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Futility Is the Norm Among Bills Introduced in Congress

Lawmakers Face Long Odds, but 'What's It Hurt to Try?'

By Glenn Maffei
States News Service
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page A37

At the dawn of 2005, legislation by Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) to cede the nation's capital back to Maryland faces certain death, along with a pitch by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to make Election Day a holiday for federal employees.

If these and the thousands of other ideas proposed each year by members of Congress went the distance, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) would stop the federal government from interfering with the right of states to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. And Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) would establish a Department of Peace.

Calendars would recognize National Transparency Day, National Weatherization Day, National Asbestos Awareness Day and, importantly for equine lovers and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), National Day of the Horse.

They are destined for the same fate: They will expire at midnight Dec. 31.

Then, perhaps within weeks, some will have new hope -- at least temporarily -- as they are reintroduced in the 109th Congress.

When you are one of 435 members of the House, it is important for the folks back home to see the spirited push of your annual legislative agenda, which means the introduction, to great fanfare, of all sorts of bills and resolutions. About 96 percent of them end up in the congressional recycling bin.

"What's it hurt to try? It's a matter of writing and having the bill printed," Regula said. "Members like to represent their areas. They like to put their ideas out there. They want to be identified as having promoted things that they feel are good for those that they represent."

Since Jan. 1, 2003, 10,472 bills and resolutions were introduced -- 6,842 in the House and 3,630 in the Senate. By Nov. 1, only 122 Senate bills and 292 House bills, or 4 percent, had become law.

By the numbers, though, congressional activity in this session was far from record-setting. Congresses of the 1960s and 1970s routinely saw the introduction of 15,000 to 20,000 bills and resolutions. The 91st Congress (1969 to 1970) recorded the all-time high, with the introduction of 21,544 bills and resolutions, according to the Library of Congress, which began tracking such activity in 1947.

Beginning in 1977 and in most years since, Regula has introduced legislation to retain the name of Ohio's native son on Mount McKinley in Alaska. The Alaskan Geographic Board voted to change the in-state name to Mount Denali in 1975, but Regula felt the mountain should be named after a nationally recognized historic figure -- namely, the assassinated president from his home state -- not a name with "only limited and local recognition." Regula's bill, meanwhile, has always expired.

"Almost all bills are going no place," said Stephen Hess, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. "So then the question is, why introduce them? Do you think that lightning will really strike? You do it for the modest publicity you get for it; you do it because you believe in it, one hopes. You do it perhaps because you promised your constituency that you would."

Regula's push to give most of the District back to Maryland is not for constituents or publicity, he said, but because he believes in it. The move would render obsolete the motto on many D.C. license plates -- "Taxation Without Representation" -- and would give Washington residents access to Maryland's social programs and higher education, Regula said. His redistricting plan would also add to Maryland's delegation at least one voting member of Congress.

First introduced in 1990 and reintroduced six times, the Regula bill has sat in committee.

"I don't think it's going to move now," Regula said. "I think the time may come when it will."

In the previous two-year session, Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) set the record for introducing the most bills and resolutions -- 117. Not one of those bills or resolutions has made it beyond the committee level. In 14 years, his unsuccessful campaign opponent pointed out, Andrews has never introduced a bill that became public law. While that fact means his bills have failed, it has not necessarily doomed his ideas.

"Our strategy is not to call a press conference and try to get 200 co-sponsors," Andrews said. "They get introduced and we find larger vehicles to attach them onto. . . . We don't introduce stuff unless we think we're going to do it."

He points out that one of his bills, dubbed Maggie's Law, would have provided incentives for states to create traffic safety programs to reduce fatigue-related collisions. Prompted by the case of a tired driver who struck and killed a 20-year-old woman in New Jersey, the mere introduction of Andrews's legislation received play in the national news media.

By itself, the proposal was indefinitely stalled. Andrews, spotting this year's bill to fund highway construction, found a way to attach his measure to it. When Congress takes up highway construction next year, Andrews expects Maggie's Law to remain part of it. It will become someone else's law, but it will become law.

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