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Policy Paper


Flashbacks and Backtracks: What the Current Congress Can Learn from Its Spendaholic Predecessor
NTUF Policy Paper No. 161 -- VoteTally Report 109-2

May 2, 2007

I think on a bipartisan basis we owe it to our children and grandchildren to get this Government in order and to be able to actually pay our way.
– Newt Gingrich, January 4, 1995

After years of historic deficits, this 110th Congress will commit itself to a higher standard: pay-as-you-go, no new deficit spending.  Our new America will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt.
– Nancy Pelosi, January 4, 2007

Republicans won the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 by highlighting Democratic scandals and by promising to make the federal government more accountable, responsive, and frugal.  Fiscal conservatives expected that the "Republican Revolution" would not only terminate programs such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts but also shutter entire cabinet departments.  Using the "Contract with America" as their guide, the House Republicans' first budget called for the elimination of more than 200 federal programs as well as the Departments of Education, Energy, and Commerce.[1]  Despite the successes of reforming welfare in 1996 and slowing the growth of entitlement spending in 1997, by the end of the decade the party that had come to change Washington was starting to succumb to the trappings of office.  Rather than overhaul America's unsustainable entitlement programs, Republicans pushed through a costly expansion of the Medicare program by adding a prescription drug benefit in 2003.  Then budgetary gimmicks appeared and subsequently undermined any semblance of spending discipline.  Congress stuffed pork barrel projects into supplemental appropriations bills and called its newfound tactic "emergency spending."  The Republicans' continued profligacy, and the ethical problems that led to the resignation and criminal conviction of several House Members, provided Democrats with an opening to retake control of Congress.

The Democrats' 2006 campaign platform echoed that of the Republicans in 1994, by calling for an end to corruption, the elimination of special interest earmarks, and a restoration of fiscal discipline to the federal budget.  Obviously, the Democrats' views on the latter issue may not mesh with those of fiscal conservatives.  The 110th Congress's Budget Resolutions aim to erase federal deficits largely through tax hikes.  But will the saying, "Only Nixon could go to China," yet apply to the party that brought about the New Deal and the Great Society, will Democrats be better able to address America's looming entitlement crisis than the party that claims to represent fiscal conservatives?  As the two quotations above demonstrate, words are brave things.  But what about votes?

This study was developed using NTUF's VoteTally computer accounting software, which identifies the spending at stake in the votes cast by each Member of Congress under rules designed to ensure that no spending increases or decreases are double-counted.  The data includes 225 House votes and 158 Senate votes from the 109th Congress that would raise or lower federal spending by at least $1 million.  The VoteTally methodology is designed to reflect the net budget pressure that each Member of Congress generates through floor votes and through the Member's acquiescence to the "automatic" growth of entitlement spending.

I.         Methodology Overview

  • VoteTally measures the marginal effect of each Member's votes to increase or decrease federal outlays relative to the baseline.  The baseline may be prior-year outlays, the piece of legislation being voted on, or an amendment that is being modified by a secondary amendment.  The Foundation does not attempt to ascertain the reason(s) behind any Member's vote; VoteTally simply captures the fiscal impact of that vote.
  • Since VoteTally examines the entirety of Congress's spending decisions – including failed measures, vetoed legislation, and legislation that has passed one chamber of Congress but not the other – the "swing" in fiscal impacts from year to year can be much greater than the simple, actual changes in annual outlays.
  • VoteTally includes a mandatory spending charge for each Member of Congress, which is the estimated growth in all mandatory and entitlement programs as forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.  Since entitlement programs were consciously designed to grow without Congress approving or disapproving them in floor votes each year, all Members are viewed as accepting the growth in entitlement spending.  Members who vote to slow the growth of entitlements receive credit for a partial increase, while Members who vote against slowing the growth receive credit for the full amount under current law. 
  • VoteTally attempts to encompass all floor votes that increase or decrease federal outlays, including voice votes and unanimous consent agreements.  All Members are charged with the spending passed by voice vote or unanimous consent even if the Member may have voiced a "no" vote.  To avoid the spending charged by voice vote, Members must request a recorded vote, which they may do under House and Senate rules.
  • VoteTally does not weight or rank votes based on an arbitrary or ideologically partisan system.  VoteTally examines the fiscal costs associated with each vote cast, without prejudice.

For a more thorough discussion of the VoteTally methodology, please see Appendix C.

II.        Analysis

This study includes 225 House votes and 158 Senate votes cast during the 109th Congress.  Several Members have been omitted from the data set used for analysis due to resignation, a low vote total, or because they did not serve the entire Session.[2]  Appendix A lists Members alphabetically and Appendix B lists Members by state delegation.

A.        Data Highlights

  • The adjournment of the 109th Congress marks the sixth straight year where no Member of Congress had a net voting record that would have reduced overall outlays, excluding the growth in entitlement – or mandatory – spending.  The number of spending cutters peaked during the 2nd Session of the 104th Congress (1996) at 512 Members.
  • During the 109th Congress, the average Member of the House supported $305.1 billion in new spending increases.  This amount is significantly below the $394.2 billion in the 108th Congress (a 23 percent reduction), but substantially above the $61.0 billion (a 400.1 percent jump) in spending increases from the 105th Congress.
  • While the amount of spending reductions that the average House Member voted for doubled compared to the 108th Congress ($15.4 billion versus $7.3 billion), this is still almost two-thirds below what was supported in the 105th Congress ($40.2 billion).
  • Even though average net spending agendas in the 109th Congress for House Republicans and Democrats ($279.4 billion and $301.2 billion, respectively) are lower than those of the 108th Congress ($378.1 billion and $397.0 billion), these totals have risen astonishingly (1,525 percent and 1,124 percent) when compared to the 105th Congress.
  • The average Senator voted for $356.8 billion in new net spending during the 109th Congress, excluding mandatory spending growth.  This is a 24 percent drop when compared to the 108th Congress.  Net spending agendas are still higher than those in the 105th Congress (637 percent), the 106th Congress (88 percent), and the 107th Congress (39 percent).
  • The House met for a combined 1,917 hours during the 109th Congress.  Based on the average Representative's net agenda, Members voted for $151 million in new spending for each hour that the House was in session.  The Senate was in session for a total of 2,250 hours during 2005 and 2006.  Using the average voting agenda for that chamber, Senators opted to increase spending by approximately $159 million per hour.
  • The average Representative supported 5 cents in spending reductions for every dollar in spending increases.  The average Senator voted for 4 cents in spending reductions for every dollar in spending increases.

B.        Who Is More Responsible?

text-boxIn 1994, Republicans campaigned against a "tax-and-spend" Democratic majority on a platform of making Congress more accountable and less costly to taxpayers.  Republicans argued that they could cut taxes, eliminate wasteful government programs, and balance the budget.  Twelve years later, Democrats were portraying themselves as the party of fiscal discipline and were lampooning Republicans for runaway spending and a burgeoning national debt.  The war of words was fought not only on the campaign trail but also in the halls of Congress as Members trumpeted their tax and budget credentials. Strangely, those trumpets did not blare as often in the 109th Congress, as the table below shows.

Table 1.  Calls for Fiscal Discipline and Responsibility
(As indicated in the text of the Congressional Record
)
Both Chambers

Search Term

107th Congress

108th Congress

109th Congress

"Fiscally Responsible"

517

864

551

"Fiscal Discipline"

519

511

483

"Fiscal Responsibility"

556

966

822

"Fiscal Irresponsibility"

107

162

112

"Fiscally Irresponsible"

96

237

134

Total

1,795

2,740

2,102

Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation, VoteTally Report, 109th Congress.

This 23 percent decline in the lexicon of fiscal discipline is difficult to explain.  After all, Democrats regained control of Congress by presenting themselves – in part – as the party that would enforce budgetary strictures in Washington.  Yet, during the 109th Congress both House and Senate Republicans supported smaller spending increases and more spending reductions than did Democrats.  In the House, where the average Member backed increases of $305.1 billion and reductions of $15.4 billion, the average Republican supported $301.6 billion in increases and $22.2 billion in cuts.  In contrast, the average Democrat voted for $309.0 billion in new spending and $7.9 billion in cuts.  However, in the 106th and 107th Congresses, Democrats did have lower net spending agendas, excluding mandatory spending, than did House Republicans ($130.6 billion versus $143.7 billion, and $183.7 billion versus $200.5 billion, respectively).  Perhaps the fear of lawmakers in either party to push the issue on the floors of the House and Senate – where, unlike paid advertising, any remark can trigger an immediate rejoinder – was one factor in this pullback for the war of words.

It is interesting to note that the 22 Republican incumbents who were defeated for reelection to the House had net voting agendas that were $2.1 billion higher than members of their party who were returned to the House, albeit in the minority for the 110th Congress ($281.9 billion versus $279.8 billion).  Although the differences among the losers' and their GOP colleagues' averages were comparatively small, they do seem to demonstrate that going to bat for a bigger federal budget was of little help to endangered incumbents.  At the very least, the figures suggest that there might have been minimal danger in running for reelection on a platform that was more frugal.

