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A Look Back at the Highs and Lows of the 114th Congress

by Countable | 12.15.16

When the Senate voted to pass a water infrastructure and drought relief bill shortly after 1 a.m. on Saturday December 10, it essentially marked the conclusion of the 114th Congress and shifted the nation’s political focus toward the transition into the Trump administration and the next Congress.

Fewer bills have been signed into law under the 114th Congress at this point than in any of its predecessors since the Civil War, and while there are reasons for that — divided government and a presidential election cycle chief among them — lawmakers did pass 255 bills into law, and that number may still rise. With that in mind, we’ve recapped some of the major legislation that became law, and the high profile proposals that didn’t get enacted.

What got done?

The 114th Congress convened on January 6, 2015 with an early deadline. Its first order of business was to pass a so-called "Doc Fix" to prevent doctors’ reimbursement rates under Medicare from being slashed when an existing fix expired. Lawmakers ultimately approved a two-year patch in April 2015, but after passing 17 of these short-term fixes in an 11-year span, some had hoped for a longer-term solution. (The next Congress will have to pass another “Doc Fix,” which will bring the tally to 19 in 13 years.)

Several key provisions in the PATRIOT Act, including the controversial Section 215, were set to expire at the end of May 2015, but Congress wasn’t able to pass a reform bill known as the USA FREEDOM Act until early June, so there was a brief lapse in surveillance authorities. The bill ended the bulk collection of phone records at the National Security Agency (NSA) and gave companies the ability to challenge gag orders that prevent them from publicly disclosing requests for information from government agencies. These provisions will be up for reauthorization again in December 2019.

Spring 2015 also saw Congress require President Obama to give them the text of the Iran nuclear agreement so that lawmakers could review and vote on the deal. While the bill — which was originally about health insurance for volunteer firefighters — passed with wide bipartisan support, Congress never voted on a resolution to reject the deal, so it was allowed to proceed.

Congress granted President Obama a "fast-track" for approving free trade agreements in June 2015 after brokering a deal to also improve the enforcement of trade deal terms. But while the fast-track process was planned to help the Trans-Pacific Partnership approval process, Congress never considered the TPP after its terms were finalized.

After enacting several short-term extensions of the Highway Trust Fund in 2015, Congress was able to reach an agreement on a six-year bill known as the DRIVE Act to fund the nation’s transportation infrastructure projects through 2021. That dealmaking foreshadowed a larger bipartisan agreement that would ultimately cause a big shakeup in Congressional leadership.

With the federal government on track to run out of funding at the end of September 2015, Congress passed a short-term fix to keep it funded into December. In the meantime, a bipartisan budget deal was reached in October, which outlined top-level spending for the 2016 fiscal year. The terms of that deal upset enough House Republicans that they voted House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) out of the speakership. Boehner retired from Congress shortly thereafter, and was replaced as speaker by Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Unfortunately, the matter of how that funding would actually be spent still had to be determined, and Congress had to give itself additional deadline extensions before an omnibus appropriations bill that laid out $1.1 trillion in spending could be enacted on December 17, 2015.

For the 114th Congress’s 2016 session, the legislative calendar lightened as lawmakers took time away from Capitol Hill to hit the campaign trail in the hope of keeping their jobs. But they did manage to pass a few significant bipartisan bills when they weren’t kissing babies and raising campaign cash.

One such bill was an overhaul of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gave states greater power in designing how their school systems prepare students for college or careers. Another was the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which let the survivors of terror attacks and the families of victims sue foreign governments that sponsored or otherwise helped the perpetrators. Despite being vetoed by Obama, Congress had sufficient majorities in the House and Senate to override the veto, so it became law anyways. To date, that’s the only time an Obama veto has been overridden.

At the end of September 2016, the funding provided by the omnibus at the end of 2015 ran out, which required Congress to pass another short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government into December while also providing $1.1 billion in long-awaited Zika funding.

