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Fight for LNG Exports Reveals Ex-Im Bank Hypocrisy
Next week the House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider a bill, H.R. 6, to open up new markets for natural gas exports. Currently, natural gas exports (in the form of liquefied natural gas or LNG) are restricted to the handful of countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement. In order to export LNG to other countries, applicants must first pass a public interest review and the process is marked by extensive delays.
The government-imposed export restrictions are hampering the growth of the domestic natural gas industry, even as new technology makes more and more resources available. When domestic consumption of natural gas is flat and natural gas prices and consumption are high abroad, it makes perfect economic sense to take our abundant supply to the global demand. Our neighbors in British Columbia are doing so and expect to see 4 percent economic growth over the next few years. Increased LNG exports would not only bolster the profitability of domestic natural gas production, but also bring with it new jobs and economic development – two things our struggling economy desperately needs.
Writing in at TheHill.com today, Raymond Keating, chief economist of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council explained:
According to the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, each new terminal created to ship LNG overseas could generate more than $10 billion in investment for the U.S. economy, including wages and purchase orders for equipment. A single project will likely generate more than $10 million per year in new tax revenue at the federal, state and local levels. For good measure, it’s estimated that very $1 billion of LNG produced creates about 5,000 construction and manufacturing jobs.
So, while it’s still frustrating that government is still standing in the way of an industry’s success, what’s even more surprising is how U.S. taxpayer-backed dollars are being used to prop up the LNG industries of other nations even as our own producers are stymied by our government.
When it came to light that recent Administration-imposed sanctions towards Russia had put the kibosh on an Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) financing deal for the Russian OAO Novatek Yamal LNG project, I wondered – how many other LNG export projects do we support in other countries? A quick search turned up quite a few.
Robust competition and free trade dictate that competitors to U.S. natural gas will and should develop their own energy resources. But the federal government shouldn’t be propping up direct competitors for U.S. products using cheap, taxpayer-backed credit. Not when our own producers are not allowed to compete on that playing field. This is doubly true when the recipients of Ex-Im Bank largess are giant corporations more than capable of securing their own private capital.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Florida’s Special Election: Taxpayers Need Details
With the passing of Congressman Bill Young (R-FL), residents of the 13th Congressional District of Florida have a special election coming up on March 11th to decide who will represent them for the remainder of the 113th Congress. Three candidates are viewed as the frontrunners: former general counsel to Bill Young David Jolly (R), activist and commercial diver Lucas Overby (L), and former Chief Financial Officer of Florida Alex Sink (D). Each candidate offers different general solutions to America’s fiscal ills but few details have been released by any campaign as to what specific policies that he or she would support as Florida’s newest Representative.
National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) has long been analyzing what candidates would specifically do if elected to federal office. We take the direct quotes and campaign materials of candidates in contentious races and match those statements, goals, and affirmations to show the public what kind of a budget candidates are really calling for. The cost estimates and sources used in the studies are similar to those used in the BillTally project.
Since the election in has a shortened campaign period and because each of the three campaigns supplied few budgetary platform items, NTUF was able to compile a limited number of proposals but was unable to release a full study, such as the special election in New Jersey between now-Senator Cory Booker and former Mayor Steve Lonegan.
Remember, all of the figures highlighted in this post and in our line-by-line analysis of the three candidates are annualized and only include changes in current spending (or outlays). They do not include changes in revenue or costs outside of the federal government. For more information on NTUF’s Methodology, go here.
David Jolly (R) has three (out of ten) quantifiable policies that NTUF was able to score. One would decrease annual spending by $63.9 billion and two would increase outlays by $3.86 billion for a net $60.04 billion reduction in federal expenditures each year. His proposal with the largest impact on the federal budget is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Lucas Overby (L) has proposed two (out of eight) policy items that NTUF could fiscally score. Combined, they would grow annual federal spending for a total of $191 million. His largest quantifiable measure would extend current federally-subsidized flood insurance premiums by four years.
Alex Sink (D) has proposed three (out of nine) measures that NTUF could match with current cost estimates. All three would increase spending by a combined $20.391 billion each year. The largest budget-influencing item she supports is passing the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate.
While candidates have a number of conflicting platform items, they all share some common themes or goals. All three would vote to increase current spending by $180 million per year to delay a scheduled rate increase for the National Flood Insurance Program. The lower current rate would be in effect for four years and would allow officials to reexamine the maps and formulas used to determine price levels (more information can be found in a recent edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab). They would also, in varying ways, aim to secure the southern border. Jolly and Sink would use existing methods to do so, using federal resouces, while Overby would seek to utilize state resources.
Overall, taxpayers should take note of the many and large gaps in each candidates’ agendas. The lack of budgetary details is a concern all Americans have when deciding who to send to their statehouse and Washington, DC. As the days tick down to March 11th, campaigns need to offer taxpayers clear details of what they would do with not only the tax dollars from the 13th District but from all of the Districts in America.
