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Policy Paper


Out of the Woodshed -- But Did They Bring Their Axe? The House of Representatives Under the Republican Majority Through the First 100 Days
NTUF Policy Paper # 169

June 13, 2011
By Demian Brady

 I. Introduction

After an historic election, the 112th United States Congress convened in January with a House of Representatives under Republican control for the first time since 2006 when the party was "sent to the woodshed" by voters. In addition to suffering a series of ethics-related scandals, the GOP suffered at the polls for its apparent drift from its limited government principles. Now Republicans are back with a large influx of freshman Members and claim to have learned their lesson, vowing to work toward fixing the federal government's immense fiscal problems. It could be fairly argued that the dramatic electoral turnover, in large part a response to federal fiscal policy, gave the new GOP House majority a mandate to restrain federal spending, reduce the national debt, and control the size of government. In numerous contests, Republicans had run against business as usual in Washington, and made key promises in a document known as the "Pledge to America." Elements with a fiscal impact included:

  • Acting immediately to reduce spending by cancelling unspent stimulus funds;
  • Cutting government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving at least $100 billion in the first year alone;
  • Establishing a hard cap on new discretionary spending;
  • Holding weekly votes on spending cuts;
  • Putting a freeze on federal hires;
  • Repealing duplicative programs; and
  • Reducing Congress' own budget.

Many of these initiatives are still works in progress - some have passed the House but face grim prospects in the Senate, while others are currently under debate. So how can taxpayers systematically measure the efforts of the 112th Congress through its first 100 days? NTUF's BillTally system can provide objective insight as a unique resource in tabulating the costs associated with Congressional legislation. Not only can BillTally findings provide a yardstick for comparing Members' words with legislative actions, they can illustrate the true fiscal impact of their agendas.

Since 1991, NTUF has computed the legislative spending agendas of Members of Congress by analyzing the costs -- and savings -- of the bills that they sponsor and cosponsor as part of our BillTally research project.  BillTally is the only comprehensive look at the potential cost to taxpayers of what each lawmaker wishes to spend, independent of floor votes.

This study examines the work product of the House during the first hundred days of the 112th Congress. The report covers the total cost of Congress's agenda, as well as provides analyses by party and caucus. It also offers a comparison to the 111th Congress, since it was a focal point for voter anger, and the 104th Congress, because of its historical parallels: in that year Republicans ousted Democrats from 40 years of control of the House and ascended to power on similar pledges to limit government.

Taxpayers who supported this shift of political power will likely welcome the significant difference between the new Congress and prior Congresses on bill-writing activities affecting expenditures. So far many more savings bills, and fewer increases, have been introduced than during the opening of the previous Congress. However, there are other notable trends: incoming freshmen Republicans have proposed barely more spending cuts than veteran GOP Members, while Democrats, who claim they are interested in addressing the debt and deficit have only slowed, not reversed their pace of spending-increase bills.  In addition, health care and national security are the focus of many cuts, and the new "Tea Party" caucus is, as many of its Members claim, proposing more spending reductions than other Republicans.

 Equally important, the "radical" label that some political observers have given to the current House Majority does not fit so neatly when its legislative output is compared to that of the 104th Congress. Indeed, the trends NTUF uncovers throughout this report reflect a Congress struggling to tackle budgetary problems that are far greater than its predecessors have confronted. The data shows that despite the increased efforts to limit government, the cuts that have been proposed thus far would only eliminate a minimal portion of the current deficit.

II. Analysis

    A. Bill Introduction Rates

 

Table 1. Bills Introduced During the First 100 Days of the 112th Congress

 

# Of All Bills

# Of Non-Overlapping Bills

All Bills Percentage by Category

Increase Bills

204

198

13.1%

Decrease Bills

58

38

3.7%

Bills Excluded from Study

14

 

0.9%

Bills with No Net Cost

842

 

54.1%

Bills Not Yet Scored

439

 

28.2%

Bills w/ Estimates

262

236

 

Grand Total

1557

 

 

 

NTUF was able to estimate costs for 262 of the 1,557 bills introduced in the House through the first 100 days of the 112th Congress (from its opening in January through April 14). Over half of all the authored bills would have no discernable net impact on spending. Such bills include proposals to rename Post Offices or other federal buildings, enact regulatory measures, or re-authorize programs at their current budget levels (i.e., no net change in spending). This category also includes legislation that would only have an effect on federal revenues, such as bills to amend the Tax Code or to either establish or revoke tariffs and duties. Fourteen other bills were excluded under BillTally's methodology either because they were regular appropriations (which would be duplicative of authorizing legislation), or because they included conditional clauses that made them impossible to score.

Members introduced 204 bills to increase spending, and 58 bills to reduce outlays. Several of these were identical or closely related. For example, Representatives drafted seven different bills that would repeal the automatic pay raise that Members of Congress receive in the form of an annual cost of living adjustment. Further, six different bills would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Excluding the overlapping bills, there were 198 increase bills and 38 cuts. For each of the non-overlapping cut bills, Members drafted five bills that would seek spending increases.

If passed into law, the 198 non-overlapping bills would increase spending by $144.8 billion annually. Despite their comparatively small number, if the 38 non-overlapping reduction bills were passed into law, spending would be reduced by $297.6 billion, more than a double offset of the cost of the increases. The net effect of all the legislation through the first 100 days of the 112th Congress would reduce spending by $152.9 billion.  

    B. The 112th Congress vs. the 104th and 111th

How does the 112th Congress stack up against the records of the previous Congress or the historically similar 104th Congress? The numbers reflect a major shift in fiscal priorities from the 111th Congress. Members in 2011 are less focused on seeking new spending and have devoted more effort to finding budgetary savings. The number of spending-increase bills has shrunk by more than half, from 428 in 2009 to 198 this year (see Table 2, below), and there was a greater than two-fold spike in the number of savings bills from 16 to 38. Each savings bill offered during the opening of the last Congress was crowded out by 27 bills to hike spending. Members of the new Congress successfully and dramatically reduced that ratio to 5 to 1.

 

Table 2. Bill Introduction Rates During the First 100 Days of the 104th, 111th, and 112th Congresses (Non-overlapping Bills Only)

Congress

# Of Increase Bills

# Of Decrease Bills

Ratio of Increases to Decreases

104th

168

84

2.0

111th

428

16

26.8

112th

198

38

5.2

 

Compared to the last Congress, Representatives have reoriented their focus more toward saving rather than spending. However, taxpayers will have to decide if these results are sufficient because they certainly fall short of the marks set in the 104th Congress. Members serving in 1995 drafted 84 non-overlapping savings bills. That is even more than were drafted in the 111th and 112th opening months combined. Members also drafted fewer increase bills as well. For each of the 84 cut bills, there were just two to hike outlays, for a total of 168.

After the staggering turnover brought on by the 2010 election, it is no surprise to see this substantial shift in policy priorities. That change is made clear by the fact that the total value of savings offered thus far by the 112th Congress is five times greater than what the 111th had offered. If all of the reductions introduced during the opening of the current Session were enacted into law, spending would be reduced by $297.6 billion. That amount even exceeds the reductions offered in the 104th: although the 112th Congress worked on fewer total savings bills than their predecessors in the 104th Congress, Table 3, below, shows that the dollar value of the reductions were nearly two and a half times as high as the $123.9 billion in cuts during Speaker Newt Gingrich's opening. When adjusted for inflation, the 1995 savings would amount to $182.9 billion in 2011 dollars, still $114.7 billion lower than the savings from the 112th.

 

Table 3. Cost of All Bills, in Billions (Excluding Overlapping Bills and Universal Health Care)

Congress

Increases

Decreases

Net*

104th

$149.3

($123.9)

$25.7

111th

$419.1

($55.9)

$363.3

112th

$144.8

($297.6)

($152.9)

* Totals may not add due to rounding.

 

When the savings are analyzed as a percentage of the total budget for the year of each of these opening Sessions, the reductions that Members drafted in the 104th would have made a larger dent in the deficit at the time. Total budget outlays for Fiscal Year 1995 were over $1.5 trillion (in nominal dollars) and the deficit stood at $164 billion (which to many seemed like an obscenely high figure). The savings bills introduced during the opening of the 104th Congress totaled nearly $124 billion. If all of those savings were enacted into law, total outlays would have been reduced by 8.2 percent, but the cuts would have eliminated over three-quarters (75.5 percent) of the deficit. This is a clear demonstration that the sheer size of the current federal budget makes the reductions proposed by either the 104th or 112th seem underwhelming.