That set up a chaotic conclusion to the 114th Congress, with lawmakers scrambling to pass another funding bill before ending the session and transitioning into the new Congress. They also felt obliged to deal with a bill that had been under debate since spring 2015, known as the 21st Century Cures Act. Over 18 months after it was introduced, the bill passed in an amended form on a bipartisan 94-5 vote.

Following the election, President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team requested that Congress not set spending levels for the entire 2017 fiscal year, instead only funding the government into the spring so that the new administration could quickly make their mark on the workings of the federal government.

With a shutdown looming, the House passed a CR to fund the government into April and a water bill that funds infrastructure projects, gives communities like Flint, Michigan money to deal with lead-tainted water systems, and provide drought relief to California before leaving town to let the Senate finish Congress’s business. Some procedural maneuvers by Democrats hoping to amend the bills to boost healthcare benefits for coal miners and protect endangered fish that may be harmed by drought relief provisions delayed the Senate until a shutdown was imminent. But ultimately, the CR passed late Friday night and the water bill followed suit in the wee hours of Saturday December 10, which ended up being the final vote of the session as the shutdown was averted.

What didn’t get done?

As expected, Republicans in Congress tried yet again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the result was as unsuccessful their previous efforts. And despite support on both sides of the aisle for authorizing the use of military force against ISIS, neither the president’s proposal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) bill, nor a broader authorization that included additional Islamist terror groups were approved.

Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the nation’s highest court was left with a vacancy and Obama nominated Merrick Garland as his replacement. But the Senate refused to hold confirmation hearings for Garland, despite pleas from the House and many others, insisting that the next president should be responsible for nominating a new justice.

Following an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by gun-toting terrorists that killed 49, four gun control measures were proposed as amendments to an appropriations bill, which sought to offer solutions from each party that would prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns and expand background checks. All four amendments failed to receive the 60 votes they needed to be adopted.

What could still get done?

Congress may be gone, but there are still 75 bills that it passed which are still awaiting President Obama’s signature and could become law. Among those are several recently passed bills, including the water projects and drought relief bill that got the last vote of the session, an extension of sanctions against Iran, and the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017.

Here’s how the 114th Congress compared to some of its recent predecessors in terms of bills becoming law.
(As of December 15, 2016) 114th Congress graph

Want to praise or criticize your lawmakers for their efforts in the 114th Congress? You can do that or tell them what bills they should consider in the next Congress using the "Take Action" button.

— Eric Revell

Chart by Jason Weingardt

(Photo by Pete Souza, White House)

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(20)
  • Anna
    12/16/2016
    ···

    Most of the same old republican cronies who vowed to go against anything our great President proposed - even going against bills they proposed and he went along with. The one thing they keep trying to do, but will never have the brains for, is being doctors. They keep pissing off women by forcing themselves between our legs when not invited. Telling us that we are too stupid to make our own decisions is really a stupid thing to do! All in all, they sucked and we are much better off as a country when they're on vacation. Now we have a perfect match - an idiot prez elect(not mine) and an idiot congress. Will make for the ruin of America!!!

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  • Jim
    12/15/2016
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    Now that we are going into a new Congress next year Congress should: A) resolve to endure that there is only one subject per bill, without any riders. B) No Omnibus bills. C) All bills written in plain English so that everyone can understand them. D) All bills read completely by the Congressperson. E)All bills posted on a easily accessible website where the people can read and understand them.

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  • Debbie
    12/17/2016
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    Sadly a lot of good bills were vetoed because of Republican obstruction

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  • Alexiaa
    12/15/2016
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    I love this application. This was a very smart article. And the title is one that many Americans ask. I am glad this article was written and I read it and shared it.

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  • Robert
    12/16/2016
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    The Republican Party of No, could have accomplished mire if they were more collaborative. Life works in cycles...see you in 2018.

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  • Barbara
    12/17/2016
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    I feel that the 114th Congress, especially Republicans have done everything that that they could to oppose President Obama and his administration.Republicans and others the news media included have created an atmosphere of fear,mistrust.disrepect, and bigotry. President Obama presidency has had more crisis's than any other President in modern history. At no time have I witnessed any credit for his grace, civility and compassion for others.But have continually witnessed disrespect hate, hostility and bigotry . The Republican party others, and the news media have nourished the climate that has produced a divided nation. "A house divided cannot stand." May God have mercy upon us."

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  • MemphisMachiavelli
    12/23/2016
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    Well, no offense to Republicans but there is a reason why 114th congresses was called Lame-duck. They wouldn't do anything or pass laws unless it worked in their favor. Obama was a good president and could've done better if congress work with him. He tried to compromise so many times but of course they some old arrogant congressman. Reasons why we need more Democrats in government. Republicans are contributing to the restrictions of rights for all people of color and diversity today. That wasn't the case long time ago. But ever since Regan, you know how the rest goes.

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  • PLD
    01/14/2017
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    The party politics played by GOP leadership at the cost to the American public is shameful!! Now, that the leadership is backed by the Executive Branch and, soon, the Judicial Beach, my faith in government to work for the good of the average citizen is no more.

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  • Joan
    12/17/2016
    ···

    Currently the only political body with a lower approval rating than the President Elect is Congress, and with good reason. Though there are no doubt many men and women in both the House and Senate who still believe in actually serving their constituents, there is growing evidence that less well-intended elected officials are getting less work done in their zeal for partisanship and self promotion. As a result we face an unskilled and possibly hostile POTUS who has surrounded himself with equally unsuitable staff while the Congress, who should be a check against policies that are dangerous to the nation, is weaker and less effective than ever before. It is my request that each representative recommit himself to the nobler goals of political office and work to preserve this nation.

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  • Patrick mike
    12/16/2016
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    Of course they got very little done. They were faced with an Imperial President who circumvented them by executive fiat, whose cabinet members and department heads either stonewalled or outright lied to them. Note that the American people saw through the charade and gave all key leadership positions to the Republicans.

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  • Kathy
    12/17/2016
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    It is with great disappointment that I read the list of bills that Congress enacted in 2016 - or more accurately, the lack of legislation. As we move into the Trump era, I know my Senators will do everything in their power to curtail all efforts to derail President Obama's accomplishments, but I don't have that assurance with Rep. Reed. I implore you all to go back in time to the times of cooperation and compromise. I believe Paul Ryan has the attitude to do just that, but he needs the Republicans behind him. They now have total control, so no more president bashing and blocking. Tag - it's your turn.

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  • Jerry
    12/16/2016
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    No excuses come January.

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  • Cynthia
    01/17/2017
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    What the GOP has done the last 8 years is disgraceful. They did not work for the people only themselves. Now with them having all Three branches of government it is no longer a fair government. No checks and balances just a government with free reign and and a deaf ear.

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  • Ronald
    01/10/2017
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    Looks like members of both chambers of Congress need a reduction in pay.

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  • ckmasak
    12/16/2016
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    No mention of the most lobbied bill in recent history???? 21st Century Cures Act passed, and it contained the EUREKA Act as well. Major oversight on the author's part.

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  • Gary
    12/16/2016
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    Which ones were the "highs"?

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  • Ben
    02/05/2017
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    It is my humble opinion that the Republican majority of the 114th congress is what dragged this country into the gutter and lead us right into the sewer in which we now reside. Petty, childish, bullying, greedy, close minded, white-washed babies now living in a constant state of irony under a fake president who touts his incessant need to "make America great again" when realistically it is he, with your unwavering sycophantic support that will legitimize that slogan for the next president and his or her NEW congress.

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  • Watergirl
    01/24/2017
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    So enormously horrible what the congress of the last 4 years have done...NOTHING. Congress is and has been despicable!

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  • Linda
    12/16/2016
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    The reality fewer laws passed is a good thing, not a bad thing. Changing the law is supposed to be hard and sometimes the best action to prevent action.

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  • Tim
    12/16/2016
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    The fewer laws they pass, the better.

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