Table 2 shows averages for all House Members by Congress, while Table 3 contains data on party averages by Congress.

Table 2.  Comparison of House Averages by Congress
(Figures are in billions of dollars)

Congress

Spending Increases

Spending Reductions

Net Spending

Net Spending +

Baseline Mandatory Spending

105th

61.0

40.2

20.8

121.8

106th

148.4

11.2

137.2

255.2

107th

196.2

3.9

192.3

363.3

108th

394.2

7.3

386.9

524.9

109th

305.1

15.4

289.7

421.6

Note:  Totals may not add due to rounding.
Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation, VoteTally Report, 109th Congress.

 

Table 3.  Comparison of House Party Averages by Congress
(Figures are in billions of dollars)

Congress

Spending Increases

Spending Reductions

Net Spending

Net Spending +

Baseline Mandatory Spending

Democrats

105th

62.3

37.7

24.6

125.6

106th

138.1

7.5

130.6

248.6

107th

185.5

1.8

183.7

354.7

108th

405.7

8.7

397.0

535.0

109th

309.0

7.9

301.2

437.2

Republicans

105th

59.8

42.2

17.2

118.2

106th

158.3

14.6

143.7

261.7

107th

206.4

5.9

200.5

371.5

108th

384.2

6.1

378.1

516.1

109th

301.6

22.2

279.4

407.6

Note:  Totals may not add due to rounding.  Independents are excluded from party averages.
Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation, VoteTally Report, 109th Congress.

text_boxIn the Senate, where near party-line voting is common, Republicans tended to back less new spending than their colleagues across the aisle ($346.8 billion versus $404.3 billion each).  Republican Senators also voted to cut more spending than did their Democratic counterparts ($21.0 billion compared to $8.9 billion).  However, net voting agendas for both parties are substantially larger than they were in 105th Congress ($40.0 billion for Republicans and $58.7 billion for Democrats) and the 107th Congress ($161.8 billion for Republicans and $299.2 billion for Democrats).

As in the House, the Republican Senators who were defeated for reelection had net voting agendas that were slightly above the average of those who will be serving in the 110th Congress ($329.3 billion compared to $325.3 billion). 

While net spending agendas in the Senate for the 109th Congress were below those of the 108th Congress, they have climbed since the 105th Congress, when the average Senator supported just $48.4 billion in new spending.

Table 4 highlights Senate averages since the 105th Congress.  Party averages by Congress are contained in Table 5.

Chart 1 shows the rapid decline in support for lower federal expenditures, as the number of spending cutters has fallen to zero from a high of 512 Members in 1996.

Although net voting agendas for the 109th Congress are lower than those of the previous Congress, it is important to realize that this does not reflect an absolute reduction in spending, but rather a lower rate of increase.

Table 4.  Comparison of Senate Averages by Congress
(Figures are in billions of dollars)

Congress

Spending Increases

Spending Reductions

Net Spending

Net Spending +

Baseline Mandatory Spending

105th

79.7

31.4

48.4

149.4

106th

194.8

5.3

189.4

307.5

107th

258.5

1.5

256.9

427.9

108th

485.3

14.3

471.0

609.0

109th

372.4

15.6

356.8

489.7

Note:  Totals may not add due to rounding.
Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation, VoteTally Report, 109th Congress.

 

Table 5.  Comparison of Senate Party Averages by Congress
(Figures are in billions of dollars)

Congress

Spending Increases

Spending Reductions

Net Spending

Net Spending +

Baseline Mandatory Spending

Democrats

105th

91.8

33.1

58.7

159.7

106th

226.3

4.2

222.1

340.2

107th

300.2

1.0

299.2

470.2

108th

627.3

28.0

599.3

737.3

109th

404.3

8.9

395.4

532.3

Republicans

105th

69.9

29.9

40.0

141.0

106th

168.1

6.3

161.8

279.8

107th

215.1

2.0

213.1

384.1

108th

354.9

1.6

353.3

491.3

109th

346.8

21.0

325.8

455.5

Note:  Totals may not add due to rounding.  Independents are excluded from party averages.
Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation, VoteTally Report, 109th Congress.

spending-cutters-chart

C. Voices versus Votes: Did They Mean What They Said?

text-boxWith Members of Congress proclaiming their commitment to fiscal responsibility on the campaign trail, one might expect those words to translate into action.  The reality is somewhat different, however.  During the 109th Congress, the House of Representatives voted on 24 spending cut amendments worth approximately $13.3 billion in potential savings.  Both the number and value of the reductions were lower than those offered in the 108th Congress, when House Members considered 32 spending cut amendments totaling $21.9 billion.  In any case, the House was unable to pass a single one of the amendments contained in Table 6.

