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Issue Brief

The New Senate: Where Will the Federal Budget Go in 2013?
NTUF Issue Brief #165

November 14, 2012
By Demian Brady
By Dan Barrett





The New Senate: Where Will the Federal Budget Go in 2013?

NTUF Issue Brief #165

By Demian S. Brady and Dan Barrett

November 14, 2012


The voters have spoken, and they seemed to be telling politicians, “Go back and try again.” After the election, the makeup of the federal government remains largely the same as it was before November 6. Now that the campaigning is over, Congress and the White House must refocus on the pressing issues that remain unresolved: the “fiscal cliff,” the $16 trillion national debt, and the looming entitlement crisis.

The Senate will play a pivotal role in the coming debates.  In most cases, any legislation will need the support of at least 60 Senators in order to be brought up for a vote, and this could prove difficult without compromise. The Upper Chamber has often been mired in partisan battles, and the majority party’s leadership has been criticized for failure to bring a budget to the floor since April of 2009.

Of the 33 seats that were contested in the 2012 election, 21 Senators were reelected to serve another six-year term. Twelve freshmen will be sworn in, six of whom will come from the House of Representatives. How could these changes in the Senate affect the federal budget’s outlook? Data from NTUF’s BillTally project can provide some clues. Since 1991, NTUF’s BillTally project has computed the legislative spending agendas of each Member of Congress by analyzing the costs – and savings – of the bills that they sponsor or cosponsor. Using BillTally data and other independent sources, NTUF also examined the spending platforms of the candidates in several key Senate races.[1]

The Returning Incumbents

Table 1, below, shows the net spending agendas of those Senators who were reelected to Congress last week. The totals range from a budget cut of $327.4 billion to a budget hike of almost $1.04 trillion. Compared to the current fiscal year’s outlays, the annualized reduction would represent a decrease of 8.7 percent, while the largest spending agenda would represent an increase of 27.6 percent.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed the largest spending increase agenda. Most of the cost comes from his proposal to establish a single-payer health care system.[2] The largest cutting agendas, led by Senator Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT), result from sponsorship of legislation to impose strict spending caps that would pare back outlays.[3] They also include repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which would reduce expenditures by nearly $64 billion a year.[4]


Table 1. 112th Congress First Session Spending Agendas of Senators Re-elected in 2012

(in Billions)



Spending Agenda


Dianne Feinstein



Tom Carper



Bill Nelson



Ben Cardin



Debbie Stabenow



Amy Klobuchar



Jon Tester



Claire McCaskill



Dean Heller


New Jersey

Bob Menendez


New York

Kirsten Gillibrand



Roger Wicker



Sherrod Brown



Robert Casey


Rhode Island

Sheldon Whitehouse



Bob Corker



Orrin Hatch



Bernie Sanders



Maria Cantwell


West Virginia

Joe Manchin



John Barrasso


Source: NTUF BillTally System


 Freshmen Senators

Table 2, below, shows the net spending agendas of the newly-elected freshmen Senators. As mentioned, six of the new Senators currently serve in the House. The figures represent sponsorship and cosponsorship activities in the First Session of the current Congress. Where available, the table includes the annualized cost estimate of the spending issues that the remaining newcomers featured during their campaigns.

For taxpayers in the 12 states that elected new Senators, a slightly different picture emerges based on a review of their spending agendas in the House or on the campaign trail. All but one of the Senators-Elect are on record for seeking spending increases at the federal level. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), elected from the House of Representatives, backed a spending agenda during the First Session of the current Congress to reduce outlays by $367.4 billion.[5] The other new Senators moving up from the House supported spending increases ranging from $5.9 billion to $1.2 trillion. As in the case with Senator Sanders, this trillion-dollar agenda was due to Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) sponsorship of legislation in the House to establish a single-payer health care program.[6] NTUF also analyzed the proposals she featured during her campaign for the Senate and identified $1.16 trillion in new spending.

The campaign agendas of the three newcomers to Congress that NTUF analyzed, would increase outlays ranging from $100 million to $13.9 billion. Data is not available for Angus King (I-ME), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Ted Cruz (R-TX).


Table 2. Proposed Spending Agendas of Newly-Elected Senators

(in Billions)



Spending Agenda


Jeff Flake



Chris Murphy



Mazie Hirono



Joe Donnelly



Angus King



Elizabeth Warren



Deb Fischer


New Mexico

Martin Heinrich


North Dakota

Heidi Heitkamp



Ted Cruz



Tim Kaine



Tammy Baldwin


Source: NTUF BillTally System
a NTUF BillTally System, First Session data.
b No proposal cost data has been compiled.
c NTUF Senate campaign analyses.[7]
d Baldwin’s Senate campaign highlighted $1.16 trillion in new  


 A Chamber Still Divided

The Democrats gained two seats in the Senate, but the overall partisan divide regarding the future direction of the budget remains as it was before the election:

  • Every Republican whose agenda is included, has backed net annual spending cuts ranging from $221.1 billion to $367.4 billion.
  • 21 of the 23 Democrats whose agendas are available, supported annual spending hikes ranging from $132 million to $1.24 trillion.
  • The two Democrats with agendas to reduce spending, Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jon Tester (D-MT), were from states that voted for Governor Mitt Romney in the Presidential race, and were challenged by candidates who backed larger spending decreases in the House (Todd Akin (R-MO) and Dennis Rehberg (R-MT)).[8] In the 111th Congress, McCaskill called for a net spending increase of $7.8 billion while Tester supported an agenda to boost outlays by $34.4 billion.[9]
  • Two Senators-Elect ran as Independents. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with the Democratic Party, would increase net outlays by $1.04 trillion annually. Angus King (ME) is newly elected.

While NTUF has not analyzed the platforms of the remaining three Senator-Elects, their respective campaign websites provide some information about the issues they will pursue:

  • Ted Cruz’s “Jobs and Growth Plan” includes calls to “repeal [PPACA],” “[c]ut the federal budget and reform entitlements,” and “[p]ass a strong, balanced budget amendment.”[10]
  • Deb Fischer says she “will make the tough decisions necessary to dramatically reduce the size and scope of the federal government.” She also supports repeal of PPACA and passing a Balanced Budget Amendment.[11]
  • Angus King’s campaign has already removed all of the issue pages that were on its previous website, Previously, it had voiced support for withholding Senators’ salaries if a budget is not passed, and reform of Medicare’s fee-for-service payment system. His new site,, includes a pledge to work with both sides of the aisle.[12]

As noted, NTUF’s BillTally study and the data in this Issue Brief track the net effect on outlays of the proposals that each Member of Congress and certain candidates have supported. To the extent that policymakers propose more spending than reductions, their plans would have to be financed either through additional borrowing or higher taxes. Taxpayers should bear this inevitability in mind when they hear policymakers with agendas to increase spending talk about a “balanced approach” to tackling the $16 trillion debt.

About the Authors

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

Dan Barrett is Research and Outreach Manager for NTUF.


[1] National Taxpayers Union Foundation, Taxpayer’s Tab, November 1, 2012.

[2] For the complete list of legislation with cost estimates sponsored or cosponsored by Senator Sanders during the First Session, see here

[4] Brady, Demian S., Repealing “Obamacare”: A Look Beyond the Media’s Misguided Deficit Focus, NTUF Issue Brief 164, July 30, 2012.

[7] National Taxpayers Union Foundation conducted analyses into the proposed spending agendas of multiple 2012 U.S. Senatorial candidates including: