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Study: Congress's Deluge of New Spending Bills Receding, But Fiscal Floodwaters Remain High

For Immediate Release July 30, 2007
Pete Sepp, (703) 683-5700

(Alexandria, VA) -- Will federal lawmakers follow the pattern of the past three Congresses by advocating more spending cut legislation to pay for their wish lists? This and other budget policy questions are explored in the latest BillTally report from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF). Even though the number of spending reduction proposals introduced in the House and Senate during 2005 and 2006 rose by 15 percent, spending hikes continued to dwarf cuts by a ratio of 20 to 1.

"After years of plowing forward at flank speed, sponsorship of new spending bills from most Members of Congress seems to be slowly reversing course," said NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally director Demian Brady. "Yet, the fiscal ship of state is still far away from making the 180-degree turn that would balance budget-hike proposals with offsetting budget cuts elsewhere."

Since 1991, BillTally has computed a "net annual agenda" for each Congress Member based on individual sponsorships or cosponsorships of legislation. The study provides an in-depth look at the fiscal behavior of lawmakers, free from the influence of committees, party leaders, and rules surrounding floor votes. All cost estimates for bills are obtained from third-party sources or are calculated from neutral data. In the 109th Congress, NTUF identified 2,433 House and Senate bills with a budget impact of plus or minus $1 million (2,317 proposed increases while 116 proposed cuts). Highlights include:

  • The introduction of spending bills continued to outpace that of savings bills, but the ratio of increases to cuts dropped in both Chambers for the third straight Congress. The House introduced 1,332 increase bills and 72 savings bills -- a ratio of 19 to 1, down from 24 to 1 in the 107th Congress. The Senate ratio was 22 to 1 -- an improvement from 36 to 1 six years ago. "Apparently this gradual turnaround was too little, too late with voters," Brady remarked.
  • If every bill (excluding overlapping legislation) before the Senate were passed into law, federal spending would rise by a net of $1.3 trillion each year, or $11,248 per household. House bills would cumulatively cause the budget to soar by $2.5 trillion, or $21,695 per household. The federal government is already projected to spend about $24,000 per household under current law.
  • However, there were even more dramatic differences on the individual level. More than one-third of all House Members (151) and nearly one-fifth of Senate Members (19) had wish lists that would boost the budget by at least $100 billion. On the other end of the scale, just 28 Representatives and 8 Senators had legislative agendas that, on balance, would reduce the budget.
  • Taken as a whole, neither Republicans nor Democrats could boast of fiscal agendas whose overall net effect would actually lower annual expenditures, although there were major partisan contrasts. In the House, the typical Democrat supported legislation that on net (increases minus decreases) would fatten the federal budget by $765.8 billion annually, vs. $21.6 billion for Republicans. The difference was not as large for Democrats and Republicans in the Senate ($117.6 billion vs. $21.1 billion, respectively).
  • Two Congressional caucuses purporting to be "fiscally conservative" had at least some evidence behind their claims. Members of both the Republican Study Committee and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition racked up significantly smaller average agendas than other rank-and-file Members of their own respective parties (though both caucuses still proposed a net spending hike).
  • Brady also tested the argument that the urge to spend more seems to get stronger with time in office. According to BillTally averages, freshman Democrats in the House and Senate backed much less in outlay hikes than their more senior colleagues. On the GOP side, the trend was weaker - a typical Senate newcomer's agenda cost came in just below that of longer-serving Republicans, while an average House freshman exceeded the mark for those serving a repeat term.

Brady noted that BillTally results offer clues for taxpayers to use in evaluating whether the new majority in Congress will follow through on promises of fiscal discipline - by reducing spending, as opposed to raising taxes or adding to the deficit. For example, far from being solely a Republican concern, the average Member of either major party supported nearly the same number of savings bills. Brady believes that an often overlooked measurement is on the other side of the ledger -- Democrats typically sponsored roughly twice as many bills to increase spending in both Chambers, compared to Republicans.

"Even though the course of federal spending agendas seems to be turning toward a brighter horizon, lawmakers have yet to take full control of the rudder on America's fiscal ship of state," Brady concluded. "Taxpayers are wondering whether this critical vessel is headed 'three sheets to the wind,' and whether lawmakers will look for more ways to trim the budget rather than add to it."

NTUF is the non-partisan research arm of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union, a citizen group founded in 1969. Note: NTU Foundation BillTally Report 109-3, along with data for individual lawmakers, is available at www.ntu.org.

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