Note: National Taxpayers Union Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our research efforts are intended only to educate Americans on how their tax dollars are being or will be spent by those in office, seeking office, or in appointed positions. For more information on NTUF go here.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released multiple reports on the state of the U.S. economy. One of them, "The Slow Recovery of the Labor Market," examines current job market conditions and projects where employment figures are heading relative to historical trends. The full report is available online, but here are three quick take-aways summed up in graphical form (visuals courtesy of CBO):
Report: Last Night’s Speech has $40 Billion Price Tag
NTU Foundation researchers were up long into the night and woke up extra early to tabulate the proposed costs in this year’s State of the Union (SOTU). Similar to NTUF’s candidate studies, we went line-by-line through the speech & identified all of the legislative actions President Obama proposed to the Nation. We then referenced those items with cost estimates from his own budget, legislation being considered in Congress right now, and third parties (like the Congressional Budget Office) to come up with a total spending agenda. Here’s a breakdown:
Though this was not President Obama’s longest SOTU address, he managed to announce 29 different policies that would affect the budget. Because of the lack of information included in his speech and in documents released by the White House, NTUF was able to score 13 of those items; the other 16 could resurface with more clarity in future legislative measures, executive orders, or more regulations in the U.S. Code. How much are we talking about? Check out the totals:
This total is light compared to last year’s $83.41 billion SOTU cost, but remember that this is just under $40 billion in NEW spending (i.e. adding to the deficit, which is projected to be $744 billion this year, according to the Administration’s Mid-Session Review). So if the 13 items were enacted, the government would be forced to borrow more money and keep future taxpayers on the hook for today’s decisions.
The largest budget-changing proposals include (figures are annualized):
The only savings proposals that NTUF was able to clearly identify was a call to prevent future bailouts of the housing market, which was matched with a bill currently in Congress that would decrease spending by $103 million each year. S. 1376, the FHA Solvency Act was covered in a recent edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab and would bring in more mortgage insurance premium fees (counted as an offset to direct spending). More information on this bill can be found in a post by NTUF Policy Analyst Michael Tasselmyer (coming soon).
Wondering how each of President Obama's speeches compare? Check out NTUF's homepage.
Stay tuned for more SOTU analyses from the best team of tax and budget analysts in the country.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
TONIGHT: "Price the Proposals" of the State of the Union Address
Expecting More or Less Government from Tonight’s Speech? Guess Right and Win!
Play our 2014 "Price the Proposals" game to test your budget brain power and win prizes!
There are now just a few hours left for you to guess how much new savings or spending President Obama will call for in his State of the Union Address (SOTU) in our “Price the Proposals" game!
Time is running out, submit your entry now!
If you make the closest guess to what National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s analysis finds, without going over, you win! Runners-up receive prizes too, but you can’t win unless you enter!
Simply go to www.ntu.org/sotu2014.
What you’re playing for:
Watch the speech to find out what the President proposes, and join with the 362,000 members of National Taxpayers Union and staff online for commentary, fact-checking, and taxpayer talk:
Deadline for entry: January 28th (TONIGHT) at 10 p.m. ET
Please don’t set this aside – enter now before you miss out on the fun!
Then, in the days ahead, stay tuned for a special post-SOTU analysis with NTU and NTUF staff, which will be on our blog soon after the President’s speech.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Set to start at 9 p.m. tonight, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union (SOTU) Address to a joint session of Congress. The White House has mentioned a few things that may come up in the President’s annual speech but taxpayers are left in the dark as to what exactly he plans for in 2014. Yesterday, NTUF Policy Analyst Michael Tasselmyer has compiled the rumors and reports in a post but questions remain. How much does the President aim to raise the minimum wage? Will his government-sponsored jobs programs be new or more of the same? More importantly, how much will this cost today’s (and tomorrow’s) taxpayers?
NTU wants to see what the grassroots think and are sponsoring a “Price the Proposals” contest (with prizes!!!) to add some fun in with the pomp and circumstance of our political leaders making grand plans for our challenging times. I’ve received quite a few questions about the contest, many of which ask for any insider information that I’ve come across. Sorry folks, this post is no great unveiling of hush hush Administration documents and plans. BUT I wanted to see what NTU and Foundation’s staff thought about the rumors making their way around the Beltway. More to the point, I had everyone place a guess in the “Price the Proposals” contest to see how they ultimately measure up to the line-by-line report, produced by NTU Foundation, and the 362,000 NTU members, all busily racing to place their guesses for a chance at the glory of victory. Remember that these guesses, as yours will be too, are only directed at new spending. Don’t think about tax changes just yet. Here’s where we stand:
So there you have it, some educated guesses from America’s oldest grassroots taxpayer organization. Think you’ll be more accurate with this new information? Head over to our “Price the Proposals” page and place your guess! Remember, you can’t win unless you play!0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
America’s Unemployed Need Employment, Not Extensions
Republicans in the Senate threw the brakes on yet another extension of already extended federal unemployment benefits on Tuesday. The motion to invoke cloture on S. 1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, failed on a party-line vote. S. 1845 would have extended federal unemployment benefits through the end of March.
It’s easy to see why such a seemingly small, stop-gap measure, one that would provide tangible help to the many who are struggling to find employment during our ongoing economic downturn, would appear to be a no-brainer to some. However, as I explained in our vote alert issued last week:
The relatively short three-month timeline of this scheme belies its very real and substantial cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates S. 1845 will increase the deficit by $6.6 billion in 2014. Despite a prolonged fight this fall over out-of-control federal spending, S. 1845 makes no attempt to offset these billions of dollars in new spending.
Our out-of-control national debt and significant deficits each year are creating considerable drag on our economy. It’s irresponsible of Congress to consider new spending without cost-saving reforms or commensurate spending cuts. When it became clear that offsets would be needed to try to move S. 1845 forward, Senator Reed (D-RI) who was also the lead sponsor of S. 1845, proposed an amendment that would have extended benefits for eleven months paid for by prohibiting “double dipping” and tacking on an additional year of spending caps that would keep the sequester in force until 2024. While it’s true that eliminating “double-dipping,” the practice of receiving both unemployment and disability benefits, would be a good, cost-saving reform, another year of sequester is little more than an accounting gimmick.
As evidenced by the Omnibus spending bill in Congress this week, legislators can’t appropriate within even the modest spending caps of the 2011 Budget Control Act now. Assuming they’ll do any better in 2024 is highly questionable. Luckily, the amendment failed, ensuring the cloture vote that followed was also doomed.
It’s worth wondering though, if the unemployment insurance extension was offset, would that be worth supporting? From a strictly budgetary perspective, making sure the new expenditure is paid for is of primary concern to taxpayers. However, research indicates that perpetually extending benefits doesn’t do the unemployed any favors. From the House Ways and Means Committee:
And despite Democrat claims that such spending on UI benefits is the “best stimulus,” all this record-setting benefit spending has bought is the slowest recovery on record. Perhaps not surprisingly, a new study identifies the EUC program as the cause of the painfully slow labor market recovery – as employers have withheld new job offers until after the Federal extended benefits program ends. Another study reinforces that such programs have been behind recent jobless recoveries.
The studies available at the links above illustrate that extending unemployment benefits increases unemployment as employers are discouraged from posting vacancies and workers are discouraged from searching, creating a lose-lose scenario for the labor market. At the same time, what vacancies are available tend not to go to the long-term unemployed. Because the longer someone is jobless, the harder it is to get hired, perpetual extensions provide the unemployed with little, if any, benefit.
As high unemployment rates continue year after year and increasing numbers of individuals stop trying to seek jobs at all, it’s clear that this business as usual approach to unemployment insurance is failing both taxpayers and the unemployed alike. Rather than rubber-stamp extensions, offset or not, legislators should take the time this national crisis deserves to consider real reforms. I mentioned just two in the vote alert:
Block-granting federal unemployment insurance would reduce federal meddling and empower states to ensure scarce dollars are allocated where they are most needed, thereby saving taxpayers money. Stricter guidelines to encourage job-seekers to get back to work sooner could help to disincentivize long-term unemployment, itself a hindrance to re-employment.
But there are lots of other great ideas out there that should be on the table as well. Just this month our friends at the R Street Institute rolled out their own proposals to help the unemployed get to where the work is, overcoming one of the biggest hindrances to employment the labor market is facing. The whole paper is worth a read. Congress can also take up other reforms to help spur job growth such as lowering the corporate tax rate, eliminating costly regulations, repealing the death tax, and many others.
Offsetting unemployment extensions is a good first step, but to really help the unemployed, Congress should let business get back to work.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
NTU and USPIRG have released a new "Toward Common Ground" report with over $500 billion in savings proposals people from both sides of the aisle can support. Plus, a special chat with our fall interns, Tara Riggs and Curtis Kalin, and the Outrage of the Week!0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
All too many federal agencies can be cited for having budgetary skeletons in their closet, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is no exception. From poorly managing a drone fleet purchase, to making questionable demands for more employees, CBP has raised fears for the security of taxpayers’ wallets in the past. Yet, Congress has an opportunity to ease future fears, over a controversial new CBP project, before it can cause a fiscal fright.
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded a letter of intent with the United Arab Emirates to build a “pre-clearance” facility at Abu Dhabi airport which would allow travelers to the U.S. to clear customs before arriving on American soil. So far, so good: pre-clearance can not only save time and reduce congestion at U.S. points of entry, it can also help ease the way for tourists who contribute to economic activity while visiting here.
