This is the first in a series of stories about the roles each member of the Connecticut congressional delegation played in the 113th Congress.
Washington – In a Congress marked by partisan acrimony, only two House Democrats voted more loyally with their party than U.S. Rep. John Larson in the 113th Congress, according to a ranking by the Sunlight Foundation. But an analysis of the bills he’s sponsored and his work shows he’s the rare Democrat who can work with Republicans.
Larson, 66, bolstered his reputation as a party loyalist by donating generously to the campaigns of fellow Democrats who faced tough races in a year in which the GOP increased its might in Congress. The veteran congressman from East Hartford spent more than $550,000 on other races from his personal campaign account and his leadership PAC, the Synergy PAC.
First elected in 1999, Larson easily won re-election this year and may benefit from his party’s pain.
Democratic losses, which shrunk the party’s representation in the House and Senate, are likely to give senior Democrats like Larson more clout in the next Congress, said University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin.
“As the Democratic caucus gets smaller, people with substantial leadership experience will play a significant role,” Schurin said.
The 113th Congress ended with a big win for Larson. Legislation he championed for years that would turn Hartford’s Coltsville into a national historical park was approved in a defense authorization bill. The session of Congress began with a blow to the eight-term lawmaker when he lost his leadership position as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Larson shrugged off the setback. “I’m fond of quoting my grandfather Nolan, who said, ‘Peacock one day, feather duster the next,’” he said.
Like other Democrats in the House of Representatives — in the minority now for four years — Larson has had his frustrations in the outgoing Congress.
He was noted for scolding his colleagues for shutting down the government on Sept. 30, 2013, and for urging Congress to authorize the use of U.S. forces against Islamic militants known as ISIS and to define the parameters of that conflict.
According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government, Larson voted with his party 97 percent of the time in the 113th Congress, but the Almanac of American Politics notes, “He doesn’t hesitate to work with Republicans on legislation.” The Almanac cited as evidence the Democrat’s recent work with Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas to make permanent a research and development tax break.
That effort floundered this year when Senate Democrats insisted tax breaks that help the poor should also be made permanent.
A partisan who works well with Republicans
Govtrack.us determined that of 163 bills that Larson cosponsored in 2013, about 42 percent were introduced by Republicans. That puts Larson in the top 10 percent of lawmakers who work across the aisle on legislation, Govtrack.us said.
Although most of the bills Larson sponsored and co-sponsored did not become law, he did help protect the interests of Pratt & Whitney, an important employer in his district.
In 2013, Larson was named co-chairman of the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter Caucus, a bipartisan group of about 50 members who lobby other members — and the Pentagon — on behalf of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an expensive and controversial plane whose engines are made by Pratt & Whitney.
Larson also tried to look out for the fuel-cell industry in his state, making use of his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee to introduce bills like the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Authorization Act, which would increase the industry’s tax breaks. He is also a founder and co-chair of the House Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition.
The Department of Energy recently singled out Connecticut, along with New York, Ohio, and South Carolina, as the “Top 5 Fuel Cell States” for their supportive policies and incentives to the industry.
Other legislation Larson introduced in the 113th Congress — but failed to win approval of — included a resolution honoring Pope Francis for his election; a bill that would raise the minimum wage; and a bill aimed at strengthening the Social Security system by raising the Social Security tax gradually. Larson’s bill would also raise the gross-income threshold for taxing social security benefits from $25,000 to $50,000 for single taxpayers and from $32,000 to $100,000 for married taxpayers filing joint returns.
“The bill is the first of its kind to both expand benefits and strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund,” said Larson spokesman Ed Skowronek.
While the Social Security bill and all but one of the 19 bills Larson introduced in this Congress failed to make it into law — a phenomenon that is the fate of most lawmakers — some of the legislation Larson co-sponsored did.
One is the bill entitled No Social Security for Nazis that the president recently signed into law. That bill forbids the federal government from paying Social Security benefits to those who participated in Nazi persecution.
Other bills supported by Larson that became law in the 113th Congress include one that will delay changes to the federal flood control program that would have raised premiums for many Connecticut coastal dwellers and a resolution to give a congressional gold medal to golfer Jack Nicklaus.
But Larson does not measure success in Congress solely by the fate of legislation.
His win column includes the awarding of manufacturing grants to community colleges in his district, the visit of Vice President Joe Biden to East Hartford this year to highlight Goodwin College’s new manufacturing education program, and the awarding of the contract to build the presidential helicopter to Sikorsky.
“As part of our nation’s history, this helicopter is a great source of pride for Connecticut manufacturing,” Larson said. “I look forward to seeing the president fly in a helicopter produced by Connecticut machinists who are once again building a part of that history.”
Larson invited House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to Connecticut so he could see firsthand the transportation challenges the state faces. Skowronek said Larson’s biggest disappointment in this session of Congress is that it “failed to act on long-term transportation infrastructure funding that could provide the certainty our industries need to hire and retain jobs in addition to fixing our crumbling highways and bridges.”
Larson believes another failing in this Congress is its refusal to approve new gun control measures, Skowronek said.
Larson is expected to have a high-profile role in the next Congress if it tackles the issue of tax reform.
|Party loyalty ranking … 97 percent|
|Bills introduced… 19|
|Bills approved… 1|
|Bills co-sponsored… 239|
|Co-sponsored bills approved… 19|
|Missed votes… 1.9 percent|
|Campaign money raised … $1.9 million*|
*As of Nov. 24, 2014