 

Table 4. Total Savings of Non-Overlapping Legislation in First 100 Days of Each Congress vs. Total Outlays and Deficits for Each Fiscal Year (in Billions of Dollars)

Congress (Fiscal Year)

Total Proposed Savings

Total Budget Outlays

Savings as a % of Total Outlays

Budget Deficit

Savings as a % of Deficit

104th (1995)

($123.9)

$1,515.7

8.2%

$164.0

75.5%

111th (2009)

($55.9)

$3,517.7

1.6%

$1,412.7

4.0%

112th  (2011)

($297.6)

$3,818.8

7.8%

$1,645.2

18.1%

 

ntuf_pp169_001

 

This year's savings cannot come close to making a huge impact on the current deficit; the budget is in a much worse condition in 2011. Outlays are now over $3.8 trillion and comprise 25.3 percent of GDP, the highest level since World War II.[1] The total budget deficit stands at $1.6 trillion and 43 cents of each dollar the government spends is borrowed. Although the dollar amount of proposed savings was greater in the 112th Congress than in 1995, the budget has grown so much over the interceding years that the cuts actually represent a smaller proportion of net outlays. If the savings proposed during the opening of the current Congress were enacted, the reductions would chip away just 7.8 percent of total budget outlays and 18.1 percent of the deficit. This represents an improvement over the reductions offered during the 111th Congress, which would have only saved less than 2 percent of outlays, but the savings do not go as far the agenda of the 104th Congress.

    C. Member Averages Across the Three Congresses

The previous analyses were based on the total number of bills by type in each of the Congresses. How much spending did Members support via sponsorship or cosponsorship? By adding up the net cost of the list of bills Members backed, NTUF can tabulate their net spending agendas. Table 5, below, compares the net spending agendas of the average Member by party in the 104th, 111th, and 112th Congresses. For a fairer comparison, the figures for the 104th and 111th Congress exclude cost estimates for proposals to enact universal,  "single-payer" health care legislation. Based on Congressional Budget Office and sponsor data, cost estimates for these proposals ranged from $300 billion to some $1 trillion, annually. These types of bills are usually sponsored solely by Democrats although, during the 111th Congress, a number of House and Senate Republicans backed the Healthy Americans Act, a universal health care plan with an estimated annual price tag of $527.7 billion.

Related legislation has been introduced in the current Congress in the forms of H.R. 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act, and H.R. 1200, the American Health Security Act. However, revised cost estimates for these bills, taking into account the reforms and spending hikes contained in PPACA, are not yet available. Without the estimates for these potentially expensive bills, Member averages in the 112th Congress could appear artificially low compared to the previous years' data including the cost of universal health care.

 

Table 5.  House Sponsorship of Legislation in the First 100 Days of 104th, 111th, and 112th Congresses
(Dollar Amounts in Millions, Excludes Universal Health Care Proposals)

Congress

Proposed Increases

Proposed Cuts

Net Agendas

Percent of Increases Offset by Cuts

Democrats

104th

$12,396

($1,461)

$10,936

11.8%

111th

$45,731

($1,030)

$44,701

2.3%

112th

$9,527

($3,246)

$6,281

34.1%

Republicans

104th

$4,337

($11,645)

($7,308)

268.5%

111th

$12,974

($11,349)

$1,625

87.5%

112th

$596

($63,612)

($63,015)

9,372%

Notes: Totals may not add due to rounding. Data excludes the Speaker of the House.

Through the first 100 days of the 112th Congress, the average Republican called for net savings totaling over $63 billion. This is a serious turnaround from the previous Congress when the typical Republican would have increased spending by $1.6 billion. It is noteworthy that, not only did the typical Republican sponsor roughly six times more savings than in the 104th and 111th Congresses; they also offered much less new spending (just shy of $600 million). The latter is a relatively small figure compared to the budget and previously sponsored increases.

The Democrats also offered less new spending coupled with more savings. The average Democrat in the 112th Congress proposed increases of $9.5 billion compared to $12.4 and $45.7 billion in the previous two Congresses. Proposed savings have risen to $3.2 billion in the 112th Congress, about three times as much as during the 111th. Due to those two changes, the amount of increases that are offset by outlay savings rose from just 2 percent in the last Congress to over a third in 2011.

