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The Capitol Dome is seen April 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (AP) The Capitol Dome is seen April 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (AP)

The Capitol Dome is seen April 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (AP)

By Laura Schulte April 17, 2024

Yes, in 2023 Congress passed the fewest number of bills since the Great Depression

If Your Time is short

  • During 1931-1933, the 72nd Congress passed only 21 bills

  • Last year, the 118th Congress passed only 27 bills, the smallest since the 21 bills during the Great Depression

It’s no secret that Congress hasn’t exactly been very productive lately.

Between the time spent on political disagreements and infighting, it’s seemed as if there hasn’t been a lot of time to debate and pass legislation. 

There have been disagreements over who will serve as speaker of the House, a border deal reached and then nixed, stalled aid for Ukraine and arguments over the funding to keep the government running. And that’s not to mention the political divide between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate. 

At a March 27 event, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from the town of Vermont in Dane County, talked about how hard it has been this session to get things accomplished. 

"We passed 27 bills last year, which is the fewest since the Depression." 

Let’s take a closer look at that claim. 

The 72nd Congress passed only 21 bills during the Great Depression

The Great Depression took place from 1929 to 1941, marking one of the deepest plunges of America’s industrial economy. 

During the early years of the Depression, the 72nd Congress (which ran from 1931 to 1933) only sent 21 bills to President Herbert Hoover for a signature. 

But Congress didn’t actually meet when the session started, due to 14 members dying between the election and that start of the session, according to a Jan. 23 story from NBC News. The number of deaths and subsequent elections actually ended up flipping the control of the House from Republicans to Democrats. 

The 72nd Congress did pass some significant measures — the 20th amendment, which set the beginning and ending dates for the terms of the president, the vice president, and members of Congress; and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation Act, which provided loans to banks, according to NBC News. 

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But, with 21 bills passed as the benchmark, let’s look at more recent terms.

118th Congress passed 27 bills in 2023

For the 118th Congress (which runs from 2023 to 2024), things aren’t exactly moving smoothly. According to a Dec. 19, 2023, report from The New York Times, though there were more than 700 votes in 2023, only 27 bills made it across the finish line. 

That number is low, compared to other recent Congressional sessions, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. 

For example, the 93rd Congress (which ran from 1973 to 1974), passed 772 bills. The 104th Congress (1995-1996) passed 337. The 116th (from 2019 to 2020) passed 344. And according to a report from ABC News, the 117th Congress (from 2022 to 2023) passed 362 bills in total. 

Among the votes taken so far by the 118th Congress last year was one to officially end the national emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic, create a commemorative coin for the 250th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps and several bills regarding benefits for veterans, the Times story said. 

In the 118th Congress, Republicans have struggled with a small majority that requires virtual unanimity, deep party divisions preventing that unanimity, and conservative members who want to rein in government and not pass new laws to broaden its reach, according to another Dec. 19, 2023, report from The New York Times

Even in other years with a divided government — such as 2013, in which Republicans controlled the House and Democrats controlled the Senate — more work was being accomplished. During that year, 72 bills were passed, according to the New York Times, a low number for the number of bills passed. The 113th Congress ended up passing 296 bills between 2013 and 2014, according to Pew.

Our ruling 

Pocan claimed that Congress last year passed the fewest number of bills since the Great Depression. 

It turns out the last time Congress passed so few bills was during the 1931-1933 session, during which only 21 bills made it to the president’s desk — over a two-year period. 

This Congress last year passed 27 bills, not many more than that slow 1930s Congress. 

We rate this claim True.


Our Sources

Mark Pocan, Event at University of Madison-Wisconsin, March 27, 2024

NBC News, "House Republicans now have one of the smallest majorities in history," Jan. 23, 2024

The New York Times, "The 27 bills that became law in 2023," Dec. 19, 2023

The New York Times, "House dysfunction by the numbers: 724 votes, only 27 laws enacted," Dec. 19, 2023

Pew Research Center, "Lame-duck sessions have become more frequent, more productive," April 15, 2024

ABC News, "118th Congress on track to become one of the least productive in US History," Jan. 10, 2024

Email conversation with Matt Handverger, spokesperson for Mark Pocan,  April 2, 2024

Spectrum News, "Congress only passed 27 bills that were signed into law in 2023, the least since the Great Depression," Dec. 21, 2023

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Yes, in 2023 Congress passed the fewest number of bills since the Great Depression

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