Oct. 6, 2012 — -- Who in Congress supports the "1 percent" or "99 percent"?
The liberal think tank Institute for Policy Studies looked at 40 pieces of legislation in the past two years that it believes supported either "greater inequality" or "reduced inequality" and graded the lawmakers who voted on them based on how "friendly" to the "1 percent" they were.
Dismayed that the U.S. has become "the most unequal major developed nation," the group argues that Congress, "more than any other institution in American life," is responsible "for the rules that determine how our economy operates."
Their "Congressional Report Card for the 99 percent" identifies 17 members of the Senate from both sides of the aisle, listed on the group's website, who they say are most friendly to the 1 percent of Americans who have the most assets and income.
The group gave 48 representatives and 11 Senators a grade of "F" and 14 representatives and five Senators a grade of "A."
The selection of legislation that the group analyzed was criticized by at least one Republican senator's spokesman. The legislation that is said to "reduce inequality" is only sponsored by Democrats while all the legislation that is said to support inequality "is sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.
"This report is nothing more than a sad and desperate attempt to provide cover for the failed economic policies of President Obama and congressional Democrats," said Stewart Bybee, communications director for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., in a statement. "The bailouts, failed stimulus bills, and a healthcare law that is stifling job growth has created record debt and an anemic economy that has left millions without jobs. While Democrats promised unemployment would not rise above 8 percent, our economy continues to struggle and Nevada continues to lead the nation in unemployment. It is these policies that have caused the biggest economic inequality of all."
The legislation that the report said reduces inequality includes the Fair Minimum Wage Act and the American Jobs Act among others.
Scott Winship, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, which has often been cited as a "centrist" think-tank, said longer-term trends in inequality are driven mostly by the strength of financial markets than the legislation the Institute for Policy Studies analyzed.
Winship said the trends in the share of income for the wealthiest Americans rose over the past 20 to 25 years but "took off" during the tech stock boom of the late 1990s and the boom in stocks and real estate before the financial crisis.
That share of income fell dramatically when those bubbles burst, reversing much, but not all, of the earlier gains, he said.
In comparison, changes due to tax policy have been very small and short-term since the big 1986 tax reform, Winship said.
Many of the study's selected legislation stirred controversy during the legislative process as having mixed consequences for Americans.
The so-called Bush Tax Cuts are labeled by the report as legislation that supports greater inequality.
Scott Klinger, associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, said he and his co-authors chose legislation that reduced inequality and created "broad prosperity."
He points out that while the Bush tax cuts offered some relief to middle-class families, they increased the after-tax income of the top 1 percent of taxpayers by 6.7 percent or $66,618, the middle 20 percent of households saw their after-tax income rise 2.8 percent, or $1,039 while the lowest 20 percent saw their after-tax income rise just 1 percent, or $99, according to figures from the Tax Policy Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Center on Children and Families, said the Bush tax cuts "very clearly favor the rich."
"It may be true that the rich pay more in taxes when that's measured in absolute dollars but they also have a lot more income so as a share of their income they have actually seen their taxes go down more than the middle class or the poor under the Bush tax cuts," Sawhill said. "What people care about is their after-tax income, not their actual tax bill, and on that basis, the Bush tax cuts helped the rich more than the middle class or the poor."
She called the report "very interesting and well done."
Winship said that the Bush tax cuts increased income inequality at the margins and the richest Americans have had big gains compared to everyone else when looking at before-tax income also, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office.
To grade the lawmakers, the Institute for Policy Studies docked a point if a lawmaker voted in favor of legislation they say widened inequality and awarded a point if a lawmaker voted on legislation that reduced it. Bill sponsors were also docked a point for the former while co-sponsors were docked 0.5 points; the sponsors of bills that were said to reduce equality were awarded points. Lawmakers who missed more than one recorded vote were given an "incomplete."
The report's authors then split the lawmakers into five groups for grades A through F.
The following eight Senators were called the "Most 99 Percent Friendly Members of Congress":
Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Olympia Snow, R-Maine
Susan Collins, R-Maine
Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
The following 17 Senators were called the "Most One Percent Friendly Members of Congress":
Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.
Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Jim Webb, D-Va.
Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
John Boozman, R-Ark.
Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.
Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Dean Heller, R-Nev.
Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.
Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
John McCain, R-Ariz.
John Thune, R-S.D.