The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center) recently released its 2013 Congressional Poverty Scorecard, the only comprehensive analysis of the voting records of every Member of Congress on poverty issues.
The Shriver Center, working with experts in twenty different subject areas, identified the House and Senate floor votes in 2013 that had the greatest impact on the interests of poor people. Each Member of Congress was then graded based on their performance on those votes.
The ratings are based on floor votes on a wide range of issues. In 2013, the hottest areas were votes relating to reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and budget and tax issues. The SNAP votes were on amendments that set program funding levels and sought to greatly restrict participation in the program. The budget and tax issues included spending cuts tied to raising the debt limit and Hurricane Sandy disaster relief, and budget resolutions and the budget agreement.
In addition, votes in many other areas were used, including funding for legal services, comprehensive immigration reform, international food aid programs, curtailing voting and labor rights, and the obligatory attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The results were not surprising. They showed that Congress is bitterly divided, with 97% of the Senators and 95% of the Representatives graded at one extreme or the other, receiving an A, D or F. Only a small handful of moderates received a B or C.
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As long as legislative districts lean heavily toward one party or the other, the only threat to a member’s reelection is a primary challenge from someone in the member’s own party who is more extreme. This inclines members to vote in an even more partisan way. In such an electoral environment, compromise is politically dangerous.
This partisan gridlock prevents Congress from passing laws that address our nation’s major problems. While this hurts everyone, it is especially detrimental to poor people who have the most to lose under the status quo.
Another major finding was that the Congressional delegations from states with the highest poverty rates tended to have the worst records in fighting poverty. Something other than the interests of a relatively large percentage of people living in poverty was motivating them.
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson announced a War on Poverty and pursued a hugely ambitious legislative agenda to that end. While great progress was made in the first decade after this war was declared, and poverty was cut by one-third, the Poverty Scorecard demonstrates how Congress has now abandoned the effort to fight poverty.
Take a look at the Scorecard. See how your House member and Senators voted and hold them accountable.