BOSTON — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez made headlines Monday for attacking his opponent, Democratic U.S Rep. Edward Markey, on national security.
But he also dropped a line he’s offered up several times of late: Markey, he said, hasn’t sponsored a single bill in the last 20 years that became law.
It’s a sweeping claim, designed to undermine the central rationale for Markey’s candidacy: that with experience, the Democrat has developed into an effective legislator.
Is it true, though?
Independent observers say the argument doesn’t hold up.
“It’s, at best, a shaky attack,” says Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute and one of the country’s most respected congressional observers. “I’ve watched Markey since he came to the House and I’ve written many times before that he’s one of the most effective legislators” in Congress.
Gomez’s assertion, read narrowly, is true: none of the legislation Markey sponsored in the last 20 years went directly to the president’s desk for a signature.
But the statement, clearly meant to suggest the Democrat is a do-nothing representative, elides the realities of the lawmaking process.
Markey pushed several measures over the last 20 years – designed to protect children’s privacy online, promote elder home care, and screen air and maritime cargo in the wake of 9/11 – that landed in larger legislative packages signed into law.
President Obama also signed Senate legislation nearly identical to several bills Markey sponsored in the House.
One measure created a new, national effort to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Another ensures that people with rare diseases like cystic fibrosis can participate in paid clinical trials without forfeiting their Medicaid or supplemental Social Security benefits. A third requires easier access to the Internet for the deaf and blind.
Companion House legislation, Ornstein notes, is crucial to passage of any Senate bill.
More broadly, he says, passage of sponsored bills is not a terribly useful measure of a representative’s effectiveness.
Lawmakers can deeply influence legislation, even if their names aren’t formally affixed to the bills.
Markey is widely acknowledged as an architect of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which opened up competition in the industry and spurred the creation of broadband networks central to the growth of the Internet.
And John McDonough, a professor of public health practice at the Harvard School of Public Health who was deeply involved in the formulation of Obama’s health care reform law, says Markey made his mark on the measure from his post on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Legislators can also influence the regulatory process.
Darrell West, who directs the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says Markey’s call for Internet openness helped push the Federal Communications Commission toward approval of so-called “net neutrality” rules in 2009.
Bottom line, observers say: Gomez’s claim that Markey hasn’t accomplished anything in the last 20 years doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.