Foundation

Study: For Sixth Straight Year, No One in Congress Had Voting Agenda to Cut Federal Spending

by Pete Sepp / /

(Alexandria, VA) -- Members of Congress voted to spend an average of more than $150 million of taxpayer funds for every hour they were in session during 2005 and 2006 -- just one of many fascinating observations made in the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union Foundation's (NTUF's) latest VoteTally study. Since 2001, not a single Senator or Representative has cast votes whose net effect would reduce the level of federal outlays.

"Just as Republicans promised greater fiscal discipline upon taking control of Congress 12 years ago, Democrats are now vowing to clean up the nation's finances," said NTUF Director of Congressional Analysis and VoteTally project manager Jeff Dircksen. "Words are brave things, but as our study shows, votes require much more backbone."

Dircksen compared and contrasted the fiscal behavior of lawmakers in the 109th Congress (2005-2006), and found numerous patterns that could point the way to change in the current 110th Congress. Among the highlights of the report, based on 383 House and Senate votes cast in the last two sessions:

  • The adjournment of the 109th Congress marks the sixth straight year where no lawmaker had a net voting record that would have reduced overall outlays, even when excluding the growth in entitlement -- or mandatory -- spending. The number of spending cutters peaked during the 104th Congress (1996) at 512 Members.
  • The average Representative supported $289.7 billion in net spending increases, a 25 percent decline from the previous 108th Congress (2003-2004). Yet, the latest total is a whopping 1,293 percent above that of the 105th Congress (1997-98).
  • The average Senator voted for $356.8 billion in net new spending, a 24 percent drop when compared to the Congress before (the 108th). Still, net spending agendas are higher than in the 105th Congress (by 637 percent).
  • Partisan differences over spending activity trended to be relatively small. About $22 billion separated the voting agendas of a typical House Democrat and Republican.
  • The House met for a combined 1,917 hours during the 109th Congress. Based on the average Representative's net agenda, Members voted for $151 million in new spending for each hour that the House was in session. The Senate was in session for a total of 2,250 hours during 2005 and 2006. Using the average agenda for that chamber, Senators voted to increase spending by approximately $159 million per hour.
  • The average Representative supported 5 cents in spending reductions for every dollar in spending increases. In the Senate, the ratio was 4 cents on the dollar.
  • The House and Senate voted on 31 amendments to reduce federal expenditures during the past two years, versus 352 proposals to hike outlays. The House passed none of its spending cuts, although the Senate managed to enact three.

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.

With this historical perspective in mind, Dircksen noted how "the past may be prologue" for the new leaders in Congress. Incoming Speaker Newt Gingrich said 'we owe it to our children and grandchildren to get this government in order,' on January 4, 1995, while current Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged an America that 'will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt' on the very same date this year.

"By the end of the 109th Congress, Republicans would have been hard-pressed to list any programs that they had eliminated and had not been resurrected in one form or another over the past 12 years," Dircksen concluded. "Now, Democrats must attempt to live up to their campaign promises on spending restraint and earmark reform. With concerns about pork-filled continuing resolutions and emergency spending bills, as well as disagreements over what constitutes an 'earmark,' the new majority party will have quite a challenge from without and within during the months to come in the 110th Congress."

NTUF is the research and educational arm of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union. Note: Policy Paper 161, Flashbacks and Backtracks: What the Current Congress Can Learn from Its Spendaholic Predecessor, is available at www.ntu.org.

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