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Congress is on pace to be historically unproductive — and that could be a problem for the economy

Bob Bryan
paul ryan Mitch Mcconnell

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
When Congress returns on September 3rd from its month-long August recess, it will have been exactly eight months since the start of the 115th Congress. 

But despite being one-third of the way through the two-year congressional calendar, there's yet to be a lot of progress made on the legislative front.

In a note to clients, State Street Global Advisors' Michael Arone laid out just how little the current 115th Congress has done in its time so far.

Despite Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, the legislature only managed to enact 45 laws before heading out on its August break. When the members return in September, rounding out their first eight months, they will be on pace to enact just 135 pieces of legislation.

Compare that to the last three Congresses, which enacted 284, 296, and 329 pieces of legislation. This happened with multi-party control over the various levers of the government.

In fact, based on Arone's chart, if the 115th Congress stays on its current pace, it would be the fewest law enacted dating back at least to the 93rd Congress, which ran from 1973 to 1975.

Also something to consider is the type of legislation being passed. So far many of the laws being passed are simple items like renaming post offices or bills that roll back Obama-era regulations that only need a simple majority vote to pass.

"Zero. That's how many legislative victories have been achieved in the first eight months of the Trump presidency," Arone wrote. "For a president who boasted about winning bigly, this has got to be frustrating."

So far, according to The Washington Post, there have been fewer than ten roll call votes taken by the Senate, an incredibly low number. Plus, one of those was to loosen federal waterway safety standards to allow the relocation of a historic riverboat.

Even congressional leaders admit it. When asked about the Senate's major accomplishments after the first defeat of the GOP healthcare bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could only point to adding Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

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(State Street Global Advisors)

Now there's some good news and some bad news here for the 155th. 

On the one hand, there is a slew of must-pass legislation coming onto the docket in September like the budget, debt ceiling, and reauthroizations for myriad government departments that should help boost the overall number.

On the other hand, the division in the Senate with Democrats blocking almost every piece of legislation will continue. The divisons between the Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump is only getting worse, making it more difficult to get anything done. And the massive upcoming fight over tax reform could suck the air out of many other legislative efforts.

If, however, the slow pace of legislation continues, Arone wrote that is could be a serious negative for more than just Congress' historical standing. Eventually the confidence boost in the markets and economy due to Trump's policies may begin to fade.

"With no legislative victories to boast about and prospects for future wins dimming, concerns are growing that President Trump may pivot to the more controversial parts of his agenda where he doesn't need Congressional approval, such as trade policy," Areon concluded. "At least in the short term, ill-advised trade policy won't be good for the economy or markets."

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