President Donald Trump signed more bills into law in his first 100 days than his last three predecessors, but that doesn’t mean he got more done.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is the reason people focus on a president’s first 100 days.
Signing a dizzying number of laws and executive orders that made up the monstrous New Deal, FDR got more done in his first 100 days in office than any president before him or any since.
Part of the reason was because he took office in the depths of the Great Depression, and used his “honeymoon period” with Congress to stabilise the economy.
Of course, presidents don’t have total control over their time in office.
“It helps to keep in mind that neither Trump nor Obama wrote the laws they signed,” Josh Tauberer, founder of the legislative database GovTrack, told Business Insider. “They can only sign the bills that Congress gives them, and although presidents like to take lots of credit, they actually have an insignificant role in the passage of most of them.”
Trump’s 100th day in office was Saturday, and he did sign more laws than presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama.
But the overall number is just part of the story. The vast differences between the number of pages or words those bills contained start to reveal what types of laws they were and what effects they ultimately had.
Tauberer explained that, generally speaking, bills with more words usually create government programs, while those with fewer are often rolling back regulations or programs. Obama’s stimulus package to keep the government funded had 358,113, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had 294,307.
In his first 100 days, Trump signed a NASA bill to send humans to Mars, and a resolution to keep the government funded and prevent a shutdown for another week. The bill tied to his effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) failed to get a vote in the House.
It’s worth noting that the White House’s press release touting Trump’s accomplishments in 100 days versus those of his predecessors cited the wrong number of laws for Obama and Clinton. It may have relied on a FiveThirtyEight article that used data from a study that measured laws passed during Congress’s first 100 days, not the presidents.’
The number of pages or words in laws can be a good or bad thing, depending on what you want the federal government to do.
“If what you want is the government to roll back and simplify regulations, then you’re not looking for lengthly legislation. It doesn’t take many words to roll back a regulation,” Tauberer said. “The 13 bills from Congress that Trump signed that rolled back regulations did do that, and some were significant, but on the whole that was a symbolic effort because 13 doesn’t make even a dent.”