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So, good news/bad news. The good news is it sounds like we have a deal to extend the lower payroll tax in order to prevent a substantial tax increase from hitting folks in the midst of a very difficult economy. The bad news is it's only good for two months (for now). The House will pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax (with one language tweak to fix the glitch I blogged about recently) and Democratic Leadership will name conferees for the year-long version in order to negotiate a final bill. In essence, the two-month patch gives some breathing room for negotiators to hammer out a bill fcovering the rest of 2012.
Lots of liberal media-types are protraying it as a big "cave" by House Republicans, which is a bit puzzling to me. Yes, House Republicans are now agreeing to pass a two-month extension that they (rightly!) pointed out was not good long-term tax policy, but Senate and House Democrats are pledging to stop their obstruction of the conference committee process for the year-long extension at the same time. So really, both sides are giving some ground here. The result is a two-month reprieve and, hopefully, a speedy resolution on a year-long product that maintains lower payroll taxes, trims spending, and maintains job-creating provisions like expediting the Keystone XL pipeline.
For taxpayers, the real test will be when Congress returns in the new year and begins work on the longer-term bill. Nobody can really call this deal "victory" until we have secured a legitimate year-long extension of lower payroll taxes coupled with spending reductions. I hope that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and their appointments are going to be productive participants in the conference process so that they can join House Republicans as the only Members of Congress to pass a full-year payroll tax extension early next year.
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Who's Right on Payroll Tax Fight? The House is Closer
In the ongoing saga of the payroll tax, there's now a fight between the House and Senate approaches to the problem. The House passed a year-long extension of the reduced payroll tax and coupled it with several other good things (expediting a decision to approve the Keystone XL energy pipeline, full expensing of certain assets for businesses) and, unfortunately, some not-so-great things as well (a further extension of extraordinarily long-term unemployment benefits, though in transitioning from a 99-week to a 59-week duration the bill did return substantially closer to the 26 weeks that prevailed pre-recession).
Of even more concern to us was the fact that bill text was available for little more than a day before voting occurred, in direct contravention to House Republicans' pledge to give 72 hours to review all legislation. All told, it wasn't the greatest piece of legislation ever drafted, but it was enough to garner NTU's qualified support because it would have prevented a substantial tax increase in the middle of a difficult economic recovery while advancing the cause of job-creating efforts like Keystone XL.
As is its custom these days, the Senate did not take up and pass the House bill. Instead, they crafted their own two-month extension of the bill thus ensuring another battle over the payroll tax early in the new year. It passed Saturday morning, and right away Speaker Boehner and other House Republicans began saying they could not support this short-term patch. To compound the issue, payroll experts have said that the Senate bill is unworkable anyway. In short, a tweak in the Senate version would essentially create a two-bracket payroll tax (as opposed to the single, flat rate that exists today) which payroll processors claim that their systems cannot accommodate.
NTU's preferred solution to the problem would be to pass a single piece of legislation that extends the reduced payroll tax rate and pairs it with substantial spending reductions to ensure that there is no deficit impact. Heck, we even gave Congress a trillion-dollar head start on identifying the low-hanging fruit of wasteful spending. Neither bill adhered to our preference, but who got closer? Which approach is better for taxpayers?
The answer is the House version. Congress' recent practice of passing short-term extensions on just about everything (the "doc fix," the AMT, the yearly package of "tax extenders," continuing resolutions to fund the government, etc) is quickly becoming more than just tiresome and unfortunate. It's becoming a real threat to taxpayers. Everyone in Washington has known for the entirety of 2011 that the reduced payroll tax rate would expire at the end of the year. We had an entire year to craft a bill that would prevent a tax increase and reduce spending, but only now, a few days before Christmas and just ten days before the end of the year, is Congress even dealing with the issue. The time has come to stop budgeting in fits and starts.
Taxpayers deserve better than this, and businesses and employers all across the country deserve to know what tax system they'll have to comply with in a week and a half. Both chambers of Congress should return to Washington and hammer out a solution, whether through a conference committee or a negotiated solution that prevents a tax hike, cuts spending, and moves the ball forward on job creation.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
An impossibly ridiculous program that has wasted millions of your tax dollars funding nanny state campaigns to pester you about health might finally be at death's door. The "Prevention and Public Health Fund" (which I warned about more than a year and a half ago when it had a different name and piles of cash from the "stimulus" bill) looks to finally face the ax at the hands of the House of Representatives when it votes tomorrow on the massive $1 trillion "megabus" appropriations bill.
