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For New York's congressional delegation, few bills proposed or passed

Bernt Rostad

Upstate New York lawmakers are asking you to put them back in office, but how effective have they been?  

You probably will not be surprised to hear this Congress is the least active in the nation’s history. In the past two years, they have passed 181 bills that were signed into law by the president. Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, does not rate it very highly.

“This is an embarrassing and miserable Congress. Really one of the worst I've ever seen,” Ornstein says.  

So how do New York lawmakers rate? Of bills that are now laws, the state’s lawmakers were the lead sponsors of nine – giving them just shy of five percent of the laws passed in the nation over the last two years, which is not actually that bad.

Ornstein says you have to dig a little deeper than that, though.

“Now it’s true you can't just measure a Congress by the number of bills enacted,” he says. “The quality matters too.”

The one bill New York Republican Rep. Tom Reed successfully got signed into law renamed a U.S. post office in Corning for Army Spc. Ryan P. Jayne.

“Well, obviously moving the post office bill, they are done to remember our fallen soldiers from our district,” Reed says. “First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do and I am glad to have gotten that done.”

According to the official record, New York Republican Rep. Richard Hanna’s only bill signed into law specified “the size of the precious-metal blanks that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins.” But he says his fingerprints are on other laws.

“We have a number of important things through my chairmanship at the Small Businesses Committee that will be part of the National Defense Reauthorization,” Hanna says. “I think we have five separate items, one to do with surety bonding, one to do with reverse auctioning, one to do with the military.”

Reed introduced 35 bills, while Rep. Hanna only introduced 12 and New York Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei introduced 13 bills – a low number that adds to his opponent, Republican John Katko’s, accusations that he is unproductive.

Why the different legislative styles? Retiring New York Democratic Rep. Bill Owens introduced 15 bills, which is on the low end of the scale compared with other lawmakers. He says that low number is for a reason.

“Well from my perspective, I've introduced pieces of legislation that in many cases (I) thought would move forward,” Owens says.

So how does Owens rate this Congress he is a part of?

“It's embarrassing,” he says. “It's hard for me to believe that this situation could develop.”

Owens says the problem is that communication has broken down on Capitol Hill.

“You have to have ongoing conversations between the leadership in the House and the leadership in the Senate and the White House,” he says.

But Hanna says even though the record is bleak, there is hope if lawmakers only stop focusing on big, divisive issues and instead focus on the spots where there is common ground.

“Congress as a whole isn't functioning well at all, and I would agree with that,” Hanna says. “It’s a very partisan place, a very divided place, but there is a lot of room in the middle.”  

So how should you judge your lawmakers when you go into a polling booth? The congressional scholar, Norm Ornstein, says the nation needs problem solvers.

“I believe the screen that voters ought to use is the screen of problem solving,” he says. “Do you have a lawmaker or a candidate whose major interest is coming to Washington to help solve problems that face the nation?”

Ornstein says a part of the reason gridlock is so persistent on Capitol Hill these days is because voters have become as polarized as lawmakers. He says many independents skip elections and allow the two extremes to decide who represents them in Washington.

So as much as you may be frustrated and want to sit out these midterms, Ornstein says that would be a disservice to the nation.