Highlights from the New 115th Congress Legislative Effectiveness Scores
The Center for Effective Lawmaking is pleased to announce the release of the Legislative Effectiveness Scores (LES) for the recently completed 115th Congress (2017-18). As in all previous releases, the scores are based on the combination of fifteen metrics regarding the bills that members of Congress sponsor, how far they move through the lawmaking process, and how important their policy proposals are. The scores are normalized to an average value of 1.0 in each the House and the Senate. More on our methodology can be found here.
Each lawmaker’s LES can be found here. For each Representative and Senator, we also identify a benchmark score, based on the average effectiveness of lawmakers that share that legislator’s similar level of seniority, majority- or minority-party status, and chair position on a committee or subcommittee. These are important considerations to control for. For example, in the 115th House, minority-party lawmakers averaged an LES of 0.586, compared to 1.347 for majority-party members, while committee chairs averaged 2.480. (In the more-egalitarian Senate, those averages were 0.804 in the minority party, 1.168 in the majority party, and 1.616 among committee chairs.)
We then label each lawmaker as “exceeding expectations” if they outperformed their benchmark by 50% or more, “below expectations” if they scored below 50% of their benchmark, and “meeting expectations” for those scoring close to their benchmark. Finally, within each party, we rank each member from first to last. This ranking is used to generate the Top Ten lists highlighted in the tables below.
Highly Effective Lawmakers in the 115th House of Representatives
The following table shows the top ten scorers in the 115th House of Representatives among majority-party Republicans. Unsurprisingly, given the power of committee and subcommittee chairs, eight of the top ten held such important positions. That said, the highest Legislative Effectiveness Score belongs to Rep. Don Young of Alaska. Relative to the average of 17 bills introduced by House lawmakers, Young put forth 62 pieces of legislation, 19 of which received some action in committee and 14 of which reached the floor. Of those, eight passed the House and five became law. Young has long been known for advancing legislation on behalf of Alaska and of native Alaskans, and such considerations were featured again here among the laws he advanced. For example, he penned legislation allowing the expansion of the Terror Lake Hydroelectric Project on Kodiak Island, as well as the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act of 2017. His unfinished business, advancing through the House, but not through the Senate, included legislation on the management of fisheries, and on how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conducts its cost-benefit analyses.
Top Ten List – Effective House Republicans (115th Congress)
1. Don Young (AK-AL)
2. Edward Royce (CA-39)
3. Michael McCaul (TX-10)
4. John Katko (NY-24)
5. Steve Knight (CA-25)
6. Bob Goodlatte (VA-6)
7. Greg Walden (OR-2)
8. Scott Tipton (CO-3)
9. Steve Chabot (OH-1)
10. Barbara Comstock (VA-10)
Coming in as the second-most effective lawmaker was Ed Royce, who chaired the House Committee on Foreign Relations. He sponsored 29 bills on issues ranging from flood insurance to homelessness to credit unions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, Royce’s greatest successes came on foreign relations issues. All ten of his bills that passed the House spent some time in his committee. The three laws that he authored: targeted sanctions and offered sanctioning authority focused on Iran, Russia, and North Korea; supported and modernized aid and growth opportunities in Africa; and served as the vehicle for the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. Reaching the six-year term limit for his time as committee chair, and facing a potentially difficult reelection campaign, Royce retired at the end of the 115th Congress.
Also in his third and final term as committee chair was Mike McCaul of Texas, who headed the House Committee on Homeland Security. From there, he held a similar record of effectiveness to Royce, putting forth 29 bills, three of which became law. The majority of McCaul’s eleven bills that passed the House emerged from his Homeland Security Committee, with the rest navigating through Foreign Affairs. His most notable accomplishments were advancing the Blue Campaign, which directed the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to fight human trafficking, and working to shore up the nation’s cybersecurity efforts (especially pertaining to cloud computing and infrastructure vulnerabilities).
