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Beat Back the Wicked Witches of Spending: Donate to NTU Foundation
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 10/31/13

hh2013The National Taxpayers Union Foundation wishes you a Happy Halloween! With your help, we can make scary spending scarce!

From commemorating Milton Friedman’s work to giving taxpayers the best and latest research, NTUF has done a lot this year. With the support of taxpayers like you we don’t plan to stop! Now more than ever, NTUF’s timely research and the BillTally project -- the ONLY comprehensive tracking system that looks at what federal legislators want to spend -- is needed to hold back the fiscal phantoms and debt demons.

How can we help save America from the spending specters? By educating citizens on the often complex issues and proposals that make their way through the halls of Congress. NTUF has taxpayers’ backs, arming Americans with knowledge, analysis, and real-time estimates to stay ahead of the most frightening tax and spending legislation being crafted on Capitol Hill.

NTUF’s work doesn’t stop there. Like Van Helsing, we stay vigilant through the dark of night to keep tabs not only on elected officials but candidates seeking reelection or higher office. Just recently, we examined the budgets proposed by New Jersey Senate contenders Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan.

With your $100, $50, or even $25, the best is yet to come. We will continue to provide insights and analysis the hard numbers behind politicians’ soft talk, but we need your help! NTUF doesn’t take public dollars. We depend on the help of Americans like you to bring our timely and important research to taxpayers across the country.

THANK YOU for your past support. We look forward to working together for a better future.

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Top Five Head-Scratching Quotes by Secretary Sebelius
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 10/30/13

Today, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the disastrous implementation of Obamacare. Here are five direct quotes from the Secretary that have left us puzzled to say the least.

#5: “Contractors had never suggested a delay.”

Secretary Sebelius seems to suggest that the Administration was blindsided by the numerous problems of HealthCare.gov. A story in the Washington Post suggests otherwise. According to the article, a group of about 10 insurers were convened to test out the website before its release and “about a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems, according to an insurance IT executive who was close to the rollout.” It appears that the Administration was at least partially aware of the serious technical issues associated with the website.

#4: “The assessment we have made is that it will take the end of November for an optimally performing website.”

No one can predict the future, but given its track record and the analysis of various IT experts, the Secretary’s claim is hard to believe. An article in the New York Times noted, “Some specialists working on the project said the online system required such extensive repairs that it might not operate smoothly until after the Dec. 15 deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting in January, although that view is not universally shared.”  The article also states that, “One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.”

A blog post by Clay Johnson, President Obama’s former innovation advisor, suggests the issues with the website run much deeper: “Healthcare.gov got this way not because of incompetence or sloppiness of an individual vendor, but because of a deeply engrained and malignant cancer that’s eating away at the federal government’s ability to provide effective online services. It’s a cancer that’s shut out the best and brightest minds from working on these problems, diminished competition for federal work, and landed us here — where you have half-billion dollar websites that don’t work.”

#3: “The website has never crashed. It is functional but at a very slow speed and very low reliability.” 

Perhaps she is using a nonconventional or extremely technical definition of “crashed,” but there have been numerous reports of the website crashing or being completely unavailable to users since its October 1st launch. In fact, on its very first day, the website crashed according to an article by Josh Archambault at Forbes.com. Embarrassingly enough for Secretary Sebelius, HealthCare.gov appeared to be down during the hearing, as illustrated by a CNN split-screen.

#2: “I am not eligible for the exchange, because I have coverage in an employer plan.”

This was perhaps the most bizarre statement by Secretary Sebelius during the hearing. According to Healthcare.gov, this appears to be completely false. A page on the website titled, “What if I have job-based insurance?” specifically states, “If you'd like to explore Marketplace coverage options you can.” As long as an individual lives in the United States, is a citizen or legal resident, and is not presently incarcerated, he or she is permitted to utilize the Obamacare exchanges. As far as I know, Secretary Sebelius meets all of those requirements. 

#1: “Yes, he is.”

Some context is needed here. This was a response to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who during the hearing asked, “the president kept saying if you like your health care plan, you can keep it, so is he keeping his promise?” So Secretary Sebelius is standing by the President’s frequently cited claim that people could keep their health insurance.  She does so despite numerous stories and reports of millions of Americans losing their insurance as a result of the law – not to mention the recent analysis of Washington Post’s “Fact Checker,” who judged Obama’s claim false and issued it a whopping “Four Pinocchios.”

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A Tax That (Literally) Makes You Sick?
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 10/30/13

Back in April, NTUF devoted coverage in the Taxpayer's Tab to H.R. 1686, a bill by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) that would impose a five-cent tax on every disposable paper or plastic bag that grocers and other retailers issue to customers. The proposal -- known as the Trash Reduction Act of 2013 -- was introduced to coincide with Earth Day, and was designed to incentivize shoppers to switch to reusable bags instead of single-use varieties that wind up in landfills across the country.

The legislation would generate plenty of revenue: in a press release, Rep. Moran's office cited figures from 2009 that showed Americans use over 102 billion plastic bags per year. However, that money would be directed towards new environmental spending to the tune of $4.08 billion.

The bag tax proposal isn't new. In fact, Moran based his legislation on an existing law in Washington, D.C., a city not far removed from his own Congressional district that encompasses parts of Northern Virginia.

Now, the bag tax has made its way overseas to the United Kingdom, and while many consumers may already be weary of new taxes and regulations, emerging research shows that this new initiative could actually make some Brits physically ill.

The Telegraph reports on a study from Aberdeen University in Scotland that warns the tax could result in more outbreaks of sickness from E. Coli and other food-borne bacteria, due largely to the high risk of contamination in reusable bags. "We have to be careful about being too strict in forcing people to re-use bags. ... There are some bags you should only use once, so I would be very unhappy at having a 5p charge on bags that are being used for food," said Professor Hugh Pennington.

Bacteriologist Kofi Aidoo echoed Pennington's concerns: "If people are going to have to pay for bags and re-use them my concern is we're creating a high risk of food poisoning. At the very least people have to be given advice to clean these bags every time they use them."

The UK study seems to be supported by research from UPenn, in which scientists observed a 25 percent increase in hospital admissions for bacterial infections (including E. Coli) after San Francisco banned plastic bags from certain stores.

The findings suggest an unintended, potentially hazardous consequence of environmental regulations that public officials will undoubtedly have to address should they decide to move forward with new or existing bag tax laws.

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Senate, House to Vote on Resolutions to Stop Debt Ceiling Suspension
Posted By: Nan Swift - 10/29/13

Today the Senate, and tomorrow the House, are expected to vote on resolutions (S.J. Res. 26 and H.J. Res. 99 respectively) that disapprove of President Obama’s suspension of the debt ceiling until February 7th. One of the provisions of the Continuing Resolution/Debt Limit compromise (H.R. 2775) of only about two weeks ago was to give Congress the chance to end the suspension of the debt limit via an expedited resolution process. Technically, this does give Congress back some of the “power of the purse” it abdicated via yet another debt ceiling suspension, but the truth is that this will be little more than a show vote.

Nothing short of a miracle could give S.J. Res. 26 the votes it needs to pass in the Senate. Across the Hill, H.J. Res. 99 is expected to pass the House and promptly stall, as it  will neither be able to pass the Senate nor garner anywhere near enough votes to override a veto from the President (should the unthinkable happen in the Senate). This means a free-pass for many Members who want the chance to say they oppose overspending without any real-world implications.

The resolutions at hand are far from the serious reforms we urgently need. Rather than continue on this unsustainable trajectory, in which debt ceiling increases are routine, Congress must demonstrate a clear, credible plan to reduce expenditures.

Continually raising the debt limit without the serious reforms necessary to rein in our out-of-control spending only compounds the uncertainty and drag that weighs down our economy and potential for growth. It is likewise a moral imperative not to continue taking out lines of credit at the expense of future generations whose own prosperity is equally uncertain.

It is essential that Congress adheres to the principles NTU repeatedly outlined during consideration of H.R. 2775:            

1. Do not raise taxes

2. Resist the temptation to include extraneous measures

3. Preserve the sequester

4. Enact meaningful entitlement reform.

Our debt and spending problem is so massive, even the most aggressive, confiscatory tax plans can’t begin to fill the hole left by profligate legislators and administrations – not to mention the negative economic consequences of such tax schemes. Loading down “must-pass” legislation with other favored projects obscures the issue, and unnecessarily muddies the water in the search for votes.

Failing to address the real spending problem at the heart of repeated “debt ceiling crises” by dismantling the sequester or failing to enact meaningful entitlement reform only makes these issues increasingly hard to tackle and ensures that just a few short months from now we’ll be here again, looking up from the bottom of an even deeper hole.

Go here to tell Congress to “Keep the Caps” and stop the spending binge.

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The Late Edition: October 28, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 10/28/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Costly questions: The National Endowment for the Humanities is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to answer timeless philosophical questions such as “what is the meaning of life?” and “why are people bad?”. The NEH budget runs at about $150 million per year. The Washington Examiner has more.

Failure to navigate: As the new healthcare exchanges still face tech difficulties, the Department of Health and Human Services is adding $13 million to the “Navigator” program that is supposed to help uninsured Americans traverse the new health exchanges. However, even before the program earned a raise, over half of Americans don’t know what the exchanges are and HHS has still refused to release a number of actual enrollees. More details at the Gardner News.

Pricey political food: Members of Cleveland area city councils have spent into the thousands on pre-meeting meals and snacks and using taxpayer money to do so. One council president defended the meals saying, “It is an incidental expense that is well within our authority.” The Cleveland Plain-Dealer has more details.

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Obamacare’s Website Flop Stirs up D.C. with Seton Motley - Speaking of Taxpayers, Oct. 24
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 10/26/13

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!

In an extended podcast, Seton Motley of Less Government talks about the latest developments in the Obamacare debut catastrophe. NTUF's Demian Brady kicks off the podcast with an update on Congress' Florida excursion, and the Outrage of the Week! 

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: The Conference Committee's Agenda
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 10/26/13

Tab Insert

The federal government reopened after a 16-day shutdown last week, and as part of the compromise that will fund the government going forward (at least until January), Congress has established a bi-partisan budget conference committee to try to work out a long-term budget deal by December 13.

The 29-member committee is made up of lawmakers from both Chambers of Congress, and has been tasked with the difficult job of reconciling House and Senate budget proposals that were passed earlier in the year. In order to give taxpayers some insight into who these Members are and what sort of spending (or saving) proposals they've supported in the past, NTUF compiled data from our BillTally project -- which tracks the budgetary impact of all legislation introduced in Congress -- for each Member. The average Democratic committee member supported, on net, $276 million in budget increases, while the average Republican member proposed $271 million in net budget cuts.

For a breakdown by Member, check out the table in the latest issue, available online here.

Also in this week's issue is a breakdown of the possible costs taxpayers might be facing after Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) authorized military transport for Congressmen to attend former Rep. Bill Young's (R-FL) funeral on Thursday in Largo, FL. Few details about the trip's logistics were disclosed, but some of the planes used to transport Members in the past have carried a cost per flight hour ranging anywhere from $15,000 to as high as $43,000. More info is available in the Tab.

To sign up for future Tab updates via email, register online here.

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The Late Edition: October 24, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 10/24/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Common glitches: Amid the Obamacare website’s problematic rollout, Commentary Magazine shows how government websites are notoriously glitchy and prone to tech errors. The best example was the Defense Travel System that cost taxpayers over $500 million beginning in the 1990’s on through the mid-2000’s. The problem, they say, is how the government handles contracting.

Tax credit fraud: The Washington Examiner has found over the last 10 years the IRS has allowed more than $13 billion in bogus claims to pass through their system under the Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit is intended to help the working poor, but has grown into a way to cheat the tax code. Last year Congress hiked the fine for tax preparers who engage in this scheme.

Pay for protest: Nevada union protests have been costing Las Vegas area taxpayers $2,600 per protest to maintain a police presence. The Culinary Union’s protests started on August 17 and have cost taxpayers $93,600 to date and have featured members shouting insults at tourists who enter buildings. Read more on Watchdog Wire.

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The Late Edition: October 23, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 10/23/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Super Bowl Shills: Judicial Watch has obtained documents showing that the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens football team has received $130,000 to cut ads on TV, radio, and online to push the citizens of Maryland to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges.

Solar scheme: Nevada solar panel company SolarCity has reaped big profits for its CEO while leaving customers and taxpayers paying high usage rates. Using a $1.2 million grant from the state of Nevada, the company’s stock price soared, even though it lost $61 million in the first half of 2013. This occurred even after an admission that “Retail rates can be two to three times as high as the wholesale price of electricity.” Read more at WatchdogWire.

Costly ‘glitch’ fixes: Even after spending between $400-600 million on the many rollout ‘glitches’, lawmakers want to throw more taxpayer money at the problem. House Majority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer now says, "We can give them a little money." After the rollout, some tech experts have estimated that it could take months to correct the multitude of problems with the site. The Washington Examiner has more.

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Congressional Flight to Florida: Costs to Consider
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 10/23/13

On Thursday, a contingent of federal lawmakers will be among the thousands expected at a public funeral in Largo, FL, for recently deceased Representative Bill Young (R-FL). At 82 years old, Rep. Young was the longest-serving Republican Member in the House, and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has announced that his Chamber will be in recess so that officials can attend the funeral.

In addition to canceling Thursday's session, Boehner has lifted restrictions on Congressional use of military aircraft that were put in place earlier this year, and arranged for a military flight to carry lawmakers to and from the funeral. The flight will reportedly leave on Thursday morning and return to Washington, D.C. later that evening.

So what might the bill look like for taxpayers, who are footing the trip's cost?

Congressional aides and staff from the Air Force and Department of Defense have not offered any cost estimates for the flight, and have not confirmed the type of aircraft that will be in use or even how many legislators plan to attend. But the House passed a resolution on Tuesday night that will allow Members in attendance to expense the trip using House accounts. The table below summarizes the operational costs of some of the planes the Air Force has used to shuttle Congressmen and their staffs in the past. Costs are based on a four-hour round trip flight between Washington, D.C. and Largo, FL.

Plane Commercial Equivalent Cost Per Flight Hour Total Round Trip Cost
C-20 Gulfstream III $37,839 $151,356
C-32 Boeing 757 $42,918 $171,672
C-37 Gulfstream V, 550 $15,709 $62,836
C-40 Boeing 737 $19,755  $79,020

Source: ELP Defense News.

The number and type of planes used for the trip will depend on how many Members of Congress ultimately decide to attend the funeral.

  • According to Boeing, the C-32 seats 45 passengers and the C-40B can fit 26.
  • Gulfstream's C-37 can carry 4 to 6 executive passengers, while the C-20 can seat about 12.

Although the occasion may be a somber one, the lack of detail concerning the flight's cost and the number of officials who will be attending the funeral once again highlight the matter of transparency surrounding Executive and Legislative Branch travel -- an issue NTUF has raised before. For more on the intricacies of Presidential travel, in particular, be sure to review our report from earlier this year.

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