For CT delegation, a flurry of successes in a blizzard of bills

Congressional lineup 1Washington – Sen. Richard Blumenthal sponsored and co-sponsored 377 bills and amendments in 2015, more than any other U.S. senator.

But a Connecticut Mirror analysis of legislation tracked by the Library of Congress found other Connecticut lawmakers were busy, too.

For Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., it was 249, for Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, it was 303, for Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, it was 255; and for Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, it was 239.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, sponsored or co-sponsored 182 bills and amendments, and Rep. Jim Himes, D-5th District, 171.

The Senate’s second-highest sponsor of legislation was Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., who put her name on 366 bills and amendments. On the other end of the spectrum were Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., (52) and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., (60.)

An overwhelming majority of the bills and amendments the Connecticut delegation sponsored did not move last year. And the amount of legislation a lawmaker sponsors does not necessarily correlate with the effectiveness or clout of a member of Congress. But what lawmakers sponsor can reveal other things about them, analysts say.

Most of the legislation supported by Connecticut’s lawmakers was in the form of co-sponsorship of a colleague’s bill. Blumenthal, for example sponsored 46 bills and 51 amendments and co-sponsored 296 bills and 81 amendments last year.

Anthony Clark is a former House staffer who wrote a piece for Salon entitled, “D.C.’s Favorite Time-Wasting Scam: Co-Sponsoring Bills.”

Clark said junior members of Congress tend to co-sponsor a lot of legislation to establish relations with other lawmakers and curry favor with party leaders. But for a junior member, “it’s not an equal quid pro quo” with those lawmakers returning the favor, Clark said.

“It’s a way for junior members of Congress to put their names before senior members of Congress,” Clark said.

Staffers usually make the decision about whether a boss signs on to a bill, and Clark said “the greater the number of co-sponsorships, the lower the level of the staffer who handles them.”

Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University, said legislation is often sponsored to please constituents, even though there’s little chance of passage.

“So much of what goes on in Congress is symbolic and messaging,” he said.

Despite the flurry of sponsorships and co-sponsorships, Baker said, only a small percentage of the legislation introduced gets to the president’s desk.

“There are many hurdles and many points at which a bill can be killed,” Baker said.

According to congressional records, 2,697 bills were introduced in the Senate last year, but only 28 were approved by the chamber. In the House, 4,851 bills were introduced and only 65 passed.

Some legislative successes

Although Congress was in historic gridlock, and it’s difficult for members of the minority party to accomplish much, 2015 was a fairly productive year for Connecticut lawmakers.

Blumenthal worked with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which requires the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to take additional steps to address mental health and prevent suicide among veterans. The bill is now a law.

A massive transportation bill approved last year contains Blumenthal’s provision that rental car companies repair vehicles under recall before renting them to consumers.

Blumenthal also had a win on the Consumer Review Freedom Act, a bill that bars companies from inserting “gag” clauses in contracts with consumers in an attempt to muzzle online reviews.

Working with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Blumenthal was also able to include his HERO Act, a bill that provides new resources to wounded servicemen and women, in a human trafficking bill that was signed into law.

Murphy won approval of a number of proposals last year, including one that requires the federal government to conduct a study of technological solutions to protect children from the dangers of hot cars. He also had success on a measure he worked on with Courtney and Esty that helps Connecticut dairy farmers by raising weight limits for raw milk dairy trucks.

Murphy had several provisions included in a new federal education bill that replaces No Child Left Behind and won approval of his “Buy America” proposal in a defense bill.

Courtney’s legislative victories included a two-year postponement of a “Cadillac tax” imposed on high-cost health care policies. He also won approval of legislation to combat Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses, adopted as part of the 21st Century Cures Act — a broader bill to strengthen medical research and innovation.

Courtney was also successful in inserting language into the 2016 Coast Guard authorization bill that would allow the Coast Guard to fund displays and exhibits in the new National Coast Guard Museum; and he fought off a serious challenge to the National Sea-Based Deterrence fund, a new Pentagon account that supporters hope will fund the pricey Ohio-class replacement submarines.

Larson had a big win when the Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act was passed in a big tax-break bill at the end of the year. The legislation was inspired by East Hartford resident James Tillman, who was convicted of rape, received a 25-year sentence and was jailed for almost 18 years before a DNA test freed him in 2006.

Esty had wins with her “Gold Star Fathers Act,” which allows fathers who have lost children killed in action to be eligible for the veteran’s preference when applying to work for the federal government and a bill that expanded the definition of STEM in federal programs to include computer science. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

DeLauro, a member of the House Appropriations Committee,  was able to push for funding of domestic programs she supports, especially those involving health, food safety and help to low-income people.

The boosts in funding, in a massive omnibus spending bill, included a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health and a $160 million increase for the Centers for Disease Control’s antibiotic resistance initiative.

DeLauro also won approval for making permanent an expanded child tax credit.

Himes introduced several bills that did not move out of committee last year.

But 2016 is the second year of the 104th Congress, and his legislation – and that of all other Connecticut lawmakers – has another chance to move this year.

Himes is a co-sponsor of a synthetic drug control act which would criminalize a lot of unregulated synthetic drugs, man-made substances that mimic marijuana or amphetamines.

“That has a VERY good chance of passing this year,” said Himes spokesman Patrick Malone.

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