The National Education Association has been publishing a congressional report card for a very long time, but in the past the scores were based purely on a representative’s or senator’s votes on legislation the union either actively supported or opposed.
Last year, NEA decided that such an approach made it "increasingly problematic to construct voting records that reveal accurately an elected official’s views and record on public education and employee issues of importance to NEA." So, in its efforts to pick off a few Republican votes, NEA constructed a system to allow for more subjectivity in its report card. Education Intelligence Agency broke the story last July (see "NEA to Grade GOP Lawmakers on a Curve").
Now we have the results for the first session of the 109th Congress. Each senator and U.S. representative was given a letter grade (A-F) by the union. The totals below will not add up to 535 because, for some undisclosed reason, NEA did not publish the results for the congressional delegations from Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island. Nevertheless, here’s the curve itself:
A – 38 Democrats, 2 Republicans (Collins and Snow of Maine), 1 independent
B – none
C – 3 Republicans (Lugar of Indiana, Coleman of Minnesota, Specter of Pennsylvania)
D – 1 Republican (Crapo of Idaho)
F – 37 Republicans
A – 184 Democrats, 15 Republicans, 1 independent
B – 2 Democrats (Taylor of Mississippi and Mollohan of West Virginia), 12 Republicans
C – 28 Republicans
D – 57 Republicans
F – 88 Republicans
The new report card had little effect in the Senate, but did succeed in spreading the House Republican caucus throughout all five letter grades. However, grading on a curve leads to lowering the standards for each letter grade achieved, and the effect couldn’t be more obvious when examining the Democrats alone.
Not a single Democrat in the Senate scored lower than an A, and only Reps. Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia scored as low as a B in the House. With Democrats firmly seated in the congressional minority, NEA must see no advantage in distinguishing between them. The union needs all their votes.
By distinguishing between House Republicans, NEA makes it easier for its activists to prioritize which members of Congress to approach when the union needs GOP votes. When you place all Republicans in the F category, you make it more difficult to determine which of them might be pliable.