Center for Effective Lawmaking

Legislative Effectiveness Scores 116 Congress

Highlights from the New 116th Congress Legislative Effectiveness Scores

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Highlights from the New 116th Congress Legislative Effectiveness Scores

Highlights from the New 116th Congress Legislative Effectiveness Scores

The Center for Effective Lawmaking (CEL) is pleased to announce the release of the Legislative Effectiveness Scores (LES) for the recently-completed 116th Congress (2019-21).  As in all previous releases, the scores are based on the combination of fifteen metrics regarding the bills that each member of Congress sponsors, how far they move through the lawmaking process, and how substantial their policy proposals are.  The scores are normalized to an average value of 1.0 in both 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 level of seniority, majority- or minority-party status, and (where relevant) chair position on a committee or subcommittee.  These are important considerations to control for.  For example, in the 116th House, minority-party lawmakers had an average LES of 0.534, compared to 1.398 for majority-party members, while committee chairs had an average of 3.080.  In the more-egalitarian Senate, those averages were 0.933 in the minority party, 1.056 in the majority party, and 1.432 among committee chairs.  (This is the lowest gap in LES between the majority and minority parties over the entire time period for which these scores are calculated – since 1973.)

We then label each lawmaker as “Exceeding Expectations” for those outperforming their benchmark by 50% or more, “Below Expectations” for those below 50% of their benchmark, and “Meeting Expectations” for those scoring near 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.  Given the strong benefit from being in the majority party, ranking the entire Congress together would be inappropriate.  But these comparisons within each party are quite informative.

Highly Effective Democratic Lawmakers in the 116th House of Representatives

The following table identifies the top ten highest-scorers in the 116th House of Representatives among majority-party Democrats.  Unsurprisingly, given the power of committee and subcommittee chairs, nine of the top ten held such important positions; and all of the top five were committee chairs. 

Topping our list is Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, with a Legislative Effectiveness Score nearly double the next closest lawmaker.  Rep. Lowey was Chair of the Appropriations Committee in the 116th Congress, and she retired at the end of that Congress, concluding her 32-year career in the House on a high note for lawmaking.  She sponsored 30 bills, 14 of which passed the House and 7 of which became law.  In contrast, the average member of the House sponsored 20 bills, with only one law produced for every two House members.  In addition to sponsoring the continuing appropriations act for Fiscal Year 2020 (and similarly for 2021), Rep. Lowey was the sponsor of the rapid congressional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020.  In particular, she sponsored the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that became law prior to the widespread states of emergency that were declared across the U.S., and then the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which became law within a week of the pandemic surging across the country. She continued to sponsor bills on behalf of the House in negotiations with the Senate, and on behalf of the Democratic Party in dealing with a broad range of issues under the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee. 

While she used her position as committee chair to advance numerous pieces of legislation, Rep. Lowey was an effective lawmaker throughout her career, even as a rank-and-file Representative, and when in the minority party.  For example, she was in our “Exceeds Expectations” grouping in nine of the sixteen Congresses in which she served, from her freshman term to her final term.  Most recently, when in the minority party in the 115th Congress, Rep. Lowey was among the top five most effective Democratic lawmakers.

Top Ten List – House Democrats (116th Congress)

