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List Ranks Lawmakers From Mighty to Minor

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

After a year spent snuffling through paper and hyperbole, a lobbying research firm has unveiled the 2006 Power Rankings, a list of who holds -- at least for the next week -- the real clout in Congress.

The list appears in full on http://www.congress.org . It contains plenty of brand names and some surprising shifts, too, thanks to the 20 less-than-obvious factors that determine who lands where.

Lawmakers who don't do much lawmaking tend to make up the bottom of the pile. But it's not only the number of bills a member backs but their importance, and the role a member took in the debate, that count.

Nicely for this lackluster session, the formula discounts lame amendments and bills "of a ceremonial or commemorative nature such as naming of post offices or other public buildings," 14 of which were introduced on a single day last month. That's unfortunate for Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), whose move to establish September as Campus Fire Safety Month probably didn't help her move beyond her No. 388 place on the list.

The rankings also recognize what their creators call the "Sizzle/Fizzle" factor. On the Senate side, rock star Barack Obama (D-Ill.), detainee-law broker John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) sizzle like burgers on a backyard grill. Messenger-messager Mark Foley fizzled like a firecracker in a monsoon after his steamy notes to congressional pages appeared on TV. The Florida Republican left Congress, and the list, for a stint in rehab.

The top three players in the House, according to the Power Rankings, are Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.).

Boehner, despite scandal-related fizzle downgrades, prevailed for his leadership role, legislative activity, heavy PAC earnings and campaign contributions to colleagues. Sensenbrenner gets the nod for his long service, clout-heavy committee chairmanships and legislative impact.

The House's three most powerless, in reverse order: Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) poked a cop with her cellphone, apologized and tanked; William J. Jefferson (D-La.) hit a rough patch when the FBI found $90,000 in his freezer; and in 437th place, fizzlin' Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) bounded 288 rungs down the power ladder after Jack Abramoff and other lobbyists talked him into trading his clout for money, food, vacations, skybox tickets and gambling chips.

Win, place and show in the Senate rankings go to Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). This is Frist's second year at the top of the (two-year-old) Power Rankings. Specter's nod has everything to do with his seat on the Appropriations Committee and his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. Grassley's power derives from his long tenure, campaign cash and chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

Least powerful in the Senate are the one-term retiring Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), the wealthy but relatively cloutless freshman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and in last place, freshman Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who despite a lack of scandal fell two places from last year to rock bottom.

Of course, all this power and powerlessness could change hands after Nov. 7. The rankings' creators promise a new list early next year, once the dust settles on committee assignments and criminal investigations.

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