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Crafting a Congressional Scorecard


All eyes were focused on Iowa this week as voters showed who they think would be the most effective president.  Here in Virginia, a couple of college professors were fine-tuning their own means of measuring productivity in the U.S. House.  Sandy Hausman reports on how they scored members of Congress, and which political leaders got top ratings. 

University of Virginia Professor Craig Volden and his Vanderbilt colleague Alan Wiseman developed a complex system for scoring congressmen, and applied it to every member since 1973.   The two used 15 different parameters to rate members of the House, and what they concluded was surprising.

“On average, controlling for things like being in the majority party, being a committee chair and so forth, women are more effective than men in Congress,” Volden says.

The two also determined that lawmakers who began their careers in Virginia’s General Assembly were at a disadvantage.

“There are some legislatures that we would call professional.  It’s the legislators’ full-time job.  They’re there year round.  They have high salaries and a number of staf," Volden explains. "Those members from professional legislatures who went on to Congress were more effective than others.  Now in Virginia we have a citizen legislature.  It doesn’t meet year round.  Small staffs, not enough salary that it’s their main job, and those folks who entered Congress with experience in citizen legislatures were even less effective than even those who had no legislative experience whatsoever.”

As they tallied scores and studied success stories, they came up with five pieces of advice for any congressman.

“Develop a legislative agenda rooted in personal background, previous experiences and policy expertise, along with an agenda tightly focused on district needs.  Have a reason why you’re in Congress.”

Knowing that stuff, Volden says, may help to keep lawmakers on track.

“A chance of putting a bill forward to law is about 4% in Congress.  The people who are going to stick with it are those who are so motivated by serving their constituents, so motivated by their policy expertise that failure is not going to set them back.  That failure  just says dig in harder, keep moving things forward.”

They also found that being creative helped members of Congress to get bills passed.

“Not just holding a congressional hearing on a bill that you’re trying to advance, but get in the celebrities maybe, highlight the issue when nobody else is paying attention and  be creative in that space.”

And, finally, they say, lawmakers should be willing to compromise and build alliances – even with those who seem unlikely allies.  Over the years a few of Virginia’s Congressmen have scored especially well when it came to productivity – among them Eric Cantor who had a score of 8.6, and Bob Goodlatte at 5.4 .  Most representatives scored less than one.

Volden and Wiseman hope their system for rating members of the House will help voters on Election Day.  You’ll find their scores online at TheLawmakers.org.  Next, the two hope to come up with a method for rating the productivity of senators.