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Who Says There’s No Difference Between Democrats and Republicans?

When it comes to assessing blame for this country’s financial problems, the two parties are nowhere near equally responsible.

by
Andy Wickersham

Bio

December 7, 2009 - 12:00 am

Before you can fix anything you need to identify the cause of the problem. Whether it’s a car that won’t run or a basement that’s flooded, you cannot solve the problem until you figure out what’s creating it.

When it comes to this nation’s financial troubles, the source of the problem is pretty obvious. But apparently not obvious enough, as even some on the right are having difficulties locating it.

For lack of a better way of identifying them, I’ll call this specific group of free-market advocates the third party crowd.

This particular breed of conservative seems to believe that both parties are to blame for America’s fiscal woes.

Despite the political battles that we have witnessed just this year, these conservatives continue to cling to the view that both groups of Washington politicians are pretty much the same.

Unlike those on the left who have bought into the entire myth promulgated by the liberal establishment that Democrats are good and Republicans are bad, these folks seem to have bought into just the second part.

Sure, it goes without saying some Republicans are corrupt. And some Republicans love big government. But this notion that both parties are the same simply doesn’t hold up to a thorough examination of the facts. Honestly, the oversimplified view that they’re all responsible for this country’s fiscal problems doesn’t hold up to even a cursory examination.

A look at the congressional vote ratings conducted by National Journal and the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) clearly shows that these two political parties, at least at the national level, are anything but the same.

First a look at National Journal’s data:

Using a principal-component analysis (done by the Brookings Institution) of key votes, National Journal gives each member of Congress a percentile score along a liberal/conservative spectrum within three issue areas: economic, social, and foreign policy. These issue area ratings are then combined to form a composite rating. The composite ratings are available for each year since 1995 and it’s these ratings that I will be referring to here .

Amazingly, by excluding only 11 senators from this analysis the two parties become entirely separated over the entire 14-year period since 1995 (Jeffords, Hatfield, Heflin, Specter, Hollings, Collins, Snowe, Miller, J. Chafee, L. Chafee, and Ben Nelson). By excluding just six senators the two parties become entirely separated for all but four of these years (Miller, Jeffords, Specter, J. Chafee, L. Chafee, and Ben Nelson). If anything, the two parties are even more separated of late as the exclusion of two or fewer senators per year entirely separates the parties from ’03 to ’08.

In the House, despite the fact that there are over 400 members, the exclusion of 11 or fewer representatives per year entirely separates the two parties from ’02 to ‘08. By simply excluding five or fewer representatives for ’05, ’07, and ’08 the two groups become completely separated.

According to the National Journal’s ratings, the disparity between Democratic legislators and Republican legislators in terms of average scores is equally significant in both chambers. Using the liberal score, with a higher number denoting more liberal, the average yearly score over this period for the Democrats in the Senate is 75.9 and for the Republicans its 26.7. In the House the mean score for Democrats is 75, while the Republicans have averaged a 26.4 .

A look at the NTU’s data (where a higher score now means more fiscally conservative) confirms this disparity:

Since 1995, based on their voting on matters that significantly affect taxes, spending, debt, and regulation, the NTU has given Senate Democrats an average yearly score of 16%; a score that qualifies as a “D” on the NTU’s grading scale. This score is 55 points lower than the 71% (a “B+”) that Republicans in the Senate have averaged. To put this in context, according to this data the average Republican in the Senate over this period has about as much in common with the average Democratic senator as Jon Kyl does with Susan Collins or Arlen Specter.

In the House, Democrats over this 14-year span have received an average yearly score of 21% (“F”), while their colleagues on the other side of the aisle have averaged a 63% (“B-“).

Amazingly, over this entire period only one score of “C-“ or better has been achieved by either one of these two groups of Democrats. The House Democrats were able to accomplish this with a 37% in 1996.

What is perhaps even more telling is that in only three of these years have more than two individual Democratic senators received a “C-“ or better grade. In fact, since 2003 only Zell Miller (’03 and ’04) and Ben Nelson (’03, ’05, and ’06) have accomplished this feat.

On the flip side neither group of Republicans has ever scored worse than a “C+” over this period, and outside of ’07 and ’08 there have only been two years where more than one individual Republican senator has scored worse than a “C-.”

Taken in combination these two congressional ratings make it abundantly clear that when it comes to assessing blame for this country’s financial problems, Republicans and Democrats are nowhere near equally responsible. Only from an upside down Keynesian perspective (in which case you would view the NTU’s grades in reverse) would blaming Republicans make any sense.

The truth is, blaming all members of Congress for this nation’s financial problems is analogous to blaming the overall poor performance of a grade school class on the entire class, even though some of those in the class did fine.

Let’s face it. When a typical Democratic senator is someone like Harry Reid, and Democrats in the left-wing of their party — like Barack Obama — oppose legislation that expands the role of government about as often as Al Gore engages in an honest debate, the blame needs to be placed squarely on them.

Andy Wickersham has a master's in public policy from Claremont Graduate University. He is the former producer of a prominent Southern California land development publication.
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