EDITORIAL: Not all bills created equal
Whatever one thinks of our representatives in Washington, D.C., no one can say they’re sitting on their hands.
The nonprofit Center for Effective Lawmaking released its annual scores for the 115th Congress late last month, showing all members representing York County performed adequately last session — with Sen. Bob Casey exceeding expectations.
The study ranked members on 15 criteria, including how many bills they proposed; how far bills and amendments moved through Congress; the content of such bills; and whether the contents represented the best interests of their respective districts.
Bills are ranked by significance: "commemorative," "substantive" or "substantive and significant."
That’s an important distinction to make.
Renaming bridges is fine, but it's hardly the difficult legislating we expect from our representatives. We need men and women in Washington who consistently reach beyond the low-hanging fruit and pick the issues that actually will make a difference to their constituents.
The center uses an equation that also considers — rightly — seniority, majority or minority party membership and committee and subcommittee membership. Simply put, a freshman member of the minority party has an uphill climb no matter how dedicated he or she is to public service.
Researchers concluded Reps. Lloyd Smucker and Scott Perry, both Republicans, and GOP Sen. Pat Toomey authored and shepherded bills and amendments through the legislative process at a rate on par with members of similar standing in terms of seniority.
Smucker, a Lancaster resident whose 11th District covers much of southern York County, and Perry, a Carroll Township resident who represents the rest of the county in the 10th District, were rated as "meeting expectations."
Smucker was ranked 161 among the 244 House Republicans, and Perry was ranked 65, according to the data.
Casey carried a much more extensive legislative agenda than the average senator, which is particularly impressive as a member of the minority party and why he was ranked 10th among Senate Democrats, according to Craig Volden, co-director at the Center for Effective Lawmaking. Sixty-seven of his bills were substantive, with just one commemorative bill.
Toomey was ranked 29th among Senate Republicans, shepherding one commemorative and one substantive bill into law. All but one of his bills were deemed substantive.
The Republican was the only member of the delegation to propose legislation deemed substantive and significant, and although it didn't become law as a standalone bill, his work was later adopted into the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act the president signed last year.
The provision requires the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to increase the yearly sales threshold beyond which an issuer is required to provide investors additional disclosures related to compensatory benefit plans from $5 million to $10 million.
Dry? Perhaps. But it’s certainly more meaningful than, say, naming a new post office or proclaiming a certain date National Whatever Day.
One still might take issue with the direction lawmakers go with their “substantive” and “significant” bills, but at least we’re all having the right conversations.
"The fundamental purpose of Congress is lawmaking," Volden stressed. "It is set up as the legislative branch, and without some way to assess who in Congress is doing that fundamental job, we’re blindly selecting members to govern us.”
Thanks to the work of his center, we’ll all be a bit more clear-eyed for the 2020 Congressional Election.