The (really) do-nothing Congress

So far, this Congress has only enacted 49 laws, the fewest since at least 1947, when the Congressional Record began tallying legislative activity on a yearly basis. In fact, the 80th Congress — famously dubbed the “do nothing” Congress by President Harry Truman — enacted 388 public laws by July 1947.

In the last 66 years, there are just four occasions in which fewer than 100 laws were enacted by a similar point in the legislative calendar. And two of those instances were in the last two Congresses, with the previous Congress making just 62 laws through November 2011.

The dysfunction is partially the result of the toxic relationship between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, which helped trigger the first government shutdown in 17 years last month and a series of flirtations with a historic debt default.

The slow pace of legislating comes despite huge problems facing Washington: A $17 trillion debt, the prospects of a second government shutdown in mid-January, the bumpy rollout of the health care law and overseas threats from places like Iran. Meanwhile, congressional inaction on a new farm bill is poised to upend rural America and send milk prices soaring. Even legislation that would seem to appeal to some in both parties — like an immigration overhaul — is stuck.