Asking voters for a second term, Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington touts the achievements of his first term in television ads.
"Andy wrote a bill requiring members of Congress to live by the laws that they write, authored legislation to reduce the pay of politicians who fail to cut spending and introduced legislation imposing term limits on members of Congress," the narrator says in an ad titled Reforming D.C.
In another ad, Whatever the Battle, the narrator says: "When Andy Barr learned military personnel who had been victims of sexual assault couldn't get necessary treatment in the V.A. system, he authored legislation empowering them to get the care they need and move forward."
But Barr's ads don't disclose that none of this legislation came close to being signed into law by the president.
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Like most of the 16 bills Barr has sponsored in the 113th Congress, they never left the House, which his Republican majority controls. Only four of his bills — all promoting bank-friendly deregulation — made it to the Democratic-led Senate, where they are sitting in committee as the clock runs out on this Congress.
Barr faces Democratic challenger Elisabeth Jensen on Nov. 4 to represent Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.
In an interview this week, Barr blamed U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, for blocking his bills and several hundred others sponsored by House Republicans.
"If I could wave a magic wand and get these bills past Harry Reid's desk, I'd do it," Barr said. "I think it's going to take a leadership change in the Senate to move a lot of those solutions for the American people."
Reminded that most of his bills languish in the Republican-run House, not on Reid's desk, Barr said he compares favorably among first-term representatives. Leaving aside bills he has sponsored, Barr said, he supported other lawmakers' winning legislation and helped back amendments that became law, including one measure — filed by a Colorado Democrat — allowing Kentucky universities to grow and study industrial hemp.
Language from a bill that Barr filed to ease licensing requirements for the Valley View Ferry ended up in a California Republican's larger measure, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act. The House passed that bill April 1, but it immediately stalled in the Senate.
"Look at those approximately 80 or so freshmen members of Congress," he said. "I think there are seven who have passed seven bills out of the full House. But we've done as well or better than all of my freshmen colleagues in terms of our legislative success."
"We're just getting started, that's the bottom line," Barr added. "Our legislative success will build as we continue to do our work."
If all of Barr's bills die for lack of action, they'll have plenty of company. Each Congress sits for two years, and with two months remaining, the 113th is on track to produce less substantive legislation than any in decades, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Not counting minor tasks like renaming post offices, Congress had enacted 108 bills by the time of its first summer break, about half of what it accomplished 10 years earlier.
Experts say Congress seems hopelessly gridlocked, with many Republicans and Democrats unwilling to pass anything unless their party holds the House, the Senate and the White House.
"Clearly it's the case that they're at loggerheads," said Don Dugi, a political scientist who teaches about Congress at Transylvania University in Lexington. "There's an excellent chance that nothing of any significance will get accomplished in Washington for the next two years, until we get a new president, regardless of who controls the Senate after Nov. 4."
However, Barr can't effectively campaign in Kentucky on partisan gridlock, so his advertisements "make it sound like he's single-handedly cleaning up Washington," Dugi said.
"All of these claims amount to posturing by Andy Barr because none of the bills in his commercials are going to become law, and he knows that perfectly well," Dugi said. "The only bills of his that seem to go anywhere are the deregulation bills that the banks want, loosening the rules on bankers. ... But those don't make for very good TV commercials."
Jensen, Barr's Democratic challenger, would be a freshman lawmaker if she is elected, as Barr presently is. She would have the added disadvantage of being in the minority, since Republicans are expected to hold the House. But Jensen has a record of accomplishment in the nonprofit and private sectors, said her campaign spokeswoman, Carol Andrews.
"Elisabeth knows from her years in business that you have to play well with others, even if you don't agree with them on everything, instead of just shutting down the government, going home and refusing to do anything," Andrews said. "Andy Barr is a member of the majority and he still can't get anything done."
Barr said his legislative scorecard shows only part of the picture because he also helps improve government policy by applying pressure on the federal bureaucracy.
For example, he said, he and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., convinced the Office of Management and Budget to exempt Fiscal Year 2015 buyout payments to tobacco farmers from a 7.2 percent sequestration cut. U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., claimed credit for that as well for North Carolina's congressional delegation.
Also, Barr said he and McConnell asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reverse a crop insurance policy change it had imposed on tobacco farmers in 2013, in response to dozens of cases of criminal fraud in the insurance program.
"What Andy got them to do is agree to give us plenty of notice in the future before there are any more changes in the crop insurance program. Although his bill was not successful, he was helpful at convincing them to make the changes internally that we wanted," said L. Joe Cain, Kentucky Farm Bureau's commodities division director.
Barr also cited his work for individual constituents. He said his staff has resolved about 2,100 cases for Central Kentuckians, including requests for assistance with government benefits, foreign adoptions and negotiating the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"We had a woman who was receiving multiple letters from the USDA because she had a home loan and they were saying she owed something like $50,000 on her loan," Barr said. "Not only had she paid off the loan, but the USDA was incorrect and actually owed her money."