- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The ability of Congress to shape and control federal spending represents one of the most profound responsibilities the Constitution confers on legislators. Given myriad fiscal decisions on Congress’ docket, including additional funding for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, completing the annual appropriations process and legislation aimed at curbing the growth of entitlement spending — all set to unfold in the next few weeks, voter attitudes about spending and Congress are timely. Despite numerous worthy programs and laudable funding requests, spending restraint remains a robust preference among voters and something the folks back home want politicians to consider job one.

Recent evidence underscores this point. We asked a national sample of voters to think about the role their congressman should play in Washington, inviting them to choose from a list of tasks ranging from “getting projects and federal funds for your congressional district,” “controlling federal spending,” “representing your values” or “being involved in foreign affairs and debating America’s role in the world.” Obviously, other alternatives are possible, but we didn’t want the list to overwhelm respondents, thinking these four captured many of the activities in which constituents see the lawmakers engage.

A large plurality, 41 percent, as the second chart demonstrates, chose the role of watching over federal spending as the most important congressional role. Interestingly, these results don’t vary across party or gender lines with Democrats (40 percent), independents (39 percent) and Republicans (44 percent), as well as men (41 percent) and women (40 percent), all picking spending control as their top choice.

We then look at spending restraint through a different prism, asking voters to choose the most important congressional accomplishment so far this year. Respondents were read a list of accomplishments passed by the House and Senate in 2005 and were asked to pick the most important (see chart 2).

Here again, “passing a budget resolution with spending reductions” ranked the highest, with 28 percent choosing that response. Passing the Real ID immigration/border protection legislation (23 percent) and the energy bill (15 percent) were next. The remaining choices all ranked in single digits. Like the question about the “role of your congressman,” an equal proportion of Democrats (29 percent) and Republicans (30 percent), men (28 percent) and women (29 percent) chose passing the budget as their top response.

Lawmakers face a host of tough spending decisions in the next few weeks, building on the specifics of a general budget blueprint passed earlier this year, sorting out post-Katrina funding and setting limits on entitlement spending. And while expenditure priorities vary and choices must be made, Congress can ease the pain of these tough deliberations by remembering that while spending may be popular with some of their constituents, more favor living within our means.

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