Congress Didn’t Do Much in 2013, Doesn’t Plan to Do Anything in 2014 Either

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Ugh. But work is so hard. Photo: Win McNamee/2013 Getty Images

Considering that some of the biggest stories to come out of Congress this year involved feats of inactivity – including Rand Paul's drone filibuster, Ted Cruz's literal stand against Obamacare, and the ensuing government shutdown – it should come as no surprise that the legislative branch didn't accomplish much in 2013. Lawmakers are working on passing a moderate budget deal this week, but despite months of discussion about gun control, immigration, and the reform of government surveillance programs, legislation on those issues has stalled. And a look at the data on this year in congressional history reveals they didn't spend much time working on less high-profile legislation either. 

The House of Representatives closed up shop last week, and the Senate is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday, but may head out as early as Wednesday. According to a New York Times analysis, that means the House has been at work for the fewest hours in a nonelection year since 2005 (which is as far back as the data goes). Per the Times:

Not counting brief, pro forma sessions, the House was in session for 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours each week it conducted business in Washington. That is far lower than the nearly 1,700 hours it was in session in 2007, the 1,350 hours in 2005 or even the 1,200 in 2011.

By a similar measure, the Senate was near its recorded lows for days on the floor. Senators have spent 99 days casting votes this year, close to the recent low point for a nonelection year in 1991, when there were 95 voting days.

The Washington Post predicts that things won't be much different in 2014. While Congress will probably reach an agreement on a farm bill and raise the debt ceiling next year, the budget deal is expected to be one of the last big pieces of legislation passed by the 113th Congress before everyone's attention turns to the midterm elections.

"It’s been a year of great accomplishments and achievements," Senator John McCain told the Times sarcastically when asked to reflect on the year. "When I’m down at the old soldiers’ home and I’m sitting in my rocking chair I’ll say, 'Boy, 2013 was a banner year.'" On the bright side, it has been a banner year for John McCain's amusing cracks about his colleagues.