Few in Congress Want Spending to Be Reduced, NTUF Study Shows

Published September 1, 2006

Fewer than 1 in 10 members of Congress sponsored legislation last year that would have reduced federal spending, according to a new BillTally report issued by the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF).

“The federal deficit picture may be rapidly improving due to higher revenues, but Congress’s collective habit of writing and proposing costly legislation has only begun to show signs of receding,” said NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally Director Demian Brady.

Could Have Been Worse

Last year House Members introduced 17 bills to raise spending for every bill to cut it. In the Senate the ratio was 31 to 1.

Incredibly, this represents an improvement in fiscal discipline from the last year of the previous Congress, 2003, when the House and Senate ratios were 23 to 1 and 32 to 1, respectively.

The analysis found other signs of gradual moderation in Congress’s spending initiatives. A total of 49 representatives and senators sponsored bills whose cumulative effect would reduce federal outlays. Only 16 lawmakers did so in 2003.

The number of members of Congress who backed increases in federal spending of $100 billion or more decreased from more than 150 in 2003 to 90 last year.

Nothing Like 1995 Congress

Nonetheless, these figures are a far cry from 1995, the first year of the 104th Congress, which adjourned in October 1996, when the increase-to-decrease ratios for bill introduction were far more balanced–1.3 to 1 in the House and 1.7 to 1 in the Senate.

In addition, 10 years ago House Republicans and members of both parties in the Senate posted average agenda totals that would have driven down federal expenditures.

The typical House Republican in 2005 proposed boosting the federal budget by a net of $11.6 billion, while the average for a Democrat was $547.4 billion (the highest BillTally has ever recorded for either chamber).

On the Senate side, the partisan gap was smaller–$11.4 billion for the average Republican and $52.1 billion for the average Democrat.

$2.5 Trillion Proposed

If every one of the House’s spending bills introduced in 2005, excluding overlapping proposals, had become law, federal outlays would have increased by $2.55 trillion, roughly doubling the current federal budget. In the Senate, the total of proposed increases was $394.4 billion.

In researching possible sources of leadership in Congress for reducing the federal deficit, Brady found two fiscally conservative caucuses, the Republican Study Committee and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, may be part of the solution. House members participating in these groups had far smaller spending agendas than their respective parties’ colleagues.

“As incumbents prepare to hit the campaign trail this fall, taxpayers will no doubt be treated to a litany of reasons why Washington is still mired in red ink,” Brady said. “But as these numbers show, a flow of costly ideas from lawmakers’ own pens is partially to blame.”

All cost estimates for bills were obtained from third-party sources or calculated from neutral data. In the 1st Session of the 109th Congress, NTUF identified 1,485 House and Senate bills with a budget impact of plus or minus $1 million.

Since 1991 BillTally has computed a “net annual agenda” for each member of Congress, based on individual sponsorship or co-sponsorship of legislation. The study provides an in-depth look at the fiscal behavior of lawmakers, free from the influence of committees, party leaders, and rules surrounding floor votes.

For more information …

The NTU Foundation’s BillTally Report 109-2, “Unbalanced Agendas, Unbalanced Budgets,” is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and search for document #19572.

Data for individual lawmakers is available at http://www.ntu.org/main/misc.php?MiscID=11.