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Policy Paper


The First Session of the 110th Congress: Moving in Place or Forever Behind?
NTUF Policy Paper 165 -- BillTally Report 110-2

July 22, 2008
By Demian Brady

There is a classic Greek paradox used by the philosopher Zeno to argue that motion is impossible because before a body could reach an ultimate destination, it first must get halfway to that point. Before the halfway point is reached, a body would first have to get to one-quarter of the distance, and so on and so on. If motion were actually made with this degree of incrementalism, nobody would get anywhere! Given recent budgetary trends and legislative behavior, taxpayers may be led to think that in regard to movement toward a fiscally disciplined balanced budget, Congress is bringing Zeno's famous paradox to life: Steps with one foot down the path to budget savings are tripped up by strides in the opposite direction. Still, 13 years ago, Congress approved a budget that actually decreased discretionary spending from the previous year, so we have evidence that fiscal discipline is possible. While there are some signs that more lawmakers in the 110th Congress are seeking out ways to trim expenditures, these steps have been halting and erratic – the majority of Congressional Members sponsor a mix of legislation that would, on net, result in new spending, thereby increasing the strain on the budget and the burden on taxpayers.

This report summarizes data from NTUF's BillTally accounting software, which since 1991 has examined nearly every piece of legislation introduced in Congress in order to identify those with a cost or savings that affects annual federal spending by at least $1 million.[1]  Agenda totals for individual lawmakers are derived by cross-indexing their sponsorship and cosponsorship records with cost estimates for 1,128 House bills and 770 Senate bills under BillTally accounting rules that prevent the double counting of overlapping proposals.[2]  All sponsorship and cost data in this report were reviewed confidentially by each Congressional office prior to publication.  Appendix A lists all Members alphabetically with the number of spending and saving bills they introduced; Appendix B lists Members by state delegation; and, Appendix C gives a thorough explanation of the BillTally methodology.

 

I.   Data Highlights

  • Although the number of savings bills introduced in the First Session of the 110th Congress was up compared to the last Congress, proposals to boost spending continue to outpace proposals to reduce spending. The number of House spending-hike bills rose by over one-third since the last Congress to 1,078, while the Senate drafted 745 spending bills – up nearly 25 percent since the 109th Congress.
  • For each bill to lower spending introduced in the House, there were 22 bills to raise spending.  For each bill to reduce spending introduced in the Senate, 30 would increase spending.
  • The average Representative backed an agenda of 59 increase bills versus four savings bills. The average Senator supported 55 bills calling for more spending, and two that would lead to savings.
  • Excluding overlapping legislation, if the House passed all of the bills introduced during 2007, federal outlays would increase by $1.7 trillion – or $14,802 per household.[3] In the Senate, the sum of all the non-overlapping bills would add up to $1.1 trillion worth of new spending, or $9,857 per household.
  • The typical House Member produced a smaller net agenda than during the 109th Congress, but the rate of reduction varied by party. The typical House Democrat would offset 0.18 percent of his or her proposed increases for a net spending agenda of $547 billion – $399 million less spending than in the 109th. House Republicans opted for spending cuts of $7 billion, offsetting half their $13.8 billion in spending hikes. Their average net spending agenda of $6.8 billion was $4.8 billion less than in the 109th Congress.
  • The typical Senator, regardless of party, also amplified their calls for savings from previous levels, but Senate Democrats broke the trend of Members' offering a lower net spending agenda. The typical Senate Democrat sponsored $730 million in savings, which offset 1.22 percent of the proposed $59.9 billion in spending increases. The average Republican sponsored or cosponsored legislation that would increase spending by $13.1 billion, with half of this offset by $6.5 billion in spending reductions. The Senate Republican net agenda declined for the third consecutive year to $6.5 billion.
  • Compared to the previous Congress, a greater number of Members compiled negative spending agendas: 55 Representatives and 11 Senators sponsored bills that would cumulatively reduce federal spending, versus 43 and six, respectively, in the 109th Congress. On the other side of the ledger, the number of Members whose agenda would increase spending by $100 billion climbed since the 109th: from 85 to 107 in the House and five to eight in the Senate.
  • With the exception of Senate Democrats, freshmen to Congress called for less spending than their longer-serving colleagues.
  • Members of the Republican Study Committee and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, two of the self-identified fiscal conservative caucuses in the House, compiled lower net spending agendas than other Members of their respective parties. The Members of a related third caucus, the Republican Main Street Partnership, compiled an average net agenda to increase spending by $48.4 billion – over seven times the net of the average Republican.

 

II. Analysis of Findings

A. The Challenges Ahead

There are few who would dispute that the long-term health of the budget is imperiled by America's looming entitlement crisis: The federal government will have to come up with $53 trillion over the next 75 years to cover the costs of promises to beneficiaries of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. There is widespread agreement on the political left and right that this presents enormous fiscal challenges to the federal government, and hence, to taxpayers. But one of the chief obstacles to reform is the lack of consensus as to how best to resolve this problem. In fact, the most discernable "consensus" uncovered in this report has a negative impact on the entitlement problem: A majority of Congressional Members are proposing net spending increases.

The challenges facing the budget are well-known, but a few points are worth rehashing, both for emphasis and context.

  • Total outlays for FY 2009 are estimated to top $3.1 trillion – an increase of nearly 74 percent over FY 2000 levels.
  • In FY 2009, the government will spend $407 billion more than it raises through taxes and other revenue.
  • Entitlement programs devoured more than half of all federal spending and without reform, is forecast to consume 20 percent of GDP by 2080.

A recent report published jointly by the Department of the Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget, and the General Accountability Office succinctly summed up the problem: The government is on an unsustainable fiscal path.[4]

B. The Effect on Congress

Despite the finding described above, the latest BillTally data indicates that the impending fiscal crunch and concerns over current deficit spending are having at least some impact on most legislators' sponsorship behavior. So far during the 110th Congress, Members have been more actively drafting bills to reduce spending. But this does not necessarily mean that the tide of red ink in the budget is receding: Although Representatives and Senators authored more savings bills during the first year of this Congress than in several preceding Congresses, this gain was more than offset by a spike in bills to increase spending.

In fact, the figures in Table 1 (below) show that there were more spending bills introduced in 2007 than in any previous First Session. The number of House spending bills rose by over one-third since the last Congress, while Senate spending bills saw growth of nearly 25 percent. Of the 1,898 bills pertinent to spending that were drafted by the House and Senate, 96 percent (1,823) called for increases, just 75 would enact savings. House Members introduced over 21 bills to increase spending for each piece of legislation crafted to cut back outlays – topping last Congress's ratio of 17 to 1. The ratio of increase to decrease bills dipped slightly in the Senate from 31 to 1 in the 109th Congress to 30 to 1 in the 110th.

Table 1.  Bill Introduction Rates in the Past Nine Congresses and Number of Scored Bills

Congress

Spending Increase Bills

Spending Cut Bills

Ratio of Increase Bills to Decrease Bills

House

102nd

640

78

8.2

103rd

722

229

3.15

104th

316

250

1.26

105th

440

159

2.76

106th

515

51

10.09

107th

653

37

17.65

108th

821

35

23.46

109th

821

48

17.1

110th

1,078

50

21.56

Senate

102nd

395

30

13.17

103rd

425

124

3.43

104th

207

121

1.71

105th

321

55

5.84

106th

418

41

10.19

107th

391

13

30.07

108th

643

20

32.15

109th

597

19

31.42

110th

745

25

29.8

Excluding overlapping legislation, if each spending bill in the House became law, outlays would increase by $1.741 trillion. House savings bills would offset 2.7 percent of that spending with a total of $47.8 billion of cuts, for a net budget hike of $1.693 trillion – $14,802 per household. If each bill in the Senate were passed into law, spending would rise by a net of $1.128 trillion. The Senate's savings bills would offset 5.7 percent of the new spending. Senate legislation would cost $9,857 per household.

house-bills

senate-bills

C. Members' Spending Agendas

1.  The Net Results

Given the overall upswing in the number of savings bills introduced, it makes sense that, on average, the typical Member of either party proposed more budget reductions last year than in recent Congresses. Compared to the 109th Congress, the typical House Democrat called for nearly six times as much savings, and Senate Democrats sponsored nearly four times as much. But the volume in cuts was not enough to balance out Members' spending proposals, meaning the difference would be "paid for" through higher taxes and fees or deficit spending.

In the House, the typical Member produced a smaller net agenda than during the 109th Congress, but the rate of reduction varied by party. The average House Democrat backed outlay increases of $548 billion and outlay savings of $971 million, resulting in a net spending agenda that

Table 2.  House Sponsorship of Legislation in the First Sessions of the Past Nine Congresses by Party
(Dollar Amounts in Millions)

Congress

Proposed Increases

Proposed Cuts

Net Agendas

Percent of Increases Offset by Cuts

Democrats

102nd

$109,248

($1,428)

$107,821

1.31%

103rd

$284,475

($22,221)

$262,254

7.81%

104th

$173,641

($8,979)

$164,662

5.17%

105th

$106,510

($2,815)

$103,695

2.64%

106th

$35,597

($1,707)

$33,890

4.80%

107th

$263,191

($836)

$262,355

0.32%

108th

$401,927

($356)

$401,571

0.09%

109th

$547,548

($166)

$547,382

0.03%

110th

$547,954

($971)

$546,983

0.18%

Republicans

102nd

$15,165

($4,032)

$11,134

26.59%

103rd

$34,786

($54,143)

($19,356)

155.65%

104th

$5,405

($25,038)

($19,633)

463.24%

105th

$8,903

($16,308)

($7,405)

183.17%

106th

$16,952

($21,512)

($4,560)

126.90%

107th

$30,677

($10,908)

$19,769

35.56%

108th

$33,500

($2,821)

$30,679

8.42%

109th

$16,439

($4,854)

$11,584

29.53%

110th

$13,794

($7,009)

$6,785

50.81%

Notes: Totals may not add due to rounding. 

would boost the budget by $547 billion annually. Because of the greater prevalence of outlay savings mentioned above, last year's net spending agenda receded slightly from the high-water mark reached in the 109th Congress.  House Republicans, on average, proposed $13.8 billion in spending and $7 billion in savings, for a net total increase of $6.8 billion – $4.8 billion less than the Republican net agenda in the 109th Congress. This is also the third consecutive Congress in which Republicans proposed a reduced level of net spending.

Table 3.  Senate Sponsorship of Legislation in the First Sessions of the Past Nine Congresses by Party
(Dollar Amounts in Millions)

Congress

Proposed Increases

Proposed Cuts

Net Agendas

Percent of Increases Offset by Cuts

Democrats

102nd

$34,099

($5,098)

$29,001

14.95%

103rd

$208,324

($12,044)

$196,280

5.78%

104th

$3,372

($4,629)

($1,257)

137.28%

105th

$21,769

($1,364)

$20,405

6.27%

106th

$15,526

($850)

$14,676

5.47%

107th

$88,337

($158)

$88,179

0.18%

108th

$174,406

($257)

$174,150

0.15%

109th

$52,331

($190)

$52,141

0.36%

110th

$59,921

($730)

$59,191

1.22%

Republicans

102nd

$13,826

($8,548)

$5,278

61.83%

103rd

$42,276

($62,943)

($20,667)

148.89%

104th

$6,308

($22,247)

($15,939)

352.68%

105th

$13,209

($8,201)

$5,008

62.09%

106th

$9,048

($9,372)

($324)

103.58%

107th

$18,726

($22)

$18,703

0.12%

108th

$28,563

($2,479)

$26,084

8.68%

109th

$14,554

($3,178)

$11,377

21.84%

110th

$13,076

($6,543)

$6,533

50.04%

Notes: Totals may not add due to rounding.  Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Sanders (I-VT) are not included in this table.

The trend did not apply across the board in the Senate. Despite Senate Democratic efforts to sponsor an average of $730 million in savings – far more than $190 million worth of cuts proposed in the previous Congress – their average net spending agenda increased to $59.2 billion, $7 billion more than during the 109th Congress. Compared to recent Congresses, the typical Senate Republican promoted fewer increases ($13.1 billion) and more savings ($6.5 billion) for a net spending agenda of $6.5 billion. Like their House colleagues, this was the third consecutive year the net amount declined.

2.  Unbalanced Agendas

There was a significant difference between the parties concerning how much of their increases would be offset through outlay savings: The average Republican in either the House or the Senate would offset roughly half of his or her proposed spending hikes. At this point in the 106th Congress, the average Republican more than offset his or her proposals, meaning that if the mix of legislation that was sponsored became law, net spending would have gone down. Over the 107th and 108th Congresses, Republicans called for increasingly higher levels of spending and fewer savings, a trend which has been slowly reversing over the 109th and 110th Congresses.

