Political Era Ends but Congress Still Spends, NTUF Study Shows

(Alexandria, VA) -- Did the recent shift in party control of Congress lead to greater fulfillment of political promises for fiscal responsibility than the last sea change in 1994? That is just one of the questions explored through data contained in the latest BillTally study from the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF).

"On the 2006 campaign trail, Democratic hopefuls for Congress vowed to put an end to the budget policies of the Republican majority and manage the nation's affairs in a 'fiscally responsible' way," NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally Project Director Demian Brady noted. "But in 2007 and 2008, after voters gave Democrats control over both chambers of Congress for the first time in 16 years, the trend to spend did not subside." Since 1991, the BillTally cost accounting system has computed a "net annual agenda" for each Member of Congress. The results are based on each Senator's or Representative's individual sponsorship or cosponsorship of legislation, and provide 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 or are calculated from neutral data. Findings include:

  • Lawmakers offered 2,655 bills to raise spending, and only 105 to reduce expenditures -- a lopsided ratio of roughly 25 to 1 overall. The most balanced legislative work product was achieved in the 104th Congress, when the ratio of spending hikes to cuts was approximately 2 to 1.
  • Excluding overlapping legislation, if each of the House increase bills became law, spending would increase by a net of $2.2 trillion. This amounts to additional federal outlays of $19,383 per household. The Senate spending bills would add a net of $1.4 trillion to federal outlays, ($12,002 per household).
  • In the House, more Members advocated net agendas to reduce spending (up from 28 to 34) and two fewer Members had agendas greater than $100 billion (149). The trend went the other way in the Senate, where there was one fewer net cutter (bringing the total to seven). The ranks of Senators with agendas to increase spending by $100 billion or more annually rose to 44, more than doubling in number.
  • The typical House Democrat in the 110th Congress offset 4.7 percent of his or her proposed increases for a net spending agenda of $624.7 billion -- $141.1 billion less spending than in the 109th. House Republicans opted for spending cuts of $7.6 billion, offsetting one-fifth of their $34.3 billion in spending hikes. Their average net spending agenda of $26.7 billion was $5.2 billion more than in the 109th Congress.
  • In the Senate, the average Democrat backed legislation that would increase outlays by $194.4 billion, with 0.5 percent of this new spending offset by over $1 billion in savings. The $193.3 billion net is nearly two-thirds higher than it was in the 109th Congress. Republicans, on average, sponsored legislation to hike the budget by $124.9 billion, with 5.3 percent of this amount offset by $6.7 billion in savings. The net result would be a jump in outlays of $118.2 billion -- five and one-half times higher than in the 109th.

Although the net spending of typical House Member increased, the study also examined how the self-proclaimed, "fiscally conservative" caucuses, like the "Blue Dog Caucus" (BDC) Democrats or the Republican Study Committee (RSC) spent and saved in comparison to colleagues not affiliated with these groups. At $179.8 billion, BDC members had agendas costing roughly one-fourth as much as other Democrats. For their part, RSC Members chalked up an average agenda of $5.6 billion -- far smaller than the $26.7 billion that non-RSC Republicans had. However, the average House Member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a related caucus that also espouses "fiscal discipline," called for over twice as much new spending as the average Republican.

Given that 2009 kicked off with more bailouts and a $787 billion stimulus package, Brady predicted that any changes in Congress's legislative output are likely to be gradual rather than sudden. "It has been over 10 years since the last time the average Member of either party completed a Session with a net agenda to cut spending," he concluded. "Will the chorus of less-patient taxpayers singing the political equivalent of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' grow louder in coming months? Perhaps Congress's future performance on the fiscal stage will be the deciding factor."

NTUF is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and economic freedom at all levels. Note: NTUF's BillTally Study, The 110th Congress: Meet the New Boss ... Same as the Old Boss? is available online at www.ntu.org.