H.R. 3671, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, takes aim at the PPHF and its funding of state- and local-level campaigns for higher taxes and stricter regulation on everything from soda to tobacco products. Though they are of course justified in the name of "public health," the PPHF-funded efforts have spent millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars in support of a host of policies that raise costs and restrict availability for perfectly legal products while nagging people to exercise more and eat their Brussels sprouts. Kudos to House appropriators (you won't hear me saying that very often) for seeing fit to include language in the megabus to put an end to this insanity.
The "slippery slope" argument that is so frequently deployed in Washington isn't always accurate, but the PPHF is perhaps the best example that it not only exists but is even steeper and more slippery than we could have imagined. Decades ago when the anti-tobacco crusade really began in earnest, many limited-government advocates warned that it would only be a matter of time before government began trying to tax into extinction and restrict other products with which they were displeased. Those warnings are proving prescient now that many states and localities are fighting battles not just against so-called "sin" products like tobacco or alcohol, but on fatty foods, sugar-sweetened drinks, even SALT for God's sake! But the PPHF really takes the cake (as long as cake is still legal, that is) because in many cases, those dollars are handed out to lobbyists and PR firms to run glitzy ad campaigns to snuff out whatever products or behaviors Big Brother doesn't like. Tax dollars funding lobbyists who fight to raise your taxes! It's a spiral of stupidity.
Thankfully, House Leadership has seen that insanity for what it is and targeted it in the appropriations bill. Here's hoping that, whatever happens with the end-of-the-year appropriations fight, common sense prevails and the PPHF gets what it deserves: elimination. After all, if Congress can't cut a program this egregious, what can they cut?0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Taxpayers Still Paying For Blago's Policy Disasters
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced today to 14 years in prison, but the real sentence is the one taxpayers will serve many years after. He mastered the art of pairing populist rhetoric with expensive new programs directed toward his core constituencies. That mastery, however, was confounded by incredible lapses of judgment and public grandstanding that baffled both voters and politicians alike.
Perhaps worst of all, as CEO of Illinois, Blagojevich institutionalized a culture of deficit spending. He accomplished this so effectively that Blagojevich’s successor, Gov. Pat Quinn, and other lawmakers feel comfortable perpetuating the ruinous habits of spending and borrowing more than the state can afford. Fiscal ineptitude is the new norm.
The Illinois Policy Institute details Blagojevich's lasting effect on Illinois' fiscal condition in a new report. Read it at www.illinoispolicy.org/blago.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
In the furor over the Supercommitee’s failure to reach an agreement on $1.2 trillion in cuts required by the Budget Control Act, resistance to tax hikes on the part of some Republican lawmakers is being blamed by Democratic leadership and many in the media. Setting aside the apparent fact that there was some willingness among GOP’ers to increase revenues, especially as part of a systemic tax reform deal, the real problem is a refusal to cut spending.
$1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years is not a very big piece of the projected budget. The National Taxpayers Union and U.S. Public Interest Research Group sent over $1 trillion in bi-partisan cuts to the Supercommittee months ago, none of which involved catastrophic reductions in popular programs. If the Supercommittee could not consider getting rid of such obvious examples of waste, government subsidies, and non-essential programs, there is no reason to even conceive of new taxes being on the table.
So why is there any push for new taxes? Clearly there was a reluctance to not just responsibly spend taxpayer dollars, but halt the meteoric growth of government. Much of the spending implemented after 2008 was so-called emergency spending, like TARP or the stimulus, yet returning to 2008 spending levels did not seem to be anywhere near the top of the Supercommittee’s agenda. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation study on Supercommittee member agendas foreshadowed this week’s outcome.
NTUF noted how far apart members started on their sponsorship of budgetary legislation, as the biggest spending Democrat, Xavier Becerra (D-CA), had a $1.157 trillion agenda and the most cost-conscious Republican, John Kyl (R-AZ), aimed to save $85.0 billion. In fact at the time the report was issued none of the House Democrats sponsored a single bill that would reduce the budget, in spite of the waste we see in Washington, Thus, it is not shocking that people as unconcerned with America’s fiscal state as Rep. Becerra and his friends didn’t come to terms on a meager $1.2 trillion in savings.
Beware of red herrings -- this disagreement over spending levels is the real issue. Raising taxes when there has not even been an attempt to cut waste or duplicative programs is not only completely unacceptable to taxpayers, but would be politically unpopular. In the end, it was the tax-borrow-and-spend caucus in Congress and its unwritten pact to protect the bloated federal budget that torpedoed the Supercommittee.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Alternative Fuel Vehicles Program & Travel Cards in NTUF's Taxpayer's Tab
Did you miss this week's issue of NTUF's Taxpayer's Tab? If so, here's a quick recap.
This week NTUF puts two bills head-to-head: S. 1001, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) [pictured], would expand would expand the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program and would fund research into alternative fuels infrastructure. The bill would provide federal funding in the form of direct loans or loan guarantees to help existing facilities retrofit their operations to produce energy-efficient light-duty vehicles and their components or to develop alternatively-fueled vehicles. NTUF estimates that S. 1001 would cost taxpayers $958 million over five years.
Congressman Bill Flores (R-TX) has sponsored H.R. 3306, which would eliminate, rather than expand, the ATV Manufacturing Loan Program. According to statements made by Congressman Flores for the Republican Study Committee’s YouCut initiative, H.R. 3306 would result in a $4 billion taxpayer savings in the first year of implementation.
The WildCard: Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX), Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA), and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) have introduced -- H.R. 2042, H.R. 3312, and S. 1487 -- the APEC Business Travel Cards Act to decrease travel time for businessmen and women from countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC).
The Least Expensive Bill: Congressman Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) have sponsored H.R. 1734 and S. 1503, the Civilian Property Realignment Act, "to reduce the budget deficit by streamlining the federal property disposal and realignment process." Sixty percent of the proceeds from the sales would be required to go to deficit reduction. Senator Brown cites an OMB estimate that the bill would save taxpayers $15 billion over three years. CPRA authorizes $88 million in new spending for the commission, which NTUF subtracted from the initial $15 billion.
The Most Friended Bill: Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has sponsored H.R. 704, Security and Fairness Enhancement (SAFE) for America Act of 2011. The SAFE Act would eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. CBO determined that H.R. 704 would save $147 million over its first four years starting in FY 2013. The elimination of the program would result in fewer immigrants coming into the country -- approximately 51,000 annually -- and fewer permanent residents. House cosponsors include three Democrats and 40 Republicans.
For more details, including NTUF's preliminary cost estimates for each of these bills, read the entire Taxpayer's Tab online.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Hoyer's Newfound, Nonsensical Opposition to a Balanced Budget Amendment
“The issue of a balanced budget is not a conservative one or a liberal one, and it is not an easy one,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer in 1995 expressing his fears over the $5 trillion debt, “but it is an essential one.”
“I am absolutely convinced that the long term consequences of refusing to come to grips with the necessity to balance our budget will be catastrophic . . . [T]hose who will pay the highest price for our fiscal irresponsibility, should we fail, will be those least able to protect themselves, and the children of today and the generations of tomorrow,” Hoyer concluded.
That was Hoyer in 1995. Tomorrow the House of Representatives will once again vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment, and with the stakes immensely higher than in 1995, Rep. Hoyer has completely flip-flopped.
“What I said in 1995 I absolutely agree with today,” Hoyer told reporters recently. “Unfortunately, I did not contemplate the irresponsibility that I have seen fiscally over the last nine years, or eight years, of the Bush administration . . .
So let me get this straight. Hoyer voted in favor of a Balanced Budget Amendment in 1995 because he was worried about the long-term effects of the federal government’s $107 billion budget deficit and $5 trillion debt. And now, with annual deficits measured in the trillions and our national debt having tripled, Hoyer is whipping against a BBA? And the reason he flip-flopped is that Washington has displayed its inability to act fiscally responsible? Isn’t that one of the chief arguments for voting in favor?
It’s a statement that reeks of politics, of pointing the finger rather than extending a hand. The fact is, the debt has skyrocketed over the last decade under the direction of Presidents and lawmakers from both parties. But now is not the time to lay blame, it’s the time to build consensus that Washington simply isn’t disciplined enough to reduce spending on its own. Because as Hoyer pointed out in 1995, this is not a conservative or a liberal issue – it’s one of necessity.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Supercommittee Going Gimmicky, Markets Set to Panic?
Shot: In an op-ed for Politico, Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi, explains the potential disaster that lays ahead if the Deficit Supercommittee relies on budget gimmicks to achieve its deficit target.
“On the darkest path, the committee relies on budget gimmicks – like an assumed winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – to achieve its $1.2 trillion goal in 10-year deficit reduction. The panel could then avoid substantive government spending cuts similar in size to those that would automatically occur beginning in 2013.
Using gimmickry would signal financial markets that it is hopeless to believe Washington can address the nation’s long-term fiscal problems. . . Financial markets would be thrown into turmoil, upending the already shell-shocked collective psyche. The economy would descend back into recession . . .”
Chaser: In a story entitled, “Gimmicks Could Help Rescue Deficit Talks,” the Wall Street Journal reports that it is looking increasingly likely that budgetary sleight-of-hand will be used in any bipartisan deal.
“With Congress’s deficit-reduction supercommittee barreling toward a deadline for striking a big budget deal, both parties are reaching for accounting gimmicks to help reach their target of $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years.
Some tools are familiar to old Washington hands, such as massaging budget assumptions and painting rosy economic scenarios. Others include taking credit for “saving” money on wars that are ending and putting off until next year what lawmakers don’t want to deal with now.”
Bottom line: Unless Congress gets serious about the need for real deficit reduction to ease jittery markets, Americans should brace for a wicked hangover.
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The Wall Street Journal has an interesting poll up on its site today regarding taxation of retail sales on the internet. The question seems relatively simple: Should states require online retailers to collect sales tax? The thought process for most people probably goes a little something like this..."If it's a sale, it should be subject to sales tax." That probably explains why a huge number of people voted for the (misleadingly-worded) answer "State sales taxes should apply always." Problem is, the "right" answer (from NTU's perspective) is "State sales tax only with physical presence." So please, for the love of all that is holy in proper tax policy (hah!), head over to the WSJ and cast a vote for taxes only with physical presence.
As intuitively appealing as the answer that state sales tax should always apply is, it ignores years of Supreme Court jurisprudence and small-business protections that only require businesses with a legitimate physical presence in a state to collect and remit that state's sales tax. In other words, Andrew Moylan Incorporated would be required to collect Virginia state sales tax because Andrew Moylan Incorporated is physically located in Virginia, but should AM Inc. also be required to collect sales tax for California, New York, Michigan, or any of the other states where it is NOT located? The Supreme Court says no, and rightly so, because that would impose enormous burdens on businesses to navigate more than 7,400 different sales tax jurisdictions across the country.
Keep in mind that, technically, every single sale that is made online is ALREADY subject to taxation. If the seller has a physical presence in the buyer's state, they'll collect and remit sales tax just like your local Target or Wal-Mart. If the seller does NOT have a physical presence, then the buyer is supposed to report the purchase and pay a "use tax" on it directly with the state government. Unfortunately, this use tax regime is a disaster. Most buyers have no clue they owe these taxes and very few actually pay them, so it's not as if there's no problem here at all.
But if proponents of burdensome tax-collection plans were serious about "fairness," they'd advocate a revenue-neutral system that respects our Constitution and preserves tax competition. As NTU noted in a recent news release, one step to explore would be requiring all firms to collect sales taxes only for the jurisdiction where they're based, rather than for multitudes of governments around the country. Another would be supporting Senate Resolution 309 from Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Ayotte (R-NH), which affirms Congress' intent not to give states "the authority to impose any new burdensome or unfair tax collecting requirements on small internet businesses."0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
What if I told you that Congressional leaders were maneuvering right now to enact a policy that literally benefits only the top 1% of Americans? If you were an "Occupy" protester, you'd probably tell me that's the only thing Congress ever does! Others know better, of course, but in one way it's absolutely true. Despite overwhelming opposition from conservatives, including NTU, I'm hearing lots of buzz that negotiators on the "minibus" appropriations bill are considering including a provision to raise conforming loan limits for the FHA (which insures mortgages) back up to an absurdly-high $729,750 (from an already-high $625,500 limit).
In a hilariously convenient coincidence, it turns out that the higher limit would quite literally only benefit roughly the top 1% of home purchasers. Not content to insure mortgages at a level that would cover 92% of all home purchases (like we did at the pre-bailout loan limit of $417,000), or even 97.8% of home purchases (which a $625,000 limit would cover), some in Congress are apparently insisting on allowing FHA to insure mortgages at a level that would cover nearly 99% of all home purchases. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad (and angering).
Federal involvement in the mortgage market has already cost taxpayers a staggering $169 billion, but that is apparently not enough of a disincentive for some Members of Congress. Not only would the higher conforming loan limit increase risk for taxpayers, it would stomp on a willing private mortgage insurance market and dramatically undermine the prospects for true housing policy and GSE reform in the future. We should be spending this time figuring out how to wind down Fannie and Freddie and the FHA's outsized role in housing finance.
The "99% movement" protesters are wrong as it relates to income taxes, where the top 1% of earners paid nearly 37% of all income taxes in 2009. When you broaden the scope to all federal taxes (including corporate, social insurance, and excise taxes), the story is basically the same: the top 1% shouldered 28% of the burden in 2007. Our tax code is not, by and large, rigged for rich folks. But if the conforming loan limit reports are true, we're about to hand the gift of federal backing to the richest 1% of homeowners in the country in a shameful and completely unnecessary act.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts