“Schoolhouse Rock” Revised: What it Really Takes to Pass A Bill in Congress

Includes videos and interactive chart

Remember that catchy “I’m Just a Bill” cartoon from the 1970s? For many of us, it was our first civics lesson (and introduction to bell-bottoms). But given the intense gridlock in today’s Congress — which will go down as one of the least productive in history — it’s fair to say that the lovable cartoon may have missed a few steps in explaining how laws are made. To fill in the gaps, the news explainer site Vox created a revised version for this era of congressional dysfunction. It’s modeled on the steps leading to the passage of the DATA Act, a recent bill that actually survived the gauntlet of Capital Hill.

[Article continues below videos]

The original version …

Although the United States Congress holds a tremendous amount of power in determining the nation’s course, it’s had a really tough time getting much done recently. Sharp divisions between Democratic and Republican lawmakers — and the peculiar configuration in which the latter controls the House and the former the Senate — has left the 112th Congress in a state of near-paralysis, unable to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing problems (remember immigration reform?). In fact, the current Congress is on track to being the least productive in recent history: in 2013, just 58 bills became law — and many of those dealt with naming post offices or transferring federal lands. 2014 hasn’t been much better: so far, just 46 bills have made it out alive.

 As a result, America’s public approval of Congress has hit all time lows in recent years, dipping to 9 percent in 2013, according to a Gallup poll. That makes it less popular than the Internal Revenue Service (40%) or BP during the 2010 Gulf oil spill (16%). Even Paris Hilton, in 2005, got a higher approval rating (15%). On the bright side, though, Americans still like Congress a little more than Fidel Castro (5%, in 2008). 

Source: Brookings Institution

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