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Grading Congress

Who?s voting to widen the income gap? Who?s voting to close it?

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

“All animals are equal,” wrote George Orwell in Animal Farm, his classic treatise on politics and doublespeak. “But some animals are more equal than others.”

In a new report titled Inequality Report Card: Grading Congress On Inequality, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a self-described progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C., ranks the voting records on issues of economic equality of each member of Congress, showing who votes for policies that narrow the gap between rich and poor and who votes for policies that widen the divide.

“The growing gap between the rich and the rest of us didn’t just happen by chance,” notes Sam Pizzigati, IPS Associate Fellow. “Conscious political decisions—on taxes, on trade policy, on regulations—have all been driving the divide.”

“Members of Congress have the capacity to make sure all Americans, not just a privileged few, share in the wealth that we all together create,” adds IPS Associate Fellow Sam Klinger. “With this new report card, voters can see for themselves how well their elected lawmakers are meeting that responsibility.”

To determine the grades for each representative or senator, the IPS report, which Pizzigati and Klinger authored along with Sarah Anderson and Hampshire College alum Chuck Collins, looked at 40 specific legislative acts over the last two years. According to the IPS, “The bills considered for the report card ranged from legislation to establish a ‘Buffett Rule’ minimum tax rate that all wealthy Americans must pay to a measure that would raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.”

While some of the IPS’s findings fit neatly within the classic red state/blue state motif, overall the report shows that there is more to inequality than partisan politics.

While Republicans “make up the entire list of the 48 representatives and 11 senators with an ‘F’ grade,” the report says, “not all Democrats distinguish themselves as champions of greater equality … Thirteen lawmakers who caucus with the Democrats rate only at the ‘C’ level.”

Sometimes, as is the case here in the Bay State, legislative efforts do not reflect a state’s level of income equality. “Of the ten states with the nation’s most uneven distribution of income, according to just-released Census data, only one—Massachusetts —has senators and representatives with a composite average A level score,” the researchers found.

In most cases, there appears to be a strong correlation between a state’s level of economic inequality and the voting records of its representatives in Washington. “None of the 10 senators earning an ‘F’ grade come from any of the nation’s five most equal states, as rated by the new Census figures,” the IPS reports. “Likewise, of the 47 ‘flunking’ members of the House of Representatives, only one comes from one of the nation’s five most equal states.”

Several members of Congress from New England are notably distinguished in the report—on both sides of the issue. Not surprisingly, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is included in the report’s list of eight senators dubbed the “Most 99 Percent-Friendly of Congress.” Joining him are not only Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), but also Republicans Olympia Snow and Susan Collins of Maine.

At the other end of the spectrum, the report deems 17 senators “Most One Percent-Friendly Members of Congress,” including Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats.•

To learn more about the Inequality Report Card, visit the Institute for Policy Studies at ips-dc.org, where you can download a free copy of the report.

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