Study: Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, but Current Congress Wants to Spend Tax Dollars Like It Does

(Alexandria, VA) -- Changing leaves don't mean changing fiscal priorities -- at least not for the 110th Congress, which returned from its pre-autumn recess to continue plucking the "green" trees of taxpayer dollars. Members of Congress proposed more spending cuts than in recent years, but fewer than one in seven Representatives and fewer than one in 10 Senators have spending agendas that would reduce the taxpayers' tab, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation's (NTUF) latest BillTally report.

"It is often said that money does not grow on trees, but based on Congress' overall fiscal work product, many taxpayers would be led to believe that this adage never reached Capitol Hill," said Demian Brady, NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally Director. The study also found:

  • Sometimes, a "do-nothing" Congress costs less. If the House passed all of the bills introduced during the first seven months of the 110th Congress, spending would increase by $1.5 trillion (excluding overlaps), or $42,840.50 per household. Senate bill sums would soar to $958 billion, or $26,239.54 per household.
  • The new Democratic majority isn't living up to its promise of "fiscal discipline." Though House Democrats each called for an average of $731 million in savings, this offsets 0.2 percent of their spending-hike bills, resulting in a net agenda of $470.1 billion -- the highest level over the past nine Congresses. By contrast, House Republicans on average sponsored savings of $6.5 billion, offsetting 70.6 percent of their proposed increases for a net agenda of $2.7 billion -- the lowest since the 106th Congress. Net spending agendas for the typical Senate Democrat and Republican were $48.4 billion and $696 million, respectively.
  • Spending legislation still overwhelms savings bills. The ratio of spending-increase bills to spending-decrease bills has declined from previous highs, but budget boosts still dominate Members' fiscal agendas. For every House bill that would reduce spending, there were 20 proposals to increase it. In the Senate, there were nearly 33 spending increases for every reduction.

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 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union, a citizen group founded in 1969. Note: NTUF Policy Paper No. 164, Shaking the Money Tree: The 110th Congress through the Fall Recess, and previous BillTally reports, are available at