When Republicans took the US House of Representatives in 2023, they had big plans – as majorities often do. But session one showed the 118th to be, so far, the least productive Congress in 87 years, if not longer. Will 2024 be the big year the House GOP hopes for – or just another big bust?
A House of Ill Repute
The 118th Congress got off to a rocky start. The 15 votes across four days required to finally elect Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Speaker of the House was the most drawn-out and dramatic fight for the gavel since 1857. And after all that, McCarthy couldn’t hold on to the Speakership a whole year. He was vacated by a vote from his peers in October, starting the whole ordeal over again, and it took nearly a month for Mike Johnson (R-LA) to take his place.
Aside from the nigh-constant infighting between Republican groups and investigations into Joe Biden’s family that have yet to result in anything actionable, what does the 118th have to show now that the first session is over? Shockingly little. The House passed 330 bills, resolutions, and amendments – but only 34 bills have gone on to clear the Senate and then be signed into law by the president. Yes, House Republicans have had a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House to contend with, but a mere 34 bills signed into law is an epically low number even for a split Congress.
If one were to comb through the US Statutes at Large, courtesy of the Library of Congress, it would be possible to rank every Congress – indeed, every session – by the number of bills it passed that became law. For those unwilling to devote far too much of their lives to manually counting every piece of legislation passed since 1789, the 75th Congress began numbering them at the front of each year’s report in 1937.
Since then, the least productive Congress, the 112th, managed to see 284 bills become law. The most impressive across that span was the 1,921 laws of the 84th Congress, with the average being 795.
To avoid the “most dysfunctional Congress in modern American history” legacy, this crew will have to work together to pass more than eight times as many laws in the second session as the first – and seeing some tangible results to the numerous investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden wouldn’t hurt. Even the Democrat-controlled House of the 116th Congress – which spent a historic amount of time in the throes of severe Trump Derangement Syndrome – managed to see 344 bills become law across two years despite the Republican majority in the Senate and their archnemesis in the White House. That’s ten times the progress of this Congress, and they managed to pull off two presidential impeachments.
2024 – Big Plans for a Big Year
But it’s 2024 now, and it’s time to turn away from past embarrassments and look to the future. It’s undeniably a big year for America – arguably more so because this time the presidential election winner is almost guaranteed to be either Biden or the man who held the office before him, Trump. It’s a political heavyweight championship bout, and that’s historical enough in itself. But it’s also the year that the Supreme Court will decide whether a presidential candidate can be removed by a state from the primary or even general election ballot based on the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause.
And if House Republicans have their way, it will also be the year an attorney general finds himself asked to prosecute the son of the man who appointed him for skipping out on a congressional subpoena. The resolution to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress has been filed, will be considered by the House Oversight Committee during a markup meeting today, Jan. 10, and may see a floor vote soon after.
The first thing the House will have to do this year is reach an agreement with the Democrat-controlled Senate and President Biden before the current government funding bills expire on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2. Congressional leaders boasted on Jan. 7 of a “top-line spending” agreement, but that doesn’t take care of the specifics. Four bills must be passed by the first deadline, and the House Speaker wants to take them one at a time – with none so far scheduled for consideration this week.
As one might assume, with 2024 being an election year, much of the news coming out of the House focuses not on legislation but on campaigning. Still, the GOP does hope to achieve some success in securing the border with Mexico. It’s unclear if House Republicans will get any policy changes in return for their votes on government spending bills though, and if the “one item at a time” approach sees the government funded – even if only by a continuing resolution – without any meaningful changes to the Biden administration’s border policies, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll get any at all.
Republicans control the House for another year – but if 2024 turns out anything like 2023, merely holding the House may be all they have to brag about. For those who feel better about life and liberty when Congress doesn’t accomplish anything, it certainly seems to be a win for the American people – but it’s an embarrassment for Congress in general and doubly so for House Republicans.