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D.C. Download: How effective are Nevada's members of Congress?

A nonpartisan project measuring legislators’ effectiveness based on how substantive their bills are and whether the ideas survive gives the delegation high mark
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum

What goes into effective lawmaking?

That’s the question that an ongoing research project at the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University has been trying to answer. Though they can’t assess the truest measure — how often Nevada delegation members stop to talk to me in the hallways of the Capitol — their effectiveness metrics are pretty interesting to parse, especially for small delegations like Nevada. 

Let’s get into it.

The News of the Week: Effectiveness rankings

The Center for Effective Lawmaking (CEL) legislator rankings attempts to measure how well members of Congress achieve their legislative goals. To do that, they code bills based on their substance — from purely commemorative, substantive or both substantive and significant — and then measure how far the bills made it through the legislative process, from mere introduction to becoming law.

Each lawmaker is then assigned a score for each session of Congress, with scores normalized to 1 as an average, and higher scores indicative of greater effectiveness. 

Lawmakers are also ranked for their effectiveness compared to members of their party in their chamber, given that it is far easier to achieve legislative priorities as a member of the majority.

Like any attempt to assign numerical value to highly qualitative work — as basketball fans well know — it’s an imperfect measure. 

The score does not capture what members keep out of bills — which, as Nevadans know, can be a skill highly associated with effectiveness, such as the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) keeping funding for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain out of spending bills for years. 

And there are other means of achieving congressional goals besides passing bills, particularly for appropriators such as Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Susie Lee (D-NV), who help craft spending bills even when their names are not on them and for the community project funds (pork) that lawmakers secure in those bills.

But with the 117th Congress (2021-2022), the Center began including when elements of legislators’ bills are incorporated into bigger packages — an increasingly common tool given how few bills pass compared to prior eras. This helps more junior lawmakers — like much of the Nevada delegation — influence legislation and demonstrate their behind-the-scenes effectiveness.

I talked to CEL director Craig Volden, a professor of public policy and politics at the University of Virginia, about how well the Nevada delegation scored and in what areas they are most effective. 

The Nevada Angle

Senate, 117th Congress:

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV): 2.467 (3rd out of 48)

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) 1.722 (7th out of 48)

The relatively junior Nevada Senate delegation scored high marks in the last Congress. In fact, Nevada is the only state in which both senators scored in the top 10 in their party for effectiveness — no small feat. Both senators outperformed their “benchmark score” — an expected score based on their time in Congress and being in the majority, in the case of Cortez Masto and Rosen.

Volden said it suggests that though the days of having a majority leader like Reid might be over, Nevada’s current senators are no slouches.

“Although you were used to over the top and leadership roles, to see that level of promise emerging is different and remarkable,” Volden said.

Cortez Masto’s high score came from having 12 “substantive” bills signed into law from 2021 to 2022. The center credited her for having five of her bills end up in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — notably including funding to fight wildfires. 

She also had three bills make it into the omnibus spending bill passed in the lame duck period of 2022, and human trafficking legislation make it into a broader package. Her score went up over 0.5 points from the last Congress, largely because the center now tracks what she’s best at — ensuring her priorities make it into bigger bills.

“One thing that just stood out when I was looking at her was just the degree to which she seems to know the ins and outs of lawmaking,” Volden said. 

The data dovetails with what I know anecdotally from covering her — she prefers to operate behind the scenes and make a strong case for her legislative priorities.

Rosen saw seven substantive bills signed into law last Congress, mostly in the realm of science and technology, health and transportation. And she far exceeded her expected effectiveness benchmark after hovering near the marker in the previous two Congresses.

One metric the tracker does not measure is a lawmaker’s ability to influence the presidential administration. This is one area where Rosen has had some notable wins, including ensuring high-speed rail funding passed in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law went to the Brightline West.

House, 117th Congress

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV): 2.291 (32nd out of 232)

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV): 0.601 (176th out of 232)

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV): 0.569 (182nd out of 232)

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV): 0.238 (149th out of 222)

Titus was by far the most effective member of the Nevada delegation in the House — fitting because she has accumulated the most seniority. She had two priorities included in must-pass spending and defense bills, including the Visit America Act promoting tourism at the Cabinet level.

Horsford and Lee are more junior members of Congress, so their benchmarks for expected legislative output are lower — but both fell below the average and their expected score, given they were part of the majority. 

They influence legislation in other ways too — such as being part of negotiations over big-ticket bills.

And Amodei, serving in the minority in the last Congress, was unable to influence much legislation. He received much higher scores when Republicans were in the majority, including an “exceeds expectations” score of 1.956 in the last Congress of the Obama administration, when he passed a bill concerning Native Americans.

Volden also noticed a gender trend.

“Women seem to keep going on their priorities even when they're in the minority party, and men not so much,” Volden said. “We saw that pattern here.”

That’s certainly true of Amodei, whose score dropped significantly each time he was in the minority. Once the ratings come out of the 118th, I’ll be curious to see if Lee was still able to make an impact despite being in the minority — especially because bipartisanship is her calling card. 

Around the Capitol

💻Middle Mile messaging — Both Gov. Joe Lombardo (R) and Rosen cheered the state’s allocation of a $250 million program to fund the construction of fiber-optic cables to build “middle mile” broadband connections, getting unserved areas of Nevada on the grid.

Lombardo described the program as an “announcement” — which is true, given the state established the program and put some funding into it. But most of that money is federal, from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — including a pot for middle mile infrastructure that Rosen included in the bill.

🏘️More data, less problems — Horsford introduced a bill to mandate greater transparency in the way states track usage of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), a federal tool to stimulate the financing of affordable housing.

If passed, state agencies would need to track and report annual property data on LIHTC projects, with the idea of better understanding how the program is working and what improvements need to be made.

What I’m Reading

CNN: In battleground Nevada, a top elections official confronts escalating threats

The biggest little electoral safety concern in the world.

The Nevada Independent: Top GOP super PAC not spending in Vegas-area House races, breaking from past cycles

Surely music to Susie Lee’s ears.

The Washington Post: After years of Democratic dominance, Nevada could be slipping from Biden’s grasp

WaPo gets in on the Nevada trend du cycle.

Notable and Quotable

“It’s time for my Republican colleagues to stop playing politics and pass this bipartisan legislation to give Border Patrol and [Customs and Border Protection] the support they need to crack down on the cartels trafficking fentanyl across our border.” 

— Cortez Masto, on Republican opposition to the bipartisanly negotiated border bill, during a Wednesday press conference

Vote of the Week

H.R.192 — On passage: To prohibit individuals who are not citizens of the United States from voting in elections in the District of Columbia

The 118th Congress has not let the district rest this year, holding countless hearings and votes on local policies set by the city council. In this case, 52 Democrats — including all three Nevadans — joined all Republicans to attempt to overturn a city law that lets noncitizens vote in local elections. 

Another day of taxation without representation here in your nation’s capital.



LEE: Yes


Staffing Announcements

Yvanna Cancela is joining Horsford’s office as chief of staff. A former state senator, chief of staff for former Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), Culinary Workers Union political director, and, most recently, White House senior adviser for intergovernmental affairs, Cancela has deep roots in Nevada politics. (And we both went to Northwestern University — go ‘Cats!)


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