I have some thoughts on the shutdown that wasn’t that I’ll post later, but in the meantime I couldn’t help but notice this tweet by Congressman Anthony Weiner:
Our fights can’t be just to stop their horrible ideas. Don’t we need to have our own agenda? #makethisarealchoice
When thinking of policy wonks and legislative deal makers, it had never occurred to me to think of Anthony Weiner. But when I saw his complaint that Democrats need an agenda informed by non-horrible ideas, I figured I should look at his history, to see if I had underestimated him, and to see what Democratic legislative agenda one might glean from looking at his own legislative activities.
I looked at Thomas. It wasn’t much.
In this Congress, it’s not really fair to make too big a deal about what bills are offered by Democrats, because the Republicans won’t give hearings to many Democratic bills. But Weiner has offered three amendments this session, and all have passed. Weiner and Utah’s ultra-conservative Jason Chaffetz have twice teamed up to pass amendments. They passed an amendment to end federal mohair subsidies (which may have provoked a goat to attack Weiner). They also succeeded in passing an amendment to eliminate federal funding for the United States Institute of Peace. Weiner also got approval for a “get tough with the Saudis” amendment to the budget.
Unlike in the current Congress, last Congress Democrats had a solid majority in the House and could thus usually pass most of their priorities without much problem. In the 111th Congress Weiner introduced 49 pieces of legislation and three amendments. Two of the amendments were related to condo and co-op housing, the third was another get-tough-with-Saudi Arabia amendment; all three passed. Almost all of his legislation died in committee. Three made it to the House floor and passed. One subsidized local governments to hire police officers. A second dealt with shipping and online sales of tobacco. The third bill dealt with online sales of jewelry & precious stones. Of the remaining 46 bills, 7 were about Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Israel, and the majority of the rest were about either homeland security, anti-terrorism or aid to local or state governments.
In the 110th Congress, the first with a Democratic majority since Weiner was elected to the House, he introduced 50 bills and two amendments. One of the amendments was withdrawn, the other–a small, symbolic appropriation for the Statue of Liberty to urge the Park Service to re-open the park–passed. Of the 50 pieces of legislation he offered that Congress, again, most never even got a committee hearing. Four passed; the police officer bill, the tobacco bill, a bill on community pharmacies and a bill to create a new visa category for fashion models. Of the remaining 46 pieces of legislation, 10 dealt with Israel or Arab countries; most of the rest were support for city governments or sops to influential NYC constituencies.
In fact, the few bills Weiner got passed were mostly things to do with New York City rather than bills broadly shaping national policy. Changing formulas for mortgages on condos? Important to the exorbitant NYC real estate market. Subsidizing cops? Important to the city with the largest municipal police force in the world. Streamlining visa status for fashion models? Important to the fashion capital of the world. Even the tobacco bill was hyper-local; NYC was losing millions of dollars in lost tobacco tax revenue, and the new law allowed the city to sue Native American sellers of tax-free tobacco. None of this is surprising when you remember that Weiner ran for mayor in 2005, planned to run again in 2009 before pulling back in the face of a blistering negative press campaign launched at him by Michael Bloomberg, and is widely expected to run in 2013.
For the sake of this discussion, I’ll set aside any objections to Anthony Weiner’s claim that Democrats need an agenda. Let’s just say it’s true and not in need of any qualifications. But if so, it would be great if he got involved in the hard work of crafting a legislative agenda for Democrats that is more comprehensive than what looks quite a bit like a plan to use a perch in Congress to win an election for mayor of New York.