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The Late Edition: February 4, 2013
Posted By:  - 02/04/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Today NTU sent a letter urging the Idaho Legislature to oppose Governor Otter's call for a state health insurance exchange as it violates the Idaho Health Care Freedom Act.

Take a swing at guessing how much President Obama’s State of the Union proposals will cost here, and you could win a $50 iTunes Gift card OR an autographed copy of Steve Forbes' The Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn't. Enter now!  

Have you caught the latest Speaking of Taxpayers podcast? Get updated on the fiscal costs of immigration reform, the latest taxpayer news from the state level, and more. Listen here

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State of the Union: Second Annual "Price the Proposals" Contest
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/04/13


On Tuesday, February 12th, President Barack Obama will deliver his 2013 State of the Union Address (SOTU) to Congress. In this speech, the President will have the opportunity to tell the nation what his policy priorities will be as he takes office for his second term. How much will his renewed agenda cost taxpayers?

Play “Price the Proposals,” NTU’s “Price is Right”-style game, and win prizes if you can answer that question!

Each year, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) tallies an estimated cost of the President’s State of the Union speech…

Predict what you think the total cost of the President’s SOTU proposals will be, submit your entry below, and if your guess is one of the closest to NTUF’s assessment, we’ll send you a prize!

The top predictions will win a $50 iTunes Gift Card, or a signed copy of Steve Forbes’ The Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn’t. 

Don’t forget: Join NTU, NTUF, and your fellow taxpayers online for conversation and insight during the speech.

1. Join NTU experts in our Google+ Hangout live on YouTube and the Government Bytes Blog (open 20 min. before speech)

2. Tweet away on Twitter using #SOTUcost to join the conversation

3. Check out Facebook for poll questions and discussion

Deadline for entry: February 12th at 10 p.m. ET!


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Speaking of Taxpayers, Feb. 1 (AUDIO): Predicting Costs of Immigration Reform; State Update, & More
Posted By:  - 02/03/13

Subscribe to our podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!


NTUF's Michael Tasselmyer joins the podcast to discuss potential costs for immigration reform measures, NTUF's Dan Barrett has some "Wild Card" bills that might surprise you, and NTU State Affairs Manager Lee Schalk delivers a summary of all the action on the state level. Plus the Outrage of the Week!
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The Late Edition: January 31, 2013
Posted By:  - 01/31/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

NTU’s Pete Sepp explains the role of the income tax in vastly expanding government in this article from the Media Research Center.

Does more government spending really alleviate poverty? Check out this chart from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University illustrating the real cause of poverty: unemployment.


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Debt Dilemma
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 01/23/13

Another week, another debt ceiling struggle. That’s what many taxpayers must be thinking as House Republicans ready their response to President Obama’s take-my-marbles-and-go-home stance that he get an unconditional increase in the federal borrowing limit.

The House Republican package pairs a short-term debt ceiling boost with a congressional salary-suspension gimmick that takes effect if Congress once again fails to pass a budget. Once again, Washington appears unable and unwilling to confront the fiscal forces that will make future debt showdowns inevitable. These are the entitlement programs that will, left unreformed, devour an increasingly large share of the federal budget and trigger monstrous middle-class tax increases in the years (no longer the many decades) ahead. At the same time, military and discretionary programs offer opportunities for savings that elected leaders time and again leave on the table. Failing to address these issues makes a future hard default increasingly likely.

Tactically, the GOP package is somewhat understandable, and perhaps even palatable. The offer dulls one of Obama’s rhetorical bludgeons (that Republicans are about to risk default/downgrade/doom of civilization for spending reductions) while calling the President’s bluff (that he’s willing to talk about such reductions outside the context of debt ceiling debate). Further, it puts pressure on the Senate to finally pass a budget and tell the American people how it plans to address our fiscal problems. The short extension will give Congress and the White House that “outside the context” – shifting focus to other deadlines such as the $109 billion sequester and providing room to craft deeper reforms.

On balance, approving another boost in the debt ceiling is never cause for celebration. It is another reminder of Washington’s wanton overspending. Indeed, when President Obama waved his sanctimonious finger earlier this month at reluctant Republicans for the equivalent of eating a huge meal and skipping out on the bill, he revealed his cluelessness. Raising the debt limit isn’t “paying the bill,” it’s passing the bill along to another hapless generation of taxpayers who will be left to starve financially.

Nonetheless, the alternative, caving completely to the President’s ultimatum and passing a long-term increase in the ceiling, is much less appetizing. Short-term debt extensions were commonplace when Ronald Reagan was President and Democrats controlled one or both chambers of Congress and we are hopeful that this extension will create an opportunity to enact the real fiscal reforms that are essential.

Still, call us underwhelmed, as we await the end of the sideshow and the beginning of the main event taxpayers keep getting promised.

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The Late Edition: January 22, 2013
Posted By:  - 01/22/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Sepp explains why it’s a good thing for taxpayers and banks alike that the Senate defeated the renewal of the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program in this article from Heartland.

It’s been four years since the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a budget, and Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s office recently released this infographic to visually illustrate just what could have been accomplished in that time period. Read the full story from Yahoo! News.

No Budget

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Harper on Spending Transparency in Committees
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/09/13

Via the Washington Examiner, the Cato Institute's Director of Information Policy Studies, Jim Harper, asks why the Appropriations Committees in both federal chambers don't use technology to better convey their spending intentions when considering legislation:

"For better or worse, the movement of money is a reflection of our values, but the appropriations process is the cloudiest mirror America ever gazed into. More than a trillion dollars move each year based on appropriators' instructions, but Congress's spending decisions are so cloistered in arcane language and inaccessible documentation, the appropriation committees might as well be a pair of mountain monasteries.

"Why not publish proposed spending in appropriations bills using digital formats and uniform codes to indicate what agencies, bureaus, programs, and projects would get the money, as well as what they're supposed to do with it? So far, appropriators have deeply lagged their colleagues in Congress and the rest of the government. There's no sign they plan to change that."

Props to Jim in his efforts to not only change the way government releases information for taxpayers to better understand government but to be active in allowing Americans to voice their opinions on proposed legislation through his website. Check it out & you’ll see some NTUF BillTally figures there!

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House Prepares to Dodge the Sequester
Posted By: Nan Swift - 12/20/12

This afternoon, the House of Representatives plans to take up H.R. 6684, the Spending Reduction Act of 2012. According to the House Speaker’s website, the bill:

… replaces the president’s defense ‘sequester’ with common-sense spending cuts and reforms, and reduces the deficit by approximately $200 billion more than the original sequester. The bill focuses on stopping waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs, eliminating government slush funds (including an ObamaCare slush fund), and reducing waste and duplication in government bureaucracies.

Cutting spending, especially doing so over and above the baseline of the $109 billion in spending restraint called for in the Budget Control Act (BCA), is both laudable and urgently needed.  At the same time, rushing a bill through as part of the Fiscal Cliff package only to avoid the pending $54.7 billion defense sequester is disingenuous , demonstrating a lack of political will to make the tough calls we need to get our fiscal house in order.

Ironically, by including the sequester mechanism in the BCA back in 2011, Congress hoped that when faced with the horror of automatic spending reductions, they would collectively be forced to make exactly those hard decisions. However, the savings outlined in H.R. 6684 are again called “common sense solutions to help end waste, fraud & abuse of taxpayer money” in a write up from May found here.

This begs the question, if these are common sense solutions, why haven’t these savings already been realized? With our deficit topping $16 trillion, Congress should be making every effort to increase accountability and eliminate waste at every opportunity, not simply when it’s useful to avoid cutting pet projects and facing down the defense industry.

While the additional savings from H.R. 6684 will help slow our growing debt, that doesn’t mean that the savings to be found in cutting spending in other areas such as entitlements and in this case, defense, should be left on the table.

As NTU has pointed out again and again, there are billions in savings to be had by going after under performing, unnecessary, and wasteful defense programs.  NTU has written about these reforms here, here, and here.

Last year NTU teamed up with the U.S. Public Interest Group (U.S. PIRG) to find over $1 TRILLION in savings that the right and left of center groups could easily agree on. The list included, “$428.8 billion in savings from ending low-priority or unnecessary military programs.” Surely, programs that such strange bedfellows can agree should be headed for the chopping block makes them every bit as much “common sense” savings as those included in H.R. 6684.

More recently, Senator Coburn (R-OK) released his “Department of Everything” study that found:

The recommendations outlined in Department of Everything could save as much as $67.9 billion or more over ten years without cutting any Army brigade combat teams, Navy combat ships, or Air Force fighter squadrons.

Just as the “Spending Reduction Act of 2012” takes aim at real waste that should be immediately eliminated, Sen. Coburn found the Department of Defense equally ripe for serious reform. Among the many wasteful practices, duplicative programs, and unnecessary spending the Senator discovered:

… the Navy recently funded research examining what the behavior of fish can teach us about democracy while also developing an app to alert iPhone users when the best time is to take a coffee break. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded a study last year examining how to make it easier to produce silk from wild cocoons in Africa and South America.9 Both the Navy and the Air Force funded a study that concluded people in New York use different jargon on Twitter than those living in California.

