Brookings Institution Not Quite Sure How Legislating Works

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 15 2014 4:07 PM

Brookings Institution Not Quite Sure How Legislating Works

It doesn't matter how well Alan Grayson is "batting."

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Six months ago I wrote up a bona fide #slatepitch about Florida Rep. Alan Grayson. In his first tour of Congress, after the 2008 Obama wave, Grayson became cable-news-famous for his bombast but didn't strike Republicans as a real legislator. After 2012, when he won a new, strongly Democratic seat, Grayson surprised Republicans by becoming a dealmaker who pushed amendment after amendment through his committees. Grayson, I wrote with just a teaspoon of hyperbole, had become the most effective member of Congress.

My contrarianism has now been challenged by Lachlan Markay at the Washington Free Beacon and by Tom Tillison at some other website.* "Some pundits have called him 'the most effective member of the House,' " writes Markay, "but Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.) has yet to see a single one of his bills pass out of committee since he was elected in November 2012." Tillison pronounced a "problem with this narrative," i.e. the "effective" story. Both of them credit the Brookings Institution's new "Congressional Moneyball" project, which gives out "batting averages" based on how often members sponsor bills and get them out of committee.


Neither Markey or Tillison appears to have read the story. It was about amendments, not bills. Grayson's in the minority, he works outside of the leadership—he's going to be less effective at passing bills. Really, the hook behind these articles is that the Brookings "Moneyball" project is completely idiotic, a strange bit of make-work that offers almost zero insight about politics. It judges every bill by the same standard, of whether it exists or not. That allows someone like Grayson to score zero (most Democrats have the same score), while giving a heroic 0.5 to Texas Rep. Kenneth Conaway. He's gotten one piece of legislation, a resolution, passed by Congress. Want to see it?

At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, January 21, 2013, the House shall proceed to the West Front of the Capitol for the purpose of attending the inaugural ceremonies of the President and Vice President of the United States; and that upon the conclusion of the ceremonies the House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 for morning-hour debate and noon for legislative business.

The Brookings metric judges this as important. It judges an amendment that bars DHS funds "from being used in contravention of the First, Second, or Fourth Amendments" as unimportant.

*Correction, Jan. 15, 2014: This post originally misspelled Lachlan Markay's last name and misidentified Texas Rep. Kenneth Conaway as Kevin Conaway.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge


The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 4:08 PM More Than Scottish Pride Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 5:07 PM One Comedy Group Has the Perfect Idea for Ken Burns’ Next Project
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.