Congress’ most effective lawmakers aren’t generally its household names

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Despite high approval ratingsor wide popularity, well-known members of Congress are not the most effective lawmakers, according to a report from the Center for Effective Lawmaking.

The center recently released its effectiveness scores for members of the 116th Congress, which ran from Jan. 3, 2019, to Jan. 3, 2021. The bottom line: The lawmakers often in the news — particularly from the House of Representatives — aren’t generally the ones sponsoring bills that make significant headway through Congress or making substantial policy proposals. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is one exception.

Through a partnership between the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and Vanderbilt University, the Center for Effective Lawmaking, created in 2017, aims to understand and communicate the effectiveness of lawmakers and the congressional legislative process.

“We’re the Center for Effective Lawmaking, so we’re particularly interested in the lawmaking component of what members of Congress do, so we set aside oversite and constituency services and so on,” said Volden, who also is a professor of public policy and politics at the University of Virginia. “In that lawmaking space, we’ve generated the legislative effectiveness scores.”

There are four lists of top 10 most effective lawmakers, one for each political party in each chamber of Congress. The topmost effective House member for each party was Reps. Nita Lowery, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, topped the House lists, while Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took the No. 1 spots in the Senate were the topmost effective senators in the chamber for their respective parties.

“We’ve found initial patterns that those more effective tend to be what we would call the workhorses rather than the show horses, and because of their policy focus, they’re less likely to be called upon by the media,” said Craig Volden, the co-director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking.

“We’ve kind of relatedly found that those who are called on by the media, that there tends to be more of an interest in talking about … politicking and personalities than there is in talking about policy and lawmaking.”

Legislative effectiveness scores are determined through a combination of 15 different metrics, including how many bills a lawmaker sponsors, how far the bill goes through Congress and how substantial or significant the bill is.

Lawmakers scores are a weighted average of the five stages of the lawmaking process and three levels of bill significance, where lawmakers can get downgraded for commemorative bills and upgraded for more “substantive and significant bills,” Volden said.

“When we talk about (lawmakers) introducing bills into the U.S. House or Senate, we’re only looking at public bills, meaning those that actually make their way through both chambers and assigned to law; actually have the power to change U.S. code essentially,” said Wiseman, the chair of the department of political science at Vanderbilt University. “We’re not focusing on resolutions.”

According to the center, Rubio sponsored a total of 103 substantive bills, with five of them becoming law.

“It is a great honor to have been named the most effective Republican lawmaker in the Senate. I believe in the work I have done and continue to do for the state of Florida and for our nation. I am committed to protecting America’s economic and national security, and will work with anyone, regardless of party, who shares those goals,” Rubio told in a statement.

Peters sponsored 84 substantive bills, with a total of 14 of them passing through Congress and becoming law.

“Michiganders expect us to get things done for them – and that’s always been my focus. I’m proud to be recognized as the most effective senator and for passing legislation on issues impacting Michiganders,” Peters said in a statement about his effectiveness score. “I will continue working to bring people together to solve challenges facing our state and nation.”

Because whether a lawmaker is in the majority or minority party significantly impacts their legislative effectiveness score, the center doesn’t rank the Congress as a whole, calling it “inappropriate.” Instead the center ranks each party in each chamber, which is why there are four topmost effective lawmakers lists.

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