Chairing the committees on the Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, and Small Business, respectively, Representatives Bob Goodlatte, Greg Walden, and Steve Chabot each scored within the top ten list in the 115th House. Goodlatte, also facing term limits as chair, retired following the 115th Congress. Research suggests that, whether because of such retirements or simply due to the loss of their experience as long-standing leaders, term limits among committee and subcommittee chairs since the mid-1990s have undermined expertise and effective lawmaking for the Congress as a whole. Walden navigated into law four pieces of legislation, including those addressing the opioid abuse crisis and reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration. Chabot advanced a diverse portfolio that included bills studying the patenting efforts of underrepresented groups, modifying the enforcement activities of the Small Business Administration, and promoting high-level visits between U.S. and Taiwanese officials, all of which became law.
From their subcommittee chair roles, Representatives John Katko, Steve Knight, and Barbara Comstock all secured places on the top-ten list. Heading up the Transportation Security Subcommittee, Katko carried to law a bill that advanced biometric security measures for transportation workers, among other measures. Knight chaired the Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce within the Small Business Committee, putting forward the Small Business Investment Opportunity Act of 2017, the No Hero Left Untreated Act, as well as laws expediting security clearance processes and promoting internships for women and underrepresented minorities in aerospace fields. Comstock chaired the Subcommittee on Research and Technology within the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. She proposed 22 bills, four of which became law, on issues such as promoting women and girls in STEM fields, and promoting neighborhood safety through the prosecution of criminal street gangs. Consistent with studies suggesting that voters are largely unaware of the lawmaking effectiveness of members of the House of Representatives, both Knight and Comstock were voted out of office in the November 2018 elections, despite their lawmaking effectiveness, contributing to the Democratic Party becoming the majority in the current 116th House.
Rep. Scott Tipton outperformed many subcommittee and committee chairs from his rank-and-file position. He put forward 35 pieces of legislation, nearly half of which reached the floor of the House, including ten that passed the House. Although only three of these bills passed into law (two of which were commemorative), these successes at earlier stages of the lawmaking process point to the skills needed to continue effective lawmaking into the future.
Top Ten List – Effective House Democrats (115th Congress)
1. Eleanor Norton (DC-AL)
2. Elijah Cummings (MD-7)
3. Peter DeFazio (OR-4)
4. Matt Cartwright (PA-17)
5. Nita Lowey (NY-17)
6. Nydia Velazquez (NY-7)
7. Timothy Walz (MN-1)
8. Elizabeth Esty (CT-5)
9. Bennie Thompson (MS-2)
10. Eliot Engel (NY-16)
The above table lists the most effective Democratic lawmakers in the 115th House. Consistent with research that women tend to outperform men at lawmaking when in the minority party, four of the top ten positions were held by women, despite women comprising only about a fifth of all congressional seats (and a third of the Democratic seats). Also noteworthy on the list are the senior lawmakers, with seven of the ten having served more than 20 years each in Congress prior to the start of the 115th House.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton tops the list, despite not being a voting Representative, due to representing the District of Columbia. Similar to how Don Young’s legislative activities tend to focus on his district in Alaska, Norton’s agenda is largely tailored around D.C. issues and needs, which she has advanced across her nearly three decades in the House. Rep. Elijah Cummings achieved lawmaking success both in legislation modernizing use of the Thrift Savings Plan program and in an act expanding whistle-blower protections. Rep. Peter DeFazio put forth a wide-ranging legislative agenda, achieving notable success on tribal issues for Native Americans, particularly targeting efforts in his home state of Oregon. Whereas most members of the minority party struggle to even receive a hearing on most of their bills within Congress, those on this list achieved successes on a broad range of substantive issues.
In many cases, we expect that their lawmaking productivity will be significantly enhanced as Democrats assert their roles in the majority party in the 116th Congress. Remarkably, six of the top ten are assuming committee chair roles, including Cummings heading the Oversight and Reform Committee, DeFazio chairing the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey leading the powerful House Appropriations Committee. In addition, Rep. Nydia Velazquez is chairing the Small Business Committee; Bennie Thompson is heading up Homeland Security; and Eliot Engel is chairing the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Highly Effective Lawmakers in the 115th Senate
The following table shows the ten highest scoring Republicans in the 115th Senate. As in the House, the list is largely (here, entirely) populated by those with chair positions, including five committee chairs (holding five of the top seven spots) and five subcommittee chairs.
