A text meme supposedly showcasing the legislative records of various 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — Elizabeth Warren (MA), Cory Booker (NJ), Kamala Harris (CA), and Bernie Sanders (VT) — circulated on social media in March 2019 along with comments about how these lawmakers were ineffective at their jobs for their failure to pass more than a scant handful of bills:
In all her years in congress Elizabeth Warren has introduced 110 bills. 2 passed.
Cory Booker has introduced 120 bills. 0 passed.
Kamala Harris has introduced 54 bills. 0 passed.
Bernie Sanders is truly special. He never held a job until he was finally elected mayor at age 53.
He lived off of welfare and four different women, had a child out-of-wedlock with one and the three marriages did not work out.
In all his years in the Senate, he has introduced 364 bills. 3 passed. Two of those were to name post offices.
The meme’s text was taken from a much lengthier post that was shared in a March 2019 newsletter from Carl Paladino, a former Republican candidate for governor in New York who once said he’d like to see First Lady Michelle Obama “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”
In general, the meme used cherry-picked figures and omitted some crucial context concerning the legislative process in order to paint the referenced politicians in a negative light. For instance, while the meme focused on the supposed bill-passing ineffectiveness of these Democratic politicians, its text contains no comparative information about how their numbers stack up against those of other senators. Also, by the time the newsletter it upon from was published, the included statistics were already outdated.
Let’s start with the meme’s central claim about bill passage. Each year, only a small fraction of proposed Congressional bills are voted upon and passed — a mere 443 bills were enacted out of the 13,556 pieces of legislation proposed during the 115th congress. That’s an 4 percent success over success rate for the entire U.S. Congress, so the statistics offered in the meme aren’t nearly as egregiously bad as it suggests they are. Also, the meme only included “sponsored” legislation, although lawmakers more commonly co-sponsor bills with other lawmakers.
The statistics in the meme were also a bit misleading because they didn’t factor in the impact of failed legislation on future laws. While one bill may not pass, many of its provisions may find its way into a later bill.
When GovTrack.us compiles the legislative record of politicians, they consider an “enacted” piece of legislation as a bill that meets the following requirements:
We consider a bill enacted if one of the following is true: a) it is enacted itself, b) it has a companion bill in the other chamber (as identified by Congress) which was enacted, or c) if at least about half of its provisions were incorporated into bills that were enacted (as determined by an automated text analysis, applicable beginning with bills in the 110th Congress).
When you count “enacted” legislation, here’s how these politicians stack up:
Bernie Sanders was the primary sponsor of seven bills that were enacted:
- S. 885 (113th): A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 35 Park Street in Danville, Vermont, as the “Thaddeus Stevens Post Office”.
- S. 2782 (113th): A bill to amend title 36, United States Code, to improve the Federal charter for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and for other …
- S. 893 (113th): Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013
- H.R. 5245 (109th): To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1 Marble Street in Fair Haven, Vermont, as the “Matthew Lyon Post Office Building”.
- H.J.Res. 129 (104th): Granting the consent of Congress to the Vermont-New Hampshire Interstate Public Water Supply Compact.
- H.R. 1353 (102nd): Entitled the “Taconic Mountains Protection Act of 1991”.
- H.J.Res. 132 (102nd): To designate March 4, 1991, as “Vermont Bicentennial Day”.
Cory Booker was the primary sponsor of six bills that were enacted:
- S. 3016: Action for Dental Health Act of 2018
- S. 3167: 9/11 Memorial Act
- S. 3493 (114th): A bill to revise the boundaries of certain John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System units in New Jersey.
- S. 2908 (114th): A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1265 Hurffville Road in Deptford Township, New Jersey, as the “First Lieutenant Salvatore …
- S. 1090 (114th): Emergency Information Improvement Act of 2015
- S. 994 (114th): A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1 Walter Hammond Place in Waldwick, New Jersey, as the “Staff Sergeant Joseph …
Elizabeth Warren was the primary sponsor of seven bills that were enacted:
- S. 3130: SIT-REP Act of 2018
- S. 2355: A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 25 New Chardon Street Lobby in Boston, Massachusetts, as the “John Fitzgerald Kennedy Post …
- S. 1503: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act
- S. 1198: Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2017
- S. 670: Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017
- S. 2744 (114th): Genetic Research Privacy Protection Act
- S. 885 (114th): National POW/MIA Remembrance Act of 2015
Kamala Harris was the primary sponsor of four bills that were enacted:
We compiled a few more statistics in order to more accurately show the legislative record of these senators. Before we get to those numbers, we should note that the meme used the term “passed,” which is a bit vague and appears to refer to bills that passed the Senate and not necessarily to bills that became law.
The following stats (compiled via Congress.gov) show both the number of bills sponsored by each lawmaker that passed through one chamber of Congress (in direct comparison with the viral meme), as well as the number of bills sponsored by each lawmaker that became law:
Number of Introduced Bills Passed by One Chamber
- Warren has introduced 305 bills. 15 passed.
- Booker has introduced 269 bills. 12 passed.
- Harris has introduced 86 bills. 5 passed.
- Sanders has introduced 909 bills. 8 passed.
Number of Introduced Bills that Became Law
- Warren has introduced 305 bills. 0 became law.
- Booker has introduced 269 bills. 2 became law.
- Harris has introduced 86 bills. 0 became law.
- Sanders has introduced 909 bills. 3 became law.
Here are the statistics for the referenced politicians when you consider legislation that they have co-sponsored:
Number of Co-Sponsored Bills that Became Law as of March 2019
- Warren has co-sponsored 1,766 bills. 45 became law.
- Booker has co-sponsored 1,314 bills. 36 became law.
- Harris has co-sponsored 575 bills. 13 became law.
- Sanders has co-sponsored 5,979 bills. 217 became law.
Finally, much of the meme covers Senator Bernie Sanders’ personal life. We debunked a number of those claims in a previous article, so we won’t repeat them here.
In summary, the stats used in this meme are outdated, cherry-picked, and presented without proper context. When one considers that the vast majority of legislation proposed by all lawmakers ends up on the chamber-room floor, the meme’s statistics appear far less shocking than presented. In other words, while none of these lawmakers has successfully sponsored many bills, that says more about Congress as an institution than about these individual lawmakers themselves.