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(Alexandria, VA) – Congress's decade-long trend of proposing more federal spending-increase legislation appears to have slowed, but it's unclear whether the House and Senate will return to the days when spending-cut bills came close to balancing their agendas. This is but one finding among historical data compiled in the latest BillTally study from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF).
Since 1991, the BillTally cost accounting system has computed a "net annual agenda" based on each Senator's or Representative's individual sponsorship or cosponsorship 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.
"Given the level of red ink that's been steadily rising in Washington for nearly 10 years, it's not surprising that Congress collectively authors more proposals to boost budgets rather than cut them," NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally Project Director Demian Brady noted. "Nonetheless, BillTally has detected a pullback in spending hikes and a slight push toward spending cuts that just might signal a less lopsided fiscal work product from lawmakers over the longer term."
· In the First Session of the 111th Congress (all of 2009), Representatives authored 981 bills to raise federal spending and 63 bills to reduce spending – a ratio of nearly 16 increases for every cut. This gap is narrower than the 22 to 1 ratio for the same period in the 110th Congress.
· Senators drafted 620 increase bills and 34 savings bills, for an 18 to 1 increase-to-cut ratio. This comprised a significant change from the 30 to 1 ratio in the last Congress.
· The most balanced legislative work product was achieved in the 104th Congress, when the ratio of spending hikes to cuts was less than 2 to 1. The largest gaps for increase vs. cut legislation occurred in the 108th Congress, when they reached 23 to 1 for the House and 32 to 1 for the Senate.
· The number of Members whose "net agenda" (all bills they supported taken together) would reduce spending stood at 119 in the House and 24 in the Senate – more than twice as many as in the last Congress. This is the highest number of "net cutters" since the 104th Congress some 15 years ago.
· However, the ranks of Members with agendas greater than $100 billion grew from 107 to 128 in the House, and tripled to 24 in the Senate.
· Excluding overlapping legislation, if each of the House bills became law, spending would rise by a net of $1.8 trillion. This amounts to additional federal outlays of $15,802 per household, and would make the projected budget deficit for the current fiscal year 133 percent higher (assuming no tax increases).
· The Senate's spending bills would add a net of $1.1 trillion to expenditures ($9,115 per household). This would boost the deficit by more than 80 percent.
· The typical House Democrat in the 111th Congress proposed a net spending agenda of $500.2 billion – less than the $547 billion he or she backed in the 110th Congress. The typical House Republican had an agenda that would cut spending by $45.3 billion – the first "net-cutting" average for the House GOP in over a decade.
· In the Senate, the average Democrat backed legislation that would, on net, increase outlays by $133.7 billion – a sharp rise from the same period in the previous Congress ($59.2 billion). Republicans, on average, posted an agenda to boost spending by $50.9 billion – the highest amount recorded since the BillTally project began in 1991.
· With the exception of incoming Democrats in the Senate, the typical freshman sponsored less spending and greater savings than his or her more senior colleagues.
· Members of the Republican Study Committee and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, two of the self-identified "fiscally conservative" caucuses in the House, compiled lower net spending agendas than other Members of Congress in their respective parties.
Brady compared the uncontained oil leak in the Gulf, which spread wildly after a "blowout preventer" mechanism failed, with the federal budget, which has no effective "blowout preventer." He did not do so lightly because, as he noted, "while Gulf states are braced for a black tide of oil, future generations face a red tide of debt from unbalanced budgets and unfunded liabilities that could be just as devastating." He asked, "Will Congress ever put in place stronger fiscal 'blowout preventers' such as a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution? As the BillTally data seem to indicate, lawmakers have begun looking in greater earnest for ways to control the leaking budget. Are they acting in time to stave off a disaster for the nation's balance sheet? Taxpayers are left to wonder."