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In the race for a Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin consistently portrays herself as a fighter for the middle class.
And the four Republicans seeking to win the Aug. 14, 2012, primary to challenge her frequently remind voters that Baldwin is one of the most liberal members of the House. (In September 2011, we rated as Mostly True a claim that she is the most liberal.)
With a July 26, 2012 news release, GOP candidate Jeff Fitzgerald took a different tack on Baldwin's record.
"Without her extreme liberal voting record, you wouldn’t even know she has been in Washington for the last 14 years," the Wisconsin Assembly speaker said, adding:
"In her nearly decade and (a) half in Congress, Tammy Baldwin has sponsored 105 bills. Only three have been enacted into law."
The implication: Baldwin is ineffective.
Baldwin, who is unchallenged in the Democratic primary, entered Congress in January 1999. She is serving her seventh two-year term.
Fitzgerald’s news release provided a term-by-term count of the 105 bills he said Baldwin sponsored, plus a summary of the three it said became law. (Baldwin’s campaign agrees with the numbers.)
Baldwin’s House Resolution 1760, introduced in 2005, named a Madison post office for Robert LaFollette Sr., who served in the U.S. House and Senate, and as Wisconsin’s governor, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Her House Resolution 1132, introduced in 2007, provided waivers relating to grants to expand screenings and follow-up services for breast and cervical cancer.
And her House Resolution 797, also introduced in 2007, modified standards to allow more veterans to qualify for disability compensation for vision impairment.
While the three did become law, none was a major piece of legislation.
Asked to respond, Baldwin campaign spokesman John Kraus said most of her bills had Republican co-sponsors. And he argued that legislation she currently backs is being "obstructed by the GOP."
Neither point refutes Fitzgerald’s claim on the number of Baldwin-sponsored bills that have become law. But Kraus also made a third point that goes to Fitzgerald’s suggestion that Baldwin has been unproductive.
Kraus noted U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who also the entered House in 1999, has sponsored 75 bills, with two becoming law. (One named a post office and one modified excise taxes on arrows.)
Neither of those measures qualifies as major legislation, either -- even though Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, is prominent enough to be mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate in 2012.
The implication: Looking strictly at bills passed doesn’t say much about the overall performance of a lawmaker.
"The number of bills introduced that are enacted into law is a blunt and often misleading measure of legislative effectiveness," congressional scholar Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., told us. "Many of the most effective legislators seldom introduce bills themselves but work instead in committee and on the floor to influence the shape of legislation. Paul Ryan is a good case in point."
We would add that many factors -- such as which party controls Congress and the White House -- affect whether a bill becomes law. And sponsoring legislation is only one of the myriad tasks a House member performs. On her House website, for example, Baldwin claims credit for bringing more than $100 million in federal money to her district.
Suggesting that Baldwin has been nearly invisible in Congress, Fitzgerald claimed: "In her nearly decade and (a) half in Congress, Tammy Baldwin has sponsored 105 bills. Only three have been enacted into law."
His statement is accurate, but it needs clarification. The number of Baldwin bills that became law is only one measure of her overall record -- and one that can be misleading when viewed in isolation.
We rate his claim Mostly True.
Jeff Fitzgerald campaign, news release, July 26, 2012
Email interview, Jeff Fitzgerald campaign spokesman Steve Stanek, July 29, 2012
Email interview, Tammy Baldwin campaign communications director John Kraus, July 30 and Aug. 1, 2012
Email interview, Brookings Institution senior fellow Thomas Mann, Aug. 2, 2012
Email interview, Paul Ryan campaign communications director Kevin Seifert, Aug. 2, 2012
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