They may win the most headlines, but Congress’ ideological warriors fared particularly badly in a study of lawmakers’ effectiveness as they struggled to get their ideas passed into law.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, fared worse than any other member of the caucus in the study by the Center for Effective Lawmaking. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, was also near the bottom of the rankings.
At the top of the chamber, meanwhile, was Sen. Gary C. Peters, Michigan Democrat, followed by two Republicans, Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. While holding conservative voting records in a Democratic-controlled Senate, they managed to get a lot of their legislation passed into law.
The study looked at bills as they advanced through the legislative process over the past two years and looked at who was responsible for writing them. Democrats topped the list, which is to be expected given their control of both chambers, but the researchers said there was a striking amount of working across the aisle.
“There’s more bipartisanship going on than popular media accounts suggest,” said Craig Volden, co-director of the center and a professor at the University of Virginia.
Mr. Sanders wrote 29 bills, four of which saw action in committee. None of them made it through the Senate, much less become law. His effectiveness score of 0.2 was more than five times worse than the median Senate Democrat.
His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the study.
Ms. Warren wrote 91 bills, 11 of which saw committee action. None cleared the Senate or became law.
In the House, the original three women in the far-left “Squad,” the fringe of the House Democratic Caucus, all scored lower than the average.
Topping the House rankings was Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat whose 7.1 effectiveness score was seven times better than the average House member. Of the 51 bills he sponsored, 11 passed the House and three were signed into law.
“I am incredibly proud and honored to be named the most effective lawmaker of the 117th Congress,” Mr. Connolly said in a statement touting the rankings.
Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska was the top House Republican.
In the Senate, Mr. Peters led the way with an effectiveness score of 6.7. Mr. Cornyn was second at 4.5, and Mr. Rubio was third at 2.6.
“There is a lot that happens in Congress that the media doesn’t care about because it doesn’t generate ratings or clicks,” Mr. Rubio said.
The researchers agreed. They said that despite a wide perception that Congress is dysfunctional and overly partisan, a surprising amount of legislating is done across the aisle, as evidenced by the high scores of some of the Republicans.
“Contrary to popular perception, there are serious lawmakers in Congress,” said Alan Wiseman, a Vanderbilt University professor who leads the project with Mr. Volden.
The new numbers cover the 117th Congress, which lasted from Jan. 3, 2021, to Jan. 3, 2023.
The researchers looked at bills introduced by a lawmaker and tracked how far they went toward becoming law. Substantive bills were ranked higher than symbolic legislation such as the common practice of renaming post offices.
The researchers also tracked when a lawmaker’s language didn’t advance on its own but was incorporated into someone else’s bill that did move through the process.
They found that there wasn’t a big link between being a committee chair and getting legislation signed. In fact, committee chairs in the 117th Congress scored lower effectiveness marks than any other Congress dating back to the early 1970s.
The researchers also found that Democratic senators’ rankings remained remarkably consistent as they moved from the minority in the 116th Congress to the majority in the 117th Congress, suggesting that the same people know how to pull the levers regardless of which party holds the gavel.
The study suggested that the most effective lawmakers were ideological moderates, though it took a particularly expansive view of what makes a moderate.
Mr. Cornyn, for example, was labeled moderate despite being in the top third of the Senate in conservative voting patterns, holding an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and an A rating from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. He ranks about midway among Senate Republicans in GovTrack’s ideology score and VoteView’s ideology rankings.
He sponsored 102 bills, 23 of which cleared the Senate and 15 of which became law. Focusing on national security and law enforcement seemed to help. The researchers said most of his laws grew out of those areas of expertise.
“Despite the partisanship that often gripped this chamber last Congress, we managed to actually accomplish quite a bit on behalf of the American people,” Mr. Cornyn said in a statement.
The rankings do run into limitations.
Rep. Kay Granger of Texas was at the bottom of the House list, which is striking because she is the most senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. That means she arguably had more influence than any other member of the minority, thanks to how Congress handled the annual spending process.
She didn’t write any bills on her own, so she fared poorly in the researchers’ methodology.
Among other surprises in the data was how well some of Congress’ nonvoting members did.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s representative in the House, cannot vote on the passage of bills, though she can introduce legislation and take part in committees.
She ranked among the top 10 House Democrats in terms of effectiveness, one spot ahead of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and two spots ahead of Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who ran the Financial Services Committee.
Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon, who as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner is the territory’s nonvoting member, ranked 23rd out of 222 among House Republicans.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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