Heritage Action's Legislative Scorecard

Well, the first comprehensive conservative report card of Congress is out, and we can now determine which members of the “Tea Party Congress” drink a hardcore brew.

Today, Heritage Action for America released their legislative scorecard for the pre-recess 1st session of the 112th Congress.  Unlike most other scorecards, this one was designed to separate the men from the boys.  Most traditional scorecards, and most prominently, the ACU annual report, tend to focus primarily on those votes which fundamentally divide the two parties.  They fail to probe some of the more courageous conservative votes against party leadership.

To that end, any Republican who is even minimally conservative is expected to score at or near 100%.  After all, at a minimum, any Republican should oppose Obamacare, vote down tax increases, and support the Republican annual budget.  This is how the likes of McCain, Graham, and Chambliss have been able to achieve stellar scores.  Except for those like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Dick Lugar, most Republicans will vote with their party on the final roll call of major bills.  In fact, anyone who is not on the list of 100% is someone who has voted with the Democrats in contravention to fundamental Republican values.  A perfect ACU score should be the floor, not the ceiling, for a conservative voting record.

The Heritage Action scorecard digs much deeper.

In just the first seven months of the legislative session, they scored 30 votes in the House and 19 in the Senate, many of which dealt with obscure amendments that sought to cut spending beyond the comfort zone of GOP leaders.  These votes encompass all three facets of conservatism; fiscal, social, and national defense.  Obviously, the Senate had much fewer votes because Harry Reid has made this the most unproductive session in history.  However, the Senate did vote on confirmation of some of Obama’s radical judges.  These votes were uniquely scored in this report card.

Additionally, Heritage Action scored four co-sponsorships in the Senate and five in the House, each worth only one point.  Thus, even if a senator voted the right way on every issue, he could only score a 96%, unless he co-sponsored the four highlighted bills.  This is why Jim DeMint, the highest scorer, only received a 99%.


As you comb through the scorecard to examine the voting records of various members of Congress, it is important to keep in mind the following caveats:

1) It is impossible to offer an inviolably objective numerical score for a voting record – something that is inherently very subjective.  There are all sorts of reasons for voting a certain way.  This scorecard, unlike most others, actually scores a no vote on Republican leadership-backed bills that failed to cut enough spending, or were simply lousy deals.  However, many ultra-liberal Democrats opposed these bills because they supposedly cut too much.  For example; while conservatives opposed John Boehner’s debt deal with Obama, ultra-liberals like Bernie Sanders also voted no because they felt the cuts were too draconian.  As such, paradoxically, Bernie Sanders and a few others have higher scores than other Democrats.  Also, some conservatives opposed Cut, Cap, and Balance for conservative reasons; nevertheless, engendering a strike against their overall score.  Ron Paul obviously suffered the most from this, as well as Michele Bachmann.

2) Only 13 Senators and 27 Representatives received scores above 85%.  This scorecard is more than just a measure of someone’s personal belief in conservatism; it is a measure of how much temerity a member has to implement his/her beliefs, even if it elicits consternation from their own leadership.  There were also some off-the-beaten-path issues that were scored, such as the patent reform bill.  Jim Jordan voted for the bill, precluding him from a near-perfect score.  Surely, he was concerned about some of the provisions, but he felt that after some modifications were made, it was no longer a hill to die on.  Many good conservatives, who agree on ideology, will often exhibit diverging views on strategy.

Accordingly, we should applaud those who scored above 80% or so, but not necessarily impugn anyone and everyone who scores lower.  Not only did Heritage Action score the final debt deal, they even scored a no vote on the preliminary Boehner deal, which contained a Balanced Budget Amendment as a pre-condition for the second tranche of the debt limit increase (but not for the first $1 trillion increase, in violation of the Cut, Cap, Balance pledge).  While both votes washed out such luminaries as Allen West, Mike Pence and Marsha Blackburn, the preliminary vote washed out even opponents of the deal, such as Jeff Flake, Louie Gohmert, and Andy Harris.  Only 66 Republicans opposed the final deal, while just 22 voted against the bill with the BBA.

As Erick said at the time, anyone who thinks Allen West is a RINO (he scored a 74%), belongs in a mental ward; nonetheless, we should highlight those who stood up to leadership in order to advance conservatism.

3) You should take a more unforgiving approach to the Senate scores.  First, the Senate is more decentralized, making it easier for an individual member to oppose leadership.  Second, many of the House votes stem from the debt deal, the FY 2011 continuing resolution, and amendments to appropriations bills.  All of them were either babies of John Boehner, Republican leaders, and/or the House-passed budget.  It took a lot of courage to vote against those bills (or for additional cuts) – a position that was widely viewed as a snub of leadership.  The same cannot be said about the Senate.  In other words, a 75% score in the House is a lot stronger than a 75% in the Senate.  There is really no reason for a Republican senator to score below an 85%.

Notable Observations

Here are some quick tidbits from the scorecard:

  • South Carolina has the best delegation, with all Republicans scoring above 85%, except for Lindsey Graham.
  • Click on this link to view the top performers.
  • The average GOP score in the Senate was 75%; the average in the House was 67%.  Again, this does not indicate that the Senate is more conservative.  Quite the contrary, as noted above.
  • Republican leadership:  Most of House leadership scored identical votes.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy scored a 60%, Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam- 63%, Conference Vice-Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers 62%.  Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling was the bright spot, scoring 84%, but for him, that was a bit disappointing.  Among the leaders of the Freshman members, Austin Scott (GA) scored a 80%, while Kristi Noem got a dismal 51%.  On the Senate side, Minority Leader McConnell scored a 72%, Minority Whip Jon Kyl scored a 77%, Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander scored 67%, and Conference Vice-Chair John Barrasso scored a 78%.
  • The highest-scoring Democrat was Oklahoma’s Rep. Dan Boren (37%).  The lowest-scoring House Republican was David Reichert (WA- 30%.
  • The lowest achievers in the Senate were Lisa Murkowski (40%), Susan Collins (45%), and Olympia Snowe (51%).  The strongest Democrat was Ben Nelson, checking in at 25% – pathetic.

What to take out from the report

In conclusion, this scorecard should serve as an impetus to more transparency and accountability from our Republican members of Congress, who run as conservatives, but all too often, fail to deliver on their promises.  This report is not perfect, as the devil is always in the details –far beyond a top-line number.  However, it will hopefully change the course of traditional legislative scoring, and motivate rank-and-file conservatives to stand up against vapid leadership.

Here is a list of the ‘top conservatives’ from National Journal and the ACU for 2010 (they don’t have early 2011 reports), along with their composite conservative scores.  Check out this link for the description of ACU’s scorecard and this link for National Journal’s methodology.

National Journal

1. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) 89.7
1. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) 89.7
1. John Cornyn (R-Texas) 89.7
1. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) 89.7
1. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) 89.7
1. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 89.7
1. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) 89.7
1. John Thune (R-S.D.) 89.7
9. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) 87.3
10.Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) 86.8

American Conservative Union

12 Senators Scored a perfect 100.

John Barrasso, Sam Brownback, Saxby Chambliss, Tom Coburn, John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, Jim DeMint, Orrin Hatch, John McCain, James Risch, Jeff Sessions, John Thune.

Clearly, while Heritage’s scorecard might be kind of tough, these scorecards are irrelevant.

What are your ideas for legislative scoring?