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Issue Brief


One Election, Two Outcomes: Predictions for Spending-Bill Sponsorship in the Next Congress
NTUF Issue Brief 161

November 10, 2010

With polls suggesting that the deficit, runaway spending, and the economy were on the minds of voters leading up to Election Day, Jim Kessler, Vice President for Policy at the progressive think tank Third Way, told The Wall Street Journal, "This is going to be a very tough election for Blue Dogs, because many of them had success in districts where Democrats are always an endangered species."[1]  That was October 26th.  Barely a week later, Kessler's prediction came true as Republican challengers defeated 49 incumbents – many of them Members of the House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, whose self-described mission is to provide "independent voices for fiscal responsibility and accountability."   

With the departure of these lawmakers, as well as open seats that switched party affiliations, what will the fiscal profile of the 112th Congress look like as John Boehner and the Republicans prepare to become the majority party in the House of Representatives?  Based on data from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation's (NTUF) BillTally system, it is likeliest that taxpayers will see one or both of the following developments:  First, the Democratic caucus as a whole may be more inclined to support increased spending than in the current Congress.  Second, a Republican majority might provide an incentive for the more fiscally conservative Democrats within that caucus to support additional spending cuts.

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.

Leading up to Election Day, 41 current Members of the House had announced their retirement, had lost a primary bid for their current seat, or had run for another elected office.  As Chart 1 shows, the average Democrat not standing for reelection had a somewhat lower net spending agenda compared to one who was running for reelection ($435.1 billion versus $531.6 billion).  The situation was reversed for Republicans – those seeking reelection had an average net agenda that would reduce overall annual federal spending by $51.4 billion, while those not seeking reelection had an average agenda to cut spending by $22.9 billion.

chart1

Even though some races still have not been decided, at least 51 incumbents were defeated on Election Night – 49 Democrats and two Republicans.  Chart 2 below compares the average net spending agendas of the defeated incumbents by party.

chart2

Given voters' concerns regarding fiscal policy, it might be surprising to some that a disproportionate share of the Democratic incumbents who lost were Members of the Blue Dog Coalition.  Of the 49 Democrats who lost their seats on Tuesday evening, 22 of them, or roughly 45 percent, were Blue Dogs.  Those 22 defeats mean that the membership of the Blue Dog Coalition was nearly halved, as 48 out of the current 56 Members were running for reelection. 

The Coalition had 13 Members whose net legislative agendas would cut average annual spending.  Nine of those incumbents were defeated.  This leaves the ranks of the Blue Dogs depleted.  Chart 3 below shows that those returning Members have, on average, slightly higher net spending agendas than those who did not seek reelection and significantly higher net agendas than those who were defeated. 

chart3

What other messages has the election sent to returning lawmakers? There are several scenarios, but BillTally trends for previous Congresses can provide some clues that point to the more solid possibilities.  According to the most recent BillTally report, the average House Democratic agenda peaked at $547.4 billion in the 109th Congress and dipped to $500.2 billion in the current Congress. House Republicans, on the other hand, reached the highest net average agenda in the 108th Congress (at $30.7 billion) and returned to proposing a reduction in outlays during this Congress (an estimated annual savings of $45.3 billion).[2]

Based on these findings, it would not be unrealistic for remaining Democrats to wonder if their slight pullback in backing bigger budgets provided any advantage in the election.  Republicans, meanwhile, could perceive that finally choosing to match their rhetoric about spending restraint with actual sponsorship of legislation aided their fortunes at the ballot box.[3]

The departure of half the Blue Dogs could have an impact on America's fiscal future as the Republican majority works to fulfill its "Pledge to America" in the 112th Congress (a major plank of which is to "stop out-of-control spending and reduce the size of government").  With Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing "no regrets" about the course she charted for the House, and with the likelihood that she will head the Democratic leadership team in the next Congress, a smaller, more homogeneous Democratic caucus that is inclined to support additional expenditures may be less willing to compromise with Republicans.[4] 

However, Republicans have announced that they will allow amendments to reduce spending for all legislation that is brought to the floor.  This opportunity, plus the addition of Republican freshmen, might provide political cover to the remaining Blue Dogs and give them the opportunity to lay "the foundation for the bipartisanship necessary to bring about fundamental reforms" that the Coalition supports.

As BillTally data can demonstrate, there may have been two electoral outcomes that will influence the 112th Congress.  Taxpayers will soon see which of these proves most ascendant in Washington.   

About the Author

Jeff Dircksen is the Director of Congressional Analysis for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (www.ntu.org/ntuf/), the research and educational arm of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union.

Notes


[1] Gerald F. Seib, "Blue Dogs Face Sharp Losses in Midterms," The Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304248704575574150456180156.html.

[2] See NTUF BillTally Report 111-1, Seeking the Budget "Blowout Preventer": The First Session of the 111th Congress, http://www.ntu.org/ntuf/billtally-111-1.html.

[3] Given that the Senate elections involved fewer seats and many other political factors, it is more difficult to divine future behavior on budget issues in the upper chamber.

[4] Meredith Shiner, "Pelosi: 'No Regrets'," Politico, November 3, 2010, http://www.politico.com/blogs/glennthrush/1110/Pelosi_No_regrets.html.