Middle Class 2003: How Congress Voted

America's middle class is definitely not better off, according to a useful new study.

Fri May 21, 2004 2:00 AM EDT

Who's better off under a Republican White House and Congress? Not the middle class. So finds a very useful new report out today from the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a non-partisan think tank. The report, titled "Middle Class 2003: How Congress Voted," takes a look at several major pieces of legislation considered by the 108th Congress that, for better or worse, "would significantly impact America's middle class," and assigns lawmakers a grade based on their support of the middle class position. It is intended, says Drum, to "serve as a yardstick by which Americans can measure how effectively Congress is acting in their interests."

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(Click here for the executive summary, and here for the full report in PDF format.)

The study defines middle class as Americans with incomes between approximately 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold and those of the top 5 percent of earners -- roughly $25,000 to $100,000 a year.

Says the introduction:

We chose bills that, if passed, would not only have an impact on the financial stability of millions of middle-class families struggling to with the burdens of unemployment, underemployment, homeownership, childcare, healthcare, and debt, but on the aspirations of low-income Americans who want to work their way into the middle class."

Legislation under consideration runs the gamut from bills that Drum views as supportive of the middle class (like The Pharmaceutical Market Access Act, which would lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Americans to purchase them from foreign vendors, and which passed only in the House; and the American Dream Downpayment Act, signed into law, which directed $200 million in federal aid to thousands of American families trying to buy a home), to those it considers harmful (like the Death Tax Repeal Act, which passed in the House and would eliminate the tax on the inherited estates of the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, thereby draining state budgets; and the Jobs and Growth Tax Act, which gave the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans forthy percent of the total tax cut -- at the expense of the middle class.)

Among the findings:

The Senate, overall, earned a B grade, but the average obscures disparities: while 96 percent of Democratic senators got an A, a quarter of Republicans got an F "for their failure to support the middle class."

The House, says the report, "did a poor job of voiting with the middle class," rating a C overall. Here, too, there were big disparities: 36 percent of House members received an failing grade, while 21 percent got an A. The former group was almost entirely Republican, the latter entirely Democratic.

In weighing their votes this year, Americans would do well to consult the Drum report, which assigns each member of Congress a grade on each piece of legislation. As the report says, "In politics, there is no greater force than incumbency. During the the 2002 midterm election, nearly all incumbents seeking an additional term in office secured it, due in large part to to the lack of comprensive information available to American voters."

Thanks to this report, American voters now have the information they need to decide whether to keep their representatives -- or throw them out.