Though U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is perhaps most famous for his colorful language about Republicans, in his campaign for U.S. Senate he wants to portray himself as a politician who gets things done -- even when Republicans are in charge of Congress.
On July 9, Grayson announced that he will take on fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Grayson repeatedly made claims that he is No. 1 in terms of legislation passed:
"In the past two years in Congress, I’ve written more bills, passed more amendments on the floor of the House and enacted more of my bills into law than any other member of the House -- No. 1 out of 435 of us," Grayson said in an announcement video on senatorwithguts.com.
Is Grayson No. 1 in introducing bills as well as passing bills and amendments?
This part of Grayson’s claim is straightforward: For the most recent, Congress he holds the record for introducing bills.
GovTrack, a website which tracks legislation, found that Grayson introduced 96 bills and resolutions during the 113th Congress, a two-year term which ended in January. That placed him at the No. 1 spot.
But how many passed? That might sound straightforward, but it isn’t.
As we have noted before, the number of bills sponsored by a member doesn’t tell the full story about any member’s legislative accomplishments. They can also influence legislation in other ways, such as writing language that gets included in a separate bill, co-sponsoring bills, holding hearings and negotiating agreements.
One way to count how many bills a member passed is to look at the number of bills he sponsored and how many of those actual bills were signed into law.
Using that method, GovTrack found that zero of Grayson’s bills became law during the 113th Congress.
But Grayson counts bills that he sponsored in which the same language was included in separate versions.
Using the Congress.gov website, Grayson campaign spokesman Kevin Franck, pointed to 281 pieces of legislation that passed during the 113th Congress. The website showed that Grayson sponsored 10, more than anyone else. But none of those 10 were the actual ones that passed -- instead, other versions passed.
And nine of those were ultimately lumped into one bill to amend the IRS tax code to extend tax credits -- for example for energy efficient homes -- or a deduction. The House passed H.R. 5771 378-46 in December 2014.
"My hunch is that these provisions would have made their way into the tax extender bill even without Rep. Grayson's bills," George Washington University professor Sarah Binder said.
The only bill that didn’t fall into that category was to prohibit an increase in the number of the military's flag and general officers -- the version that passed the House passed 376-5. (Grayson’s staff found two additional bills he passed that didn’t show up in that list of 10 that were lumped into a defense bill at the end of the year.)
So are these all meaty bills? Not really.
"But sometimes the little stuff matters a lot," Binder said. "And we expect our representatives to care about parochial issues as well. So it strikes me as reasonable when lawmakers take credit for a range of types of issues, whether or not they make the front pages."
Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that measuring productivity by the number of bills passed is tricky.
"Even writing minor, technical, or routine bills is not the same as participating in crafting major legislation. To give him his due, not very many major bills have passed in recent congresses, but still ... Inflated claim," he said.
A similar search of the Congress.gov website showed that Grayson, as well as U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tied for first with 21 amendments.
Grayson’s amendments covered a range of topics, including funding for the search for a cure for Gulf War illness, for gun locks, and for tax counseling for the elderly.
Eight of the amendments aimed to prevent the award of federal contracts to principals convicted of various crimes or who had civil judgments against them. (The passed amendments in his list of 21 doesn’t include about a dozen en-bloc amendments, in which a chairman groups together a bunch of amendments at once.)
With the exception of one of the 21 amendments, all of them passed by voice votes suggesting they were not controversial. (The one that reached a vote was to protect journalists from testifying about confidential sources. The amendment passed 225-183 but didn’t make it into the final legislation. Grayson has reintroduced it.)
"That said, there are a handful of Grayson amendments that secure recorded votes and then fail, so his floor track record is a bit uneven -- as we might expect for a minority party member," Binder said.
For example in June 2013, he had two amendments narrowly fail -- one by one vote, the other by a tie -- on bills related to expanding oil and gas production. His amendment aimed to protect the authority of states to restrict oil drilling off their waters.
Ultimately, the vast majority of Grayson amendments that passed did not end up in the final version of bills that became law. One of the 21 amendments and three of the en bloc amendments made it into law, according to Grayson’s office.
It seems to be Grayson’s strategy to try to pass as many as possible since he re-joined Congress in 2012. In June, he passed five in one day.
"Grayson and his staff scan the bills that come out of the majority," wrote David Weigel in Slate in 2013. "They scan amendments that passed in previous Congresses but died at some point along the way. They resurrect or mold bills that can appeal to the libertarian streak in the GOP, and Grayson lobbies his colleagues personally."
Based on our research, it seems like Grayson has worked very hard to pass legislation even though he is in the minority. Another way to look at it is that Grayson is simply trying to get his name on as many bills or amendments as possible. It’s up to voters to decide how they feel about that.
Grayson said, "In the past two years in Congress, I’ve written more bills, passed more amendments on the floor of the House and enacted more of my bills into law than any other member of the House."
It’s true that Grayson is No. 1 in writing bills and resolutions, with 96 in total for the 113th Congress.
But Grayson omits some caveats. The 10 bills he sponsored ended up passing as part of other bills, not as stand-alone measures. Of those 10, all but one ultimately landed in the same bill that passed with a fairly wide margin. He had 21 amendments pass, largely on voice votes, which suggests they were not controversial matters.
Congressional experts say that the sheer number of bills or amendments written and passed doesn’t tell the full story of a member’s accomplishments. His statement is accurate but needs additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.