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Sneak Peek: A Tough Conservative Scorecard

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

With every vote cast in Congress, freedom either advances or recedes. From reckless spending and stifling regulations to Obamacare, Americans see their freedoms – and those of their children and grandchildren – slipping away. We went to the polls last November to turn the tide. And while conservatives are winning the day on the message, the policy is lagging.

Later this week, Heritage Action will release our first legislative scorecard, which will show which Members of Congress are saying the right things AND doing the right things. Conversely, those who say one thing and do another will no longer be able to hide. This will be a revealing barometer of a lawmaker’s willingness to fight for principled conservative policies in Congress.

Allow me to pull back the curtain just a bit.

No single Senator or Representative achieved a perfect score - something that is practically unheard of in the world of Congressional scorecards, but reflects the fact that there is no perfect politician in Washington. The average in the Democrat-controlled Senate was 39%. Liberal politicians in the House bring the average down to 42% in the GOP-controlled chamber.

While the House has done many big things right this year – the bold House budget, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, and Obamacare repeal, for example – conservatives still had too many losses with moderate Republicans teaming up with Democrats to defeat good legislation. As a result, the GOP average in the House is only 67%. Senate Republicans did better with a 76% average, though they have not yet voted on the often revealing appropriations bills. In all, 13 Senators and 27 Representatives scored an 85% or higher.

Like I told the crowd at the Gathering a couple weeks ago, we are tough graders and don't apologize for it. After all, we are conservatives, not tenured university professors.

And if there is one thing conservatives need, especially in Washington, it is unapologetic champions. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, one such champion, is "thrilled" about the scorecard. She said, “it is time now that we look at the spending habits of our legislators. It’s time that we look at what they’re doing with debt. It’s time that we look at how they’re spending taxpayer money.”

When the federal government engages in the sort of reckless spending that has come to define the previous decade, freedom recedes as the power and scope of the federal government expands. America's future – and the economic freedom of our children and grandchildren – diminishes.

Heritage Action's scorecard encompasses 30 votes and five co-sponsorship scores in the House and 19 votes and four co-sponsorship scores in the Senate. The votes cover the full spectrum of conservatism, and include legislative action on issues both large and small.

There is a tendency among some lawmakers to do the right thing on the big issues – repeal of Obamacare, for example – and then revert to "big government conservatism" on the small issues when they think no one is looking.

For example, 105 House Republicans joined every Democrat in voting against an amendment by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) which would have cut $3 billion from Interior-Environment appropriations. In the Senate, 15 Republicans joined every Democrat in killing an amendment that would have repealed the non-essential Essential Air Services. These two votes are illustrative of the challenges conservatives face in Congress.

Our task is daunting, but not impossible. After a long hard fight, conservatives won the day on earmarks. Now, we must lead the fight against small bills that expand the size and scope of government. Legislation like the NAT GAS Act (HR1380) and extension of trade adjustment assistance's welfare-style benefits must be made as politically toxic as earmarks.

Highlighting these small votes, as well as holding the line on contentious issues like the near-blank check debt ceiling increase, has ruffled some Establishment feathers. According to the Weekly Standard, Members of Congress are taking note:

[Heritage Action’s] newfound influence in politics—not just policy—has rankled a few Republicans otherwise in good conservative standing, especially since Heritage Action announced it would be scoring certain votes.

Heritage Action does not do electoral politics, but we certainly do policy politics. With all the economic indicators pointing towards anemic economic growth, if not another recession, Americans are looking for principled leadership that can steer our country off the path of slow decline and towards actual economic growth. The next 15 months are an opportunity to define the future of America – prosperity, or slow decline.

If we're going to save the American dream for our children and grandchildren, we cannot pull punches or engage in partisan "rah-rah” type actions. Heritage Action’s scorecard will be revealing – and a tool for conservatives outside the beltway to hold their Members of Congress accountable and get America back on track.

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