A total of 243 Representatives (229 Republicans and 14 Democrats) distinguished themselves as "net cutters," that is, the spending agenda they backed would on net cut outlays. This number is easily greater than was seen during the opening of the previous Congress when there were only 82 net cutters (81 Republicans and 1 Democrat). The ranks of net cutters this year even exceeded that of 1995, when 186 Representatives (included 165 Republicans and 21 Democrats) supported agendas to cut outlays. Additionally, there was a single Republican who did not sponsor or cosponsor any bills through the 100-day cut-off period, producing a net agenda impact of zero.

Given the size of the current federal budget, it should be easier nowadays to assume the role of net cutter: there is, after all, a lot more government to cut than there was 16 years ago. While the data shows that more Members are seeking budget reductions (i.e., the number of net cutters is up), there are fewer total individual legislative reductions being offered. Moreover, while the dollar amount of proposed cuts in 2011 exceeds those seen in 1995, the growth in cuts has not matched the growing girth of the federal government.  

    D. The 112th Congress in Depth -- Member Caucuses

Table 6 Net Agendas of  Selected Caucuses in the First 100 Days of the 112th Congress (Dollar Amounts in Millions)

 

 

Increases

Decreases

Net

# Of Increases

# Of Decreases

Republican Study Committee

$444

($74,906)

($74,462)

3

5

Republican Main Street Partnership

$921

($31,981)

($31,060)

3

3

Tea Party

$737

($99,850)

($99,114)

4

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Dog Coalition

$4,156

($832)

$3,323

6

1

Progressive Caucus

$17,096

($8,367)

$8,729

13

0

 

Once elected to Congress, a Representative has the option to join numerous 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. There are several caucuses that espouse fiscal discipline. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) states that it is dedicated to "a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government."[2] The Democratic Blue Dog Coalition (BDC), states that its members "share the fundamental belief that government should be fiscally responsible and fully accountable to the people."[3] While in previous years, the Coalition outlined "15 steps that can be taken to put the country back on a path to balanced budgets and long term fiscal sustainability," [4] during this Congress its Co-Chair for Communications stressed the Coalition's "commitment to bringing a moderate viewpoint to the U.S. Congress." A related third caucus, the Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP)[5] is "dedicated to promoting and building a pragmatic, thoughtful, fiscally conservative, and inclusive ‘Governing Majority.'"[6] The Partnership's mission page claims its members are "fiscally conservative deficit hawks."[7] The newest fiscally oriented group, the Tea Party Caucus, was formed in 2010 because, as its founder stated, "Congress had strayed from the fundamental principles of the Constitution and was not listening to the American people."[8]

Given these self descriptions of being "fiscally conservative" or "fiscally responsible," taxpayers may expect that the Members of these caucuses would promote legislative agendas to scale back, or at least to balance new proposals with offsets elsewhere. How do these caucuses live up to their missions? The typical RSC Member sponsored an agenda to reduce spending by $74.5 billion, greater than the savings supported by the average Republican. Participants in the smaller Tea Party Caucus (64 Members) sought, on average, even more reductions than RSC Members: $99.1 billion. Fifty-nine Tea Party Caucus members were also in the RSC, helping to drive down its average net spending agenda. By comparison, RMSP's Members were less "fiscally conservative": they sought $31.1 billion in net savings, about half the net reductions of the average Republican.

Historically, the average Member of the BDC would spend less than the average Democrat and that pattern continues during the 112th Congress. The BDC lost many Members after the election last November. Their legislative spending agenda reflects the "moderate" credentials espoused on its Communication Co-Chair's website. There are no "extreme" cuts; rather, the budget would be allowed to continue to grow at an annual rate of $3.3 billion.

The Progressive Caucus (PC), which professes to be the largest caucus within the greater House Democratic Caucus, makes no claim of "fiscal discipline" but instead favors "economic justice and security for all."[9] Interestingly, Members of this caucus sought, on average, nearly 10 times more budget decreases ($8.4 billion) than Members in the Blue Dog Coalition ($832 million). However, with proposed increases totaling $17.1 billion, Members of the PC had more spending to offset. The typical Progressive's net agenda was $8.7 billion, compared to $4.8 billion for all other Democrats. It should be noted that this figure excludes a cost estimate to enact a single-payer universal health care plan, a proposal supported by many Members of this caucus.  

