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Before he bowed out of the race, Sen. Joe Biden dismissed the legislative accomplishments of three Democratic primary rivals with whom he served. Biden was particularly direct summing up Clinton's tenure, saying, "There's not a major bill I know with Hillary's name on it."
In some ways, Biden's assessment is correct: Clinton has not been the lead sponsor of legislation dealing with a major national issue that made its way to President Bush's desk. But New York's junior senator has had comparatively few opportunities after spending four of her seven years in the chamber as a member of the minority.
Instead, she has worked the way many senators do, introducing bills that wind up getting included in another's initiative, drafting a Senate companion bill to a popular House initiative or working with home state Republicans to send money to New York or protect local interests.
After eight years as first lady, Clinton deliberately sought a lower profile in the Senate, respecting the seniority system and tending to steer away from contentious national debates such as health care. She also has adopted moderate — some would say carefully calibrated — rhetoric on abortion, the war in Iraq, fiscal policy and social issues. The approach surprised many of her critics, who suspected she would stake out more liberal positions and primarily use New York and the Senate as a stepping stone for her national ambitions.
She was the leading Democratic sponsor of a 2003 law that gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to order drug companies to test their drugs to determine the proper dosages for children. The effort was inspired by cases in which children died or were injured taking drugs or using medical devices shown safe for adults. She worked with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2006 to get portions of legislation she authored to extend health coverage to National Guard troops and reservists included in a fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Clinton authored a companion bill to House legislation ensuring that public safety officers killed or injured in the line of duty during the attacks would receive expedited payment of benefits. On another matter closely related to her home state, Clinton worked with Republican congressman Tom Reynolds to keep the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station open at a time when the Pentagon was closing bases — a move that saved 800 jobs.
Clinton has effectively used her senatorial power to influence a handful of issues and to focus on local politics. Biden is correct when he says her name is not on a major bill, but as Biden knows better than most, that's not a fair measure of a legislator's accomplishments. We rule his statement Mostly True.
CQ Weekly, "New York Role, National Stage for Clinton," by Martin Kady II, April 3, 2006
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton press release, Clinton Welcomes Victory for Children's Health Bill Transforming Pediatric "Rule" Into Pediatric Law, Dec. 15, 2003
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton press release, Senators Graham and Clinton Announce Congressional Panel Backs New Improvements to TRICARE Benefits for National Guard Members and Reservists Clinton-Graham extend health coverage to National Guard and reservists, Sept. 29, 2006
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton press release, Congress Passes Measure To Expedite Payments For Families Of Fallen Public Safety Officers, Sept. 14, 2001
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton press release, Senator Clinton Announces $21.5 Million for Defense Projects to Benefit Western New York, May 5, 2006
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