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Policy Paper

BillTally Report 112-1
Reading the Tea (Party) Leaves: The First Session of the 112th Congress

May 15, 2012
By Demian Brady

After the 1994 elections, the Republicans’ agenda under the Contract with America paved the way for welfare reform and the first budget to reduce discretionary spending in decades. Then, after the 104th Congress, the budget resumed its upward trajectory and the GOP’s stances gradually came into question from key parts of the electorate until the party was relegated once again to minority status in Congress. Battered and bruised after defeats in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the Republican Party was revived by an infusion of Tea Party-backed freshmen who vowed to repeal “ObamaCare” and to stop Washington from spending more taxpayer funds on “stimulus” and bailout schemes. The 2010 midterm elections swept the Republicans back into power in the House, and brought them a larger caucus in the Senate. How different are the fiscal policies of this crop of GOP lawmakers compared to their predecessors? Fortunately, taxpayers can rely on more than political talking points to evaluate these promises of a change in direction.

The data in this report, developed by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), shows that the Congressional Tea Party Caucus has changed business as usual in Washington: Members are introducing more savings bills than they have in recent years and sponsoring larger agendas to cut spending. However, there is still a sizable contingent of Members advocating higher spending on another round of “economic stimulus” and on an even more extensive overhaul of the health care system than was enacted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

This report summarizes data from NTUF’s BillTally program, which studies the cost or savings of all legislation introduced in the First Session of the 112th Congress that affects spending by at least $1 million. Agenda totals for individual lawmakers were developed by cross-indexing their sponsorship and cosponsorship records with cost estimates for 707 House bills and 456 Senate bills under BillTally accounting rules that prevent the double counting of overlapping proposals. All sponsorship and cost data in this report were made available to each Congressional office for review prior to publication. Appendix A lists all Members alphabetically, Appendix B lists Members by state delegation, and Appendix C gives a thorough explanation of the BillTally methodology.

 I. Data Highlights

  • During 2011, Representatives authored 562 spending bills and 145 savings bills. Senators drafted 371 increase bills and 85 savings bills. This comprised the fewest increases in each Chamber in 10 years, and the most savings bills since the mid 1990s.
  • Each bill in the House and Senate to cut spending was outnumbered by approximately four bills to increase spending. In the First Session of the previous 111th Congress, the ratio of increases to cuts was 16:1 in the House and 18:1 in the Senate.
  • The 93 non-overlapping House savings proposals would, if enacted into law, cut annual spending by $601.4 billion. Among the spending bills, the 535 non-overlapping increase proposals that were analyzed would raise outlays by $1.72 trillion. Thus the net effect of all the House bills would increase outlays by $1.12 trillion, or $9,513.39 per household.
  • The 58 non-overlapping Senate proposals would reduce outlays by $762.1 billion, while the 364 non-overlapping increase proposals would hike spending by $1.17 trillion. If all of the bills in the Senate became law, spending would increase by $405.4 billion, or $3,449.20 per household.
  • The typical House Democrat backed a net (i.e., increases minus cuts) agenda of $496.8 billion – the first time it has fallen below the half-trillion mark since the 108th Congress (2003). The net agenda of the typical Senate Democrat dropped from $133.7 billion in the 111th Congress to $23.7 billion this Congress.
  • The typical House Republican sponsored a net agenda to reduce the budget by $130.2 billion – their largest cutting agenda over the past 11 Congresses. On average, Senate Republicans posted a net total of minus $238.7 billion. This marks only the second time that the net agenda of the average Republican Senator was less than that of his or her counterpart in the House.
  • In the House and Senate combined, lawmakers introduced 125 bills that would increase health care-related spending, on average, by $24.1 billion. Four of the five bills with the largest price tag in the 112th Congress addressed health care, including three to mandate universal federal coverage.
  • 112th Congress had the most House “net cutters”: the number of Members whose net agenda would reduce spending stood at 237 Representatives (including six Democrats and all but 10 Republicans). In the 104th, there were 233. Thirteen Democratic Senators joined all of the Republican Senators in proposing net cuts.
  • The new Congress also has fewer Members whose net agendas would lead to new spending of more than $100 billion per year. The number in the House fell from 128 in the last Congress to 76 in 2011 (or 38, excluding sponsors of universal health care bills). The number of Senators with net spending agendas greater than $100 billion shrank from 24 in the 111th to just six in the 112th.
  • Forty-seven Representatives and two Senators (all of whom were Democrats) did not support any of the 230 savings bills introduced during the First Session.
  • Among the appointees to the Deficit Reduction Committee, all of the Republicans were “net cutters” and all of the Democrats proposed agendas to increase spending (one of whom, a sponsor of a single-payer health care bill, would increase spending by more than $1 trillion).
  • The typical Republican freshman in either Chamber called for more net budget savings than returning Republicans while a first-time Democrat proposed more spending than their longer-serving colleagues. And there was a large swing toward spending reductions in the agendas of Members from House seats that switched from Democratic to Republican.

 II. Analysis of Findings

A. Bill Introduction Rates

While Members’ votes are heavily influenced by pressure from their respective parties’ leadership, Representatives and Senators have far more discretion in drafting and cosponsoring legislation. Bills are written, or supported, for various reasons such as to promote certain policies, to please constituents back in the home district, or to bring attention to a particular issue. Together, the list of bills a Member supports represents his or her policy priorities. These bills are analyzed here to determine their net fiscal impact if they were to become law.

Relative to previous Congresses, in this “post-Tea Party” Congress, Members are introducing fewer bills overall, and more spending cuts in particular. During the First Session of the 112th Congress, the Members of the House and Senate introduced a total of 5,799 bills.[1] While this is a large figure, it actually represents a 21 percent drop from the 7,332 bills that were introduced during the opening Session of the 111th Congress.[2] Fewer bills mean fewer potential attempts to regulate, tax, and spend.[*]


Table 1. Bill Introduction Rates in the Past Eleven Congresses

and Number of Scored Bills


Spending Increase Bills

Spending Cut Bills

Ratio of Increase Bills to Decrease Bills




























































































Table 1 (above) shows the number of spending increase and decrease proposals introduced in the First Sessions of each of the last 11 Congresses. The figures show a dramatic decline in the number of increase bills offered in 2011 compared to the last few Congresses. Only two previous Congresses (the 104th and 106th) had fewer increase proposals. The highest levels of spending bills to raise spending were seen during the 110th Congress.  

The new Congress also proposed far more savings bills compared to recent years, though, the number of such proposals fell short of the levels reached during the deficit battles of the early-to-mid 1990s. Since those spending reduction ‘boom years,’ cut bills went through a period of scarcity, dwindling to 35 in the House (108th Congress) and only 13 in the Senate (107th Congress) before gradually rebounding. In the 112th Congress, Representatives and Senators drafted the highest number of savings bills since the 104th Congress, when the Republicans won majority control of the House and Senate for the first time in decades. Savings bills comprised just 1.3 percent of the legislative agenda (i.e., the percentage of all bills introduced) in the 111th Congress. This figure rose in the new Congress, but only to 4.0 percent.

Correspondingly, the ratio of increase bills to cuts is the lowest it has been in over a decade, returning to single digits for the first time since the 105th Congress. For each savings bill introduced in Congress, lawmakers proposed roughly four increase bills – down from a high of over 23:1 in the House and 32:1 in the Senate during the first year of the 108th Congress.

