The National Taxpayers Union, one of the few great organizations willing to criticize both parties for fiscal profligacy, has released its congressional ratings for 2011. These ratings give voters concerned about fiscal issues an idea as to whether or not their representatives are being responsible with their tax dollars. And while there are certainly several members in each chamber devoted to protecting their interests, the overall view isn’t that great — though it did get better between 2010 and 2011:
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.
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).