Name

LES

Chair Position

1.      Nita Lowey (NY-17)

10.302

Committee chair

2.      Peter DeFazio (OR-4)

5.265

Committee chair

3.      Carolyn Maloney (NY-12)

5.030

Committee chair

4.      Frank Pallone (NJ-6)

4.583

Committee chair

5.      Mark Takano (CA-41)

4.514

Committee chair

6.      Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

3.875

None

7.      Eleanor Norton (DC-AL)

3.748

Subcommittee chair

8.      Joe Neguse (CO-2)

3.509

Subcommittee vice-chair

9.      Bennie Thompson (MS-2)

3.481

Committee chair

10.   Elaine Luria (VA-2)

3.476

Subcommittee chair

Coming in as the second-most effective lawmaker was Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who chaired the House Transportation Committee.  He sponsored 48 bills, with nearly half of them (unsurprisingly) being related to issues of transportation and infrastructure, ranging from pay for the Coast Guard to earthquake preparedness to aircraft certification.  While ten of his bills passed the House, and his language was incorporated in other bills that became law, only one of Rep. DeFazio’s bills directly became law; and that bill fell (surprisingly) outside of his committee’s jurisdiction.  Specifically, his Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020 was designed to clarify the antitrust boundaries of health insurance companies.  Similar to Rep. Lowey, Rep. DeFazio had also been highly effective when in the minority party in the previous Congress, where he ranked third among the Democratic Representatives in 2017-18.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney was the third-highest scoring Democratic lawmaker in the 116th Congress, despite serving as chair of the House Oversight Committee, which consumed much of her time. Rep. Maloney was able to combine her oversight and lawmaking roles, such as sponsoring bills that engaged with the powers and political activities of the Postmaster General, following hearings about the controversial policies of Louis DeJoy and their potential impacts on the 2020 elections.  That said, most of Rep. Maloney’s 62 bills, four of which became law, fell outside of her committee’s jurisdiction, making her legislative successes on issues ranging from supporting state and local efforts to process DNA evidence from rape kits, to supporting Holocaust education programs, all that much more impressive.

Chairing the committees on Energy and Commerce, Veterans’ Affairs, and Homeland Security, respectively, Representatives Frank Pallone, Mark Takano, and Bennie Thompson were each among the top ten highest scores in the 116th House.  Rep. Pallone navigated into law two pieces of legislation, including Medicaid reforms and the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019.  Rep. Takano’s four bills that became law included support for student veterans during the pandemic, support for veterans affected by Agent Orange usage, and establishing greater consistency in Veterans Affairs contracting. Rep. Thompson’s legislative successes focused on anti-terrorism protection for nonprofit organizations and for chemical facilities.

Although the six committee chairs in our top-ten list certainly performed well in lawmaking, on average committee chairs in the 116th Congress were not especially successful in sponsoring bills that became law. For every three committee chairs, only four of the bills that they sponsored became law.  This rate of 1.3 laws per chair is the lowest across all of the Congresses that we have studied (since 1973); and it is the continuation of a pattern that has been occurring for the past two decades, which provides further evidence of the declining influence of committees that began in the mid-1990s, which have undermined expertise and effective lawmaking for the Congress as a whole. 

A similar pattern largely also holds for subcommittee chairs, with an average of 0.65 laws per chair in the 116th Congress.  Our top-ten list, however, identifies three subcommittee chairs or vice chairs who notably outperformed the rest in lawmaking: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Joe Neguse, and Rep. Elaine Luria. A non-voting delegate, Congresswoman Norton has nevertheless been highly effective in sponsoring legislation on behalf of the District of Columbia, including with H.R. 51 calling for D.C. to become the 51st state, which passed the House but died in the Senate.  In contrast, her Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019 found a more receptive audience in the Senate on its way to becoming law.  Representatives Neguse and Luria were remarkable for making the top ten list while only in their freshman terms.  Rep. Neguse introduced 54 bills, which was three times as many as the average freshman, and he navigated three of them into law including an expansion of the Rocky Mountains National Park in his home state of Colorado.  Rep. Luria put forward a less expansive portfolio of 19 bills, but she shepherded four of them into law including increasing rates of disability compensation for veterans.  The fact that Rep. Luria chaired the subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs undoubtedly contributed to her success in advancing this measure. 

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee outperformed many subcommittee and committee chairs from her rank-and-file position, in that she introduced 52 public bills across a wide range of policy issues, and saw six of them pass the House, and three become law.  These laws were aimed at addressing issues of human rights and of blood doping in sports, as well as highlighting the history of emancipation in Texas.

Highly Effective Republican Lawmakers in the 116th House of Representatives

Top Ten List – House Republicans (116th Congress)

Name

LES

2018 Vote Share

Ideology

1.      Michael McCaul (TX-10)

5.090

51%

Conservative

2.      Chris Smith (NJ-4)

3.372

55%

Moderate

3.      John Katko (NY-24)

2.488

53%

Moderate

4.      Andy Barr (KY-6)

2.209

51%

Conservative

5.      Garret Graves (LA-6)

2.119

70%

Conservative

6.      Don Young (AK-AL)

2.029

53%

Moderate

7.      Buddy Carter (GA-1)

2.000

58%

Conservative

8.      Steve Chabot (OH-1)

1.891

51%

Conservative

9.      Phil Roe (TN-1)

1.888

77%

Conservative

10.   Elise Stefanik (NY-21)

1.788

56%

Moderate

Turning to the Republican side of the aisle, the above table lists the most effective Republican lawmakers in the 116th House.  It also shows the percentage of the vote that each of these lawmakers received in their 2018 elections to enter the 116th House, as well as whether they tend to be ideologically moderate or conservative in their voting patterns on the floor of the House. 

In contrast to the House average of winning 65% of the vote, eight of the top ten Republican lawmakers won with 58% or less, which suggests that they were coming from at-risk districts.  Perhaps they focused on achieving lawmaking successes to aid in their reelection efforts.  And indeed, in 2020, all of these at-risk top performers won reelection (Rep. Phil Roe did not seek reelection).  Recent research, however, suggests that lawmaking effectiveness is more beneficial in primary election contests than in the general election

The ideology metric shows that moderates like Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey as well as conservative Republicans like Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky can be effective at lawmaking, even in a Democratic-controlled House.  It is also worth noting that seven of the ten Republicans on the “top ten” list are members of the Republican Study Committee or the Republican Main Street Partnership; and their inclusion among the most effective Republican lawmakers in the 116th is consistent with research that points to the enhanced lawmaking effectiveness of Representatives who belong to intraparty ideological caucuses when they are in the minority party.

Similar to top-performing Democratic Representatives in the 115th Congress continuing to excel in the 116th Congress upon acquiring powerful chair positions, many top Republicans in the 115th Congress continued to perform at the top of their party despite losing majority-party influence.  In particular, Representatives Michael McCaul, John Katko, Don Young, and Steve Chabot were all among the top ten most effective Republican lawmakers in the 115th Congress; and they return to that list again for the 116th.  Rep. McCaul’s Legislative Effectiveness Score places him third overall in the House, despite being in the minority party.  Having specialized in issues of foreign affairs and homeland security as a committee chair, Rep. McCaul continued to use that expertise to advance to law bills that focused on USAID and on Eastern Europe. 

Coming off a stint as subcommittee chair of Transportation Security, Rep. Katko continued his legislative efforts in the transportation area.  And Rep. Young continued his focus on issues of importance to his home state of Alaska.  The fact that those with tightly tailored agendas were at the very top of our list is consistent with recent research on the lawmaking value of gaining expertise in Congress through specialization.

Highly Effective Republican Lawmakers in the 116th Senate

The following table identifies the ten highest-scoring Republicans in the 116th Senate.  As in the House, the list is largely (here, entirely) populated by those with chair positions, including six committee chairs (holding six of the top eight spots) and four subcommittee chairs.  The continuity evident in the House between the 115th and 116th Congresses held up at even a greater level in the Senate, which did not switch party control between these two Congresses.  All of the top six Republican lawmakers in the Senate were on our top ten list from the 115th Senate as well.

Top Ten List – Senate Republicans (116th Congress)

Name

LES

Chair Position

1.      Marco Rubio (FL)

3.589

Committee chair

2.      Roger Wicker (MS)

3.558

Committee chair

3.      John Cornyn (TX)

2.790

Subcommittee chair

4.      Lisa Murkowski (AK)

2.561

Committee chair

5.      Dan Sullivan (AK)

2.418

Subcommittee chair

6.      Chuck Grassley (IA)

2.214

Committee chair

7.      Jerry Moran (KS)

2.014

Committee chair

8.      Lindsey Graham (SC)

1.979

Committee chair

9.      John Kennedy (LA)

1.867

Subcommittee chair

10.   Cory Gardner (CO)

1.840

Subcommittee chair

Sen. Marco Rubio tops the list, based on the 107 bills that he put forward, ten of which passed the Senate, and six of which became law.  Although he chaired the Senate Small Business Committee, his legislative portfolio was wide-ranging.  It included laws in areas ranging from disaster relief (establishing advanced contracts for emergency relief efforts) to foreign affairs (with the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020) to the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act.  Sen. Rubio’s lawmaking career in Congress has been one of steady rise over the past decade.  Sponsoring only 17 bills in the 112th Congress, Sen. Rubio was near the bottom of his party in his first term in the Senate.  By the 114th Congress, he had broken into the top twenty, achieving a top-ten position in the 115th, and then the top Republican position in the most recently completed Congress.

