Incoming Senators and Taxes


Reader Rick Barton points us to an interesting chart courtesy of National Taxpayers Union. The NTU has pulled together rankings on nine outgoing US senators and, when available, the same for their replacements. The short version, via NTU capo John Berthoud:

In five of the six cases where both outgoing and incoming Senators had grades in NTU Rates Congress, the incoming Senator has a better mark. In the sixth instance (Oklahoma), both the outgoing and incoming Senator received an "A" in their most recent NTU ranking. In other words, in no instance does a new Senator have a lower grade than the outgoing Senator.

Read the long version here.

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  1. The devil is in the details. In other words, one has to ask what the “marks” of the Senator-elects are based upon?

  2. Just a note on NTU ratings: The NTU grades congress people on the total spending that they voted for. The less spending voted for, the higher the grade.

  3. Rick Barton,

    That can be viewed as a totally useless metric, especially if one is interested in the types of spending one is voting for; hell a relatively low-spending Congress critter could be the biggest pork barrel spender of them all and their metric would not catch that.

  4. This is news??? Freshman Senators and Congressmen haven’t had a chance to be coopted yet. Give them time, give them time…

  5. Jason,

    Useless? If you’re interested in smaller government, it’s the most critical metric. The advantage of the NTU ratings is exactly that they reflect TOTAL spending. I imagine that those congress people who vote for a lot of extra goodies for the folks back home tend to have bad NTU ratings, but if you have a rating for “pork barrel” spending, we can check out my hypothesis.

    Here are the smallest spenders in the House:

    and the Senate:

  6. WASPB,

    Note that six of the incoming senators already have NTU ratings established in the house, which is part of the point of the story. Their ratings, compared to those departing, might bode well for spending restraint.

  7. Rick Barton,

    Well, as I stated, “can be viewed as a totally useless metric.” This should go along with my “devil in the details” statement.

    I guess my other question is how much less spending are we talking about here? 10% less? 20%? Or 3%?

  8. Rick –

    Any *one* number is fairly worthless.

    If I stated Congressmen X spent 10 million on project Y. It really tells you nothing.

    What’s project Y?
    Is 10 mil an increase or decrease?
    What percentage is the 10 million against total spending?

    I mean couldn’t I get my rating up by simply voting against most spending bills (knowing full well they will pass with or without my vote) and only vote to pass pork barrel spending (regardless of passage possibilities)?

  9. Well Six and other doubters, you’re right, technically speaking of course, but you may want to actually go to the site and look for yourself. I think that I have to agree with Rick that this is a good indicator of the most limited gov’t types. And this is not to say that they seem to be saints, either. They still spend too much on things I don’t necessarily agree with.

  10. Jason,

    I’ve seen reports on the NTU web site giving those type of percent disparity figures.


    I think it would be possible for a congress person to “game” their NTU rating, but it would seem to require a concerted and myopic effort.


    The Taxpayer Score measures the strength of support for reducing spending and opposing higher taxes. In general, a higher score is better because it means a member of Congress voted to spend less money.

    Every year National Taxpayers Union (NTU) rates U.S. Representatives and Senators on their actual votes–every vote that affects taxes, spending, and debt. Unlike most organizations that publish ratings, we refuse to play the “rating game” of focusing on only a handful of congressional votes on selected issues. The NTU voting study is the fairest and most accurate guide available on congressional spending. It is a completely unbiased accounting of votes.

    NTU’s federal budget experts assigned a weight to each vote ranging from 1 to 100. A low weight was assigned to votes that had relatively little effect on the size of the federal budget, while a high weight was assigned to votes with the most significant effect on federal spending.

    Weights were based solely on the relative effect of each vote on the total amount of federal spending. Consideration was given to the political effect of a vote on the future federal spending, even though relatively little spending might be immediately at issue. A vote with average importance should have a weight close to 10.

    Scores were computed by dividing the weighted total of votes cast against higher spending (or taxes or for lower spending or taxes), by the weighted total number of spending and tax issues on which the member of Congress voted.

  11. Rick,

    Got it, but my concern still stands. Moving from the House to the Senate tends to change a man. My senator, Tom Harkin of Iowa, used to be a down-home common sense guy. Then he got himself a six-year term. Then another… and another…

  12. WASPB,

    Yep, he certainly has sucked of late:

    Name: HARKIN T
    Party: D
    State: Iowa
    2003 Grade: F
    2003 Score (in %): 16%
    2003 Rank: 80
    2002 Grade: F
    2002 Score (in %): 19%
    2002 Rank: 69
    2001 Grade: F
    2001 Score (in %): 6%
    2001 Rank: 89
    2000 Grade: F
    2000 Score (in %): 10%
    2000 Rank: 97
    1999 Grade: F
    1999 Score (in %): 6%
    1999 Rank: 87
    1998 Grade: F
    1998 Score (in %): 10%
    1998 Rank: 94

  13. “That can be viewed as a totally useless metric, especially if one is interested in the types of spending one is voting for; …”

    Government spending is the only practical metric of how much we will be taxed, whether the spending is payed on-the-fly or delayed by borrowing.

    You might be alluding to is the “Tang” argument: with every trillion dollars spent on the space program we get a powder to mix into a breakfast drink.

  14. Rick B.

    Thanks for the sad stats, man, you make my point admirably.

  15. Tang was in fact invented for and marketed to the public for years before the space program noticed it. So . . . we didn’t even get a breakfast drink mix for that trill.

  16. Rick –

    I think my point was it wouldn’t take much effort. Just vote no against a couple of major bills (80 points) that you know will pass, and that leaves a lot of play.

    True, most congress members could probably care less about this particular rating so wouldn’t go out of their way to beat it, but I think it’s very easy if one wanted.

  17. Moving from the House to the Senate tends to change a man. – WASPB

    This may have something to do with the dynamics of the lower v. the upper house.

    Representatives can be whipped by their leadership to vote for spending and tax increases that they would otherwise ideologically oppose, but since there are more of them than Senators, those counting the tickets can let more House members off the hook on votes that would hurt them in their districts. Each Senate vote is worth 4 House votes, and there’s that damn 60-vote supermajority needed to get changes in a budget resolution passed. The Senate’s majority has to compromise more with its minority than the House’s does.

    Six years between elections does give a Senator time to recover from a tax-and-spend jag early in his term, though. House members who represent constituents who oppose budgetary idiocy have less room to maneuver.


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