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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Cruz’s Conservative Credentials

A pro-Rand Paul super PAC cherry picks two fiscal votes to label Sen. Ted Cruz as a “phony” conservative. In fact, fiscal conservative groups that score congressional votes rank both presidential candidates as among the most conservative in the Senate.

The ad, from America’s Liberty PAC, a pro-Rand Paul group, starts with an announcer saying that “phony conservatives” have been “exposed.” It displays grainy, black-and-white surveillance-type photos of Paul’s rivals Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Donald Trump.

“The latest? Ted Cruz,” the ad goes on to say. “Cruz talks a big game but when the rubber meets the road, we can’t trust him. First, he votes to borrow billions and bust the budget, then skips the crucial vote to audit the federal reserve.”

America’s Liberty is right about these particular votes, but let’s provide some context about the legislation and the senator’s voting record overall.

The spending vote referenced in the ad involved a budget amendment offered by Sen. Marco Rubio that would have increased the defense budget to $661 billion in fiscal year 2016. The Pentagon requested $661 billion, and Rubio said his amendment would “fully fund” the department. The measure failed 32-68 in a vote on March 26, 2015.

Paul at the time criticized Rubio and Cruz for voting to increase the defense budget without proposing to offset the cost with cuts elsewhere. That’s a fair point. The National Taxpayers Union urged a “no” vote on the amendment for that reason.

But viewers aren’t told that the bill was on defense spending or that the bill failed — points that may or may not make a difference to them, but are at least worth knowing.

The second vote referenced in the ad was a Jan. 12 procedural vote on a bill that would have required a “full audit” of the federal reserve. Again, the ad accurately says that Cruz missed the vote. He was campaigning in New Hampshire.

But the bill fell seven votes short of the 60 required to advance, so Cruz’s vote would not have made a difference. Also, the ad doesn’t mention that Cruz is a cosponsor of the bill, which was sponsored by Paul. Cruz obviously supports the bill.

It’s not unusual for members of Congress to miss votes while campaigning for president. Cruz missed 24 percent of Senate votes in 2015 — which was less than Sens. Lindsey Graham (28 percent) and Rubio (35 percent) but much more than Paul, who missed just 6 percent of votes.

More important, the ad cherry picks two votes out of hundreds that Cruz has cast.

To put Cruz’s voting record in context, we went to the websites of three fiscal conservative groups — Club for Growth, the National Taxpayers Union and the American Conservative Union — that rate members of Congress based on key economic votes. All three rank Cruz and Paul among the most conservative senators. In some cases, Cruz ranks higher than Paul.

Club for Growth says its congressional scorecard “rewards free-market champions and exposes big-government, tax-and-spend politicians.” Cruz scored 92 percent in 2014 and 100 percent in 2013 on the Club for Growth scorecard, ranking eighth in 2014 and first in 2013 among senators. By comparison, Paul scored 95 percent and 97 percent, respectively, in the last two years — ranking fifth in 2014 and third in 2013.

Cruz scored 95 percent on the National Taxpayers Union’s 2013 scorecard, ranking the Texas senator third out of 100 senators. That was even slightly higher than Paul, who scored 94 percent and ranked sixth that year. Both received an “A.” (NTU has no 2014 scorecard on its website.)

Cruz did even better in the American Conservative Union ratings. Cruz got a perfect score in 2014 and 2013 and has a lifetime rating of 100 percent over his first two years in the Senate. Rand Paul scored 96 percent in both years and has a lifetime score of 98 percent over four years.

By these measures, Cruz — who helped engineer a government shutdown in 2013 in a failed effort to defund the Affordable Care Act — has a conservative voting record, contrary to what the ad says. Whether it is sufficiently conservative or too conservative we leave for others to decide.