Public approval of Congress is near historic lows. Journalists, scholars, and presidential candidates regularly express frustration with Congress’s inability to get anything done. So which members of the U.S. House are skilled at overcoming gridlock and successfully making laws?
Building on our existing research on legislative effectiveness in the United States Congress, we have updated our Legislative Effectiveness Scores (LES) to include those House members who served in the 113th Congress (2013-14). As described in our recently published book, the Legislative Effectiveness Score is constructed to measure how successful a given representative is at moving his or her own legislative agenda items (meaning, sponsored bills) through different stages of the legislative process, where each of those bills is also coded for its substantive significance. The specific formula for the LES can be found here.
Drawing on these updated scores, the following tables identify the five most effective representatives from the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively.
All of them except Camp and Hastings are now serving in the current 114th Congress. Our research suggests that effective lawmakers in one Congress are more likely to produce landmark laws in the next.
Given the success of these representatives, should we be optimistic that the current Congress can tackle major issues?
On the Republican side, we see that these most-effective representatives have introduced many bills (H.R.’s) into the House. Despite an arguably contentious environment, they have had a good deal of success. Issa, for example, sponsored the FOIA Act (H.R. 653) and the First Responders Passport Act of 2015 (H.R. 3750), both of which were acted upon in committee (with hearings and amendments considered) and have been ordered to be reported from committee (moving toward a vote of the full House).
Royce has seen nine of the 18 House bills that he sponsored treated substantively, with such actions as committee markups and hearings. His Global Anti-Poaching Act (H.R. 2494) passed the House and is currently being considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 (H.R. 2297) passed the House and also recently passed the Senate (with amendment).
As he has in previous Congresses, Young continues to be a strong advocate for his home state of Alaska, the beneficiary of almost all of the more than 40 bills that he has introduced into the 114th Congress. Two of these bills, H.R. 336 and H.R. 1335, have already passed the House and have been referred to the relevant Senate committees for consideration. Several others have been the focus of various committee and subcommittee markups and hearings.
Since the Democrats are in the minority, the five highly effective Democratic representatives have been less successful in moving bills forward. But even they have made headway. For example, the Tribal Coastal Resilience Act (H.R. 2719), sponsored by Kilmer, has been the subject of subcommittee hearings. More impressively, the Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act of 2015 (H.R. 1557), sponsored by Cummings, unanimously passed the House and has been making progress in the Senate.
In these bills, Congress is tackling important local, national, and international issues. Their success tells us that even in these contentious times, members of both parties can move bills forward, especially when they adopt the habits of highly effective lawmakers.
Craig Volden is professor of public policy and politics at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.
Alan E. Wiseman is associate professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.