National Taxpayers Union Rates Congress

by Jennifer L. Crull

Every month many Americans have to review their income and figure out how to pay the bills they have for the month. Most of us know that you can’t spend more than you have, but this concept has yet to be understood by many Members of the United States Congress. National Taxpayers Union (NTU) has released the 2011 Congressional Ratings. NTU President Duane Parde said, “For every single Taxpayers’ Friend who bravely sought to conquer Washington’s mound of fiscal woes, four Big Spenders worked to make the pile of problems even more difficult to climb.”[1] Iowa is no different.

The April Iowa Transparency Newsletter is going to look at the data for the Iowa delegation over the last five years, which is included in Table One, and what that means to you as a taxpayer. Before we explore the data, we need to explore the methodology that NTU uses to compute the Congressional ratings. The purpose of the score given to each Member of Congress is to “measure the strength of support for reducing spending and regulation and opposing higher taxes.”[2] We as taxpayers want to see as high a score as possible, for this implies the Member is working hard to reduce the burden on the taxpayers. When you review the data you will see that a Member can receive a score from 0 to 100.[3]

Along with the number score, each Member is assigned a letter grade (A-F) for that score. With an “A” receiving NTU’s “Taxpayers’ Friend Award” and “F” being placed in the “Big Spender” category.[4] As you look at the scores for the House and Senate, you need to take the time to remember that they both have a different grading scale of the number score. Table Two includes that breakdown for the Senate and Table Three for the House.

Now how does NTU arrive at the score for each Member of Congress? For 2011, they analyzed every roll call vote and “selected all votes that could significantly affect the amounts of federal taxes, spending, debt, or regulatory impact.”[5] NTU looked at a total of 337 House and 234 Senate roll call votes. They included:

votes cast on appropriations bills, authorization bills, budget target resolutions, tax bills, amendments, and certain procedural votes that could affect the burden on taxpayers. Votes that simply shifted equal amounts of spending from one area to another were excluded. Also excluded were votes where there was a significant difference of opinion on how to vote to reduce or control government and unanimous votes.[6]

As we look at the overall body of the Senate the average score was 46 percent, the high score was 96 percent, and the low score was 6 percent. The House was very similar as 50 percent was the average score, 93 percent was the high score, and 6 percent was the low score.[7] The top mark in the Senate goes to Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and the top spot in the House goes to Representative John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN).[8]

So based on all this background how does Iowa fare? Table One includes the data for both the House and Senate Members from Iowa. We have also included the data for the last five years for a comparison.

As we look at the Senate, Senator Grassley and Senator Harkin have a HUGE difference in their scores. Grassley’s average score for the last five years is 75 percent, whereas Harkin’s average over the same period is 5.4 percent. It is easy to see that Grassley and Harkin are working against each other in the Senate and Senator Grassley is friendlier to the taxpayers of Iowa.[9]

The House is a little bit of a different story. For 2011, we see scores ranging from 76 percent to 20 percent, but as we look at the data from the past five years we see that the low scores have improved. For in 2009, we had scores ranging from 92 percent to 2 percent. Representative Steve King is friendlier to the taxpayers of Iowa in the House. Representative Tom Latham is next in line. At the bottom of the pile is Representative Dave Loebsack.[10]

It was noted in the April 4, 2012, press release from NTU that:

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).[11]

So what does this mean for you, the taxpayer? It means that with this being an election year, much focus is placed on the U.S. Presidential race, but just as important are the races for the U.S. House seats. This year we are going from five House seats to four House seats due to redistricting from the U.S. Census data. All five of our current elected House Members are running in an election this year, and it is time to get involved. If you are worried about the impact of the taxes you pay and how your tax dollars are being spent, then answer the call to get your candidate elected!

[1] “Taxpayers’ Defenders Still Swamped by Spenders, Citizen Groups’ Non-Partisan Scorecard of Congress Shows,” National Taxpayers Union, April 4, 2012, <> accessed on April 19, 2012.
[2] “NTU Rates Congress,” National Taxpayers Union, <> accessed on April 19, 2012.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] ”Taxpayers’ Defenders.”
[9] Ibid.
[10] “NTU Rates Congress.”
[11] ”Taxpayers’ Defenders.”

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is published by Public Interest Institute at Iowa Wesleyan College, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, research and educational institute whose activities are supported by contributions from private individuals, corporations, companies, and foundations. The Institute does not accept government grants.

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