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Profiles in Liberty: Jihun Han
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/26/14

National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s communications department is always writing. Under the direction of Executive Vice President Pete Sepp and Communications Manager Doug Kellogg, the two communications interns are hard at work producing the media pieces you see on Government Bytes and in national news sources. Our goal is to introduce interns to the media relations field by having them research government programs, identify and connect with reporters and bloggers across the country, and help staff develop better ways to communicate with taxpayers.

NTUF Communications Intern Jihun Han

Jihun Han is one of NTUF’s communications interns and hails from Portland, Oregon. As a junior at Syracuse University, he is double-majoring in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. Jihun has been interested in politics from a young age, but running for President of his high school’s Student Government Association renewed his interest in elections and campaigns, and he has since volunteered for several political campaigns in Oregon. Jihun enjoys learning Mixed Martial Arts and has competed as an amateur -- he is currently undefeated!

How did you become interested in politics?

JH: My dad was a big influence because he is a small business owner who achieved the American Dream. He came to America during the 1980s and started a local chain of grocery stores. In 1st grade, we had to do a show-and-tell presentation on anything we liked, and while most kids did their presentations on summer trips or their favorite toys, my dad encouraged me to do my presentation on George W. Bush, and his presidency to that point. I knew then that politics was going to be something I would study for years to come.

What are your career aspirations?

JH: I want to pursue a career in broadcast journalism. While I’d like to focus my career on sports, I also want to get involved in political commentary. I want to be the conservative Keith Olbermann.

What have you enjoyed most about living in the DC area?

JH: I’ve mostly enjoyed the atmosphere here in Washington, D.C. It’s exciting to work in our nation’s capital! 

Do you have any personal heroes?

JH: I admire Muhammad Ali. Not only is he considered one of the greatest athletes in history, he was also one of the first athletes to express his political views publically. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and was honest with the media, qualities I admire a lot in anyone.

What have you been working on at NTUF?

JH: I have been working on the Late Edition blog posts, which provide taxpayers with the latest news related to where their money is going. Each day I research different policies, from around the country and around the world, which will have an impact on spending and tax revenues. I then pool this information into a convenient list for taxpayers which is published Mondays through Thursdays.

What do you enjoy doing outside of the office?

JH: I enjoy seeing friends, but my time here in Washington, D.C. is mostly dedicated to learning all that I can from this summer and advancing liberty in my own way. I like spending time at conferences and reading up on current events. 

Why did you choose to work at NTUF?

JH: I chose to work at NTUF because taxes affect everyone; these are issues that affect our daily lives. I wanted to work in communications this summer, because I felt that this field would best prepare me for the future I hope to have in broadcast journalism. By working at NTUF, I hope to gain insight into how non-profit organizations interact with various media outlets. At school, I interviewed many different organizations for articles and broadcast wraps, so it’s been interesting (and informative!) to see media from the other side of the equation.

What has been the most interesting thing you’ve researched while at NTUF?

JH: I’ve been interested in the Yoga Tax Bill; it’s more complex than most people realize. While it does add a sales tax on fitness centers, it also includes a tax cut for middle income earners. So, it has become a very polarized issue. One side doesn’t like the bill because it’s adding a sales tax on something which is perceived as generally beneficial, and the other side doesn’t like the fact that it’s adding another tax, but they appreciate that the bill is cutting taxes for that middle income group of taxpayers.  

What advice do you have for future interns?

JH: Embrace failure. There will be times when you’re struggling with something, or it just doesn’t turn out at all how you had hoped. It’s important to recognize failures and learn from the mistakes you’ve made. Overcoming failure can make you a stronger and better person than before. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice about better ways to do whatever you’re working on. People are generally willing to help you if you’re struggling with something new!

Stay tuned to Government Bytes for an interview with Ian Johnson. Be sure to check out our previous interview with Research Intern Steve Adams.

Interested in learning about the other interns at the Foundation this summer? Want to find out what you can do to help the NTUF interns? Check out this post.

