Congress Shows Little Interest in Budget-Cutting Measures

Published January 1, 2004

According to the latest BillTally study released in late November by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), just 26 members of the 107th Congress had 2002-2003 legislative agendas that would reduce overall federal spending. By contrast, 32 lawmakers sought to raise the federal budget by more than $1 trillion–the most lopsided margin against budget-cutters in BillTally’s 12-year history.

“Taxpayers hoping to see federal spending restraint will be disappointed to learn that the 107th Congress took a long holiday from this task,” said NTUF senior policy analyst and study author Demian Brady. “When special interests knocked on Congress’s door asking for tax-funded treats, most lawmakers were willing to oblige even when it wasn’t Halloween.”

As Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth recently asked in an article for the Washington Times, “Where is the fiscal outrage?” Moore blamed “the recent spending trends of fiscal conservatives” in both parties who at one time could be relied on to keep Congress in check. “This year [2003] was one of the worst years for fiscal conservatives in many moons,” wrote Moore. “The federal budget grew by more than $150 billion–more than twice as much as any year that Bill Clinton was in the White House–and deficit spending eclipsed $300 billion, a 10-year high.”

And it all took place with the GOP firmly ensconced at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House gets some of the blame for allowing Congress to break the bank. “George Bush doesn’t really have an anti-Big Government bone in his body,” said Moore. “Compassionate conservatism means never having to say no.”

“The results of sponsorship records during the 107th Congress show that there is indeed a difference between Republicans and Democrats: One party proposes bigger government, while the other party proposes much bigger government,” Brady concluded. “For taxpayers who prefer prudence to profligacy, reversing this trend will remain their top concern.”

BillTally is a cost accounting system that computes a net annual agenda for each Member of Congress and has done so since 1991. The results are based on each Member’s individual sponsorship and cosponsorship of pending legislation. The study offers a unique look at the fiscal behavior of lawmakers, free from the influence of committees, party leaders, and rules influencing floor votes.

All cost estimates for bills are obtained from third-party sources or calculated from neutral data. Within the 107th Congress, BillTally identified a record-high number of bills as having a fiscal impact of at least $1 million–1,186 measures in the House and 851 in the Senate. Among Brady’s findings:

  • A record-low 26 Representatives sponsored bills that, if enacted all at once, would reduce federal spending; not a single Senator had a net budget-cutting agenda. As recently as the 104th Congress, a comfortable majority in both chambers could claim to sponsor net spending reductions.
  • For the first time ever, BillTally found individual Representatives (32 in all) who would raise federal spending by at least $1 trillion (50 percent of current outlays) annually. The House average was $222.9 billion, while the average Senator would boost the budget by $92.9 billion per year.
  • In the House, nearly 24 bills to increase federal spending were introduced for every bill to cut spending. In the Senate the ratio was 36:1, while the combined total for both chambers was 28:1.
  • House Democrats called for an average of $417.6 billion in new spending, nearly 13 times more than House Republicans ($32.3 billion). Annualized over 10 years, that level of increase ($4.2 trillion) is more than twice the size of the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 combined ($1.7 trillion).
  • Both political parties in the House proposed agendas that were seven times higher than their average 106th Congress totals. In the Senate, the spending sponsorship gap was only somewhat narrower ($150.9 billion for Democrats vs. $34.2 billion for Republicans).

NTUF is the research affiliate of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union.

John Berthoud is president of the National Taxpayers Union and National Taxpayers Union Foundation. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

NTUF’s BillTally report, Policy Paper 145, “Will to Profligacy or Will to Prudence?” is available online at The study contains a wealth of data on lawmakers’ individual and collective spending habits.