POLITICS
02/26/2013 02:25 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

Do-Nothing Congress Challenges Record For Low Levels Of Legislation In First Weeks Of 2013

WASHINGTON -- Public approval for Congress remains near an all-time low, but lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives aren't doing much about it. Literally.

A Huffington Post review of congressional activity shows that the House is off to its slowest start in years. Eight weeks into 2013, the House had spent only 15 days in session, which is less than 40 percent of the 38 weekdays that had elapsed since New Year's. While the demands of a congressional schedule typically call for members to spend significant amounts of time in their home districts with constituents, the 15-day year has been particularly low-functioning compared to recent years.

In the course of those 15 days, the 21 standing House committees have held a combined total of just one markup session, in which legislation is debated and revised, on Jan. 23, at the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Congress usually has a slow start at the beginning of the year. While dozens of markups are held every year, much of the action occurs during the middle of the year. This year, the inauguration crowded the calendar as it did in 2009, and the start of a new Congress every other year typically involves more planning than in other years. The GOP has controlled the House since the beginning of 2011, while Democrats were in control for four years prior.

Even by the standard of recent history, 2013 has been a do-nothing year.

At this point in 2012, Congress had been in session for 17 days and had held 14 markup sessions. In 2011, it had been in session for 23 days with seven markups. While HuffPost was unable to obtain the 2010 and 2009 records for the Appropriations, Small Business, Transportation and Intelligence Committees, the remaining 17 committees held a total of six markups by this point in each of those years, with 16 days and 23 days in session, respectively.

The office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment for this article, but Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) defended the schedule in a statement to HuffPost.

"The way a new Congress works is that both parties organize, set up committees, hold organizational retreats and in this year's case, inaugurate a president, so to compare the past eight weeks to non-organizational years shows a lack of understanding," Cooper said.

Here again are the statistics, in chart form:

*(as of the first eight weeks)

This year, however, has in fact been unique, in that a series of government-imposed fiscal deadlines has dominated the political landscape. It began with negotiations over the fiscal cliff, proceeded to talks over raising the federal debt limit and is now embroiled in talks to avert the sequester -- a set of dramatic government spending cuts that lawmakers from both parties worry will hurt the economy. These high-profile standoffs have consumed nearly all of the time that leaders would otherwise have spent working on other legislation.

But the sequester is not responsible for the lack of activity in the House. Boehner has repeatedly insisted that the House will not draw up its own plan to avert the sequester's cuts until the Senate has passed a plan of its own.

"For the last two years, the House has done its work. We've passed legislation that has tackled the tough challenges that America faces, only to see our Senate colleagues do nothing," Boehner said to reporters in mid-February. "Well, those days are over. The House will continue to meet our obligations, but the Senate Democrats must begin to do their work."

House Democrats reject this argument.

"The GOP-led House isn't even meeting the very low expectations that the American public holds for them," said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "With its inaction on the looming sequester, the do-nothing GOP Congress is preparing to harm our economy and our security. Now is not the time to be setting records for days in recess."

"Yes, it would appear the House is one day off pace from the start of the last Congress, and the Democratic Senate is four years off pace for budgets and 288 days off our pace for replacing the sequester," added Cantor spokesman Cooper. "They should get to work."

The inactivity may also be fueled by a lack of funding for Congress. In recent years, the budget for the legislative branch has been steadily cut, leaving some offices operating at very low levels of funding, which can crimp research and other projects that lead to legislative action. If the sequester is not averted, Congress may have to cope with even fewer resources.

Only 13.2 percent of Americans currently approve of the job Congress is doing, according to an average of polls cited by HuffPost Pollster.

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