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The 109th Congress: An Old Political Era Ends – Will the New Era Steer the Nation to Rougher Fiscal Waters or a Brighter Horizon?
Policy Paper No. 162 -- BillTally Report 109–3
July 30, 2007
By Demian Brady
After 12 years, the Republican Congressional majority came to its conclusion in the 109th Congress. The party was originally swept into power vowing to reform welfare, reduce taxes and spending, and otherwise rein in what its Members defined as an over-reaching and wasteful federal government. During the 104th Congress, extensive reforms were enacted, Members' net spending agendas were receding, and for just the second time since 1969, federal spending actually declined in constant dollars. But as the years went by, the Republicans' dedication to the principles that helped forge their majority waned. An analysis of the spending data for the 109th Congress shows that after years of rising, the demand for new spending from most Members of Congress reversed course. But most often it takes the ship of state a long time to execute a 180-degree turn, so voters, and the Republican base in particular, may have thought that the downward trend in the demand for new Congressional spending was too little, too late, and a new party was given its chance at the helm.
This report summarizes data from NTUF's BillTally accounting software, which studies the cost or savings of all legislation introduced in the 109th 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 1,404 House bills and 1,029 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 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 votes. 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.
Among the 13,074 bills and resolutions introduced during the 109th Congress, NTUF analysts identified 1,332 House and 985 Senate measures to increase spending (See Table 1). For each Chamber, this was a decline from the record high number of bills to increase spending in the previous Congress. Each Chamber also saw a greater quantity of bills to decrease spending: 72 House bills, a rise of 14 percent, and 44 Senate bills for a jump of 26 percent.
In the House, for each bill to reduce federal outlays, there were over 18 to raise outlays. Each savings bill in the Senate was overshadowed by 22 spending bills. Those figures may strike taxpayers as high, but they mark the second consecutive decline of the ratio in as many Congresses. The lowest number introduced in each Chamber occurred in the historic 104th Congress, when there were roughly two spending bills for each cut proposal. The ratio reached its high water mark in the 107th Congress of nearly 24:1 in the House and 36:1 in the Senate before beginning a gradual decline to current levels.
During the 104th Congress (1995-96), Representatives and Senators drafted 432 bills to save taxpayers money. In contrast, during the 109th, all Members combined introduced a total of 116 savings bills. As overall federal outlays have increased by 34 percent from 1996 to 2006 (in constant dollars), the number of savings bills declined by 73 percent.
If each of the House increase bills became law, spending would increase by $2.509 trillion (overlapping bills are excluded). The passage of the savings bills would subtract $54.4 billion – an offset of 2.2 percent – for a net of $2.455 trillion, or $21,695 per household.  The Senate spending bills would add $1.337 trillion to federal outlays, 4.8 percent of which was offset by $64.4 billion in savings, for a net of $1.273 trillion. This spending increase would cost $11,248 per household.
B. Adding It Up
Tables 2 (above) and 3 (below) show how the cost of the legislative wish lists drafted by the typical Republican or Democrat would affect federal budget outlays. The average House Democrat is headed in a different direction than the typical Republican in each Chamber, and even on a separate track from the typical Senate Democrat. While the latter three proposed less net spending than they did in the previous Congress, House Democrats, on average, proposed more.
If all of the bills sponsored by the average House Democrat during the 109th Congress became law, spending would rise by a net of $765.8 billion – a 47 percent increase from what they proposed during the 108th Congress. More spending was proposed by the average House Democrat during the two years of the 109th Congress than the $725.1 billion called for over the entire ten-year span from the 102nd to the 106th Congress. The average savings sponsored ($614 million) offset 0.08 percent of the proposed increases ($766.4 billion).
Across the aisle, the average Republican sponsored legislation that would increase spending by $27.6 billion and 21.9 percent of this amount was offset by $6 billion in savings, for a net increase of $21.6 billion. This was a decline from the level in the 108th Congress and the lowest amount of net spending called for since the 106th Congress. In the first year they were the majority in the House of Representatives, Republicans tended to sponsor a mix of legislation that would lead to a net reduction in outlays. This has not happened since the 105th Congress (1997-1998).
Meanwhile, the average Senator of either party called for less spending than in the 108th Congress, yet also chose to offset only a minimal portion of their increases. If all of the increase legislation sponsored by the average Democrat became law, spending would rise by $117.9 billion. Just 0.3 percent of this new spending would be offset by $295 million in savings. This would lead to a net boost in the federal budget of $117.6 billion annually.
