07 January 2013

Here's what Congress actually does

"24% of all laws passed by the 110th Congress were for renaming post offices." From the Reddit discussion thread:
Creator of that chart here. Yes, it's true. If you don't believe me, check this page, it's a list of the first 150 Public Laws from the 110th Congress:

You'll notice that the phrase "post office" occurs 47 times out of 150 laws, and if you skim them you'll see that most are for renaming them. If the chart included renaming federal courthouses and other buildings, the numbers would be even higher.

I should note that I didn't mean this chart as a political statement - I don't think that Congress renaming lots of post offices, or passing relatively few laws, is per se bad or good (it depends what laws they're passing or not passing!). I just thought it was an interesting trend that made me wonder what was going on.

There may be any number of factors: partisan gridlock or Congressional fecklessness might be one, but there are also things like the fact that we have recently been involved in two wars that produced a lot of casualties and many of the post offices seem to have been named after Iraq/Afghanistan war dead.
And this:
[If you're surprised by this...] It's because you're unfamiliar with the activities of Congress (I don't mean that derogatorily, most people don't follow every little thing). There's a ton of little bills like this that get passed into law with very little fanfare. It's almost always by voice vote or unanimous consent. Rarely is there any debate though I recall one bill not actually coming up for vote because people found out the person involved had some sort of unsavory past (I forget the details).
In any case, 25% or so is pretty accurate for most recent Congresses. You're not going to see much variation by who's controlling things. They also name the occasional federal court house and other random things. No one else can do it so you'll see batches of these bills pass into law in groups of five to ten at a time.

You'll also find a lot of bills that are for mundane things like land parcel exchange with cities, extending expiration dates on small pieces of legislation, and technical corrections to existing law. I'd say actually the vast majority of bills signed into law are less than 5 pages in length and don't get much in the way of press.

What you don't see anymore that used to be extremely prevalent are Private Laws. There was a single one in 112th Congress for example. If you go look back in the 1960s and earlier there were hundreds that were passed.
More at the Reddit thread.


  1. What a better world if this climbed to 99% of all that congress did...

  2. I prefer them spending their time renaming Post Offices to raising taxes...


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