Congress’ Top Ten Bills Since 1955

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call compiled a panel of Congressional scholars and asked them to name the ten most significant bills approved by Congress over the last fifty years.

The newspaper says the scholars, who included Joel Aberbach of UCLA, Scott Adler of the University of Colorado, David Boaz of the Cato Institute, David Brady and Morris Fiorina of the Hoover Institution, Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation, Allan Lichtman of American University, Burdett Loomis of the University of Kansas, David Mayhew of Yale, Bert Rockman of Ohio State, Steven Smith of Washington University, Rick Striner of Washington College, James Thurber of American University and Eric Uslaner of the University of Maryland, “reached a clear consensus” on the top five bills, but then diverged wildly.

The top ten (with parenthetical notes from me to identify a few of the bills younger readers might not recognize):

1. Civil Rights Act (1964).

2. Voting Rights Act (1965). (Roll Call opines that this legislation “made possible America’s turn to the right on economic, social and foreign policy since the 1980s.” Really?)

3. Medicare and Medicaid Acts (1965).

4. Federal-Aid Highway Act (1956). (Creation of the Interstate Highway System.)

5. Economic Recovery Tax Act (1981). (President Reagan’s signature tax cuts.)

6. National Defense Education Act (1958). (Federal education aid bill sold on the notion that it would help the U.S. best the Soviets.)

7. Tonkin Gulf Resolution (1964).

8. Amendments to Immigration and Nationality Act (1965). (Removed national-origins quotas for immigrants, boosting legal immigration.)

9. Clean Air Act Amendments (1970). (The feds claim authority over states on environmental policy; era of command-and-control environmental rulemaking begins in earnest.)

10. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (1996). (Welfare reform. It took three tries by Congress to get President Clinton to sign it. Change of heart or election year politics? Few wonder.)

The Roll Call piece also notes that Congress has approved approximately 28,000 bills since 1955. It does not estimate how many of them we really needed.

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