WASHINGTON - The big spenders in Congress are still around, but there are not as many of them as there used to be, according to a survey by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a fiscal watch-dog group.
The survey, based on a computerized tally of bills dropped into the hopper in the House and Senate through early April, found that members of the 103d Congress wanted to spend $14.37 for every dollar in spending cuts they proposed. Health care was the lawmakers' favorite form of government largesse.
"You've got a very significant upward bias in government spending which is reflected in the handiwork of members of Congress who are thinking up all sorts of innovative ways to spend more money rather than think of innovative ways to save money," James Davidson, chairman of the taxpayers group, told reporters.
But, Davidson went on, "there is, within the numbers, some considerable progress to report." Only 15% of the congressional lawmakers accounted for most of the new spending proposals, considerably fewer than the 46% who backed most new spending initiatives in the last Congress.
Other members controlled their appetite for spending, or actually favored spending cuts over increases. All together, a record 167 House and Senate members were found to support legislation reducing federal outlays, up sharply from 49 members at the end of the last Congress.
Davidson said many of the big spenders in the House came from districts that offered them little or no opposition, suggesting that the members who faced political heat were less inclined to favor more federal red ink.
First-time Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., had a reputation as a big spender when she served as a representative of the Sixth District in San Francisco. Since her election, Boxer has kept a low profile on spending and was far from the top spot on the taxpayer group's list, earning a comfortable ranking of 45 among the 100 members of the Senate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the other first-time Democratic senator from California who earned a reputation as a liberal on social issues, proved even more tight-fisted and ranked 69th.
Other well-known liberal Democrats captured the top rankings as big spenders. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii came in first, sponsoring a whopping $530 billion in net spending increases, followed by Paul Simon of Illinois ($511 billion), freshman Paul Wellstone of Minnesota ($509 billion), and outgoing Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio ($508 billion).
Republicans dominated the list of Senators favoring spending cuts over increases. Phil Gramm of Texas, generally believed to be an aspirant for his party's presidential nomination, drew an honorable ranking of 96, and Trent Lott of Mississippi and Hank Brown of Colorado came in 99th and 100th, respectively.
In the 435-member House, nonvoting delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia won top ranking by championing legislation to spend $563 billion, a total that topped even the most generous highfliers in the Senate.
Others willing to put the Treasury printing presses on overtime were women and minority House members representing urban voters in large industrial states: Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. ($566 billion); Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. ($544 billion); Lucien Blackwell, D-Pa. ($553 billion); and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif. ($552 billion).
Also among the top 10 big spenders in the House are Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., head of the Congressional Black Caucus, who backed bills adding up to $551 billion, and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a member of the Ways and Means Committee who put his name on $547 billion worth of good intentions.
On the other side of the fiscal ledger, 148 out of 435 House members were recorded as favoring spending cuts over increases. Republicans filled the ranks of the most aggressive budget hawks, led by Richard Zimmer of New Jersey, a champion of $54 billion in cuts.
Among the Democrats, sentiment on spending was more divided. Rep. Martin Sabo of Minnesota, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, drew a relatively high rank of 63 on $507 billion in new spending, while his colleague on the panel, Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas, ended up as 414 by supporting $26 billion in budget cuts.
Readers interested in finding out where their members of Congress stand may call a toll-free number: 1-800-TAX-HALT.