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The 108th Congress: Rising Floodwaters or a Change in the Tide?
Policy Paper No. 155 -- BillTally Report 108-3
May 5, 2005
By Demian Brady
The two years of the 108th Congress spanning 2003 and 2004 provided further evidence of a bipartisan consensus in the Capitol. Despite the return of record deficits and the ongoing hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, an examination of the spending agendas proposed by Members of Congress reveals an intent among most Republicans and Democrats to expand the size and scope of the federal government. Underlying the debate of policy details is a widespread agreement to grow the budget, although one remaining point of contention is how quickly it should grow: at merely full-throttle or at light speed?
Although both the quantity and cost of spending initiatives were generally on the rise during the 108th Congress, there were a few signs of hope for taxpayers looking for fiscal discipline from their government. While many Members called for record high levels of spending, some stood apart from their colleagues by offering proposals to actually decrease federal outlays. There are also indications that Members' average net spending agendas, which rose in sync with the budget surpluses, may be beginning a downward trend in a lagging response to concern over forecasts of red ink.
This report summarizes data from NTUF's BillTally accounting software, which studies the cost or savings of all legislation introduced in the 108th 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 1,406 House bills and 1,075 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. Key Findings
II. Analysis of Findings
A. Members' Wish ListsA Senator's or Representative's record of authored and sponsored bills can be viewed as his or her legislative wish list. By tabulating the cost and/or savings of all of the bills which a Member has officially endorsed, taxpayers and constituents can gain a better understanding of the policy interests as well as the guiding budgetary philosophies of their elected representatives.
Among the 10,670 bills and resolutions introduced during the 108th Congress, NTUF analysts identified 1,343 House and 1,040 Senate measures to increase spending (See Table 1). This is the highest number of spending bills introduced in a Congress since the advent of the BillTally tracking program. The lowest number introduced in each Chamber occurred in the historic 104th Congress. In each Congress since then, the number of spending bills has steadily increased: In the House, there were nearly three times as many spending bills proposed in the 108th than there were in the 104th Congress while in the Senate, there were close to four times as many spending increase bills.
Despite the sharp rise in new spending initiatives, the ratio of increase bills to decrease bills actually declined slightly from the peak levels reached during the 107th. This ratio grew in each successive Congress between 1996 and 2003 as Member advocacy of new expenditures climbed and advocacy of savings dropped off. For example, during the 104th Congress
(1995-96) Representatives and Senators drafted 432 bills to save taxpayers money, and for each of these savings proposals there were approximately two bills to increase outlays. In contrast, during the 108th, all Members combined introduced a total of 95 savings bills. Even though total federal outlays have increased by 25 percent from 1996 to 2004 (in constant dollars), the number of savings bills declined by 78 percent.
While the 95 proposals introduced over the 2003-04 period did mark a turnabout from the record low number of cuts offered in 2001-02 (48 in the House and 23 in the Senate), these savings bills were nonetheless crowded out by the quantity of spending proposals. For every bill in the House to reduce outlays, there were over 21 to increase spending. In the Senate, there were nearly 30 spending bills for each savings bill. Although taxpayers may find some solace in the fact that these ratios dropped from their record highs in the 107th Congress (see Figures 1 and 2), most Representatives and Senators will have to work a lot harder at seeking savings and reining in their will to spend before this ratio becomes more balanced.
B. Adding It Up
1. In the House of Representatives
Tables 2 and 3 (below) show how the cost of the legislative wish lists drafted by the typical Republican or Democrat would affect the federal budget. In the House, the typical Representative of either party proposed record high net spending agendas during the 108th Congress, breaking the levels set in the previous Congress.
While the cost of the increase bills sponsored by the average Republican actually decreased by nearly $7 billion since the 107th Congress, the total savings from proposed spending cuts shrunk by an even greater amount (nearly $10 billion).
Across the aisle, the average Democrat proposed to increase spending by over a half trillion dollars – nearly 15 times as much spending as the typical Republican. The 24.7 percent growth in the Democrat's net agenda was fueled by both a rise in spending increases and a decline of savings proposals, from $864 million in the 107th to $171 million. The amount of savings called for by the typical Democrat would offset just 0.03 percent of the spending hikes that Democrats, on average, advocated. In comparison, Republicans on average proposed savings that would offset 11 percent of sponsored spending hikes.
The average savings resulting from the cut bills sponsored by Democrats and Republicans declined from the previous Congress even though there were more savings bills introduced. This occurred because sponsorship of savings bills by all House Members decreased by 21 percent since the last Congress: The 48 savings bills in the 107th Congress had a combined total of 1,457 overlapping sponsors. But the 63 cut bills introduced in the 108th Congress had 1,151 overlapping sponsorships. Similarly, there were 41 Members in the 108th without any savings bills on their legislative wish list (compared to 15 Representatives in the 107th), 101 Members with one savings bill (compared to 48 Members in the 107th), and 110 with two savings bills (compared to 95 in the 107th). Although there were fewer Members seeking savings, those who did were more active by introducing more bills. Still, in the final analysis, only one Representative sponsored more than ten measures to reduce spending (Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) sponsored 11 cut bills).
2. In the Senate
Unlike their House colleagues, the typical Senator of either party proposed more savings than they did in the previous Congress (see Table 3 below). But for the average Democratic Senator, this rise in savings did not keep pace with the increase of new spending proposals. The amount of savings that were sponsored ($465 million), would only offset 0.3 percent of the proposed increases ($157.6 billion). On average, Senate Democrats proposed net spending at levels 135 times higher than they did during the 104th Congress when they advocated a net of $1.2 billion in increases.
The net agenda of the average Republican Senator shrank by $525 million (or 1.5 percent) from the record high set in the 107th Congress. This decline reverses the trend in motion since the 103rd Congress for higher net agendas in each subsequent Congress. The drop last year can be attributed to a rise in the total of proposed cuts to $2.5 billion, which would offset 6.9 percent of the total of proposed spending increases ($36.2 billion).
3. What Is Driving the Trend for More Spending Advocacy?
As Table 4 (below) shows, the number of Representatives with net agendas to reduce federal spending has declined over the past several years from 92 to nine in the most recent Congress. Conversely, as the number of Members seeking to shrink the size of the government has contracted, the ranks of those who would raise spending by over $100 billion has grown. In the 106th there was one Member who proposed increasing spending over this level. In the most recent Congress there were 190 such Members – over 40 percent of the entire House, including five Republicans, one Independent, and 184 Democrats. Among this group were 40 Members who would increase spending by over a trillion dollars, including two with net agendas exceeding $2 trillion. An increase in the federal budget of this size would nearly double total federal outlays, which are estimated to exceed $2.48 trillion in fiscal year 2005.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the Senate as well, except that the number of Senators with net agendas to reduce spending rose from zero in the previous Congress to three in the 108th. The number of Senators with net spending agendas greater than $100 billion rose from zero in the 106th to nearly one-third of the Senate in the 108th (including 27 Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent).
In the House, Democrats' net agendas ranged from $33.6 billion (Rep. John Spratt (SC)) to over $2 trillion (Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH) and Del. Eleanor Norton (DC)). Republicans' ranged from a net agenda to lower spending by nearly $43 billion (Rep. Sue Myrick (NC)) to $150 billion in new spending (Rep. Steve LaTourette (OH)).
In the Senate, Republican spending agendas ranged from a net savings of nearly $25 billion (Sen. Larry Craig (ID)) to $112 billion in new spending (Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME)). The net spending agendas of Democrats in the upper chamber ranged from savings of $295 million (Sen. Russell Feingold (WI)) to new spending of $441 billion (Sen. Jon Corzine (NJ)).
What is driving the general rise in net averages? One major factor is the cost of creating a universal health care entitlement, which several House Members have sponsored. Another is the ratio of spending bills to savings bills that Members are sponsoring. As Table 1 showed, in the space of nearly a decade this ratio has grown from roughly 2 to 1 for both chambers to 21 to 1 in the House and nearly 30 to 1 in the Senate. However, for Members in the 108th Congress with net agendas to increase outlays, the ratio of spending to savings bills is even higher: for every savings bill sponsored by Representatives with agendas greater than $100 billion there were 63 bills to increase spending. For those Members whose net agendas would cut spending, there were five spending bills per savings bill. Given such massive differences between a growing class of lawmakers with large spending agendas and a shrinking class of those with cost-saving agendas, it is only natural that the overall ratios would shift so dramatically.
C. Length of Service and Net Agenda Levels
During the 103rd and 104th Congresses, the House's record supported the contention of term limits proponents that taxpayers were better served by a regular rotation in office of elected officials. House net spending agendas were influenced by length of service: i.e., the longer a Representative served in office, the more net spending he or she proposed. Senate results, however, were generally inconclusive. The most recent data (see Table 8) shows that the newcomers to Congress, except Republican Representatives, produced, on average, lower spending agendas.
For the House as a whole, returning Representatives proposed to increase spending by twice as much as their freshmen colleagues but this resulted because of the difference between new and returning Democrats. Republican newcomers proposed, on average, one percent more in spending than longer serving Republicans. One reason for this divergence from the general trend is that of the nine Republicans who produced net agendas to shrink federal outlays (see Table 5 above), only one was a freshman.
In the Senate, the average net agenda of non-freshmen was over three times greater than newcomers. This difference held true regardless of party, however, the difference between the freshman Democrat ($289 billion, on average, of new spending) and returning Democrats ($547 billion) was greater than the difference between new and returning Republicans ($24 billion and $35 billion, respectively). All told, the net agenda of Republican freshmen was two-thirds the size of returning Republicans, while the net agenda of the sole Democrat non-returning freshman was half as much as the agenda of his colleagues.
As Figures 5 and 6 (below) indicate, during the first decade of a Congress Member's service, length of service corresponds with net agenda: more experience in office equates with higher spending agendas. After this time period, the average spending agenda of all but House Democrats drop off. This could be occurring because Members increase their areas of issue specialization or use their accrued clout and prestige to enact or influence policy through appropriations, amendments, or other methods besides bill sponsorship.
D. Comparing 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 strategy to promote or oppose particular legislation. Two such caucuses, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition (BDC), both claim to promote fiscal discipline within their respective parties. RSC states that it "organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives," and Representative Baron Hill (D-IN), the former Communications Co-Chair for the BDC, stated that the Coalition is composed of "moderate-to-conservative Democrats who offer common-sense solutions and strongly advocate fiscal discipline."
While the average RSC and Blue Dog Member produced – in a finding that some taxpayers may consider contradictory to the espoused principles of the two caucuses – net agendas that would increase spending; nonetheless, their agendas did display relative constraint. The typical RSC Member proposed less spending and more savings than the average non-RSC Republican, and the same holds true when Blue Dogs are compared to other Democrats.
If being "fiscally conservative" means that a Representative or Senator has a smaller net spending agenda than his or her peers and having a larger agenda is "fiscally liberal," then the 38 Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) – all of whom are Democrats – compiled some of the most "fiscally liberal" net spending agendas within the Democratic party. The typical CBC Democrat had a net annual spending agenda that was nearly three times larger than all other Democrats. Meanwhile, the typical Representative in the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, which is comprised of Members from both parties, had a net spending agenda that was nearly two and one-half times larger than the average agenda
E. Blue States vs. Red States
The Presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 were closely fought races that each came down to a handful of battleground states. In examining the state-by-state results, analysts divided the nation into "red" states which supported President Bush and were deemed to lean conservative, and "blue" states which voted for the Democratic challenger in 2004 (Senator John Kerry) and were deemed to lean liberal. Much was made of a recent Tax Foundation study tracking the distribution of federal outlays among the states. The data runs counter to the expected results: in general red states are beneficiaries of federal outlays, whereas blue states are net contributors of federal taxes. However, an examination of the net spending agendas in the 108th Congress shows that Representatives and Senators from the blue states called for more new federal spending than members from red states (see Figures 7 and 8 below). Blue state Representatives advocated over twice as much spending as their red state counterparts. Senators from blue states sought nearly three times as much spending as those from red states.
This distinction also held true within the parties, as blue state Democrats proposed more spending than red state Democrats and blue state Republicans tended to advocate more new spending than red state Republicans. Of the nine Representatives whose agenda would trim the federal budget (as shown in Table 6 above), six were from red states. Of the three budget-cutters in the Senate (see Table 5 above), two were from red states. Conversely, among the Representatives with the ten largest net spending agendas, seven were from blue states. Nine of the ten Senators with the largest net spending agendas were from blue states.
F. How Members Would Spend and Save Your Tax Dollars
As seen in Table 10 (below), on average each House bill (at $4.4 billion) cost more than a given Senate bill ($1.2 billion). This is mostly due to several universal health care proposals with several sponsors in the House. When the "Public Health Services/Research" category is excluded from the tabulation, the averages are not as far apart ($1.6 billion in the House compared to $1.3 billion in the Senate). In both chambers, entitlement and social spending categories have a total cost greater than proposals included in either national defense or homeland security. The three categories with the largest total cost in the House were public health services and research ($3.99 trillion), entitlement spending for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security ($483 billion), and child related programs ($233 billion, excludes education). National defense spending ranked seventh, (excluding miscellaneous spending) at $131 billion and homeland security spending ranked ninth at $74 billion. In the Senate, proposals for child care spending had the highest total cost ($207 billion) followed by economic stimulus packages (mainly state bailout plans and other bills designed to expand the economy) at $202 billion, followed by spending for welfare and "unemployment compensation" at $167 billion. Proposals for national defense totaled $80 billion and homeland security totaled $62 billion (fifth and sixth place).
The categories for the savings bills of the 108th Congress are detailed in Table 11. The largest savings bills in both chambers included in this study were proposals to scrap the current Tax Code and replace it with either a flat tax or a national sales tax. The savings would result from the elimination of the chapter of the Internal Revenue Code that contains so-called refundable tax credits. If the level of a refundable credit exceeds the amount of taxes owed, the tax filer will receive a check from the Internal Revenue Service for the difference. Due to successive changes in the tax law passed over the last several years, the payment of refundable credits (which are accounted for as budget outlays) has grown from $19 billion in the 106th Congress to over $40 billion in 2004.
"The budget situation of the United States is becoming surreal...red ink as far as the eye can see."
"I look forward to working with Congress on fiscal restraint. And it's not going to be easy."
One major factor behind the growth of the deficits is the amount of new spending being called for in the halls of Congress. The steady rise in the cost of the agendas proposed by Members since the 104th Congress happened because of a general decline of the will to control spending, as lawmakers sought to convert the then existing surpluses into new federal programs. There are some lagging signs that total agenda levels may have peaked and that Members are beginning to adjust their spending and savings priorities to the new fiscal environment. Thus far the changes have only been small ripples in a sea of red ink; only the future will show whether the tide is truly turning.
Demian S. Brady
Senior Policy Analyst
Research information was compiled with the assistance of Policy Analyst Elizabeth Terrell, former Policy Analyst Drew Johnson and Associate Policy Analysts Tim Agan, Matthew Bailey, Arzu Cerrahoglu, Charles Clarke, Steve Chapman, Evan Faulkner, Ryan Kool, Kathryn Landuyt, Peter Lattin, Kristin Lynch, Alex Pagon, Aaron Peterson, Tim Reilly, Richard Reinhart, Scott Robinson, Joseph Smalls, and Jim Tyrell.
 Members who resigned or did not serve at least a complete Session were excluded from the study. Those Representatives include Representatives William Janklow (R-SD), Larry Combest (R-TX), Stephanie Herseth (D-SD), Ernest Fletcher (R-KY), and George Butterfield (R-NC). Rep. Ralph Hall (TX) switched to the Republican Party in January 2004, after the conclusion of the First Session. For this study, his comprehensive record is included with the Republicans. Also, Rep. Rodney Alexander (LA) switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican on August 9, 2004. For this report, he is included with the Democrats.
 "No. 57: Households and Persons per Household by Type of Household: 1990 to 2003," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004-2005 (124th Edition), (Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Pg. 50.
 "Resume of Congressional Activity: First Session of the One Hundred Eighth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest. (15 Feb. 2005). D96. "Resume of Congressional Activity: Second Session of the One Hundred Eighth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest. (15 Feb. 2005). D97.
 The number of spending items excludes the regular Appropriations bills. For more information on the methodology, see Appendix C.
 "Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits in Current Dollars, Constant (FY 2000) Dollars, and as Percentages of GDP: 1940-2010," Historical Tables – Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2006 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005). Pg. 26.
 "Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits: 1789-2010," Historical Tables – Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005). Pg. 22.
 Sumeet Sagoo, "Federal Tax Burdens and Expenditures by State: Which States Gain Most from Federal Fiscal Operations?," Tax Foundation, Special Report #132, December 2004.
 For our estimates of refundable credits, we only count the portion of the credit that is "refunded."
 Budget of the U.S. Government Fiscal Year 2005, (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004). Pg. 279.
 Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David D. Kirkpatrick, "G.O.P. Senators Balk at Tax Cuts in Bush's Budget," The New York Times, March 10, 2005.
 "Bush Mulls Spending Freeze," Associated Press, December 17, 2004.