Political News

This is what happens when one party controls everything

Posted September 15

Both Donald Trump and Barack Obama enjoyed unified government for their first eight months as president -- but one-party control hasn't meant the same thing in 2017 as it did in 2009.

Single-party rule in the United States has been rare in the last few decades: This is only the fifth time it's happened since 1980 -- giving Republicans a rare opportunity to advance major policy initiatives without needing Democratic support.

But in the first eight months under Trump, progress has stalled. Major GOP goals like health care reform and simplifying the tax code have not yet come to pass.

A CNN analysis of new legislation and votes by Congress in the first eight months of the last several unified governments shows the 2017 government more on par with President George W. Bush's government in 2003 and President Bill Clinton's coalition in 1993 than Obama's government just eight years ago.

Of course, this way of measuring results isn't perfect. Some bills rename post offices and others spend billions of dollars. Some short bills can be far more influential than ones that span hundreds of pages. And some votes pass major legislation while others are just routine housekeeping.

But it does give us a snapshot into what this President and Congress have accomplished compared with other recent situations when one party had the chance to go big or go home.

Donald Trump has signed 58 new laws so far -- the fewest in any unified government through Day 238 of their administration.

It's worth noting that this Congress is far from over. In fact, over the last two decades, Congress has passed only 13% of its total number of laws on average in its first eight months -- roughly a third of its time in session.

Republicans currently hold only a 52-seat majority in the Senate in 2017 -- shy of the 60-vote threshold Democrats met for part of their session in 2009. This benchmark is important because it allows the Senate to close debate on bills in the normal legislative process.

This Congress has also passed a little more than half the number of pages of legislation passed by lawmakers in the first eight months of 2005 and 2009, when Bush and Obama oversaw unified governments.

More than half of the pages of legislation passed in this Congress -- 1,152 pages of new laws, as written and formatted by the Congressional Budget Office -- came in a 700-page spending bill from May.

Of course, the number of pages doesn't determine the impact of the legislation, and many point to the limited number of pages of new laws on the books as a sign of more progress.

Statistics from the Brookings Institution show that bills from Congress are getting a lot longer. They averaged just 6.5 pages per bill in the 1970s, 8.7 pages per bill in the 1980s, 15.1 pages per bill in the 1990s, 16.1 pages in the 2000s and 17.4 pages per bill in the last three Congresses.

This Congress is on pace to set a new record of 20.5 pages per bill.

This Congress has also taken fewer roll call votes than the Democratic-run legislature in 2009 and Republican-led Congress in 2003, but just slightly more than the unified governments in 1993 and 2005.

The Senate has taken the fewest votes of any recent unified government by three dozen votes. Meanwhile, the House trails only Nancy Pelosi's chamber in 2009 in number of roll call votes taken through Day 238.

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