Top Ten List – Effective Senate Republicans (115th Congress)
1. Chuck Grassley (IA)
2. Orrin Hatch (UT)
3. John Thune (SD)
4. John Cornyn (TX)
5. Ron Johnson (WI)
6. Jeff Flake (AZ)
7. Lisa Murkowski (AK)
8. Dan Sullivan (AK)
9. Roger Wicker (MS)
10. Marco Rubio (FL)
Sen. Chuck Grassley tops the list, based on the 73 bills that he put forward, seven of which became law. Although his legislative portfolio was wide-ranging, his greatest successes came through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chaired. From there, he produced the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017, the Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 2018, and the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, among others. Other Grassley proposals, such as those focused on the possession of biological toxins, on criminal antitrust, and on juvenile justice, passed the Senate but were not enacted into law, when he handed the judiciary gavel over to Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) and took over as chair of the Senate Finance Committee to start the 116th Congress.
That Finance Committee chairmanship opened up with the retirement of Sen. Orrin Hatch, who finished his 42-year Senate career with the ranking as the second most effective lawmaker in the 115th Senate. Indeed, this Congress was the 11th in which Hatch was one of the top two most effective lawmakers in the Republican Party, including six in which he was the most effective Republican Senator. His legislative portfolio grew over time, from the 26 bills he introduced in 1977-78 to the 109 bills he sponsored in 2017-18. Of those, he found success in policy areas ranging from assisting victims of child pornography to improving home health care for veterans to amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Across his seven congressional terms in the Senate, John Thune has ranked four times as a top-five Republican Senate lawmaker, including in the 115th Congress, in which he ranked third. As chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Thune proposed 55 pieces of legislation, four of which became law, in issues central to his committee or of interest within his home state of South Dakota. In the 116th Congress, Thune has been selected as Majority Party Whip, succeeding Sen. John Cornyn, who was term-limited out of that position. Cornyn ranked the fourth-most effective lawmaker in the 115th Senate.
The other committee chairs rounding out the top-ten list were Senators Ron Johnson (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) and Lisa Murkowski (Energy and Natural Resources). Senate subcommittee chairs Jeff Flake, Dan Sullivan, Roger Wicker, and Marco Rubio all performed very well as lawmakers, with Flake, Sullivan, and Rubio each responsible for three new laws and Wicker shepherding forward two. The 115th Congress was the final one for Sen. Flake, who retired after six years in the Senate and twelve in the House. This Congress also featured his best performance as a lawmaker, as he had previously seen only one of his sponsored bills pass into law.
Top Ten List – Effective Senate Democrats (115th Congress)
1. Amy Klobuchar (MN)
2. Claire McCaskill (MO)
3. Jon Tester (MT)
4. Gary Peters (MI)
5. Bill Nelson (FL)
6. Benjamin Cardin (MD)
7. Dianne Feinstein (CA)
8. Mazie Hirono (HI)
9. Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
10. Robert Casey (PA)
The above top-ten list of Senate Democrats from the 115th Congress features some interesting findings both in its broad patterns as well as in its specific cases. First, similar to the House, minority-party women performed very well once again. As in the House, women in the Senate make up about one-fifth of all members and one-third of all Democrats. Yet they occupy five of the top ten positions in terms of Legislative Effectiveness Scores, including the top two slots. Second, seven of the ten have served a number of congressional terms equal to a multiple of three. Given the six-year terms of Senators, this means that these seven were all up for reelection at the end of the Congress, a rate on the top-ten list more than double what would be expected by chance. Research suggests that Senators dedicate themselves more fully to lawmaking during the Congress when they are up for reelection, likely due to their sense that voters care about the (recent) effectiveness of such high-profile lawmakers.
