How to Tell if a Bill Will Pass

President Reagan shakes hands with a chicken.
President Reagan and a chicken. Source

In an exclusive interview with VegNews, Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey, disclosed that he ate his last non-vegan meal on Election Day 2014.

Senator Booker is a 6'4 former college tight end. He is not, by any conventional metrics, junior. Except that he became a New Jersey Senator in 2013 while Robert Menendez became a New Jersey Senator in 2006. Ergo, Mr. Booker is the junior Senator to Mr. Menendez's senior Senator.

In college, Senator Booker had read Gandhi's autobiography - the famed Indian lawyer ate no meat and little dairy - and thought he'd give vegetarianism a spin. That felt so good, he scaled back on eggs and cheese. Then he kissed it all goodbye after winning his re-elect in 2014. It opened his eyes to animal welfare, he said.

And so it was that he introduced the No Stool in Herds' Trough Act (that's the No SHT Act), which would do away with adding chicken litter (which includes chicken SHT) to cow feed.

The No SHT Act was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee. And Committees in Congress are where most bills go to die. Committees get far more bills referred to them than they could ever take up. In fact, last Congress, 17,817 bills were introduced and only 365 (2%) became law.

What's going on here?

Some of it's by design. The Founders wanted bills to go through multiple flaming hula hoops to earn the right to become law.

Some of it's showboating. Tons of legislators introduce bills so they can drop a press release about it; there's no plan to make it the law of the land. The bill is just a way to curry favor with a particular constituency or interest group.

Some of it's timing. It took hospice 10 years to get federal funding. Perhaps legislators and the general public need to get more familiar with the issue.

So does this mean No SHT will go No Where?

Not necessarily. And here's why: Senator Booker sits on the Ag Committee.

When a legislator drops a bill, one way to gauge how serious they are about it is if the bill falls in the jurisdiction of a Committee they sit on. If it does, that means the legislator has some heft to get the bill moving through the Committee process.

Another useful data point is if the bill has bipartisan original cosponsors.

A bill's original sponsor is the person who introduced it. If there are two original sponsors, they are original cosponsors. If there are two original sponsors who are brothers, they are original brosponsors (just made that up, though don't see why it couldn't be true).

Having a D and an R co-leading a bill can help grease the skids for passage by tamping down partisan obstruction – though that's not a guarantee.

Now if both the original sponsors are on the Committee of jurisdiction, there's a good chance the sponsors are serious about getting the bill moving and shaking. If the originals are the Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee (or relevant Subcommittee), hot diggity dog! Now we're really cooking with gas!

But the No SHT Act does not have any original cosponsors, let alone a Republican one.

One more data point I like: was the bill introduced in prior Congresses. This takes a little more elbow grease to answer. But a good number of bills are frequent flyers that get introduced Congress after Congress and go absolutely nowhere, which tells you the sponsor isn't too serious about getting it enacted.

This is No SHT's first rodeo, never introduced before. But Senator Booker also dropped it during an election year when Congress is unlikely to pass much of anything before a certain Tuesday in November. And after the election, it's a lame duck Congress, when not much happens.

Perhaps Senator Booker has a crack strategy to get it tucked into a must-pass bill. But I've got my money on Senator Booker using the bill to educate his colleagues and raise awareness about this SHT, plus make some animal rights groups happy.

But here's the last data point about a bill's viability: does the legislator have personal skin in the game on the cause. And in this case, yes. We know Senator Booker is a vegan who cares about animal welfare. When a legislator's heart is in an issue, they may be willing to go the extra mile. And these days, moving bills in Congress demands the extra mile (or four).

Or, as Senator Booker said as he was winding down his interview with VegNews, "The opposite of justice is not injustice. It’s inaction."

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