Press "Enter" to skip to content

How much did your member of Congress get done last term?

How do you measure how good or bad of a job your Congressional representative did?

It’s a surprisingly hard question to answer.

Alan E. Wiseman, a Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, and Craig Volden, a University of Virginia Professor of Public Policy and Politics, have spent more than a decade trying to figure it out.

The co-directors of the Center of Effective Lawmaking, a joint project of the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University, Wiseman and Volden are also the authors of the 2014 book, Legislative Effectiveness in the US Congress.

“We were trying to understand why some members of Congress are more successful of advancing their agenda or legislation in Congress,” Wiseman said. “In workshopping the book, people were presenting us with all sorts of interesting questions.”

The Southern California News Group has been attempting to objectively measure how good of a job local legislators do, in both Washington and Sacramento, for almost a decade.

But no single measure can tell the whole story.

“There’s lots and lots of things that lawmakers do that they and their constituents value,” Wiseman said, including legislators’ work overseeing the federal government and constituent services.

Bills signed

Probably the easiest thing to do is measure the number of bills introduced and how many got signed into law.

Members of Congress representing Southern California voters were more likely than the average to get bills passed in the last session of Congress.

In the 117th session of Congress, which ran from Jan. 3, 2021, through Jan. 3, 2023, 7% of introduced bills were signed into law, according to an analysis by, a non-partisan website that tracks Congressional data. (The data includes bills that were later absorbed into larger omnibus bills.)

That’s about average: Since the 93rd Congress, which ended on Dec. 20, 1974, 5.88% of bills introduced became law, according to data. Individual sessions range between a 4% and 9% rate of bills becoming law.

In the 21st century, about two-thirds of that legislation has been non-binding resolutions, voicing support or opposition to something, rather than setting the law of the land.

Los Angeles-area representatives in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties got 11.98 % of the bills they introduced signed into law in the 117th Congress, according to a new Southern California News Group alliance. California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, got 5.04% of the bills they introduced passed.

Southern California members of Congress doing better than average in the 117th Congress isn’t a surprise to Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne.

“The House is a majoritarian institution, meaning that the predominantly Democratic California delegation would have been expected to do relatively well in the last Congress,” where Democrats were in control, Godwin wrote in an email. “There also have been seasoned members like Ken Calvert who served as the highest ranking Republican member on a key subcommittee and may have been able to collaborate on bipartisan legislation.”

In contrast, an SCNG analysis published in October showed that 37% of legislation introduced in the California Assembly and 44% of all legislation introduced in the California state Senate in the most recent two-year session were signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Quality of bills

Still, the number of bills signed into law isn’t everything.

“Effectiveness is more than sponsoring bills,” according to Godwin. She pointed to Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, now the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. During the 117th Congress, Aguilar introduced 12 bills, none of which became law.

“(He) was doing a lot of behind the scenes work with the Democratic leadership. It is also hard to fault him for being part of a group that has tried to work with a bipartisan group on immigration reform,” Godwin wrote. “Constituent services, influencing amendments, shaping media coverage of Congress, basic committee effectiveness, reputation, staff turnover, and fundraising for other candidates all feed into perceptions of job performance.”

The quality of bills passed matters more than quantity, Aguilar argues. He specifically pointed to the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the CHIPS and Science Act, bipartisan gun safety bill and Inflation Reduction Act.

“If you would have done one of those bills in in a two-year session, you would have said, ‘this is amazing, this is great,’” Aguilar said. “We did five.”

Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College, agreed that not all bills are created equal.

“As for legislative productivity, it’s not just the batting average of signed bills, but the significance of the legislation itself. One major reform of veteran benefits is far more important than dozens of bills to rename post offices,” he wrote in an email.

In addition, lawmakers helping to stop bad bills from being passed is “arguably just as important” as passing good ones, Pitney wrote.

Wiseman and Volden’s Center of Effective Lawmaking calculates a legislative effectiveness score (LES) for members of Congress, combining the quality and quantity of bills introduced, along with how far those bills get in the legislative process.

“There’s lots of intermediary successes that occur in the legislative process,” Wiseman said. “These intermediate stages are quite meaningful.”

And successes getting part of the way with bills in one session of Congress translate into getting more bills passed in future sessions, according to Wiseman.

Other revelations from their data: In addition to the benefits of being a member of the majority party, seniority and being a committee chair, Wiseman said the center’s research shows that legislators are more successful if they have relationships with members of Congress in the other party as well as having a focused policy agenda.

“We wanted to come up with some metric that captured some of the major legislative hurdles in the process,” Wiseman said, which led to the development of the legislative effectiveness score.

The LES score they came up with is based on more than a dozen different elements, including how far the bills moved through the legislative process and how substantial the policy proposals were.

In the 117th Congress, members of the minority Republican Party in the House of Representatives had an average LES of 0.58, while members of the majority Democratic Party had an average LES of 1.40, reflecting that it was easier for Democrats to get more done when they controlled the house. Committee chairs had an average score of 2.55.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, minority Republican members had an average score of 0.77, majority Democrat members had an average score of 1.23 and committee chairs had an average score of 1.51.

The average score for Los Angeles-area members of the House of Representatives was 1.44. California’s two senators had an average score of 1.369.

Money sent back to the district

One of the things legislators can do, separate from getting legislation passed, is send money back home.

How much money representatives direct back to their district — a process known as “earmarks” — is an important measure of their effectiveness, according to Pitney.

“Though earmarks got a bad reputation because of past abuses, they are usually sensible vehicles for delivering help to communities that need it,” he wrote

The Bipartisan Policy Center itemized the local spending in the 2021 omnibus spending bill, looking at who requested which earmark. The average Southern California member of the House of Representatives requested $12.1 million in earmarks in that bill, ranging from $26.9 million brought home by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks, down to the Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, neither of whom put in any earmarks, according to the center’s data.

Constituent services

And finally, members of Congress helping residents of their districts — known as “constituent services” — is seen as incredibly important in many communities. The services often include things like helping constituents navigate problems with federal agencies, including the Social Security, Small Business or Veterans Administration.

“Voters of color really put a lot of value on constituent services,” said Christian Grose, a professor of political science and public policy at USC. He wrote a book on the subject, Congress in Black and White.

Quantifying how well members of congress are doing in constituent services is hard, he said.

“The congressional style is more contingent on who’s in the district — do they focus on passing legislation or constituent services,” Grose said.

Source: Orange County Register

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: