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BillTally Report 111-1
Seeking the Budget "Blowout Preventer"
June 3, 2010
By Demian Brady
The disastrous oil leak ongoing since April in the Gulf of Mexico has the potential to affect local ecosystems for quite some time. The firm BP was unable to contain the underwater gusher after a safeguard mechanism known as a "blowout preventer" failed to activate. Yet, an even larger leak has been hemorrhaging for several years – the federal budget that has burst under the pressure of overspending with no effective "blowout preventer" of its own. While Gulf states are braced for a black tide of oil, future generations face a red tide of debt from unbalanced budgets and unfunded liabilities. The comparison is not trivial: this year's budget projects a deficit of $1.6 trillion, racking up nearly $4.4 billion of debt per day. In addition, the government will borrow forty-one cents out of each dollar spent. In late May, BP, under the oversight of several federal entities, began working on what the New York Times called an "audacious plan" to stop the leak. This included the failed "top kill" option. But as Members of Congress wave fingers at oil company officials in front of approving TV cameras, how are they responding to control the leak in the budget? The latest report from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation's (NTUF) BillTally project shows some efforts being made, but it is questionable whether taxpayers would call those efforts "audacious."
This report summarizes data from NTUF's BillTally accounting software, which studied the 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 this report were reviewed confidentially by each congressional office prior to publication. Appendix A lists all Members alphabetically, Appendix B lists Members by state delegation, and Appendix C gives a thorough explanation of the BillTally methodology.
I. Data Highlights
II. Analysis of Findings
A. Bill Introduction Rates
It should be no surprise that Representatives and Senators are collectively more likely to draft legislation that calls for spending increases rather than cuts. As Table 1 shows, this has been the trend since 102nd Congress, 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.
For each House bill to cut spending in the First Session of the 111th Congress, Members introduced nearly 16 bills that would increase spending. The House ratio of increases to decreases dropped by nearly 28 percent from the last Congress (22 to 1), and is now at its lowest level since the 106th Congress, when it stood at 10 to 1. The number of savings bills climbed from 50 to 63, a 26 percent boost. The number of cut bills has grown in each Congress since the 108th, which had the fewest House cut proposals BillTally ever identified (35). The 104th Congress holds the record for the most cut proposals with 250, four times as many as during the current Congress.
During the First Session of the 110th Congress, Representatives introduced the most bills to increase spending, 1,078. In 2009, Members proposed 981 spending increases, nine percent fewer than the last Congress but still second-highest overall.
Similar developments also occurred in the Senate. The ratio of increase bills to cut bills shrunk by 39 percent, from nearly 30:1 in the 110th Congress to 18:1 last year. Thus, 2009 marked a continuing trend of decline for this ratio from its height of 32:1 in the 108th Congress.
Of the 654 Senate bills with cost estimates introduced in the First Session, 34 would decrease spending, up 36 percent from the 25 cut bills in the previous Congress. This was also the most savings bills introduced in the Upper Chamber since the First Session of the 106th Congress. The 103rd Congress had the most cut bills (124), nearly four times as many as during the 111th Congress.
B. Cost of All Unique Bills by Chamber
The fiscal impact of all the legislation within a Chamber can be determined by adding up the cost and savings of the proposals, while also excluding overlapping legislation. Under BillTally's methodology, if a Member is a sponsor of multiple bills that would achieve the same purpose, only one of them will be counted toward his or her net spending agenda. 
C. Party Averages
The typical Member of the House backed less spending than in the previous Congress (see Table 2, below). But whereas Democrats, on average, would offset a small portion of their spending hikes with corresponding spending reductions, the average Republican called for more spending cuts than increases – an outcome that has not been seen in BillTally data in many years.
The amount of increases that House Democrats would offset with cuts stood at less than half a percentage point, which is actually the highest offset rate since the 106th Congress (when the average House Democrat offset nearly five percent of spending increases with corresponding cuts). The highest offset level was reached in the 103rd Congress, when the typical House Democrat sponsored $22.2 billion in cuts, offsetting nearly eight percent of their spending proposals that year. The average Democrat sponsored $2.3 billion in spending cuts, a notable development versus the 109th Congress (when the figure was only $166 million in savings), and the most since the 105th Congress. Their average net agenda, which peaked in the 109th Congress at $547.4 billion, has dropped for the second consecutive Congress and would increase outlays by $500.2 billion.
For the first time since the 106th Congress, the average House Republican called for more spending cuts than increases. If all of the bills sponsored by the average House Republican became law, federal outlays would decline by $45.3 billion. Even though the typical House Republican sponsored nearly twice as many increases than in the previous Congress, the amount of offsetting savings leaped from $7.0 billion in the 110th Congress's First Session, to $72.0 billion in 2009. This is the biggest jump ever tracked by the BillTally program.
Republicans sponsored, on average, 24 bills to increase outlays and six savings bills; so their agenda declined primarily because of a few but potentially large savings proposals. These included the establishment of discretionary spending caps (one would save $131.4 billion, the other would save $43.9 billion); repeal of unobligated "stimulus" funds ($91.6 billion as of last winter); across-the-board rescissions in non-defense, non-homeland security discretionary spending ($28.2 billion); and, repeal of authority to extend the Troubled Asset Relief Program ($27.9 billion).
Unlike in the House, where the average Member sponsored less net spending than during the previous Congress, the average Senator – regardless of party – sponsored a larger net spending agenda in the 111th compared to the 110th (see Table 3, below). On the plus side for budget-conscious taxpayers, the amount of savings sponsored by the average Democrat increased from $190 million in the 109th Congress to $730 million in the 110th, and then jumped to $3.3 billion in the first year of the current Congress. This helped raise the share of spending increases that would be offset with cuts elsewhere, to 2.4 percent. On the other hand, Democrats proposed increases totaling $137 billion, more than doubling the amount in the previous Congress. In total, the average Democrat compiled a net agenda to increase spending by $133.7 billion, more than twice as much as during the First Session of the 110th Congress, and the third-highest overall for the party in the Senate.
The amount of spending increases the average Republican Senator proposed swelled from $13.1 billion to $76.3 billion. This is the most spending the typical Republican Senator has ever sponsored, topping the previous record of $42.3 billion in the 103rd Congress. In that Congress, greater offsets were pursued – the typical Republican Senator proposed to cut outlays by $62.9 billion, more than offsetting the proposed increases. During the opening of this Congress, the average Republican Senator proposed $25.4 billion in cuts, offsetting about one-third of their spending hikes. The net spending agenda of the average Republican in the Senate ($50.9 billion) was eight times larger than in the previous Congress, $6.5 billion. This is attributable to five Republicans' decisions to cosponsor a bill that would establish a (mandatory) Healthy Americans Private Insurance Plan ($527.7 billion).
D. The Outliers
Members' bill sponsorship activity in the 111th Congress produced some interesting swings among the "outliers" (those with the largest agendas and those with negative agendas). In the House and Senate the numbers of "net cutters" reached their highest levels in nearly 15 years, but the number of Members with agendas to increase spending by at least $100 billion was also on the upturn.
The number of net cutters in the House more than doubled from a previous level of 55 to 119 (see Figure 1, below). That figure represents less than a third (27 percent) of House Members included in the study. Four of these were Democrats; the remainder consisted of Republicans. This was the most net cutters since the 104th Congress, when there were 233. The Senate saw the ranks of net cutters increase from 11 in the 110th Congress to 24 (including one Democrat), also the most since the 104th Congress when three-fourths of Senators proposed net agendas to reduce spending (see Figure 2, below).
At the other edge of the spending spectrum, the number of Representatives and Senators whose agendas topped $100 billion also rose to the highest level in several years: to 128 in the House (including two Republicans), and 24 in the Senate (including five Republicans and two Independents).
