- Jessica Wehrman
- Jack Torry Washington Bureau
If success in Congress is measured by the bills a lawmaker passes, then it’s been a lackluster year for Ohio’s 16 House members and two senators.
But then, it hasn’t exactly been a banner year for Congress, either.
The state’s congressional delegation this year has served as the original sponsors of 304 bills — bills that would do everything from create a commemorative coin honoring writer Maya Angelou and bills that would make it tougher to receive federal food stamps.
Of those, 11 passed the House as standalone bills. Eight passed the Senate. Two — one sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson, R–Marietta and one sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R–Ohio — have become law.
That’s compared to 82 laws that Congress has passed this year out of 9,939 bills introduced.
One of the most productive Ohio lawmakers to date is Portman. He introduced 42 bills to date this year. Six passed the Senate. One — a bill that reauthorizes research for early detection, diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss in babies and young children — became law. In the House, a Johnson bill that undid one of President Obama’s environmental regulations related to stream protections became law.
But Portman’s staff is quick to point out that those 42 bills are only the ones where he’s the chief sponsor. Portman sponsored or cosponsored 198 bills in 2017. Of those, 36 passed the Senate.
By comparison, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D–Ohio, introduced 64 bills. Two — one to designate Sept. 16 as Isaac M. Wise Temple Day in honor of a synagogue in Cincinnati and one designating Feb. 28 as Rare Disease Day — passed the Senate. None became law.
But Brown sponsored or cosponsored 439 bills — the second-highest number of anyone in the delegation — and he had more success on that front. Of those 439, 42 passed the Senate and five became law.
In the House, Rep. Tim Ryan, D–Niles, has spent much of this year introducing bills — 22, in fact, more than any other Ohioan serving in the House. He’s sponsored or cosponsored 446, more than any other Ohioan. None of the bills he has led have passed the House; of the 446 he has cosponsored, 18 passed the House and six became law.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rep. Jim Jordan, R–Urbana, has introduced two bills — one to make it harder to receive food stamps and another to repeal the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare. Both of those bills remain stuck in committee.
Many lawmakers get things done by using larger bills as a vehicle. Rep. Mike Turner, R–Dayton, introduced 11 bills to date this Congress. Three — one aimed at helping survivors of sexual abuse in the military report crimes against them, one to keep the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Ohio and one to implement safety requirements for windows in military housing — were tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act. That bill has passed through Congress and awaits President Trump’s signature.
Three other bills dealt with health care reform. Two of those initiatives were in the House passed bill that later failed in the Senate, meaning the provisions essentially passed the House. And one is opioid-related — Turner hopes to tuck it into a larger bill next year.
The Center for Effective Lawmaking — a joint project between Professor Craig Volden of the University of Virginia and Alan E. Wiseman of Vanderbilt — studies 15 factors including bills sponsored, bills passed or bill movement in committee to determine who is the most effective lawmakers in Congress. They also factor in whether the lawmaker is in the majority or minority; it’s harder to get something done in the minority. And they look at whether the bills or symbolic – such as naming a post office – or substantive.
Among Ohio’s members, Rep. Steve Chabot, R–Cincinnati was deemed the most effective, coming in seventh out of 250 Republicans. Turner was 202 out of 250 Republicans. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, was 91 out of 250 Republicans.
On the bottom end of the spectrum, Reps. Jim Jordan, R–Urbana and Warren Davidson, R–Troy, both ranked 249 out of 250 Republicans.
In the Senate, Brown, came in 26th out of 44 Democrats. Portman came in 14th out of 54 Republicans.
Volden said statistically, a few factors have helped indicate effectiveness: Being in the majority helps, as does being a committee chair or subcommittee chair. Seniority helps as well.
But he’s seen more subtle factors as well. Those who have served in some of “the more professional” state legislatures — the ones that meet year round, collect a salary and are considered a full-time job — are far more effective on average than the citizen legislatures that don’t meet often.
“The ones we’re most impressed by are the folks who are continuing to perform above expectations Congress after Congress after Congress,” he said.
Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was curious about whether Congress has actually slowed down in progress, so he compared the January through September of Trump’s first year to those same months during President Barack Obama’s first year in office.
He found that while the House voted more frequently during the first few months of Obama’s administration, the number of laws passed wasn’t that different — 65 under Obama, 64 under Trump. That number, however, doesn’t take into account the differences between the depth or scope of the laws passed.
His takeaway? “Both houses are still dysfunctional,” he said. “And I just don’t know what the solution is other than the big judgment day coming next year in November.”
“This is not exactly a convivial atmosphere in which to get a lot done,” he said.