Paying Lip Service to Fiscal Responsibility

Congressional power struggles will capture the headlines until Election Day, but what happens to fiscal policy afterwards remains somewhat of a mystery. If we are to believe some partisan prognosticators, taxes will dramatically increase, and rampant spending will push the nation even further into debt. The likely reality, however, provides a far more muddled picture.

If the House switches hands, we can look to past sponsorship of legislation to establish a realistic baseline for potential spending initiatives. In the House, there would be pronounced differences from committee chairmen. If the stars align for Democrats on Election Day, Charles Rangel (D-NY) will chair Ways and Means, and Jim McCrery (R-LA) will play the role of Ranking Member. The ideological contrast between the two could not be more vivid.

Yet, how can this contrast be measured? The National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s BillTally system, which uses 3rd-party estimates to compile the cost of each lawmaker’s budget agenda, can provide some clues. In a report last week, NTUF focused on the BillTally data for likely committee chairs in the 110th Congress. Congressman Rangel, in just the First Session of the 109th Congress, proposed over $1.6 trillion in new spending. Among his initiatives: a healthcare bill that would run upwards of $1.5 trillion, a Department of Peace and Nonviolence with a price tag of $9 billion annually, and $793 million to Amtrak.

Representative McCrery’s proposed expenditures amounted to, what in contrast, is a measly $4.6 billion. Yet, in an era of $250 billion deficits, he still could not find a single bill that would reduce federal outlays. His main spending planks include: a $50 million grant to a museum, $19 million to a youth challenge, and $10 million for the Iran Freedom Support Act.

The distinctions on the Ways and Means Committee might look glaring at first blush, but in the Senate, prospective Democratic Chairs had lower spending totals for the Appropriations, Armed Services, and Homeland Security Committees.

Whatever the result on Election Day, Democrats and Republicans will have to manifest their rhetoric of “fiscal responsibility

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