Study: Lawmakers' Bill-Writing Habits Stall Drive for Budget Discipline

(Alexandria, Va.) -- While jogging in place has the benefit of burning calories, a Congress that's stalled on the path to fiscal discipline won't burn through anything but taxpayer dollars, according to results from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation's (NTUF) latest BillTally report. Lawmakers in the first session of the 110th Congress introduced more savings bills than recent Congresses, but for each single step toward fiscal responsibility with a bill to reduce the federal budget, Representatives and Senators introduced 22 bills and 30 bills, respectively, to increase it.

"Although there are some signs that more lawmakers in the 110th Congress are seeking out ways to trim expenditures, these steps have been halting and erratic," said NTUF Senior Policy Analyst Demian Brady, who authored the study. "The majority of Congressional Members sponsor a mix of legislation that would, on net, result in new spending, thereby increasing the strain on the budget and the burden on taxpayers."

Excluding overlapping legislation, if the House passed all of the bills introduced in 2007, annual federal outlays would add a burden of $14,802 to every household (a $1.7 trillion increase overall). In the Senate, all non-overlapping bills would pile an additional $9,857 on every household (a $1.1 trillion total increase). The latest BillTally report also found:

  • The number of House spending bills (1,078) rose by over one-third since the last Congress, while Senate spending bills saw growth of nearly 25 percent (to 745).
  • The average Representative backed 50 increase bills, compared to four savings bills. The typical Senator supported 55 increases and two decreases.
  • Except for Senate Democrats, net agendas of both parties in either Chamber decreased from the 109th Congress. The Senate Republican net agenda declined for the third consecutive year.
  • Compared to the last Congress, more Members had legislative wish lists that would, taken as a whole, reduce federal outlays: 55 Representatives and 11 Senators were "net cutters," as opposed to 43 and six, respectively, in the 109th Congress.
  • However, the number of Members whose cumulative agendas would increase overall spending by $100 billion has climbed since the 109th Congress: from 85 to 107 in the House and five to eight in the Senate.

Since 1991, BillTally has computed a "net annual agenda cost" for each Member of Congress based on individual sponsorships of legislation -- bills over which authors have complete control. The study provides a 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.

NTUF is the nonpartisan research arm of the National Taxpayers Union, a citizen group founded in 1969. Note: NTUF Policy Paper No. 165, The First Session of the 110th Congress: Moving in Place or Forever Behind?, and previous BillTally reports, are available at