Separate Party Scoring

Selection of Key Votes

By applying the tough standard of the Constitution to a Congress that has too long ignored its limits, this scorecard necessarily judges the record of representatives and senators harshly.

Although the selection of votes in this scorecard is ours, the votes are those of the congressman, who is accountable for each of his or her votes, not just some average. Nevertheless, we must exclude many votes that are clearly misleading as a measure of the congressman’s true commitment.

Skip Right Vote, Wrong Reason

When GOP leaders promote a bill that perpetuates unconstitutional spending, liberal Democrats will often oppose the unconstitutional measure, merely because they champion even greater amounts of unconstitutional spending.

We have greatly reduced partisan distortion in this scorecard by evaluating the Republican and Democratic factions separately and often selecting different votes for each group.

Skip Easy Posturing Votes

The leadership of the dominant party in each chamber greatly influences what bills come to a vote. And the leadership often uses that power to stage votes that position its members politically, but have no legislative consequence.

For example, when the GOP holds the majority in the House and the Democrats the majority in the Senate, the House leadership will often toss soft balls that allow the entire GOP caucus to posture as “tough fiscal conservatives.” The leadership knows full well that the House legislation has no leverage in the other chamber and does not threaten the Establishment [big-government] agenda. We choose to ignore such “posturing” votes.

Here is a particularly maddening example. In July of 2011, the GOP-led House brought up H.R. 2417, entitled the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act,” for a vote. The goal was to repeal light-bulb efficiency standards enacted four years earlier.

Those standards were designed to phase out the old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, in favor of compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). That “green” supported standard would force us to employ mercury-containing products in our home, potentially requiring government-mandated cleanup procedures when broken.

As the four-year old bill began to gain teeth, many Americans understandably saw this as an unacceptable infringement on personal freedom. So, on July 12, 2011 (Roll Call 563), House Republicans voted 228:10 to repeal the requirement. Most Democrats objected, siding with the environmentalists, but House Republicans could now stand proudly before their constituents.

EXCEPT: The House measure was brought up under rules that required a 2/3 majority to pass. And so the bill failed 233:193. Moreover, even if it had passed the House it had no future in the Democrat-controlled Senate nor on President Obama’s desk.

However, the duplicity is much worse. In 2007, 95 Republicans joined 219 Democrats to saddle America with the unconstitutional intrusion in the first place (Roll Call 1177, H.R. 6, The Energy Independence and Security Act). Four years later, more than half of those 95 Republicans who supplied the 2007 margin of victory would vote for repeal when it didn’t count!

Rating the Minority 

Since leaders of the majority party generally decide which measures come to a floor vote, it becomes more challenging to score members of the minority party. Nevertheless, there are two categories of votes that provide a reasonable indicator of the minority member’s commitment to limited government.

The first category consists of measures that have strong bipartisan support (at least among the party leadership). All too often, the “no” vote is the principled vote.

The other category consists of responsible legislation promoted by the majority, which is going nowhere (e.g., due to partisan opposition in the other chamber). While members of the majority party may all embrace the posturing proposal (we skip their votes), only a few minority party members will buck their leadership and vote “yes.” We will often give the minority party members credit for those votes, even though their backbone may well come from the voters and the political climate back home.

Significance of Measure

In our selection of votes, we also give more weight to the votes on the most significant legislation. For example, we look closely at votes on legislation that ultimately becomes public law.

Occasionally, a bill or an amendment providing a strong, principled challenge to prior unconstitutional inroads may receive our attention. It is unusual for such measures to come to a floor vote, as the Establishment wishes to hide any evidence of serious support for another direction (such as U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations).