Tax Relief Opponents Have Agendas of Their Own

Published June 1, 2004

According to a study released by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) on May 3, “lawmakers who opposed House bill H.R. 4181 [in late April] to make marriage penalty tax relief permanent on the basis of deficit fears were concealing fiscal agendas of a far different kind.” NTUF found 22 of the 95 House Members who opposed the legislation had supported bills that would increase federal spending by more than $1.5 trillion per year.

“Many opponents of H.R. 4181 framed their arguments in terms of fiscal responsibility,” said NTUF President John Berthoud, author of the study. “If we take these 95 Members at their word, and understand them to be concerned about fiscal imbalance, we might imagine that they would show prudence on the spending side of the ledger as well. Unfortunately this is not the case.”

To determine the dollar cost of the 95 House Members’ legislative agendas, Berthoud used NTUF’s BillTally cost accounting system, which computes a net annual agenda for each Member of Congress and has done so since 1991. BillTally 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 surrounding floor votes.

Among Berthoud’s findings:

  • On average, the net agendas of the 95 marriage tax relief opponents would increase federal spending by $583 billion per year ($5.83 trillion over 10 years). By contrast, the 10-year “cost” to eliminate the marriage penalty was $105 billion, less than 2 percent of their spending agendas. Despite Congress’s tendency to define tax reduction as a “cost,” many taxpayers may not consider keeping more of their money a “cost” at all.
  • The average Member (of the 95 opponents) sponsored or cosponsored more than 75 bills to increase federal spending in 2003, compared to merely one bill to cut federal spending during that period.
  • Twenty-two of the 95 Members had net agendas to increase federal spending by more than $1.5 trillion per year–more than the entire federal government spent just 10 years ago.

Berthoud observed that opponents of H.R. 4181 support the contention by some budget experts that when lawmakers debate fiscal policy, and particularly tax cuts, they are more concerned about having resources to distribute to their constituents via government programs than just the conventional balance of payments.

“It seems reasonable to conclude that opponents of H.R. 4181 were less concerned about the bill’s effect on deficits and more concerned about Washington losing dollars that it could otherwise spend on building bigger government,” Berthoud concluded.

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

Peter J. Sepp is vice president for communications for the National Taxpayers Union. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

NTUF Issue Brief 147, “Opponents of Marriage Penalty Relief: What’s Their Real Agenda?” and BillTally Policy Paper 150, “Operation Enduring Deficits: Marshalling Taxpayer Dollars into New Programs,” are available online at