We looked into Sen. Kennedy's job performance. Here's what we found.

We looked into Sen. Kennedy's job performance. Here's what we found.
U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R) Louisiana/Source: kennedy.senate.gov

(KSLA) - U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is defending his job performance after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards questioned Kennedy's competence in a war of words between the two.

After Kennedy called on Edwards to resign, the Democratic governor fired back on Thursday, criticizing Kennedy's effectiveness in the Senate.

"He's not a serious legislator. He hasn't passed a single bill in two years," said Edwards.

Kennedy, a Republican, has only been in the Senate for about 18 months. During that time, he's sponsored 16 bills.

It is true that none of those bills has passed the Senate or become law.

"I'm proud of what I've accomplished in less than two years," said Kennedy in a written statement.

"Tax reform is working so well that it's produced pay raises and bonuses for many Louisiana workers and generated $346 million for the state budget," he added.

Kennedy did vote in favor of the Republican tax reform bill that took effect in January, though it wasn't legislation that he sponsored (the tax bill originated in the House, not the Senate).

So is it out of the ordinary for a senator to not have any successful legislation of their own after 18 months in office?  We researched current and past job performance of first-term senators to find out.

How Kennedy stacks up

Kennedy joined the Senate alongside six other newly elected senators in January 2017:

  • Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada
  • Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois
  • Kamala Harris, D-California
  • Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire
  • Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland
  • Todd Young, R-Indiana

Kennedy is not alone in the fact that he hasn't had a bill pass the Senate. Only three of these senators (Hassan, Duckworth, and Young) have had bills get out of the chamber.

You can see the number of bills each freshman senator has sponsored in the chart below.

History repeats itself

Craig Volden is the Co-Director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking. He and his colleagues have studied the effectiveness of each member of Congress from the early 1970s to now.

"Over the past 45 years, freshman senators introduced an average of 19 bills, with three receiving action in committee. On those fronts, Kennedy is on par," says Volden.

Volden's data shows more than half of the senators will get at least one bill through the Senate in their first two years, while about one-third will sponsor a bill that becomes law.

However, the numbers are higher for freshman senators in the majority party, a group to which Kennedy belongs.

61 percent of freshman senators from the majority party get a bill passed through the Senate, according to Volden.

This means that if Kennedy is unable to get a bill through the Senate by January, he'll belong to a small group of freshman senators from the majority party who were unable to do so.

Kennedy's other actions

A spokesperson for Sen. Kennedy sent us a list of his other actions since joining the Senate.

In addition to his vote on the Republican-led tax reform, these include:

  • Putting together a bipartisan coalition to repair "cracks" in the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Serving as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure quality nominees advance to the full Senate.
  • Serving as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure funds for Louisiana projects.

Kennedy has also cosponsored 131 bills, 47 have passed the Senate and 12 have become law, more than any other freshman senator currently serving.

However, Volden says the amount of bills a senator cosponsors is not a strong indicator of a senator's effectiveness.

The graph below shows each of the current freshman Senators' records on cosponsoring bills that have become law.

Time will tell

Senator Kennedy's legislative actions are currently comparable to both current freshman senators and those who came before him.

However, as time goes on, the stakes to successfully sponsor a bill that becomes law will grow.

"Across the initial six-year term, the typical Senator more than doubles his or her lawmaking output between the first two years and the final two years," says Volden.

That means we will have a much clearer picture of Kennedy's true effectiveness in the years to come.

As for now, Kennedy is confident that he's doing his part in representing the people of Louisiana.

"I would put my record up against anyone's," he said.

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