The Value of Cosponsorships

It isn’t what you might think.

National Journal
Sarah Mimms Brian Resnick Brian McGill
Sarah Mimms Brian Resnick Brian McGill
July 18, 2014, 1 a.m.

It’s the No. 1 thing ad­voc­ates ask when they get in to see a law­maker: Would you please co­spon­sor our le­gis­la­tion? Or­gan­iz­a­tions and con­gres­sion­al of­fices point to co­spon­sor­ships as evid­ence that a bill has mo­mentum, and to sig­nal their own ef­fect­ive­ness. But Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s stra­tegic-re­search team found that hav­ing a lot of people sign on to a bill doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily make the le­gis­la­tion more likely to pass.

NJ‘s team looked at every bill in­tro­duced in the House dur­ing the 112th Con­gress (not count­ing res­ol­u­tions), and a scat­ter­plot of the data re­veals a def­in­ite pat­tern—dot­ted swiss. There was a very slight link between bill-pas­sage rate and the num­ber of co­spon­sors a bill at­trac­ted, but it wasn’t close to pre­dict­ive—and wasn’t far from nonex­ist­ent. Even bills that garnered more than 200 co­spon­sors had only a 45.8 per­cent suc­cess rate, in a body that re­quires 218 votes for pas­sage.

Up on the Hill, staffers were only mildly sur­prised to learn that this was the case. For one thing, they point out, the House isn’t passing all that much le­gis­la­tion to be­gin with these days. And, on a per­cent­age basis, much of what is mak­ing it through is le­gis­la­tion of the re­nam­ing-a-post-of­fice vari­ety. That kind of bill isn’t likely to draw a lot of co­spon­sors or to re­quire a groundswell of back­ers to pass. In ad­di­tion, they say, law­makers fre­quently in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion for reas­ons that have noth­ing to do with ac­tu­ally le­gis­lat­ing. Says one House Re­pub­lic­an aide: “A lot of bills are in­tro­duced just as mes­saging points, and there’s no in­ten­tion of get­ting them passed.”

Or there’s no chance of get­ting them passed—a cir­cum­stance that’s es­pe­cially com­mon for the minor­ity party. As one House Demo­crat­ic aide notes, “For Demo­crats, most of what we sup­port or in­tro­duce isn’t go­ing to make it to the floor.” In part be­cause of this, party mem­bers of­ten push for co­spon­sors on big mes­saging meas­ures—if they can’t make a law, they can at least make a state­ment—which in turn helps ex­plain why more than half of the bills that had more than 200 co­spon­sors still didn’t go any­where.

There is some dir­ect value in pur­su­ing co­spon­sor­ships, the Re­pub­lic­an aide as­serts: “It’ll be easi­er when you’re whip­ping your bill if you already know that you have broad con­sensus for it.” But the real value of co­spon­sor­ship isn’t ne­ces­sar­ily re­flec­ted in the fate of a giv­en meas­ure. Co­spon­sor­ing col­leagues’ le­gis­la­tion helps a law­maker build a set of pub­lic val­ues, the Demo­crat­ic aide says. It is an ex­pres­sion of a mem­ber’s po­s­i­tion on an is­sue—a con­crete one that he or she can tout to con­stitu­ents. “It gives you something to point to, right?”

When a bill at­tracts co­spon­sors, it helps the le­gis­la­tion’s ori­gin­at­or, too. “I think, one, you’re try­ing to send a mes­sage to your dis­trict: ‘I’ve got a good idea, and these 70 or 80 mem­bers agree with me,’ ” the House Re­pub­lic­an aide says. It also shows that a mem­ber can build a co­ali­tion and move something for­ward. Those are ac­com­plish­ments that law­makers in a re­l­at­ively in­act­ive Con­gress can high­light back in their dis­tricts—and bey­ond. When a law­maker is able to show the in­side-the-Belt­way crowd evid­ence of his or her lead­er­ship skills, says the House Re­pub­lic­an aide, it “bodes well polit­ic­ally [and] fin­an­cially.”

In the short term, co­spon­sor­ships may be more use­ful for re­la­tion­ship- and ca­reer-build­ing, as well as pub­lic re­la­tions, than they are for get­ting laws passed. But, the Demo­crat­ic aide says, while it’s easy for out­siders to be cyn­ic­al about the reas­ons Con­gress does what it does, and to view bill in­tro­duc­tions and co­spon­sor­ships that way, the real­ity is more com­plex. Good ideas, and even good bills, don’t ne­ces­sar­ily light a fire un­der lead­er­ship the first time around, he says. More al­lies and more aware­ness can only help a cause in the long run. Build­ing sup­port, he says, “can take time.”

 For more from Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s stra­tegic re­search team, go to our Present­a­tion Cen­ter.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
8 hours ago
NATIONAL JOURNAL AFTER DARK

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Source:
STATE VS. FEDERAL
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”

Source:
×