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Speaking of Taxpayers, August 6, 2012: “Taxmageddon”, Farm Subsidies, Amtrak, & More.
Posted By:  - 08/06/12

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Pete Sepp discusses a variety of issues that affect your wallet including "Taxmageddon", new USPIRG findings on farm subsidies, and Amtrak's financial disarray.

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Farm Bill Ruse Falls Short
Posted By: Nan Swift - 08/01/12

Politico reported that a bill to extend the farm bill by one more year was pulled at the last minute yesterday:

Facing certain defeat, Republicans pulled their one-year farm bill extension from the House docket late Tuesday in favor of a narrower $383 million disaster aid package to address the immediate needs of drought-stricken livestock producers.

The abrupt turnaround came just minutes before the House Rules Committee had been slated to take up the extension in anticipation of floor votes Wednesday. Within hours, the slimmer 22-page disaster bill had been filed with the promise of floor votes Thursday.

With proponents of Big Ag pushing the extension (H.R. 6228) as a ploy to go to conference with the Senate’s own bloated farm bill, this is a big win for the free market.

The Congressional work-around was floated in order to avoid a full debate of H.R. 6083, the House FARRM bill. Weighing in at almost $1 trillion over the next decade and with far reaching policy implications for farms and consumers alike, the five-year farm bill is a major matter that deserves real and open debate.

While it is true that the drought in the Midwest has wreaked havoc on this summer’s corn and other crop staples, little good can come from legislating defensively to suit emergency circumstances without looking at the long term outcomes and the broader context. Despite claims from special interests that they need an urgent bailout, many farmers will be able to recoup their losses under their current crop insurance plans without any extra taxpayer-funded relief.

In addition, American farmers are coming from a place of record-level profitability thanks to a decade of high commodity prices and better yields. The Department of Agriculture reports that though farming inputs have stayed relatively stable since 1948, productivity has soared. The net income of farmers nationwide last year was almost $98 billion and corn alone raked in $76 billion. Since the 1990s, farm income has trended upward at a much faster pace than other U.S. households. In 2010, the average annual income for a farming household was $84,440, well above the national average of around $64,000.

At the same time taxpayers have continued to struggle with high unemployment and mounting national debt, billions in tax dollars have been redistributed to Big Agriculture through subsidies and direct payments. Just this month the Government Accountability Office reported that from 2003-2011 $10.6 billion in direct payments were given away to producers who did not even plant any crops. And though reauthorization packages in both the House and Senate have been touted as cuts to spending, the price tags are 60 percent higher than the previous 2008 farm bill. 

If this is reform, it’s a reform we can’t afford. With farmers riding high on a decade of record profits and strong bipartisan support for repeal of direct payments this might be the best opportunity we have to make serious course corrections.          

The best course of action Congress could take to relieve the effects of the drought that are sending livestock-feed prices through the stratosphere is to immediately repeal the ethanol mandate in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Extending wasteful programs and special interest carve-outs for another year will do little to mitigate the effects of the drought, but Congress can seize this opportunity to repeal a misguided mandate and immediately free up corn supplies.

Even in the heart of the suffering Corn Belt, the Chicago Tribune is advocating an urgent stop to the diversion of food to fuel:

But there is one important step that should be taken soon: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to waive its requirement for using corn-brewed ethanol in U.S. motor fuels.

Under a program called the renewable fuel standard, the EPA requires petroleum blenders to dilute their gasoline with increasing amounts of biofuel each year. This year, the RFS mandate calls for 13.2 billion gallons, nearly all of it corn-derived ethanol. This page has pointed out many times the absurdity of this intervention in the marketplace. Few government programs cost so much and deliver so little benefit to the public.

What makes matters worse in light of the drought is the enormous drain of ethanol production on the corn supply.

Waiving, reforming, or repealing the ethanol mandate is not just one immediate step that Congress can take to help alleviate the terrible effects of the drought on livestock producers and consumers, one that would save taxpayers money, not cost them – it is also a perfect, though depressing, example of how government meddling affects markets and leads to unfortunate unintended consequences. 

While the RFS continues to cut a swath of destruction across our economy, it should make legislators pause before passing enormous farm bills that have an equally broad impact on markets, taxpayers, consumers, and the economy. This is a clear case of government failure and there is no reason to assume, based on past experience, that the House and Senate’s new “reforms’ will be any better. On the contrary,  in the face of this sobering mess, things could get far worse.

Taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief for today - if farm policy can be shelved until 2013, we might just get the time we need to enact the real, free-market reforms the agriculture sector so desperately needs. Of course, there’s still potential it might rear its ugly head during a lame duck session.  Still, one thing is clear, whether the battle recommences one month or one year from now, it’s time to get government out of the tractor seat.

Go here to tell your legislators to oppose the farm bill.

 

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Farm Subsidies: A Strange Game of “21”
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 07/31/12

The number “21” may be a lucky one when it comes to card games, but not when it comes to a shell game that Washington plays with its agriculture and nutrition policy - and guess who ultimately loses their money when the shells are shuffled?

A new report from U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) has determined that between 1995 and 2011, taxpayers have provided $18.2 billion in subsidies toward the raw material for corn syrups, corn starch, and soy oils (aka hydrogenated vegetable oils) – all additives in a number of processed foods.

Of the whopping $277 billion taxpayers have spent since 1995 on farm loans, crop insurance, and counter-cyclical payments, about $108 billion went to corn and soybean crops. Corn and soy are ingredients in many other kinds of products, including animal feed and federally-backed biofuels. So, using production data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the authors of the analysis were able to determine how much of the $18.2 billion total could be specifically attributed to harvests that later wound up as additives “that provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety” of what USPIRG calls “junk food products.”

In fact, the report calculates that whopping sum breaks down to $7.58 per taxpayer, per year – or about enough to purchase 21 Twinkies. Love Twinkies or not, 21 is definitely not a winning hand for those who believe in fiscal responsibility. Meanwhile, federal farm policy provides slimmer pickings for produce crops. The largest such recipient of taxpayer largesse between 1995 and 2011 was the apple ($637 million). Using the same methodology as for Twinkies, that sum works out to the equivalent price of less than half a red delicious apple per taxpayer, per year.

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Fiscal conservatives may have many opinions about this comparison. Those of us who are already concerned about “Nanny Staters” policing our food choices would certainly not want to hand government another bludgeon with which to smash our dinner plates, and replace them with some bureaucrat’s vision of the “perfect” meal. Nor would we want to see federal policymakers engage in their customary budgetary mathematics of rounding up, e.g., showering more subsidies on produce crops even as they prop up other commodities.

Nonetheless, it is truly bizarre to see a federal government that preaches “healthy eating” practicing a policy that leaves taxpayers to starve no matter what’s being served.  And make no mistake, the price tag for the federal lectures about our eating habits is steep on its own. Five years ago, an Associated Press review of research on 57 separate government nutrition education ventures “found mostly failure” and noted that the feds alone were spending more than $1 billion in 2007 on initiatives such as “fresh carrot and celery snacks, videos of dancing fruit, [and] hundreds of hours of lively lessons about how great you will feel if you eat well.” Replicating AP’s findings today would be difficult, but it’s hard to believe that $1 billion expenditure has gotten smaller – especially since health and fitness has been a major cause under the Obama Administration.

So how do we stop the shell game? One place to begin is the current fight over reauthorizing federal agriculture programs, which my NTU colleagues have written about recently here  and here. USPIRG’s Public Health Advocate Nasima Hossain observed, “The fact that so many tax dollars are being wasted on junk food demonstrates the need to reform federal agricultural subsidies and end this wasteful spending.” Whether you agree with the motivation or not, that “end” is certainly a worthy one – which is why NTU has joined with citizen groups across the political spectrum in opposing Congress’s bipartisan Farm Bill boondoggle now worming its way through the House of Representatives.

Here’s hoping this alliance can stop Congress from saddling Americans with a near-trillion-dollar Farm Bill. As Twinkie-munchers and apple-crunchers alike ought to acknowledge, taxpayers should be free to feed their families, rather than feeding their money to a game they can’t win.

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Opposition to Food/Farm Welfare Bill Grows
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 07/11/12

NTU has been hard at work opposing the massively wasteful, nearly-$1 trillion food and farm welfare legislation that Washington knows as "the Farm Bill." In some of the best news we've had on the issue in weeks, The Hill reported today that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is leery of the pork-filled legislation and could hold the key to protecting taxpayers from it. We've been watching the markup debate over 100 amendments unfold with shock and horror, as positive measures to reduce government intervention in the dairy and sugar markets failed at the hands of special-interest minded Members of the Agriculture Committee. But if Boehner comes out forcefully in opposition to the bill, taxpayers could be spared from its awful provisions in favor of a one-year extension which would allow a presumably more fiscally responsible 2013 Congress to take it up.

