The torrent of new spending proposals introduced in each Congress over the last decade appears to have slowed as members of the 111th Congress presented the greatest number of budget-cut bills in 12 years. Overall, however, legislative activity to boost federal expenditures dominated 2009 and 2010.
These and other findings from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF’s) BillTally study vividly demonstrate an ongoing clash between lawmakers inclined to back higher government outlays and those responding to public clamor for budget restraint.
“BillTally results certainly showed how the 111th Congress drove the budget to unprecedented levels of spending and debt. However, we did see a slight drop-off in the number of spending-increase proposals,” said BillTally Project Director Demian Brady. “We also witnessed the most significant jump in savings proposals in 12 years, along with House Republicans sponsoring, on average, a net annual agenda that would cut spending.”
Spending Hikes Still Dominated
Key findings include:
- The 111th Congress saw a sharp rise in the number of bills to reduce federal spending, with 122 introduced in the House and 54 in the Senate. This is the highest number of spending-cut bills NTUF has recorded since the 105th Congress (1997-1998).
- Spending increases still reigned supreme as Representatives presented 1,532 bills to boost budgetary outlays and Senators offered 948 bills.
- For every proposed spending cut, House members offered 13 spending increase proposals. Senators offered 18 increases for every cut. In addition, many of the proposals to lower spending were duplicates introduced by different lawmakers. Adjusting for this phenomenon, the ratio would be steeper, 21 to 1 in the House and 27 to 1 in the Senate.
- For the first time since the 105th Congress (12 years) the average House Republican’s legislative agenda would cut spending. A typical House GOP agenda consisted of $114.2 billion in savings and $36.2 billion in new outlays, for a net proposed reduction of just over $78 billion. The average House Democrat proposed $549.7 billion in new spending offset by $10.8 billion in savings—a net increase of nearly $539 billion.
- Compared to their colleagues in the House, Democrats in the Senate typically would not raise spending as much, and Republicans would not cut as much. Senate Republican sought $76.4 billion in new outlays and $51.0 billion in cuts on average, for a net of $25.4 billion in greater spending. Senate Democrats were less aggressive than their House colleagues, with $199 billion in spending increases and $3.4 billion in budget cuts on average.
- The number of “net cutters”—members whose net agendas would reduce the budget—jumped to 163 in the House and 32 in the Senate, an increase of 119 and 25, respectively, from the 110th Congress. They remained outnumbered by those calling for major spending hikes of more than $100 billion; these ranks swelled to 170 in the House (up from 149 in the last Congress) and 43 in the Senate (down from 44 in the previous Congress).
- The net cost of all proposals introduced in the House would be $2.20 trillion. That figure represents what would happen to outlays if the House passed all its budget-increase bills (totaling $2.68 trillion) offset by all savings bills ($480.7 billion), excluding overlapping legislation. This would amount to a 60 percent hike in the current federal budget. The net cost of all Senate legislation taken together would raise federal expenditures by $1.27 trillion (nearly one-third).
- Representatives proposed a startling average of five bills that would increase spending for every day their chamber was in session during 2009 and 2010, versus one reduction every other day. Senators offered the equivalent of three spending bills per session-day and only one spending-cut bill every six days.
- Freshman lawmakers, with the exception of Senate Democrats, tended to support more cuts than their senior colleagues, with the trend especially prominent among House Democrats and Senate Republicans.
- House members belonging to either the self-described moderate Democratic Blue Dog Coalition or the conservative Republican Study Committee tended to propose much less new spending and significantly more savings, respectively, than their party caucuses as a whole. However, those Representatives belonging to the Republican Main Street Partnership, another group purporting to espouse fiscal responsibility, posted a higher average spending agenda than the House GOP as a whole.
Bigger Cost-Drivers Avoided
Amid BillTally data that indicated rising interest in spending restraint among many lawmakers during 2009 and 2010, Brady noted most spending-reduction activity in the 111th Congress focused on nondefense discretionary spending. A major question now is whether the new Congress will expand the budget-cutting horizon to include some of the bigger cost-drivers such as entitlements.
“In the 111th Congress, more members actively sought out savings, but those pushing for higher spending without corresponding budget cuts ultimately had their way,” Brady said. “Taxpayers will soon know whether members of the 112th Congress intend to take a different direction and tackle our growing budget crisis head-on. As previous BillTally reports have amply shown, we likely won’t see a balanced federal budget until a majority of members balance their own spending agendas first.”
Doug Kellogg ([email protected]) is communications manager for the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Virginia.
BillTally Report 111-3, “Destination: Debt—How Unbalanced Agendas Led to Unbalanced Budgets in the 111th Congress”: http://www.ntu.org/ntuf/billtally-111-3.html.