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Taxpayer Benefits for President George H.W. Bush
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/10/13

In this week's second infographic, we look at former President George H.W. Bush's annual office and pension allowances. These benefits are funded by taxpayers and there is still some question on exactly how much America's ex-Commanders-In-Chief are recieving eaxh year. The General Services Administration only releases Presidential retirement spening in the form of budget requests, which are not exact in what eventually is spent.

Taxpayers are also not able to see how much it costs to protect the four former Presidents. While it should not be expected to get detailed information on exactly how they are escorted and guarded by Secret Service personnel, an overall cost figure ought to be available so taxpayers can understand the full costs of Presidents after their tenure in office.

Besides the graphic below, check out a recent Taxpayer's Tab that examined the broad spending points and total costs of ex-Presidents.

Do you think that former Presidents need public dollars? Should something be cut or increased? Let us know in the comments!

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Jimmy Carter's Retirement Perks
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/09/13

In an edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTU Foundation examined the federal spending associated with the pensions and ofice expenses of former Presidents. In the first of five infographics, we highlight the benefits of President Jimmy Carter that are paid for with tax dollars.

The data was compiled using budget requests of the General Services Administration and analysis by the Congressional Research Service. One thing to remember is that these figures are requests and that actual budgetary outlays (or actual spending) are not available. We understand that a line-by-line costs of a former Commander-In-Chief's Secret Service is classified to protect their safety but taxpayers are in the dark when it comes to seeing what former Presidents actually cost in terms of their pensions, office benefits, and staff salaries.

Do you think that former Presidents need public dollars? Should something be cut or increased? Let us know in the comments!

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Ac-“customed” to Waste?
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 08/05/13

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:

  • According to Airlines for America statistics, Abu Dhabi airport accounted for less than 600 passenger arrivals per day to the U.S. in 2012, ranking it #80 on the list of top origin points to our country.
  • Right now, no U.S.-based carriers even fly from the Abu Dhabi International Airport back to here.  All other CBP pre-clearance zones in Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean serve many airlines, including U.S.-flagged ones.
  • The primary beneficiary of the deal would be Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline of UAE. Thanks to this status Etihad enjoys an advantage over private airlines around the world that are subject to corporate profit taxes of their home countries. Which brings us to …
  • Another advantage conferred by the United States under the auspices of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), whose risk-taking and subsidization have long been a concern for taxpayer advocates such as NTU. Etihad snagged $593 million in loan guarantees from Ex-Im last year for aircraft purchases, and could qualify for preferential financing that our own airlines (by definition) can’t get through Ex-Im.
  • Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that over the preceding year (before overblown sequester scare tactics), the wait times for getting through customs at stateside airports have “increased dramatically.”

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.

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Foundation Travel Study Cited on House Floor
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 07/18/13

"When the wheels of Air Force are up, the meter is on, and I'm talking about a heap of taxpayer dollars." – Rep Howard Coble

This morning, Congressman Howard Coble (R-NC) highlighted the travel time and costs of President Obama that were at the heart of NTUF's recent paper Up in the Air: A Study of Presidential Travel and its Uncertain Costs by Policy Analyst Michael Tasselmyer. Rep Coble tied the $179,000 per flight hour of Air Force One to changing the costliness of government in light of the mounting debt and billion-dollar federal deficit. He said "I simply ask the President and his wife to exercise more prudence and discipline regarding their aircraft activities. ... The plague of the soaring debt continues to bother us, and I respectfully request that President Obama and his wife direct more attention at our soaring debt and deficit and less time on Air Force One."

Watch the entire floor statement here (skip to 1:13):

For more information on NTUF's Presidential Travel Study:

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On Mining Investment, the United States is Dead Last
Posted By: Sharon Koss - 07/15/13

While environmental protection is an important concern in the development of our nation’s natural resources, excessive regulations have suppressed expansion of our critical minerals industry and sent jobs overseas.  In a study of the 25 leading mining countries, the United States has tied with Papua New Guinea for last place in terms of delays involved in obtaining a mining permit:

Permitting delays are the most significant risk to mining projects in the United States. A few mining friendly states (Nevada, Utah, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arizona) are an exception to this rule but are negatively impacted by federal rules that they are bound to enforce resulting in a 7- to 10-year waiting period before mine development can begin. 

This red tape essentially offers energy business on a platter to other countries, namely China.  Many of these elements which America is forced to import could be provided through domestic mining if redundant regulations didn’t discourage development. The Natural Resources Committee in the house began looking into this issue in 2011 when it referred to a U.S. Geological Survey which reported that:

The U.S. is 100% dependent on foreign sources for rare earth elements (REE), 97% of which are provided by China... the USGS released a report revealing 13 million metric tons of REEs exist within known deposits in 14 U.S. states.

In February 2013, Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV), along with 57 cosponsors, proposed H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, in order to address this issue.

Although many of these minerals are necessary for the president’s green energy goals, Obama still refuses to allow efficient development of domestic minerals and asks legislators to strongly oppose H.R. 761 in the name of environmental protection.

A similar scenario is playing out on the Outer Continental Shelf and across many federal lands where onerous regulations and permitting processes keep our natural resources tied up in red tape. Whether those resources are essential minerals or equally essential energy, the solution is still the same, as NTU’s Executive Vice President Pete Sepp explained:

Instead of picking winners and losers in the industry, we believe officials should pursue a policy that applies low, simple taxes … avoids government subsidies, and eases regulations that stand in the way of developing new resources.

With employment numbers still stubbornly low, Washington should be easing the path for economic development and job growth, not throwing up roadblocks for job creators. Let’s hope the House moves H.R. 761 forward quickly to help get vital investments out of permitting purgatory.

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New Study: If Trends Continue, Obama Will be Abroad for 190 Days as President
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/27/13

Michael Tasselmyer, NTU Foundation's Policy Analyst, authored a paper on the international travels of President Obama. Though the President spends fewer average days abroad per trip, he is still on pace to travel more overall than six of the last eight Presidents. He could be away for as many as 190 days on international trips, if his travel trends continue. To put this in context, if the President ends up traveling abroad for those 190 days, he will have spent just under nine percent of his tenure visiting other countries (FYI, he will be in office a total 2,191 days). That not only means that he will be spending more time away from the White House but the government will be spending new levels of tax dollars on security, personnel, and logistics associated with those trips.

One key fact Tasselmyer points out is the unknown total cost of each or all of the President's trips, which reach the tens of millions of public dollars. Just as Presidents Clinton and Bush, Obama has many hundreds of traveling companions and multiple aircraft to guarantee his security and travel but taxpayers are not purview to the top-line costs. Tasselmyer said:

"NTUF does not dispute the widely-held belief that a vital component of the President's duties is to represent our nation in foreign countries. [This study] is provided in the interest of fostering rational public discussions over the transparency as well as the costs and benefits of such activity."

Below is a travel breakdown of each year that President Obama has been in office:

President Obama's International Travel by Year
Year
Trips
Days
Total Countries
Unique Countries
2009
10
40
25
21
2010
6
20
9
8
2011
4
20
9
9
2012
5
15
7
7
2013
4
18
10
10
Note: Data for 2013 includes 4 trips, including his current trip to Africa.
Source: State Department data and media reports, compiled in Up in the Air: A Study of Presidential Travel and its Uncertain Costs, National Taxpayers Union Foundation

The study also includes an updated per-flight-hour cost for Air Force One, which slightly decreased from NTUF's 2010 study because of changes in fuel costs. Check out the report and stay tuned to NTUF's Twitter feed for other key findings (as well as reactions from taxpayers, lawmakers, and the Administration).

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The Late Edition: May 15, 2013
Posted By:  - 05/15/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

NTUF’s Michael Tasselmyer breaks down the CBO’s updated budget predictions through 2023.

Take a first hand look at the inspector general report on the IRS "abuse of power" scandal.

The IRS has wasted at least $110.8 billion dollars since 2000 in misappropriated Earned Income Tax Credits alone, says the Heartland Institute.

Men between ages 25 and 36 could see their premiums jump above 50% as a result of “Obamacare” says CNN Money.

Check out this chart showing how age and gender change the amount the law will likely have you pay.

ObamaCare

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TV Investigation Wins Peabody Award for IRS Fraud Investigation, Sparks Agency Reforms
Posted By:  - 04/05/13

You would never have even heard of a recent scheme that let fraudsters make off with $4.2 billion per year in taxpayer dollars, if it were not for intrepid investigative journalism by WTHR-TV in Indianapolis. For these efforts that taxpayers in particular can appreciate, WTHR recently won the highest award in journalism, the Peabody Award.

The 6-month long investigative series that earned the award exposed the IRS for ignoring a “loophole” that allowed people here unlawfully to insert on tax forms the names of children that may not have even lived in the U.S., snagging unwarranted taxpayer cash.

The series has struck a chord with citizens across the nation, and even inspired many IRS employees aware of the abuse to contact WTHR and share their experiences. One whistleblower confided:

"I just saw your report and there's something I need to tell you. I see this stuff every day and there isn't anything I can do about it."

The controversy also made its way to Capitol Hill, and led to a debate in the spring of last year as to why nothing had been done about this disturbing mishandling of taxpayer dollars.

In May of 2012, following WTHR’s investigative report, the House of Representatives debated the issue, with the majority of Republicans arguing in favor of closing the loophole, and the majority of Democrats opposing doing so.

Citing WTHR’s findings, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), espoused outrage during the floor debate on a reconciliation package, H.R. 5652, which included closing the loophole:

“This is where our taxpayer money is going, to the [additional] child tax credit. One investigation in Indiana said illegal immigrants in Indiana are getting $29,608 for 20 children they claimed for the tax credit who live in Mexico and have never visited the United States before!"

Unsurprisingly, after the House managed to pass the bill along strict party lines, H.R. 5652 died in the Democrat-controlled Senate, leaving taxpayers on the hook to continue doling out billions.

Still, after WTHR’s scathing investigation into the fraud and abuse under the agency’s purview, the IRS announced new reforms to how the child tax credit is allotted in October of 2012.

“The IRS also announced heightened review of documentation related to child tax credits by requiring more information to be sure residency requirements for these credits are met. This is probably in response to concerns about nonresidents successfully claiming these credits.”

When it comes to addressing fraud that victimizes taxpayers, the phrase ‘better late than never’ comes to mind, and WTHR deserves a warm round of applause for affecting change in an instance where officials openly neglected their duty to ensure the law is properly enforced.

 

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NTU and Foundation Poll Youth Conference for Their Important Issues
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 02/21/13

Staff from the National Taxpayers Union and NTU's research and education arm, NTU Foundation, participated in the 2013 International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC) with one question for attendees: What policies will you fight for? Over the course of the weekend, students and young adults responded by voting for one of six issues that we thought Americans of all ages could at least agree needs addressing. Many attendees were interested in the mission of NTU and NTUF and asked us many, often challenging questions. I recall one conversation about the economic and realistic reasoning behind whether or not to establish a federal Balanced Budget Amendment. Some even took up the cause of lower taxes and less government by becoming members of NTU or saying that they would enjoy the opportunity to intern with us over the summer. If you’re interested, check out our Internship page. We accept interns year-round and there’s a lot of government to roll back. Still others were looking to show their support for NTU and Foundation in other ways:

Blogger and Vlogger Julie Borowski stopped by for a bumper sticker and a picture

We asked people to cast a vote for their number one issue that needs reform right now. Our six fishbowls highlighted some of the issues we thought the ISFLC participants would identify with the most. The issues were: a Balanced Budget Amendment, cutting the Pentagon budget, ending the Federal Reserve, less spending, real tax reform, and right to work. One lucky entry would be drawn to be interviewed on NTU's Speaking of Taxpayers podcast. The Results were interesting:

Issues Voted on by Participants at
the 2013 International Students for Liberty Conference
Issue
Percentage of Overall Votes
Balanced Budget Amendment
13%
Cut the Pentagon Budget
7%
End the Fed
33%
Less Overall Spending
19%
Real Tax Reform
8%
Right to Work
6%
Other
14%
Note: Not necessarily representative of all ISFLC participants

We also found that these six issues were just the tip of the iceberg. On a separate board, students pinned other ideas on where NTU and Foundation can help out taxpayers, including stopping sin taxes, ending corporate welfare, and fighting for bacon (yes, we had some serious bacon fans at ISFLC). All of this proved that young people are just as interested in the important fiscal issues as any other age group.

Thanks to everyone who came by our booth and let their voices be heard and congratulations to Annie Setten who will be interviewed next Friday!

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The Late Edition: February 19, 2013
Posted By:  - 02/19/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

NTU’s Pete Sepp on the approximately $45,000 a year taxpayer-funded pension Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will be due, unless he chooses not to take it.

NTU’s Nan Swift takes a detailed look at the President’s proposals for education reform.

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