Budget-Cutting Legislation Back in Style with Congress, but How Big Is the Trend? New BillTally Analysis Offers Clues

From the “Super Committee” to the Tea Party Caucus, federal budget reductions remain a hot topic of conversation among Members of Congress, but what is the reality behind the rhetoric? The National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s new BillTally report on the first year of the 112th Congress provides facts and figures on lawmakers’ bill-writing behavior that shed light on the most important policy challenge of our time.

“Many of the newcomers as well as returning veterans to Congress brought with them a stack of campaign-trail pledges to pare back federal spending – pledges they hoped would translate into a genuine shift of policy,” said NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally Project Director Demian Brady. “The latest BillTally analysis shows that such a shift has indeed taken place in both the number and amount of proposals to trim outlays, even as deficit-conscious Americans await actual enactment of such proposals into law."

Click on the image below or follow the link HERE for the full BillTally report:

BillTally is the most methodical and comprehensive study of Congressional spending legislation. Since 1991, BillTally has computed a “net annual agenda” based on each Senator’s or Representative’s individual sponsorship or co-sponsorship of legislation. This unique approach 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, Congress Members’ offices, or are calculated from neutral data.

Despite a House introducing spending reductions second only to the revolutionary 1995 Congress, and new Caucuses like the “Tea Party” adding to momentum for stricter budgeting; high-cost proposals – particularly related to health care – would still boost the debt and deficit by trillions, while cuts totaled in the hundreds of billions.

Highlights from the First Session of the 112th Congress include:

  • If every piece of non-overlapping spending-related legislation in the House were enacted at once, federal outlays would rise by an additional $1.12 trillion, or $9,513 per household, a year. The Senate’s bundle of legislation would, taken together, add $405.4 billion, or $3,449 per household, to the budget.
  • House Members introduced 93 unique savings bills that would save $601. 4 billion.
  • On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate collectively introduced $762.1 billion in savings legislation.
  • Despite the overall pro-spending agendas, there were more Representatives than ever whose agendas would amount to a “net cut”: 237 total. The previous high was 233 during the 104th Congress.
  • The typical House Republican sponsored a net agenda that would reduce spending by a net of $130.2 billion. Across the aisle, the average Democrat backed $496.8 billion in net new spending.
  • In the Senate, the average net Republican agenda was $238.7 billion in savings compared to the Senate Democratic average of only $23.7 billion in budget increases.
  • Republican freshmen, on average, called for more net budget savings than returning Republicans. First-time Democrat legislators proposed more spending than their veteran colleagues.
  • Members of the recently-formed “Tea Party Caucus” offered the most budget cuts with an agenda of $174.5 billion in savings. Other caucuses were on the opposite end of the scale. For example, the Progressive Caucus proposed a budget busting agenda of $950.5 billion. The 2010 electoral impact was very clear as seats that switched from Democratic to Republican “flipped” from an average agenda of $111 billion in spending to $129.9 billion in savings – a difference of $241 billion.

“Though many budget battles of 2011 ended in a collective deadlock for Congress, behind the scenes many lawmakers were individually pursuing authorship and support for savings rather than spending legislation,” Brady concluded.

“Taxpayers concerned with fiscal discipline will take heart from this trend, but will also take note of Washington’s continuing inability to enact serious budget reform.”

A searchable BillTally database for individual Senators and Representatives is available at ntu.org/foundation/billtally.html