B. Cost of All Unique Bills by Chamber

What would be the effect on the budget if all of the bills within each Chamber became law? To fairly compute these figures, NTUF identifies legislation, or provisions within legislation, that overlap so that duplicate proposals are not double-counted. Under BillTally’s methodology, if a Member is a sponsor of multiple bills that would achieve the same purpose, only one of them will be counted toward his or her net spending agenda.[†]

NTUF identified 93 non-overlapping House savings proposals that would, if enacted into law, bring down annual federal expenditures by $601.4 billion. Among the spending-hike bills, the 535 non-overlapping proposals that were analyzed would raise outlays by $1.72 trillion. Thus the net effect of all the House bills would be to increase outlays by $1.12 trillion. [‡] Each household’s share of these costs would be $9,513.39.[3]

A relatively small portion of the bills were responsible for a large portion of the cuts and hikes. Nearly half of the savings total would result from the implementation of a spending cap (the largest of which, H.R. 204, would cut the budget at an annual rate of $281.0 billion). Almost two-thirds of the spending increases were driven by a bill to enact a nationalized single-payer health care system (discussed below).

The Senate bills’ net outlay effect was similar, except that the estimate of the budget cap and cut plan was relatively larger, and the estimate of the nationalized health care proposal was somewhat smaller. NTUF identified 58 non-overlapping Senate proposals that would reduce outlays by $762.1 billion, and 364 non-overlapping increase proposals to hike spending by $1.17 trillion. If all of the bills in the Senate became law, spending would rise by a net $405.4 billion, or $3,449.20 per household.

C. Party Averages

With fewer spending-increase bills and more cut bills under consideration in Congress, one might expect that more Members of Congress now have agendas to cut budgetary outlays overall. This is largely true, although there is a partisan difference. The average Republican in Congress would more than offset any proposed new spending, leading to a net reduction in outlays. The typical Democrat called for less net spending than in recent Congresses, but would only offset a portion of their increases with other budget cuts, leading to agendas that would grow the budget.

In the House, the average Democrat actually proposed $1.6 billion more in spending increases in 2011 than in 2009, bringing the gross cost of the budget hikes to $504.2 billion annually. But because the value of the sponsored spending cuts rose to $7.3 billion, the net agenda came out to $496.8 billion, below the half-trillion dollar mark for the first time since the 108th Congress. The offsetting savings of 1.5 percent marks the first time the offset rate rose above 1 percent since 1999 (106th Congress).

The infusion of the Tea Party freshmen had a tremendous impact on the net agenda of the Republican Representatives. The average Republican proposed fewer increases and more cuts than in any previous Congress. If only their increases became law, spending would rise by $5.3 billion annually – $21.4 billion less than the last Congress and $89 million less (in nominal dollars) than in the historically similar 104th Congress. On a net basis, this amount was more than offset by savings bills of $135.5 billion annually, almost twice as much as in the previous Congress and the most since NTUF began tracking Congressional sponsorship costs. All told, the net agenda of the typical Republican, with budget reduction totaling $130.2 billion, was the largest in the history of BillTally.


Table 2. House Sponsorship of Legislation in the First Sessions of the Past Eleven Congresses by Party

(Dollar Amounts in Millions)


Proposed Increases

Proposed Cuts

Net Agendas

Percent of Increases Offset by Cuts

















































































































Notes: Totals may not add due to rounding. House averages exclude Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).


Table 3. Senate Sponsorship of Legislation in the First Sessions of the Past Eleven Congresses by Party

(Dollar Amounts in Millions)


Proposed Increases

Proposed Cuts

Net Agendas

Percent of Increases Offset by Cuts

















































































































Notes: Totals may not add due to rounding. Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Sanders (I-VT) are not included in this table.

Compared to the previous five Congresses, the average Senate Democrat in the 112th Congress has dramatically scaled back his or her spending agenda. In the 111th Congress, the typical Democrat’s total was $133.7 billion, an amount largely attributable to support of health care legislation. In the new Congress, however, that sum went down overall due to fewer proposed net increases and slightly more savings (to $5.7 billion in 2011). This is the highest level of cuts proposed by the Senate Democrats since the 103rd Congress. The savings would offset less than a fifth of the proposed increases, for a net annual spending agenda of $23.7 billion.

On the other hand, the average Republican Senator offered the fewest increases and the most decreases seen in the first year of any Congress NTUF has analyzed. On average, the GOP agenda in the Upper Chamber included $2.4 billion in spending increases, for a net of $238.7 billion in cuts. This marks only the second time that a Republican Senator’s spending-cut agenda surpassed that of his or her counterpart in the House. Usually, Representatives are more assertive in seeking budget reductions, but the Tea Party freshmen in the Senate helped to bring down the caucus’s mean to historically low levels.

D. The Impact of Health Care Proposals

Despite the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) two years ago, or in some quarters, because of its passage, federal policy regarding the health care sector remains unsettled. Proposals to further define the government’s role in providing health care and insurance coverage comprise the most prolific topic in the new Congress, at 163 bills (both increases and decreases). Not only are there more bills pertaining to health care than other categories, they also have a higher average price tag. This legislation also tends to represent a significant portion of the net spending agendas of those who would increase outlays.

Focusing only on those proposals to boost expenditures, there were 125 bills related to health care, that would, on average, increase outlays by $24.1 billion. This issue area was tied in popularity with education, but the latter category had a lower average price tag of $904 million. The “economy and labor” topic attracted more pieces of legislation (133), but with a lower average cost of $4.4 billion.

All told, four of the five bills with the largest price tags in the First Session addressed health care. The top three in particular – which also have been introduced in each of the last several Congresses – would significantly expand the budget and regulatory power of the federal government. Several Members of Congress who believe that PPACA did not do enough to overhaul the health care system have introduced single-payer, universal health care proposals: H.R. 676 (74 sponsors and cosponsors during the First Session[§]) the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act, and H.R. 1200 the American Health Security Act of 2011 (12 sponsors and cosponsors) and its companion, bill S. 915 (one sponsor). An official cost estimate is not available for H.R. 676, but its supporters are calling for net annual funding of $1.16 trillion.[4] The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) completed a cost estimate for the American Health Security Act in 1993. In the absence of a newer cost estimate, adjusting CBO’s figures for inflation show that it could cost $796.7 billion annually.[5]

Excluding the budgetary effect of the two universal health care bills in the House from the BillTally data for the First Session dramatically decreases the net spending agenda of the average Democrat. Without these roughly trillion-dollar proposals, the net spending agenda of Democrats would be $62.3 billion, far less than $496.8 billion. The figure for Democratic Senators would remain unchanged since the sponsor of that version is an Independent.

PPACA was also responsible for several savings bills introduced in Congress, but excluding these would not affect net agendas as significantly. Representatives introduced 15 and Senators introduced four overlapping bills to either repeal PPACA in its entirety, or to carve out a portion of it such as the Independent Payments Advisory Board (IPAB). Based on data from CBO, NTUF estimated that full repeal of PPACA in 2011 would have saved $40.3 billion annually over the next five years. H.R. 452, to repeal the provisions of PPACA that created IPAB, had bipartisan support in the House and would have canceled the $15 million Congress appropriated for the IPAB in 2012. Without these bills, the net agenda of the average Democrat would have been $1 million higher, and the House Republicans’ net cutting agenda would have fallen to $94.0 billion. The average Senate Democrats’ net agenda would have remained unchanged, but the Republicans’ net savings agenda would be reduced to $198.4 billion.

E. The Outliers – Becoming the Norm?

Due to a shift away from high-cost bills and agendas, the number of “net cutters” – those Members whose net spending agendas would reduce budgetary outlays – spiked to levels not seen since the 104th Congress. All but 10 of the House Republicans were net cutters. The agenda of these 10 ranged from $363 million to $19.1 billion. The agendas of the 231 net cutters varied from a savings of $28 million to $428.7 billion. They were joined by six Democratic net cutters, whose savings agendas consisted of between $815 million and $8.6 billion. Altogether, the 237 net cutters in the 112th Congress set a new record, exceeding the 233 net cutters from the 104th Congress. Their ranks had dwindled to just 13 in the 108th Congress before steadily increasing over the following years.

A similar reversal also occurred in the Senate, but fell short of the 104th Congress’s record. Thirteen Democrats and the entire Republican delegation had net agendas to reduce spending. The Republicans’ net cutting agenda ranged from a $29.3 billion to a $515.7 billion. The agenda of the Democratic net cutters ranged from $69 million to $35.2 billion. The number of net cutters has more than doubled in each Congress since the 107th, when there was only one Senator whose bills would lead to net budget reductions. Yet, the Tea Party wave was unable to bring the number of net cutters as high as the 104th Congress when there were 75.



The new Congress also has fewer Members whose net agendas would lead to new spending of more than $100 billion per year. The number in the House fell from 128 in the last Congress to 76 this year, the fewest since the 107th. Each of these Representatives backed at least one of the universal health care proposals. The number of Senators with net spending agendas greater than $100 billion shrank from 24 in 2009 to just six last year. As mentioned earlier, support for health care spending, universal health care proposals in particular, helped to drive up the cost of many spending agendas. Excluding sponsorship of these would bring the number of Members with agendas exceeding $100 billion to 38.

A contributing factor to these relatively larger agendas is that these Members sponsor more spending increases relative to other Members (see Table 4).


Table 4. Average Sponsorship of Increases and Decreases by Size of Net Spending Agenda


Average # of Increase Bill Sponsored

Average # of Decrease Bills Sponsored


Members with a Spending Agenda Greater Than $100 Billion



All Other Net Increasers



Net Cutters




Members with a Spending Agenda Greater Than $100 Billion



All Other Net Increasers



Net Cutters




F. Distribution of Sponsorship of Increases and Decreases

Even though Members are on average compiling smaller net spending agendas compared to previous Congresses, there remains a large difference in the types of bills supported by each party. The average Republican in the House sponsored 12 increases, while Senate Republicans sponsored nine. Their Democratic colleagues backed 40 House increase bills and 33 Senate increases. The figures below show the distribution of increases supported by parties in both Chambers.



There were two Republicans in the House who did not sponsor any increase bills, 107 who supported between one and nine increases, 105 who supported between 10 and 19 increases, and 27 who backed between 20 and 49. Nearly 90 percent of Republicans backed fewer than 20 increases, while 83 percent of Democrats backed 20 or more increases. In the Senate, nearly all of the Republicans supported fewer than 10 increases – just three supported more than 20. Three-quarters of Democrats sponsored over 20 increases.


Figures 5 and 6 show the distribution of sponsorship of savings proposals in the House and Senate, by party. Forty-seven Democrats in the House and two in the Senate did not support any of the 230 savings bills introduced during the First Session. Just nine Democratic Representatives backed five or more budget cuts. Senate Democrats were relatively more inclined to look for ways to cut spending, with 20 backing at least five cut proposals. But they were not as aggressive as their Republican colleagues, who, on average, supported 14 cuts, besting the 13 cuts on average supported by House Republicans.


G. Deficit Reduction Committee Members

The Budget Control Act obligated party leaders to designate three Republicans and three Democrats from the House and three each from the Senate to serve on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This Committee was supposed to recommend a deficit reduction proposal that would then go to Congress for an up-or-down vote. If the Committee failed to come to agreement, a series of slowdowns in budgetary increases would be automatically triggered. These “cuts” would fall primarily on defense programs and Medicare, but also in other mandatory and non-defense discretionary spending. Theoretically, the automatic pullbacks were supposed to have been so onerous that it would be inconceivable for the Committee to fall short of agreeing on a package. But that was clearly not the final outcome, one that may have been preordained: Figures 7 and 8 (below) illustrate that Members had contrasting priorities on federal spending.



The Committee’s Republican Members were all net cutters – if all of the legislation they sponsored through 2011 were enacted into law spending would decrease. On average, the House Members’ agenda would reduce the budget by $157.4 billion, and the Senate Members’ agenda would shrink outlays by $207.4 billion. Their Democratic colleagues all proposed agendas to boost the budget by an average of $16.3 billion in the Senate and $420.8 billion in the House. The latter included one Member who is a sponsor of H.R. 676, a bill that would enact a single-payer, nationalized health care system that cost taxpayers more than a trillion dollars.

