During tonight’s GOP debate, Ron Paul took exception to Rick Santorum’s claim that Paul had finished “in the bottom half of Republicans this year” in ratings published by the American Conservative Union (ACU). Santorum made the comment immediately after having highlighted that the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) scored Santorum as one of the most fiscally conservative senators across his 12 years in the Senate. Santorum’s overall NTU grade point average (GPA) placed him 5th out of 50 senators who served throughout his tenure — and all four senators who beat him represented more conservative-leaning states. In fact, considering the state that he was representing, Santorum may well have been the most fiscally conservative senator during his tenure.

Paul replied that the ACU ratings that Santorum had referenced (in regard to Paul) aren’t an accurate reflection of Paul’s spending record. He said that “some of the conservative ratings — you have to realize sometimes conservatives want to spend money, too.” Paul concluded that “if you’re a strict fiscal conservative and a constitutionalist…you can’t just go by the ratings.”

Paul is right as far as the ACU ratings go. Those ratings don’t focus exclusively on votes related to spending or deficits. Instead, they focus on a wide variety of conservative issues, many of which have little or nothing to do with fiscal matters.

NTU’s ratings, however, are different. They’re based entirely on the perceived effects of members’ votes on both the immediate and future size of the federal budget. Not surprisingly, Paul’s career GPA from NTU reflects his unsurpassed reputation for fiscal conservatism — it’s a perfect 4.00.

Yet Santorum’s 3.66 GPA from NTU isn’t too far behind, especially considering that NTU’s average GPA for senators who served throughout Santorum’s tenure was just 1.69 — and considering that Paul has had the luxury of representing a congressional district that has been, on average, 38 points to the right of Pennsylvania over the past three presidential elections. In this light, it seems rather silly for Paul — or Mitt Romney (who got a C from the Cato Institute on spending as governor) — to claim that Santorum isn’t a fiscal conservative.

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