In pop culture, what it is “really” like in Congress has been analyzed in everything from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939 to Netflix’s House of Cards, set to debut a second season this month. One needs more than simply a good idea and a patriotic desire to serve one’s country in order to get anything done.
For example, Rep. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., has announced his retirement after serving for 23 years. Andrews has the unique distinction of being the representative who has proposed the most legislation and passed the least. According to The Washington Post, Andrews has written 646 pieces of legislation, and not a single one has ever made it to the President for his signature. It’s the worst batting average in Congress for two decades.
Naturally, Andrews doesn’t see his 23 years of service as a failure simply because none of his legislation passed. A Huffington Post report from 2009 reported that only four percent of all proposed bills become law, yet with those odds, Andrews could have seen close to two dozen proposals make it through. He says that it’s less about getting one’s name on a bill and more about getting the “law” into a bill that will pass both the House and Senate.
Andrews tells the Post that many of his “ideas” found their way into law because “he has learned how to get his ideas on board by stockpiling legislative language that can be easily picked up and inserted into larger legislation.” Other times, he’ll introduce a bill and it will be rewritten in the Senate, becoming the bill that ultimately will pass.
Described as a “backbencher,” Andrews never held a powerful position in the House, so he never had much political weight to throw around. What remains to be seen is if Andrews’ legacy is as an ambitious-but-ineffective legislator or a representation of what future “Mr. Smiths” can expect in Congress.