Congress ends 2023 as most inactive year since Great Depression

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., pulls Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., back as they talk with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., as the House struggled to elect a speaker on January 6. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
1 of 9 | Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., pulls Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., back as they talk with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., as the House struggled to elect a speaker on January 6. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The 118th Congress is nearing the end of its first year by hitting a historical mark for inactivity: The U.S. House and Senate have passed 22 pieces of legislation, the lowest tally since the Great Depression.

The 72nd Congress passed 21 bills that were signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in the year beginning in March 1931, but lawmakers did not meet until the final three months of their first year. Congressional sessions started convening in January in 1933 with the adoption of the 20th Amendment.


In 1931, 14 members died between Election Day and the first day of Congress, about a 13-month span. When their seats were filled, the majority had flipped from Republicans to Democrats.

This year, according to the congressional public law website, the U.S. House has voted on 724 pieces of legislation. The U.S. Senate held 352 votes. Of the 12,103 bills introduced, the 22 enacted represent a 0.001% success rate.


Though some hope remains: The Senate is expected to take up additional support to Ukraine in its defense against Russia before leaving Washington for the holidays. Some Republicans have pushed for Ukraine support to be tied to immigration reform, creating the threat of a standstill.

Year of tumult

The first week in session was tumultuous in the House as members of the Republican majority nearly came to blows in an attempt to name a speaker. After 15 votes, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., emerged the leader.

Among the first tests for McCarthy was to negotiate a debt ceiling bill that would pass the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden. Talks with Biden kicked off in February, but the bill was not signed until June 3. It was the first of three bills that would avoid what officials said would be a national economic crisis.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the United States would default on its debts if it did not raise or suspend the debt limit by June 5.

The bill required support from Democrats in the House to pass, setting the stage for conflict between McCarthy and a group of House Republicans. In October, that conflict came to a head.


In late September, McCarthy passed a continuing resolution to temporarily avert a government shutdown. Again, it passed with support from Democrats. On Oct. 1, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., filed a motion to remove McCarthy as speaker.

Eight Republicans voted with House Democrats to remove McCarthy, leaving the speakership vacant for a record 21 days. McCarthy has since announced he will leave the House at the end of the year.

Before McCarthy's announcement, Gaetz filed an ethics complaint against him, accusing him of elbowing Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., in the back on Nov. 14. Burchett was one of the Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy.

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., was named the new speaker after failed campaigns by Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Steve Scalise, R-La., and Tom Emmer, R-Minn.

About two weeks into Johnson's speakership, the House passed his two-step resolution to again avoid a government shutdown. The bill was signed, keeping the government fully funded until Jan. 19.

Earlier this month, the House expelled embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., amid allegations of fraud. Santos faces more than a dozen charges for wire fraud, identity theft and falsifying records. In May, he pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen charges in his first indictment. He has maintained his innocence.


Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was also indicted - facing federal bribery charges in September. He has refused calls to resign. His term ends in January 2025.

Laws passed

The first bills of the year were not signed into law until March 20. (In comparison, the 117th Congress had its first bill of the year passed into law on Jan. 22, 2021, three weeks after convening.)

This year's first was a joint resolution to disapprove of and nullify the District of Columbia council's revised criminal code. Biden also signed the COVID-19 Origin Act to require the director of national intelligence to declassify information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and COVID-19.

The third bill ended the COVID-19 national emergency declaration in April.

Of the 22 pieces of legislation passed into law, eight related to veterans affairs. Two bills designated healthcare facilities. Six bills were introduced by Democrats, including three by Montana Sen. Jon Tester.

"Montanans sent me to Washington to deliver common-sense legislation that helps lower costs for Montana's working families, ensures our military has the tools it needs to keep our country safe and honors the commitment we made to our nation's veterans," Tester told UPI in a statement. "I'll continue to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, to get the job done."


The first of these bills, introduced by Tester, was the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act. It requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to increase wartime disability compensation and payments to dependents, surviving spouses and children of veterans at the same rate of Social Security benefits.

Tester also introduced a bill that authorizes seven medical facility projects in fiscal year 2023, including the construction of a $395 million outpatient clinic and national cemetery in Alameda, Calif.

Three veterans bills passed that expanded the eligibility of benefits.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., introduced a bill to extend care to children with spina bifida and other birth defects. It was signed on Oct. 6.

Tester brought a bill to the floor in September that allows more healthcare professionals to perform medical examinations as part of a VA pilot program.

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., led the Korean American VALOR Act to expand benefits for veterans of the armed forces of South Korea who served in the Vietnam War.

While Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville blocked promotions within the Department of Defense over his opposition to the department's reproductive healthcare policy, one bill loosely related to defense has been signed. The CADETS Act modifies the age requirement for the Maritime Administration's Student Incentive Payment program.


The program gives financial support to cadets enrolled in the Strategic Sealift Midshipmen Program. The previous law was limited to students 17 to 25 years old at the time of enrollment. It was changed to students age 17 to 41 at the time of graduation. The change will cost the Maritime Administration an estimated $1 million to implement.

Of the remaining bills passed, one related to education and another to public health. The education bill authorizes schools to purchase weapons or use "dangerous weapons" to teach students archery, hunting, shooting sports and culinary arts.

The public health bill modifies how the organ procurement and transplant network is managed. This includes authorizing the award of grants, contracts and cooperative agreements.

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