Public Policy Forum Blog

Gasbag or effective legislator?

Some people accuse the U.S. Congress of being all talk and little action. Now there's a website that's tracking that talk in a fun, interactive way, allowing you to pit any two Senators or members of Congress against one another in a war of words.

For example, when Wisconsin's two Senators are compared, it's clear that Sen. Russ Feingold spends much more time in front of the mike than Sen. Herb Kohl. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008), Feingold spoke nearly five times more words from the Senate floor than Kohl, with 113,965 to Kohl's 23,107, ranking Feingold 13th most loquacious. Of all the words uttered by Wisconsin's 10 legislators, Feingold spoke 42% and Kohl spoke 8%.

And what were they speaking about? The most commonly uttered word by Feingold was Iraq, with Americans and security also ranking highly. Kohl said care most often, and help and health frequently as well.

The stats for the rest of the state's delegation (in alphabetical order):
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D)--13,672 words, health, insurance, and care are most common
Rep. Steve Kagen (D)--18,875, health, care, children
Rep. Ron Kind (D)--18,243, country, farm, tax
Rep. Gwen Moore (D)--12,457, Milwaukee, school, health
Rep. Dave Obey (D)--34,643, billion, earmarks, percent
Rep. Tom Petri (R)--9,710, loan, students, FAA
Rep. Paul Ryan (R)--25,177, budget, tax, spending
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R)--3,395, rights, property, research

It's probably fair to say, based on the stats above, that Feingold is most responsible for Wisconsin's rank of 18th among states in terms of verbosity.

Unfortunately, the site can't tell you whether the legislators were speaking for or against any of these ideas. But now you can judge whether you think you're getting too much talk or not enough out of your representatives in D.C., and whether the talk is on the issues that matter most to you.

Anneliese Dickman