A productive Congress—like a good sports team—requires an effective set of players. In baseball, one of the most rudimentary ways to assess if a player is helping his team is to count the number of hits he produces. So, “hits” seem like a good starting point for assessing legislative effectiveness.
How to Get a Hit in Congress
Which legislative action is most analogous to a hit? There are three components to consider: a player must first be up to bat, second put the ball in play, and third, safely reach (at least) first base. A member of Congress is “at bat” if she sponsors and introduces a piece of legislation. The bill is put in play when it is referred to committee. Receiving a committee report, then, is akin to safely reaching base.
Now, we’re putting a great deal of emphasis on the committee stage of the legislative process as the first hurdle that players must clear. Just as most at bats do not end in hits, most bills never receive a committee report. In the modern era, it is not unusual for 90% of bills to get “tagged out” during the committee process – that is, most bills die in committee. In fact, in his treatise on the U.S. Congress, Woodrow Wilson described committees as “dim dungeons of silence” from which bills “never return.” Moreover, just as a hit significantly increases the probability of a run, so too does a committee report increase the probability that a bill will become a public law. Since 1947, an average of 56% of bills that survive the committee process in the House are passed into law, compared to just 5% of those introduced.
Thus, the ability to shepherd bills through the committee process is a strong indicator of legislators’ overall effectiveness, and their ability to “score.” With this in mind, we calculate two statistics: each legislator’s number of at bats (bills sponsored) and hits (bills sponsored that make it out of committee).
Legislator Effectiveness: At Bats, Hits, and Batting Averages
The average number of bills introduced by each legislator in the House was about nine, with a standard deviation of six. Eight members of the U.S. House did not introduce any legislation. On the other end of the spectrum, Alan Grayson (D – FL) led the House in at bats, introducing 44 bills. Of the 433 House members who introduced bills (we include non-voting representatives), 229 did not record a single hit. The 17 House hits leaders were all Republicans, with Darrell Issa (CA) and Doc Hastings (WA) coming out on top with 10 each. The top three Democrats were Lois Capps (CA), Gregorio Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands), and Eleanor Norton (DC), who received three hits each. Interestingly, neither Sablan nor Norton are voting members of the House.
On the Senate side, each member of the chamber introduced at least one bill. David Vitter (R-LA) was the leading at-batsman, introducing 61 bills, followed by Mark Begich (D-AK) with 49, and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) with 48. Leading the Senate in hits were Ron Wyden (D-OR) with 13 and Rand Paul (R-KY) with 11.
With this information, we can go on to calculate a batting average for each legislator – the percentage of bills sponsored that survived the committee stage. The advantage of looking at this stat rather than the raw number of hits is that it accounts for those legislators who are introducing a lot of bills that are going nowhere. For instance, despite leading the House in at bats, none of Grayson’s 44 bills made it out of committee – not the most efficient use of government time. On the other hand, five House representatives – Harold Rogers (R-KY), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Patrick McHenry (R-NC), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-KS) – bat a perfect 1.000 (though four of the five introduced only one bill).
Ted Cruz (R-TX) was the clear leader in the Senate, with seven of his eight bills making it out of committee, good for a 0.875 average. By comparison, in second place – and the leading Democrat – was Tim Johnson (D-SD), who saw three of his six bills survive committee. On the other hand, 29 Senators had a zero percent success rate.
So, who is the more effective legislator? Grayson, who batted 44 times and recorded zero hits? Or Westmoreland, who only came to bat once, but saw his bill through the committee process? In a Congress with limited time, it is hard to justify wasting resources on bills that have no future. On the other hand, position taking though the introduction of bills is a valuable legislative activity, enabling legislators to define their preferences and parties their platforms. We think that efficiency is more valuable, and will build on this point in subsequent posts. But having provided new metrics with which to think about legislative productivity, we leave these open questions to you.