Infographic: What The Hell Does Congress Do All Day?

This interactive visualization offers a revealing look at Congress’s priorities over the past 40 years.

What does Congress do all day? An interactive site called Legislative Explorer can show you. Researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy worked with the Seattle-based design studio Schema to create LegEx, a visualization of Congressional lawmaking over the past 40 years.


The graphic is divided spatially: Small figures represent members of the Senate on the left, sorted by party color (yellow is for Independents). The most liberal members are arranged in the top rows. Every particle in the visualization represents a congressional bill or resolution, which moves from committee (for instance, the Senate Finance Committee or House Internal Security Committee) onto the congressional calendar, then to the floor, then to the President’s desk to be signed or vetoed.

Click play, and an animation shows pixels zooming out from the Senate (left) or House (right) into the committee like red and blue fireworks, according to the day they were introduced. Clicking on each pixel brings up a fact sheet, including what the bill does and who sponsored it.

The timeline allows you to see when the most bills are introduced, what committees are dealing with the most legislation at any given time, and when in the year the most legislative action happens. The visualization can be sorted by politician, political party, legislative topic, and whether it passed both chambers of Congress. You can even follow the progress of a specific bill, like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

As the researchers warn in the site tutorial, the sheer number of bills passed may not reveal that much: “Bills vary in importance. Some bills reform the U.S. healthcare system. Other bills name post offices.” But by diving down into topics and subtopics, you can see, for example, that only one bill dealing with the unemployment rate was introduced in the latest session of Congress.

Play with it here. It’s updated nightly.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.