During the government shutdown, Heritage Action infuriated House Republican leaders for counting votes to fund the Affordable Care Act against members of Congress.
Much of Heritage Action’s clout among Congressional Republicans stems from its scorecard based on legislators’ votes. That said, the meaning of Heritage Action scores seems to be more nebulous than some may have thought during the shutdown. During a break between speakers at Heritage Action’s Conservative Policy Summit on Monday, the group’s CEO, Michael Needham, said even some good conservative lawmakers don’t get 100% scores.
“I think there’s an expectation that every member of Congress can go home to his district and explain his voting record,” Needham said.
“A Scott Brown going home to Massachusetts or potentially New Hampshire will have a different job in explaining his voting record than somebody from Texas or Kentucky,” Needham continued. “But they should be able to have that conversation with their constituents.”
Even some of the speakers at the summit had unimpressive Heritage Action scores. The average score of speakers (from both houses of Congress) at the summit was 89.5%. And the average score of House conservatives who spoke — which you’d think would be higher, given the hard rightward tack of some members of the conference — was lower, clocking in at 86%. Representative Phil Roe of Tennessee had the lowest score in the bunch, with a 66% rating.
Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee had the highest, both with 100% marks.
Dan Holler, the group’s communications director, reiterated to National Review that it’s not necessarily the end-all-be-all indicator of whether or not members of Congress deserve conservatives’ support.
“We don’t view members of Congress as a number,” he says.
“Because we’re not engaged in the electoral side, it’s truly between a constituent and their member to decide what a Heritage Action score means,” he adds.
Constituents might not know that. And that irks many Congressional Republicans.
One aide who spoke to NRO anonymously (no Hill aides spoke on the record to NRO for this story) explained his frustration this way:
“They’re celebrating all these names,” he said, referring to the Congressmen who spoke at the summit, “and yet, if any of these people were to draw a primary challenger, you better believe those challengers are going to use the Heritage Action scorecard to argue that they’re not that conservative.”
Another aide puts it this way: “They claim to have the Reagan mantle, but Reagan’s thing was, If you agree with me 70% of the time, you’re a friend.”
That aide adds that the scorecard rewards members of Congress for following rigid voting strictures, but not for making substantive change.
“Paul Broun will head into the home stretch of the Georgia Senate race with a great Heritage Action score and little else,” the aide says.
Representative Broun’s score is 95%. So as promised, here members of Congress with Heritage Action scores that may seem unimpressive:
1. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who delivered the GOP’s response to the State of the Union address and who Think Progress says is a Birther, has a 48%.
2. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who’s drawn much ire from Mother Jones, has a 36%, putting her below at least three Democrats.
3. Senator Rob Portman, who Major Garrett confidently declared would be Romney’s vice presidential pick, has a 57%.
4. Michele Bachmann, who has literally never been called a RINO, has 82%.
5. Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King has 75%.
6. Sarah Palin-endorsee Deb Fischer has 64%.
7. Mark Sanford, called a “true fiscal conservative” by the Tea Party Express, has a 79%.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.