NTU's Congressional Ratings: A Difficult Fiscal Year

For three decades, National Taxpayers Union has issued an annual scorecard that evaluates the fiscal responsibility of Members of Congress. Unlike other scorecards, ours does not cherry-pick. We include every vote that Congress casts on matters of taxation, spending, or significant regulation. These votes are weighted to reflect their impact on our nation’s finances and overall economic picture. This year’s scorecard, which evaluates the votes of 2021, was among the most depressing from a taxpayer perspective. In the Senate, just six out of 100 members earned an A grade. In the House there were only two As, the lowest number in years if not decades. 

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given the recent activity in Washington. Since the pandemic began more than two years ago, Congress has spent nearly $6 trillion to combat COVID and its hit to the economy. This is a staggering sum that will have enormous impacts on our nation’s fiscal condition for generations to come. Some of these expenditures were appropriate – for instance, those that helped small businesses and working families overcome the pandemic restrictions that otherwise would have prevented them from making payroll or paying their bills. 

Many others were wasteful and have put us in dire financial shape. Congress continued its deficit-spending ways in 2021. That’s why 49 Senators got Fs on the scorecard this year – none of these legislators scored above 14 percent. Meanwhile in the House, we are issuing 217 Fs, with none of those members scoring above 19 percent. 

Many of these low scores are the result of Congressional Democrats supporting the disastrous American Rescue Plan as well as the Build Back Better Act, which received a vote in the House but not the Senate. By contrast, Congressional Republicans boosted their scores by voting against these massive bills. The partisan nature of these heavily weighted votes is the primary reason why there is such an enormous chasm between Republicans and Democrats on the scorecard. The average score for House Democrats was just 9 percent and Senate Democrats fared even worse, with an average score of 7 percent. Republicans in both chambers did much better, with the House GOP scoring 76 percent on average and the Senate GOP averaging 79 percent. 

While Republicans scored higher, very few were able to achieve an A. With our nation in a more dire fiscal condition than ever, we held Congress to an extremely high standard. In previous years, NTU has at times been more lenient – grading on a curve that allowed scores of less than 90 percent to be considered an A. That’s not the case this year. There is simply no room for leniency at a time of historic government spending and historic deficits. 

Many Republicans were tripped up by a number of fiscally irresponsible votes that left them with scores that fell just short of an A. For instance, Congress took multiple votes – each garnering significant support from both Republicans and Democrats – on the National Defense Authorization Act. The final version of the bill boosted spending by $25 billion above the administration’s request, and all Republicans (and many Democrats) voted no on opportunities to reduce authorization levels in the defense bill.

Passage of the major infrastructure law also cost many GOP legislators a higher grade, as 19 Senate Republicans and 13 House Republicans voted for H.R. 3684, the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” This legislation relied on a host of gimmicky spending reductions, as well as new fees and taxes.

Additionally, 40 Senate Republicans and 167 House Republicans supported gimmicky legislation (H.R. 1868) that will increase the deficit by more than $12 billion over the next five years while purporting to avoid across-the-board spending cuts otherwise required by law after passage of the American Rescue Plan. 

Republicans and Democrats need to start working together to tackle our debt and deficit problems if they want to improve our nation’s fiscal condition and put the economy on the right track. Unfortunately, petty partisanship seems to be more common than bipartisan attempts to be good fiscal stewards. If the legislative branch’s current approach to governance continues, perhaps even fewer than eight Members of Congress will achieve an A on NTU’s next scorecard.