In terms of total votes in each chamber, the 113th Congress sits in the middle of the pack. The House voted 1,204 times to the Senate's 657. It is typical for the House to pass many more bills than the Senate, experts noted.
House Republicans have been wont to blame the gridlock on the Senate, where far fewer bills passed, and where, they note, even bipartisan bills like a reauthorization of terrorism-risk insurance or a measure spurring action on the Keystone XL oil pipeline have died.
But Ritchie said that is not entirely accurate. The Senate passed several large, bipartisan bills that the House did not take up, including measures dealing with immigration, transportation policy, and postal reform.
"None of that got through the House of Representatives," Ritchie said. "The House just had a very different way of looking at things and didn't produce their own versions of those bills."
However, Ritchie, Tauberer, and several historians and data scientists interviewed for this story noted that simply counting the number of bills passed does not paint a full picture of congressional productivity. One reason is that the trend lately has been to pass massive bills that touch myriad issues, much like the year-end Cromnibus.
"The Affordable Care Act was one bill. Naming a post office is a second bill. Are they equal? No," said Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation.
Based on various other subjective metrics, though, the 113th Congress was one of the least productive in history.
To delve further into the numbers, Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, uses a different analysis. She has made note of every issue discussed in The New York Times' unsigned editorials going back to 1940—regardless of whether the editorial board was in favor or not—and compares that with the issues Congress takes up. She then assigns each Congress a gridlock score based on the percentage of the issues of the day that are not legislated upon.
The 112th Congress, according to Binder's analysis, had a gridlock score of more than 70 percent, and Binder said that although she has not yet completed her analysis of the 113th Congress, she suspects the score will be similar.
"We're basically talking the same level of deadlock. The same issues: immigration, post office reform, climate change, corporate tax reform. ... Even on Dodd-Frank repeal, Obamacare repeal "¦ they did very few real big things in the end," she said.
David Mayhew, a political science professor at Yale University, runs a similar analysis. He makes note of legislation mentioned by journalists in articles summarizing the work of each Congress and bases that Congress's productivity on how many major pieces of legislation are enacted.
He pointed to the 113th Congress's passage of the Cromnibus, the farm bill, the Violence Against Women Act, Veterans' Affairs changes, and the Budget Control Act, but noted that this Congress's productivity was relatively, although not historically, meager.