Colorado Senate Race Budget Breakdown of Cory Gardner’s Agenda

Providing the latest in top-quality and objective research, NTU Foundation released line-by-line analyses of the two frontrunners in the Colorado Senate race last week. If elected to the upper chamber, NTUF found that Congressman Cory Gardner would decrease federal spending by a net $83.3 billion per year.

Determining the proposed agendas of House, Senate, and Presidential candidates is no easy task. We match direct quotes and campaign literature with proposed legislation and budget data to compile a full potential cost of each campaign. It’s a lot of reading and hours upon hours of looking through CBO reports, GAO studies, and legislative measures.

Representative Cory GardnerA little about Cory Gardner: Graduating from Colorado State University with a B.A. in political science, Gardner studied abroad in Bremen, Germany and interned at the Colorado State Capitol. He went on to graduate from the University of Colorado law school, serving as General Counsel and Legislative Director for former U.S. Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO). In 2005, he was appointed to fill a vacant Colorado House seat and then was elected for a full term in 2006. Gardner represented the 63rd District until 2011 and was sworn in as a U.S. Congressman in 2012. The 4th Congressional District in Colorado (Gardner’s District) spans the eastern half of the state, including the cities of Greeley, Lamar, and Castle Rock. In the 113th Congress, Gardner serves on the Subcommittees on Energy and Power, Communications and Technology, and Oversight and Investigations, all of which are under the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

A bit on how NTUF scores spending: NTUF’s analysis is conducted using data from the BillTally project, which is the nation’s only comprehensive system that scores nearly every bill as introduced in Congress for changes in spending greater than $1 million. We consider how legislation would affect budget outlays, disregarding revenues or other economic effects (tax revenue tends to be more difficult to reliably project, and is highly dependent on macroeconomic trends). Those estimates are used to assign a dollar figure to each candidate’s campaign talking points, if and when they closely resemble existing legislation scored in the BillTally database.

Here are the findings of Cory Gardner’s agenda in the NTUF study (dollars are annualized):

  • Gross Spending Increase: $13.8 billion
  • Number of Increase Proposals: 5
  • Gross Spending Decrease: $97.1 billion
  • Number of Decrease Proposals: 5
  • Net Proposed Spending Agenda: $83.3 billion
  • Change in the Projected FY 2015 Budget Deficit ($469 billion): -17.8%
  • Number of Unknown-Cost Proposals: 6
  • Total Number of Proposals: 16

Cost Increases

NTUF identified three budget categories where Rep. Gardner would grow the federal budget:

Health Care: Under his plan, the Affordable Care Act would be repealed (see below) and funding would be restored to the Medicare Advantage program. It is an alternative to traditional Medicare health insurance plans offered by commercial insurance companies, who receive payments directly from the government but don’t process claims through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. By restoring funding, the government would spend $11.8 billion each year in addition to other Medicare expenditures currently in effect. The new spending was taken into account in our score of repealing “Obamacare.”

Gardner would also seek to establish or expand state high-risk pools. These are health insurance programs for individuals with preexisting conditions, which could cut per-enrollee costs as they allow high-risk parties to negotiate for lower rates and more specialized benefits as a group. Rep. Gardner sponsored a bill that would provide an additional $1.5 billion annually for high-risk pools.

Immigration: He has called for border security to be prioritized and for a guest-worker program. NTUF was unable to determine exactly what he would do or support to secure the border. It is likely that he would mirror some policies in the comprehensive immigration bills that have been introduced in both chambers. These bills would double the number of Border Patrol agents and provide additional funding for border-related administrative costs.

Regarding Gardner’s guest-worker proposal, NTUF credited him with a $342 million annual cost for such a program, which was included in a 2006 immigration bill and scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Guest-worker programs allow individuals to legally work in the country after passing a background check and agreeing to return to their home country at a specified time.

Veteran Care: The Congressman aims to “solve the counting issues” and “restore the high-quality care” at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Between two related introduced bills, NTUF scored his supported efforts as a total $125 million in annual increases. Gardner cosponsored a bill to direct additional project managers to oversee construction of VA facilities in three states, which translates to $3 million over five years. He also supports a bill that would permit certain veterans to receive medical care from outside the VA system. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the measure would grow spending by $620 million over three years. This score is a partial estimate because it did not include potential discretionary increases.

Spending Cuts

Representative Gardner’s savings proposals were concentrated in two budget categories:

Health Care: The majority of Gardner’s scorable proposals were related to health care, many of which would reduce federal spending. He “supports legislation that repeals [the Affordable Care Act],” which NTUF researched in 2012 – we found that a rollback of “Obamacare” would result in a $36.9 billion reduction for each of the next five years. As opposed to how the Congressional Budget Office scored similar repeal measures, NTUF tracked only the changes in spending outlays and did not account for gains or losses in revenues. As implementation continues, it is likely that a full repeal would lead to larger cuts. We ultimately scored the policy as a $75.7 billion savings because he also seeks to restore Medicare Advantage funding. That would mean larger reductions (because Advantage is not a part of the Affordable Care Act), but those savings are then offset in another item (Read: Cost Increases, Health Care).

Additionally, Gardner has called for increased means testing for the Medicare program. Means testing prioritizes allocation of benefits based on income, offering lower subsidies to middle and upper income earners. Citing a bill introduced in the current Congress, the measure would cut $18 billion annually by requiring individuals making more than $85,000 per year to pay higher premiums.

Government Reform: There were two government reform proposals that NTUF was able to score, at least partially:

  • Duplicative Spending: Gardner cosponsored a bill to cut an overlapping program that inspects and grades catfish, which would save $14 million but he has also supported other efforts to rein in government double-spending. He has sponsored a bill and a resolution that calls for plans and hearings related to how federal departments can rectify findings of the Government Accounting Office’s annual duplicative spending reports, which in 2014 found that $45 billion over five years is being spent on efforts already in force elsewhere. The amount of savings Gardner’s sponsored bill and resolution might generate depend on the GAO’s findings and the actions of department secretaries, which makes a definitive score difficult to quantify.
  • Congressional Oversight/Transparency: Calling for improved records keeping and accounting, Gardner cosponsored three bills that would improve accountability, streamline programs, and beef up transparency efforts. Two bills currently have a budgetary score (one to require Congressional Members to dedicate excess funds in their office accounts to deficit reduction, the other to require the Federal Reserve to make public certain financial audits) and would result in a net $2 million cut in the budget.

Unknown Cost Items

Six of Gardner’s 16 platform items were too broad to be scored in NTUF’s study. This continues a trend in House, Senate, and Presidential elections of candidates from all parties not elaborating on the fiscal impact their proposals could have. The detail deficit represents almost 40 percent of his total budget-influencing agenda and could significantly affect federal spending in a number of ways.

One such known unknown is his pledge to “protect Social Security for future generations.” Such a broad statement requires clarification so taxpayers can understand where he intends to take the program and how retirees will be affected, now and in the future. The Representative has sponsored a bill to guarantee Social Security payments for beneficiaries regardless of the debt level of the federal government, but an official cost estimate is not available. Generally, proposals regarding Social Security reform typically address workers who are 55 years old and younger to avoid problems with those who are already or about to enter retirement. Some legislators and scholars have called for a more privatized system, with individual accounts and more choice for individuals to invest their money where they see fit, while others see the system as sound but requiring new revenue sources, which typically translates to raising the income cap on withholding taxes so that more people are paying into the system.

To help taxpayers get a better picture of Gardner’s agenda, I have five questions for him:

  • In your campaign, you have called for an all-of-the-above energy policy. In promoting new and alternative energy production, would you emphasize revenue tools (tax credits) or spending methods (loans, loan guarantees, grants)?
  • How much additional funding would you support to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit?
  • How much and in what ways would you secure the border? Please be specific and provide budget figures.
  • Would any of your supported reforms to Social Security affect federal spending in the next five years?
  • What would your ideal Balanced Budget Amendment look like and how would it affect spending in dollar figures?

To learn more about the Senate race in Colorado, check out NTUF’s Election resources: