The US Congress can effectively stop business by choosing not to hear/vote on it. This way legislators don't have to go on record as actively opposing something, it was just never brought up.

Is this happening more often now than it did in the past, or is it more widely talked about now, or was I just not paying attention before?

I'm only interested in real congressional business, as hard as that is to define:

  • Something passed by one chamber certainly counts.
  • Appointments officially brought by the President count.
  • Something announced by a group of congresspeople as having large bipartisan support might count, but might be hard to track.
  • Active fillibuster probably counts (the kind with real endless talking) but maybe with an asterisk, since it does require active involvement.
  • "One hundred school children sign letter asking Congress to declare a snow day" certainly does not count.
  • An actual vote for or against does not count.
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    While "now" is the easy part of "now than ... in the past", how far "in the past" would you want for an answer?
    – Rick Smith
    Dec 2, 2020 at 13:26
  • @RickSmith I'm kind of interested in two general eras, "modern US politics" and "old US politics". I understand that the modern politics (I think about mid-50s into the 2000s?) have been unusually cooperative but since that's what most people think of as normal right now that's interesting to compare to. And I like a perspective from before then to reassure me that people survived before. But of course older data may just not be available. Dec 2, 2020 at 13:58
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    Are you effectively looking to distinguish between viable legislation that was blocked by leadership figures (committee chairs, house/senate leaders) by not advancing them to a vote stage, vs things that were rejected by a full chamber?
    – Jontia
    Dec 3, 2020 at 15:21
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    @FrankCedeno There's a difference between slow legislation with time for discussion vs using it to reject otherwise viable legislation without having to put it to vote. The former allows time for the will of the people, the later is a clear attempt to avoid the will of the people. Dec 3, 2020 at 16:41
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    @FrankCedeno I don't follow your argument. Congress consists of duly elected representatives, who are already supposed to represent the say of the people. How does relying on a vocal minority to contribute to lobbying groups represent the will of the people any better than having elected representatives simply vote on an issue? Everyone has equal opportunity to vote for their representative, but not everyone has equal opportunity to contribute to a lobbying group. Lobbies represent the say of the people who contribute to them, not "the people" as a whole. Dec 3, 2020 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


Is more [Congressional] business decided by inaction now?

Not really. It has been the case often that members of Congress will introduce legislation, particularly amendments, they know have no chance of passage; but do so more to express their views and build their credibility within their faction of their party. These amendments are sent to committees where even members of their own party will not take up the proposal.

Following is selected data about legislation introduced in Congress. Only those proposals that may become law are included.

            Introduced     Passed   Became
Congress  House   Senate  One House   Law    Years

  116th    8946    5034    548/146    193    2019-December 2, 2020
  115th    7547    3874    624/122    443    2017-2018
  114th    6644    3589    507/ 78    329    2015-2016
  113th    6024    3067    349/ 75    296    2013-2014

  105th    5014    2715    219/159    404    1997-1998
  104th    4542    2264    197/145    337    1995-1996
  103d     5739    2801    229/165    473    1993-1994

   95th   15587    3800    286/217    803    1977-1978
   94th   16982    4115    263/233    729    1975-1976
   93d    18872    4524    223/264    773    1973-1974

Note: The two figures in "Passed One House" are the total of bills and
      joint resolutions passed in one chamber with no action in the other.
      Given as House/Senate.

Data source (requires multiple searches)

It appears, based on this selected data, that the House has recently and increasingly passed more legislation that is not considered in the Senate.

Another table with a slightly different view may be found at Statistics and Historical Comparison.

Since World War II (the earliest we have data), Congress has typically enacted 4-6 million words of new law in each two-year Congress. However, those words have been enacted in fewer but larger bills. Therefore, the generally decreasing number of bills enacted into law does not reflect less legislative work is occurring.

List of United States federal legislation shows counts since 1935 for laws only and reflects the trend toward fewer laws, as mentioned above.

With regard to appointments, there are literally thousands of appointments in any given year to which the Senate gives its consent. For the most part, these are advancements in grade or sensitive assignments for commissioned officers of the military and some civilian employees and judges. It is mostly the high-level appointments (related to the cabinet and notable commissions and courts) that attract press coverage.

The other criteria are "too hard to track" and, therefore, cannot be distinguished; particularly since some, going back to the mid-50s (from a comment), would have occurred before the internet.

Is this happening more often now than it did in the past, or is it more widely talked about now, or was I just not paying attention before?

Apparently "happening more often now", though admittedly more data might reveal other periods with such "inaction".

  • This is really good information, but not quite what I was looking for. There doesn't seem to be a way to distinguish between passed by one house but did not become law because it was voted down by the other house and passed by one house but was just ignored by the other house. I'm really interested in the things that could plausibly have gotten a good amount of support or full support from one party but just weren't voted on (I don't care about someone's vanity bill that never made it out of committee). Dec 2, 2020 at 20:18
  • If it helps, one of the things I'm thinking of is a second COVID stimulus. There were several versions of the bill passed by the House over the summer, an attempt from the White House to work with the House on a plan in the fall, a bipartisan plan from several senators revealed yesterday, and the majority leader of the Senate keeps saying that it's important to act... But the only bill that the Senate has voted on (for or against) was one that originated in the Senate (and didn't pass, so the House didn't have anything to vote on). Dec 2, 2020 at 20:33
  • @user3067860 - For the 116th Congress, 30 bills and one joint resolution mentioning "covid" passed one chamber. The House originated 24 and the Senate 7. None of these were considered in the other chamber, yet. There simply is no search criteria for "good amount of support", meaning that one has to decide on a "per-bill" basis which to include. I can't do that for you.
    – Rick Smith
    Dec 2, 2020 at 21:18

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