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What Colorado’s congressional delegation got done this year – and what’s ahead

The Colorado Sun examines how the bills introduced by the seven Democrats and three Republicans in Colorado’s congressional delegation fared this year
Clockwise from top left, Rep. Yadira Caraveo, Rep. Brittany Pettersen (and Davis), Rep. Ken Buck, Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Lauren Boebert, Sen. John Hickenlooper, Rep. Diana DeGette and Rep. Jason Crow. At center are Rep. Ken Buck, left, and Rep. Joe Neguse, right. (Photos by Sandra Fish, The Colorado Sun)

This year was one of the least productive for Congress in recent memory, and that was reflected in the lack of progress Colorado’s U.S. representatives and senators made on their legislative priorities.

Nonetheless, there were some successes.

U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican, and Yadira Caraveo, a Thornton Democrat, passed their first bills. Colorado’s congressional delegation persuaded President Joe Biden’s administration to keep U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs. Two Colorado representatives and both of the state’s senators pressured the Postal Service to do something about mountain mail problems.

The Colorado Sun examined how the bills introduced by the seven Democrats and three Republicans in Colorado’s congressional delegation fared this year, as well as their voting patterns and other roles they played in Washington, D.C.

Victories via legislation and influence

Boebert and Caraveo – both running for reelection in tossup seats – each passed legislation for the first time this month.

Caraveo teamed up with Rep. Mike Collins, R-Ga., on the TRANQ Research Act of 2023, which became law earlier this month. Both Caraveo and Collins are first-year lawmakers.

The bill compels the National Institute of Standards and Technology to focus on the effects of xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer known as “tranq,” and other synthetic drugs that are often being mixed with powerful opioids.

Caraveo said the measure “shows the power of bipartisanship.”

“It was wonderful working with Mr. Collins and his team,” she told The Sun.

Boebert, serving her second term, introduced the Pueblo Jobs Act in April. The measure calls for the full transfer of the Pueblo Chemical Depot, which recently completed destroying chemical munitions stored there, to the community for economic development.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, introduced a companion bill in the Senate and then incorporated it into the National Defense Authorization Act. U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, made sure it was added into the House version of the defense bill. Biden signed the bill Dec. 22.

“This is a critical piece of legislation for southern Colorado,” Boebert told The Sun in an interview. It will “allow for the infrastructure to remain in place, and then it can be used by the private sector for economic development.”

She estimated the measure could create 1,000 jobs as the property is redeveloped.

The legislation was a rare example of bipartisanship from Boebert, who has yet to sponsor a stand-alone House bill with a Democrat during her three years in Congress. She’s the only member of the delegation who didn’t introduce a bill this year in their chamber with sponsorship from their opposing party.

“I understand that in a divided government we need to have bipartisan support on these issues,” Boebert said. “I have many pieces of legislation that I would love for (Democrats) to join and sign on and be cosponsors of.”

The defense bill, one of just 34 of the 12,000 measures introduced in Congress this year that became law, included other features worked on by Colorado’s congressional delegation:

  • Lamborn lauded funding for the Colorado Springs military community and cited numerous provisions he helped get into the bill
  • The measure included a provision sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Centennial, that requires notification of Congress if U.S. intelligence is used by a third party and results in civilian casualties
  • Caraveo and U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, hailed how the bill includes a 5.2% pay raise for the military

Members of Congress don’t just pass bills. They exert pressure on businesses and the federal government, too. Here are some examples of that by Colorado’s congressional delegation this year:

  • The Biden administration reversed the Trump administration’s decision to move Space Command’s headquarters to Alabama from Colorado Springs after a long influence campaign by Colorado’s members of Congress.
  • After Pettersen and other House members introduced a bill to ban “water beads” sold to kids, large retailers removed them from their shelves and websites. The beads present a choking danger to young children.
  • U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, Pettersen and the two senators pressured the U.S. Postal Service to improve service to the state’s mountain communities. The agency’s inspector general conducted an audit that concluded staffing was a major problem, along with lack of communication and inadequate management supervision.
  • The delegation successfully urged the IRS early in the year not to tax Coloradans’ Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights refunds as income. But that decision may be reversed for future refunds and Colorado’s senators and representatives are demanding that the IRS not change course.
More was left on the cutting room floor than wasn’t

Despite the successes, many of Colorado’s congressional delegation’s policy priorities got left on the cutting room floor.

Given that Democrats control the Senate and Republicans control the House, that’s not too surprising. Even when congressional control isn’t split, getting bills passed in Washington is something of a rarity.

Since 1973, only 4% to 9% of the measures introduced ultimately became law. In fact, only about 11% of the 15,000 bills introduced in the last congressional session even made it out of committee.

An example of where legislation introduced by Colorado’s congressional delegation this year didn’t advance is Bennet’s push to reinstate the expansion of the child tax credit.

The credit was expanded for one-year only during the height of the pandemic. Bennet continues to try to add it on to other bills.

Neguse tried to make a temporary wildland firefighter pay raise permanent. The increase was extended, but still isn’t permanent.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, also known as the CORE Act, still hasn’t passed despite being a yearslong priority for Neguse, Bennet, Hickenlooper and other Democrats in the delegation. It would protect 420,000 acres of public lands in Colorado.

The bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this month, but it still has a long way to go before becoming law.

Pettersen introduced several measures to address fentanyl and opioid deaths, but all of them await committee hearings.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, the longest-serving member of the delegation, cited protecting abortion rights as her top priority. But her effort to bypass the committee process and bring the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2023, which would prohibit government restrictions on abortion care, directly to the House floor for a vote hasn’t garnered enough support.

Ken Buck bucked his party most often, then announced an exit

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, and DeGette were the only members of Colorado’s congressional delegation to vote against the defense spending bill when it came to the House floor.

For Buck, it was part of a pattern of voting against the majority of his fellow House Republicans. For DeGette, it was a rare example of her parting ways with other Democrats.

Buck broke with the majority of House Republicans nearly 18% of the time on House floor votes this year. That percentage was the highest intraparty-split rate among Colorado’s eight members of the U.S. House.

Many of Buck’s votes out of lockstep with the House GOP came at the end of the year. In fact, 42% of Buck’s out-of-partisan-step votes happened in October through December, a period when Buck joined Democrats and seven other Republicans to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Buck announced his retirement from Congress on Nov. 1.

Boebert cast the second-highest share of votes in opposition to the majority of her caucus, at 11.1%. That’s considerably lower than her first term, when she voted against the majority of the GOP one-quarter of the time.

“I attribute that to having more conservative legislation that has been passed through the House of Representatives,” Boebert said. “We’ve had a stronger voice on what comes to the floor.”

Caraveo voted against the majority of Democrats 7.3% of the time, the highest percentage of any Democrat in the delegation.

“I think that comes in the spirit of bipartisanship and adequately representing what is a tossup district where there are a lot of varying and different opinions on legislation,” Caraveo said. “Many times, what is best for the district may not be what the rest of my party is voting for or against.”

Crow and Neguse cast the fewest votes this year in opposition to the majority of their party.

Caraveo was the only member of the delegation who didn’t miss a single floor vote in 2023. Buck missed 4% of the votes on the House floor, or 29 votes, the highest in the delegation.

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