We analyzed every piece of legislature put in front of Congress since 1975. With data from GovTrack.us, we checked the final statuses of bills and other information – such as sponsor and subject. Which hot issues are most likely to pass? Which Congress members are least likely to get things done? Do Democrats or Republicans fare better in Congress? Read on to see the long shots and safest bets.
Hot-Button Issues Most Likely to Pass
Think about this – there are 10,373 bills currently before Congress, but only about 4 percent will become law. Any bill that is not passed by the end of the current session automatically dies. So what does it take to get a bill through? The right topic, for one.
According to our findings, human rights (general) has the best chance of succeeding in the House. Compared with the issue of hate crimes, which has a 10 percent chance of passing (9 to 1), bills and resolutions concerning human rights (general) have about a 17 percent chance of being enacted – or 5 to 1.
Topics related to the military and terrorism have even worse odds, 8 percent (12 to 1) and 7 percent (13 to 1) respectively. Considering how prevalent these issues are, especially with recent attacks connected to ISIS, this is surprising and somewhat shocking.
Yet bills related to abortion (38 to 1) have greater a chance of being enacted than wages (61 to 1) or unemployment (98 to 1). As unlikely as it is, you could potentially win $980 if you bet $10 on an unemployment bill that passed.
Issues Least Likely to Pass
If the odds of unemployment bills being passed aren't great, then there is an even lesser chance of anything remotely connected to taxes successfully moving through Congress. While taxes greatly influence our economy, the process of enacting tax legislation is a difficult one – most recommendations come from the president, but only Congress can make changes. If there is a disconnect between the two positions of power – such as not being able to find common ground – then issues like tax reform go unresolved.
Based on the data, legislation related to the drug industry has more of a chance (229 to 1) of being enacted than personal income tax (241 to 1). And interest rates only have about a 279-to-1 odds of successfully passing.
A perfect example: In 2013, when student loan rates were on the table, Congress was unable to decide where exactly rates should be set and when they should be capped. As a result of being unable to come to a decision, the rate doubled on July 1, 2013.
The worst odds? Income tax credits. The chances of any legislation related to this topic being passed are nearly nonexistent at 0.15 percent.
Odds of Legislative Categories Passing Congress
When it comes to legislation that benefits the Senate and the House, the chances of passing bills and resolutions look pretty good. In fact, there is about 56 percent chance that legislation related to the Senate is going to pass successfully through Congress. This is compared to a 11.1 percent chance of anything else, overall, getting passed.
When it comes to special weeks – which are established to formally recognize and bring awareness to certain issues – there's about a 55 percent chance that bills will be passed. The probable lower cost of efforts such as these likely increase their passing rate. It also involves very little controversy. Additionally, bills and resolutions involving House rules and procedures are relatively likely to pass (0.82 to 1) because they affect how the House runs.
On the other end of the spectrum are issues related to Europe. European legislation only has about a 20 percent chance of being passed. And bills related to democracy – which the U.S. often encourages across the globe – only have about a 21 percent chance of reaching the president.
Odds of Federal Entity–Related Legislation Passing Congress
NASA has been an important part of the American identity since humans first started to explore space. As such, NASA is often the subject of attention, with there being a 7-to-1 chance (12.5 percent) of related bills being passed in Congress. But just because this federal entity is seeing so much action doesn't necessarily mean it is positive. Historically, NASA has been underfunded, and these bills could very well be taking away even more money from space exploration.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has the next best odds, with related bills having a 14-to-1 chance (6.7 percent) of passing. And with so much spotlight in recent years, these bills might have something to do with damage control. The odds for the FBI are 16 to 1.
Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which is responsible for protecting public health – isn't receiving the same attention. Of the federal entities we looked at, the FDA has the worst odds: 110 to 1, or 0.9 percent. And the Department of Transportation isn't faring much better, with odds of 83 to 1 (1.2 percent).
States With the Best Odds
With 535 members of Congress, it can be easy for bills to slip through the cracks. While some members of Congress have had exceptional luck getting bills and resolutions passed, others haven't been as fortunate.
Based on the map above, it is evident that members of Congress from Nevada boast the best odds when it comes to having legislation they sponsor become federal law – 3.51 to 1, or 22 percent. Despite only having four representatives in the House, their track records are impressive. Take Rep. Joe Heck: Since the 112th Congress, five of his bills have passed, and nine are currently pending.
Mississippi seems to have a winning streak as well; the odds of its members introducing a bill that is passed are 3.70 to 1. West Virginia follows closely with odds of 3.71 to 1.
It's unfortunate that the same can't be said for Iowa, Hawaii, and New Jersey. With odds of 13.47 to 1, you could potentially win almost $135 if you placed a $10 bet on Iowa's members actually getting something passed. You could also potentially win about $128 with the same bet on Hawaii, and $124 if you put your money on New Jersey. It just might not be a smart move.
Odds of Bipartisan Legislation Getting Passed
As previously noted, there is often contention between the presidency and Congress. So when the government is in the midst of conflict, it can be hard for things to get done. It can be even harder when the president and the majority of Congress are part of different political parties.
