AUGUSTA, Maine — Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, opponents of Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud have hammered him about his congressional record, particularly that he has failed to sponsor legislation that passed into law during his tenure.
For example, when asked about his accomplishments as a lawmaker during a debate Monday night, Michaud cited several, including the Forest Practices Act that was passed when he was a state legislator.
The retort from Gov. Paul LePage, the Republican nominee, was terse: “Congressman, that was 30 years ago,” he said. “What have you done since then?”
That question takes some work to answer.
Michaud’s record, according to analyses by the Bangor Daily News and other observers, is much more defined by in-the-trenches consensus-building than a congressional tally, especially because Michaud’s party has been a minority in the U.S. House for most of his 12-year tenure.
It’s a record Michaud himself acknowledges.
“I find ways to work around the system to get things done,” he said to LePage during the debate. “I don’t need credit. I don’t need to make headlines to move Maine forward in a positive direction.”
Yet after 12 years in Congress, asking “What has Michaud accomplished there?” is a fair question as voters consider him as perhaps Maine’s next governor.
Analyzing his legislative record, asking around Washington and compiling a statistical analysis of Michaud compared with other lawmakers, offers a measure of Michaud’s tenure inside what most observers agree is an increasingly dysfunctional, gridlocked Congress.
Michaud, by the record
Michaud’s record is filled with laws and amendments that ended up being folded into larger legislation or budget bills — a hallmark of the legislative process in both Washington and, often, Augusta. It’s reflective of a politician who works in the trenches and builds coalitions in the legislative process, versus pursuing singular legislative accomplishments.
Here are three examples of the process in action:
— In 2009, Michaud introduced HR 763, which sought to increase the maximum truck weight limit on Maine’s interstate highways. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced a nearly identical bill in the Senate. In 2011, both were folded into HR 2112, which included a 20-year extension on the higher limits.
— Michaud has influenced numerous veterans bills, including the 2008 Veterans Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act and the Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009. This helped bring federal funding to Maine for the Community Based Outpatient Clinic for veterans in Lewiston and the creation of the Aroostook County-based Project ARCH, part of a pilot program to better serve rural veterans.
— Michaud was the original author of a bill to create the Northern Border Regional Commission, which was enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill. Several large grants have come to Maine through the commission, including $250,000 for the Eastport Port Authority, $200,000 for a Van Buren vegetable processing plant owned by Northern Girl and $250,000 for facilities investments to aid the 2014 World Acadian Congress.
Michaud, by the numbers
The analytical website GovTrack.us provides statistical breakdowns of all members of Congress, which puts their activity into perspective.
In a recent blog, GovTrack editor Joshua Tauberer determined congressional Republicans enact, on average, one bill for every 2.7 years of service, and Democrats enact one bill for every 3.4 years of service.
He cited reasons for the low numbers: Increasing gridlock and dysfunction on Capitol Hill means many fewer pieces of legislation have been enacted — only 157 bills in the current congressional session, for instance.
With 535 members of the House and Senate, writing and enacting a bill is becoming something the minority of members accomplish, according to Tauberer.
“It is far more common than not to not have a bill enacted,” he said.
Michaud is one of three members of Congress who has served at least 11 years but has not had a bill passed into law. However, says Tauberer, there are 26 members of Congress who have served about the same amount of time as Michaud, but the average number of enacted bills among this group is only three. Tauberer qualified this by saying that three “really isn’t that far away from zero.”
In 2013, Michaud was one of the most active members of Congress. Last year, Michaud introduced 20 bills and resolutions, ranking him 18th among Democrats and 31st among all representatives. Michaud also co-sponsored 359 bills, ranking him 18th in the House of Representatives, which for this analysis included 439 members. (Only members who completed their term were included in this analysis.)
But what good is writing or co-sponsoring a lot of bills?
“It shows that he is participating in the legislative process,” said Tauberer. “There’s not much that you can actually do as a single congressman, other than vote on the bills that get votes.”
Michaud regularly co-sponsors bills introduced by Republicans and draws leaders from both parties as co-sponsors. Three of Michaud’s bills in 2013 attracted a ranking member or committee chairman as a co-sponsor, which puts Michaud 33rd out of 207 Democrats and 62nd out of the 439 representatives included in the analysis.
Michaud also co-sponsored 359 bills in 2013, of which 43 percent were written by non-Democrats. This ranked him 29th among House Democrats. Conversely, 40 percent of Michaud’s bills in 2013 attracted GOP co-sponsors, ranking him 19th among Democrats.
How does he compare with others? Compared with Maine’s other House member, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Michaud’s record is more bipartisan. (Michaud has served more than twice as long as Pingree in Congress, however.)
Pingree introduced six bills and resolutions in 2013, ranking her 146th among House Democrats and 314th among all House members. Michaud was 18th and 31st. She co-sponsored 275 bills and resolutions, ranking her 41st among House members in 2013. About 28 percent of those bills were introduced by non-Democrats, ranking Pingree 124th among House Democrats, compared with 29th for Michaud.
A better comparison with Michaud is Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, a moderate Democrat who has served in Congress since 2005. One factor that compares Michaud favorably with Barrow is that Barrow was not a chairman or ranking member of a committee in 2013.
Barrow co-sponsored 97 bills and resolutions in 2013, ranking him 193rd among House Democrats and 377th among all representatives. He also attracted only 24 co-sponsors for all those pieces of legislation, which also put him near the bottom of the pack.
Michaud, in Washington’s eyes
Some of Michaud’s colleagues in the House, including majority Republicans, also support the narrative of Michaud as focusing on collaboration, not compiling a list of accomplishments.
“This is a very thoughtful man who studies the issues and doesn’t make snap judgments, and I think that’s important in the political world,” said House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican. “He hears from both sides and then makes up his own mind.”
Former House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Stephen Buyer, R-Indiana, said: “If you compare Michael’s voting to my voting, you’ll find we probably disagree on a lot of different things. But over the years, we found a way to work together for the better.”
One piece of legislation the two paired up on, to consolidate management costs at the VA, recently bore fruit, according to Buyer.
“It’s estimated the savings of that will exceed $1.1 billion,” said Buyer. “And it gets no headlines, and no one sees it.”
After nearly a dozen years in Congress, Michaud’s record could be described similarly. For Buyer, this puts Michaud in a rare category.
“When you have someone like Michael going to work on ‘good government’ things, you’ve got someone pretty dedicated,” he said. “Because so many members and senators are interested on working on issues that get headlines, and that wasn’t Michael.”
Rebekah Metzler, a senior news editor for U.S. News and World Report who writes the Downeast to DC blog for the BDN, contributed to this article.