If congressional politics were scored like baseball, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would be a Babe Ruth. Maybe that's an exaggeration. Make him a Lou Gehrig - maybe not the biggest star of his time or even his team, but one of the most effective.
Hatch batted .418 in the just-completed 101st Congress when it came to the number of bills he introduced that were enacted into law. And to show he can also hit home runs, that included obtaining compensation for cancer victims of atomic testing (with the help of House sponsor Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah) and major child-care legislation.As recently reported, Deseret News research into computerized legislative data at the Library of Congress show that others in the Utah delegation didn't have a bad two-year Congress either.
Slugging around .300 were Owens - whose average was .314 - and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, who hit .296. Weakest hitters in the delegation were Republican Reps. Jim Hansen, with a .200 average, and Howard Nielson, with .176.
The long story about those averages didn't have space to give many of the reasons behind successes and failures.
Obviously, personal work and skill by legislators are probably the biggest factors. But people often forget about institutional factors, namely that some members were playing for losing teams (or political parties) or were hobbled by rules of their different leagues (or the House and Senate).
For example, Hansen and Nielson were far down the line-up in seniority on a hopelessly out-manned team - the Republicans in the heavily Democratic House. House Republicans are the congressional equivalent of the Chicago White Sox - and haven't really won much since the Sox appeared in its last World Series in 1919.
Therefore, the legislation House Republicans were able to enact was often minor, or something that had such a strong argument behind it that no one could easily oppose it.
For example, Nielson passed two bills to rename federal buildings for former members of Congress - which fell into the minor legislation category.
A more major piece of legislation was his convincing the House twice to add language to foreign aid bills to pressure Israel into reopening long-closed Arab schools - which fell into the category of being so correct and just that few could oppose it.
House Republicans can wield some power on committees where Democrats are divided and don't have enough votes to win their individual battles without some Republican help.
Hansen took advantage of such splits on the House Armed Services Committee. He forged alliances across party lines to help members win projects they felt were important to defense or their districts. They meanwhile supported adding $100 million worth of military construction in Utah.
Owens' batting average is likely higher in part because he plays for the winning Democrats and can get plenty of assists. For example, he was able to push the atomic downwinders bill through the House by persuading liberal Democratic committee chairmen that it was important - something conservative Republicans would find difficult.
Ideologically, most of the House is also closer to slightly left-of-center Owens than to very conservative Hansen and Nielson. So Owens initiatives - from reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone to banning mining in Antarctica - naturally receive a more favorable hearing there.
While Garn, Hatch and other Republicans are also out-manned in the Democratic Senate, the rules there give them much more power. A single senator can virtually kill any bill with the threat of a filibuster because rules do not limit debate or amendments, unless three-fifths of the Senate votes to cut it off. In the House, its Rules Committee decides what amendments to debate, and how long debate may be. House members normally get only a few minutes per bill at most to speak.
So the concerns of every senator must generally be considered for bills to pass. Even if an individual senator cannot be persuaded to vote for a bill, sponsors must usually give up something to allow a vote - maybe floor consideration of a bill they don't necessarily like.
Hatch has become a master of using such rules to force liberals to add conservative provisions or language in their bills on topics from child care to gun control, civil rights, arts funding, AIDS research and raising the minimum wage.
Garn has used his key spot on the Appropriations Committee, which decides where money should be spent, to ensure Utah gets a generous slice when the pie is cut.
In short, to have a high congressional batting average it helps to play for the right team (like the Democrats) or in the right league (like the Senate) or at least have the right committee assignments.