The Do-Nothing Senate


Sometimes to appreciate just how awful numbers are you need to see a chart.

The U.S. Senate in 2014 – technically, the Second Session of the 113th Congress – was the least productive in a very long time. By any measure. At a time when there were many, urgent issues facing the country, the Senate managed to pass just 62 public laws. To appreciate how terrible that was, here’s a chart affords some historic perspective.1

U.S. Senate, Public Laws Passed, 1994-2014 (Source: U.S. Senate)

U.S. Senate, Public Laws Passed, 1994-2014 (Source: U.S. Senate)

That’s right, down there in red in the lower right, less than half of last year’s previous record low, and about a third of the average output. Absolutely a record-setting benchmark for futility and inaction. Now some conservatives might claim not passing laws is a good thing, but those same folks claim that there are all kinds of laws they hate, that there are too many laws and that a bunch of laws need to be repealed. Which takes a public law. So, no, WC isn’t buying it. This is complete ineffectiveness.

So maybe the Senate at least worked harder? Think again.

Total Hours Senate in Session by Year (Source: U.S. Senate)

Total Hours Senate in Session by Year (Source: U.S. Senate)

Over the last 11 years, the U.S. Senate – “the Greatest Deliberative Body in History” – has been in session and average of 1,157 hours per year. In 2014, those statesmen managed just 788 hours.

And the Senate is also in the business of ratifying treaties. In 2014 the Senate managed ratify exactly zero treaties. None, zilch. And, since you ask, there are 36 treaties presently awaiting Senate action. Any action.

Perhaps the voters’ actions in the 2014 elections are understandable, if not entirely logical, in light of this mind-boggling failure by the Senate to do its job. Maybe the voters’ thinking was that you have to fire some dead weight employees in order to light a fire under the others. It’s lamentable, if WC is guessing right, because it rewards most the folks who created most of the problems.

The truly frightening thing is that the new Senate – the 114th Congress – may very well be worse.


  1. WC built these charts from raw data assembled from the U.S. Senate’s web page. Any errors are the fault of WC’s lamentable math skills. 
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