(Alexandria, VA) – Hard-charging conservative lawmakers helped to boost pro-Taxpayer Scores for both the House and Senate, but even these heavy-lifters had a hard time overcoming the tax-and-spend crowd in Congress, according to the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU’s) 33rd annual Rating of Congress. The scorecard, the only one to utilize every roll call vote affecting fiscal policy, was based on 337 House and 234 Senate votes from the first session of the 112th Congress (all of 2011).
“National Taxpayers Union’s 2011 Rating shows a Congress making some progress toward the limited, affordable government taxpayers deserve while still having a long way to go,” said NTU President Duane Parde. “For every single Taxpayers’ Friend who bravely sought to conquer Washington’s mound of fiscal woes, four Big Spenders worked to make the pile of problems even more difficult to climb.”
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Between 2010 and 2011, the average “Taxpayer Score” in the House rose from 42 percent to a rounded level of 50 percent. This is the first time the House mean has managed to reach the halfway mark since 1996. The Senate’s average inched up from 45 percent to 46 percent. The Senate had an all-time low of 28 percent in 1988, and the House hit bottom that same year, at 27 percent. The highest marks were reached in 1995, when House and Senate averages were 58 percent and 57 percent, respectively.
In the latest Congress, 53 lawmakers attained scores sufficient for an “A” grade (a minimum score of 85 percent in the House and 90 percent the Senate) and therefore won the “Taxpayers’ Friend Award” – representing a decline from the 79 who achieved the honor in 2010. Typically, between 50 and 60 Members of Congress receive the Award.
On the other hand, slightly over 200 Senators and Representatives were tagged with the title of “Big Spender” for posting “F” grades (20 percent or less in the House and 19 percent or less in the Senate). Perhaps the only encouraging aspect of this development for taxpayers is that for the past four years, at least 250 Big Spenders had been lurking in Congress (the record of 267 was tallied in both 2008 and 2009).
The best performance in the House belonged to Representative John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), with a 93 percent. Close behind him with rounded scores of 92 percent were Ed Royce (R-CA), Ron Paul (R-TX), and John Campbell (R-CA). Although Duncan has been a consistently high scorer, this is his first time atop the winner’s podium. It also brings to a close the most remarkable fiscal record NTU’s Rating of Congress has ever logged, from outgoing Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ). For eight consecutive years (2003-2010), Flake had the best finish in the House.
“Wherever else his career may take him, Jeff’s unsurpassed leadership and voting record on behalf of fiscal discipline has earned eternal gratitude from a nation of taxpayers,” Parde noted.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, another veteran pro-taxpayer stalwart, Tom Coburn (R-OK), has earned the top prize with a 96 percent score. Coburn has occupied the number one slot before, in 2009. Recently elected Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) came in second with a 95 percent.
On the other end of the scale, Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) had the worst House score, roughly 6 percent. Dale Kildee (D-MI) also came in at about 6 percent. Among Senators, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) had the rock-bottom score at 6 percent, while both Bob Casey (D-PA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) had fractionally higher scores that still rounded to 6 percent.
Through 2010, the uptick in House and Senate averages was tied to improved performances from Republicans stung by repudiation at the polls in 2006 and 2008. However, between 2010 and 2011 GOP averages fell by 10 points in both chambers. Over the same period, Democratic averages rose by 1 percentage point in the Senate and 5 points in the House. Thus, the continued rise in overall Taxpayer Scores in 2011 is best attributed to greater numbers of Republicans in both chambers rather than better performances from GOP Members.
“Republicans were given the gavel in the House, and a larger caucus in the Senate, by voters who believed their promises for a new era of fiscal discipline,” Parde observed. “But the 2011 Rating results for Republicans provide both cause for praise and a warning against complacency.”
Still, the partisan divide among pro-Taxpayer Scores remained sharp and was especially prevalent in the Senate. There, the gap between the lowest-scoring Republican (Susan Collins, ME) and the highest-scoring Democrat (Ben Nelson, NE) was 26 points. On the House side, just two percentage points separated the lowest-scoring Republican (Walter Jones, NC) and the highest-scoring Democrat (Dan Boren, OK).
Unlike those of other organizations, NTU’s annual Rating does not focus on a mere handful of equally weighted “key votes,” but on every roll call vote affecting fiscal policy – appropriation, authorization, and tax bills; budget target resolutions; amendments; and certain regulatory or procedural votes that could affect overburdened taxpayers. For this reason, NTU’s Rating 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.
“NTU’s 2011 Rating indicates that collectively Members of Congress may be more willing to confront the mountain of liabilities they and their predecessors created,” Parde concluded. “Yet, the fact that only one chamber could even hit a 50 percent average Taxpayer Score shows that actually scaling this mountain and cutting it down to size remains a major challenge. Taxpayers are waiting to see whether lawmakers are ready to seriously step up – or are content to just slide back down – in 2012.”
NTU is a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and economic freedom at all levels. Note: The 2011 Rating and a searchable Rating database dating back to 1992 are available at www.ntu.org.