H. Congressional Caucuses

Once elected to Congress, a Representative has the option to join any of several Member caucuses that organize around a particular issue area or political philosophy. In these caucuses, Members can share ideas and coordinate strategies to promote or oppose particular legislation. Such caucuses are more prevalent in the House. Two long-standing caucuses, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) and the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition (BDC), both espouse fiscal discipline for their respective parties. The RSC states that it is dedicated to “a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government.”[6] On its website, the BDC states that its members are “dedicated to the financial stability … of the United States” and have a “commitment to fiscal responsibility.”[7] A related third caucus, the Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP)[8] was founded to “promote thoughtful leadership in the Republican Party and to develop and advocate for pragmatic common sense solutions to the challenges our country faces.”[9] The Partnership’s mission page states that its Members are “main stream fiscally conservative elected officials.”[10] These groups have been joined by the newer Tea Party Caucus that “stands for the fundamental principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government and strict adherence to the Constitution.”[11]

Table 5. Average Spending Agendas by Caucuses and Member Organizations in the 112th Congress (in Millions)


Proposed Increases

Number of Increase Bills

Proposed Cuts

Number of Cut Bills

Net Agenda


Republican Study Committee






Republican Main Street Partnership






Tea Party Caucus












Blue Dog Democrats






Congressional Progressive Caucus






Congressional Black Caucus






Note: Totals may not add due to rounding. There were 56 Republicans with membership in both the RSC and TPC, 17 Members in both the RSC and RMSP, and three overlapping in all three caucuses. RMSP data only includes its Members in the House. Members of the CPC are all Democrats.


It is the Members of this newer Tea Party Caucus who are leading the way in the quest to cut spending. The typical TPC Member would reduce outlays by $174.5 billion, surpassing the cuts called for by the Members of the RSC who proposed reductions of $163.9 billion. The relatively “moderate” membership of the RMSP authored a net agenda to cut the budget by $66.7 billion.

These three caucuses would be outspent by the average Blue Dog. A disproportionate share of the Democratic incumbents who lost their seats last November consisted of Members of the BDC. The Coalition had 56 Members in the last Congress, 48 of whom ran for re-election. Of these, 22 were defeated. There are now 24 Blue Dogs in the current Congress.[12] The average Member of the Democratic caucus claiming the mantle of “fiscal discipline” called for net budgetary hikes of $65.6 billion – a level nearly eight times lower than the net agenda of the average Democrat.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which claims to be the largest caucus within the general Democratic Caucus, is a group that makes no claim to “fiscal discipline” but instead favors “economic justice.”[13] The average Member of the CPC sponsored 54 bills to increase spending and two bills to cut spending, for a net agenda of $950.5 billion. This caucus was outspent by those in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), whose average net agenda would lead to budget increases of $1.05 trillion. Thirty Representatives were members of both of these caucuses, but the higher net agenda is attributable to the greater proportion of CBC members who sponsored universal health care than those in the CPC (81.4 percent versus 73.3 percent). This is the first year in recent times that a Republican has joined the Democrats in the CBC; however, not even Florida Representative Allen West’s net agenda to cut outlays by $165.9 billion was sufficient to bring the CBC’s overall total below a trillion dollars.

Last December, an NTUF commentary speculated over whether the loss of so many Democrats in the BDC to candidates pledging to work for even more fiscal restraint would spur the remaining fiscally- conservative Democrats to support additional spending cuts.[14] Thus far the Blue Dogs have not shown signs of doing so, advocating an average of $2.0 billion in cuts from the $3.8 trillion federal budget. In the course of the 111th Congress, the average Member of the BDC had called for $39.2 billion in spending reductions.[15] In this Congress, the Members of the Progressive and Black Caucuses have actually backed more spending cuts, due largely to support for legislation to roll back defense spending to 2008 levels.

I. Freshman vs. Returning Members

More often than not, BillTally data over the past decade has shown that, on average, freshmen Members of Congress propose less spending than their longer-serving colleagues. This trend holds true overall in 2011: the typical freshman had a larger net savings agenda than a returning Member. The average House newcomer would reduce outlays by $76.1 billion, while reelected Members would boost spending by $214.1 billion. Freshman Senators identified more than three times as many cuts as returning Senators: $210.0 billion vs. $66.7 billion. However, further analysis shows a distinct split between the parties when comparing newcomers to incumbents.


As Table 5 (above) shows, in comparison to their own respective parties, the typical Republican freshman proposed more spending cuts while the typical first-time Democrat proposed more spending increases than their more senior colleagues. Republican freshmen in both the House and Senate proposed fewer spending increases and more savings for an overall larger net cutting agenda than returning Republicans. House freshmen sought $144.9 billion in cuts, on average, while incumbents proposed $122.2 billion in cuts. The Senate freshman class sought even more cuts ($272.4 billion), while returning Republican Senators called for $225.8 billion. The typical Democratic freshman in the House backed $80.6 billion more in spending than their returning colleagues. Incoming Senate Democrats proposed nearly three times as much spending as returning Democrats.

Table 6. Average Net Spending Agendas of Freshmen and Returning Members in the 112th Congress, by Party (in Millions)


Proposed Increases

# of Increases

Proposed Cuts


# of Cuts

Net Agenda



All Freshmen






All Returning












Freshman Democrats






Returning Democrats












Freshman Republicans






Returning Republicans







All Freshmen






All Returning












Freshman Democrats






Returning Democrats












Freshman Republicans






Returning Republicans






Notes: Totals may not add due to rounding.


 J. The Tea Party Wave

Generally, Congressional incumbents have several advantages such as name recognition, franking privileges, and big-donor financing that often help guide them to electoral victory over upstart challengers. But the Tea Party wave in 2010 knocked out several sitting Members, including three Representatives who served as powerful Committee Chairmen in the 111th Congress. In all, 67 seats switched from Democratic control to Republican control in the 112th Congress. These incoming freshmen have reshaped the legislative output from their respective districts. The average net agenda of Members from these districts underwent a swing of $240.9 billion from the last Congress to the new one.


Figure 9 (above) compares the average net agenda of Republican freshmen in the House with that of the Democrats they replaced. Several of the Democrats either retired or were defeated in a primary challenge, and 53 were defeated on Election Day. On average, the Members who occupied those seats in the 111th Congress compiled a net agenda to increase spending by $111.0 billion annually. Every single newcomer had a smaller net agenda than the Member who was replaced, including the eight former Representatives who were “net cutters” in the last Congress. The former Democrats could be considered as relatively “fiscally conservative” compared to the average net spending agenda of all Democrats in the House, which was $538.8 billion over both Sessions of the 111th Congress.[16] But with concerns about excessive federal spending and mounting debt ranking high amongst voter concerns in the November 2010 elections, the defeated Members’ credentials were apparently not sufficient.


The agenda swing witnessed from seats that switched from Democrat to Republican was even greater in the Senate, dropping by $382.6 billion. The departing Democrats supported $142.5 billion in new spending, on average. This was inflated by the $577.7 billion net agenda compiled by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), who had switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party in 2009 but was subsequently defeated in a 2010 primary challenge.

The incoming Republican class who replaced Republican Senators is also seeking more opportunities to reduce the budget. Six Republicans retired and their seats were retained by the party. Four of the retirees had been net cutters in the previous Congress, but the average agenda of the group was driven upward by Senator Judd Gregg’s (NH) support for an alternative to PPACA called the Healthy Americans Act (which would have increased federal outlays by $527.7 billion per year by shifting the provision of health insurance coverage from employers to the federal government).[17] The Senator in this group with the next largest net spending agenda was Bob Bennett (UT), whose bills would have boosted outlays by $56.7 billion. Mike Lee defeated Bennett in a primary and went on to win the general election. The third net increaser among these departing Republicans was Senator George Voinovich (OH), at $20.9 billion. Altogether, the seven incoming Republicans in 2011 proposed to cut spending by an average of $300 billion.

III. Conclusion

Insofar as drafting legislation goes, Tea Party freshmen did what they promised their voters they would do: they crafted a set of proposals to restrain the budget. The Tea Party movement in general also helped make the budget a national issue, spurring incumbent Republicans to be more fiscally disciplined. Furthermore, even though spending reductions are not being embraced across-the-board in Congress, a spillover effect is evident: the typical Senate Democrat would boost outlays, but by far less than they had called for in recent years. House Democrats offered the most offsets to their spending agenda since 1995, but the “progressive” wing of the party kept the average legislative agenda total hovering just below $500 billion annually. And while the House has actually passed a budget to reduce spending (along with other moves to trim programs), the Senate has blocked most of these measures from becoming law.

In 2012, the government will spend $1.327 trillion more than it receives in revenues; approximately 35 cents of each dollar spent will be borrowed and paid back with interest at some future date. Yet, the long-term budget outlook is even more alarming. Despite the ten-year spending reductions approved in the Budget Control Act, the President’s fiscal blueprint still forecasts deficits of $704 billion in 2022. Adding to the future budgetary challenges, government actuaries estimate that Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security cumulatively have some $82 trillion in long-term unfunded liabilities – a figure that some say PPACA pushed upward by $17 trillion. And lest anyone forget, in 2011 Standard & Poor’s downgraded the United States government’s credit rating for the first time in history.

Although today’s long-term budget picture is obscured by red ink, taxpayers concerned with fiscal discipline may have some cause for optimism. There may also be frustration that the Senate remains an obstacle to getting more cut proposals enacted into law. Furthermore, many Americans with long memories might recall a time when hard-charging Republicans given control of the House and Senate gradually lost their ardor for offering bills to pare back the budget. Given all of these trends, determining the future of fiscal policy – as well as the Tea Party’s involvement in this future – will be a more complex exercise than simply reading political tea leaves.


Demian S. Brady
Senior Policy Analyst


Research information was compiled with the assistance of Policy Analyst Dan Barrett and Associate Policy Analysts Colin Achilles, Eric Carles, Zebulen Riley, and Ryan Safner.



End Notes

[*] The difference between the total number of bills introduced and the number of bills with estimates included in this study are bills that would have no net impact on spending, those bills whose net impact remains to be determined, and certain bills that are excluded under BillTally’s methodology (see Appendix C).

[†] Because the BillTally program offsets House and Senate bills separately and the two Chambers often take up identical or similar pieces of legislation, adding up these costs would not give the cost of all bills considered in the First Session of the 112th Congress.

[‡] Totals may not add due to rounding.

[§] Additional cosponsors signed onto the bill in 2012.

[1] “Résumé of Congressional Activity: First Session of the One Hundred Twelfth Congress,” Congressional Record-Daily Digest, March 7, 2012, D210.

[2] “Final Résumé of Congressional Activity: First Session of the One Hundred Eleventh Congress,” Congressional Record-Daily Digest, March 29, 2011, D290.

[3] “Households, Families, Subfamilies, and Married Couples: 1980 to 2010,” Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 (131st edition), U.S. Census Bureau (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2012), Table 59.

[4] HR 676: 35 Questions and Answers, Single Payer Now, February 9, 2009.

The cost estimate was updated with 2012 projection of national health care expenditures.

[5] HR 1200, American Health Security Act of 1993, Congressional Budget Office, December 16, 1993.



[8] The Republican Main Street Partnership includes Members from both Chambers, as well as officials at the state level. These figures are based only on RMSP Members serving in the House.






[16] Ibid.

[17] Sheils, John, Haught, Randall, and Murphy, Evelyn, Cost and Coverage Estimates for the “Healthy Americans Act”: Staff Working Paper, Lewin Group, December 12, 2006.