San Bernardino SUN POLITICS 9/7/15
Taking a look at the record of local reps
No IE-area lawmakers’ bills have been signed into law so far this year
By Beau Yarbrough firstname.lastname@example.org @LBY3 on Twitter
When the House of Representatives and the Senate return to work in Washington on Tuesday [Sep 8th], all of the legislators representing the Inland Empire have something in common: None of them have had any bills signed into law this year.
That’s not surprising, according to Marcia Godwin, an associate professor of public administration at the University of La Verne.
“Increasingly, you have omnibus bills, so being the sponsor of a significant number of bills happens less and less,” she said. “Your influence may be more on what makes it into the final appropriations rather than in what you sponsor.”
Although California’s senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have introduced far more bills than even the busiest Inland Empire congressman, Ed Royce, their real influence is seen in what makes it into law generally, with Boxer’s influence most keenly felt over her career in environmental policy, while Feinstein’s impact has been largest in foreign affairs, Godwin said.
But the Republican control of Capitol Hill also has an impact, she said.
“The House of Representatives can be a very lonely place if you’re in the minority party,” Godwin said.
The 114th Congress began Jan. 3 and ends Jan. 3, 2017. The House of Representatives has 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats. The Senate has 54 Republicans to 44 Democrats.
“The biggest power ranking for a member of Congress is majority-versus minority status and what committees they sit on,” according to Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with members of Congress and their staffs to help train them to do their jobs more effectively.
That sort of divide would likely make it hard for a freshman Democrat like Pete Aguilar to get much passed no matter what, but that’s not the only thing that constituents should be looking at when judging their representatives’ effectiveness, according to Godwin.
“I would say that legislative effectiveness is probably the most important measure, but I wouldn’t neglect what’s been called ‘home style’ and their visibility and fit within their district,” she said.
Just looking at bills sponsored and passed isn’t enough information to tell a constituent whether or not their representatives are doing a good job in Congress, according to Fitch.
“There are significant other ways to get public policy implemented other than just passing bills on the floor,” he said. “It also ignores the other things that legislators do for their constituents.”
Some members of Congress work hard on what’s known as “constituent services” — serving as a very powerful elected customer service representative in Washington, helping resolve issues facing constituents. Up to 40 percent of a congressional staff can be dedicated to such services, according to Fitch.
“That’s the kind of service that Pete Aguilar, in particular, is trying to do,” Godwin said. “My sense is that he would do quite similar things even if he wa s in the majority because he’s really staked his reputation on being a pragmatist and wanting to be in it for the long term and that there are these tides and cycles.” Assembling more data about members of Congress would provide more useful rankings, but that takes time, manpower and money.
“I literally created a method for measuring the effectiveness of Congress 10 years ago,” Fitch said, “that used 32 points of data,” including seniority and references in national news publications. Unfortunately, Fitch’s company was bought out and the Power Rankings stopped after 2009.
Alternatives designed for Capitol Hill professionals exist, but for the general public at the moment, Fitch has some recommendations.
“The best tools that constituents can use is their local publications, not the national publications,” which tend to only cover party leadership, he said.
“Also, follow them on social media. Members of Congress are pretty raw and lay out there what they want to say,” said Fitch, a former Capitol Hill staffer and journalist himself. “You get not just the tenor of the work they’re doing, but also their tone. … It’s a great way to follow what they’re doing and whether it’s in tune with their own issues.”
Fitch also recommends voters check with organizations they trust and see if they have scorecards that track how legislators vote and how in tune they are with the issues they care about.
Historically, only about 4 percent of bills become law, according to the Sunlight Foundation government transparency group. Things are likely to pick up in terms of bills getting voted on after legislators return to work on Tuesday.
“Technically, the budget is supposed to be approved by the first of October, so we’re getting closer to things getting serious,” Godwin said.
Still, members of Congress themselves have been complaining about the glacial pace of progress in Washington in recent years.
“This has been a really slow time for Congress,” Godwin said.
(Not everyone thinks Congress not passing new laws is a bad thing. In January, the National Review praised that as a “first, do no harm” style virtue.)
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, represents California’s 31st Congressional District. During the 114th Congress, he sponsored two bills as of Friday, according to GovTrack.us.
Those bills are H.R. 2431, the On-the-Job Training Tax Credit Act of 2015, and H.R. 3198, the Small Business Jobs Act of 2015.
“In spite of the hyperpartisanship that continues to plague Washington, I’m proud of my record of reaching across the aisle in support of legislation that helps families and businesses in the Inland Empire,” Aguilar is quoted as saying in an emailed statement on Friday [Sept 4], “From working with Republican Rep. Paul Cook (R-Apple Valley) to pass legislation to put veterans back to work, to introducing bipartisan legislation to cut taxes on small businesses and create jobs in San Bernardino County, my focus in Washington is on working with Democrats and Republicans to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.”
According to Congressional Quarterly magazine, Aguilar voted the Democratic Party line 89.3 percent of the time, the least party unity of any legislator representing the Inland Empire.
Rep. Paul Cook, (R) Apple Valley, represents California’s 8th Congressional District. During the 114th Congress, he has sponsored eight bills as of Friday, according to GovTrack.us.
Cook’s eight bills are H.R. 496, the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area Establishment Act; H.R. 832, the Veterans Employment and Training Service Longitudinal Study Act of 2015; H.R. 1992, the American Soda Ash Competitiveness Act; H.R. 2286, the Prioritizing Urgent Claims for Veterans Act; H.R. 3025, the Wildfire Airspace Protection Act of 2015; H.R. 3026, the Tribal TANF Fairness Act of 2015; H.R. 3176, the Protecting our National Parks Act of 2015; and H.R. 3286, the HIRE Vets Act.
According to Congressional Quarterly magazine, Cook voted the Republican Party line 96.5 percent, the most of any Republican representing the Inland Empire on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Norma Torres, (D) Ontario, represents California’s 35th Congressional District. According to GovTrack.us, as of Friday, during the 114th Congress, she introduced three bills: H.R. 1829, the DHS Communication Enhancement Act of 2015; H.R. 2485, the Regional Infrastructure Accelerator Act of 2015; and H.R. 2601, the Job Opportunities Between our Shores Act.
She also introduced a resolution: H.Con.Res. 39, which voiced support for goals and ideals of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. “In this Congress, it’s been very, very difficult, although I think we’ve been very creative in trying to go around the obstacles that we’ve faced,” Torres said Friday.
That might mean cannibalizing H.R. 2485 to get its provisions signed into law in other ways.
“A lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle like it but for political reasons can’t support it. So we’ve tried to insert that language in other bills and in Senate bills,” Torres said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care who gets credit for the bill. I care about the bill getting passed because that’s what’s going to help my community.”
It’s a very different experience than her six years in the Assembly and California Senate.
“My glass is always half full, but let’s face it, it’s a very challenging time in the House,” Torres said. “There’s not a lot of laws that I can pass, but there’s a lot of other assistance that I can bring to the community.”
According to Congressional Quarterly magazine, Torres voted the Democratic Party line 95.7 percent of the time.
As of Friday, during the 114th Congress, Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D) Calif., sponsored 33 bills and introduced two resolutions, according to GovTrack.us.
Boxer’s 33 bills included S. 430, Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act of 2015; S. 511, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act; S. 486, the Head Start on Vaccinations Act; S. 669, the Iran Congressional Oversight Act of 2015; S. 864, the National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act; S. 1476, the Police Reporting Information, Data, and Evidence Act of 2015; and S. 1977, the Gun Violence Intervention Act of 2015.
The two resolutions Boxer introduced were S.Res. 37, supporting women’s reproductive health care decisions; and S.Res. 206, which congratulated the Golden State Warriors for winning the 2015 National Basketball Association championship.
According to Congressional Quarterly magazine, Boxer voted the Democratic Party line 97.1 percent of the time.
As of Friday, during the 114th Congress, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D) Calif., sponsored 34 bills and introduced eight resolutions, according to the GovTrack.us Congressional tracking website.
Among those 34 bills were S. 414, the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015; S. 630, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Establishment Act; S. 1469, the FISA Reform Act of 2015; S. 1608, the Consumer Drone Safety Act; S. 1837, the Drought Recovery and Resilience Act of 2015; and S. 1894, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015.
According to Congressional Quarterly magazine, Feinstein voted the Democratic Party line 91 percent of the time. Staff Writer Joe Blackstock contributed to this report.