Democrats in Congress sponsored 618 bills in 2013 that would have spent at least $1.35 trillion, and Republicans sponsored 147 bills worth $635 billion, according to a Washington Examiner analysis.
The figures provide an unusual insight into what members of Congress would do if they ran the show and had a free hand to spend tax dollars.
Of the 70 members who sponsored the largest number of spending bills, 65 were Democrats, four were Republicans and one an independent.
Most of the bills introduced by an individual senator or House member never make it to a floor vote, so they aren't reflected in a member’s voting record and largely go unnoticed.
Also counting cases where a member co-sponsors a colleague's spending measure, and tallying the dollar amounts that those bills would spend, forms a broad measure of his or her predilection for spending. In this respect, 22 of the top 70 were Republicans.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus occupied 10 of the top 20 positions on that “attempted spenders” list, largely due to the group's tight discipline and frequent support for proposals to create huge numbers of tax-funded jobs for the unemployed.
Topping the list of congressional advocates for more spending was CBC member Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who sponsored or co-sponsored 49 measures that, if enacted, would have spent well over half a trillion dollars.
Among Conyers’ proposals was one to spend $8 million for a "Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans," which may have been popular in Michigan's 13th congressional district, where more than half of the approximately 700,000 residents are African-American.
Conyers also wanted $1.2 billion in federal money to pay for local police in high-crime urban districts, and $3 billion for a “Youth Jobs Act.”
Harlem's Rep. Charles Rangel sought $276 million for "Communities United with Religious Leaders for the Elimination of HIV/AIDS Act of 2013," with the money specifically targeted primarily to members of minority groups.
Rangel also asked for $50 billion for a jobs program aimed at repairing bridges.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., with support from CBC colleagues, introduced a 10-year, $100 billion stimulus called the American Jobs Act of 2013.
Conyers and other CBC members co-sponsored Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah's $200 million Urban Jobs Act of 2013, and a $200 billion-plus proposal called the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act sponsored by Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill.
Many other proposals providing payments to the unemployed did not even include a specific amount to be spent, saying only that "such sums as necessary" would be appropriated.
A proposal by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, for example, would pay people to educate themselves. It makes no mention of cost.
The Examiner excluded bills that contained “authorizing,” “authorize” or “appropriate” in their titles, since they are the general markers of routine bills that fund existing agencies.
Still, some large bills that remained and impact the rankings wouldn't actually add to overall spending because they would repeal or modify existing programs before reobligating the money, such as a massive bill sponsored by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., dealing with an existing program for education for disabled children.
Repeal-and-replace plans for the Affordable Care Act, such as the Patient-Centered Health Care Savings Act of 2013 by Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., also place Duffy and a few other Republicans near the top of the list even though they are not actually asking to spend more money.
Though they are included in the totals by member, the totals by party exclude three large bills: those two and one by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., that would essentially replace food stamps.
Other high-dollar Republican proposals also take existing money, such as highway funds, and turn them over to state control.
The actual totals by party and for many legislators are likely higher because many bills, like Jackson Lee’s, merely pledge “such sums as necessary,” and thus can’t be summed.
On the other hand, some bills are counted twice if versions were introduced in both the House and the Senate, but most bills never get that far, much less become law.
The data comes from a new Examiner feature called “Appropriate Appropriations?” that monitors spending bills of all types on a daily basis.
The purpose of the feature is to provide readers a more accurate sense of members’ spending tendencies, including the bizarre and audacious, if ill-fated, bills that typically receive no public attention or media coverage.
It relies on data from the Cato Institute's Deepbills Project, which digitally flags spending in pieces of legislation.
Readers can hover their mouse over portraits in the interactive graphic above to see how many spending proposals each member supported.
- Members who introduced the highest number of spending bills
- Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.): 15 spending bills, largely for foreign security, health initiatives, and flooding.
- Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.): 13 spending bills, mostly for education.
- Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.): 12 spending bills, often for energy or health.
- Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.): The majority leader sponsored 11 spending bills.
- Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.): Tops the list in the House with 11 bills, including a $1.8 billion Educator Preparation Reform Act.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.): 11 spending bills, including for voter registration, the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, obscure projects like the Scleroderma Research and Awareness Act, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act of 2013, and the Safe Meat and Poultry Act of 2013.
- Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska): 11 bills including funding to rural areas like Alaska and other issues.
- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas): Second in the House with 10 bills. The taxpayer-funded jobs training program along with border issues, security and a hate crimes bill.
- Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.): 10 bills usually relating to close-to-home issues, such as Native American affairs and radiation.
- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa): Agriculture and health issues, plus a Special Olympics funding bill.