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

“Schoolhouse Rock” Revised: What it Really Takes to Pass A Bill in Congress 20 May,2015Matthew Green


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor