Congressional delegation gets few bills through divided Congress

WASHINGTON – With the payroll tax deal approved by both chambers of Congress on Friday, the first session of the 112th Congress is done. With the House in Republican hands and the Senate controlled by Democrats, it’s not a surprise to see that this session was less productive than past Congresses where a single party controlled both sides of the Capitol.

According the legislative tracking website Govtrack.us, just two bills authored by members of Minnesota’s delegation this year have made it to the President’s desk for signature and only one of those bills has been signed into law.

DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the original sponsor of the Appeal Time Clarification Act of 2011 which clarifies the time limits for when civil lawsuits against the federal government can appealed. President Obama signed that measure on Nov. 29th.

GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack’s bill to speed airport security screening of armed service members passed the House and Senate this month but hasn’t been signed by the President yet.

Measures introduced by Republicans John Kline and Erik Paulsen and Democrat Tim Walz have passed the House but not the Senate. Some of those bills, such as Kline’s Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, won’t get taken up the Democratic-controlled Senate in any meaningful way. That measure overrides decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board about union election rules.

Members are quick to point out that even when they aren’t the author of a bill, they’re often able to add provisions of their own to the legislation. For example, Klobuchar’s office notes that parts of a bill the senator introduced on supporting military victims of sexual trauma were incorporated into a Defense Department reauthorization bill.

Still, by almost any measure, the 112th Congress was one of the least productive on record said congressional scholar Sarah Binder at the Brookings Institution. She attributed some of the gridlock to the unusual split in party control between the two chambers but also pointed to a new schedule that keeps the House out of Washington more often. Binder added that the legislative process has become highly partisan and centralized in recent years.

“I think that this emblematic of a Congress and recent Congresses that are just tightly controlled by party leaders. That is, access to getting your particular policy issues onto the floor is difficult,” said Binder, who received her PhD from the University of Minnesota.

One case in point is the fate of House and Senate bills to authorize a new bridge over the St. Croix River. Both measures spent the year weaving their way through House and Senate committees and securing endorsements from most members of the Minnesota and Wisconsin congressional delegations in the process. The bills now await a vote on the floor of both chambers but neither House nor Senate leadership has yet to schedule that vote.

With election season already starting to dominate lawmakers’ attention, it’s possible 2012 may prove even less productive on Capitol Hill.

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