Foundation

Study: Most Lawmakers Push Fewer Bills to Boost Federal Budget, But Congress Members Who'd Pull Back Spending Remain Rare

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(Alexandria, VA) -- Fewer than 1 in 10 Congress Members sponsored legislation last year whose overall effect would reduce federal spending -- just one of many unique insights provided by the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union Foundation's (NTUF's) latest BillTally report.

"The federal deficit picture may be rapidly improving due to higher revenues, but Congress's collective habit of writing and proposing costly legislation has only begun to show signs of receding," said NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and BillTally director Demian Brady.

Since 1991 BillTally has computed a "net annual agenda" for each Congress Member based on individual sponsorships or cosponsorships of legislation. The study provides 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. In the 1st Session of the 109th Congress, NTUF identified 1,485 House and Senate bills with a budget impact of plus or minus $1 million. Highlights include:

  • Last year House Members introduced 17 bills to raise spending for every bill to cut it; in the Senate, the ratio was 31 to 1. Incredibly, this represents an improvement in fiscal discipline from the last Congress (2003), when the House and Senate ratios were 23 to 1 and 32 to 1, respectively.
  • There are other signs of gradual moderation. A total of 49 Representatives and Senators sponsored bills whose cumulative effect would actually reduce federal outlays, many more than the 16 lawmakers who did so in 2003. Meanwhile, the number of Congress Members backing increases in federal spending of $100 billion or more has gone down, from over 150 in 2003 to 90 last year.
  • Nonetheless, these figures are a far cry from the 104th Congress (1995), when the increase-to-decrease ratios for bill introduction were far more balanced -- 1.3 to 1 in the House and 1.7 to 1 in the Senate. In addition, 10 years ago House Republicans as well as Members of both parties in the Senate posted average agenda totals that would have driven down federal expenditures.
  • The typical House Republican proposed to boost the federal budget by a net of $11.6 billion, while the average for a Democrat was $547.4 billion (the highest BillTally has ever recorded for either Chamber). On the Senate side, the partisan gap was smaller -- $11.4 billion per Republican and $52.1 billion per Democrat.
  • If every one of the House's spending bills introduced in 2005 -- excluding overlapping proposals -- became law, federal outlays would increase by $2.55 trillion, roughly doubling the current federal budget. In the Senate, the sum total adds up to $394.4 billion.

In researching possible sources of leadership in Congress for reducing the federal deficit, Brady found that two fiscally-conservative caucuses, the Republican Study Committee and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, may be part of the solution. House Members participating in these groups had far smaller spending agendas than their respective parties' colleagues.

"As incumbents prepare to hit the campaign trail this fall, taxpayers will no doubt be treated to a litany of reasons why Washington is still mired in red ink," Brady concluded. "But as these numbers show, a flow of costly ideas from lawmakers' own pens is partially to blame."

NTUF is the non-partisan research arm of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union, a citizen group founded in 1969. Note: NTU Foundation BillTally Report 109-2, Unbalanced Agendas, Unbalanced Budgets, along with data for individual lawmakers, is available at www.ntu.org.

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