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The 110th Congress: Meet the New Boss ... Same as the Old Boss?
NTUF Policy Paper 166 -- BillTally Report 110-3
October 29, 2009
By Demian Brady
One of the few rock-and-roll ballads to transcend the generations is The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." Aside from serving as the current opening theme for a television crime series, the song has achieved immortality in popular culture for the final stanza of its lyrics: "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss."
Lately more than a few taxpayers may be recalling this tune when considering the switch of party control in Congress to completely Democratic. The year 2007 saw the return of the Democrats as the majority party in both Chambers for the first time in 16 years. The newly empowered Democrats vowed to put an end to the budget policies of the previous Republican majority and manage the nation's affairs in a "fiscally responsible" way.
One visible sign of public skepticism over this pledge is the widespread Tea Party movement, whose strength helped to support last month's largest-ever protest by fiscal conservatives in Washington, DC. But can this political notion that the Congress's budgetary work product has not changed a great deal under the new management be quantified? The research that follows provides some solid clues.
This report summarizes data from NTUF's BillTally accounting software, which studies the cost or savings of all legislation introduced in the 110th Congress that affects federal 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 1,634 House bills and 1,126 Senate bills under BillTally accounting rules that prevent the double-counting of overlapping proposals. Each Congressional office reviewed all sponsorship and cost data in this report confidentially prior to publication. Appendix A lists all Members alphabetically, Appendix B lists Members by state delegation, and Appendix C provides a thorough explanation of the BillTally methodology.
BillTally results show that as in past Congresses, the legislative agendas compiled by the Members of the House and Senate during 2007 and 2008 prioritized spending increases over decreases. The typical lawmaker, regardless of party identification, continued to push for legislation that would expand government. Likewise, it is not surprising that spending bills far outnumbered savings bills. There were small signs, however, that Members may be changing their ways: more Representatives added at least one savings bill to their agendas than they did in the 109th Congress, and the dollar amount of savings sponsored by the typical Congressman was higher than it had been in several years. Yet, this greater prevalence of "offsets" still barely begins to dent the total amount of spending increases that were supported. During the 110th Congress, taxpayers may have experienced a distinct sense of déjˆ vu; the budget status quo prevailed, and spending trumped saving.
I. Key Findings
II. Analysis of Findings
A. Members' Wish Lists
NTUF examines nearly every bill introduced in each Session of Congress to determine its effect on federal outlays. After gathering this data, the cost estimates are matched up with the bills sponsored by each Member of Congress. A Senator's or Representative's record of authored and sponsored bills can be viewed as his or her legislative "wish list," free from the pressure of party leaders that normally comes with the voting process. By tabulating the cost and/or savings of each Member's agenda, taxpayers and constituents can gain a better understanding of the policy interests as well as the guiding budgetary philosophies of their elected representatives.
In terms of writing legislation, lawmakers were very prolific in the 110th Congress. Between the House and the Senate combined, Members authored and introduced 11,081 bills. Of these, cost estimates were obtainable for only 2,760 bills – 25 percent of the total introduced during the two Sessions of the Congress. The number of scored bills has risen by 129 percent since the 104th Congress when the fewest bills were scored (1,206). Compared to the 109th, during which 2,433 bills were scored, there were 13 percent more bills with cost estimates in the 110th. Why such a jump in bills with estimates? Congress introduced 521 more bills than in the 109th Congress, and compared to the 104th Congress, there were 4,536 more bills. NTUF was also able to score or obtain estimates for a higher percentage of bills. In the 104th Congress, estimates were obtainable for 18 percent of bills, compared to 21.9 percent in the 109th, and 25 percent in the 110th.