Sen. Roger Wicker has likewise been expanding his legislative portfolio over the past two Congresses.  Across his first decade in the Senate (2007-16), he sponsored a total of 65 bills.  In contrast, in the 116th Congress alone, he sponsored 78 bills, with nine of them passing the Senate and four becoming law.  Many of these initiatives corresponded with Sen. Wicker’s newfound position as Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, as of 2019.  Indeed, his most noteworthy legislative successes – the Broadband DATA Act, the National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act of 2020, and the Coordinated Ocean Observations and Research Act of 2020 – all originated in his committee.

The other committee chairs who round out the top-ten list were Senators Lisa Murkowski (Energy and Natural Resources), Chuck Grassley (Finance), Jerry Moran (Veterans Affairs), and Lindsey Graham (Judiciary).  Together, these senators accounted for 13 new laws.  Senator John Cornyn chaired the Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, and he reached the top three on the most effective Republican lawmakers list by also penning laws on missing persons, on community reentry for those requiring mental health services, and on protecting the nation’s 5G infrastructure.  Sen. Dan Sullivan joined Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Young on the respective Senate and House top ten lists, creating a trifecta for the state of Alaska.  Rounding out the list were subcommittee chairs Sen. John Kennedy (with three of his 65 bills becoming law) and Sen. Cory Gardner (who was successful in advancing two of his bills into law).

Highly Effective Democratic Lawmakers in the 116th Senate

Turning to the Democratic Senators in the 116th Congress, our top-ten list features some interesting findings, both in terms of broad patterns, as well as in specific cases.  For example, similar to the 115th Congress, we see that minority-party women performed very well once again.  Although comprising only one quarter of the Senate seats, women appeared among the top-ten list for minority-party Senators five times in the 115th Congress and 4 times in the 116th.  This is consistent with our research that demonstrates how women in the Senate outperform men in their lawmaking effectiveness when they are in the minority party. 

Top Ten List – Senate Democrats (116th Congress)

Name

LES

Seniority

Gender

1.      Gary Peters (MI)

5.015

3 Congresses

Male

2.      Jeff Merkley (OR)

2.418

6 Congresses

Male

3.      Catherine Cortez Masto (NV)

1.901

2 Congresses

Female

4.      Jon Tester (MT)

1.773

7 Congresses

Male

5.      Tammy Duckworth (IL)

1.530

2 Congresses

Female

6.      Benjamin Cardin (MD)

1.516

7 Congresses

Male

7.      Amy Klobuchar (MN)

1.483

7 Congresses

Female

8.      Tom Udall (NM)

1.440

6 Congresses

Male

9.      Robert Casey (PA)

1.321

7 Congresses

Male

10.   Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

1.245

6 Congresses

Female

At the top of the list is Sen. Gary Peters, who has the rare distinction of being the most effective lawmaker in the Senate, overall, despite being in the minority party.  Setting aside the 107th Senate (2001-02), in which Senate control shifted partway through the term from Republican to Democratic when Senator Jim Jeffords switched parties, Sen. Peters’s feat cannot be found anywhere else in the Center for Effective Lawmaking data, which stretch back to the early 1970s.  The closest that minority-party lawmakers have come to being ranked as the most effective lawmaker in the Senate were Sen. John McCain in the 103rd Congress (1993-94) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the 115th Congress, both of whom ranked fifth in the Senate overall.  Sen. Peters attained this high score through sponsoring 86 public bills, 24 of which made their way out of committee to the floor of the Senate.  This alone is an accomplishment, as more than 93% of Democratic Senators’ bills died in committee in this Congress.  But Sen. Peters’s successes continued with 14 of those bills passing the Senate, and 10 becoming law, which exceeds the previous record of seven laws by a minority-party Senator in our data. 

Making this accomplishment all-the-more remarkable was that Sen. Peters was engaged in a tough reelection battle during this Congress, which he won by less than two percent of the vote.  It is surprising that Sen. Peters was able to have so many successes to his name under the polarized and partisan Congress that seeks to limit minority-party members’ lawmaking successes.  One secret to his success was in coalition-building.  Sen. Peters had at least one Republican cosponsor on each of his successful bills; and it was often the case that more Republicans than Democrats signed onto his bills.  This pattern of cosponsorship aligns well with research showing that bipartisan lawmakers are much more effective than partisan lawmakers, even in the majority party.  Also of note was the wide range of subjects on which Sen. Peters penned successful bills, ranging from agriculture, to defense, to transportation, to science and technology.

The second most-effective Senate Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley, was also up for reelection in 2020, which he won easily in the liberal-leaning Oregon.  During the 116th Senate, Sen. Merkley sponsored 112 bills, eight of which passed the Senate, and five of which became law, in areas ranging from water resources, to Native American treaties, to international affairs.  This legislative accomplishment was a dramatic increase in lawmaking relative to the 115th Congress, in that we saw that Sen. Merkley sponsored only 49 bills; and only one of those bills became law.  Sen. Peters’s and Sen. Merkley’s experiences in the 116th Congress corresponds well with research that demonstrates that Senators are notably more effective lawmakers in the Congresses that correspond with their reelection years

More broadly considered, these Senators’ increases in bill proposals was part of a larger trend, with Democratic Senators introducing an average of 63 bills in the 116th Congress, compared to an average of 41 bills in the preceding (115th) Congress.  More remarkable than the increase in introductions is the success of Democrats’ bills, while being in the minority party.  Despite the high degree of partisanship in Congress, the success of Senate minority-party lawmakers has been rising substantially over the past decade.  For example, in the 111th Congress (2009-10), only 22 minority-party-sponsored bills passed the Senate, compared to 102 in the 116th Congress.  Forty-eight of those 102 bills became law, which marks the highest total among those sponsored by minority-party lawmakers in the data dating back to the early 1970s.  Moreover, only two of those laws from the 116th Congress were commemorative in nature, with the rest dealing with substantive policy concerns.

Replacing former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as Senator from Nevada in 2017, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has risen to become the third-most-effective Democratic lawmaker in the Senate,while still in her first six-year term.  She sponsored 84 bills in the 116th Congress, of which three became law.  Her successful legislation was designed to address the online problem of “deep fakes,” the level of violent crimes on Native American lands, and the high level of suicides among law enforcement officers.  These efforts built upon some of the problems she encountered in her previous job as Attorney General of Nevada.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth is also in her first term as a U.S. Senator.  Looking back to the previous Congress, it is worth noting that she was one of only two freshmen Senators in the 115th Congress who was designated to be in our “Exceeds Expectations” categories, and she continues to retain that rating into the 116th Congress, in which she rounds out the top five most effective Democratic lawmakers in the Senate.  Five other Democratic Senators on the list are making a second straight appearance in the top ten: Senators Jon Tester, Benjamin Cardin, Amy Klobuchar, Robert Casey, and Jeanne Shaheen.  Sen. Klobuchar had been the top Democratic lawmaker in the 115th Senate, and she spent much of 2019 and early 2020 running for the Democratic nomination for President.  While such efforts might have taken her away from many day-to-day aspects of the lawmaking process, it is notable that her Legislative Effectiveness Score exceeded other prominent Senators seeking the Presidency – Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren – with more of her bills passing the Senate than all three of them combined. 

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 position as a committee chair or as a Senator seeking legislative accomplishments prior to a tough election battle.  For others, effective lawmaking is a way of life.  As noted above, those who significantly exceed their benchmark score (which is calculated based on their seniority and status as a majority party member or chairperson) are identified as being in our “Exceeds Expectations” category.

Longest Streak of “Exceeding Expectations” (through 116th Congress)

NameStreakLES (in 116th)Seniority
1.      Rep. Don Young (R-AK)24 Congresses2.02924 Congresses
2.      Del. Eleanor Norton (D-DC)15 Congresses3.74815 Congresses
3.      Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX)7 Congresses1.0079 Congresses
4.      Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)5 Congresses3.87513 Congresses
5.      Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)5 Congresses3.37220 Congresses
6.      Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)5 Congresses1.7737 Congresses
7.      Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI)4 Congresses3.1585 Congresses
8.      Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD)4 Congresses3.02312 Congresses
9.      Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA)4 Congresses2.9256 Congresses
10.   Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)4 Congresses2.6294 Congresses
11.   Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA)4 Congresses1.7314 Congresses
12.   Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)4 Congresses1.6485 Congresses
13.   Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY)4 Congresses1.1786 Congresses
14.   Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH)4 Congresses0.9597 Congresses
15.   Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO)4 Congresses0.9294 Congresses

Only about one quarter of lawmakers achieve the “exceeds expectations” rating in any given Congress.  Those who are continuously members of this category are truly remarkable and worth watching.  The list above shows those Representatives and Senators with the longest active streaks of exceeding expectations continuing through (and including) the 116th Congress.  We see that shows both Republican and Democratic members of Congress are quite prolific lawmakers, despite differences in their ideological positions and their views about government activism.

Continuing their streaks of being in the “Exceeds Expectations” category for each and every term of their decades-long congressional careers are Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.  That they have kept these streaks alive both in the majority or minority party, both as rank-and-file lawmakers and as chairs at the committee or subcommittee level is truly remarkable.  Both offer lessons for legislators who seek to become more effective lawmakers.  And both are featured prominently in the CEL’s recently-released guide to effective lawmaking for newly-elected members of Congress. 

Third on the list is Congressman Michael Burgess, who completed his ninth term in the 116th Congress.  Having served as a practicing doctor of obstetrics and gynecology prior to his election to Congress, much of his legislation focuses on health-related issues, such as his bill on the cybersecurity of health information, which he introduced into the House in July 2020, and which became law at the end of the 116th Congress.

The three lawmakers who continued their streaks of effective lawmaking to five Congresses were all also included in the above top ten lists – Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Chris Smith, as well as Senator Jon Tester.  Eight Representatives and one Senator have now attained a four-Congress streak of effective lawmaking, including three – Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Matt Cartwright, and Ann Wagner – who have been in the “Exceeds Expectations” categories for their entire congressional careers.  Together, they bring the number of high-performing lawmakers across four or more straight terms to a total of 15 members for the 116th Congress.  This is nearly double the list of eight such lawmakers as of the 115th Congress, a promising sign for effective lawmaking in Congress.

High-Performing Freshmen

Another positive sign comes from the 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. Relative to the 15 members on this list in the 115th Congress, the list of top performing freshmen in the 116th has expanded to 26 legislators.  Research suggests that performance in a legislator’s freshman term is highly correlated with subsequent lawmaking effectiveness, as well as with their overall career trajectory.

Along with 25 freshman Representatives on the list is a single Senator (out of the ten freshman Senators): Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, a Republican who was appointed to serve part of the remainder of Sen. John McCain’s term until a special election could be held.  She sponsored 75 bills, three of which passed the Senate.  All three were held at the desk in the Democratic House, however, rather than being sent to committees for consideration; so they did not advance further in the legislative process.

Freshmen “Exceeding Expectations” (116th Congress)

Name

LES

1.      Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO)

3.509

2.      Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA)

3.476

3.      Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL)

2.443

4.      Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA)

2.261

5.      Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA)

2.115

6.      Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA)

2.102

7.      Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY)

2.034

8.      Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC)

1.903

9.      Rep. Max Rose (D-NY)

1.892

10.   Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA)

1.850

11.   Rep. Andrew Kim (D-NJ)

1.846

12.   Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ)

1.759

13.   Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY)

1.756

14.   Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT)

1.740

15.   Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN)

1.718

16.   Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA)

1.678

17.   Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH)

1.609

18.   Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN)

1.516

19.   Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX)

1.507

20.   Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ)

1.475

21.   Rep. Daniel Crenshaw (R-TX)

1.257

22.   Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS)

1.024

23.   Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA)

0.860

24.   Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL)

0.831

25.   Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN)

0.790

26.   Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD)

0.672

Of the 96 freshmen in the 116th U.S. House of Representatives, we found that 25 exceeded expectations as lawmakers.  Those freshmen scored in ways that reflected typical party differences, with majority-party Democrats outperforming minority-party Republicans. Topping the list are Reps. Joe Neguse and Elaine Luria, both of whom were also featured on the top ten list for House Democrats.  Nearly all of the others had at least one of their sponsored bills become law.  While some of those bills were commemorative in nature, Representatives Josh Harder and Lucy McBath each sponsored two substantive bills that became law.  Among minority-party Republicans, Representatives Anthony Gonzalez and Michael Guest likewise each had two of their bills become law, but one of those was a commemorative law in each case.