The entire report is well worth a read, especially by our Representatives in the House this afternoon. When legislators go to vote on H.R. 6684, they should know that voting to eliminate yet another ObamaCare slush fund, preventing fraudulent use of the child refundable tax credit, and cutting SNAP waste are all going to help the bottom line.

But those billions can only be the beginning, especially when our debt reaches well into the trillions. There are real and immediate savings to be had by taking a closer look at how our defense dollars are spent. As taxpayers and our economy approach a critical turning point, it demonstrates a lack of leadership and seriousness about our fiscal reality for Congress to continue avoiding the tough decisions they were elected to make.


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The Late Edition: December 11, 2012
Posted By:  - 12/11/12

NTU joins the Cato Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Project on Defense Alternatives in calling on Congress to keep its word on defense cuts as part of the sequester. Article courtesy of The Hill.

NTU’s vice president of government affairs Brandon Arnold appeared in Buzz Feed explaining why Congress shouldn't try to insert a farm bill into whatever Fiscal Cliff deal is hammered out in Washington.

By now you've heard the job numbers released last Friday showed a slight drop in the unemployment rate. Unfortunately, most of that reduction wasn't due to people finding jobs, but instead getting discouraged and departing the workforce altogether. Check out this graphic from the Mercatus Center at GMU detailing labor force participation since the beginning of the year up through November:


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Long-Term Unemployment Benefits: The Costs
Posted By:  - 12/11/12

With the unemployment numbers released Friday showing relatively slow gains in hiring, the latest issue of contention over the Fiscal Cliff is whether or not to extend certain long-term unemployment benefits, including the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and temporary provisions of the Extended Benefit program which are set to expire at the end of this month. These programs are separate from the basic unemployment insurance (UI) structure which will not be affected by the Fiscal Cliff. The Cato Institute explains it well:

 “The extended benefits program provides 13 weeks of benefits in addition to the basic 26 weeks. However, in response to the recent recession, Congress increased the duration of extended benefits and passed various packages of additional increases, with the result that benefits could be drawn for nearly two years in many states.”

Democrats, lead by Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are calling for an extension of these benefits, while Republicans are by and large concerned over the less palatable aspects of extending them long-term: billowing costs and a roughly 11% fraud rate in UI in general, and the documented disincentives to securing employment when benefits are stretched out indefinitely. Although some Republicans would be willing to extend the benefits, they are seeking spending cuts in other areas to offset the costs, something Democrats have shown little appetite for. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn recently stated: “an offset, I think, is unnecessary and its bad economics.”

The costs of maintaining unemployment benefits are no small matter, having mounted to a colossal $520 billion since the economic meltdown in 2007, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This represents an increase of about two-thirds, from $33 billion in fiscal year 2007 to $94 billion in FY 2012. The Hill recently quoted a House GOP aid on the issue:

"After spending $215 billion and adding $180 billion to the debt, more spending on federal unemployment benefits, above and beyond what the states already spend, would have to be carefully considered during fiscal cliff talks.”

While the costs to maintain the entire program are certainly concerning from a fiscal perspective, existing fraud and overpayments within the system are yet another reason why fiscal conservatives are wary of extending benefits. In July of this year, CNNMoney reported some particularly worrying numbers:

“Overpayments are a rampant problem in the unemployment insurance system. The federal government and states overpaid an estimated $14 billion in benefits in fiscal 2011, or roughly 11% of all the jobless benefits paid out, according to reports from the U.S. Labor Department.”

Equally as troubling are the various studies which show extended unemployment benefits actually hinder reemployment, as they appear to provide less incentive for unemployed individuals to actively seek and secure work. In the Cato Institute’s detailed report on the negative economic effects of extended unemployment benefits, the authors cite economists Martin Feldstein and Daniel Altman noting:

 "The most obvious and most thoroughly researched effect of the existing UI systems on unemployment is the increase in the duration of the unemployment spells. By reducing the cost of remaining unemployed, UI benefits induce individuals to have longer spells in order to search for a better job or simply to enjoy some leisure."

If our nation is going to begin reining in spending and situating itself on a path of fiscal sustainability, the long-term unemployment program is a great place to begin meaningful reforms. With the national debt blowing passed $16 trillion this year, it is vitally important that lawmakers at least consider the costs of continuing the extended-benefits program, put mechanisms in place to reduce fraud, and ensure that the benefits are a short term safety program to help individuals while they find work, not a substitute for work itself.




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