E. Freshman vs. Returning Members
Do freshman lawmakers propose less spending than their longer-serving colleagues? As Table 4 (above) shows, with the exception of Senate Democrats, they do – incidentally, a result also seen in the data from First Session of the 110th Congress. On average, newcomers to the House had net agendas less than half the cost of returning Representatives. The typical freshman Democrat would offset two percent of their spending compared to an offset rate of a third of a percent for returning Democrats. The typical House Republican had a net agenda to reduce spending, but freshmen on average would cut more from the budget.
Senate freshman Democrats proposed more spending ($161.6 billion) than returning Democrats ($127.8 billion). Eight of the ten freshmen had net agendas lower than the average Democrat, while the other two had the third and fourth largest spending agendas within their party. The two freshman Republicans were among the 24 Senators with net agendas to cut spending.
F. Congressional Caucuses
Once elected to Congress, a Representative has the option to join any of several Member caucuses that organize around a particular issue area and/or political philosophy. In these caucuses, Members can share ideas and coordinate strategies to promote or oppose particular legislation. Two such caucuses, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition (BDC), both espouse fiscal discipline for their respective parties. The RSC states that it is dedicated to "a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government."[ii] On its website, the BDC states that its members are "independent voices for fiscal responsibility and accountability" and the coalition also outlines "15 steps that can be taken to put the country back on a path to balance [sic] budgets and long term fiscal sustainability."[iii] A related third caucus, the Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP),[iv] is "dedicated to promoting and building a pragmatic, thoughtful, fiscally conservative, and inclusive 'Governing Majority.'"[v] The Partnership's mission page contends that its members are "fiscally conservative deficit hawks."[vi]
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which claims to be the largest caucus within the general Democratic Caucus, is a group that makes no claim to "fiscal discipline" but instead favors "economic justice."[vii] The average member of the CPC sponsored 81 bills to increase spending and four bills to cut spending, for a net agenda of nearly $1.1 trillion.
There are several contributing factors to our government's fiscal problems, but chief among them is Congress's willful habit of continually spending more than the government receives in revenue. Unlike the BP rig, the budget process has no safeguards to contain spending, but as was seen in the Gulf, sometimes safety mechanisms themselves are overwhelmed. In Washington, sometimes they're deliberately overridden. Congress's previous spending caps, which proved so porous as to allow tens of billions of dollars to slip past them, are a case in point.
Will Congress ever put in place stronger fiscal "blowout preventers" such as a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution? As the BillTally data seem to indicate, lawmakers have begun looking in greater earnest for ways to control the leaking budget. Are they acting in time to stave off a disaster for the nation's balance sheet? Taxpayers are left to wonder.
Demian S. Brady
Research was compiled with the assistance of Policy Analyst Dan Barrett and Associate Policy Analysts Antonie Hodge, Alecia Jefferson, Drew Lewis, Cameron Nelson, and Emily Opalak.
Appendix A - All Members alphabetically
Appendix B - Members by state delegation
Appendix C - Methodology
Since the BillTally program offsets House and Senate bills separately and the two Chambers often take up identical or similar pieces of legislation, adding up these amounts would not give the cost of all bills considered in the First Session of the 111th Congress.
Totals may not add due to rounding.
The TARP estimate is based on the Congressional Budget Office's Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update from August, 2009 (http://cbo.gov/ftpdocs/105xx/doc10521/08-25-BudgetUpdate.pdf). The actual savings could be much smaller if more loans are paid back (the data in the above report reflected a 34.6 percent subsidy rate for TARP) or if unobligated funds remain unspent.
[i]U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010 (129th Edition), Washington, DC, 2009, Table 59, "Households, Families, Subfamilies, and Married Couples: 1980 to 2008," http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2010/tables/10s0059.pdf.
[iv]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.