Despite Congress's burgeoning workload and the total increase in the number of scored bills, fewer savings bills were introduced. There were a total of 105 cut proposals (69 in the House and 36 in the Senate) down from 116 in the 109th Congress. After peaking in the 103rd Congress at 639, the number of cut bills introduced in Congress steadily declined until the low mark was set in the 107th Congress at 48 in the House and 23 in the Senate. Not coincidentally, the 107th also set the high water mark for the ratio of increase bills to decrease bills at 23:1 in the House and 36:1 in the Senate. Over the next few Congresses, the quantity of cuts gradually increased, but that trend was reversed in the 110th.
It appears that the typical Member's interest in finding more ways to reduce the budget remains weak. The most savings bills from either chamber were introduced in the 103rd Congress. During that Congress, Representatives authored 458 savings bills – seven times as many as the 69 cut proposed in the 110th Congress. Senators drafted 181 savings proposals in the 103rd – five times as many as the 36 they managed to offer in the 110th.
The growth in legislation (discussed above) and the net cost of legislation (discussed below) show that most Members of Congress have placed a higher priority on expanding the government than easing its cost to taxpayers. Compared to the previous Congress, in the House the number of spending bills increased by 233, or 17 percent, and the number of cut bills dipped by three, a 4 percent drop. In the Senate, there were 105 more spending bills, an 11 percent increase, and eight fewer savings proposals, a drop of 18 percent. The House and Senate both introduced the fewest spending bills in the 104th Congress (496 and 278, respectively). Compared to that, the 110th saw a three-fold increase in spending bills in the House and a nearly four-fold increase in the Senate. For each House bill to cut spending in the 110th Congress, there were nearly 23 bills to increase spending. In the Senate, the ratio of increases to cuts swelled to 30:1.
The amount of spending under consideration is large by any measurement. If each of the House increase bills had become law, spending would increase by $2.23 trillion (overlapping bills are excluded). The passage of the savings bills would subtract $57.5 billion – an offset of 2.5 percent – for a net of $2.2 trillion. This would have meant an increase in federal outlays of $19,383 per household. The Senate spending bills would have added $1.5 trillion to federal outlays, 5.7 percent of which was offset by $83.6 billion in savings, for a net of $1.4 trillion. This equates to an extra $12,002 per household.
B. Members' Spending Agendas
Despite the increase in the ratio of spending bills to savings discussed in the previous section, the typical Congressman, regardless of party, sponsored a higher dollar amount of savings than in the previous Congress. However, this somewhat greater prevalence of spending cuts was still far exceeded by calls for new spending. The average Member backed a mix of legislation which, if enacted, would result in higher spending that would have to be financed through higher taxes or more federal debt.
Tables 2 and 3 show the cost of the bills sponsored or cosponsored by the average Republican and Democrat in each chamber. With the exception of House Democrats, Members compiled larger net agendas than they did in the previous Congress. In the 109th, the average Democrat would have offset just 0.1 percent of their increases. This figure rose to 0.2 percent in the 110th. They more than doubled their savings and also had fewer net increases overall. In comparison to the last Congress, the amount of increase they called for dropped by $140.2 billion, to $626.1 billion. The $1.4 billion in savings they proposed bring the Democrats' net agenda to $624.7 billion, down from $765.8 billion previously.
In all of Congress, House Republicans, on average, produced the lowest net agenda. The increase bills they supported would cost $34.4 billion. More than one-fifth of this amount was offset by $7.6 billion worth of reductions, for a net agenda of $26.7 billion. Even though they proposed more savings than they did in the 109th, their net agenda inflated because of the amount of new spending hikes they supported. The years when the Republicans' average net agenda would have led to an overall reduction in outlays is but a distant memory.
The net agendas of the average Senator saw a marked upswing, particularly for the typical Republican. Their net agenda jumped from $21 billion in the 109th Congress to $118 billion in the 110th. Even though they proposed more savings ($6.7 billion, up from $6 billion), the dramatic rise in proposed spending hikes, which swelled from $27 billion to $124.9 billion, meant that the amount of outlays they would offset without tax increases or deficits plunged. Part of this trend may be explained by rising interest among GOP Senators for cap-and-trade and health care legislation, which involved tens to hundreds of billions in additional outlays. Nonetheless, the typical Republican in the 110th Senate had a costlier agenda than the typical Democrat in the 109th Senate.
The average Senate Democrat proposed savings worth $1 billion ($719 million more than in the 109th), but these budget cuts were outweighed by $194.4 billion in spending hikes (up $76.5 billion from the previous Congress). The proposed increases reached the highest level since the 103rd Congress when the typical Democrat called for $212.9 billion in new outlays. But during that Congress, they would have offset a greater percentage of the spending with budget cuts. In the 110th, just one half of a percentage-point of the increases would be offset. The net agenda of the average Senate Democrat reached a new high at $193.3 billion.
C. Sponsorship Rates
Why did the average level of sponsored savings increase despite the fact that the ratio of increase bills to decrease bills became unbalanced? In the House, more Members were sponsoring or cosponsoring outlay savings. The number of Representatives who did not sponsor any reductions dropped from 24 in the 109th Congress to nine in the 110th. Given that a Member can cosponsor as many bills as he or she wishes, the total number of sponsorships of cut bills by all Representatives combined grew from 1,599 in the 109th to 2,441 in the 110th Congress (see Table 4). All of the growth was among Democrats, as fewer Republicans actually sponsored cuts.
In the upper chamber, the average dollar amount of savings that lawmakers supported rose, even though fewer Senators sponsored cutting legislation (see Table 4). Total sponsorships plummeted by over one-third from 337 to 215. The sponsorships of savings legislation were less widely distributed: In the 110th, there were 17 Senators who did not sponsor a single cut bill whereas in the 109th, every Senator backed at least one. The average savings increased because greater reductions were proposed: In the 110th, if all the savings bills (excluding overlapping legislation) were passed into law, spending would decline by $83.6 billion, compared to a reduction of $64.4 billion in the 109th Congress.
In either chamber, the average Democrat sponsored more cut bills in number than the average Republican – seven vs. four respectively in the House, and three vs. one in the Senate (see Table 6) But in general, the dollar amounts of savings sought by the average Republicans were larger than their Democratic colleagues.
D. The Outliers
Table 7 shows that the two chambers moved in opposite directions as far as individuals on both ends of the budget spectrum were concerned. The number of Members with net spending agendas greater than $100 billion declined slightly in the House, but jumped in the Senate. Over one-third of the House and nearly half of the Senate called for spending increases over $100 billion. At the other end of the agenda scale, the ranks of Representatives who backed legislation that would on net reduce federal spending grew for the third consecutive Congress. However, one fewer Senator called for a net reduction in outlays.
These disparities are not difficult to explain. On average, each Representative sponsored 14.5 bills to increase spending for each bill they supported to cut spending. Twenty-four Members sponsored 200 or more spending bills, including one Member who sponsored or cosponsored 332 bills to increase outlays. As for savings bills, there were five Members who supported at least fifteen bills to cut spending.
The spending-to-cut ratio was larger for the average Senator, who backed 41.5 increase bills for each savings bill. Again perhaps contrary to widely-held perceptions of the two major political parties, the high Senate ratio is accounted for mainly by the Republicans who on average sponsored just one of the 36 cut bills introduced in the 110th Congress. Four Senators backed more than 200 spending bills while the most savings bills supported were eight (just two Senators cosponsored this many reductions).
E. Freshman vs. Returning Members
The data in Table 8 shows that in general, the newcomers to the House backed smaller spending agendas than their returning colleagues. This difference was most glaring among the Republicans. The average returning Republican sponsored more spending and less savings than the average newcomer Republican and also compiled a net spending agenda that was seven times larger. While the typical Democratic freshman class sponsored, on average, far more spending than the Republican freshmen ($421.1 billion vs. $4 billion, respectively), they could not keep up with their returning Democratic colleagues who proposed a net spending agenda that was 61 percent higher at $678.5 billion.
The results were not as clear-cut in the Senate. Even though incoming Senators sponsored fewer savings overall, the net spending agenda of the Democratic freshman class ($110 billion) was almost half as much as the incumbent Democratic Senators ($209.6 billion). The three Republican freshmen break from the trend by sponsoring more spending (on average, $179.4 billion). This figure was higher than that of their returning intraparty colleagues, who called for a net hike of $114.3 billion.
F. Fiscally-Related Member Caucuses
Table 9 compares the average spending agendas of Members of House caucuses that espouse fiscal discipline for their respective parties. Caucuses, or Congressional Member organizations, refer to Members who formally join together outside of the committee structure of Congress to exchange information and work toward shared objectives. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) states that it is dedicated to "a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government." On its website, the Blue Dog Coalition (BDC) states that one of its top priorities "… will be to refocus Congress on balancing the budget and ridding taxpayers of the burden the debt places on them." A related third caucus, the Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP), highlights a quote from George Washington on its website proclaiming that "… the most important institutional value is fiscal discipline."
Since the three caucuses seem to share at least some fiscal objectives, it may be surprising that there is quite a bit of range in the net agendas produced by the average Member of each of these organizations. Among these groups, the RSC produced by far the lowest net agenda, at $5.5 billion. Members of the RMSP, on average, sponsored legislation that would increase spending by $70 billion. Both caucuses would be outspent by the average Blue Dog, who sponsored legislation that would boost spending by $179.8 billion – still, about one-fourth the size of other Democrats' net agendas.
The 110th Congress came to a startling end that was reminiscent of The Who's concerts, where band members would smash their instruments. The housing market, largely fueled by cheap loans backed by government-sponsored enterprises, finally crashed, sending shockwaves through the economy and resulting in the demise of several established Wall Street firms. The Bush Administration and leaders in the House and Senate forced through a massive government bailout of the financial sector through the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program, tearing a new hole in the budget. The 111th Congress kicked off with more bailouts and a $787 billion stimulus package.
Given the large discrepancy between the amount and cost of new spending proposals versus that of savings proposals, any changes in Congress's legislative output are likely to be gradual rather than sudden. After all, it has been over 10 years since the last time the average Member of either party completed a Session with a net agenda to cut spending. Will the chorus of less-patient taxpayers singing the political equivalent of "Won't Get Fooled Again" grow louder in coming months? Perhaps Congress's future performance on the fiscal stage will be the deciding factor.
 Members who resigned or did not serve at least a complete Session were excluded from the study.
 Regular appropriations bills are excluded. For more information, see the Methodology in Appendix C.
 "Résumé of Congressional Activity: First Session of the One Hundred Tenth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest, February, 4, 2008, p. D80. "Interim Résumé of Congressional Activity: Second Session of the One Hundred Tenth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest, January 2, 2009, p. D1336.
 "Final Résumé of Congressional Activity: for the First Session of the One Hundred Ninth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest, March, 2, 2006, p. D158. "Final Résumé of Congressional Activity: Second Session of the One Hundred Ninth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest, p. D1. "Résumé of Congressional Activity: Second Session of the One Hundred Fourth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest, January 7, 1997, P. D571. Note, this document "gives a comprehensive résumé of all legislative business transacted by the House and Senate from January 4, 1995 through October 4, 1996.
 "Households, Families, Subfamilies, and Married Couples: 1980 to 2007," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2009 (128th edition), U.S. Census Bureau (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008), Table 58.
 Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) This data should not be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress or as reflecting on a Member's fitness to serve.
 Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). This data should not be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress or as reflecting on a Member's fitness to serve.
 The four Senators backing over 200 bills were: Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The Senators cosponsoring over 200 reductions were: Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI). This data should not be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress or as reflecting on a Member's fitness to serve.
 The Republican Main Street Partnership includes Members from both Chambers, as well as officials at the state level. These figures are based only on RMSP Members serving in the House.