Government Bytes

Press Release 

Taxpayer Group's Nonpartisan Scorecard Shows Highest-Ever Number of "Big Spenders" in Congress

by Pete Sepp / /

(Alexandria, Va.) -- Growing along with the nation's federal deficit is the number of Members of Congress receiving the lowest pro-taxpayer scores, according to the National Taxpayers Union's (NTU) 30th annual Rating of Congress. The scorecard, the only one to utilize every roll call vote affecting tax, spending, and regulatory issues, was based on 286 votes 182 in the House and 104 in the Senate -- in the second session of the 110th Congress (all of 2008).

"As Democrats move further to the left and Republicans move increasingly toward a mushy center, taxpayers suffer," NTU President Duane Parde said. "Our 2008 Rating shows both a declining number of Representatives and Senators receiving high pro-taxpayer scores and a record number of lawmakers earning failing grades."

In 2008, only 48 lawmakers attained scores sufficient for a significantly "curved" grade of "A" (at least 80 percent in the House and 76 percent in the Senate) and hence were eligible for the "Taxpayers' Friend Award" -- a drop from the 52 who earned top grades in 2007. Meanwhile, a record 267 Senators and Representatives captured the title of "Big Spender" for posting "F" grades (even more heavily curved at 25 percent or less in the House and 15 percent or less in the Senate). This tops the 2007 Rating's 266 biggest spenders and is an even more significant jump from the 224 biggest spenders in 2006.

Between 2007 and 2008, the average "Taxpayer Score" in the House rose slightly from 35 percent to 36 percent. The Senate's average dropped by five points, from 37 percent to 32 percent. This brings Senate scores closer to the all-time low (in 1988) of 28 percent (the House's all-time low was 27 percent that same year). The highest marks were reached in 1995, when House and Senate averages were 58 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

Unlike those of other organizations, NTU's annual Rating does not simplistically focus on a handful of equally weighted "key votes," but every roll call vote affecting fiscal policy -- appropriations, authorization, and tax bills; budget target resolutions; amendments; and certain procedural votes that could affect the burden on taxpayers. For this reason, it has received praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including the late Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI), creator of the "Golden Fleece Award." A Member of Congress's "Taxpayer Score" reflects his or her commitment to reducing or controlling federal spending, taxes, debt, and regulation.

For the sixth consecutive year, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was the top scorer in the House with a 98 percent rating -- tying Rep. Ron Paul's (R-TX) record of six first-place finishes from 1979 through 1984. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) captured first place in the Senate for the third year in a row with a 96 percent rating. Rep. John Larson (D-CT) received the lowest score in the House with a 2 percent rating. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was the biggest spender in the Senate, also with a 2 percent rating.

The NTU scorecard can also be used to show which Democratic and Republican Members of Congress fell the furthest in their relative rankings from 2007 to 2008. Among Democrats, they are Rep. John Tanner (TN), who dropped 201 slots in the House ranking, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ), who declined 35 steps in Senate rank. Rep. John Kline (MN) slipped the most among GOP House Members (80 places), while Sen. Mel Martinez (FL) lost 21 steps in Senate Republican rank.

The Rating also indicated how the lessons of the 2006 election began fading for House GOP Members. That contest was widely seen as a referendum on their declining fiscal discipline. While the average pro-taxpayer score among House Republicans rose nine points to 69 percent in the 2007 Rating, it dropped four points to 65 percent in 2008. Senate Republicans' average score plummeted nine points from 66 percent in 2007 to 57 percent in 2008. House Democrats actually saw a gain in average scores from 6 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2008. The average Senate Democrat score was static from 2007 to 2008 at 8 percent.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) became the first Republican Senator to receive an "F" grade since NTU began issuing letter grades in 1992, with a Taxpayer Score of 12 percent. In the House, former Reps. Ray LaHood (R-IL) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) were the first GOP Members to receive "F" grades in a decade.

Neither Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) nor then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), both Presidential candidates for the majority of 2008, were issued scores because they voted on less than half of the weighted total of votes cast. In 2007, Obama received a 5 percent score and McCain did not receive a score for attendance reasons. Sen. Hillary Clinton, also a former Presidential candidate, received a score of 4 percent and the title of "Big Spender" in 2008 -- a slight increase from her 2007 rating of 3 percent.

Among state delegations, Nebraska Representatives turned in the highest average score (67 percent), while Oklahoma and Wyoming both topped out in the Senate at 80 percent. On the other end of the scale, New Jersey posted the worst average in the Senate with 2 percent. Rhode Island bottomed out in the House with a state average of 7 percent.

"It remains to be seen whether Members of the 111th Congress will continue the downward spending spiral begun by their predecessors," Parde concluded. "Many principled, pro-taxpayer allies remain in office, and they hopefully will steer this wayward ship back toward fiscal discipline."

The 362,000-member NTU is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and economic freedom at all levels. Note: The 2008 Rating and a searchable Rating database from 1992-2008 is available at www.ntu.org.

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