Study: Congress's Legislation Showed Trickle of Effort to Slow Spending before Post-Katrina Budget Deluge

(Alexandria, VA) -- Are there a few drops of hope left for reducing the federal deficit in the 109th Congress, or have the floodgates of spending been thrown open for good? Many unique answers to this question are found in the latest BillTally study from the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF). While House Members are authoring a less-lopsided quantity of spending hike bills, and the number of lawmakers whose agendas would dramatically boost the budget has eased, roughly one out of five Representatives and three out of four Senators still failed to support a single bill to cut spending.

"Data from the opening of the 109th Congress offer both good and bad news for taxpayers concerned about the size of the federal budget," said NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally study author Demian Brady. "While the appetite for new spending was lower than during the same period in the previous Congress, so was the demand for new savings."

BillTally is a unique cost accounting system that computes a "net annual agenda" for each Member of Congress (and has done so since 1991). The results are based on each Senator's or Representative's individual sponsorship or cosponsorship of pending 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. Within the first seven months of the 109th Congress, NTUF identified 1,059 House and Senate bills with a budget impact of plus or minus $1 million. Highlights of the study include:

  • Through the 2005 August recess, over 21 bills in the House were introduced to raise spending for every bill to lower spending. This is actually an improvement from the previous Congress (2003), during which the ratio was 23 to 1 (the first time in 10 years this level fell). In the Senate, 30 spending-hike bills were introduced for every spending-cut bill, worse than the 22 to 1 ratio in 2003. The best House and Senate increase-to-decrease numbers occurred in the 104th Congress (1995), when the ratios were 1.4 to 1 and 1.7 to 1, respectively.
  • If all of this House spending legislation (including overlaps) became law at once, annual federal spending would increase by $4.2 trillion - equivalent to a 150 percent increase in the budget. All the Senate's bills would effectively hike spending by $220 billion total.
  • The average House Republican's wish list would raise federal spending by a net $11.0 billion, half of what he or she proposed in 2003 but still a far cry from 1995's average of minus $18.2 billion. The typical GOP Senator advocated a $5.1 billion agenda, roughly one-fifth of what he or she sought in spending hikes during the opening of 2003.
  • The average House Democrat had a $445 billion agenda, the highest of any of the past seven Congresses. Senate Democrats, however, brought their average down to $34.3 billion, roughly one-third of 2003's level and the lowest since the 106th Congress (1999).
  • Only 35 Representatives and five Senators had legislative agendas whose enactment would, on balance, reduce annual federal spending. All the rest sponsored or cosponsored bills whose overall effect would hike the budget. Encouragingly, however, the number of lawmakers with higher-spending agendas ($100 billion or more) shrunk from 139 in the previous Congress to 75 in the current Congress.
  • A total of 82 Representatives and 75 Senators could not find a single bill to sponsor or cosponsor that would bring down federal spending. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) sponsored the greatest number of spending cut bills (nine) in the House, while Democratic Senator Russ Feingold sponsored the greatest number of cuts in his chamber (five).

Brady also undertook BillTally data comparisons that tested a number of popular political conceptions. For example, Democratic freshman lawmakers had far lower-cost spending agendas (half in the House and one-third less in the Senate) than their senior Democratic colleagues. However, the opposite was actually true for freshman GOP Representatives and Senators, who proposed over 50 percent and 10 percent more, respectively, than longer-serving Republicans. Democrats in the House and Senate from fabled, liberal-leaning "blue" states had bigger spending agendas than Democrats from more conservative "red" states. The same was true for House Republicans, but not Senate Republicans. Members of the conservative "Republican Study Committee" proposed about one-third less in spending hikes than other House GOP Members, while House "Blue Dog Coalition" moderates had less expansive agendas ? about one-twelfth as big as their fellow Democrats.

"The hurricanes that struck during the August recess of 2005 changed the atmosphere in Washington," Brady concluded. "In response to the disaster, tens of billions were promised for relief, even as Congressional coalitions emerged to call for offsetting reductions and public ire over spending earmarks grew more intense. These developments may prod fiscal reforms, but as BillTally shows, lawmakers still have some math to do if they want to balance their overall spending agendas."

NTUF is the non-partisan research arm of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union, a citizen group founded in 1969. Note: NTU Foundation Policy Paper 158, BillTally Report 109-1, Before the Budget Deluge: Spending Trends During the First Seven Months of the 109th Congress, is available online at