It is asserted here (time stamp 10:04) that

My opponent [referring to Maxine Waters] only passed 3 bills in Congress in 27 years.

Is this true and how does an average person like me verify this assertion (and others like it)?

In my own effort to answer this, I looked into votesmart.org and govtrack.us. At a very cursory glance, the assertion seems false as Waters voted on more than 3 bills that at least passed the House. But I'm not confident in my judgment as this is the first time I think about checking this kind of assertion.

I have no stake in the assertion being true or otherwise. In the interest of giving the assertion some benefit of doubt, however, is there an interpretation of the assertion that makes it true?

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    Any answer to this question would detail how many bills she authored or co-sponsored, favoring the former. Oct 22, 2018 at 21:42
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    As PolitiFact discusses extensively in this article, bill count is a wildly misleading way to measure a Congressperson's legislative output regardless of how you define it (and also there is a long history of playing fast and loose with the definitions to get the "right" result).
    – Kevin
    Oct 23, 2018 at 6:10
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    This question may be a better fit for Skeptics.StackExchange. What is the political question here? You just want to verify the statement... Oct 23, 2018 at 7:31
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    @Trilarion Surely it is possible that things overlap?
    – yurnero
    Oct 23, 2018 at 7:34
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    @yurnero I think that they would not look absurd in Skeptics. They would look absolutely normal there too. They get similar questions. Oct 23, 2018 at 7:45

2 Answers 2


The information you're looking for is available on govtrack.us, but you need to know what to search for.

In this context, "passing" a bill (without any qualifiers) generally means introducing it and having it become law. It may or may not include bills which were merely co-sponsored, but in my experience, when they do, it's explicitly called out.

Given that, the following search will show you that she has, in fact, introduced three bills which were passed:

govtrack.us with Congress=all, Sponsor=Waters, Maxine, stsatus = Enacted

If you want to include Concurrent Resolutions, which are bills that both houses agree to but aren't actually laws, then she's passed five bills. Simple Resolutions (bills that pass a chamber but don't even go to the other one) add three more, for a total of eight. However, it's reasonable to not include resolutions, since they have no binding impact and are often passed without a formal vote.

She also introduced two bills which were not passed, but had some portion incorporated into another bill which did pass. These generally wouldn't count as "bills passed", but are certainly part of contributing to legislation.

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    @Kevin - It's very much shorthand, but it is in use. I don't know if there's a dictionary that would explicitly cover it, but here and here are two examples of it being used. Note that the first article is explicitly "sponsored or cosponsored" and the second one is just "passed the House" (not become law). But the concept applies. That said, I qualified my statement.
    – Bobson
    Oct 22, 2018 at 22:23
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    Fair enough. However, I think you might also want to link to this search as a point of comparison. "Only three bills" is a meaningless number without context.
    – Kevin
    Oct 23, 2018 at 0:47
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    "...only introduced three bills..." I wonder a bit about the usage of "only" here. What is the average number of passed laws per member of congress and year and what is the average variation of this number (percentiles maybe)? Otherwise I would maybe remove the "only" since it could be seen as a bit judgemental. Oct 23, 2018 at 7:35
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    My next question would be "is that unusual"? Looking at the search link provided in the answer, there are a lot of people with similarly low numbers, although it's difficult to find people with similar lengths of service to compare.
    – Jontia
    Oct 23, 2018 at 8:51
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    @Jontia You could ask that as a separate question. Basically asking for a histogram of passed bills per time and per congressmen. But even then not every bill has the same importance, so the question would be what these numbers mean and maybe one was just unlucky and all sponsored bills were voted down for some reason. Instead of measuring activity (I guess this is the judgment here) one would just measure mainstream-yness(?). In the end, the question is how to measure a politicians work. Oct 23, 2018 at 12:01

From the Advanced Search for Legislation page, it appears that Representative Waters has sponsored 5 bills since 1973 that have been enacted. Three of them were enacted and signed into law and the other two were incorporated into other legislation and subsequently passed. I would assume, to be charitable, that the two bills that "didn't count" were overlooked by mistake.

On that same page, you can see that she sponsored, or is currently sponsoring 338 bills from that same time period.

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