Savings Bills Congress Left Behind Could Cut Next Year's Projected Deficit By 93%

Dan Barrett
By Dan Barrett | January 15, 2013 | 5:37 PM EST

So far, America has managed not to tumble off the "Fiscal Cliff," but that does not mean taxpayers are free of bumps and bruises. Our struggling economy was just hammered with the largest tax hike in 20 years, and the "Fiscal Cliff" deal will actually add to the deficit, which continues to hover around $1 trillion.

Yet, Congressional leaders have said the legislative package they concocted was the best option from a divided government. Is that really the case?

That judgment will be left up to the American people, but the pain of tax hikes is certainly not going to be helped by the fact that Congress left $921.65 billion in savings bills behind. That's almost the entirety of next year's projected deficit of $991 billion (figure from the Administration's Mid-Session Report)!

According to a unique National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) study, which tallies the cost of legislation introduced in Congress, they had ready access to the tools to avoid most of the coming year's deficit.

The "Fiscal Cliff" could have already had a bridge across it. NTUF's data tracking system, known as BillTally, found at least $921.65 billion in annual savings from bills introduced in the 112th Congress - specifically there were 154 non-overlapping bills that, if passed now, would cut next year's projected deficit by about 93 percent, from $991 billion to $69 billion.

If they had been passed in time to affect FY 2012 spending, the deficit would have decreased by 76 percent, or to about $289 billion.

This hefty savings would have taken a huge bite out of our bloated deficit then, and because Congress can still reintroduce all these bills, it could nearly wipe out our next deficit if enacted now.

The legislation that makes up this significant total consists of a mix of across-the-board, budget management approaches, and cuts to specific programs or policies.

Roughly 53 percent of the $922 billion would have been enacted in various forms of top-down cuts. These measures range from requiring a blanket five or ten percent overall spending reduction, to limiting future spending to a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. If legislators were willing to tackle the broad budget problems that keep bringing us trillion dollar deficits, $486.8 billion - about half the deficit - could have been wiped from the shortfall on the public ledger.

Depending on how the Administration would divide some of the cuts, many duplicative programs, failed research projects, and outdated weapons projects could have been ended. Each government agency would only have to cut a modest portion of its budget - and likely most citizens would notice nothing but the nation's improved credit rating.

The remaining $434.85 billion consisted of bills calling for targeted cuts. There are too many measures to analyze each proposal here, but some examples include: numerous bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act at a $63.9 billion yearly savings, and proposals to eliminate all refundable tax credits to save $77.2 billion annually. Other legislation in this category read like a laundry list of specific reductions in agencies' authorized spending levels (one such bill was H.R. 235, the CUTS Act). There were even bills to eliminate the upcoming pay adjustment for lawmakers (which Congress did turn down in the 'Cliff" deal, even though other federal employees did get raises). All in all, despite individually amounting to a small piece of the federal budget, these bills add up to quite a bit.

Since Congress failed to make any major progress on spending, and in fact voted for a delay in pare-backs that should have been triggered by the "sequester" mechanism, Americans will watch another partisan showdown in March. The debt ceiling and sequester debates will likely renew cries of dysfunction in Washington, and will do little to help Congress' nine percent approval rating. In two months, legislators will have a better option than tax increases: acting on their own past efforts and reducing our unbalanced budget.

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