    E. 112th Congress in Depth -- Freshman vs. Returning Members

Table 7. Average Net Spending Agendas of Freshman and Returning House Members in the 112th Congress, by Party
(Dollar Amounts in Millions)

 

Increases

Decreases

Net

# Of Increases

# Of Decreases

All Freshmen

$538

($57,163)

($56,625)

2

4

All Returning

$5,666

($31,070)

($25,403)

7

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freshman Democrats

$2,202

($1)

$2,202

4

0.1

Returning Democrats

$9,877

($3,401)

$6,476

10

0.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freshman Republicans

$348

($63,675)

($63,326)

2

5

Returning Republicans

$719

($63,580)

($62,862)

3

5

Note: Totals may not add due to rounding. Members of the freshman class who served previously in the House of Representatives were counted as "returning Members."

 

Table 7, above, compares the spending agendas of the typical freshman with their returning House colleagues through the first 100 days of the 112th Congress. Given the electoral climate of the last election, with significant levels of voter outrage against what was seen as "out of control" spending in Washington, one may expect that the incoming class would be particularly fiscally conservative, which could be reflected in net agendas that reduce the budget. This is true overall: the typical freshman, regardless of party, called for a net agenda to cut spending by $56.6 billion, more than twice as much as their returning colleagues ($25.4 billion).

The typical freshman of either party sought fewer increases than those returning to office, but on the Democratic side freshmen sought less savings. Freshman Democrats would have cut just $1 million, on average. Returning Democrats sponsored $3.4 billion in savings. Incumbents sponsored $9.9 billion in new spending, whereas freshmen supported a fifth of that amount, or $2.2 billion.

Somewhat surprisingly, the net agenda of the average Republican freshman was only slightly smaller than that of the typical Republican returning to office. Veterans proposed a net agenda to cut spending by $62.9 billion while newcomers would have cut $63.3 billion, a difference of $465 million. Could it be that Republican incumbents have "woken up and smelled the tea party?" 96.2 percent of the returning Republicans were net cutters. The spending agenda of the increasers ranged from $36 million to $3.8 billion. A huge 94.5 percent of the incoming class contained net cutters -- only four freshmen failed to earn the net cutter distinction. Among these four, one Representative did not author or cosponsor any legislation, and the remaining spending agendas ranged from $2 million to $65 million.

Most of this difference in the net agendas of the returning versus new Republicans could be attributed to the fact that incumbent Republicans sought spending hikes of $719 million while freshman Republicans called for just $348 million in new spending. They may be sticking to their principles by pursuing relatively modest increases, or perhaps are still "learning the ropes" in Washington. Time will tell whether one of these or some other explanation will prevail.  

    F. 112th Congress in Depth -- Spending Proposal

So what are the spending priorities of the 112th Congress? Seven of the ten most cosponsored bills would boost expenditures. The largest of these was H.R. 333, a bill to increase the amount of concurrent receipt of both retired pay and veterans' disability compensation for military retirees with compensable service-connected disabilities. A total of 119 Representatives supported this legislation, with an annualized cost estimate of $2.7 billion.

The bill with the second-highest price tag on the "most supported" list was H.R. 27, to provide for the recognition of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina. This plan received 125 cosponsors and would cost an estimated $157 million annually.

The "most-friended" spending bill (the bill having the most supporters), with 168 sponsors and cosponsors, was H.R. 1519, the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill authorizes $15 million for enforcement, training, and rewards pertaining to pay equity in the workplace. NTUF estimates the bulk of the funds would be spent over three years.

Table 8, below, lists the number of spending bills by their primary issue category. Education bills are popular so far during the 112th Congress; 27 increase bills were related to this topic. The most expensive of these -- as well as the most expensive bill scored during the first 100 days -- is H.R. 555, the Universal Prekindergarten Act. The bill authorizes $150 billion over the next five years to states to set up or expand prekindergarten programs. The bill garnered 23 sponsors and cosponsors. Cost-conscious taxpayers can perhaps find solace in the fact that the five bills that would cost $10 billion or greater had an average of ten sponsors or cosponsors. H.R. 820, the Prescribe a Book Act, was the most-friended education bill. Seventy-four Representatives supported this $15 million proposal to aid and support pediatric involvement in reading and education.

