What Makes For a Good Congressman?

Clue: It has nothing to do with the number of bills a member authors.

(Photo Left) Congressman Alan Grayson wasted a lot of time authoring bills and amendments that didn’t pass. Photo by Ldl766 via Wikimedia Commons.

The recent allegation that Congressman Bob Brady paid off a primary opponent to get out of the 2012 race for his seat has spawned yet another diatribe from the Inky Ed. Board against Congressman Bob Brady’s legislative record:

“Given his actual legislative performance, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady hasn’t done much to earn the seat in Congress he was first elected to in 1998, other than to fight hard to keep it.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial July 27, 2017).

The dumbest way to gauge whether a member of Congress has earned his or her seat is to count up pieces of legislation written or sponsored. Just take the case of Congressman Alan Grayson or should we say ex-Congressman Grayson.

In a video on his website, sentaorwithguts.com, announcing his 2016 race for one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats, Grayson proclaimed: “In the past two years in Congress, I’ve written more bills, passed more amendments on the floor of the House and enacted more of my bills into law than any other member of the House — No. 1 out of 435 of us,”

This triggered the website, Politifact.com to do a full-blown analysis of the claim, which first took them to GovTrack, a website which tracks legislation. They confirmed Grayson at the No. 1 spot.

Politifact then went beyond the GovTrak analysis to explore how he got to this lofty perch: “It seems to be Grayson’s strategy to try to pass as many [amendments] as possible since he re-joined Congress in 2012. In June, he passed five in one day.

‘Grayson and his staff scan the bills that come out of the majority,’ wrote David Weigel in Slate in 2013. ‘They scan amendments that passed in previous Congresses but died at some point along the way’ … Another way to look at it is that Grayson is simply trying to get his name on as many bills or amendments as possible. It’s up to voters to decide how they feel about that.”

Voters did just that. In the 2016 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Grayson lost to the Democratic nominee by 40 points. Perhaps it was because the voters of Florida saw through the Grayson charade: the faux matrix that equates legislative success with being an effective member of Congress; the same charade that Brady could’ve engaged in years ago that would have saved him from this absurd viewpoint. That apparently is not how Brady views effective leadership.

Nor was it the view of the voters of Florida, who recognized something far more important than Grayson’s legislative scorecard. That is the fact that Alan Grayson is stark-raving mad. As Politico wrote in its story, “Fall of the House of Grayson”: “Grayson once said the GOP alternative to Obamacare was to have people ‘die quickly’; called a reporter a ‘shitting robot’; branded a lobbyist a ‘K Street whore,’ likened the tea party to the Ku Klux Klan, accused a Christian conservative opponent of being a member of the Taliban, and got into testy exchanges with Senate leaders.”

This false equivalency that connects legislative ubiquitousness with effectiveness is abundantly clear to any one who has any sense of what make a member of Congress effective. Politifact’s analysis of Grayson continues: “Two experts who study Congress — Norman Ornstein, a scholar at American Enterprise Institute, and Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University and Brookings Institution scholar — said that the number of sponsored or co-sponsored bills signed into law isn’t a thorough measure of effectiveness or productivity for a member of the Senate. ‘Offering amendments on the floor, holding hearings, contributing to oversight, helping to negotiate agreements, pushing federal agencies to be responsive to constituents back home — all of these might contribute to making a senator “effective,” but none of these endeavors of course would show up in a count of bills sponsored or passed or enacted,’ Binder said.”

It is so easy to dismiss Brady at the legislative level because Brady himself has publicly rejected this matrix for determining effectiveness. Seeking to serve as a member of Congress by bringing his formidable talents to saving Philadelphia’s traditions, resolving labor disputes or bringing big-ticket events like the DNC convention and the NFL draft is, admittedly, a different way to serve in Congress than the Alan Grayson model.

But Alan Grayson did write a lot of bills!


What Makes For a Good Congressman?

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