Government Bytes


Blue Dogs, Balanced Budgets, and BillTally

by Demian Brady / /

Center Forward, a policy organization formerly known as the Blue Dog Research Forum, started a $1.25 million ad blitz last weekend ads promoting a balanced budget. The ads ran in eight states in support of five Blue Dog Democrats – Reps. John Barrow (GA), Ben Chandler (KY), Joe Donnelly (IN),  Jim Matheson (UT), and Mike McIntyre (NC) – and three fiscally-conservative Republicans – Reps. Tim Huelskamp (KS) , David McKinley (WV), and Todd Platts (PA). All of these Members voted against Representative Paul Ryan’s budget resolution earlier this year. 

The seven ads that Center Forward posted online all have the same text, only the names are changed:

 “Americans know we’re drowning in debt. But some politicians just don’t get it. They want to essentially end Medicare. Increasing costs on seniors. [Representative’s Name] knows there’s a better way. It’s why [Representative’s Name] opposed a dangerous plan to privatize Medicare. And supports balancing the budget by cutting wasteful spending - while protecting Medicare for those who’ve earned it after a lifetime of hard work. Tell [Representative’s Name] to keep balancing the budget - the right way.”

A balanced budget is certainly a laudable goal that most people support. The question is, how do we go about balancing it? The ads only say “the right way” and mention reducing wasteful spending. Cutting wasteful spending would be a good start – there are too many reports of duplicative programs and mis-spent funds, either through error or outright fraud – but there isn’t enough money there to balance the budget. Entitlement reform remains the key to controlling long-term deficits.

And it is also harder for Members to cut the budget when they also happen to be supporters of new spending, which is the case for four of the Democratic Representatives touted in the ads. The net effect of the bills that they have sponsored or cosponsored in Congress would be to increase spending. These are the findings of NTUF’s BillTally program, the most methodical and comprehensive study of Congressional spending legislation. BillTally computes a “net annual agenda” based on each Senator’s or Representative’s individual sponsorship or co-sponsorship of legislation. This unique approach provides an in-depth look at the fiscal behavior of lawmakers, free from the influence of committees, party leaders, and rules surrounding floor votes.

Only one of the Blue Dogs, Representative Matheson, was a “net cutter” last year: if the bills he supported became law, spending would be cut by nearly $900 million. The other Blue Dogs featured in the ads about balancing the budget would each increase spending, ranging from $5.9 billion to $25.2 billion. All three of the Republicans featured in the campaign were net cutters, calling for spending reductions ranging from $134.9 billion to $221.2 billion.



 When politicians talk about balancing the budget yet support legislation with net spending increases, hold on to your wallets because there just might be tax hikes coming your way.

The full list of bills with cost estimates supported by each Member of the House and Senate is available on our website. Find out if your Representative and Senators are net cutters!