 

Table 8. Spending Increases by Category (112th Congress)
(In Millions of Dollars)

Category

# Of Bills

Total Annualized Cost

Average Annualized Cost

Agriculture/Environment

24

$483

$20

Commerce/Economy/Housing

23

$21,100

$917

Education

27

$37,491

$1,389

Energy

8

$2,940

$368

Federal Government

11

$375

$34

Foreign Affairs/International Relations

5

$10,257

$2,051

Health

21

$1,844

$88

Homeland Security

10

$1,734

$173

Infrastructure/Transportation

11

$9,058

$823

Law Enforcement/Courts

11

$483

$44

Medicare/Medicaid

7

$14,120

$2,017

Miscellaneous

14

$33,312

$2,379

National Defense

2

$4,789

$2,395

Tax Reform

0

$0

$0

Veterans

24

$6,802

$283

Total

198

$144,788

$731

 

Veteran-related legislation was also popular in Congress. If the two-dozen veterans bills introduced became law, spending would increase by $6.8 billion. Members drafted an equal number of bills pertaining to agriculture, the environment, and parks, but their average cost, $20 million, would have a smaller impact on the budget.

The "Miscellaneous" category includes 14 bills ranging in cost from $1 million to $28 billion annually. Five Representatives backed H.R. 755, the Investing in Our Future Act of 2011, which would impose an excise tax on currency transactions that its sponsor estimates would raise $140 billion over five years. The revenues would be spent on child care, global health programs, and "global climate change adaptation and mitigation."[10]  

    G. 112th Congress in Depth -- Savings Proposal

Members authored six (non-overlapping) bills during the opening of the 112th Congress that would each cut spending by over $10 billion. The largest, H.R. 408, would enact a cap on nondefense discretionary outlays, repeal the "stimulus," make certain rescissions, repeal the Medicaid Federal Matching Assistance Percentage increase set in the "stimulus" bill, and repeal a handful of agriculture programs, for an annualized savings of $142.1 billion.[a] The next-biggest cut proposal, H.R. 1111, the Decrease Spending Now Act, would rescind $45 billion in unobligated discretionary appropriations. While they represent large cuts, these bills were not widely supported -- each had just 33 cosponsors.

There were, however, two savings proposals with over 100 cosponsors apiece. H.R. 2, the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, had 181 cosponsors. The legislation, a key plank in the new majority's agenda, would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the controversial health care reform package passed during the 111th Congress. Based on CBO figures, repealing PPACA would save a total of $201.5 billion over the next five years, or $40.3 billion annually.[b] A total of 127 Representatives sponsored or cosponsored H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act. This legislation would implement medical tort reform that could save taxpayers $1.6 billion annually in federally administered health insurance programs including Medicare and Medicaid.

Several Republicans vowed to repeal the remaining "stimulus" spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). CBO estimated ARRA would increase outlays by $575.3 billion over the next ten years.[11] H.R. 408, H.R. 599, the Stimulus Repeal Act (one sponsor), and H.R. 620, the Recovering Excessive Stimulus Expenditures for Taxpayers (RESET) Act (32 cosponsors), would each repeal the remaining "stimulus" funds. However, at the time these bills were introduced, the White House reported that only $7 billion remained unobligated.[12]

In addition, a few potential savings bills were introduced that NTUF was not able to score:

  • H.Rs. 121, 282, and 297 would each require that balances remaining in Members' Representational Allowances at the end of a fiscal year be used for deficit reduction;
  • H.R. 962, the Forgotten Funds Act, would mandate that federally appropriated funds, which ultimately go unspent, are returned to the Treasury to pay down the deficit. Similarly, H.R. 633, the Orphan Earmarks Act, would rescind unused earmarks;
  • H.Rs. 119 and 334 would each prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from hiring additional employees to implement, administer, or enforce health insurance reform;
  • Two bills, H.R. 189 and H.R. 430, were introduced to repeal all or part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But since authority for this program has expired, it is unclear if enacting this legislation would produce additional savings; and
  • Several bills were introduced to eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or to place restrictions on their ability to issue new debt. Official estimates for these reforms are unavailable, however CBO reported to Congress that guarantees made by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac between 2012 and 2021 will cost the government $42 billion[13].

A significant welfare reform proposal was also introduced but excluded from this study because it contains, in essence, a trigger whose implementation is unpredictable. H.R. 1135 would return welfare spending to pre-recession levels and cap its subsequent growth. The plan could save taxpayers upwards of $140 billion a year. However, the bill contains a provision that its cap will not go into effect until the monthly rate of unemployment during the preceding fiscal year is below 6.5 percent.

