Connecticut delegation’s bills have uncertain futures
Washington — Congress has been in session less than three months, and lawmakers have already introduced nearly 1,700 bills.
Fewer than a dozen of them were sponsored by members of the Connecticut delegation, however, and most of those face an uncertain future.
To date, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, leads the delegation in the number of bills introduced in the 113th Congress. She has sponsored four bills.
Two have been introduced over and over again for years.
One would require all workers to have paid sick leave. Another, introduced in each Congress since 1997, would try to equalize the amount of money men and women are paid for the same job.
The tragic shooting deaths of 20 children and six women at Newtown prompted DeLauro to introduce a bill that would offer a new tax credit to those who turn in their automatic weapons to authorities.
Another new bill sponsored by DeLauro would adjust a refundable child tax credit for inflation and make it permanent.
“I introduce bills that reflect my values and the values of the Third District voters who sent me here,” DeLauro said.
But whether a lawmaker introduces one bill or many, few actually become law.
Around 10,000 bills and resolutions are considered by Congress in each two-year session. But of those bills and resolutions only about 400 will become law.
For instance, GovTrack.us, a legislative tracker, said DeLauro’s child tax credit bill has a 2 percent chance of getting past committee and a 1 percent chance of being enacted.
The reason? GovTrack.us notes DeLauro is a member of the minority party and her bill’s fate is largely in the hands of the GOP.
But even most House Republican-sponsored bills don’t make it into law.
Despite the poor prospects for most legislation, there are reasons lawmakers continue to sponsor bills, said Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Sometimes a lawmaker introduces legislation to please constituents.
“You say to voters ‘I keep bringing this up. It may not get any traction, but I keep doing it’,” Skelley said.
DeLauro said her legislative priorities reflect her district’s needs.
“Even though these bills may face long odds, it is important to keep advocating for the issues that are important to people’s lives like preventing gun violence, equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave and a tax code that supports working families,” DeLauro said in a statement. “And of course there will be many more pieces of legislation to come.”
Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, said all bills become part of the Congressional Record and therefore part of history. That’s another reason to sponsor legislation.
“When they run for re-election lawmakers can say they sponsored certain legislation,” Rose said. “They know darned well the bills aren’t going to make it.”
Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said lawmakers introduce bills “to demonstrate their responsiveness to constituencies and interests or to build a reputation for engagement in certain policy arenas.”
And, like former Rep. Ron Paul’s quixotic campaign to return the U.S. Treasury to the gold standard, sometimes legislation is born of heartfelt conviction, Skelley said.
Other times a lawmaker introduces long-shot legislation with the hopes a situation will change.
Sponsors of gun-control bills were in that position for years. But Newtown altered the political climate and suddenly these bills were being debated and moving through committee.
After a bill has been written or “drafted,” the member introduces it by formally presenting it to the House or Senate clerk when Congress is in session. Bills are then referred to the appropriate House or Senate Committee, where they usually languish — unless the author is a committee chairman or close to a committee chairman.
Connecticut has had some powerful committee chairmen who pushed through legislation in the past, including former Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman.
But the state’s current senators have little seniority, the prerequisite to becoming a committee chairman.
One of the three bills introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would require FBI background checks on all people who purchase ammunition. Currently, only those who buy guns at dealers are subject to background checks.
Blumenthal’s bill was submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. But it won’t be part of a gun-control package the Senate will consider when it returns from its two-week spring break.
Blumenthal hopes to propose his legislation as an amendment.
But he knows it’s difficult to get bills passed.
“There may never be a Blumenthal bill,” he said. “But I hope I can contribute to the passage of other bills.”
Blumenthal introduced two other bills, one that would extend chiropractic care to veterans and another that would make the Coltsville complex in Hartford a national park.
But he’s cosponsored nearly 90 other bills, including all major gun control legislation.
Sen. Chris Murphy ,D-Conn., has not sponsored any bills. Nor has Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District.
But Himes press secretary Elizabeth Kerr said the congressman has co-sponsored key legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, a number of gun-control bills, education legislation and the No Budget No Pay Act, a bill that would stop lawmakers’ pay if they fail to approve a budget.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has sponsored a bill that he’s also introduced in the previous two Congresses. It would allow patients that are hospitalized for observation, but not officially admitted to a hospital, to satisfy Medicare’s requirement of a three-day stay to qualify for nursing home care.
Courtney has a powerful co-sponsor, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, who is a friend of House Speaker John Boehner. Still, the bill did not move forward.
“Sometimes it takes a while for issues to ferment,” said Courtney. “I am convinced this is one that will reach that point.”
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, has also only sponsored one bill. But the delegation’s most junior member — she was sworn in in January — has a distinction none of her colleagues have. Her legislation has already been approved by the House.
It would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to license the towns of Canton, Avon and Burlington so they can reactivate two dams built in the 18th and 19th centuries to produce electricity to about 1,500 homes. Murphy, who held the 5th District congressional seat before his election to the Senate, won House approval of bill in the last Congress. But it died because it was not considered in the Senate.
Rose said the extreme partisanship that characterizes today’s Congress may make it more difficult to win approval of legislation.
Sponsorship of members of both parties usually help a bill move forward.
“But there’s no bipartisanship any longer,” he said. “Those days are over.”
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