Topping the list is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both a minority-party woman and a Senator up for reelection. Klobuchar’s high LES places her fifth among all lawmakers in the Senate, when including those privileged enough to be in the majority party as well. Although the Senate is a more egalitarian institution than the House, such a performance among minority-party members is quite rare. Indeed, no minority-party Senator has scored in the overall top five since the Senate switched party control midway through the 107th Congress (2001-02), leaving the classification of minority-party status somewhat uncertain. Outside of that Congress, the only other instance of a minority-party Senator scoring among the overall top five on the LES since the start of our data in 1973 was recently departed Sen. John McCain scoring fifth in the 103rd Congress (1993-94).
Sen. Klobuchar put forward 69 pieces of legislation in the 115th Congress, eight of which passed the Senate and four of which became law (compared to an average of 42 bills, 2 passing the Senate, and less than one becoming law among other minority-party Senators). Her proposals ranged across numerous policy areas, finding their way to nearly every standing committee in the Senate. Her legislative accomplishments include laws designed to improve telecommunications call quality in rural areas, to fight human trafficking, and to add protections against sexual harassment to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
The second most effective Senate Democrat shared many of these same characteristics, with Sen. Claire McCaskill being a minority-party woman nearing the end of her second six-year term in office. In contrast to Klobuchar’s electoral victory in 2018, however, McCaskill was defeated by Republican Josh Hawley. During the 115th Senate, McCaskill sponsored 50 bills, seven of which passed the Senate, on topics ranging from improving customer experiences within the federal bureaucracy to reducing government spending via its acquisitions processes to better tracking sexual violence. None of them received action in the Republican House, however, until after the 2018 election. The House continued to neglect McCaskill’s substantive proposals after the election, but did pass (and President Trump signed) a commemorative bill that McCaskill proposed to name a post office in Macon, Missouri.
Sen. Jon Tester, third ranking Senate Democrat, was likewise ending his second term, narrowly winning reelection in 2018. Of the 64 bills he introduced in the 115th Senate, he received early success in navigating through to law a bill aimed at improving access and cost of medical care for veterans. His other major accomplishment, the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018, however, was held up in the House until after the election (similar to McCaskill’s efforts), when it was finally passed and signed by the President.
This pattern of the Republican-led House holding up the legislation of Democratic Senators in tough reelection battles continued with Sen. Bill Nelson, whose bill regarding a national wildlife refuge in Florida was passed into law only after he lost his seat to Republican governor Rick Scott. Sen. Ben Cardin’s Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act likewise was only signed into law at the end of the 115th Congress. Perhaps as an exception that proves the rule, the three bills that Sen. Mazie Hirono sponsored that became law were all signed prior to the 2018 election. Given the Democratic leanings of Hawaii, Hirono’s seat was never in jeopardy, with her margin of victory exceeding 40 percentage points, leaving no possible electoral gain from delaying the progress of her proposals until after the election.
Not up for reelection in this cycle, but performing very well were Senators Gary Peters, Dianne Feinstein, and Jeanne Shaheen. Each sponsored two bills that were passed into law during the 115th Congress, with Peters’ successes targeting small business innovation and personal property management, Feinstein’s dealing with natural disasters and sexual abuse of young athletes, and Shaheen’s focused on clinical health care and the role of women in conflict prevention.
Lawmakers with Long-Standing Patterns of Exceeding Expectations
Some members of Congress attain the status of being a top-ten lawmaker within their party quite infrequently, rising onto the list due to their committee chair position or as a Senator seeking legislative accomplishments prior to a tough legislative battle. For others, effective lawmaking is a way of life. As noted above, those who significantly exceed the benchmark score (calculated based on their seniority and status as a majority party member or chairperson) are rated in our “Exceeds Expectations” category.
Only about one quarter of lawmakers achieve the “exceeds expectations” rating in any given Congress. Those who are continually breathing this rarified air are truly remarkable and worth watching. The list below shows those with the longest active streaks of exceeding expectations continuing through the 115th Congress. It shows both Republicans and Democrats to be prolific lawmakers, despite differences in their ideological positions and their views about government activism.
