The U.S. Congress saw significant turnover between its 111th and 112th incarnations. The release of National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF) unique “BillTally” report shows what this political transition has meant to Washington’s fiscal agenda.
The impact is undeniable: For the first time in more than a decade, there were more legislators on Capitol Hill who sought to shrink the budget than those who wanted major spending expansions ($100 billion or more).
Even so, the BillTally results showed the entirety of Congress’s agenda still would have added $1.3 trillion to the debt.
How can these seemingly conflicting trends be reconciled? A closer look at the data provides some clues.
Big Shift in Senate
The Senate showed a particularly drastic shift, with the average GOP senator proposing $273 billion in cuts, down from $25 billion in spending increases from the last Congress. This swing is due in part to new blood such as Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), among others. Those freshmen were assisted by a Senate GOP contingent that did not feature even one member who sought to increase the budget.
The House Republicans were no slouches either, more than doubling the spending cut agenda of their predecessors by proposing an average of $169 billion in savings.
If these fiscal changes are so significant, how is the bottom line so expensive?
To understand that, it helps to put the size of the GOP spending cut agenda in perspective. While we all have surely heard plenty of pundits claiming the GOP and perhaps the “Tea Party” are seeking massive budget cuts, in reality the entire party’s net Congressional agenda would only slash the federal budget by 5 percent.
Big Items in Dems’ Plans
The spending picture would not be complete without an analysis of the other party’s fiscal agenda. And for Democrats, that agenda was largely defined by a few big-ticket items.
By far the most prolific spending area for Democrats was healthcare (including, for many, a $1 trillion “single payer” proposal). Not all that far behind were plans for more economic “stimulus” spending.
That is how the House Democratic average agenda wound up even higher than that of the previous Congress, at $556 billion (a jump of about $17 billion). Senate Democrats cooled their ardor for higher expenditures significantly, proposing a $39 billion average agenda ($157 billion less than their predecessors).
$1.2T in Cuts, $2.5T in Spending
Thus, despite more in Congress seeking budget reductions, the 112th Congress’s spending proposals amounted to $2.5 trillion in more spending, thanks in no small part to the health care and stimulus bills mentioned earlier. Overall, this figure is enough to dwarf the $1.2 trillion worth of budget cuts that were introduced.
The trends NTUF’s BillTally study has tracked show a shifting and polarizing Congress, with reason for optimism among those who want a smaller federal budget. In the end, however, the improvement measured against previous Congresses cannot overcome one fact: the legislative work product of the 112th remained heavily tilted toward bigger budgets.
Doug Kellogg ([email protected]) is communications manager at the National Taxpayers Union.
BillTally Report 112-3, National Taxpayers Union Foundation: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/billtally-report-112-3