National Journal’s Voodoo Legislative Scorecard

Monday, February 27th, 2012 and is filed under Blog

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Last week, National Journal published their annual legislative scorecard, which ranks members of both the House and Senate by ideology, according to selected votes.  Everyone was shocked to find that the most stalwart conservatives like Jim DeMint and Mike Lee, who score as the most conservative senators on Heritage Action’s scorecard, were way down on the list of conservative members, according to the National Journal’s scorecard.  You can see the comparison here.

I conducted a lengthy analysis below the fold that details why the National Journal scorecard actually penalizes members for voting as pure conservatives.  They simply took a vote in which the majority of Republicans voted one way and the majority of Democrats voted the opposite way, calling the Republican vote conservative and the Democrat vote liberal.  But, all too often, many stalwart conservatives opposed Republican budget and debt proposals because they cut too little and failed to live up to their pledge to America.

Here is my analysis:

Here are some of the votes that National Journal scored as conservative, which resulted in an outcome where some of the most conservative members on our scorecard are behind some people we would consider less conservative.  In each case, Heritage Action refrained from scoring them as conservative votes because they also contained some shortcomings.  The “mixed-bag” nature of these bills precluded us from treating them as definitive conservative or liberal votes:

–         H.R. 1 –FY 2011 Budget: This was the original House budget bill for the remainder of FY 2011.  Even though it cut spending, HR 1 failed to deliver the $100 billion in cuts that were promised as part of the Pledge to America.  The RSC amendment to fulfill that pledge was defeated.  National Journal scored final passage of this bill in both the House and the Senate as a conservative vote with the highest priority (a score of 3).  On the other hand, they did not score the RSC amendment in the House, which proposed the full $100 billion in cuts.  Heritage Action remained neutral on the underlying bill, while scoring the RSC amendment.

The consequence: On the Senate side, three stalwart conservatives – Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul – opposed HR 1 because it failed to cut the full $100 billion.  Their score was lowered.  On the House side, all of the members who supported the RSC amendment did not receive extra points over those who voted against the RSC amendment.

–         S. 953-Drilling in Gulf of Mexico and Outer Continental Shelf: Although this bill, which was sponsored by Mitch McConnell, promoted domestic drilling and permit issuance for Gulf of Mexico oil exploration, it contained a provision that would add an unnecessary and burdensome new layer of regulation regarding containment plans for energy companies.  This was apparently slipped in as a means of assuaging the charges form the left that Republicans were against anything that would prevent another oil spill.  National Journal scored this bill in the Senate with the highest priority (a score of 3).

The Consequence:  Many conservatives voted for the bill because of the good provisions that mandated expedited issuance of drilling permits.  On the other hand, some Republicans, including conservatives like DeMint, Lee, and Vitter, opposed the bill because of the burdensome regulation on containment.  Their scores were lowered.

–         John Boehner’s first two-step deal to raise debt ceiling.  The Senate voted to table Boehner’s two-step debt ceiling deal.  Democrats opposed it so NJ scored it as a level 3 liberal yay vote.  Nonetheless, the underlying bill jettisoned Cut, Cap, and Balance.  As such, Senators DeMint, Graham, Hatch, Lee, Paul, and Vitter voted with the Democrats to table the bill because of their conservative motivations.  They were penalized with 3 points of a pro-liberal vote.  Likewise, the 22 Republicans in the House who voted against Boehner’s initial debt deal (roll call 677) were penalized with a vote against a “conservative” bill.

–         The House Version of FY 2012 CR (September 23).  Senate Roll Call #151. S.Amdt. 655 to H.R. 2608 –Democrats voted to table the Senate amendment to concur with the House-passed CR for FY 2012.  NJ scored a yay vote as a 3-point liberal vote because it defeated the House CR, which had some riders that Democrats disliked.  On the other hand, the entire premise behind the FY 2012 CR undermined the House-passed budget and spent too much, while continuing to fund Obamacare.  This is why DeMint, Rubio, Johnson, Paul, and Lee all voted to table the budget along with Democrats (but from the opposite point of view.)  Heritage Action actually scored a no vote on the final passage of the CR (Roll call #153), a vote that was not scored by National Journal.

–         Iraq War and NDAA Detainee provision: Senate Roll Calls #211 #213 and 214.  National Journal scored to amendments to the Defense Authorization Bills that limited the authority of the military to detain enemy combatants within the U.S. This issue divided the broader conservative coalition and Heritage Action did not score it.  Conservatives like Mike Lee and Rand Paul supported efforts to limit this authority, while other conservatives, such as Jim DeMint, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio voted against these efforts.  Likewise, roll call #211 was a vote to rescind authorization for use of force in Iraq.  DeMint, Paul, and Heller voted along with many Democrats to end the authorization.  This was charged against their conservative score.

–         Short-term CR for FY 2011 – House roll call 154/H.J.RES.44.  This was the House-passed short-term CR for 3 weeks in March to fund FY 2011 appropriations.  They scored this vote as a conservative vote, even though the bill also came up short in spending cuts and continued to fund some programs that Republicans pledged to cut.  All Republicans voted for this except for 6 members.  HAFA did not score this vote.  National Journal’s score of this bill, which was not conservative, allowed the broader Republican conference to increase their scores.

–         Reauthorization of the Patriot Act  – House roll call 376/ S.990 + Roll Call 34: Passage of the Patriot Act reauth, was scored as conservative by National Journal.  31 Republicans, including some conservatives, voted no.  A few similar votes (roll call 34 and 66) on a partial extension of the Patriot Act were also scored earlier in the year.  There is a fundamental split in the conservative coalition regarding the broader issue of the Patriot Act.  Also, there were some conservatives who supported parts of the bill, but were upset that it was reauthorized so quickly without enough time to air their concerns.  HAFA stayed neutral.

Here are two more House bills that were scored as conservative, even though there was nothing particularly conservative either way:

942/HCONRES94
Approve across-the-board spending cuts in nondefense discretionary spending to fund disaster-relief programs.  Although all Republicans voted for it, it was part of the Omnibus package in which the offsets were resewn with the broader package.  We opposed the broader package so we didn’t score the offsets in either direction.

946/HR3630           
Approve a motion to go to conference with the Senate on a measure to extend payroll-tax cuts.