Politics / Other
Who legislates more, the house or senate? Does legislation suffer if one party controls either the house or senate but not both? After reading Alex Ryde’s article “Does the ‘Big Win’ Matter?” last week, I decided to take a closer look at some of his/her claims and see what the numbers showed. The following observations are the result of statistical analysis of data from thomas.loc.gov.
1. The House generates more legislation than the Senate.
If you know how the legislative branch of the United States government works, this really should be no surprise. The structural and procedural differences between the chambers were intended, from the very beginning, to account for the will of the majority while mitigating the risk of tyranny of the majority.
2. More legislation comes out of a chamber with Democrats in the majority than with Republicans
Again, makes sense– as someone commented on Ryde’s piece, the goal of the Republican party is not always to pass legislation. But…
A higher standard deviation indicates a lower level of consistency in legislative output. Republicans, on the whole, are far less consistent in their legislative output than Democrats. The only case where this is not true is in the Senate; Democrats have a higher standard deviation in the Senate than Republicans. This, however, can be easily explained by the fact that Democrats have held the Senate while they also have the House as well as in a split Congress. There has only been one Congress in the last twenty where Republicans have held the Senate but not the House (the 99th Congress, from 1985-1987). Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Republicans are able to produce a more consistent amount of legislation from the Senate, when they hold it– the opposition party is most likely in the minority. Democrat-held Senates, however, have to contend with the Republican majority about 1/3 of the time. It is hardly a surprise, then, that their legislative output is less consistent– especially when you consider the last few years.
4. In spite of it all– more legislation from Democrats and the House side, and high standard deviations– legislative output between the two parties is not that different.
The averages of each party’s output in all four contexts– Republican House, Republican Senate; Republican House, Democrat Senate; Democrat House, Republican Senate; and Democrat House, Democrat Senate– are all within one standard deviation of each other. That is, the average output of a Republican House is within one standard deviation (of their own output) as the average output of a Democrat House.
In sum, it would appear that Alex Ryde’s assessment is fairly accurate, at least quantitatively. A much more in-depth analysis of the parties’ make up and other contextual data would provide a more detailed perspective. In terms of painting by numbers, though, it would appear that your legislative picture looks pretty much the same, whether your painting in blue or red.