During the 109th Congress, Senators voted on seven spending cut amendments, the same number as in the 108th Congress.  However, the 109th Senate voted on only $16.0 billion in total reductions, compared to $41.4 billion in the previous Congress.  In contrast to the House, the Senate was able to pass three spending reduction amendments during the First Session of the 109th Congress, but did not adopt any during the Second Session.  In the end, however, all action proved futile as none of the cuts made it into law.

Tables 6 and 7 detail the spending cuts that were considered in each chamber during the 109th Congress.

Table 6.  Spending Cut Amendments Offered in the House During the 109th Congress

Vote Number

Description

Amount of Reduction
(In millions of $)

1st Session, 2005

313

1% reduction in Labor/HHS Appropriations

1,425

352

1% reduction in Transportation Appropriations

669

260

1% reduction in Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations

570

197

1% reduction in Interior Appropriations

262

253

Reduce contribution to the U.N.

218

334

1% reduction in Foreign Operations Appropriations

203

236

1% reduction in Agricultural Appropriations

168

329

Reduce funding for the Andean Counter-drug Initiative

100

301

1% reduction in Legislative Appropriations

29

191

Reduce NEA funding

10

195

Reduce NEA funding

2

230

Reduce Agriculture Department funding

2

2nd Session, 2006

48

Reduce funding for public diplomatic programs

5

49

Reduce funding for educational and cultural exchange programs

5

50

Eliminate funding for Radio Free Europe

36

57

Eliminate funding for hurricane recovery

4,901

142

Reduce R&D for defense agencies

2,374

171

1% reduction in Interior Appropriations

269

186

1% reduction in Agriculture Appropriations

178

197

Reduce funding for Global Nuclear Energy Partnership

40

203

1% reduction in Energy/Water Appropriations

300

248

1% reduction in Foreign Operations Appropriations

213

276

1% reduction in Transportation/Treasury/Housing Appropriations

678

348

1% reduction in Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations

598

Total

 

13,255

Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation, VoteTally Report, 109th Congress.

 

Table 7.  Spending Cut Amendments Offered in the Senate During the 109th Congress

Vote Number

Description

Amount of Reduction
(In millions of $)

1st Session, 2005

124

Reduce transportation authorization

998

291

Medicaid funding changes

239

85

Reduce international broadcasting funding

21

256

Eliminate Congressional pay COLA

2

2nd Session, 2006

96

Reduce defense spending by 2.775%

14,000

99

Reduce Supplemental Appropriations

700

100

Reduce funding for seafood promotion

15

Total

 

15,975

Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation, VoteTally Report, 109th Congress.

III.      Conclusion

The day after any election, political pundits often point out that winning a campaign is one thing and that governing is quite another.  When discussing changes in voting patterns captured by the VoteTally system with Republican Congressional staffers during their time in the majority, NTUF personnel were often told that the GOP was responsible for governing and that meant passing legislation. And, as was frequently the case, that legislation was more and more expensive to taxpayers.  This situation was not necessarily preordained. Bearing in mind that VoteTally measures only spending changes, Congressional leaders could have attempted to muster majorities on behalf of freezing outlays or restricting their rate of growth more vigorously. Yet, by the end of the 109th Congress, Republicans would have been hard-pressed to list any programs that they had eliminated and had not been resurrected in one form or another over the past 12 years.  Instead, the GOP would likely have highlighted the areas where funding had increased – even above what the President had requested.  Somewhere along the way, the echoes of the "revolution" faded away. 

Now, Democrats must attempt to live up to their campaign promises of spending restraint and earmark reform.  With concerns about pork-filled continuing resolutions and emergency spending bills, as well as disagreements over what constitutes an "earmark," Democrats have quite a challenge from without and within during the months to come in the 110th Congress.

 

Jeff Dircksen
Director of Congressional Analysis


[1] Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinksi, "The Return of the Living Dead:  Federal Programs that Survived the Republican Revolution," Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 375, July 24, 2000.

[2] Members excluded from the data set are House Speaker Dennis Hastert (IL); Representatives John Campbell (CA), Christopher Cox (CA), Randy "Duke" Cunningham (CA), Tom DeLay (TX), Mark Foley (FL), Doris Matsui (CA), Robert Matsui (CA), Bob Ney (OH), Rob Portman (OH), Jean Schmidt (OH); and, Senator Jon Corzine (NJ).  Congressman, and now Senator, Robert Menendez (NJ) is excluded from both the House and Senate calculations.