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By Michael Collins July 7, 2012

Opponent says Duncan has sponsored on piece of legislation in 10 years

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, has been in Congress for nearly 2½ decades, so his voting record should be chock full of fodder for his political opponents to exploit.

But one of his opponents in the 2012 primary, Republican Nick Ciparro of Knoxville, sees Duncan’s record as sorely lacking substance.

"In the last 10 years, only one piece of legislation has been cosponsored and passed by Mr. Duncan Jr.," Ciparro wrote on his campaign website.

Lawmakers routinely sign on as cosponsors of scores of bills, so it seemed doubtful to us that just one of the bills that Duncan has cosponsored in the past 10 years has become law.

Ciparro backed off a bit when we asked him to back up that claim. What he meant, Ciparro said, was that Duncan has written just one bill over the past decade that has been signed into law. He has since changed his website to say that only one piece of legislation "has been written and passed" by Duncan.

While recognizing that Ciparro adjusted the wording on his website, at PolitiFact we fact-check the original claim, not revisions made after a fact-based claim is questioned. Ciparro makes other claims about Duncan’s productivity on his website, but we wondered if he did overreach with the original claim about how much legislation had been "cosponsored and passed" by Duncan.

Duncan’s spokesman, Patrick Newton, called Ciparro’s claim ridiculous and provided us with a list of bills that the congressman has authored and cosponsored over the past decade.

Based upon that count, Duncan has cosponsored 334 bills since 2001. Seventy-three of those bills have become law.

We did our own research using the Library of Congress’ Thomas online bill-tracking system. Our numbers were a little higher than those provided by the congressman’s office. According to our search, Duncan has sponsored or cosponsored 102 bills that have become law since 2001.

Duncan’s office also points out, rightly so, that it can be misleading to judge a lawmaker’s productivity by the number of bills he has sponsored or cosponsored that have been signed into law.

Both the House and the Senate often combine several pieces of legislation into one larger bill and then push the larger bill through the legislative process. So a measure that a congressman has championed could be attached to a larger bill and become law without the lawmaker’s name ever appearing anywhere on that legislation.

In fact, one measure that took that route was a resolution that Duncan sponsored to name a veterans outpatient clinic in Knoxville after William C. Tallent, a World War II hero who also served as Knox County’s finance commissioner for 28 years. The resolution was enacted and eventually became law after it was included in a broader veterans appropriations bill. Duncan’s name does not appear on the final legislation, even though he introduced the original measure.

It’s also worth noting that few bills ever become law. In the 111th Congress, which spanned the 2009 and 2010 calendar years, 13,683 measures were introduced in the House and Senate, yet only 385 of them became law, according to the Congressional Record.

Our ruling

The public record shows Rep. Duncan has sponsored or cosponsored at least six dozen bills that have been enacted into law over the past decade. At its best, Ciparro’s claim showed a basic lack of understanding of how Congress works. At its worst, it is a ridiculous distortion of the truth. We rate it Pants on Fire.

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Opponent says Duncan has sponsored on piece of legislation in 10 years

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