NTUF Study: Sharpest Rise in Budget-Cut Legislation in 12 Years, Yet Spending Still Ruled in 111th Congress

(Alexandria, VA) - The relentless torrent of new spending proposals introduced in each Congress over the last decade appears to have finally eased off as Senators and Representatives in the 111th Congress authored the greatest number of budget-cut bills in 12 years. Overall, however, legislative activity to boost federal expenditures dominated 2009 and 2010. These and other findings from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF’s) BillTally study vividly demonstrate an ongoing clash between lawmakers inclined to back higher government outlays and those responding to public clamoring for budget restraint.

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     Since 1991, the BillTally cost accounting system 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.

     NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally Project Director Demian Brady said, “BillTally results certainly showed how the 111th Congress drove the budget to unprecedented levels of spending and debt. However, we did see a slight drop-off in the number of spending-increase proposals. We also witnessed the most significant jump in savings proposals in 12 years, along with House Republicans sponsoring, on average, a net annual agenda that would cut spending. Taxpayers concerned about budget deficits would hope to see these trends carried over and strengthened in the 112th Congress.”

Key findings include:

  • The 111th Congress saw a sharp rise in the number of bills to reduce federal spending, with 122 introduced in the House and 54 in the Senate. This is the highest number of spending-cut bills NTUF has recorded since the 105th Congress (1997-1998).
  • Spending increases still reigned supreme as Representatives authored 1,532 bills to boost budgetary outlays and Senators offered 948 bills.
  • For every proposed spending cut, House Members offered 13 spending increase proposals. Senators offered 18 increases for every cut. However, many of these proposals to lower spending were duplicates introduced by different lawmakers. Adjusting for this phenomenon, the ratio would be steeper, 21 to 1 in the House and 27 to 1 in the Senate.
  • For the first time since the 105th Congress (a period of 12 years) the average House Republican’s legislative agenda would cut spending. A typical House GOP agenda consisted of $114.2 billion in savings and $36.2 billion in new outlays, for a net proposed reduction of just over $78 billion. The average House Democrat proposed $549.7 billion in new spending offset by $10.8 billion in savings – a net of nearly $539 billion.
  • Compared to their colleagues in the House, Democrats in the Senate typically would not raise spending as much and Republicans would not cut as much. The average Senate Republican sought $76.4 billion in new outlays and $51.0 billion in cuts, for a net of $25.4 billion in greater spending. The average Senate Democrat was less aggressive than their House colleagues with $199 billion in spending increases and $3.4 billion in budget cuts.
  • The number of “net cutters” – Members whose net agendas would reduce the budget –jumped to 153 in the House and 32 in the Senate, an increase of 119 and 25, respectively, from the 110th Congress. They remained outnumbered by those calling for major spending hikes of more than $100 billion; these ranks swelled to 170 in the House (up from 149 in the last Congress) and 43 in the Senate (down from 44 in the previous Congress).
  • The net cost of all proposals introduced in the House would be $2.20 trillion. That figure represents what would happen to outlays if the House passed all its budget- increase bills (totaling $2.68 trillion) offset by all savings bills ($480.7 billion), excluding overlapping legislation. This would amount to a 60 percent hike in the current federal budget. The net cost of all Senate legislation taken together would raise federal expenditures by $1.27 trillion (nearly one-third).
  • Representatives proposed a startling average of five bills that would increase spending for every day their chamber was in session during 2009 and 2010, versus one reduction every other day. Senators offered the equivalent of three spending bills per session-day and only one spending-cut bill every six days.
  • Freshman lawmakers, with the exception of Senate Democrats, tended to support more cuts than their senior colleagues, with the trend especially prominent among House Democrats and Senate Republicans.
  • House Members belonging to either the self-described moderate Democratic Blue Dog Coalition or the conservative Republican Study Committee tended to propose much less new spending and significantly more savings, respectively, than their party caucuses as a whole. However, those Representatives belonging to the Republican Main Street Partnership, another group purporting to espouse fiscal responsibility, posted a higher average spending agenda than the House GOP as a whole did.

     Amid BillTally data that indicated rising interest in spending restraint among many lawmakers during 2009 and 2010, Brady noted that most spending-reduction activity in the 111th Congress focused on non-defense discretionary spending. A major question now is whether the new Congress will expand the budget-cutting horizon to include some of the bigger cost-drivers such as entitlements.

     “In the 111th Congress, more Members actively sought out savings, but those pushing for higher spending without corresponding budget cuts ultimately had their way,” Brady concluded. “Taxpayers will soon know whether Members of the 112th Congress intend to take a different direction and tackle our growing budget crisis head-on. As previous BillTally reports have amply shown, we likely won’t see a balanced federal budget until a majority of Members balance their own spending agendas first.”

BillTally Report 111-3, Destination: Debt – How Unbalanced Agendas Led to Unbalanced Budgets in the 111th Congress, is available at www.ntu.org. Updates on BillTally data for the current Congress are provided through a weekly e-newsletter, The Taxpayer’s Tab. Click here to subscribe.NTUF is the research affiliate of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union, a non-profit taxpayer advocacy group founded in 1969. Click here for more information on the BillTally system.