Top Performers in the 116th House, by Policy Area

Newly added to the CEL Legislative Effectiveness Scores (LES) in 2021 are Interest and Legislative Effectiveness Scores (ILES) in each of 21 different issue areas.  These are based on issue area codes from the Comparative Agendas Project through the 111th Congress and based on issue areas found on www.congress.gov for the past decade.  The methodology that we employed to construct these scores is the same as that for the overall LES; but we simply base our analysis on the subset of bills that each legislator sponsored in each issue area.

Throughout 2021 we will be releasing reports in which we highlight the scores in many of these different issue areas.  For now, we list the top performing lawmakers in each area, by party, for both the House and the Senate.  Readers interested in exploring these scores more thoroughly can find all of these scores in a new interface on the CEL website.

Most Effective Lawmakers in 116th House, by Policy Area and Party

Policy Area

Top Democrat

ILES

Top Republican

ILES

Agriculture

Gregorio Sablan (CNMI)

63.1

Dusty Johnson (SD)

2.83

Civil Rights

Veronica Escobar (TX)

131.5

Jim Sensenbrenner (WI)

3.32

Commerce

Lucy McBath (GA)

15.9

Elise Stefanik (NY)

15.03

Defense

Mark Takano (CA)

33.3

Phil Roe (TN)

15.84

Education

Eddie Johnson (TX)

47.7

Jim Banks (IN)

1.36

Energy

Bobby Rush (IL)

27.2

Tom Reed (NY)

97.05

Environment

Raúl Grijalva (AZ)

42.1

David Joyce (OH)

29.19

Government Operations

Eleanor Norton (DC)

20.3

John Katko (NY)

9.30

Health

Nita Lowey (NY)

29.9

Chris Smith (NJ)

8.56

Housing

William Clay (MO)

52.9

Scott Tipton (CO)

12.11

Immigration

Nita Lowey (NY)

49.2

John Katko (NY)

10.84

International Affairs

Eliot Engel (NY)

23.8

Michael McCaul (TX)

69.51

Labor

Bobby Scott (VA)

94.1

David McKinley (WV)

12.56

Law, Crime, and Family

Sheila Jackson Lee (TX)

33.4

Clay Higgins (LA)

12.57

Macroeconomics

Nita Lowey (NY)

47.6

Michael McCaul (TX)

14.26

Native Americans

Ruben Gallego (AZ)

145.2

Don Young (AK)

24.58

Public Lands

Joe Neguse (CO)

33.3

Don Young (AK)

14.75

Technology

Eddie Johnson (TX)

46.6

Tim Walberg (MI)

7.53

Trade

Steny Hoyer (MD)

156.7

Steve Chabot (OH)

32.11

Transportation

Peter DeFazio (OR)

84.2

Larry Bucshon (IN)

50.99

Welfare

Suzanne Bonamici (OR)

127.4

Kevin Brady (TX)

2.54

Note: Committee chairs in italics.

The table for top House performers across issue areas shows that several of these areas are dominated by committee chairs, for which these issue portfolios closely match the areas of their committee jurisdictions.  For example, Rep. Eliot Engel chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee and was the top Democratic performer in International Affairs, while Rep. Nita Lowey, Appropriations Committee Chair, was the top performer on issues of Macroeconomics (which includes the budget).  From this important position, Rep. Lowey was also the top performer in Health and in Immigration.

Top performers on multiple issues among Republicans were Rep. Don Young on both Native Americans and Public Lands issues, and Rep. Michael McCaul on both Macroeconomics and International Affairs.  In International Affairs, Rep. McCaul outperformed all majority-party Democrats, an extremely rare accomplishment for a minority-party lawmaker.  A former chair of the Homeland Security Committee, as noted above, Rep. McCaul was the top-performing Republican overall; and he introduced 24 bills in the International Affairs area, with 10 passing the House, and two becoming law. 

