A new site from the Drum Major Institute, themiddleclass.org, bills itself as “Your toolkit for holding Congress accountable,” and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a site that so compellingly presents such essential information about new and pending legislation.
It’s a simple site — at its core is a database of legislation that affects, negatively or positively, the middle class. You can search by bill, legislator, state, issue, or pending legislation. Each entry features an analysis of the bill in layman’s terms, along with why it matters to the middle class and what the experts have to say.
But two fantastic features take the site beyond the database.
The first is a scorecard rating each piece of legislation according to its effect on the middle class. The DMI has been releasing annual scorecards like this for a few years, but on this new site makes those scores are dynamic; they’re updated as Members of Congress vote on legislation related to what the DMI calls the “current and aspiring middle-class.”
(On this site, the DMI doesn’t put a dollar amount on “middle class.” Everyone won’t necessarily agree with DMI’s analysis of what is or isn’t good for the middle class, and it’s quite bold [and smart] of them to claim that they are presenting an objective view of what the middle class supports. In addition, while the DMI calls itself non-partisan, the bills it supports are overwhelmingly voted for by progressives and Democrats.)
As you can see to the right, the new dynamic scorecard shows whether or not the middle class supports the bill (according the DMI’s analysis), how Representatives and Senators voted , and a letter grade for the House for either supporting or failing to support the bill. In one click you can see how each Member voted on the bill.
The other feature is — wait for it — widgets!
The site’s handy widget creator uses just enough AJAX goodness to be responsive and easy-to-use. (Note to the consistent emphasis on easy; these database-driven sites need to be simple to navigate or they’ll lose most people out of the gate.) In a New York minute you can build a widget that displays scoring data for individual legislators or past or present bills, or a simple search box that can be used to search for bills or legislators.
Check out this one, which shows the the total score given by the site to Vermont’s legislators:
A few liberal sites have already started using it; Rightsfield is showing the ratings for John McCain, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Ron Paul (40%, 0%, 0%, and 29%, respectively). The candidates will all get letter grades in January, after a year of scoring.
To be sure, OpenCongress.org is also a good resource for data like this, and also has widgets for tacking bills and Members of Congress. But TheMiddleClass.org is makes this information easier to find, and of course has the added value of the scorecard.
The site works because its scope is somewhat small, and the data is designed to be embedded across the web to be used for any number of purposes. Hopefully other interest groups will take heed and produce similarly focused and accessible sites.