Republican Congressional candidate Brad Zaun has promised to give voters 14 reasons not to re-elect 14-year incumbent Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s third district. Last week Zaun unveiled reason number 1: Boswell “has been listed as a ‘follower’ according to the non-partisan website www.GovTrack.us. […] Boswell has sponsored only 66 bills since January 7, 1997, and 63 never made it out of committee. Only three of Boswell’s bills were successfully enacted…and of those three, two were for renaming federal buildings.”
Bleeding Heartland readers who are familiar with the workings of the Iowa Senate may be amused by backbencher Zaun calling someone else a “follower.” Technically, Zaun is one of four assistant Iowa Senate Republican leaders; that’s a four-way tie for the number 3 spot in an 18-member caucus. He isn’t exactly a commanding presence at the capitol. Boswell was much more influential as Iowa Senate president in the 1990s before his first election to Congress. But I digress.
Zaun misleads by implying members of Congress can only be judged by the bills they sponsor, and I’ll have more to say on that after the jump. First, let’s see how Iowa’s two Republicans in the House of Representatives look through GovTrack’s prism.
Here’s the relevant portion of GovTrack’s take on Boswell:
Leonard Boswell has sponsored 66 bills since Jan 7, 1997 of which 63 haven’t made it out of committee and 3 were successfully enacted. Boswell has co-sponsored 1,493 bills during the same time period. (The count of enacted bills considers only bills actually sponsored by Boswell and companion bills identified by CRS that were themselves enacted, but not if they were incorporated into other bills, as that information is not readily available.)
We don’t know how many bills originally sponsored by Boswell were enacted through other legislation, but for now let’s take GovTrack’s analysis at face value. Three bills sponsored by Boswell became law: two renamed federal buildings, and the third was the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act of 2007, which instructed “the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans.” That bill addressed a serious and growing social problem, and cleared the House and Senate without a dissenting vote.
Tom Latham, who represents Iowa’s fourth Congressional district, is a “follower” and a rank-and-file Republican according to GovTrack: “Thomas Latham has sponsored 41 bills since Jan 4, 1995 of which 36 haven’t made it out of committee and 2 were successfully enacted.” One of Latham’s two enacted bills renamed a post office in Marshalltown in 2007. The other bill, which became law in 2002, “extend[ed] the basic pilot program for employment eligibility verification, and for other purposes.”
Keep in mind that Republicans controlled Congress for 12 years after Latham was first elected in 1994. In all that time, he only got two bills enacted. In contrast, Boswell had to work in a Republican-controlled House for his first ten years in Congress and has spent only four years as a member of the majority party. Would Zaun say voters in IA-04 should chuck out the “follower” Latham?
GovTrack tags Steve King, who has represented Iowa’s fifth district for four terms, as a “far-right Republican” and a “leader.” But don’t assume that he’s a more effective legislator than his “follower” colleagues. GovTrack notes,
Steve King has sponsored 45 bills since Jan 7, 2003 of which 44 haven’t made it out of committee and 1 were successfully enacted.
Looking through GovTrack’s database for King’s four terms in Congress, I couldn’t find any bill enacted, but I did see three resolutions that passed the House. One recognized the centennial anniversary of the Iranian constitution of 1906. The second recognized “the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith” in 2007. Finally, the House approved King’s 2009 resolution “congratulating the on-premise sign industry for its contributions to the success of small businesses.”
King doesn’t have much to show for eight years in Congress, four of them as a member of the majority party. By Zaun’s criteria I suppose King should go too.
You might wonder why GovTrack views King as a “leader” given such modest legislative achievements. The site explains that during the current legislative session, “Other Members of Congress tend to cosponsor King’s bills.” Boswell and Latham are considered “followers” because during the current session, they mostly co-sponsor bills offered by people who don’t return the favor.
In other words, King is called a leader because other people sign on to ideas like these: repealing the health insurance reform bill, repealing the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which allowed Congress to levy an income tax), and repealing Davis-Bacon wage regulations, which set a prevailing wage on federally funded projects. Being the pied piper of wingnuts isn’t my idea of strong leadership.
Unlike Zaun, I wouldn’t suggest that a representative’s only meaningful accomplishments are sponsored bills enacted. House members’ voting records as a whole are much more important, as well as various forms of constituent service.
Members of Congess can also influence language in bills without formally sponsoring them. For instance, King has boasted that he helped reduce funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2007. Feel the leadership!
Boswell helped negotiate changes to Medicare reimbursement rules, which were incorporated into this year’s health insurance reform bill. GovTrack doesn’t count the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a bill Boswell enacted, but the Medicare reimbursement changes will help numerous Iowa health care providers. Iowa’s low-volume “tweener hospitals” will also see increases in Medicare payments this year. Those include Grinnell Regional Medical Center and Skiff Medical Center in Newton, both located in the third Congressional district.
The details of health insurance reform are lost on Zaun, who has previously declared, “There’s nothing in the health care bill that I like.” Yesterday Zaun held a press conference and a private meeting with Republican Representative Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Boswell’s campaign pounced with this statement from the incumbent:
“Senator Zaun could not have found himself a more out-of-touch politician to discuss health care issues with Iowans. While Iowa’s doctors are cheated out of fair payments for their services to the state’s seniors, Louisiana’s hospitals and doctors, like Congressman Cassidy, receive inflated Medicare reimbursements for a lesser quality of care, essentially gaming the system for decades. I have fought hard to remedy this Medicare payment disparity in Iowa so that seniors can have stability in their health care services and the state’s doctors can receive fair compensation for their Medicare patients. Senator Zaun’s championing of Congressman Cassidy as a health care expert further proves that he does not understand the health care issues facing Iowa’s families, children, and providers.”
“I know that Iowa doctors and hospitals cannot afford to continue to be paid less than the rest of the country when they are providing some of the best care in the nation. Unfortunately, it appears that Senator Zaun would rather line the pockets of Congressman Cassidy and other doctors in Louisiana than take a stand and fight for the seniors and doctors right here in the state of Iowa. This is not a partisan issue – this is an Iowa issue.”
“There is no question that big insurance companies have taken advantage of Iowa’s seniors, families, and children for decades – whether it is by yanking coverage when you get sick or denying insurance to a child with diabetes. I have fought for stable, affordable, and quality health care for every Iowan, and did so when I voted to pass health insurance reform this year.”
Zaun’s case against Boswell looks weak so far. He’ll need to do better than that in the next three months, especially since Boswell will likely outspend him by a mile.
Final note: since Zaun considers GovTrack.US a reliable source, he should be aware that GovTrack has pegged Boswell as a “moderate Democrat”. That may sound obvious to anyone who knows anything about Boswell, but Republicans in Iowa and Washington, DC are banking on rebranding the incumbent as a “liberal” before November. Good luck with that.