Study Tallies Congress’s Big-Spending Ways

Published July 14, 2010

Congress’s decade-long trend of proposing more federal spending-increase legislation appears to have slowed, but it’s unclear whether the House and Senate will return to the days when spending-cut bills came close to balancing their agendas.

This is but one finding among historical data compiled in the latest BillTally study from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF).

Like the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal budget has burst under the pressure of overspending with no effective “blowout preventer,” and as a result, future generations face a red tide of debt from unbalanced budgets and unfunded liabilities, the study concludes.

This year’s federal budget projects a deficit of $1.6 trillion, racking up nearly $4.4 billion of debt per day. In addition, the government will borrow 41 cents of each dollar spent.

The latest report from the NTUF’s BillTally project shows Congress making some efforts to control the gusher, but these efforts are vastly outnumbered by proposals to increase spending even more.

NTUF used its BillTally accounting software to study the expected cost or savings of all legislation introduced in the First Session of the 111th Congress that affects spending by at least $1 million. Agenda totals for individual lawmakers were developed by cross-indexing their sponsorship and cosponsorship records with cost estimates for 1,044 House bills and 654 Senate bills, under BillTally accounting rules that prevent the double-counting of overlapping proposals.

All sponsorship and cost data in the report were reviewed confidentially by each congressional office prior to publication.

Spending Hikes Dominate
Here are some data highlights from the study:

  • Representatives wrote 981 bills to raise federal spending and 63 bills to reduce it. Senators drafted 620 increase bills and 34 savings bills. This constituted the largest number of savings bills introduced in the House since the 105th Congress (January 1997 to January 1999), and the most in the Senate since the 106th (January 1999 to January 2001).
  • Each bill in the House to cut spending was vastly outnumbered by 16 bills to increase it. The ratio of increases to cuts was 18 to 1 in the Senate. Even so, in both chambers this ratio represents a significant decline from the 110th Congress.
  • Excluding overlapping legislation, if each bill in the House were to become law, spending would increase by $1.845 trillion, or $15,802 per household. If each bill in the Senate were to become law, spending would increase by $1.064 trillion, $9,115 per household.
  • The typical House Democrat backed increases totaling $502.5 billion, 0.46 percent of which would be offset by savings of $2.3 billion, for a net agenda of $500.2 billion.
  • For the first time since the 106th Congress, the typical House Republican sponsored more spending cuts than increases. If this average spending agenda were enacted, outlays would decrease by $45.3 billion.
  • The net agenda of the typical Senate Democrat grew from $59.2 billion in the 110th Congress to $133.7 billion this Congress. On average, Senate Democrats proposed spending cuts of $3.3 billion, which would offset 2.4 percent of their sponsored increases.
  • Republican Senators, on average, supported spending hikes of $76.3 billion, a third of which would be offset by $25.4 billion in savings. This constitutes a net spending agenda of $50.9 billion, the highest amount for Republicans in the past 10 Congresses.
  • The 111th Congress had the most “net cutters” since the 104th Congress (January 1995 to Jaunary 1997). The number of Members whose net agenda would reduce spending stood at 119 in the House and 24 in the Senate, more than twice as many as in the last Congress. However, the ranks of Members with agendas greater than $100 billion grew from 107 to 128 in the House and tripled to 24 in the Senate.
  • With the exception of incoming Democrats in the Senate, the typical freshman sponsored less spending and greater savings than their more senior colleagues.
  • Members of the Republican Study Committee and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, two of the self-identified “fiscally conservative” caucuses in the House, compiled lower net spending agendas than other Members of Congress in their respective parties.
  • Although the average House Republican was a net cutter, the typical member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which claims to be composed of “fiscally conservative deficit hawks,” compiled an average net agenda to increase spending by $40.6 billion.

Slowdown in Increases
It should be no surprise that Representatives and Senators are collectively more likely to draft legislation that calls for spending increases rather than cuts. This has been the trend since the 102nd Congress (January 1991 to January 1993), and one that continues in the 111th Congress.

But for the first time in several years, the ratio of increases to cuts saw a relatively large simultaneous drop in both Chambers as Members drafted more savings bills and fewer spending bills.

Demian Brady ([email protected]) is a senior policy analyst for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

Internet Info

The National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s BillTally Report 111-1, Policy Paper No. 167: