Last week, NTU Foundation released a line-by-line analysis of how Congressman Bruce Braley would change federal spending if elected to the U.S. Senate. Researchers matched direct quotes and campaign literature with proposed legislation and budget data to compile his full proposed budgetary agenda. Considering all of his scorable policies, he would increase outlays by $41.9 billion but there are many details besides that total.
Bruce Braley graduated from the University of Iowa with his Juris Doctor. He practiced law in Waterloo for 23 years before running for and winning a seat in Congress in 2006. After redistricting, he now represents the northeastern quadrant of the Hawkeye State, including the towns of Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, and Waterloo. He has founded his own House caucus, the Populist Caucus, which has 27 members, and currently serves on the Subcommittee on Communication & Technology and the Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, both of which are housed in the Committee on Energy & Commerce.
Next, how we score 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 NTUF’s overall findings of Bruce Braley’s agenda (dollars are annualized):
- Gross Spending Increase: $41.88 billion
- Number of Increase Proposals: 5
- Gross Spending Decrease: N/A
- Number of Decrease Proposals: 0
- Net Proposed Spending Agenda: $41.88 billion
- Change to the Projected FY 2015 Budget Deficit ($469 billion): +8.2%
- Number of Unknown-Cost Proposals: 7
- Total Number of Proposals: 12
Braley’s proposed spending spans three budget categories.
The Economy: Proposing a combined $5.003 billion in new annual expenditures, the Representative has voiced his support for two measures that have corresponding bills in Congress and that he has sponsored. One – the Paycheck Fairness Act – would tighten regulations related to equal pay for women. The bill authorizes $3 million to be spent each year on compliance training, research, and a program to train girls and women to negotiate. The largest of the measures would establish a national infrastructure bank. It would offer loans, loan guarantees, and bonds for transportation, water, and energy projects across the country. The bill has been introduced in the 113th Congress in the form of the National Infrastructure Development Bank Act.
Education: In an effort to help college students, Braley has made statements on the campaign trail saying that he would expand Pell Grants and help Americans refinance their student loans. Both measures have also been sponsored in Congress and have been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as budgetary increases.
- The Access to Education and Training Act would reinstate year-round federal Pell Grants. This would increase outlays because it would increase the maximum loan amounts allowed to eligible students. CBO found that it would cost $617 million annually in a 2011 estimate; the figure could be higher if the bill gains momentum in the 114th Congress.
- The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would allow individuals to refinance their federal or private student loans into new federal direct loans. CBO found that costs would increase because the government would take on new loans while also receiving less interest over the life of new loans. Through a “fair share tax” on wealthy individuals, the costs would be partially offset but not enough to make the bill budget neutral.
Border Security: Braley’s largest spending-increase item is to enact comprehensive immigration reform. He focuses on addressing the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border and the potential for terrorists to also slip past Border Patrol. The House had a version of such an overhaul, which Braley cosponsored, that was similar to what the Senate passed. NTUF determined that enacting the bill that Braley supports would increase spending by $19.36 billion for each of the next five years. We used the Senate version’s CBO report and subtracted a $4.2 billion (also over five years) amendment. It is unclear if Braley would vote in favor of the additional expenditures.
NTUF could not determine any items within Braley’s agenda that would decrease federal spending. It is possible that his goal to allow for negotiation of drug prices within the Medicare program could decrease some costs, though CBO has testified that such measures might actually increase costs, depending on the specific processes implemented and how officials would use the new authority.
This does not mean that Braley does not support any savings proposals, only that NTUF was unable to find or quantify any discussed during this campaign. As NTUF found in our BillTally report for the First Session of the 113th Congress, he supported $6.3 billion in annual cuts.
Unknown Cost Items
Braley made seven comments or statements that were too broad to be quantified in our study, representing more than half of his budget-influencing proposals. This reflects a trend in other House, Presidential, and Senate elections: namely, that candidates need to offer taxpayers more details. It is possible that with more information Braley’s top-line net agenda could be significantly different.
One of the items that could have the biggest impact on the budget is his campaign’s statement on combating climate change:
“Bruce believes we need to tackle our changing climate before extreme weather hurts Iowa farmers even more than it already has."
Because the quote lacks detail, NTUF recorded the policy as an “unknown” cost; however, Braley has cosponsored three relevant bills whose costs could be applied. One would provide $75 million in funding for clean energy technology firms, another would expand carbon sequestration research and development, and the third would establish a national infrastructure bank (read: The Economy). We also note that there are two popular proposals with longstanding legislative history that officials suggest could reduce greenhouse gasses: A carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system. Both would increase the federal budget by billions of dollars.
To help taxpayers get a full picture of Braley’s agenda, I have five questions for him:
- In stating that you support helping “to strengthen small businesses,” would you call for an expansion of the Small Business Administration, increasing the number of loans or loan guarantees available from the government, and/or incenting banks to free up capital?
- Regarding climate change, are you more in favor of policies related to green energy development or greenhouse gas reduction?
- In the event that you are able to grant Medicare officials the ability to negotiate for drug prices and savings are found, what would you wish to do with those tax dollars?
- You said that “we need to fix the problems with [the Affordable Care Act].” Besides your support for reversing cancelled plans, what, specifically, would you advocate for?
- Is there anything besides your votes in the House that you support in terms of funding military and diplomatic efforts against the Islamic State?
To learn more about the Senate race in Iowa, check out NTUF’s Election resources: