Demian Brady is a senior policy analyst at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation
The tumultuous 2010 election, in which Republicans won a stunning 64 seats to take control of the House of Representatives, was billed as a referendum on many fiscal policies of the previous Congress and the Obama administration. GOP candidates promised a change of course, hyping an agenda of spending cuts in their "Pledge to America."
Now that the new House majority has had several months to live up to that hype, how can we effectively measure whether rhetoric has indeed become reality? The National Taxpayers Union Foundation's BillTally system provides some answers.
Since 1991, BillTally has analyzed the fiscal impact of every proposed piece of legislation—not just those bills that reach the floor of the House and Senate for votes. The system then matches up legislation with sponsorship records for every lawmaker, showing what would happen to the federal budget if each and every bill supported by a given member of Congress became law. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]
The BillTally results for the first 100 session days of the 112th Congress reveal that the new House majority is indeed offering a different legislative path than members of the previous Congress on spending, but there are many surprising wrinkles to this story.
Members introduced 204 bills to increase spending, and just 58 to cut spending. The bills cosponsored by the average Republican would reduce the budget by $63 billion (net figures: spending reductions adjusted for spending increases). Their counterparts on the Democratic side would increase expenditures by $6.3 billion. This may come as news to many citizens who believe everyone in Congress has acknowledged the need for some degree of budget cuts. Even House Members in the Democratic Blue Dog coalition, who profess to be more "fiscally responsible," had a net agenda to raise outlays by $3.3 billion.
The new batch of GOP freshmen, brought in on a wave of anti-establishment support, are proposing nearly the exact same amount of spending reductions as veteran Republican congressmen (roughly $63 billion each). Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of initiative on the part of individual Republican members: The typical Republican supported, on average, just five of the 58 savings bills introduced.
Living up to its reputation, the Tea Party stood apart from those trends. No single caucus proposed more net spending reductions than the Tea Party Caucus's $99.1 billion savings agenda. Not even the conservative Republican Study Committee (whose members backed $74.5 billion in net reductions) could match this feat. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]
Unsurprisingly, Republicans offered several different bills to repeal all or parts of President Obama's healthcare reform law (an annualized savings of $40.3 billion). Yet, national defense—long a sacred cow with many Republicans—has occupied a large part of the Democrats' spending cut agenda, though not enough to offset their new spending.
What does the big picture look like, without the partisan personalities? Here again, BillTally provides a useful look "under the hood."
Excluding overlapping proposals, the net effect of all legislation from the 112th Congress's first 100 days would be to cut annual spending by $152.9 billion, the net result of $144.8 billion in increases, and $297.6 billion in cuts. This is a dramatic turnaround from the 111th Congress's price tag of $363.3 billion. [Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Congress Raise the Debt Ceiling?]
A further historical comparison provides some context to the size cuts being offered this year. There are several parallels between this Congress and the 104th Congress in 1995, both were swept into power amid similar themes of a "revolution" to limit government.
Members in the 104th Congress, in fact, proposed a total savings of $123.9 billion—61 percent fewer than the current Congress (even after adjustments for inflation). This may seem encouraging, but, in fact, this only makes the next statistic more disturbing.