How “Constitutional” are the Votes of Your State’s Federal Delegation?

ConstitutionI remember from two years ago the charges leveled at Tennessee’s Senator Bob Corker. One of his opponents claimed that Corker voted with President Obama 60% of the time. Despite making this claim over and over, I never did find any evidence they presented which could be independently verified or, at least, evaluated for validity of conclusion.

The John Birch Society publishes an annual report, The Freedom Index, on how constitutional the votes are for federal officials. They’ve been doing this for over 25 years. I have enjoyed their reports and even wrote about it back in 2011 in the run-up to the elections. Around a dozen or so key votes are identified for each year, with constitutional implications, and the votes of all members of the US House and Senate are tallied and rated as to whether or not they are in line with the US Constitution or not.

The Birch Society has released a new Freedom Index in 2013 and I really like what they have done. This time they have included a comprehensive report covering all the votes they have tracked from 1999 to 2013. All the votes taken by current members in that time frame are then totaled to get a “lifetime” rating, as it were.

National party leaders scored this way.

In the US Senate, Harry Reid’s cumulative score is just 17%. In the US House, Nancy Pelosi scores just 16%. On the GOP side, Mitch McConnell scored 61% and John Boehner scored 54%.

Famous and long serving Democrat Senators have racked up some interesting scores. Barbara Boxer scored 14%Dianne Feinstein scored 13%Dick Durbin scored 11%Carl Levin scored 13% and Tom Harkin scored 14%. Long serving Republican Senators include Jeff Flake at 82%Tom Coburn also at 82%Michael Enzi at 70% and Jeff Sessions at 70%.

House Democrats fare no better. John Conyers scores 28%Charlie Rangel a mere 18%Sheila Jackson-Lee scores 24% and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz finishes at 14%. Elder House Republican Paul Ryan scores 58%Eric Cantor 57%Jeb Hensarling scores 67% and Dana Rohrabacher scores 76%.

Names in the news from the GOP and Liberty side of the equation, most with just a term or two of service to evaluate score as follows. Rand Paul scores 93%Mike Lee scores 90%Ted Cruz scores 90%Marco Rubio scores 80%, and Justin Amash scores 93% and Adam Kinzinger scores 65%.

The main page for the report is here and contains links to all federal office holders in the House and Senate. Tennessee’s entire federal delegation scores as follows:

John Duncan at 81%Scott DesJarlais scores 80%;

Steven Fincher scores 76%,  David Roe scores 74% and Chuck Fleischmann scores 71%;

Bob Corker scores 67%Diane Black scores 66%Marsha Blackburn scores 63%;

Lamar Alexander scores 53%;

Jim Cooper scores 21% and Steve Cohen scores 19%.

For this report, there were no 100% scores, likely because these are cumulative scores over multiple Congresses. For individual years, there have been scores of 100% but not over time. There were, however, several scores of ZERO.

For me, there are a couple of  basic takeaways:

#1 – There are those who believe that there is no essential difference between Republicans and Democrats. These discussions often take place in the context of the Constitutionality of votes and legislation. Clearly, given the numbers above, that is not the case.

#2 – As with the charges made by political opponents, an example of which I alluded to in the opening paragraph, claims made and opinions held may not be based in reality. Things are not true just because they are spoken. It seems difficult for me to accept that Bob Corker votes with President Obama 60% of the time AND votes with the Constitution 67% of the time, for example. Either the claims by Corker detractors are not what they seem or Barack Obama is doing a lot better than we give him credit for.

#3 – Political purity as a litmus test for viability of candidacies and as a basis for support is flawed. As noted, there were no 100% scores and not many 90%+ scores. The highest GOP scores tended to be in the 80% range. If one is looking to purity of principle as a determining factor for alliances, you are going to be working with a very small group of people this year. That group will likely shrink next year.

#4 – At the risk of being partisan, I have to observe that I often hear the notion advanced that Democrat leadership is, of course, far left and opposed to the principles which founded our nation. But rank and file Dems are better. Ummm … no …

What are your thoughts on the report’s findings? Let me know in comments. Talk to you there!

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