 

Table 9. Spending Reductions by Category (112th Congress)
(In Millions of Dollars)

Category

# Of Bills

Total Annualized Cost

Average Annualized Cost

Agriculture/Environment

2

($51)

($26)

Commerce/Economy/Housing

5

($5,026)

($1,005)

Education

1

($34)

($34)

Energy

2

($79)

($40)

Federal Government

8

($3,865)

($483)

Foreign Affairs/International Relations

1

($3,638)

($3,638)

Health

5

($44,433)

($8,887)

Homeland Security

1

($12)

($12)

Infrastructure/Transportation

2

($162)

($81)

Law Enforcement/Courts

1

($30)

($30)

Medicare/Medicaid

N/A*

($1,600)

($1,600)

Miscellaneous

5

($191,021)

($38,204)

National Defense

3

($36,624)

($12,208)

Tax Reform

1

($11,074)

($11,074)

Veterans

0

$0

$0

Total

38

($297,649)

($7,833)

* Included in H.R. 408, not counted as an additional bill.

 

Table 9, above, groups the non-overlapping savings bills by their corresponding issue. One-fifth of the cut bills would reform the federal government and elections. The largest of these savings would occur from the enactment of H.R. 657, the Federal Workforce Reduction Act of 2011. This bill, to reduce the number of civil service positions within the Executive Branch, could save $3.5 billion. Other bills in this category include proposals to:

  • Cancel the automatic cost-of-living salary adjustment for Members of Congress (savings of $3 million; seven different bills to enact this were drafted within the first 100 days);
  • Enact salary reductions for Members of Congress, the President, and the Vice President (savings of $9 million; there were four related bills drafted[c]); and
  • Terminate taxpayer financing of presidential elections and party conventions (savings of $59 million annually over three years).

Three different proposals were introduced to cut defense spending by a total of $36.6 billion, about 12 percent of the entire amount of savings under consideration in the House. The largest of these, H.R. 413, the Defense and Deficit Reduction Act, would reduce the budget of the Department of Defense to 2008 levels for a one-year savings of $36.4 billion. This legislation had 17 sponsors and cosponsors.

H.R. 649 would seek savings by consolidating the exchange store systems of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Navy Exchange Command, and the Marine Corps into a single organization. Once completed, sponsors estimate this would reduce outlays by $200 million.

H.R. 621, the National Emergency Selective Service Act of 2011, is the third savings proposal to target the defense budget. This legislation would repeal the Selective Service Program, which could save $24 million. 

    H. 112th Congress in Depth -- Bills by Partisanship of Sponsors

Table 10. Average Cost of All 112th Bills by Partisanship of Sponsors and Cosponsors
(In Millions of Dollars)

# Of Savings

Average Annualized Cost

Partisanship of Cosponsors

# Of Increases

Average Annualized Cost

5

($8,322)

Democrats Only

111

$1,199

1

($5)

Democratic Majority

43

$206

 

 

Equal # of Democrats and Republicans

6

$19

7

($1,978)

Republican Majority

14

$223

45

($12,709)

Republicans Only

30

$112

Note: This data reflects all of the bills scored in the first 100 days, including the overlapping legislation.

Table 10 lists the number of bills with their average cost based on the number of Democratic and Republican sponsors and cosponsors. In this way the core platforms of the two major parties can be compared and contrasted. This analysis demonstrates the large fiscal divide between the parties in the 112th Congress. Of the 204 total increase bills introduced (see Table 1) 111 of them were sponsored or cosponsored exclusively by Democratic Congressmen. On average, they would increase spending by $1.2 billion each. In contrast, the thirty bills that were exclusively backed by Republicans would cost, on average, $112 million. While nearly a third of the total cost of the Democrat-sponsored bills would expand federal spending on education, nearly three-quarters of the cost of all the Republican-only increase bills would expand spending on energy programs.

As mentioned above, Members authored 58 total savings bills during the kick off of the 112th Congress. The vast majority of these bills (45) were only sponsored by Republicans, while only five of the bills were exclusively supported by Democrats. These Democrat-sponsored bills averaged a savings of $8.3 billion, though most of that is from H.R. 413, as discussed above, to reduce the Defense Department budget to 2008 levels.

The scarcity of bills with an equal number of Republican and Democrat sponsors is also noteworthy. There were just six such bills introduced for a relatively moderate average increase of $19 million. There were no savings bills supported equally by Republicans and Democrats. While there were bills with bipartisan support, Members were more likely to reach across the aisle in agreement on ways to increase spending than to trim the budget: 31 percent of the increase bills had bipartisan cosponsor support, compared to just 14 percent of the savings bills.

