Despite budget-cutting rhetoric, the overall mix of bills co-sponsored through April 5 by three of Utah's five members of Congress would increase spending more than cut it.
That's according to a study released Thursday by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. It looked at 621 bills (about a sixth of all bills introduced through April 5), or all bills it could identify as affecting spending by at least $10 million.Utah members whose bills would increase spending overall were Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Karen Shepherd, D-Utah. Those who would cut it are Reps. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Bill Orton, D-Utah.
Specifically about Utah's members, the study said:
- Bennett was the biggest spender. Bills he co-sponsored would increase spending by $1.43 billion, and he had yet to co-sponsor any bill that would bring cuts of more than $10 million.
- Shepherd was the second-highest spender. Bills she backed would bring a net increase of $1.31 billion (including increases of $2.73 billion and cuts of $1.41 billion).
- Hatch backs bills that would bring a net increase in spending of $890 million (including $10.25 billion in increases and $9.36 billion in cuts).
- Orton backs bills that would bring a $2.84 billion net decrease (including $10 million in increases and $2.85 billion in decreases).
- Hansen beat Orton (by $10 million) for proposing the most cuts. Bills he co-sponsors would cut spending by a net $2.85 billion (including $6.51 billion in increases and $9.36 billion in cuts).
Those pictured as spenders took jabs at the study, while those portrayed as deficit cutters praised it.
"This is a preliminary study because it only looks at bills introduced through April 5," said Paul Smith, Hatch's press secretary. "The total at the end of Congress will be much lower. For example, the `4 percent solution' (limiting spending growth to 4 percent a year) hasn't even been introduced yet."
Shepherd called the study "biased, misleading and inaccurate."She said, "I have led by example, by slashing a quarter of a million dollars from my annual office budget and have supported cutting programs ranging from the $4 billion advanced solid rocket motor to the $11 billion superconducting super collider and the $13 billion space station. None of these cuts are included in the NTU study" because they were amendments on the House floor.
Greg Hopkins, administrative assistant to Bennett, said looking at bills his boss co-sponsored his first three months in office is a poor barometer because he purposefully moved slowly in selecting what to back.
"A better gauge would be how members voted on President Clinton's budget. He (Bennett) voted against the stimulus package, which would have increased spending by $16 billion . . . he voted for the Republican reconciliation plan to cut spending instead of raising taxes."
On the other end of the spectrum, aides for Hansen and Orton praised the study as rightfully showing their bosses as fiscal conservatives.
Bill Simmons, aide to Hansen, said, "He's always been a taxpayer's friend. In each bill he sponsors or co-sponsors, he is conscious of how it will affect taxpayers and acts accordingly."
Joel Lawson, an aide to Orton, said, "He doesn't just talk about cutting the deficit, he really goes out and does it.
"This study is only a snapshot of Mr. Orton's efforts. It doesn't take into account his efforts to cut spending bills by amending them on the floor of the House. Also, if his Budget Process Reform Act were implemented, Washington would be forced to balance the budget," Lawson said.
Nationally, the study said four of every five bills before Congress would increase spending. However, about a third of all members of Congress had legislative agendas calling for more cuts than hikes - which is a 240 percent increase from last year.
Still, NTUF Chairman James D. Davidson said, "While more members are showing greater fiscal restraint, most legislators want to push spending to record levels.
NTUF Vice President Paul S. Hewitt added, "Most congressional effort is spent on legislation to spend more money. Unless this stops, we'll never get a handle on the deficit."