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Washington’s Promiscuous Protectors of Privilege: A Congressional Inequality Report Card

Research & Commentary
October 03, 2012

by Chuck Collins

Mitt Romney and I both grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a wealthy suburb of Detroit.  For much of our childhoods, we were represented in Congress by a tireless defender of the rich and powerful, U.S. Representative William Broomfield.

Indeed, we would be hard-pressed to find a politician more faithful to the interests of the 1 percent than Bill Broomfield.

Any legislation advanced to cut taxes for the rich or funneling subsidies to transnational corporations, Bill Broomfield was a champion. And when it came to legislation helping middle class kids go to college or working families and the poor, there was no foe mightier than Bill Broomfield.  He did everything he could to block help for the 99 percent.

Not every member of Congress is as clear cut in their allegiances as my former Congressman.  Which is why our new Institute for Policy Studies “Congressional Report Card for the 99 Percent” is so useful.

Do you wonder which members of Congress routinely side with the richest 1 percent and Wall Street?  Which lawmakers consistently vote to cut taxes for the rich, protect off-shore tax havens for transnational tax dodgers, and ensure that wealth is taxed more favorably than income from work?  Who tirelessly side with global corporations at the expense of domestic small businesses?

On the other hand, are you curious which members of Congress are committed to an economy that works for everyone, not just the 1 percent? What lawmakers back a level playing field between small business and transnational corporate conglomerates?  Who are the voting champions for people who work for wages, dream of health insurance, and aspire to education their children without decades of debt?

IPS examined 40 different legislation actions in the House and Senate –votes and legislation introduced –to ascertain the real allegiances of sitting members of Congress. These include votes to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, levy a Wall Street speculation tax, invest in infrastructure, protect workers, and student financial aid.

Not surprisingly, the most promiscuous protectors of the privileged were Republicans.  But 17 lawmakers in the Democratic party also got low marks.  For example, in the U.S. Senate, Montana Senator Jon Tester and Virginia Senator Jim Webb –sometimes considered progressive –showed up on the list of “1 Percent Friendly Democrats.”  Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Joseph Leiberman (I-CT), Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) also shared the “1 Percent friendly” distinction.

The Report Card also graded politicians for their commitment to reducing inequality and boosting the 99 percent.  The report’s “Honor Roll” gives an A plus grade to 5 members of the U.S. Senate and 14 House members, including Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Bernard Sanders (VT-I) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Nine Republican members of the House of Representatives got passing grades in the effort to reduce inequality.  These included Rep. Tim Johnson (R-IL), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Justin Amash (R-MI).

The personal wealth of a politician did not dictate whether they were allied with the 1 percent or the 99 percent.  Of the 20 wealthiest members of Congress, including the ten richest Republicans and Democrats, 13 of them got passing grades in reducing inequality and only 1 got an “F” grade. The failing grade went to Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey whose $22 million fortune makes him one of the 16 richest members of Congress.  He ranks as the top “rule rigger” on behalf of the 1 percent, casting votes that only boost his own wealth and power.

The politics of deflection has worked for decades to divide and distract voters.  If pro-1 percent, pro Wall Street candidates can get their constituents to blame the poor, immigrants, people of color, and gays and lesbians for their economic challenges, then we will likely get policies that favor the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent. But if voters put on their “99 to 1” special glasses, then we can look forward to a political realignment in the coming years.

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