by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jonathan Bydlak of the R Street Institute explains a new way of monitoring how Washington, D.C., politicians spend our money.
Over the last few months, Congress has appropriated trillions of dollars in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid this flurry of spending, annual deficits are projected to be nearly $4 trillion this year, and the national debt now exceeds $26 trillion.
With limited resources and increasingly acute tradeoffs between competing programs, fiscal prudence will only grow in importance in the coming years. So too will the need to hold elected officials’ feet to the fire when they enact legislation that wastes precious taxpayer dollars.
Unfortunately, examining how individual members vote, figuring out which votes have the biggest impact on the federal budget and crunching the numbers so comparisons can be made across the entire delegation of representatives in Congress would be nothing short of tedious and time-consuming. That is, if not for Spending Tracker.
Even in normal times, Congress passes hundreds of bills every year that substantially affect the immediate and long-term fiscal health of the country. The impact of most pieces of legislation, however, is typically not considered or completely forgotten once passed, until it comes time to appropriate money for the numerous new programs and projects created in a previous year. Hence, most Americans accept that growth in the size of government is all but inevitable due to a lack of understanding of the complex nature of legislating programs and appropriating money. …
… The Spending Tracker is built off of two sources of data: official cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the voting records of each member of Congress. In essence, the site cross-references those vote records with the fiscal impact of bills voted on by legislators. Because the CBO provides these estimates for almost every major piece of legislation enacted by Congress, it’s the most comprehensive source available for how bills ultimately affect the federal budget.