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'Do-Nothing Congress' Rewrites Legacy With 'Cromnibus'

Johnson called the 113th the "Do-Nothingest Congress," but that label may not fit in the wake of a far-reaching "cromnibus." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated: 6:37 p.m. | They say numbers don't lie. But in this case, numbers don't tell the whole truth, either.  

The 113th Congress wrapped up this week with 285 pieces of legislation signed into law by the president as of Thursday — one more than the 284 measures enacted in the 112th, which was previously the modern era's least productive Congress. Both two-year terms end up well below the average from the preceding 20 Congresses, which typically produced 564 bills signed into law. (The median number of laws enacted for the past 20 Congresses is 604.) It's a record sharply criticized by Democrats and just as vigorously defended by Republicans. Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson told CQ Roll Call in September that the 113th was "the most do-nothingest Congress.”  

But like Barry Bonds' home run record, the 113th's place in history may need an asterisk.  

One of its 285 bills — the trillion-dollar "cromnibus" — was so massive and had so much legislative action tucked into its 1,695 pages that it calls into question the "do-nothing" narrative attached to the 113th.  

In addition to funding most of the government through September, the cromnibus:  

— Loosened 2010's Dodd-Frank financial regulations  

— Boosted federal campaign contribution limits for individuals (From $32,400 to potentially more than $1.5 million a year, no less.)  

— Allocated $5 billion to fight the Islamic State terror group  

— Dinged the Obama administration's healthy school-lunch standards, freezing further salt restrictions and allowing schools to duck "whole grains" requirements  

— Suspended new rules limiting the numbers of hours truck drivers can drive without rest  

— Opened the door for cuts to military benefits such as prescription co-pays and housing allowances  

— Made it easier for troubled union retirement plans to cut pensions  

— Moved to protect medical marijuana by prohibiting federal agencies from spending money to interfere with state laws  

— Gave most federal workers a 1 percent pay raise  

— Approved almost $1 billion for the Department of Health and Human Service's unaccompanied minors program to help HHS deal with the past year's surge of Central American children crossing the southern border  

— Set aside $118 million for a NASA mission to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons  

That's quite a turnaround from September, when Republicans were blaming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats for bottling up legislation in the Senate and Democrats from the White House to Capitol Hill were blaming House Republicans for being obstructionists.  

Democrats, thwarted over the past two years on everything from gun control to immigration to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, went into the 2014 midterm elections looking to hang gridlock on the GOP. Instead voters gave Republicans control of the Senate and their largest majority in the House since the 1920s.  

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has said Congress should be judged by how many laws it repeals, not how many it passes.  

Update: An earlier version of this post did not include 51 bills signed into law Thursday afternoon by the president.    

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