UPDATE: We first published this item on Aug. 13, 2010, and rated Greene’s claim Half True. We received a number of complaints urging us to take a second look. We assigned a new reporter and editor and re-reported the claim with additional research on all the bills and resolutions Meek has proposed. In the end, we reached the same conclusion on the rating, Half True, and are posting the newer version of our report.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene says the poster child of the do-nothing Congress is a do-nothing congressman named Kendrick Meek.
"Since he has been in the House the last eight years, his track record in authoring bills is 0 in 70. ... 70 bills he authored, not one of them has passed," Greene said during a televised Orlando debate on Aug. 10, 2010.
Meek, a member of the U.S. House for eight years, said his ideas have been incorporated into laws and it's misleading to consider only the bills he sponsored as a scorecard of his time in Congress.
We'll explore Meek's retort in a moment.
But first, is he really 0-for-70 in passing bills like Greene claims?
First a little Schoolhouse Rock moment.
Greene, in his claim, is talking about bills. Bills, as you know, become laws. A member of Congress proposes a bill. That bill is then usually referred to a series of committees or subcommittees, where it is debated and possibly altered. If it passes out of committee, it is heard by the House or Senate, depending on who authored the bill. If it passes one full chamber, it then goes to the other. More debate. Maybe more amendments or alterations. More votes. If it passes both houses of Congress, it then goes to the president. You can probably guess, but most bills don't get this far. The president can then sign the bill into law, or veto it. If a bill is vetoed, Congress can come back and override the president's veto by a two-third's vote of both chambers -- making the bill law without the president' signature. We're not trying to go all fourth grade on you here, but we need to make the distinction about bills, because Congress passes things all the times that aren't bills.
End Schoolhouse Rock moment.
The Library of Congress tracks federal legislation (meaning bills and other things) through a system called Thomas. The site also allows users like us to search each session of Congress for legislation Meek sponsored. The website includes information about whether or not the legislation came to a vote and was signed by the president.
In his four terms in the U.S. House, Meek sponsored a total of 80 pieces of legislation, according to Thomas -- 35 in the current Congress, the 111th, 23 in the 110th Congress, 12 in the 109th Congress, and 10 in the 108th Congress.
Of the 80 pieces of legislation, none were specifically enacted into law. Two Senate versions of Meek bills were signed by the president. The bills were both non-controversial.
H.R.1361 and Senate companion S.111 directed the Secretary of Interior to conduct a resource study of the Miami Circle archaeological site. It was signed into law on Oct. 3, 2003.
H.R.2538 and Senate companion S.1904 renamed a courthouse in Miami after Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. It was signed into law on May 7, 2004.
Another 71 bills, designated appropriately with an H.R. prefix and a number are not law, and are either awaiting action or died in committee. The other seven pieces of legislation are called simple resolutions, designated with the prefix H. Res. and a number.
Simple resolutions are not laws. They are adopted by the House and included in the Congressional Record. That's it. Of those seven simple resolutions, we should note that Meek sponsored three that passed, a resolution recognizing the armed service response in Haiti, a resolution commemorating Haitian soldiers who fought for American independence, and a resolution recognizing Rafael Jose Diaz-Balart.
So out of 73 bills Meek sponsored, two are now law. The Greene campaign contends, however, that Meek shouldn't get credit for the two Senate versions that passed instead of the House version, hence their 0-for-70. The Meek campaign says Meek simply took up the Senate versions out of expediency or for some other reason.
We think the overall difference of opinion is minor -- neither bill was controversial and whether Meek was 0-for73 or 2-for-73 isn't all that critical.
What we think is worth noting is the collaborative way that bills become law. Any single bill is often the collective work of many. In some cases, entire bills become amendments to other bills that pass. Bills also must be reconciled between the Senate and the House -- the courthouse bill and the Interior study being a perfect example.
PolitiFact has looked at bill sponsor figures before, after Barbara Boxer was accused of passing only three bills in 18 years.
Back then, Norman Ornstein, a Congressional expert and a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, called the metric meaningless.
"There is no good, strong, objective, consistent way to measure productivity as a legislator," Orstein told us.
Agreed, said Clay Shaw, a Republican who represented a South Florida Congressional district for nearly 25 years.
A lot of times a chairman of a committee will take another member's bill and rewrite it and put his own name on it, Shaw said.
"If you have an appropriation, you try to get the appropriations committee to do it for you," Shaw said.
Meek's campaign said many of his ideas were incorporated into other bills that became law. For instance, Meek filed a bill to accelerate the income tax benefits for charitable cash contributions for the relief of victims of the earthquake in Haiti. His bill was referred to a House committee in January 2010. A related bill with the same goal, filed by Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Charles Rangel, was passed into law later that same month.
And in 2005, Meek filed a bill that would allow duty-free treatment for apparel assembled in Haiti. The Tax Relief and Health Care Act passed with similar language the following year, though Meek was not a sponsor.
We looked into a few different accounts of Meek's legislative accomplishments. CQ's Politics in America 2010 edition noted that Meek has become "one of the House's swiftest-rising young Democrats," and noted his prominent assignment to the Ways and Means Committee, which handles health care, tax and trade policy.
CQ said Meek previously served on the Armed Services panel, where he pushed for a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
And, "in February 2009, he responded to the public furor over Bernard L. Madoff -- who pleaded guilty to a vast Ponzi scheme that bilked investors of billions of dollars -- by introducing a bill to provide tax relief to individuals harmed by the investment scam based on paying early investors money from later ones," CQ wrote. The bill never made it out of committee, but the Internal Revenue Service changed some of its rules in March to provide victims some tax relief.
A July 25 profile of Meek in the St. Petersburg Times described Meek's record this way:
"He has been the primary sponsor of more than 70 bills and nothing major has passed. ... And yet, most House members toil for years without passing a substantial piece of legislation. Victories are achieved by attaching ideas to other bills, usually bearing the names of committee chairs, or plying other channels."
Ruling on a statement like Greene's can be tricky. He said: "Since (Meek) has been in the House the last eight years, his track record in authoring bills is 0 in 70." Of the 73 bills we found through the Library of Congress' Thomas website, Meek either passed none or two out of the 73 depending on whether you count the Senate companion bills. That, by itself, might rate a ruling of True or Mostly True. But the claim neglects to properly detail how Congress works and might give voters an unrealistic impression of Meek's time in Congress. While Meek may have not passed significant legislation, that's not necessarily a measure a Congressman's effectiveness.
We define Half True as a statement that is "accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context." We think that's about right in this case. Greene has his number just about right, but leaves out those Schoolhouse Rock details of how a bill becomes a law. We rate Greene's claim Half True.