Washington’s One-Sided Spending Culture

Taxpayers would benefit from a balanced spending debate

July 26, 2006

Media Contact: (202) 789-5200

WASHINGTON — Government overspending is often attributed to politicians simply rewarding special interests in return for campaign donations, but according to a new study released today by the Cato Institute, the real problem is the profoundly irrational system Congress uses to decide how much to spend.

In the Cato Policy Analysis “Budgeting in Neverland: Irrational Policymaking in the U.S. Congress and What Can Be Done about It,” political science professor James L. Payne argues that Washington overspends because Congress only hears pro-spending views and ignores competing views.

Payne performs a content analysis of a sample of congressional hearings and finds that pro-spending words such as “investment” and “needs” are used far more often than “fail” and “subsidy,” calling Congress’s vocabulary usage an “avalanche of one-sided propaganda in favor of federal programs.”

The study also shows that at appropriations subcommittee hearings, witnesses who are in favor of spending vastly outnumber witnesses who are critical of it.  Payne suggests that “committees that oversee spending should routinely invite critics of programs to participate in the congressional information-gathering process,” so that lawmakers hear all views.

Another reform idea he recommends is to form a federal “office of taxpayer advocacy” in charge of giving the taxpayers’ a voice when Congress considers program funding decisions. 

“Such procedural reforms are needed,” concludes Payne, “if Congress is to get spending under control and begin making serious tradeoffs regarding priorities in the federal budget.”

Policy Analysis no. 574