- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2014

Senate Democrats haven’t had to take many tough votes this year, but the flip side is that this also means they aren’t notching many legislative accomplishments for voters back home — and it’s becoming an issue in politically vulnerable Democrats’ re-election races.

Sen. Kay R. Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat seeking a second term in office, has never had a single law signed under her name, according to congressional records. Her Republican opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, argues that’s evidence she’s not doing any favors for their state in Washington.

“Instead of working across the aisle to pass laws benefitting North Carolina families, Hagan has put her liberal special interest allies first, rubber-stamping President Obama’s failed partisan agenda 95 percent of the time,” Daniel Keylin, campaign spokesman for Mr. Tillis, said in a statement last week.

Mrs. Hagan, who won her seat in 2008 by unseating a GOP incumbent she said was ineffective, counters that measuring effectiveness based on laws bearing your name is a bad way of judging a senator’s time in office, and said her voting record stacks up better than Mr. Tillis’.

“Kay has been named the most moderate Senator and has a commonsense record of bipartisan results to match,” said campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner. “Speaker Tillis will have to spend the next 3 months explaining to North Carolinians why he chose budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy over investments in education.”

Mrs. Hagan isn’t the only one to face the situation.

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Another first-term Democrat, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, also doesn’t have a law to his name in his six years in the chamber, and he took fire from the state GOP earlier this year, which posted Twitter messages mocking the freshman senator.

The message linked to the Library of Congress’ website, showing that none of the bills for which Mr. Franken is listed as chief sponsor have been signed into law.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons of Delaware, yet another first-termer up for re-election, finally escaped the zero list Friday when President Obama signed 17 bills, including Mr. Coons’ first-ever law, which would enhance prosecutions for child abuse and renew federal grant programs for victims.

On the Republican side, Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and James E. Risch of Idaho are about to complete their first terms with no legislation to their names.

In addition to the first-termers, two senior Republicans, Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, didn’t notch any laws to their names over the last six years.

Mr. Roberts just survived a bruising GOP primary, where the location of his home made more of a splash than his legislative record. His campaign didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

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Mr. Sessions’ spokesman disputed using laws sponsored as a yardstick for effectiveness, saying it didn’t account for the bills he helped write but for which he wasn’t the chief sponsor, and it also doesn’t account for amendments he attached, which often constitute major policy changes.

Spokesman Stephen Miller said Mr. Sessions, who is unopposed in his bid for a fourth term, helped write bills on patent reform, sex fugitive tracking and farmlands irrigation, brokered the key compromise on a bill to reduce the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine and regularly does heavy lifting as part of the Armed Services Committee.

“For five of the last seven years, Sessions was also the principle co-author of the strategic forces subcommittee portion of the National Defense Authorization Act,” Mr. Miller said. “Both Houses of Congress have also just passed a measure co-authored by Sessions to protect victims of child abuse that is now awaiting the president’s signature.”

Mr. Miller disputed the relevance of that yardstick on another score entirely, saying that a lawmaker can be effective by stopping bad bills from becoming law, noting that Mr. Sessions has taken a lead role in fighting a number of spending bills and immigration legislation.

Mr. Franken’s office defended against the charge by pointing to Minnesota fact checkers who, like Mr. Miller, disputed the value of judging a senator only by chief sponsorship on bills. The fact checkers said it was fair to look at the other bills Mr. Franken joined as co-sponsor. Using that yardstick, Mr. Franken has 19 laws to his name.

Mrs. Hagan’s office also disputed the value of looking only at chief sponsorships, and said by that measure, her GOP opponent Mr. Tillis looks even worse.

He was chief sponsor of five bills in this session of the North Carolina state legislature, none of which became law. And he was a co-sponsor of only one bill that became law in North Carolina — legislation that supported a “possum drop,” which is a New Year’s Eve tradition in Clay County. The law has drawn a lawsuit from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.

Nick Simpson, a spokesman for Mr. Johanns, also said it was unfair to judge his boss’s tenure on laws to his name. He said Mr. Johanns deserves credit for sponsoring the repeal of an Obamacare tax reporting provision that won wide bipartisan support. The identical House version was signed into law, however, denying Mr. Johanns a law to his name.

Mr. Simpson also said his boss has been in the Senate during a rough period for legislating.

“Sens. Johanns and Risch were the only two freshmen elected in 2008 and as such have only served in a period of historic gridlock caused by the majority refusing to allow the Senate to function,” he said. “Legislation has been blocked and the Senate floor schedule has been dictated by what the Democrats deem will help them politically — bringing up Republican legislation probably doesn’t fit into that category.”

Some senators in Washington escape the zero list by sponsoring relatively minor legislation, such as renaming a post office in their state — a move that requires a federal law.

Indeed, of the 17 bills Mr. Obama signed into law Friday, five of them named post offices. Another renamed a U.S. Forest Service building, and yet another named a railway station in Philadelphia after a longtime congressman who died last year.

In her case, though, Mrs. Hagan was supposed to have an accomplishment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, set up a vote earlier this year on a bill sponsored by Mrs. Hagan, dubbed the Sport Act, that was designed to expand access for hunting and fishing on public lands.

But no sooner had the bill come up than Republicans and Democrats alike offered amendments ranging from undoing Mr. Obama’s executive actions to a full gun control debate. Mr. Reid moved to block out all amendments, shutting down debate. Both Republicans and Democrats then filibustered, defeating the measure and leaving Ms. Hagan empty-handed.

Mr. Reid blames Republicans for trying to force political tricky votes, while GOP leaders say they’ll continue blocking bills that Mr. Reid won’t let them try to shape.

In a statement after the bill failed, Mrs. Hagan said she wished both sides had been able to offer amendments — to a point.

“I believe the Senate should have considered sportsmen-related amendments, including those dealing with gun issues important to sportsmen and -women, and I am disappointed that politics prevented us from reaching an agreement this week,” she said.

Overall, the Senate has been through a stunningly unproductive period for the last few years, scoring the worst period on record in The Washington Times’ Legislative Futility Index, which measures Congress’ level of action.

But some lawmakers have still managed to tally successes.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat fighting for a fourth term, has had seven of her bills signed into law, including the 2011 renewal of the Patriot Act and a number of extensions of federal small business programs — something she did as chairwoman of the Small Business Committee.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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