By Mark Murray, Senior Political Editor, NBC News
A Congress already setting records for futility, a nation trying to absorb rapid transformation and a political system designed to slow the pace of change have led Washington D.C. into a gridlock.
The much-criticized 112th Congress – from 2011 to 2012 – was the least productive and least popular Congress on record, according to the available statistics.
Now six months in – highlighted by a string of legislative stalemates – the 113th Congress (2013-2014) is on track to match or even surpass those dubious distinctions.
After the last Congress saw its approval ratings drop to their lowest levels, aJune Gallup survey found that just 10 percent of Americans have confidence in the institution. That’s the lowest percentage Gallup ever measured for Congress on this question – or, for that matter, any other American institution, including the presidency, big business, the medical profession and public schools.
When it comes to productivity, only 15 legislative items have become law under the current Congress. That’s fewer than the 23 items that became law at this same point in the 112th Congress, which passed a historically low number of bills that were signed into law.
To many observers, these are signs of broken government, gerrymandered congressional districts and out-of-control partisanship on Capitol Hill.
But they’re also a reflection of divided government, especially during a time of profound and rapid social change.
“The country is pretty divided in a lot of different ways, and [Congress] not doing things reflects those divisions,” said John Samples, a political scholar at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.