Thanks to Catherine Fitzhugh for developing the Profiles in Liberty series and interviewing our interns.

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What Budget Florida’s 19th District Voters Elected
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/25/14

Yesterday, voters in the from Fort Myers to Marco Island in Florida elected Republican Curt Clawson as their replacement for Congressman Trey Radel (R-FL), who resigned in January. Curt Clawson received 67 percent of the vote with Democrat April Freeman receiving almost 30 percent. Now with the newest Member of the House of Representatives decided, taxpayers are still left with questions as to what measures Congressman-Elect Clawson will push for to change federal spending.

How might spending change with the addition of Curt Clawson to the House? It’s hard to tell. On Friday, I posted a breakdown of all of the potential budgetary measures that were proposed by the three front runners (including Libertarian Ray Netherwood). The line-by-line report took the candidates’ direct quotes and campaign materials and matched them with scored legislation and budgetary data. My conclusion: It was time for the campaigns to give Americans more details. I was only able to score two of Clawson’s proposals. Some were too broad to be directly linked with a price tag while others were unclear in exactly how they would reform a particular program or government activity. April Freeman and Ray Netherwood were not any clearer.

Now with the campaigns over with, Curt Clawson has the opportunity to clarify his positions.

What we know: Both of Clawson’s scored proposals would cut federal spending, combined by $395.8 billion for each of the next five years. One would be to cap the budget at 19 percent of GDP (-$331.9 billion) and the other would repeal the Affordable Care Act (-$63.9 billion).

What we don’t know: Quite a bit. Ten of his twelve policy items currently carry unknown budgetary changes. Here are three categories that do not necessarily include all of his proposals:

  • Block Grants: He would seek to block grant both education and Medicaid funds to the states, which NTUF could not determine if he would then decrease spending or if the measures would serve to streamline funding pathways (both could mean administrative savings as programs are consolidated and fewer federal workers are needed to oversee the more direct system).
  • Regulatory Approvals: Clawson talked at length about getting Congress more active in the regulatory approval process. There are currently three major bills that would attempt to accomplish this but the Congressional Budget Office is unable to score such measures. This is due to the conditional nature of which regulations would be kept, changed, or repealed once the procedural reforms are signed into law.
  • Flood Insurance: He said that the federal government should keep its commitments made to those participating in the National Flood Insurance Program and not change “the deal” given to policyholders. It is difficult to tell whether Clawson is supporting recently passed legislation that extends current rates while the Federal Emergency Management Agency better determines their formulas and rate maps (a $900 million five-year cost to taxpayers) or if he seeks to make the existing rates permanent (and thereby increasing federal spending by at least the $900 million).

What all of this means: Without a more complete fiscal picture, it is difficult to know what to expect from the new Congressman. Many of his proposals would likely decrease federal expenditures but it is difficult to say whether or not possible new spending would be offset by those savings. The dollar-figures just are not there right now. Clawson has pledged to bring about pro-growth tax policy, spending restraint, and to reign in out-of-control government. In order to do so, he will need legislative measures, some of which will include spending changes.

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Washington D.C. Approves Tax Cut Reform; Senator Rob Portman Calls for Corporate Tax Cut – Late Edition, June 25
Posted By: Jihun Han - 06/25/14

Today's Taxpayer News!

The D.C. City Council approved the so-called “yoga tax” bill on Tuesday that will enact income tax cuts, while also expanding the sales tax base. The bill passed with an overwhelming 12-1 vote. The Washington Post has the breakdown of the bill!

Senator Rob Portman has called for tax reform that includes a corporate income tax cut to keep American jobs from going abroad. Newsmax has the latest on his proposal!

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Government Spending Gone Wild: California’s Record Setting Budget
Posted By: Melodie Bowler - 06/24/14

California legislators and Governor Jerry Brown just approved the state’s largest budget to date at $156.3 billion, continuing the Golden State’s affinity for out-of-control spending. The budget plan, which goes into effect on July 1st, includes funding for greater preschool access, increasing welfare grants, and expanding public health care. Despite the looming $74 billion unfunded teachers’ pension liability, lawmakers even included plenty of funding for the high-speed railway.

In 2008, Californians voted in favor of Proposition 1A, approving borrowing over $9 billion to fund a high-speed railway that could take a train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in only 2 hours and 40 minutes. The ballot measure was backed by 8,000 words of legislation, now under close scrutiny. Last November, a Sacramento judge ruled that the state agency was not in compliance with the strict language of the proposition. With those funds tied up in court, the recent budget allots 25 percent of profits from the state’s cap and trade program for construction.

The budget sets the general fund, which pays for most of California’s expenditures, at $108 billion, a major 9.6 percent boost over last year. Income taxes supplied 67 percent of the general fund for fiscal year 2012-2013, and the latest budget relies on the income and sales tax increases from a November 2012 ballot initiative. These increases expire after seven and four years, respectively, which will likely leave legislators scrambling for new revenue to maintain the state’s reckless spending.

California is oft noted for its fiscal troubles, having one of the worst credit ratings of all of the states, second to Illinois. Some of these difficulties stem from not saving during times of expansion to prepare for future recessions. In an effort to change, the legislature has deferred to voters the final decision on the California Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund Act. If passed, the proposition would require the state’s controller to deposit 1.5 percent of general fund and capital gains revenues into the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) when they exceed 8 percent of the general fund.

This savings plan could improve California’s credit rating, but first, the state must pay down its debt. The proposition would also require that starting in 2015 and lasting until 2030, 50 percent of BSA revenues be used to pay outstanding fiscal obligations. While this might be a step in the right direction, based on current projections of general fund revenues and California’s debts, it will take decades for the state to pay its obligations and the BSA will grow at a glacial pace. With high-speed rail construction estimated to cost $68 billion and last until 2029, it’s clear that California legislators should reassess priorities and focus on maintaining financial solvency. This will require taking bolder steps toward reining in state spending and imposing real fiscal discipline in Sacramento.

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Health Care Spending Increasing Amidst Uncertainty
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 06/24/14

For the first time in five years, the rate of growth in healthcare spending is projected to increase from the previous year. Those are the findings in a new report from major consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which forecasts a 6.8 percent growth in health industry spending in 2015. But what does that mean for consumers and taxpayers?

According to the PwC report, several key factors will contribute to more healthcare spending in 2015:

  • Better economic conditions. Although the economic recovery has been slow, the report projects that increased consumer confidence will lead to more Americans seeking medical treatment in the next year.
  • Higher costs for specialty treatments. Specialty drugs and treatment options aren't getting any cheaper in the short term, but the report notes that development of these technologies could result in long run savings.
  • Large-scale mergers and acquisitions. As larger hospitals consolidate and buy other hospitals and smaller practices, costs increase in two ways. There are the logistical and technical costs associated with hospital mergers, including investments in new IT services and data integration; these costs are usually passed on to the patient. Acquisitions of smaller physician practices also means higher costs for patients, since hospitals are able to charge insurance providers higher rates than in-house physicians.

Importantly, the report attributes a significant portion of new healthcare spending to newly-insured Americans who qualified for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will be shopping for coverage options. Next year also happens to be the deadline by which state-run insurance exchanges must become self-sufficient according to the law, but as health spending and enrollment in ACA plans is projected to grow, many states aren't sure how they'll pay those bills.

As Sarah Kliff at notes, the federal government has already issued $4.6 billion in taxpayer-funded grants to help states launch their own insurance marketplaces. At least 15 of the 17 states that opted to run their own exchanges have indicated that they will continue to do so in 2015, and in light of considerable uncertainty about how much it'll take to finance them, that could mean either:

  • continued reliance on federal grant money;
  • charging insurers a fee to sell plans through the exchanges (which presumably would be passed on to the consumer);
  • millions of dollars in new appropriations from state governments; or
  • some combination of those three options.

Regardless of which path states choose to take, significant spending will be required to keep up with increasing healthcare costs. As the PwC report notes:

"A stronger economy and millions of newly insured Americans mean an uptick in spending growth for healthcare organizations. That may be a welcome respite from recent years of budgetary pressure. But the fact that health spending continues to outpace GDP underscores the need for a renewed focus on productivity, efficiency, and, ultimately, delivering better value for purchasers."
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Steve Forbes on Fiat Monetary Systems
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/24/14

New Steve Forbes BookIf you’ve ever felt intimidated by the complexities of U.S. monetary policy and the financial system, you’re not alone.  According to Steve Forbes, CEO of Forbes, Inc. and two-time candidate for Republican nominee, even neurophysicists and engineers are often perplexed by our country’s monetary system due to confusion propagated by the Federal Reserve.  In his new book, Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy – and What We Can Do About It, Forbes and coauthor Elizabeth Ames try to remove the veil of confusion surrounding the U.S. monetary system, assessing the Fed’s role in the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent declining economic growth rates.  The book, which has received praise from prominent policy experts, Ph.Ds., and CEOs, argues that fiat money and Fed interventionism have greatly weakened the U.S. monetary system and financial market.  The authors suggest a return to the gold standard as a solution to this potentially disastrous problem that threatens the well-being of American citizens and the entire global economy.  

Forbes explained the premise of his argument for a stable currency that is convertible to gold at a book forum hosted by the Cato Institute.  He claimed that the government has a responsibility to “provide sound money” that is “unchanging in its value,” citing the Constitution and U.S. Monetary Commission of 1876, respectively.  According to Forbes, a stable currency leads to less uncertainty, resulting in more economic freedom and prosperity.  Conversely, fiat money, which is based entirely on trust in the government, increases uncertainty and the size of government, ultimately leading to economic volatility.  The Fed’s ability to manipulate interest rates (which some economists refer to as “the price of money”) undermines that trust and disrupts communication in financial markets by corrupting price signals.  For example, when the Fed lowers the Federal Funds Rate, it encourages risk-taking in unproductive entrepreneurial activities that waste resources and would not occur in a freer financial system.  In contrast, artificially high rates inhibit productive investments, preventing future economic growth.  This economic loss is difficult to grasp because it is impossible to miss products, technologies, and services that do not exist in present society.  To illustrate his point, Forbes asked the audience to imagine a world without Apple products.  If you didn’t get the picture before, it quickly became apparent.  Forbes claimed that if the monetary system hadn’t been taken off the gold standard in 1971, the U.S. economy would be fifty percent larger than it is today.

Forbes’s coauthor Elizabeth Ames further explained how a fiat monetary system is a danger to democratic society and should be a bipartisan concern.  As the Fed continuously increases the money supply and inflation skyrockets, the value of the dollar decreases, eroding citizens’ savings.  A monetary system in which the currency is not fixed to a commodity can be arbitrarily increased, which effectively levies a tax on everyone.  The link between effort and reward is severed as inflation destroys the wealth of citizens on fixed incomes, and artificially low rates benefit borrowers in the financial sector. Ames posited that while this pattern has widespread financial ramifications, it also impacts society on a social level, citing research that shows inflation has a stronger connection to crime than unemployment. Although the current fiat monetary system should be a matter of bipartisan concern, the monetary expansion that has occurred over the last forty years has actually led to increased political polarization and dissension in society.

After presenting their case against fiat monetary policy, Forbes and Ames provide a solution to our monetary woes, suggesting a return to the gold standard.  They believe tying the dollar to gold will restore the trust and communication in the financial market that has been destroyed by unstable currency.  They suggested gold is the ideal commodity to represent monetary value because it is flexible to maintain market needs, rare (but not too rare), convertible, durable, malleable, easy to transport, and maintains its intrinsic value, and argued that fixing the dollar to gold should be codified into law as an act of Congress.  In their view, the measure would not result in a restriction of the money supply’s ability to expand, but rather a monetary system in which the supply of money accurately reflects the value of goods and services produced in society. 

Forbes, who serves on the Boards of Directors for the National Taxpayers Union, has been a long-time supporter of comprehensive tax system reform.  He has called for a move towards a simple, flat-rate income tax system.  As our economy continues to suffer in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Forbes’s proposal to return to the gold standard offers policymakers a potential solution to the nation’s monetary troubles.      

Thanks to Kelly Hastings for writing this summary.

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Profiles in Liberty: Steve Adams
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/23/14

NTUF tries to school interns with the skills they need to succeed. During their time at NTUF Headquarters, research interns are given the title of Associate Policy Analysts and conduct much of the same research as full-time staffers. Through the months of reading legislation, conversing with personnel, and getting used to working in an office environment, we aim to help them excel, regardless of whether they end up in public policy.

NTUF Research Intern Steve Adams

Steve Adams is one of our Associate Policy Analysts. He grew up in Varina, Virginia, and attends Hampden-Sydney College. Entering college as a Physics major, he plans to graduate next year with a BA in Government. In previous summers, Steve worked as a rental car sales associate and has taken advantage of many internships; last summer he had the privilege of interning in the Congressional Office of Representative Robert Hurt, who represents Virginia’s Fifth District.

What has interested you most about living in the DC area?

SA: Growing up in a very rural town and attending college in a rural area, I haven’t had very much exposure to the “city life.” My experience over the past two and half weeks - though it has been a bit of an adjustment - has revealed to me why many folks find urban life so intriguing and desirable. There are definitely more things to do. Furthermore, the idea that so many important things are going on just a block or two away from my apartment is incredible. I can be sitting in my room simply watching baseball on TV and four blocks away, President Obama is sitting in the Oval Office making crucial decisions that dictate the future of our nation. It’s very humbling.

When you’re not at the office, what do you like to do for fun?

SA: I’ve been fortunate, and have made several solid friendships with my fellow interns at NTUF. If I’m not spending time with them, I’m spending time with the many college friends who are working in the DC area. Though I’m not from around here, I’m fortunate enough to know quite a few people that are living in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. 

What is one honor you have received in which you took great pride?

SA: I received a nomination to attend the United States Naval Academy. Unfortunately, because of my colorblindness, I was unable to attend. But, the honor of being deemed suitable and worthy to attend one of the greatest institutions of higher education in the world will always mean something to me.

Who is your political hero?

SA: For some time, Alexander Hamilton has been a political hero of mine. Born out of wedlock as a very poor, mixed race child in the Caribbean, Alexander Hamilton had many hardships to overcome. Despite his socioeconomic status, he rose to become one of the prominent political leaders of the 18th century and one of our key founding fathers. Were it not for his contributions to the Federalist Papers, there’s a reasonable chance that the Constitution would not have been ratified. His economic policies as the Secretary of the Treasury helped a struggling American economy recover from a severe depression in the 1780s, and his view of the power of the executive as outlined in the Pacificus Papers revolutionized the role of the executive branch in a way that (in my opinion) contributed to the success of the U.S. in both its early years and throughout its entire existence. 

How did you become interested in politics?

SA: I wasn’t interested in politics until I took an AP Government class in 12th grade. My teacher, Mr. Boggs, was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about politics, and his class developed my interest in the subject. It was because of that class that I changed my college major from Physics to Government, and the rest is history. 

What are your career aspirations?

SA: My career goals, like everything, are still developing. Though I’ve always dreamed of pursuing a career in public office, the changing political climate has me second-guessing that aspiration. Nevertheless, I want to be involved in Congressional affairs and/or public policy in some way or another. NTUF is the perfect organization to prepare me for this, as my responsibilities expose me to the actions of Congress, the inner workings of public policy, and the importance of tax reform. 

What is a standard day at NTUF like for you?

SA: I grab a stack of proposed bills and begin researching. My research beings by looking through the text of the bill itself. Every now and then a bill will specify the amount of money that would be appropriated to fund a project or action. If it does not, however, I check the Congressional Budget Office for a spending estimate on the bill, but finding a CBO estimate is like finding a six-leaf clover. After that, the next step is typically contacting the sponsor’s office to see if they have an approximation of the spending or savings that would occur if the bill is enacted.

What have you learned while at NTUF that has most interested you?

SA: Undoubtedly, the most interesting thing that I have learned is how difficult it can be to figure out how much bills cost. Sometimes bills are so complicated that even the legislators who propose them and their staff know little about their cost.

What is the most interesting bill which you have researched?

SA: The most interesting bill I have researched thus far has been a sunset act. The bill would establish a commission to review federal agencies to see if they are being efficient and effective, as well as to see if there is still a public need for the agency. The commission would then be able to abolish agencies where they determine that a public need no longer exists.

Stay tuned for an interview with Jihun Han. Be sure to check out our previous interview with Research Intern Daniel Simmons.

Interested in learning about the other interns working for the Foundation this summer? Want to help the NTUF interns? Check out this post.

Thanks to Catherine Fitzhugh for developing the Profiles in Liberty series and interviewing our interns.

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Spain Looks to Cut Taxes; IRS Commissioner Refuses to Apologize for Lost Emails; McCarthy Says to Let Ex-Im Bank Expire? – Late Edition, June 23
Posted By: Jihun Han - 06/23/14

Today's Taxpayer News! 

Spain has proposed massive tax cuts in a country that is still recovering from a double-dip recession. The reforms would also widen the tax base. Reuters has the latest!

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen appeared in front of the House Ways and Means Committee to explain the lost IRS emails related to the Tea Party targeting investigation, refusing to apologize... Politico has the breakdown of the hearing!

House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy won't support reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which is set to expire in September. The bank puts taxpayers potentially on the hook for billions of dollars in loans for foreign buyers. 

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Net Neutrality Take-Down with Seton Motley of Less Government - Speaking of Taxpayers, June 20
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 06/23/14

Perhaps you've seen HBO's John Oliver rant about net neutrality, or heard some talking head going on about it? Less Government's Seton Motley joins the podcast to take-down wrong-headed arguments in favor of this misguided set of regulations. Pete & Doug break down the latest taxpayer news; and the Outrage of the Week!

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Taxpayer-Funded Stock Options?
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 06/22/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) is a type of benefit program that gives workers the chance to own stock in the companies they work for. The idea is that employee ownership better aligns shareholders' interests with workers' incentives -- since an ESOP rewards both groups for better stock performance. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wants more companies to offer these benefits, and recently introduced legislation, known as the United States Employee Ownership Bank Act, that would offer public funding to help more businesses start their own ESOP programs. The bill authorizes $500 million in new financing to create a fund within the Treasury that would do just that.

NTUF analyzed the bill's background and what it could mean for taxpayers in the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab. This week's edition also features:

  • Most Expensive: Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation that would fund research and development of carbon capture and storage technology. The Carbon Capture and Sequestration Deployment Act of 2014 offers $20 billion in guaranteed loans, and could cost taxpayers $984 million over the next five years.
  • Most Friended: The Veterans Affairs scandal has renewed debate over how vets access the medical care they're promised, and Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) has introduced legislation that would allow them to more easily seek treatment at non-VA medical centers. The Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014 gained 158 cosponsors, and according to Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost at least $620 million over the next three years. 
  • Intern Spotlight: Foundation Associates Sam Jordan and Gordon Miller are featured in the latest installments of "Profiles in Liberty," which will spotlight the work our interns are doing this summer.

For more details on these bills and what else NTUF's been up to, check out The Tab online.

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