There used to be a water-cooler line the gist of which was that women had to work twice as hard as men to get half as far in the workplace. Peggy Lee sang the song, “I’m a Woman” including the lyrics, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.”
Even though both have become ossified cliches because women have proven themselves over and over, a new study seems to prove women are still overachieving, this time in Congress. A study released this week by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Chicago says that, on average, women in Congress whip up more bills than their male counterparts, arm-twist more members of their own party and the opposition to co-sponsor these bills and (here comes the song allusion) bring back more federal pork to their constituents than their male counterparts.
The study traced two decades of performance by House members between 1984 and 2004, and reports that female members cook up some 9 percent more discretionary spending (Washington-speak for pork) for their districts than men.
Politico.com reports, “For instance, during Rep. Judy Biggert’s first two-year term, Illinois’s 13th District received $382 million in federal funds, $70 million more than it received during the final term of her predecessor, Rep. Harris Fawell.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren delivered around $859 million to her district, compared with $541 million brought in by her predecessor, Rep. Don Edwards, during his final term, the researchers said.
And during then-Rep. Connie Morella’s first term, Maryland’s 8th District received $780 million, $183 million more than predecessor Rep. Michael Barnes brought in during his final term, they said. ”
The Politico.com article also sports a key paragraph discussing why female members seem to be so much more productive than their male counterparts. It says, among other things, that there may be strength in small numbers, which runs contrary to the cliche that large numbers wield clout, but small numbers do not.
Politico.com quotes researchers opining that women self-select out. Therefore, only those who are ambitious, talented and hard working actually run for and win office, more so than men. Social Darwinism applies to gender and politics as well. The fittest survive and thrive.
But what the study does not seem to tell us is whether female members are more successful in securing final passage for their bills. Yes, we know they “bring home the bacon.” That’s tough, but not as tough as securing final passage for one’s proposals.
All legislative successes depend more on seniority, party status, personal relationships with congressional leaders and the ability to wheel and deal more than they do on one’s gender. With a female speaker in the U.S. House who is a pro-woman woman if ever there were one, Democratic female House members are in an even better position to be effective than they were during the two decades this study covered.
My hope and suspicion is, however, that the current recession coupled with a record deficit will change the landmarks by which we measure members’ efficiency and productivity. Both parties have paid lip service to the deficit. Neither has done much to cut ballooning spend and “unsustainable” debt (in the words of the Congressional Budget Office.)
My hope is in the near future, members’ efficacy will be measured by how much they cut federal spending, not by how much they bring home or how many bills they pass that add to the deficit. During her early tenure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed her “pay as you go” or Pay-Go mantra, which forced every increase in spending to be coupled with a cut somewhere else. Even President Barack Obama signed on for a while. Then the recession hit and deficit worries were trumped by economic woes.
Will we see members, male and female, start to pay serious attention to the deficit? Not a chance—not in the near term anyway. But a woman can hope.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)