Over the course of the last month, I’ve discussed various aspects of how Spending Tracker can illustrate what Congress is doing on the whole as a legislative body, but the site also offers the opportunity to look at individual legislators. Using a couple of newsworthy states, we can take a closer look at how the tool reveals the true records of elected officials.

The Carolinas are at the forefront of America’s changing politics, but Spending Tracker reveals that some of their most prominent elected officials represent the same voting patterns we’ve seen for years.

With Sen. Lindsey Graham gunning for his fourth term, and Sen. Thom Tillis currently in the midst of his first reelection bid, there are few parts of the country currently in the national spotlight more than the Carolinas. Prominent national stories have highlighted these particular races in recent weeks, and polls show both contests within just a few percentage points.

But what exactly do we know about the Senators’ records while in office? We might start by looking at campaign statements and public remarks for clues, but a major benefit of Spending Tracker is that it gives us an impartial method for exploring the records of elected officials and the true impact they are having.

Unlike scorecards, which necessarily involve subjective decisions about which topics or pieces of legislation to include, Spending Tracker weighs all issues equally, and is agnostic to which bills are important as long as the Congressional Budget Office determines they will impact the federal budget.

There are many ways to get a sense of how legislators compare with one another, but one of the easiest is to start with Spending Tracker’s state pages. Picking a state from the interactive map allows for easy comparisons between elected officials from that state’s delegation.

Looking at South Carolina shows significant variation in between Members—even of the same party. For example, in the current Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham has voted for significantly more new spending ($2.3 trillion) than his junior colleague, Sen. Tim Scott ($1.9 trillion).

Of course, as we’ve discussed previously, much of this new spending stems from the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Excluding those bills makes the Graham-Scott comparison even starker. In the last two years, Graham has voted for $430 billion compared to only $110 billion for Scott—that’s nearly four times as much.

Historically, the state pages show this result is actually fairly consistent. I’ve pulled the numbers for each of the last three Congresses, and summarized the results:

Lindsey Graham Tim Scott
114th $520,665,390,000 $178,547,840,000
115th $353,291,360,000 $467,520,360,000
116th $2,332,463,590,000 $1,914,021,150,000
116th ex COVID $430,832,590,000 $110,061,150,000
Total $3,206,420,340,000 $2,560,089,350,000
Total ex COVID $1,304,789,340,000 $756,129,350,000

While Scott voted for more new spending in the 115th, excluding COVID spending, Lindsey Graham has voted for 73 percent more spending during the length of his current time in office.

Some states, however, have less variation—even as close as in North Carolina. Sen. Thom Tillis has voted for about 10 percent more spending than his colleague, Sen. Richard Burr—and their records on spending look a lot closer to Lindsey Graham’s than they do to Tim Scott’s. In fact, Thom Tillis has voted for the newest spending during the last six years of any Senator currently serving in the Carolinas.

Thom Tillis Richard Burr
114th $689,629,220,000 $649,880,220,000
115th $481,985,820,000 $122,379,110,000
116th $2,050,629,890,000 $2,325,384,050,000
116th ex COVID $148,998,890,000 $423,753,050,000
Total $3,222,244,930,000 $3,097,643,380,000
Total ex COVID $1,320,613,930,000 $1,196,012,380,000


Unsurprisingly, variations between elected officials are often even more pronounced in the House than in the Senate. That’s because the House tends to take many more individual roll call votes, whereas the upper body is more likely to approve legislation by unanimous consent.

In South Carolina, the four out of seven House Members voted for under $100 billion in new spending (excluding Covid-19 relief), with Republican Rep. Tom Rice voting for the least new spending and Rep. Ralph Norman not far behind.

The biggest spender in the delegation this session, however, is also a Republican—Rep. Joe Wilson—though Rep. Jim Clyburn has voted for slightly more when all coronavirus spending is included. Nonetheless, their records are quite close and those who think all Democrats are bigger spenders might want to think again—at least in South Carolina.

New Spending New Spending
Without COVID With COVID
Tom Rice R $38,187,000,000 $1,939,818,000,000
Ralph Norman R $63,092,000,000 $1,867,052,000,000
William Timmons R $73,538,000,000 $1,877,498,000,000
Jeff Duncan R $74,183,000,000 $1,878,143,000,000
Joe Cunningham D $146,495,910,000 $2,048,126,910,000
Jim Clyburn D $416,779,910,000 $2,318,410,910,000
Joe Wilson R $418,509,670,000 $2,222,469,670,000


In North Carolina, however, the picture in the House looks more like the conventional wisdom.

The lowest spenders in the state delegation are the nine Republicans, led by Rep. Dan Bishop and Rep. Ted Budd, while the biggest spenders are three Democrats (Rep. G.K. Butterfield, Rep. Alma Adams and Rep. David Price) who voted entirely in unison.

New Spending New Spending
Without COVID With COVID
Dan Bishop R $57,579,000,000 $1,861,539,000,000
Ted Budd R $73,041,000,000 $1,877,001,000,000
Mark Walker R $73,710,000,000 $1,975,341,000,000
Greg Murphy R $74,131,450,000 $1,975,762,450,000
George Holding R $91,871,000,000 $1,993,502,000,000
David Rouzer R $92,294,000,000 $1,993,925,000,000
Virginia Foxx R $97,970,990,000 $1,999,601,990,000
Richard Hudson R $108,690,450,000 $2,010,321,450,000
David Price D $426,302,590,000 $2,327,933,590,000
Alma Adams D $426,317,590,000 $2,327,948,590,000
G.K. Butterfield D $426,317,590,000 $2,327,948,590,000
Patrick McHenry R $429,461,890,000 $1,848,192,890,000

However, it’s important to note the outlier here too. Excluding recent coronavirus-related legislation results in Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry being the biggest in the state. This is because McHenry is the only Republican in the delegation to vote for the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which raised the discretionary budget caps by more than $300 billion in FY 2020 and 2021. This is a recurrent theme, as 2019’s budget deal is one of the most consequential votes impacting the federal budget prior to the recent coronavirus response.

Nationally, particularly headed into a contentious election season, it can be tempting to view the parties as clearly divided on issues. But when it comes to spending—the issue that drives all others—a look at the Carolinas shows that the divisions are not as predictable as one might think, and both sides have a long way to go to achieve fiscal responsibility for the next generation.

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