Rep. Glenn Thompson makes name as House's most prolific speaker
'I enjoy, every day, taking to the House floor to address an issue or event that is significant for constituents'
September 1, 2013 8:00 AM
U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Republican from Centre County, has spoken on the floor on 63 days this session and counting.
By Tracie Mauriello Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- There are certainly members of Congress who are more powerful and plenty who are longer winded, but the prolific Glenn "G.T." Thompson, R-Centre, has made more floor speeches this session than any of his 434 colleagues.
He's used the soapbox to argue against abortion, to tout the benefits of natural gas drilling, to congratulate a retiring Centre County school superintendent, to oppose new federal borrowing, to recognize National Career and Technical Education Month and to support the rights of gun owners. He's weighed in on student loan rates, agriculture policy reform, flood control, mental health assessment, defense funding, the Boston Marathon bombing and competitive bidding for federal contracts.
"My goal is to reach out to communicate every day whether I'm in Washington or in the congressional district. In Washington, the best opportunity to do that is on the House floor," Mr. Thompson, 54, said in a telephone interview. "It's both a responsibility and an opportunity. I enjoy, every day, taking to the House floor to address an issue or event that is significant for constituents."
A sampling of Pennsylvania congressman's speeches
U.S. Rep, Glenn ???G.T.??? Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania, has made more floor speeches this session than any other member of Congress. (Edited by Andrew Rush; 9/1/2013)
The three-term congressman has spoken on the floor on 63 days this session and counting, according to C-SPAN's comprehensive video library of speeches. That's six times as often as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and twice as often as Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Some days Mr. Thompson took the podium more than once, bringing his total number of speeches this session to 90, according to his office's tally.
He would have spoken more often if he hadn't suffered a respiratory illness in June that had him coughing through committee hearings and straining his voice during casual conversation.
"It was the recommendation of the staff that he should save his energy and get better so he could come back even stronger," press secretary Parish Braden said.
The congressman reluctantly eschewed the podium until he felt better, but he still turned up for every vote.
"It was probably a whole week," Mr. Thompson said. "I enjoy communicating, so it was hard."
The break gave outspoken U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a chance to catch up. She is on his heels, having spoken on 60 session days. Texas Republican Ted Poe spoke on 58 days, and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland gave speeches on 51.
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Bucks, ranks second for total number of floor speeches give by members of the Pennsylvania delegation. He gave speeches on 23 different session days this session. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester, spoke just once.
In the Senate, Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey spoken on 30 days this session and Democrat Bob Casey, nine. There, caucus leaders gave the most speeches by far, with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, speaking on 86 days and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on 68.
Although Mr. Thompson has racked up the most floor appearances, his short speeches -- many less than a minute long -- total only about an hour, far less than Ms. Jackson Lee's time on the floor, which totals seven hours.
His longest speech came in May, when he spoke for nine minutes against President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act.
"Obamacare is terminal. It is going to fail under the crushing weight of its own flawed design," he said in an impassioned speech.
He considers a June speech on competitive bidding for Medicare contracts to be among his most effective this session -- he used it to encourage colleagues to fight a regulation that makes it harder for small manufacturers of durable medical goods to compete for federal contracts.
"Competitive bidding is a very complex issue," said Mr. Thompson, who was a therapist, rehabilitation services manager and nursing home administrator before his election to Congress in 2008. "Being able to speak on the House floor really helps to explain the realities of unintended consequences and things people may not think about."
Ultimately, 84 Democrats and 145 Republicans signed on to a letter asking the Obama administration to delay implementation. It's successes like those, he said, that keep him stepping up to the podium day after day.
Purpose of floor speeches
During the 2009-10 session, his first term in Congress, he spent eight hours on the floor over 116 session days, and last term he held the floor for four hours over 83 days.
But those speeches haven't translated into passed bills.
In his three terms, Mr. Thompson was the prime sponsor of 29 bills, only two of which passed the House, according to the website GovTrack.us. One was a resolution to recognize John William Heisman's contributions to football, and another would have provided distance learning programs for entrepreneurs. Both bills died in the Senate.
But neither the number of floor appearances nor the number of bills passed is a good measure of effectiveness, said Jim Broussard, professor of history at Lebanon Valley College in Annville.
"There are only a very small number of really significant bills in a year, so there's no way every member could pass even one," Mr. Broussard said. "And a lot of conservative members like Thompson might say, 'I'm not up here to have government do more and more stuff. I'm here to keep government from doing things they shouldn't do, so I'm proud not to push through a lot of legislation that costs taxpayers money and gives jobs to bureaucrats.' "
With television cameras pointed squarely at podiums, C-SPAN viewers might not realize that most speeches are given in chambers that are empty but for the speechmaker, the congressman waiting to speak next, the member controlling the floor, a handful of aides and -- in the case of the Senate -- several pages.
Still, the lack of an audience in the chamber doesn't dissuade members like Mr. Thompson and Ms. Jackson Lee from approaching the podium almost daily when Congress is in session.
There are better ways to gain prominence in Congress but few as simple, Mr. Broussard said. A member could, for example, become an expert on parliamentary procedure, carry the water on controversial bills or broker bipartisan deals, he said.
But there are several good reasons a member would want to spend his time on the floor, he said.
"It's a low-key way to get other members of the House to look at you and see that you're more than just a silent backbencher, and it gives you the ability to show groups back home that you're on their side. There's a nice press release or a newsletter that can go out and say, 'Look, I haven't forgotten about you,' " Mr. Broussard said.
"There's not really a downside of it unless you say something stupid or outrageous."
Mr. Thompson said he doesn't need to see other members in the chamber to know they're listening.
"Members are tuned in because of C-SPAN. I don't know of too many offices that don't have multiple televisions tuned in to the House floor. It's a tool that allows members to multi-task, to be able to work on their responsibilities back in their offices but still be able to tune in," he said. "There's not a lot of people on the floor itself ... but the information is getting into those offices."
Pennsylvanians are watching back home, too, he said. That's who he is most often addressing when he speaks on the floor.
Reaching the public
"My first priority is to communicate with constituents, but depending on the issue and if I'm there advocating for a particular piece of legislation, then my message is focused on my colleagues," Mr. Thompson said.
Mr. Broussard said frequent floor speeches could be smart for a vulnerable member facing re-election, but Mr. Thompson is in a heavily Republican district and handily won his last election by 26 points.
"It's not surprising that he's made a lot of speeches," Mr. Broussard said. "What's surprising is that some of the members in more vulnerable positions haven't made a lot more."