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Frequently Asked Questions

Overview

Spending

Votes

What if...

 

What is My Congressman’s Number?

The number is the total amount of new tax dollars each Member of Congress has voted to spend.

How is it calculated?

We take every bill that each Member voted for (or against) and sum the monetary amount of spending in them to get the final total. If Members vote for some bills that lower spending and some bills that raise it, the net difference is their number.

Where does the data come from?

Spending estimates for major pieces of legislation come from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is the nonpartisan budget organization of the U.S. Congress. We incorporate all bills that have a total increase in spending greater than $1 million. We only incorporate legislation that has been scored by the CBO into our estimates.

Vote records come from the Sunlight Foundation, through their data services which provide up-to-date information on congressional bills, votes, and floor activity, among other things. Much of the Sunlight Foundation’s publicly available data on congressional votes originates from GovTrack.us.

Do your numbers update in real time?

Yes. Data is reflected on the website as it becomes available.

Can you compare the spending score of Senators to Representatives?

Yes and no. Representatives and Senators can only be compared if the set of bills that makes up their score is the same. Because each chamber introduces legislation separately, and only acts upon a fraction of bills originating in the other chamber of Congress (those which have passed), allowing comparisons of scores when looking at all bills would be based off of imbalanced data. However, when looking at the subset of bills that have been signed into law by the President, spending numbers of both chambers can be compared, since for legislation to be enacted, it by definition must be passed by both houses of Congress.

That said, many bills do not make it through the Senate and the House, and Members of one chamber may have voted on a bill that the other did not. For this reason, on the website, we do not allow users to directly compare different chambers.

What are the different types of spending you show on the site?

When CBO estimates the cost of legislation, they typically provide separate breakdowns of direct (also referred to as “mandatory” or “entitlement”) spending and discretionary spending. We separate spending into these two categories on each representative’s page, as well as on each bill’s page.

Over what period does spending occur?

We default to looking at spending over a 10-year time horizon, since the CBO typically estimates the spending implications of bills over the next decade.

Why do we provide the option to view scores over different, shorter timelines?

Because lawmakers frequently front-load spending during the first few years after passage, and offset it with savings years into the future, we understand that users may want to see how our spending estimates would change over a shorter time horizon. For that reason, we allow users to shorten the timeframe to 5-year, 3-year, and 1-year periods.

Do you include all bills that Members vote on or just those that become law?

Only bills that have been enacted into law are included in Representatives’ default scores. We allow users to recalculate Member’s rankings by using filters, which include an option for “all bills.” We believe that a Member’s number based only on enacted bills can be thought of as their overall impact on spending, while scores based on all votes more closely represents a Member’s intentions were he or she not subject to the realities of Congressional politics.

What happens if a Member votes multiple times on the same bill?

A bill originating in the House goes to the Senate if it passes, and it may return to the House if the Senate passes the bill with changes to the original version they received. This would make the same bill subject to a second round of voting. In this event (or the reciprocal, a bill originating in the Senate) we incorporate only the most recent roll call vote in our estimates.

If a Member votes ‘No’ on a bill, does that subtract from their score?

No. Spending is added or subtracted from a Member’s number only when he or she votes Yes on a bill. When a Member votes in favor of a spending increase, that spending is added to their score; conversely, when they vote in favor of a spending cut, that spending is subtracted from their score. Since voting against a spending increase or against a spending cut does not change the status quo level of spending, the Member’s vote does not impact their score either positively or negatively.

Are Members responsible for spending if a bill passes via a voice vote or if they are not present during voting?

All members are considered to have voted yes if a bill passes on a voice vote. If they are absent for a vote and the bill passes, the spending is not added to their total. Our standard settings include voice votes in Representatives’ scores, however users may omit them from the scores’ calculations by using the filters provided throughout the site.

What’s the difference between "Top Spenders/Savers" and the percentage of votes taken relative to peers?

"Voted to spend more than x% of Representatives/Senators" is based on how a Member’s score compares to that of their colleagues. The score bars, however, show where a Member’s score lies within the full distribution of scores. In other words, since scores can be skewed in one direction, the bars provide fuller context into how a Member’s score relates to the median. For that reason, you may also see Members who spend less than many of their colleagues but still have a "high" or "very high" score.

Do you include both spending authorizations and appropriations bills?

Yes. Authorization scores represent the sum of CBO’s estimates, while appropriations bills are assigned the net difference between the current year and the previous year’s level of appropriations. This helps us avoid the double-counting of spending contained in both types of bills.

In addition, we include any emergency spending and off-budget appropriations in full, since those appropriations represent fully new spending. It’s important to note that because the budgetary process has not been followed in recent years, many pre-existing programs are not reauthorized, essentially creating “autopilot” spending for discretionary programs. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the relationship between authorizations and appropriations.

What if…

… a bill is amended and the Member changes his or her vote?

Members’ scores are calculated based on their most recent roll call vote. If they change their vote because of a change in the bill, we reflect that most recent vote and exclude their earlier vote from our estimates.

… the CBO scores a vote after a Member votes on a bill?

We include the spending in that bill retroactively as long as the bill’s text includes an estimate of spending, because we consider it appropriate to hold Representatives accountable for information that could be found from reading a bill they have voted for.

… CBO adjusts their scores?

We update our numbers whenever the CBO updates theirs. The latest score that has been released will be reflected in the numbers you see on our website.

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