(Alexandria, VA) – Congress's feverish voting habit for higher spending may have declined a fraction of a degree last year, but lawmakers have largely failed to pursue the aggressive treatments needed to cure Washington's budget deficit, according to the latest VoteTally study from the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF). The one-of-a-kind analysis, which measures the dollar impact of all voting activity on the floor of the House and Senate, shows that the average Representative supported five cents in federal spending reductions for every dollar of increases, while the Senate's ratio was just two cents on the dollar.
"Despite a modest pullback in the average amounts of spending that lawmakers voted for in 2005, costly legislation like the highway and energy bills kept Congress from making real progress to restore some semblance of balance to the federal budget," said NTUF Director of Congressional Analysis and VoteTally project manager Jeff Dircksen.
Since 1994 NTUF's VoteTally cost accounting system has examined the entirety of Congress's spending decisions – including votes on failed bills and vetoed measures. The data therefore represents the collective as well as individual will among lawmakers to change the existing budget. Among the highlights of the report, based on 224 House and Senate votes cast in 2005:
- The average Senator voted for a net $198.2 billion in additional annual federal spending last year, 31 percent less than the spending hike he or she supported during the 1st Session of the 108th Congress (2003). House Members backed, on average, a yearly expenditure boost of $172.9 billion – 24 percent smaller compared to the same period in the previous Congress. These totals do not include lawmakers' acquiescence to "mandatory" (such as entitlement) spending growth, which would add nearly $130 billion to the 2005 figures cited above.
- However, this drop-off is attributable to a slightly slower pace of spending hikes, not a new-found interest in spending cuts. Both chambers put together considered amendments that would have trimmed annual outlays by a total of $5.0 billion, less than one-tenth of the $54.1 billion in savings that were debated in 2003.
- In any case, the less-lofty averages are a far cry from 1997, when the typical House Member's voting agenda actually reversed federal spending, by $6.2 billion. While the average Senator did not advocate a net reduction in federal spending in 1997, he or she pursued a much smaller budget increase ($3.9 billion) than in 2005.
- VoteTally totals were nearly indistinguishable between Democrats ($178.1 billion) and Republicans ($168.3 billion) in the House, although party differences were somewhat greater in the Senate ($217.0 billion for Democrats versus $183.0 billion for Republicans).
- Had lawmakers decided to eliminate low-priority programs and "offset" the new spending for hurricane relief and military operations abroad, the average VoteTally agenda amounts for Representatives and Senators would have dropped by roughly 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
"Former Congressman Tom DeLay, who claimed in 2005 that the GOP Congress had won an 'ongoing victory' over the bloated budget deficit, would – or at least should – be shocked at the results of this study," Dircksen concluded. "As the VoteTally data shows, Congress as a whole remains addicted to pork-barrel spending. Until there is Presidential leadership to confront this behavior, Washington will continue to wrap itself in a rhetorical shroud – one that cannot conceal the hollow 'victory' over bigger government that some lawmakers claim to have won."
NTUF is the non-partisan research arm of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union. Note: Policy Paper 159, The 109th Congress's Spending Votes: A "Victory" in Name Only, is available at www.ntu.org.