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Dysfunction, Rancor Abound During Legislative Stalemate

Sides Sling Accusations for a Dearth of Legislative Action in 112th Congress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Republicans are realizing that their plan to oppose what the president wants is backfiring.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today condemned efforts to paint the current session as a "do-nothing Congress," charging instead that the dysfunction plaguing the legislative branch is a result of "proposing legislation you know the other side won't support ó even when there's an entire menu of bipartisan proposals."

The Kentucky Republican was referring to President Barack Obama and his calls for Congress to do more. But McConnell could easily have been lobbing his critique at the House and Senate, where the divided chambers are taking fewer votes and passing little in the way of policy legislation that can attract bipartisan support and be signed into law by Obama.

The numbers are striking.

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 last year, the House passed 752 measures, while the Senate passed 440. The president signed 115 measures into law.

During the same period this year, the House has passed 247 measures, compared with the Senate's 265. A mere 35 bills have been signed into law.

Part of the stark difference between 2010 and 2011 in the House can be chalked up to House Republican leaders' aversion to small, private bills that honor various groups and other "simple" resolutions.

But even on substantive bills, the legislative output is way off. The House passed nearly two-thirds fewer bills of this nature from January to Sept. 30 of this year, clearing 103 bills, compared with 298 in the same time period last year, according to the Congressional Record.

Several aides pointed to the simple fact that the GOP controls only the House. With Democrats in control of the Senate and White House, Republicans are able to put some of the onus on the other party for the inability to pass legislation.

On a political basis, not passing bipartisan legislation makes it easier for Republicans to contrast their record with Democrats in the other chamber and Obama next year ó which greatly reduces the need to have a lengthy record of legislative wins under their belts.

Some Republicans said that while they might not have much to show on the policy front over the course of the year, they can ó and will ó make the case that they have lived up to their promise to alter the course of the federal government.

"The election is all about a course correction and stopping the direction the president is going. And we've done that," a GOP lawmaker said today.

Republicans also lay blame at the feet of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for blocking dozens of policy bills that have passed the House.

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