The Value of Cosponsorships

It isn’t what you might think.

National Journal
Brian Mcgill, Brian Resnick and Sarah Mimms
Add to Briefcase
Brian McGill Brian Resnick and Sarah Mimms
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 »
DOESN’T WISH TO JOIN TRUMP
Christie Turned Down Labor Secretary
4 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Over a meatloaf lunch at the White House last week, Donald Trump offered the job of Labor secretary to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a longtime loyalist. Christie promptly turned down the offer, once again signaling that he has no desire to move to Washington, D.C. to join the Trump administration. The job ended up going to Alexander Acosta, who is expected to sail through the Senate confirmation process.

Source:
BACKED BY U.S. FORCES
Iraqi Forces Reclaim Mosul Airport From ISIS
36 minutes ago
BREAKING
PREFER TO LET STATES DECIDE
White House Formally Withdrawals Transgender Bathroom Rules
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Trump administration on Wednesday formally withdrew Obama administration rules granting transgender individuals access to the sex-segregated facilities of their choice, including bathrooms." In an official letter to the civil-rights divisions of the Justice and Education departments, the administration wrote that it prefers to let states set the course on the issue, and also that the Obama-era rules don't “contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process.”

Source:
THANKS TO MILITARY ROLE
McMaster Requires Congressional Approval
22 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Congress will need to vote on Donald Trump's pick of Lt. General H.R. McMaster to be his next national security adviser, but not for the reason you think. The position of NSA doesn't require Senate approval, but since McMaster currently holds a three-star military position, Congress will need to vote to allow him to keep his position instead of forcing him to drop one star and become a Major General, which could potentially affect his pension.

Source:
PLANS TO CURB ITS POWER
Pruitt Confirmed As EPA Head
5 days ago
BREAKING
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login