Grading Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul’s performance in Congress, her Republican opponent Chris Collins gives her an “I” — for ineffective.
And while the Democratic incumbent has worked to win passage of several amendments at the committee level — including one that saved a unit at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station — Collins is right that she hasn’t had that kind of success on the House floor.
None of the 22 bills, resolutions and floor amendments that Hochul has introduced since joining the House in June 2011 have passed the House. In contrast, Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican who joined the House seven months before Hochul, has won passage of 11 of the 52 measures he’s introduced, though several of those measures were procedural in nature.
Reed has an advantage: He’s a Republican in a House run by the GOP.
Still, of the nine freshman House Democrats elected at the same time as Reed, only one – Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida – failed to win passage of any of the bills, resolutions and floor amendments she introduced. And of nine other freshman Republicans whose records were examined by The Buffalo News, all won passage of at least one measure.
Most of that legislation was minor, involving the naming of post offices and the like, which is not a surprise considering that senior lawmakers tend to do the heavy lifting in Congress.
Hochul has tried to tackle some substantive issues, introducing measures cracking down on Medicare fraud, oil price speculation and executive salaries at the U.S. Postal Service.
But those measures have generally died in committee, prompting Collins to speculate she’s not really legislating.
“She’s grabbing headlines,” said Collins, a former Erie County executive.
Of course, working to pass legislation on the House floor is only part of what a member of Congress does, and Hochul has been an activist member of Congress in many ways – most notably working with 17 colleagues from both parties on an Armed Services Committee amendment that saved the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls and other Air National Guard units that the Pentagon wanted to shutter.
“If you want to answer how effective I am, simply go up to the Niagara Falls air base and ask people who were in the audience when Secretary Panetta pledged his support for the future of the air base,” Hochul said, referring to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “That was a significant congressional and legislative achievement.”
On the House floor, though, Hochul is at a distinct disadvantage as she fights for the bills and amendments she proposes.
In total, The Buffalo News looked at the legislative records of 10 first-term House Democrats, including Hochul, and found that only 8.9 percent of their bills, resolutions and floor amendments passed the House. In contrast, the first-term House Republicans studied got 19.2 percent of their proposals passed by the House.
To Collins, that’s an argument for electing a Republican congressman for the Republican-leaning 27th District.
“She is a member of the minority in the House,” he said. “And whether it’s Albany or Washington, the reality is if you are in the minority, it can be difficult to get things passed. The Republicans are going to maintain their House majority, so the district is better served with a member in the majority.”
Hochul begged to differ, arguing that she simply takes a different approach to legislating.
“I work through the committee system,” Hochul said. “That’s another way of effective legislating.”
For example, on the Homeland Security Committee, she won passage of amendments aiming to increase efficiency at border crossings, mandating that Homeland Security uniforms be made in the United States and steering uncollected cash left behind at airport security checkpoints to clothing for homeless veterans.
She also noted that she’s worked hard to bring businesses to all corners of the district and to ensure that constituents who were denied the government benefits they deserved got them.
Ironically, in the Southern Tier’s 23rd Congressional District, Reed finds himself under attack for his legislative record in much the way that Collins has been attacking Hochul.
“Of the bills he has proposed, none has reached the president’s desk,” said Nate Shinagawa, the vice chairman of the Tompkins County Legislature and Reed’s Democratic opponent. “He’ll introduce something that looks good but that doesn’t actually result in action.”
Then again, that’s true of virtually every member of Congress. And, in fact, Reed has gotten more measures passed by the House than any of the other 19 lawmakers studied.
Four of the 11 measures Reed got passed were rules that set the terms of debate on other legislation. But absent those four procedural measures, Reed would still rank second, behind only Rep. Michael Grimm, R-Staten Island, who won passage of nine of the 31 measures he introduced.
Most notably, for two years running, Reed joined with Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, on winning passage of an amendment that aimed to steer additional funding to the West Valley Demonstration Project.
“We’ve done a lot in the last two years, but there’s a lot more work to do,” Reed said in an interview last week, making the case for his re-election. “But our record of being accessible, our constituent service, I’d put up against anyone.”
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