Boehner is no stranger to Farm Bill opposition. He opposed the travesties that were the last two versions and has always expressed his distaste for the incredible amounts of wasteful spending that get packed into them. Despite the different makeup of this Congress, the bill they came up with is sadly no different. It eliminates direct payments made for certain commodity crops, but then plows virtually all of the savings into new subsidy programs to effectively guarantee revenue for farmers. The end result, when combined with an exploding food stamp program that has doubled in size since 2008, is a bill that costs upwards of $900 billion and does almost nothing to truly begin to wean farmers off of their sweet, sweet taxpayer money.

The bill is complicated, but the issue is simple. Farm income exceeded $100 billion last year. Average farm household income has consistently grown faster than the average American household, particularly post-1995 (when the "We swear, this is the Farm Bill to end all Farm Bills!" charade began in earnest). Fewer than one in 200 farms fail per year. Crop prices are at or near record highs. Meanwhile, our fiscal challenges have never been larger with a rapidly-increasing $15.8 trillion national debt. As a result, we have a more fiscally conservative House of Representatives than we've had in years.

One could scarcely dream up a better time to truly reform farm programs. Thankfully, it appears that Speaker Boehner realizes that this bill doesn't even come close to doing that. We should encourage him to do the right thing and shelve this monstrosity for good.

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Speaking of Taxpayers: Congress Goes Farming
Posted By:  - 06/26/12

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NTU Vice President of Government Affairs Andrew Moylan joins Pete & Doug to discuss the pork-laden Farm Bill currently being debated on the Hill. Also, the "Fiscal Five" & the Outrage of the Week!

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NTU's Pete Sepp Joins Coalition at Press Conference
Posted By:  - 06/21/12

In a press conference held at the National Press Club yesterday, groups from the right, left, and center came together to oppose S. 3240 the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012. Some of the organizations there included Americans for Prosperity, Citizens Against Government Waste, Environmental Working Group, U.S Public Interest Research Group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, R Street, and Americans for Tax Reform. NTU’s own Pete Sepp spoke about some of the concerns that those with fiscally conservative goals have with the Farm bill.

 One common theme was concern over the Shallow Loss Program. This program is designed to insure the profits in the agriculture industry now, while the prices are much higher than average. This would leave the taxpayers responsible for the difference if prices were to return to average. Many of the free market groups also expressed rage over the astounding $969 billion price tag. In light of our more than a $1 trillion deficit and $15 trillion debt, we believe that spending almost another trillion to protect the agriculture sector at the expense of the taxpayers is unacceptable. Other groups such as EWG were there to oppose the bill as well, but for reasons concerning the environment.

The press conference made it clear that the one feeling, held by all, is that this bill is a political move that spends almost a $1 trillion to protect the only industry that has not been negatively affected by the economy in the last few years, with no regard for its consequences. Each of these organizations is committed to defeating it.

NTU VP Pete Sepp at National Press Club 6/20/12

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Panel on Entitlement Reform, SOTU Analysis Covered in Latest Tab
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 02/02/11

Tab Insert

The National Taxpayers Union Foundation released the latest information on the President’s State of the Union speech this morning. Covered on CNBC, US News & World Report, and Investors Business Daily, the study authored by Senior Policy Analyst Demian Brady also appeared at the top of the Drudge Report. A part of the Foundation’s SOTU coverage, Brady examined the speech line-by-line to give taxpayers a cost of the President’s proposed agenda. Here are a few highlights:

  • 2011 SOTU Net Spending: $21.349 billion per year
  • 2010 SOTU Net Spending: $70.46 billion per year
  • Number of Spending Proposals: 15 (5 boost spending, 3 cut spending, 7 unknown spending impact)
  • Largest Spending Increase Item: “Investment” in transportation infrastructure ($50 billion)
  • Largest Spending Cut Item: Two-year extension of last year’s proposed three-year discretionary spending freeze (-$15 billion)
  • Highest NTUF Recorded SOTU Net Spending: President Clinton’s 1999 speech ($305 billion)
  • Lowest NTUF Recorded SOTU Net Spending: President Bush’s 2006 speech ($1 billion)

NTUF also announced the panelists who will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference next week in Washington DC:

  • The Honorable Devin Nunes of the House of Representatives
  • Maya MacGuineas, President, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President, American Action Forum
  • Dan Mitchell, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
  • Steve Moore, Wall Street Journal

The Taxpayer’s Tab included four newly scored bills in the 112th Congress:

  • HR 403, Homes for Heroes Act of 2011
  • HR 38, a bill to rescind funds appropriated to the Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund under the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010
  • HR 27, Lumbee Recognition Act
  • HR 90, a bill to provide for federal research, development, demonstration, and commercial application activities to enable the development of farms tha are net producers of both frood and energy, and for other purposes.
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Tune into NTU's State of the Union Coverage tonight
Posted By:  - 01/25/11

Tonight at 9 p.m. EST, the National Taxpayers Union's crack government affairs and policy analysis teams will provide special online coverage of the President’s State of the Union Address, and we want you to be there and be a part of the discussion. We will be breaking down the President's proposals and what they will mean for taxpayers. Details on how you can join the conversation are below.

  • If you have a Twitter account, use the hash tags #NTUSOTU and #SOTU to link to our discussions and analyses. Hash tags are like keywords for Twitter. Just use them in each of your messages to link to the ongoing dialogue. Remember to also follow @NTU and @NTUF for all the latest commentary!
  • You can also log onto NTU’s Facebook page, where we will constantly update our newsfeed with links, comments, and memorable quotes. Be sure to join our page by clicking "Like"!
  • Even if you don’t have a Twitter of Facebook account, you can still share your thoughts and opinions by going to our special chat room. Join the chat here.
  • NTU will also be updating our blog, Government Bytes, as the night progresses. You can comment on each post as well! Just click on the “Post a Comment” link and speak your mind.

We look forward to seeing you online tonight at 9 p.m. EST!

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Muck Soil Conservation Bill Scored in Latest Taxpayer’s Tab
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 11/30/10

Tab Insert

NTU Foundation continues its research efforts with four new scored bills ranging the legislative spectrum. The Taxpayer’s Tab’s 21st installment also gives taxpayers a broad range of legislators from across the nation, from coast to coast and a few Midwest states.

One bill that got our attention this week was HR 6180, which would establish a muck soil conservation program. Muck soil is a top soil that is used in producing many agricultural products, from onions to celery. The legislation calls for $50 million to be spent in the first year in the form of state grants. Farmers who perform five requirements (mentioned in the Tab) would be paid up to $500 per acre to use the muck soil.

The latest Taxpayer’s Tab includes the following bills:

  • HR 6229/S 3595, Developing Innovative Partnerships and Learning Opportunities that Motivate Achievement (DIPLOMA) Act
  • HR 5780, Reduce and End our Deficits Using Commonsense Eliminations (REDUCE) in the Energy Program Act
  • HR 5893, Investing in American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010
  • HR 6180/S 3809, a bill to amend the conservation provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985 to promote the conservation and improvement of the soil, water, and wildlife resources of lands containing muck soils, and for other purposes

Throughout the week, NTUF will tweet summaries, spending report links, and updates concerning the latest Congressional research.

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NTU Joins with Liberal Group to Identify $600 Billion in Waste
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 10/28/10

Today, NTU joined with the liberal group U.S. PIRG to release a report called "Toward Common Ground: Bridging the Political Divide to Reduce Spending." This report debuts a list of $600 billion worth of specific federal spending reductions. With all the talk about debt and deficits, we saw an opportunity to put together a true left-right coalition in order to begin the conversation about the difficult choices we’ll have to make as a nation. We thought it would be useful to reach across the ideological divide to identify specific items that we could cut from the federal budget without reducing the quality of government services or neglecting the government's basic commitments.

The U.S. PIRG and NTU study identifies 30 specific, actionable items to cut in federal spending, including:    

  • $62 billion in savings by eliminating wasteful subsidies to farmers and large corporations.
  • $354 billion in savings from reforming inefficient contract and acquisition procedures.
  • $77 billion in savings by improving execution of existing government programs as well as eliminating unneeded programs.
  • $108 billion in savings from ending low-priority or unnecessary weapons systems, along with rightsizing other programs.

While we're under no illusions that every group or individual on the left and right will agree with our list, we think that it can serve as something of a consensus document from which Congress and the President's Fiscal Commission can work. Simply stated, we can't continue to kick the can down the road on reducing the size of the federal government.  In order to head off a debt crisis like that facing Greece today, we need to begin scaling back our unsustainable spending habits.  This list can help to do that without starting a political food fight.

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