III. Conclusion

What are we to make of the fiscal record so far in the 112th Congress? This study is based on the bills that the individual Representatives either drafted themselves or endorsed by signing onto as cosponsors. Compared to the last Congress, taxpayers who support spending restraint can see an improvement. On average, Members are supporting more cuts and fewer spending increases. Thus, they have taken initial steps to fulfill campaign promises on spending -- although they are not taking as significant a chunk out of the federal budget as we saw from the 104th Congress.

Yet, because of a proportionally worse budget outlook, the proposed savings do not go far enough to tackle the deficit, tame the debt, and restore balance. This Congress is operating in a fiscal environment in which: government spending comprises the highest percentage of the economy we've seen since World War II, 43 cents of every dollar of that spending is borrowed, the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling has been breached, and the Obama Administration is asking for permission to borrow about $2 trillion more to float the government through the next year and half. The agendas proposed so far are hardly "radical"; indeed, the total savings introduced would only trim less than one-fifth of the deficit. And, of course, not all of the largest cut proposals were widely endorsed.

Given the headlines of debt crisis that has affected several European countries, the dire warnings by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner should the U.S. default on its debt, and the dismal patterns of overspending charted by their own budget office, it is hard to imagine that Members of Congress are unaware of the state of America's finances. So, how do we explain the rather restrained approach to deficit reduction? Perhaps the large freshman class is still "learning the ropes" or rank-and-file Republicans are proposing relatively moderate cuts (mostly across-the-board rather than specific to programs) so as not to be labeled as "radical" by the media or political opponents. But each day a resolution to the budget condition delays, the situation worsens, and the task of fixing it becomes all the more daunting.

In his run for office, President Barack Obama characterized his opponent Senator John McCain's approach to cutting the budget as bringing a hatchet to a job where a scalpel would be sufficient. The President has now had two years to go through the budget with his scalpel and the results are in: a few small scale savings have been achieved, but meanwhile, it seems that nearly every other part of the budget is growing uncontrolled. Clearly, a "scalpel" approach has been insufficient to tame the deficit.

The Republicans in the House have returned "from the woodshed," but so far it seems they may not have brought enough tools with them to cut the budget back to balance. They may have to go back to the woodshed for a bigger axe.

 

About the Author

Demian S. Brady is the Senior Policy Analyst for National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), the research and educational affiliate of the National Taxpayers Union.

 

Notes



[a] Except for its elements dealing with Medicaid savings, this bill was included in the "Miscellaneous" category in Table 9. BillTally methodology only counts the first two years of spending caps. The bill also included dozens of specific discretionary program cuts, but based on information from the sponsor, NTUF assumes that those cuts would take place within the spending caps included in the legislation and would not be counted as additional savings.

[b]  This estimate excludes CBO's estimates for the CLASS Act provision of PPACA. This long-term assisted living insurance program would start collecting premiums, scored as offsetting receipts, in FY 2012 but would not begin to pay benefits until after NTUF's five-year budget window. Given the concern that the program promises to pay out far more in benefits than it will collect, thus creating another unsustainable entitlement program, the offsetting receipts are not included.

[c] One of these bills, H.R. 270, would also cut certain Legislative Branch salaries and expenses for total savings of $104 million.



[1] U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2012 Historical Tables, Table 1.2: Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits (-) as Percentages of GDP: 1930--2016, pg. 24.

[2]  http://rsc.jordan.house.gov/aboutrsc/whatisrsc.htm.

[3] http://ross.house.gov/legislation/bluedogs.htm.

[4] http://www.house.gov/melancon/BlueDogs/.

[5] 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.

[6] http://www.republicanmainstreet.org/.

[7] http://www.republicanmainstreet.org/index.php/Mission.

[8] http://bachmann.house.gov/TeaPartyCaucus/.

[9] http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=74§iontree=2,74.

[10] http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.755:.

[11] http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=9989&zzz=38482.

[12] Matt Hrodey, "Too Late for Stimulus Repeal?," Milwaukee News Buzz, February 21, 2011. http://www.milwaukeenewsbuzz.com/?p=480056.

[13] "CBO Pegs Cost of GSE Guarantees at $42B," MortgageOrb.com, June 3, 2011. http://www.mortgageorb.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.8827.