In 2015, President Obama found himself in a political debate with Republican congressional members over negotiations with Iran. But this isn't the first time the president and Congress – or Democrats and Republicans – have been at odds. According to our findings, the chances of these two political parties passing bills have greatly fluctuated since 1975.
For instance, when President Jimmy Carter was in office in 1978, the odds of a Republican getting a bill passed were 35.78 to 1 (about 3 percent) – the second-lowest to date. And in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was in office, Democrats only had about a 5 percent (19.05 to 1) chance at getting bills and resolutions successfully through Congress. Oddly enough, Democrats experienced worse odds during President Bill Clinton's time in 1997 (20.30 to 1).
But since 2008, despite President Obama being a Democrat, Republican members have had pretty good luck. In 2010, the odds of Republican legislation getting enacted was 5.89 to 1 (about 14.5 percent). And this makes sense. Since his inauguration, Obama has compromised on quite a few issues, including the 2010 budget deal and fiscal cliff. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats haven't had as many wins. In fact, the odds of a Democrat getting a bill passed in 2015 was under 5 percent (19.55 to 1). Lesson learned? Compromise doesn't necessarily work both ways.
Finally, when we looked at total odds from 1975 to 2015, Democrats and Republicans fared about the same – 7.98 to 1 (11.14 percent) and 8 to 1 (11.11 percent) respectively.
House Members With the Worst Odds
Elected directly by the people, representatives serve two-year terms. In that time, their duties include introducing bills and resolutions, offering amendments, and serving on committees. It's not unrealistic to expect that they sponsor bills that actually get enacted. But expectations don't always come through.
When we looked at members who sponsored at least 25 bills, this was apparent. Take Rep. Robert Andrews, for example, although praised by President Obama as one of the original authors of the Affordable Care Act, his track record isn't blemish-free. Before he resigned from Congress in 2014 for misuse of campaign money, his odds of sponsoring a bill that passed were 322 to 1, or 0.31 percent.
Even Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2008 and became the head of the Libertarian Party, didn't fare much better. His odds were only 312 to 1 (0.32 percent). And if you were to bet on Rep. Bob McEwen, your chances of winning would only be slightly better – his odds were 175 to 1 (0.57 percent).
Shockingly, out of House members least likely to get bills passed, Rep. Anthony Weiner – infamously known for his inappropriate text messages – had the best odds, which isn't saying much. Before he resigned, his odds were 100 to 1 (0.99 percent).
Overall, out of this list, Republicans had worse luck than Democrats passing legislation. Currently, Rep. Erik Paulsen is the only representative still serving.
Congress Members With the Best Odds
For a can't-lose pick, you should definitely place your bets on these House members.
Before passing away at the age of 95, Rep. Ray Madden was able to get 25 out of 29 bills and resolutions passed after 1975 – making his odds spectacularly high (0.16 to 1, or 86 percent). Rep. John Young also had fantastic luck while in Congress, despite being involved in an adultery scandal in the ‘70s. Out of 46 bills and resolutions that he sponsored after 1975, 39 were enacted. His odds were 0.18 to 1, or about 85 percent. And had you put your cash on Rep. George Mahon during his time in Congress, you would have had a terrific chance of winning – his odds were 0.25 to 1, or 80 percent.
Although not as successful as the above three representatives, Rep. Porter Goss saw his fair share of wins. While in the House, his odds of getting a bill passed were 0.91 to 1, or 52 percent. He would later become the first Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.
Most notable was Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American congresswoman. She had a success rate of 0.89 to 1 (about 53 percent) despite the challenges that came with a being a minority in Washington.
Based on our findings, both Republicans and Democrats equally comprized this list. Additionally, Rep. Rob Woodall, Rep. Daniel Webster, and Rep. Dan Newhouse currently serve. Keep an eye out for them in the future because there is a good chance their odds are only going to get better.
High Stakes in Congress
While Congress isn't perfect, it's important. As the lawmaking branch of the government, we rely on senators and members of the House of Representatives to fairly pass bills and resolutions that better the U.S. And while a lot of bills are introduced, very few laws are actually enacted.
When we looked at the odds of Congress getting things done, we noticed a few things. Bills related to popular issues are more likely than not to pass. In fact, human rights (general) was the most successful issue from 1975 to 2015. Bills related to this had about a 17 percent chance of passing.
On top of that, some members of Congress have more luck than others. Compared with Rep. Robert Andrews – who had the worst odds – Rep. Ray Madden got an incredible number of bills passed. Even congressional members from Nevada were successful.
Finally, the odds of Democrats and Republicans passing legislation fluctuated greatly over the years, but surprisingly, the total odds came out to be about the same.
All in all, while it may feel too risky to stake everything on our current Congress, it could be worse. So don't withdraw your bets just yet. Maybe the 115th Congress will be different.
To see which pieces of legislation have successfully passed through Congress since 1975, we collected data from GovTrack.us and checked final statuses along with subject topics and sponsors.
State- and party-related data were pulled from the state of the sponsor. Subject data were as listed on the website except for the first graphic, where we queried the list of subject topics for related subjects and combined them accordingly. For example, when looking for drug-related legislation, we examined legislation tagged with drug, drugs, drug trafficking, drug smuggling, cocaine, psychotropic drugs, etc., and grouped the data into one category.
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