Longest Streak of “Exceeding Expectations” in Legislative Effectiveness (through 115th Congress)
LES (in 115th)
1. Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
2. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
3. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX)
4. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
5. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)
6. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS)
7. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
8. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
9. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
10. Thirteen House Members
Topping the list is Rep. Don Young, whose accomplishments in the 115th Congress are described above. When John Conyers (D-MI) resigned his seat in December of 2017, Don Young became the longest serving active House member. He entered Congress in 1973 and has been a lawmaker who has been in our “Exceeds Expectations” category in each and every term in which he served, whether in the majority or minority party, whether a rank-and-file lawmaker or chair of a subcommittee or committee. Indeed, Young was identified in our earlier research as one of the twenty most effective rank-and-file lawmakers in the U.S. House between 1973-2008. This level of consistently effective lawmaking is remarkable. In addition to exceeding expectations in 23 straight Congresses, Young was rated as the most effective lawmaker in his party in nine of them, including in the 115th.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has just completed her tenth consecutive Congress of exceeding expectations as an effective lawmaker. Over those ten Congresses, spanning four senatorial terms, Feinstein has scored on the top-ten list in her party on each occasion. Over that time period, she sponsored 24 pieces of legislation that became law, across a wide range of policy areas.
Third on the list is Congressman Michael Burgess, who completed his eighth term in the 115th Congress. A member of the Tea Party Caucus, Burgess grew his legislative portfolio over time, from sponsoring just ten bills, none of which received even a hearing in 2003-04, up to an active agenda with 30 sponsored bills, eight of which reached the floor of the House in 2017-18. Having served as a practicing doctor of obstetrics and gynecology prior to his election, much of his legislation focuses on health-related issues, such as the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act, which became law in 2018.
Four lawmakers continued their streaks of effective lawmaking to four Congresses, include Sen. Tester and Rep. Thompson, both of whom are on our top-ten lists above. Senators Hatch and Portman both completed three straight Congresses of highly effective lawmaking in 2018, as did more than a dozen House members. Among those House members are Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Grace Meng (D-NY), and Ann Wagner (R-MO), who have been in the “Exceeds Expectations” category for their entire congressional careers. Hatch’s remarkable lawmaking career is discussed in additional detail above.
High-Performing Freshmen Congressmen in the 115th Congress
Finally, we note those new freshmen lawmakers who are off to a promising start in their first two years, scoring in our “Exceeds Expectations” category in their first term in office. Research suggests that performance in a lawmaker’s freshman term is highly correlated with subsequent lawmaking effectiveness, as well as with their overall career trajectory.
Among them are two Senators (out of the eleven Senators in their freshman class), John Kennedy of Louisiana and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Kennedy sponsored 26 bills, including four that passed the Senate and eventually became law, on issues ranging from national flood insurance and small business disaster loans to mandatory disclosure of corrupt practices among lobbyists. Duckworth shepherded three of her 45 proposed bills into law, including the Veterans Small Business Enhancement Act of 2018.
Freshmen Congressional Representatives “Exceeding Expectations” (115th Congress)
1. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)
2. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI)
3. Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL)
4. Rep. John Faso (R-NY)
5. Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL)
6. Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL)
7. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA)
8. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
9. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA)
10. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
11. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA)
12. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL)
13. Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ)
14. Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (D-PR)
15. Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL)
Of the 65 freshmen in the 115th U.S. House of Representatives, 13 exceeded expectations as lawmakers. Those freshmen scored in ways that reflected typical party differences, with majority-party Republicans outperforming minority-party Democrats. Among Republicans, Mike Gallagher and John Faso were each responsible for two of their sponsored bills becoming law. Among Democrats, those achieving multiple lawmaking successes were Darren Soto, Ro Khanna, and Stephanie Murphy, although only Khanna’s laws were both on substantive (rather than commemorative) matters. Whether these representatives achieve enhanced or diminished legislative successes as party control switches in the 116th Congress will be of interest in shedding greater light on their long-term prospects as effective lawmakers.