Energy was the other area with the highest performer being a Republican: Rep. Tom Reed of New York.  His high score may be considered a bit misleading, however, as he only sponsored one “energy” bill in the 116th Congress.  A bill to reauthorize the West Valley demonstration project, his proposal was simply the only House bill on energy that became law, thus increasing his score substantially relative to other House members.  Indeed, in analyzing issue area success, we see that very high scores arise either from a truly remarkable performance in lawmaking by an individual in his or her chosen area, or because that area featured very little lawmaking activity across all members.  Because each score is normalized to an average value of one, the total score of 445 is spread across all of the members who proposed bills in that area in the 116th House.

Top Performers in the 116th Senate, by Policy Area

Most Effective Lawmakers in 116th House, by Policy Area and Party

Policy Area

Top Republican

ILES

Top Democrat

ILES

Agriculture

Pat Roberts (KS)

27.7

Gary Peters (MI)

24.9

Civil Rights

Marco Rubio (FL)

71.6

Mazie Hirono (HI)

2.8

Commerce

John Kennedy (LA)

13.2

Amy Klobuchar (MN)

7.8

Defense

Jerry Moran (KS)

10.4

Jon Tester (MT)

14.4

Education

John Kennedy (LA)

23.2

Tammy Baldwin (WI)

21.8

Energy

Lisa Murkowski (AK)

13.1

Joe Manchin (WV)

5.4

Environment

Dan Sullivan (AK)

17.6

Jeff Merkley (OR)

9.2

Government Operations

Ron Johnson (WI)

10.2

Gary Peters (MI)

13.6

Health

Richard Burr (NC)

9.6

Bob Casey (PA)

11.9

Housing

Tim Scott (SC)

5.3

Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)

60.9

Immigration

Martha McSally (AZ)

8.5

Dick Durbin (IL)

33.9

International Affairs

Marco Rubio (FL)

24.1

Bob Menendez (NJ)

14.1

Labor

Tim Scott (SC)

24.6

Gary Peters (MI)

27.6

Law, Crime, and Family

John Cornyn (TX)

14.8

Catherine Cortez Masto (NV)

5.5

Macroeconomics

Bill Cassidy (LA)

31.1

Gary Peters (MI)

5.6

Native Americans

Lisa Murkowski (AK)

15.2

Tom Udall (NM)

15.1

Public Lands

Roger Wicker (MS)

13.0

Jeanne Shaheen (NH)*

4.0

Technology

Roger Wicker (MS)

11.2

Gary Peters (MI)

10.6

Trade

Marco Rubio (FL)**

27.7

Bob Casey (PA)

2.4

Transportation

Roger Wicker (MS)

19.6

Tammy Duckworth (IL)

18.9

Welfare

Chuck Grassley (IA)

35.6

Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)

26.5

Notes: Committee chairs in italics.
*Tied with Gary Peters (MI).
**Tied with John Kennedy (LA).

Similar to the House, we see that committee chairs are prominently featured as top issue area performers in the Senate; and, again, we see that Senators’ success in particular issue areas is frequently tied to their committees’ specified jurisdictions.  For example, Sen. Roger Wicker, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led the Transportation policy area and Technology policy area (both of which had clear ties to his committee); and he was also the top performer in Public Lands

Sen. Marco Rubio, the overall top performing Republican, also topped the list in the areas of Civil Rights, International Affairs, and Trade.  While his International Affairs accomplishments on topics related to Hong Kong and Uyghur human rights were certainly noteworthy, the Trade issue area had no bills passed into law for any Senator, Sen. Rubio included.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the top performer on Energy and on Native Americans, issues important to her home state of Alaska as well as her committee assignments.  While not serving as committee chairs, Sen. Tim Scott (on Housing and on Labor) and Sen. John Kennedy (on Commerce, on Education, and on Trade) were top performers in multiple policy areas.

Among minority-party Democrats, Sen. Gary Peters, the most effective Senate lawmaker overall, was also the most effective in a remarkable six different issue areas (Agriculture, Government Operations, Labor, Macroeconomics, Public Lands, and Technology).  Also leading in multiple issue areas was Sen. Bob Casey, on Health and on Trade.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I read that there is a ranking of effectiveness for all congresspeople. But all of the lists I see are of the most effective. Where is the list of least effective? Or rankings of all congresspeople?

    1. Allison Carter

      Hello Mike, if you head to the “Find Your Lawmaker” button, the immediate population is a list in order from the 116th. You can also search for your own state and delegation, and also search by issue area. Thanks for the interest in our work.

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