Study: Presidential Frontrunners Would Boost Federal Budget by Range of $7 Billion to $287 Billion Annually

(Alexandria, VA) -- Presidential contenders have been busy portraying their political differences from others inside and outside of their parties, but when it comes to fiscal policy, ideological labels don't necessarily apply. That's just one finding of a comprehensive study from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), which provides cost estimates -- based on hard data -- for more than 450 of the major candidates' proposals that would affect the federal budget.

"Our analyses hopefully will help taxpayers distinguish political posturing from concrete proposals -- many of which would significantly change the size and make-up of the federal budget," NTUF Senior Policy Analyst Demian Brady said. "As the public-policy debate on the campaign trail nears its 'Super Tuesday' peak next week, we're providing Americans with the chance to systematically examine how future budget plans may affect their own future finances."

NTUF assumed the most conservative cost estimates of federal outlays based on a variety of sources, including the candidates' own projections; summaries from the Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Research Service, and the White House Office of Management and Budget; and results from equivalent legislation from NTUF's BillTally cost accounting system. Among the general findings of the eight reports, analyzing six Republicans and two Democrats:

  • The eight candidates proposed a combined total of 189 items that would increase federal spending, 24 items that would decrease it, and 238 items whose budgetary impacts are unknown -- in addition to dozens of sub-items further detailing program components. The four respective frontrunners in the two parties (John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama), proposed overall fiscal policy agendas whose net effect would raise annual federal outlays between $6.9 billion and $287.0 billion.
  • The top-tier GOP candidates often portrayed as "conservative" (Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee) actually called for significantly larger spending hikes ($19.5 billion and $54.2 billion, respectively), than the so-called "moderate conservative" (John McCain, $6.9 billion).
  • Among Democrats, Barack Obama, often described as ideologically more "moderate" than Hillary Clinton, actually has the larger agenda of the two ($287.0 billion vs. $218.2 billion).
  • Defense-related spending items received the highest proposed spending increases among Republican candidates. Huckabee and Romney, for example, offered $67.2 billion and $40.6 billion, respectively. Among Democrats, Clinton's biggest boost goes toward health care ($113.6 billion) and Obama's for economy, transportation, and infrastructure ($105.0 billion).
  • Two of the eight candidates proposed sufficient spending cuts that more than offset their new spending plans: Rudy Giuliani (-$1.4 billion) and Ron Paul (-$150.1 billion).

NTUF is the nonpartisan research arm of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union, a citizen group founded in 1969. Note: Due to time constraints, NTUF staff were unable to complete a report for Democratic candidate John Edwards. For the full reports, graphs of the data, and audio analysis from NTUF staff, visit