Now for the not-so-good:
All these drawbacks lead to one long question: Given CBP’s service challenges at existing airports, is it really a good idea to plow ahead with a facility whose use will be comparatively scarce in the near term, and give another leg-up to an airline backed by its own government as well as ours, at the expense of an already overtaxed flying public?
And “overtaxed” is an understatement. As NTU has often noted, the typical overall government tax and fee burden of 20 percent on a $300 domestic airfare is higher than the average effective rate a middle-class American is likely to pay on his or her 1040 income tax return. International air travelers can have it even worse, with impositions such as separate departure and arrival taxes along with a passenger agricultural inspection fee (which the Obama Administration ill-advisedly considered raising in 2009) and a customs fee.
Proponents of the CBP station at Abu Dhabi argue that the investment of U.S. tax dollars will be minimal since UAE will pick up 85 percent of the project’s expense under the current agreement. But that’s little comfort to tax-weary travelers in America (see above), who remain worried that whatever share they will be forced to commit could escalate if construction or operating costs are not contained. Meanwhile, there’s that pesky matter of how best to apply CBP’s fee collections as well as appropriations from general funds – should they be used to expedite higher-priority passenger and cargo entry-exit services?
Many Members of Congress seem to think so. In June, the House of Representatives passed an amended FY 2014 DHS Appropriations Bill specifically blocking the Abu Dhabi pre-clearance scheme. In May, a bi-partisan group of 11 Senators echoed the sentiment of their House colleagues in a separate letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, questioning whether the agency’s “decision was made as a result of a risk based analysis.”
Alas, earlier this month DHS announced it was moving forward with a data-sharing agreement that could pave the way for the facility’s activation, even as it faces a concerted petition effort from interested industry groups with considerable clout.
Regardless of the politics involved, the taxpayer aspects of the issue deserve further exploration – that goes not only for the Abu Dhabi pact but also the ever-troubling direction of the Ex-Im Bank. Allowing the free market and fiscal responsibility to sort out needs from niceties would provide some badly-needed bone-rattling for those accustomed to budgetary business as usual in Washington.1 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
The DC Council is expected to adopt new regulations that would force Wal-Mart to play by different rules than other retailers in the District. The measure would require corporations with $1 billion in sales that operate stores with at least 75,000 square feet of retail space to pay their workers $12.50 per hour -- 52 percent more than the District’s $8.25 per hour minimum wage.
What does this mean? Quite a few things. First off, Wal-Mart will reconsider development plans for at least two, if not three, of its stores that are set to open in DC. The stores were a result of years of negotiations between the DC government and Wal-Mart. Now, DC might remain Wal-Mart-free and the avoidable results could be stark. Without the new stores, DC risks losing out on at least 900 jobs and $7 million in annual revenue for crucial items like school repair, community revitalization, or road construction.
There are also the reactions of other big box stores to consider. While Lowe’s doesn’t have a store in DC, Home Depot and Target each have one location. These corporations would be affected, while other popular retailers, such as Starbucks and Apple, would not be.
I am usually examining the unintended consequences of government action but this is wholly intended and understood by lawmakers. Although the law is not explicitly directed at Wal-Mart, the requirements were developed as a result of political tension between the retailer and labor groups within DC. By requiring Wal-Mart to pay wages beyond what is already required by District and federal laws, the Council has all but forced the company to avoid operating in an area with rules that are detrimental to its business. The Council could claim that Wal-Mart is only looking out for its bottom line (like all businesses do), but it would be ignoring the fact that other smaller businesses in DC are paying their workers at lower wages.
Supporters of the Large Retailer Accountability Act cite:
Some large retailers pay very low wages and do not provide their workers affordable health benefits. Without safeguards, large retailers threaten to erode both living standards for working families in the District, especially given the cost of living in the District. By adopting living wage standards for large retailers, The District can ensure that economic development better meets the community’s need for family-supporting jobs.
Supporters also believe that Wal-Mart’s threat of pulling out of DC is a bluff to avoid paying the higher wages.
[The Act] means most shopping dollars will stay in the suburbs, unemployment will remain in the double-digits in some neighborhoods and underserved communities will continue to have disproportionate access to affordable groceries.
According to Slate’s Matt Yglasias:
… I do think councilmembers should consider starting over again. If they think a higher minimum wage would be good for the city, then they should raise the minimum wage. If they think a $12.50 minimum wage would crate a lot of unemployment, then they should raise the minimum wage but raise it to something less than $12.50—there's a big gap between that and the generally applicable $8.25 wage. A special minimum wage that applies to retail workers but not janitors or restaurant workers and to Walmart but not the Gap doesn't make a ton of sense.
We will see how this drama of jobs and wages plays out.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts