartisan.”
McConnell is focused on transforming the federal judiciary instead, with the Senate confirming over 150 of Trump’s nominees to the federal bench. And he has refused to bring Democratic bills to the Senate floor in part to protect vulnerable Republican senators from having to take tough votes that could divide the GOP ahead of the 2020 election. Still, some Senate Republicans fear inaction could make them just as vulnerable.
“I’m very eager to turn from nominations to legislation,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) recently told the New York Times’ Carl Hulse. “There are important issues that are pending, and I think we could produce some terrific bills that would be signed into law.”
Trump is accusing Democrats of doing nothing as he refuses to work with them
Lately, Republicans and Trump are accusing Democrats of single-mindedly pursuing impeachment at the detriment of passing bills.
Again, the more accurate picture is that Democrats have been passing a lot of bills in addition to investigating the president. But split control of government and Trump’s fury at being investigated by Democratic committees paralyzed Washington’s legislative functions well before impeachment proceedings began in the fall.
Way back in May, Trump was blasting Democrats for not making enough progress on infrastructure, health care, and veterans issues. His complaints intensified after an explosive White House meeting on infrastructure between Trump and Democrats the day before, which the president walked out of.
“Their heart is not into Infrastructure, lower drug prices, pre-existing conditions and our great Vets,” Trump tweeted. “All they are geared up to do, six committees, is squander time, day after day, trying to find anything which will be bad for me.”
Months later, the president’s complaints remain the same. He recently tweeted, “Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, AOC and the rest of the Democrats are not getting important legislation done, hence, the Do Nothing Democrats.”
Trump isn’t the only one with a perception that very little is happening in Congress. Congress’s approval rating is a dismal 24 percent, with 72 percent disapproval, according to Gallup.
During the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 and 2018, the two major legislative accomplishments McConnell, Trump, and House Speaker Paul Ryan had were a massive GOP tax cut and a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill in 2018. The very end of Ryan’s time as speaker also saw Trump launch a government shutdown that continued into Pelosi’s tenure in 2019.
Since Democrats took control of the House, the few things they’ve been able to agree with Senate Republicans on include a bill to reopen the federal government after a three-week shutdown, a resolution to end US involvement in the war in Yemen (which was vetoed by Trump), and a disaster aid agreement. But other big-ticket items Democrats hoped to achieve, like an infrastructure package and a prescription drug bill, have yet to be passed.
As we near the end of the year, much of the media focus will continue to be on impeachment. House Democrats will also be focused on a vote on a major bill to lower prescription drug costs (something Trump has said is a priority for him), the Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the National Defense Authorization Act.
Just because impeachment is the main story in Washington doesn’t mean policy work isn’t happening. It just means it isn’t getting talked about as much, and that the president — a figure who could apply pressure on McConnell to take up some of the bipartisan legislation currently gathering dust — has other priorities.
Given the Senate could soon be consumed by an impeachment trial, the remaining weeks of 2019 could be the final opportunity for lawmakers in the upper chamber to advance legislation. However, there are no signals that Republican Senate leaders will seize that opportunity.
Here’s a list of major bills the House has passed since January
House Democrats have passed a wide range of bills since they came to power in January, ranging from a sweeping anti-corruption and pro-democracy reform known as H.R.1, to bills to save net neutrality, pass universal background checks for guns, and reenter the United States into the Paris Climate Accord.
They have also put a large emphasis on health care, a defining issue of the 2018 election after Trump and Senate Republicans attempted to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have focused on bills to lower prescription drug costs, protect preexisting conditions, and condemning the Trump administration’s legal battle to strike down the ACA in the courts. And although Medicare-for-all is driving the conversation in the 2020 presidential primary, it has not gotten a vote in the House.
Much of this agenda is sitting in the Senate. There have been a few things House Democrats and Senate Republicans have agreed on: disaster relief aid, reopening the government after the shutdown, the resolution to end US involvement in the Yemen war, a bill to protect public lands, and a resolution disapproving of Trump’s use of emergency powers.
But on major policy issues — like health care and infrastructure, or even bipartisan ones like net neutrality, the Equal Pay Act, or even a simple reauthorization of the longstanding Violence Against Women Act — Democrats’ bills are continuing to languish in the Senate. House Democrats are expecting to take up H.R.3, a major health care bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs, before the Christmas break. Although we’re not going to list all 400 bills for brevity’s sake, here’s a list of major bills and resolutions the House has passed so far.
- H.R.259 — Medicaid Extenders Act of 2019
- House Resolution 271 — Condemning the Trump Administration’s Legal Campaign to Take Away Americans’ Health Care
- H.R.986 — Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act of 2019
- H.R.987 — Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act
- H.R.1520, the Purple Book Continuity Act (bill aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs)
- H.R.1503, the Orange Book Transparency Act of 2019 (bill aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs)
- H.R.1 — For the People Act of 2019
- H.R.5 — Equality Act
- H.R.6 — American Dream and Promise Act
- H.R.7 — Paycheck Fairness Act
- H.R.124 — Expressing opposition to banning service in the Armed Forces by openly transgender individuals
- H.R.8 — Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019
- H.R.1112 — Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019
- H.R.9 — Climate Action Now Act
- H.R.1331 — Local Water Protection Act
- S.47 — National Resources Management Act
- H.R.2578 — National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act of 2019
- H.R.205, 1146, 1941 — Banning Offshore Drilling on Atlantic, Pacific, Eastern Gulf and ANWR Coasts
- H.R.840 — Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act
- HJ Res. 37 — Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress
- SJ Res. 7 — To direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress
- H.R.31 — Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019
- HJ Res. 30 — Disapproving the President’s proposal to take an action relating to the application of certain sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation
- H.R.4695 — Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act
- H.R.676 — NATO Support Act
- H.R.549 — Venezuela TPS Act
- H.Con.Res. 24 — Expressing the sense of Congress that the report of Special Counsel Mueller should be made available to the public and to Congress
Other major legislation
- H.R.1585 — Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019
- H.R.987 — Raise the Wage Act
- H.R.1500 — Consumers First Act
- H.R.1994 — SECURE Act/Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act
- H.R.2722 — Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act
- H.R.4617 — Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act
- H.R.1644 — Save the Internet Act of 2019
- H.R.2157 — Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2019
- H.R.397 — Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act (The Butch Lewis Act)
- H.R.2513 — The Corporate Transparency Act
- H.R.269 — Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019
- H.R.251 — Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program Extension Act
- S.24 — Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019
- H.R.430 — TANF Extension Act of 2019
- Concurring in the Senate Amendments to HR 251 — Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard Program Extension Act
- H.R.790 — Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act of 2019
- HJ Res. 46 — Relating to a national emergency declared by the President on February 15, 2019
- H Res. 183 — Condemning anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values and aspirations that define the people of the United States and condemning anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contrary to the values and aspirations of the United States, as amended
- H Res. 194 — Rule Providing for Consideration of H.R. 1644 and H.R. 2021
- H.R.2480 — Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act
- H.R.375 — To amend the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes (also known as the “Carcieri Fix”)