Member Analysis for Sheila Jackson Lee

CQ Press First Street

Sheila Jackson is one of the House’s more liberal Democrats who routinely seeks the spotlight, making her a relatively well-known House member beyond the borders of her Texas district. Critics tend to label her as abrasive, particularly for her tendency to avoid compromise, but she routinely has been reelected by wide margins at the polls.

Initially elected in 1994, she has shown increasing loyalty to the House Democratic Party over the years. A member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), she did initially break with the party leadership on the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to rescue the ailing financial services sector in late 2008. She was one of 34 Democrats who voted against the initial version of the bill, but she did support a second version.

She also voted against a tax-cut extension package that Congress cleared in December 2010. The package included extensions of the 2001 and 2003 George W. Bush-era tax cuts, as well as an extension of unemployment benefits, as negotiated between the Barack Obama administration and Republicans preparing to take over the House in 2011. She said on the House floor that any deal to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy ought to include help for people who have exhausted 99 weeks of benefits and still haven’t found work.

After passage of the measure in December 2010, she wrote to Obama asking him to veto future extensions of tax cuts for the wealthy and to allow the estate tax rates to expire in 2012. She was a strong supporter of most of the rest of the Democratic agenda of the 111th Congress (2009–2010), saying on the House floor: “This has been the most astute and conscientious Congress in the history of our Nation.” She commended passage of the health care overhaul law and financial regulatory reform in 2010, and repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for homosexuals.

That same year she stated her outrage at the Senate for not passing the DREAM Act that aimed to provide a pathway to citizenship for youth already brought into the country by their parents. “This is an issue of importance to all—regardless of political affiliation.”

Jackson-Lee is a member of the Committee on Homeland Security and, during the 111th Congress, the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

She has advocated legislation to grant Transportation Security Administration employees the same personnel and collective bargaining rights granted to other government employees. She saw enacted in 2007 her bill aimed at improving security for rail and mass transit. She also seeks to beef up chemical plant security.

From her seat on the Committee on Judiciary, she seeks to change laws that impose stiffer sentences for crack cocaine offenses than for offenses involving powder cocaine.

Jackson-Lee applauded the enactment in 2010 of a bill approving the settlements in class-action suits brought by black and Native American farmers against the federal government. She had long worked with the CBC on the measure.

Jackson has been a strong advocate of the federal space program and initially opposed Obama’s proposed full privatization of the Constellation manned space program. She worked with conservative Republican Pete Olson on pushing support for a compromise in the NASA reauthorization measure in 2010, providing funding to help the commercial spacecraft industry eventually take over missions and allow NASA to focus on new deep space programs. She said the compromise would help small contractors in the Houston area who serve as subcontractors for major aerospace firms, such as Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin, and the United Space Alliance.

Health professionals have donated heavily to Jackson-Lee’s reelection campaigns, as have industrial and transportation unions. The top individual donor to her reelection fund during her House career has been the American Association for Justice.

Written by Christina L. Lyons, copyright 2011 CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.