U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wait to speak at the "Exempt America from Obamacare" rally, on Capitol Hill on Sept. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senators adopt legislative strategy with 2016 in mind

Republicans haven’t elected a sitting senator to the White House since Warren Harding. That was 95 years ago, and as history buffs probably know, it didn’t turn out too well.
But GOP senators keep trying, and nearly a century later, three notable lawmakers have made no secret of their national ambitions. The conservative Washington Times reported this week on the way in which all three have adopted a similar legislative strategy in the hopes of boosting their presidential prospects.
Sen. Rand Paul’s first bill out of the chute this year was pro-Israel legislation cutting U.S. assistance to Palestinians, followed up a couple of weeks later by his father’s signature Audit-the-Fed measure.
One of the other chief potential Republican presidential contenders in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas, rolled out as his initial bill a plan to strip U.S. citizenship from those who try to join terrorists waging war in the Middle East. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida championed legislation to shield taxpayers from helping insurance companies in a potential Obamacare bailout.
While still in their first terms, all three men have led sponsorships of a couple of dozen bills this year and hundreds over the course of their tenure, looking to beef up their resumes and stake out signature issues ahead of the presidential race next year, when they could compete with governors who have executive experience and significant records of accomplishment.
At first blush, this probably doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Plenty of former policymakers – Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum – are getting ready to run in 2016, but they don’t have the ability to tell Republican primary voters how hard they’re working on conservative causes right now. Cruz, Rubio, and Paul can, whenever they feel like it, sponsor legislation they can then brag about on the campaign trail.
And clearly, they’re making every effort to do exactly that. Just one month into the new Congress, Rand Paul has already become a sponsor of 33 bills. For Cruz, the total is 47. For Rubio, it’s 55.
But there’s a small flaw in the strategy. As the Washington Times article added, “The three senators, meanwhile, have carried a total of three bills through the Senate, according to records from the Library of Congress.”
When it comes to legislative records, let’s put that in the “not good” category.
When senators run for national office, they generally want to be able to point to some specific and concrete accomplishments. Barack Obama, as a 2008 candidate, for example, was able to boast about his successful work on counter-proliferation with then-Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.).
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio, meanwhile, are championing all kinds of proposals, but between them, they have precious few laws. There’s a difference between those who push legislation and those who actually legislate.
Consider the problem in a different context: imagine if I told msnbc, “I had great ideas for hundreds of blog posts.” If the network asked me how many I wrote, and I responded, “Well, I haven’t really gotten around to following through on my ideas,” msnbc probably wouldn’t be too pleased.
Likewise, Rubio and Paul have been in the Senate for five years each. Their collection of important bills shepherded through the process – from inception , through committee, through both chambers, and to the White House for the president’s signature – is roughly zero. Cruz’s three-year tenure is about as underwhelming. They can introduce as many bills as they want, but some primary voter might eventually ask, “So many of your ideas passed?” I don’t doubt they’ll have good excuses, but that “zero” answer probably won’t sound too impressive.
“Vote for me because I introduced a bunch of bills that didn’t pass” is a tough pitch to sell on the presidential campaign trail.