While it is important not to over-speculate, Table 3 does seem to provide some factual data to support the electoral arc of Republicans, especially with their party's base. The 108th Congress, which produced anger among fiscal conservatives with legislation such as the Medicare prescription drug bill, represented a 12-year high for Republican agenda costs. Those numbers began to decline after Republicans came under mounting criticism over their fiscal discipline. In the current Congress, net totals have further declined, suggesting (initially, at least) that GOP lawmakers in the House took their loss of majority control as a lack of voter faith in their self-professed principles.

The typical Senate Democrat, on the other hand, proposed savings that would offset just over a single percentage point of their proposed hikes. Democrats in the House sponsored, on average, savings that would offset less than one-fifth of a percentage point of the spending hikes proposed, which is actually a greater offset rate than was exhibited during the 109th Congress.

Table 4. Average Number of Bills Sponsored to Increase and Decrease Spending by Party

 

Increase

Decrease

House

   

Democratic

82

6

Republican

31

3

Average Representative

59

4

Senate

Democratic

75

2

Republican

32

1

Independent

103

2

Average Senator

55

2

As Table 4 (above) illustrates, one reason for the difference between the parties' average net spending agendas is the tendency of Democrats to sponsor more than twice as many spending bills than their colleagues across the aisle. In the House, Democrats backed an average of 82 spending bills while Republicans supported an average of 31 bills to boost outlays. A total of 69 Representatives (including two Republicans) backed 100 or more spending bills and among these, one Member backed a grand total of 224 bills to increase spending.

In the Senate, Democrats supported 75 increase bills and Republicans sponsored 32. The two Independent Senators outpaced the partisans, averaging 103 spending bills. Twelve Senators backed more than 100 spending bills (including nine Democrats, the two Independents, and one Republican). 

It is perhaps surprising that Democrats also sponsored on average more savings bills than Republicans in both the House and Senate. In the House, Democrats backed six and the Republicans backed three, on average. In the Senate, Democrats topped Republicans two to one.

  • Of the 20 Representatives who sponsored zero bills to cut spending, 19 were Republican.
  • Sixty Representatives backed just one of the 50 savings bills that were introduced – of these, 53 were Republicans and seven were Democrats.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, 20 Representatives – all Democrats – sponsored 10 or more savings bills, and of these, one Representative backed 16 reduction bills.
  • Twenty-three Senators (16 Republicans and seven Democrats) sponsored zero savings bills.
  • Twenty-nine Senators (11 Democrats and 18 Republicans) sponsored just a single savings bill.
  • Two Democrats each sponsored six cut bills, the most in the Senate.
  • Although Democrats in the House and Senate tended to sponsor more savings bills, the amount of dollar reductions sponsored by the Republicans was typically greater (also see Tables 7 and 8 below). This is because of Republican-sponsored reforms to simplify the Tax Code and eliminate refundable credits. Refundable credits are payments in excess of an individual's tax liability and result in net outlays from the Treasury upwards of $50 billion annually.

3.  The Outliers

Table 5 (below) shows the number of Representatives and Senators with the highest and lowest net spending agendas over the past few Congresses. The number of Representatives with net agendas to reduce spending increased from a low of 13 in the 108th Congress to 55 currently (all of these Members were Republicans) – less than half as many as the 115 Representatives in the 106th with net agendas to reduce spending. The tale is similar in the Senate: In the 107th Congress, there was just a single Senator whose legislation would have led to net savings. This figure has steadily climbed in each subsequent year, and there are now 11 net cutters in the 110th.

The number of legislators with net agendas of at least $100 billion seems to fluctuate from year to year. This year marked an upswing from the previous Congress: 107 Representatives and eight Senators sponsored legislation that would have a net impact of increasing federal spending by at least $100 billion. Among the Representatives, 87 backed a single-payer universal health care bill, pushing their net spending agenda to over $1 trillion. These 87 Members sponsored, on average, 105 spending bills.

Table 5.  Number of Members with Net Agendas to Reduce Spending and Number of Members with Spending Agendas Greater Than $100 Billion in the First Session of Past Five Congresses

Congress

Members with Net Agendas to Reduce Spending

Members with Net Spending Agendas Greater Than $100 Billion

House

106th

115

1

107th

30

74

108th

13

129

109th

43

85

110th

55

107

Senate

106th

23

0

107th

1

4

108th

3

23

109th

6

5

110th

11

8

 

D.  Congressional Priorities

In the BillTally database, each piece of legislation is categorized into basic subject areas such as education or energy, primarily to make it easier to prevent double counting of similar bills. However, the data can also be used to see which issue areas Members are collectively focusing on.

Table 6. Top Ten Issue Areas by Number of Bills

House & Senate Total

House

Senate

Issue

% of All Bills

# of Bills

% of Bills

Avg. # of Dem. Sponsors

Avg. # of Rep. Sponsors

# of Bills

% of Bills

Avg. # of Dem. Sponsors

Avg. # of Rep. Sponsors

Health

17.1%

179

15.9%

29

10

145

18.8%

7

3

Education

9.9%

108

9.6%

18

2

80

10.4%

5

2

Environment

8.6%

89

7.9%

8

4

74

9.6%

2

1

Law Enforcement/Judiciary

6.7%

78

6.9%

13

5

50

6.5%

6

2

Veterans

5.6%

66

5.9%

24

11

40

5.2%

5

2

Commerce/Small Business

5.5%

61

5.4%

16

5

44

5.7%

4

2

Federal Government

5.1%

59

5.2%

19

5

38

4.9%

6

1

Interior Land Management

4.8%

47

4.2%

12

4

44

5.7%

2

1

Energy

4.6%

54

4.8%

12

4

33

4.3%

3

2

Foreign Aid/Affairs

4.2%

50

4.4%

26

6

30

3.9%

7

3

Table 6 (above) shows the 10 most popular issues dealt with by the legislative output that Members produced. Health care legislation dominated the agenda in the 110th Congress. The 179 health-related House and 145 Senate bills comprised 17 percent of all the introduced bills. Education was the second most popular subject, occupying 10 percent of the legislative workload with 108 House and 80 Senate bills. The other main topics Congress focused on were environment, law enforcement, and veterans, making up 9, 7, and 6 percent of the workload, respectively.

Table 7. House Savings and Increase Bills by Partisan Sponsorship
(Dollar Amounts in Millions)

 

Savings Bills

Average Savings

Increase Bills

Average Increase

Only Democratic Sponsors

8

($88)

318

$9,309

Majority of Democratic Sponsors

18

($184)

479

$409

Even Number of Democrats and Republicans

4

($12)

68

$117

Majority of Republican Sponsors

8

($2,298)

81

$129

Only Republican Sponsors

12

($3,377)

132

$274

Table 7 (above) breaks down the sponsorship of spending and savings bills by partisan affiliation. This helps to illustrate the policy differences between the Democrats and Republicans for those bills with only Members of one party as sponsors, and areas of agreement where Democrats and Republicans join together in equal numbers to back legislation.

Eight of the 50 total savings bills in the House only had Democratic sponsors. The most popular of these (in terms of number of sponsors) were H.R. 1104, the Foster Children Self-Support Act, and H.R. 1852, the Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2007 – each with 14 sponsors and cosponsors.

Democrats were the sole partisan sponsors of 318 bills to increase spending. The most popular issue area was education (52 bills), health care (37 bills), and the environment (23 bills). The most expensive bills in these categories, and in Congress generally, were proposals to implement universal health care plans. At the top of this pile was H.R. 676, United States National Health Insurance Act, which would create a single-payer system run by the federal government at a cost of over $1 trillion a year once fully implemented.

Republican House Members authored 12 savings bills and 132 increase bills that did not garner any Democratic backers. H.R. 3412, the Davis-Bacon Repeal Act, had the most sponsors, with 36 Republicans. Other Republican-only savings ideas included two bills to implement an across-the-board cut in non-defense, non-homeland security spending of 2 percent (H.R. 374, 17 sponsors) and 5 percent (H.R. 379, 16 sponsors). Also popular was H.R. 1752 (18 sponsors), the Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2007, which would increase offsetting collections to federal housing programs (confusingly, both H.R. 1752 and H.R. 1852 above, bear the same name).[+] Over half of the Republican-only spending bills were concentrated on law enforcement and the judiciary (22 bills) followed by the environment (20 bills).

In the House, Democrats and Republicans found more ways to agree on increasing spending than on trimming the budget. Two of the "bipartisan" savings bills had a single sponsor from each party, a third had two Democrats and Republicans, while H.R. 1371, the Farming Flexibility Act of 2007, had 11 from each party. Democrats and Republicans sponsored 68 spending bills in equal numbers; issues of "bipartisan" agreement were over health care (13 bills), federal land and parks (nine bills), and the environment (eight bills).

Table 8. Senate Savings and Increase Bills by Partisan Sponsorship
(Dollar Amounts in Millions)

 

Savings Bills

Average Savings

Increase Bills

Average Increase

Only Democratic Sponsors

10

($1,623)

250*

$3,968

Majority of Democratic Sponsors

4

($417)

259

$456

Even Number of Democrats and Republicans

1

($169)

97

$183

Majority of Republican Sponsors

2

($96)

56

$56

Only Republican Sponsors

8

($14,567)

80

$1,045

Note: This Table excludes the Independents.

* Includes twenty-two bills with one or more independent.

  • Among the Democrat-only savings bills, three dealt with the federal government: S. 252, to repeal automatic pay increases for Members of Congress; S. 335 (with 22 supports had the most sponsors among these bills) would cancel IRS contracts with private debt-collecting agencies; and S. 2192 would increase offsetting collections for food and drug inspections. Two related bills, S. 115 and S. 341, proposed to cut certain subsidies to the energy extraction industry.
  • Among the Republican-only savings bills, three would implement tax reform: S. 1040 and S. 1881 would create a flat tax and S. 1025 would replace the income tax with a national sales tax. Two would cut federal funding to international organizations (S. 172 and S. 1698).
  • With 250 spending bills that had no Republican backers, Democrats crafted an agenda focused on education (40 bills), health (26 bills), and public land and parks (23 bills). Among Republican increase legislation, bills focusing on national defense and law enforcement had the highest average number of sponsors. Republican-only bills with the highest price tags focused on national defense and homeland security, followed by education.

E.  Freshmen and Returning Members

Do freshmen Congressmen propose to spend less money than their longer-serving colleagues? As Table 9 (below) shows, with the exception of Senate Democrats, they do. On average, first-term Representatives proposed fewer increases than their returning colleagues. Longer-serving House Democrats called for, on average, savings of $1 billion, topping the $831 million in cuts proposed by the typical freshman Democrat ($831 million). Yet they also proposed increases of $588 billion – 57 percent higher than the freshman's average amount of $373.4 billion.

Table 9. Average Net Spending Agendas of Freshmen and Returning Members in the 110th Congress, by Party (in Millions)

 

Proposed Increases

Proposed Cuts

Net Agenda

House

All Freshmen

$290,108

($2,842)

$287,266

All Returning

$304,855

($3,876)

$300,978

       

Freshman Democrats

$373,425

($831)

$372,594

Returning Democrats

$587,950

($1,004)

$586,947

       

Freshman Republicans

$8,113

($9,650)

($1,538)

Returning Republicans

$14,189

($6,826)

$7,364

Senate

All Freshmen

$49,902

($481)

$49,421

All Returning

$38,368

($3,950)

$34,418

       

Freshman Democrats

$37,644

($547)

$37,097

Returning Democrats

$64,268

($766)

$63,502

       

Freshman Republicans

$378

($290)

$88

Returning Republicans

$13,616

($6,809)

$6,807

Notes: Totals may not add due to rounding.

If all of the legislation backed by the typical House Republican freshman became law, spending would actually decrease by a net of $1.5 billion. Returning Republicans backed a mix of legislation that would lead to annual increases of $7.4 billion. The two Republican freshmen Senators on average sponsored a net agenda of $88 million. Tenured Republican Senators were more aggressive than the newcomers in calling for savings ($6.8 billion compared to $290 million for the freshmen), but they also proposed increases greater than the freshmen by over $13 billion.

Senate Democratic freshmen are the exception. On average, newly elected Democrats proposed to increase outlays by $49.9 billion, offset by $481 million in savings, for a net spending agenda of $49.4 billion – $15 billion more than tenured Democrats.

F.   House 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."[5] On its website, the BDC states that one of its top priorities in the 110th Congress "… will be to refocus Congress on balancing the budget and ridding taxpayers of the burden the debt places on them."[6] A related third caucus, the Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP)[7] highlights a quote from George Washington on its website proclaiming that "… the most important institutional value is fiscal discipline."[8]

Table 10.  Average Spending Agendas by Caucuses and Member Organizations in the 110th Congress (in Millions)

Caucus

Number of Increase Bills

Proposed Increases

Number of Savings Bills

Proposed Cuts

Net Agenda

Republican Study Committee

25

$10,023

3

($11,163)

($1,139)

Republican Main Street Partnership

41

$50,182

2

($1,776)

$48,406

Average Republican

31

$13,794

3

($7,009)

$6,785

           

Blue Dog Democrats

60

$142,546

4

($990)

$141,556

All Other Democrats

88

$651,463

6

($967)

$650,496

Average Democrat

82

$547,954

6

($971)

$546,983

           

Congressional Progressive Caucus

106

$1,188,423

8

($1,026)

$1,187,396

All Other Democrats

73

$273,981

5

($953)

$273,028


Note: Totals may not add due to rounding.  Brian Bilbray, Dave Camp, and Michael Turner were the only Republicans listed openly in both the RSC and the RMSP. RMSP data only includes its Members in the House. Members of the BDC and CPC are all Democrats.

The three self-identifying caucuses of "fiscal discipline" produced widely disparate net spending agendas. On the Republican side, members of the RSC called for an average net spending agenda that would reduce spending by $1.1 billion, while those in the Main Street Partnership proposed net budgetary increases of $48.4 billion – seven times higher than the net of the average Republican. Both caucuses would be outspent by the average Blue Dog, who sponsored legislation that would boost spending by $141.6 billion – still, a level nearly five times smaller than the net agenda of other Democrats.

A Congressional group that makes no claim to "fiscal discipline" but instead favors "economic justice" is the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). The CPC calls for "… a fairer, more humane, and more responsible federal budget plan for FY08 and ensuing years that truly addresses the needs and hopes of all the American people."[9] Representatives in the Progressive Caucus sponsored, on average, 106 spending bills and would impact the budget with a net increase surpassing $1 trillion.

 

III. Conclusion

 The upswing in the 110th Congress in savings bills and, among many Members, a corresponding gain in the amount of savings proposed, could be an indication that Congress is making some headway toward at least acknowledging that their individually unbalanced agendas are contributing to the collectively unbalanced budgets of the federal government. But given the burgeoning number of spending bills and the potential impact of the looming entitlement crunch, it would be fair to say that these efforts are mere baby steps. And like toddlers often do, those steps can go in many, sometimes contradictory directions.

Another of Zeno's contradictory assertions, found in the famous Achilles paradox, is that a faster-moving hare can never catch a lumbering tortoise because by the time the hare reaches the tortoise's starting point, the tortoise has moved forward again. The hare must then travel to that second starting point, from which the tortoise has already left … and so on, and so on.

Physicists can obviously refute this argument in our everyday world, but Zeno's paradox may yet also be refuted in the world inside the Washington Beltway. The slow but steady tortoise, carrying a modest bundle of spending cuts, has been racing against the fast and furious hare, bearing a massive load of spending hikes. And for the past decade, the hare has beaten the tortoise in federal budget contests. Many taxpayers, however, no doubt remain hopeful that eventually the persistence of the turtle will somehow win out and turn the laws of fiscal locomotion on their head.

 

Demian S. Brady
Senior Policy Analyst

Research information was compiled with the assistance of Policy Analysts Brianna Cardiff and Elizabeth Terrell and Associate Policy Analysts Will Collins, Caitlin Kilpatrick, Eli Lavicky, Colin McDonell, Daniel St. John, and Stephen Samouce.

End Notes



[+] A related bill, H.R. 373, calling for a 1 percent, across-the-board cut in non-defense, non-homeland security spending, had a majority of Republican supporters with one Democratic sponsor.



[1] For information regarding which types of bills are excluded, or other issues pertaining to the methodology, please see Appendix C.

[2] This report excludes the following Representatives who either died during the course of the 110th Congress or started late in the Session: Paul Broun (R-GA), Julia Carson (D-IN), Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), Paul Gillmor (R-OH), Robert Latta (R-OH), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA), Charlie Norwood (R-GA), and Robert Wittman (R-VA). Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who as Speaker of the House did not sponsor or cosponsor spending bills, was also excluded. Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) was also excluded and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) is included for his service in the House.

[3] U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008 (127th Edition) Washington, DC, 2007, No. 58, "Households, Families, Subfamilies, and Married Couples: 1980 to 2006."

[7] 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.