With Congressional approval ratings hovering around single digits, it's probably no wonder that most Americans believe Congress is not getting things done.

Now, with both the House and Senate out until early September, proposed bills are languishing in the empty halls of Congress waiting to be acted upon.

The outcry about gridlock doesn't come just from the people outside the Washington beltway.  Before the August recess, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) held a press conference to talk about what was and wasn't getting done in Washington. Jenkins laid much of the blame at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).  Jenkins had this to say about Reid:

"The president is fond of referring to the House as the ‘do-nothing Congress.’ But we have 352 reasons why it’s a ‘do-Nothing Senate.’  "Three-hundred-fifty-two are sitting on Harry Reid’s desk, awaiting action. Ninety-eight percent of them passed with bipartisan support -- Republicans and Democrats working together to pass legislation. Fifty percent of the bills passed unanimously, with no opposition. Seventy percent of the bills passed with two-thirds support in the House. And over 55 bills were introduced by Democrats. "Three-hundred-fifty-two bills. Why won’t Harry Reid act? These are good bills; bills that put the American people back to work, put more money in hardworking Americans pockets, help with education and skills training. We call upon Harry Reid to get to work before he adjourns in August to pass some of these bills. The American people deserve better."

PolitiFact took a look at the statements that there are 352 bills sitting on Harry Reid's desk and that 55 of them were introduced by Democrats. PolitiFact reporter Linda Qiu says Jenkins' claim rates HALF TRUE.  Qiu says the issue is a bit more complex than how Rep. Jenkins has made it out to be.

"We took a look at the numbers, and while there were 342 bills that were passed in the House and sent to the Senate, the big thing to remember is that some of these bills are actually in Senate committees, and the committee chair ultimately can decide whether or not to let a bill pass to the next level," Qiu said. "The other complicating part of this is that the Senate may have their own version of the same legislation, so the House bill might just be sitting there while the Senate proceeds on their own."

What about the claim that 55 of the bills that came out of the House and moved on to the Senate were introduced by Democrats?  Qiu says that the number is accurate, but that the 55 bills represent only about 16 percent of the bills passed by the House.  "If you look at the bills, the substance of the legislation in these bills is pretty mundane," Qiu said. "We're talking about things like names for federal buildings, minor tweaks to legislation, and even the granting of an immigration visa to an individual."

Rep. Jenkins has laid the blame of Washington gridlock at the feet of Sen. Harry Reid, but Reid is not the only person who gatekeeps the bills reaching the Senate floor. PolitiFact rates Rep. Jenkins' claim HALF TRUE.


SOURCES: Reid behind Congressional gridlock?

  • PolitiFact ruling
  • Lynn Jenkins, "Jenkins: 352 bills are sitting on Harry Reid's desk, awaiting action," July 27, 2014
  • Searches on the THOMAS legislative database
  • Email interview with Burdett Loomis, University of Kansas political scientist, Aug. 5, 2014
  • Email interview with Donald Wolfensberger, congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Aug. 5, 2014
  • Email interview with Steven Smith, political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Aug. 5, 2014
  • Email interview with Norm Ornstein, congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Aug. 5, 2014
  • Email interview with Sarah Binder, congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, Aug. 5, 2014
  • Email interview with Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Harry Reid, Aug. 5, 2014
  • Email interview with Thomas W. Brandt, spokesman for Lynn Jenkins, Aug. 5, 2014