With a week and a half left until Election Day, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) has released another line-by-line study of candidates’ campaign proposals. This report covers the fiscal agendas of Colorado’s two Senatorial frontrunners: Congressman Cory Gardner (R) and Senator Mark Udall (D). Throughout 2014, both candidates have made a lot of claims but neither has said much about the price tags associated with legislation they might support as Senator in the 114th Congress. The lack of detail candidates have offered in this race reflects a growing trend of candidates praising the merits of their proposals without giving taxpayers an indication of what it might cost them. NTUF’s latest study casts new light on the goals Rep. Gardner and Sen. Udall support and the tax dollars it would take to achieve them.
NTUF has been scoring candidates’ agendas for over 14 years. We cover Presidential primaries and general elections, Senatorial races, and special House campaigns by recording direct quotes from debates, interviews, and the candidates’ own websites, and then matching these items with proposed legation, cost estimates from third party sources (like the Congressional Budget Office), and budgetary documents. Here is what NTUF’s research has found.
Congressman Cory Gardner (R)
So far in his bid for Colorado’s Senate seat, Congressman Gardner has proposed 16 budget-influencing policies. Five would increase expenditures, five would cut costs, and there were six measures that had uncertain fiscal impacts. Since he is a currently serving Member in the House of Representatives, NTUF was able to match his quotes and materials to legislation that he has previously sponsored and cosponsored. Many of these bills have been scored as part of NTUF’s BillTally project, which is the nation’s only comprehensive study that scores nearly every bill as introduced in Congress for changes in spending. Taking Rep. Gardner’s 16 proposals into account, NTUF determined that his platform would decrease spending by a net $83.3 billion per year.
Largest Increase: Restore Medicare Advantage Funding. Pledging to restore funding related to the Medicare Advantage program would increase federal spending by $59 billion over five years. Medicare Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare plans; some of the program’s funding was cut in order to offset the costs associated with implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). NTUF was able to score the measure based on a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a report on the fiscal effects of repealing ACA and restoring spending to Advantage.
Largest Decrease: Repeal the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Gardner has said that he “supports legislation that repeals” ACA, which NTUF scored in 2012 as a $36.9 billion annual spending cut. After factoring in his goal to restore Medicare Advantage funding, the ACA repeal total increased to $75.7 billion, which would then be offset with the funding restoration. As opposed to how CBO scored similar repeal measures, NTUF tracked only the changes in spending outlays and did not account for gains or losses in revenues (this is one of the primary features of BillTally). As implementation continues, it is likely that a full repeal would result in additional reductions.
Largest Unknown: Reform Social Security. A hotly debated issue in many races and states is the approach the government ought to take regarding the nation’s largest budgetary obligation. Rep. Gardner has called on the government to “protect Social Security for future generations” but NTUF has been unable to determine what policies he would vote in favor of in order to achieve that goal. Generally, we have found that reforms of this nature are geared toward individuals 55 years and younger, with budgetary impact usually occurring beyond the BillTally project’s five-year window. Aside from the notion of private retirement accounts, there are also proposals to create accounts similar to Roth IRAs but administered by the government. Depending on the specific policy, it is possible that spending could change by billions of dollars (as either increases or decreases) over the long term.
Senator Mark Udall (D)
On the other side of the debate, NTUF found 15 fiscal policies that are directly supported by the incumbent, Senator Udall. Six would increase spending and nine were not quantifiable. Though at least one of his measures could cut the budget, none of them could be matched with bills that he has sponsored or cosponsored. On net, spending would increase by $38.6 billion each year if Sen. Udall’s scorable proposals were enacted.
Largest Increase: Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Sen. Udall has said that “comprehensive immigration reform should be a top priority” and has voted in favor of the bill that passed the Senate to overhaul the immigration system and improve border security. If enacted, immigrants illegally in the country would be given an option regarding a path to citizenship, certain federally-provided benefits to those immigrants would be expanded, and the number of Border Patrol agents would double. This bill was scored by CBO as a $20.2 billion annual spending increase.
Largest Unknown: All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy. With Colorado being a source of both traditional and renewable energy, Sen. Udall has taken a positive position on the matter but has not been clear as to exactly how he would fund energy development. To capitalize on the Keystone State’s abundance of natural gas, he has sponsored measures to expedite natural gas export agreements. Such an action would affect federal regulations and revenues but would likely not adjust spending. For renewable energy, a variety of fiscal tools are available to increase the efficiency and/or capacity of alternative energy technologies. Currently, energy companies receive tax dollars in the form of tax credits, loans, and grants. One such bill that NTUF cites would require 25 percent of output to be generated from tidal, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower by 2025. Sen. Udall is a cosponsor of the proposal in the current Congress.
Though Gardner and Udall have their differences, similarities exist on at least one issue (if not in means, they share mutual ends): Support Veterans. Both legislators voted in favor of a multi-billion dollar bill in August to help improve and correct major issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs. They have also supported additional legislation to fix the system even though the measures do not exactly align. In addition to the $12.9 billion allocated in the aforementioned bill, it is unclear whether or not they would both vote in favor of more VA-related spending.
What should taxpayers take away from NTUF’s report and the agendas of Congressman Gardner and Senator Udall? Perhaps the most telling aspect of our review of their platforms is what is not said or clarified on the campaign trail. Americans are looking for answers to an increasingly chaotic budgetary situation and if the candidates were to present more details as to how spending would increase or decrease in light of their proposals, taxpayers would be able to make a more well-informed decision come Election Day. Similar to how we expect elected officials to be public with their votes and policy positions, citizens also expect transparency with candidates’ agendas.