Republican Senators, on average, sponsored legislation to raise spending by $27.6 billion, with 22.1 percent of this amount offset by $6 billion in savings, for a net annual increase of $21.1 billion. This marks a 37.5 percent decline from the record high level reached in the 108th Congress.
Taxpayers may hope that the drop in the cost of average net spending agendas for Republicans and Senate Democrats signals a more long-term trend, but the dollar figures are still significantly higher than in previous Congresses, especially during the 104th Congress when there was a greater institutional effort to rein in the federal government's tax, spending, and regulatory powers. At the present rate of decline, it will still be many years before Members' agendas are balanced.
C. Fiscal Trends to Watch in the 110th Congress
There are many challenges facing the budget in the new Congress. The new Democratic majority was invigorated on the campaign trail by opposition to the war and calls to implement ethics and transparency reforms in the Capitol. They also bring their own budget priorities and attitudes on taxes and spending that will often be at odds with the Republicans in Congress as well as the President. What can taxpayers expect to see regarding fiscal issues in the new Congress?
1. Sponsorship Rates
Members are far more geared towards finding new ways of spending your money than finding ways to save your money. The average Representative or Senator of either party supports far more new spending hikes than spending cuts. But the data illustrate that the Democrats' preference for spending initiatives is stronger than the Republicans'. While the average Member of either major party introduced nearly the same number of savings bills, Democrats sponsored roughly twice as many bills to increase spending in both Chambers. In the House, the typical Republican signed onto 48 bills to increase spending, compared to 108 by the average Democrat (see Figures 3 and 4, below).
Figure 5 (below) tracks the distribution of Democratic and Republican Representatives over the number of bills each sponsored to increase spending. A total of 117 Members (including 109 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and the independent) sponsored 100 or more bills to increase spending. This amounts to 27 percent of the House and over half of the House Democratic caucus.
On the other hand, just 3 percent of the House, 16 Republicans, sponsored 10 or more bills to reduce spending. Fifty-five Representatives signed onto just one among the 72 savings bills introduced, and 24 Representatives (including 15 Democrats and 9 Republicans) did not sign onto a single savings bill over the two years of the 109th Congress. Among this group were 7 Members who did not sponsor any savings bills in the 108th Congress either.
In the Senate, the Democrats' sponsorship of increase bills outpaced the Republicans' on average, 97 to 51 (see Figure 4, above) while they matched each other with savings initiatives. All told, 4 Republicans, 19 Democrats, and the independent Senator – 24 percent of the Chamber – sponsored 100 or more measures to increase spending. In the last Congress, 28 Senators sponsored zero savings bills. This time around each Senator sponsored at least one bill to reduce spending. Eight Senators could only find one of the 44 savings bills introduced to sponsor. Fifteen percent of the Senate (six Democrats and nine Republicans) sponsored five or more savings measures.
This lopsided sponsorship rate in turn led to net spending agendas with higher price tags. In the 109th Congress, 151 Representatives and 19 Senators sponsored legislation that would result in an increase of spending by at least $100 billion annually (see Table 4): over 1/3 of the House and nearly 1/5 of the Senate would raise federal outlays by at least 3 percent from current levels. In the House this group included 80 Congressmen who would increase spending by over $1 trillion, due primarily to their collective push for a single-payer universal health care system.
There are signs of new trends in this table. The number of Members calling for the largest spending increases dropped from 220 in the 108th Congress to 170 in the 109th. Correspondingly, the number of Members with net agendas to reduce spending increased from 12 to 36 since the last Congress.
2. The Freshman Factor
Forty-one Democrats and 13 Republican freshmen were elected to the House for the 110th Congress. This influx of new Members could lead to a decline in the average net spending agendas for two reasons. First of all, by press accounts, the Democrats recruited more "moderate" candidates in pursuit of districts that had eluded them during recent election cycles. If this is so, a greater portion of the Democrats in the House could side with self-described "fiscal conservatives" such as the Blue Dog Coalition, whose membership proposed less spending on average than their colleagues (see Table 6, next page).
Additionally, the data in Table 5 tend to show the average freshman called for less net spending than his or her peers who returned to office. For the House as a whole, returning Representatives proposed to increase spending by nearly three times as much as their freshmen colleagues. Yet, there were differences by party. Freshmen Democrats sponsored on average more savings and less spending than re-elected Democrats. Yet, Republican newcomers proposed, on average, almost 50 percent more in spending than longer-serving Republicans. One reason for this divergence from the general trend is that of the 28 Republicans who produced net agendas to shrink federal outlays, only 3 were freshmen.
The Senate showed similar results. The average net agenda of non-freshmen was close to two times greater than newcomers, but this difference was mainly attributable to the freshman Democrats who proposed net spending agendas on average to increase spending by $68.2 billion, compared to the $121.2 billion proposed by the longer-serving Democrats.
The average savings sponsored by freshman Republican Senators ($12.6 billion) was two-and-a-half times greater than the savings sponsored by non-freshman Republicans ($5 billion), but the net spending agenda was slightly higher for the newcomers.
3. Comparing House Caucuses
Once elected to Congress, a Representative may decide to join any of several Member caucuses that organize around a particular issue area and/or political philosophy. Within these caucuses, Members can discuss ideas and coordinate strategy to craft, 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."
The average RSC and Blue Dog Member produced net agendas that were unbalanced in favor of increased spending – a finding some taxpayers may deem to be a contradiction of the espoused principles of the two caucuses. Nonetheless, their agendas did display constraint relative to their partisan colleagues. 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.
A related third caucus, the Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP) states it is comprised of "fiscally conservative deficit hawks" who take a "pragmatic approach to governance." Given this statement, it may surprise some taxpayers that members of the RMSP sponsored $1.8 billion in savings, a figure that is 70 percent lower than the savings of $6.1 billion backed by the average Republican. On net, Members of this caucus proposed to increase spending by $15 billion more than the average Republican.
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 42 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 of $1.4 trillion, almost twice as much as the average Democrat. An average CBC participant sponsored 120 bills to increase spending – the highest total among the caucuses examined. 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 of all other Representatives.
David Walker, the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has been traveling the country on his Fiscal Wake-Up Tour telling everybody he can about the danger of the U.S.'s long-term unfunded liabilities; that is, the payments promised to beneficiaries through federal entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. One recent GAO study estimates that the federal government's fiscal exposure due to unfunded liabilities and other outlay commitments totals $46 trillion, up from about $20 trillion in 2000. The longer Congress waits to take action to address these problems, the more costly they will become to fix. Even though the course of federal spending agendas seem to be turning toward a brighter horizon, lawmakers have yet to take full control of the rudder on America's fiscal ship of state. Taxpayers may be concerned that the critical vessel is headed "three sheets to the wind" as Members are more likely to look for ways to add to the budget rather than find ways to trim it.
Demian S. Brady
Research information was compiled with the assistance of Policy Analyst Elizabeth Terrell and Associate Policy Analysts Andrew Brown, Kyle Colvin, Stuart Distler, Greg Fick, Will Fields, Katelyn Finley, Heather Hiznay, Lacey Holmes, Ryan Kool, Matt Schultz, Ashley Theodore, Cal Ullmann, Michael Villard, Jeremy Weber, and Drew White.
 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 Ninth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest, March, 2, 2005, p. D158. "Résumé of Congressional Activity: Second Session of the One Hundred Ninth Congress," Congressional Record-Daily Digest, December 27, 2006, p. D1173.
 "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 2008 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2007), p. 26.
 "Households, Families, Subfamilies, and Married Couples: 1980 to 2005," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 (126th edition), U.S. Census Bureau (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006), chart No. 57.
 Figures in this report for the 106th Congress have been updated to reflect activity for the full 24-month term Congress. Data in previous reports was for the first 18 months.
 The Members include Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Alan Mollohan (D-WV), John Spratt (D-SC), John Tanner (D-TN), Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Bill Young (R-FL). Reps. Mollohan, Tanner, and Young had no savings bills in the 107th Congress, and additionally Mollohan and Young had none in the 106th either.
 The Republican Main Street Partnership includes Members from both Chambers, as well as at the state level. These figures only reflect on RMSP Members serving in the House.
 Fiscal Year 2005 U.S. Government Financial Statements: Sustained Improvement in Federal Financial Management Is Crucial to Addressing Our Nation's Financial Condition and Long-term Fiscal Imbalance, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington, DC, March 1, 2006.