Kansas Senate Race Budget Breakdown of Pat Roberts’ Agenda

Adding on to the line-by-line spending analysis, detailed summary, and the press release, NTU Foundation offers additional insights on incumbent Senator Pat Roberts’ proposed agenda in the 2014 Kansas Senate race. If reelected, we found that Senator Pat Roberts would decrease federal spending by a net $17.8 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 GardnerBackground on the Senator: Roberts graduated from Kansas State University with a B.A. in journalism and went on to serve as a Captain in the Marine Corps from 1958 to 1962. After military service, he was a reporter and editor for various newspapers in Arizona before moving back to Kansas to work on the staffs of Senator Frank Carlson and then Congressman Keith Sebelius. Roberts was elected to Kansas’ 1st Congressional District in 1981 and served eight terms. In 1996, he ran for and won that state’s open U.S. Senate seat, and has now served for three six-year terms. In the 113th Congress, Roberts serves on the Committees on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Ethics, Finance, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and Rules and Administration.

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.

The findings for Pat Roberts’ agenda in the NTUF campaign analysis (dollars are annualized):

  • Gross Spending Increase: $65.4 billion
  • Number of Increase Proposals: 3
  • Gross Spending Decrease: $83.2 billion
  • Number of Decrease Proposals: 3
  • Net Proposed Spending Agenda: -$17.8 billion
  • Change in the Projected FY 2015 Budget Deficit ($469 billion): -3.8%
  • Number of Unknown-Cost Proposals: 9
  • Total Number of Proposals: 15

Cost Increases

Our study identified three polices that would grow the federal budget:

Special Education: In a debate, the Senator highlighted the deficit in promised federal funding for education, specifically for disabled students. According to Roberts, federal funding currently accounts for 12 or 13 percent of states’ total special education spending, but is authorized to reach as high as 40 percent. He would seek to decrease that gap but also said that doing so will be difficult with a growing national debt. NTUF determined that the measure would increase spending by $4.7 billion per year. From the 107th to the 111th Congresses, Roberts has also cosponsored bills to fully fund programs associated with special needs education but has not done so in the current or previous Congress.

Secure the Border: Roberts has repeatedly said that securing the southern border will be a priority for him in the next Congress. So far in his current term, he has cosponsored an amendment attached to a comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year. The amendment would make additional tax dollars available to help overhaul the immigration system and improve infrastructure along the border. It also allocates $1 billion to further secure ports of entry, the cost of which is offset by rescinding unobligated funds. NTUF was able to score the amendment as an $8.6 billion first-year cost. Researchers counted only this amount and not the full cost of the Senate bill because Roberts voted against its full passage.

Military Sequester: The Senator said that exempting the military from the across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, would be the best way to support national defense. This action would require additional spending for the Department of Defense in the amount of $52.1 billion for each of the next five years. Sequestration was adopted after the so-called “Supper Committee” failed to agree on $1.5 trillion in cuts to the deficit over ten years. As a result, $1.2 trillion in automatic sequestration cuts came into effect. These cuts are more or less split evenly between defense and domestic discretionary programs. The sequester will continue as long as the President and Congress exceed the original 2011 budget caps.

Spending Cuts

NTUF was able to score three of Roberts’ proposals as spending cut measures. They fell into two budget categories: Tax Reforms and Health Care.

Regarding the Tax Code, the Senator supports repealing the current progressive income tax-based system and replacing it with a consumption-based method in the form of the Fair Tax. The new system would impose a 23 percent sales tax on the sale of all new goods and services. It is argued that because the current Code’s taxes make up approximately 23 percent of a good’s retail price, a consumption tax at that level would keep prices relatively stable. Since the new national sales tax would be on every item, including necessities, the government would offer a monthly “prebate” (up to the federal poverty level) to offset the taxes paid on essential goods like bread and milk.

The Fair Tax Act, which has been introduced in the House but not the Senate, would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service in favor of a new, smaller agency that is modeled off the Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau. This change, as well as the mailing of the prebates, would increase spending, but those costs would be eclipsed by the repeal of refundable tax credits (scored by CBO as increases in spending) and savings from shuttering the IRS.

According to NTUF’s research, enacting the bill would cut spending by $96.4 billion over five years (the bulk of the savings occurring in years one and four). We have written extensively on the reform in our weekly Taxpayer’s Tab newsletter.

As for health care, Roberts’ largest change in spending would occur by repealing the Affordable Care Act, which NTUF scored in 2012 as a $36.9 billion annual spending cut. 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 (this is one of the primary features of BillTally). As implementation continues, it is likely that a full repeal of “Obamacare” would result in more reductions.

Unknown Cost Items

More than half of Roberts’ proposals on the campaign trail were too broad to be quantified in NTUF’s spending analysis. This continues a trend in House, Senate, and Presidential elections where candidates from all parties are not elaborating on the fiscal impact of their proposals. The detail deficit represents potentially billions of tax dollars being spent or saved, depending on exactly what the Senator would advocate for.

One such unknown is his pledge to change the way the Highway Trust Fund is funded. The Fund is the primary mechanism for financing surface transportation projects. It receives tax dollars from gasoline and vehicle sales and is used to maintain the nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels. Yet, as cars become more fuel-efficient, less revenue has been available to finance those projects. Since 2008, Congress has transferred $54 billion from the general fund to cover shortfalls. Federal legislators are currently considering how to keep the Fund afloat but no agreements have been reached.

If Senator Roberts would offer specific ideas to fix the Highway Trust Fund’s money problems, taxpayers would better understand his fiscal intentions. Some have called for increasing the gas tax and dedicating a greater amount of the repatriation tax (when corporate money is brought into the country, the government takes a percentage), while others see dedicating royalties from oil exploration and production as a means to at least partially fill the budget gaps, which are projected to total $167 billion over the next ten years.

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

  • In your view, what is the best way to grant greater freedoms to farmers? You have said that “farmers will now be planting for the government instead of making the decisions themselves.” Please elaborate on your solution.
  • You have said that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program is in great need to be reformed. Would you support the Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act, which would impose a cap on total welfare spending, or another measure? Please be specific.
  • Through what means do you propose to invest tax dollars into both alternative and traditional energy sources? Currently, there are tax credits, loans, loan guarantees, and grants available to a variety of energy producers.
  • Could you provide more details as to how you would provide greater transparency in campaign finance? You have said this is an area of concern for you on the campaign trail.
  • In addition to the emergency measures passed in August, would you provide additional funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs to fix the systemic problems of delivering benefits and health care to former servicemembers?

To learn more about the Senate race in Kansas, check out NTUF’s Election 2014 resources: