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How Congress Is Shafting the Middle Class | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

How Congress Is Shafting the Middle Class

In 2005, Congress failed the middle class.

This is the blunt assessment of the nonpartisan Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI), which today released its third annual scorecard, Congress at the Midterm: Their 2005 Middle-Class Record. Aimed at assessing Congress's voting records on issues of concern to the nation's middle class and "those who aspire to a middle-class standard of living"--surely the vast majority of Americans--Congress at the Midterm is a forceful indictment of Congress's performance and the party in power.

"In vote after vote," the scorecard notes, "Congress disdained the concerns of middle-class Americans and opted instead to favor the already wealthy and powerful: a surefire recipe for a shrinking middle class." From the passage of a bankruptcy bill that benefited credit card companies but squeezed middle-class families already overwhelmed by debt, to the failure of legislation to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in nearly a decade, to the House's vote to repeal the estate tax on the nation's most privileged heirs, the scorecard paints a grim, but devastatingly accurate, picture of what our elected representatives have been up to under the Capitol Dome.

First and foremost, the scorecard illustrates the utter failure of the Republican rank-and-file to support their middle-class constituents. Embattled incumbents like Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (who earns a zero grade for casting not a single pro-middle-class vote) resolutely voted against a bill to reject deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt in any Social Security "reform" plan. And he was far from alone: 99 percent of GOP House members failed the scorecard completely. 95 percent failed in the Senate. And only four Republicans--Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey--even manage to earn a mediocre "C" grade under the scorecard's generous scoring system.

While the party in power clearly comes out looking the worst, Democrats also fall in for their share of blame. Democratic backing for the middle class was very good when it came to things like increasing the minimum wage, saving Social Security and averting dangerous budget cuts, but the same strong level of support was not in evidence on bills like the Energy Policy Act, the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act, and the Class Action Fairness Act--cases where, as DMI notes, "powerful industries lobbied for legislation that would increase their profits at the expense of the middle class." While there are nine scores of 100 percent among the Democratic Senators, and more among House members, 11 percent of Democratic representatives failed completely.

As we head into the 2006 elections, voters looking for a concise way to evaluate Congress on basic, bread-and-butter issues would do well to be armed with Congress at the Midterm: Their 2005 Middle-Class Record. And more of them than ever will find out about it. With DMI's pioneering embrace of Google AdWords, web surfers from around the country will be alerted to their Congress member's record whenever they do a Google search for their representative's name in the next month. A search for "Katherine Harris" for example, reveals a little blurb in the upper left-hand corner of the screen linking to the 2005 House record of the woman Florida voters are considering sending to the Senate.

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