Two Parties’ Congressional Spending Agendas Differ Radically, Study Finds

Published February 1, 2008

Members of the current, 110th Congress have proposed more spending cuts than in recent years, but fewer than one in seven representatives and fewer than one in 10 senators have overall spending agendas that would reduce the taxpayers’ tab, according to the latest BillTally report from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF).

“It is often said that money does not grow on trees, but based on Congress’s overall fiscal work product, many taxpayers would be led to believe that this adage never reached Capitol Hill,” said Demian Brady, senior policy analyst and BillTally director for NTUF, the nonpartisan research arm of the nonprofit, 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU).

Since 1991 BillTally has computed a “net annual agenda cost” for each representative and senator based on individual sponsorships or co-sponsorships of legislation. This Congress gave BillTally its busiest start yet, with 1,410 bills in seven months. And while lawmakers are introducing more bills that would save money, they’re also introducing more spending bills.

Little Savings, Lots of Spending

The average House Democrat proposed total spending reductions of $731 million, nearly matching the level proposed by the average Democrat in 2001, the last time Democrats averaged sizable spending cut proposals ($736 million that year).

The average House Republican proposed to reduce spending by nearly 10 times as much, $6.5 billion, the most since the 106th Congress. Senate Democrats and Republicans also called for the most savings since the 106th Congress: $453 million and $6.5 billion, respectively.

Despite introducing more savings legislation, the average House Democrat also sponsored 55 spending bills that would increase the federal budget by $471.3 billion, more than 600 times as much as they proposed to save. This is the highest level of new spending proposed in the opening months of Congress since the inaugural BillTally report 17 years ago.

The savings proposals of the typical House Democrat offset 0.2 percent of their spending-hike bills, resulting in a net agenda of $470.5 billion, the highest amount over the past nine Congresses, according to the study.

House Republicans on average sponsored savings of $6.5 billion, offsetting 70.6 percent of their proposed increases, for a net agenda of $2.7 billion, the lowest since the 106th Congress. Net spending agendas for the typical Senate Democrat and Republican were $48.4 billion and $696 million, respectively.

Hikes Still Dominate

“This interest in savings initiatives led to a decline in the ratio of spending increase to decrease bills, a retreat from peak levels reached by both chambers in years past,” Brady said.

That decline, however, more closely resembles a gradual slope rather than a precipice. “The ratio of decline has been slow because Representatives and Senators continue to overwhelm the savings bills with legislation to increase spending,” Brady added.

Representatives this year wrote a total of 40 savings bills among them, up 38 percent from the 29 of last Congress. Senators proposed 17 savings bills, a 55 percent boost from last year’s 11.

The ratio of spending-increase bills to spending-decrease bills may have eased from previous highs, but budget boosts still dominate members’ fiscal agendas. For every House bill that would reduce spending, there were 20 proposals to increase it. In the Senate, there were nearly 33 proposed spending increases for every suggested reduction.

More Interest in Savings

The number of representatives and senators with net agendas that would reduce total spending has increased slowly but surely since the 107th Congress, when there were none in the House and one in the Senate. This year, 65 representatives (all Republicans) called for net budget cuts, while 84 (all Democrats) called for net spending increases of at least $100 billion.

Nine senators (all Republicans) proposed net spending reductions, and three (two Democrats and one Independent) proposed net increases of $100 billion or more.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) was among the 65 Congressmen with net spending agendas that would reduce the budget.

“With high gas prices, rising health care costs, and economic insecurity, the last thing Michigan families need is a tax increase or out-of-control spending,” said Walberg, who sponsored bills to save taxpayers $17.15 billion.

“I came to Congress not to maintain the status quo in Washington, DC but to work for real, meaningful reform on how Congress spends taxpayer dollars,” Walberg said. “Though this Democratic Congress has shown little, if any, fiscal restraint or desire to control wasteful spending, I will continue to advocate for a disciplined federal budget and significant cuts in wasteful Washington spending.”

Big Increases Proposed

The study also found that sometimes a “do-nothing” Congress costs less.

If the House were to pass all the bills introduced during the first seven months of the 110th Congress, spending would increase by $1.5 trillion (excluding overlaps), or $42,840.50 per household. Senate bill sums would increase spending by $958 billion, or $26,239.54 per household.

“Unless lawmakers curb gratuitous spending, ‘shaking the money tree’ will turn into complete deforestation of our most precious economic resource–the dollars earned by hardworking taxpayers,” Brady concluded.

Natasha Altamirano ([email protected]) is communications manager for the National Taxpayers Union, a nonpartisan citizen group working for lower taxes and smaller government at all levels.

For more information …

“Shaking the Money Tree: The 110th Congress through the Fall Recess,” NTUF Policy Paper No. 164: