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"Deficit Reduction"
Posted By: Demian Brady - 12/12/13

Appealing to skeptics of the Ryan-Murray budget compromise, Speaker John Boehner urged, “Listen, if you’re for deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.” The plan would increase spending now and offset it over the next ten years. Spending now, deficit reduction … later. This sort of budgeting is the reason the federal government has chronic deficits.

Somewhere, Lucy Van Pelt is holding a football, waiting for someone to try and kick it.

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This Backloaded Budget Deal Is Bad News for Taxpayers
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 12/12/13

After spending some additional time reviewing the budget deal, it keeps looking worse and worse for taxpayers.  The deal’s architects are trumpeting the notion that it will reduce the deficit by $23 billion over ten years.  This is technically true.  But the bill is so incredibly backloaded that it will actually increase the deficit by approximately $26 billion over an eight-year window.

It’s not until the last two years of the deal that things begin to improve. That’s because the largest piece of deficit reduction, $28 billion, comes from merely extending into 2022 and 2023 the mandatory spending caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 – the same bill that created the “sequester” many lawmakers have been eager to ditch.  If you pull out that provision, you’re left with a bill that would increase the deficit by about $5 billion. 

Taxpayers should be very concerned about the ability of Congress to keep long-term spending reductions on the books. But we can all be certain that in the near term, the $63 billion in spending hikes scheduled for 2014 and 2015 will take place.

And there’s the rub when it comes to this bill. Taxpayers are being asked to trade today’s spending hikes for tomorrow’s spending cuts. The deal’s proponents promise us that the cuts will occur because they will be part of the law.  But the sequester they are trying to undo is part of the law, too. If Congress can’t be trusted to stick to current law and abide by the sequester’s spending caps, how can it be trusted to pare back spending nine or ten years from now?

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Report on America’s “Broken” Tax System Shows Cracks of Its Own
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 12/12/13

Many voices, on various points of the political spectrum, concur that America’s corporate tax system is afflicted with a high rate, mind-numbing complexity, and heavy compliance burdens. Yet, the Center for Effective Government recently came out with a report attempting to demonstrate that there is no correlation between lower corporate tax rates and job creation. And while practically everyone agrees with the first line of the report’s Executive Summary – “The American corporate tax system is badly broken” – that’s not a good reason to buy all of its other conclusions.

The report states that, “Our examination of the evidence found no relationship between cutting tax rates on corporate profits and job growth.” And therein lies one major problem – the “evidence” itself.  As with a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, which we critiqued here, using a sample over a small window of time to calculate effective tax rates does not give a complete picture.

The time period used in the report – 2008 to 2012 – was one of abysmal job creation across the entire economy due to the severity of the Great Recession. Furthermore, corporations have demonstrated time and again how profits and losses fluctuate over several years based on expenditures such as research and development. So tying low job growth during a recession to tax rates over a short time period can’t possibly tell the whole story.

Connecting higher corporate taxes directly to increased job creation, without taking into account other factors – such as a given company’s industrial sector – is also tricky. It’s important to adjust for other reasons why tax rates may have been lower or higher (higher capital expenditures for which deductions apply) or why job creation may have increased or decreased (strength of an industry).

Although the report does acknowledge some need to overhaul the tax system, the agenda is clear in its data presentations, which purport to show why businesses must contribute more of the “revenue needed to invest in modernizing the transportation, information, communications, and energy infrastructure.”  In current budget lingo, “invest” is often code for “spend a whole lot more.” Furthermore, as my colleagues at the Tax Foundation ably pointed out, the study utilized “apples to oranges” comparisons of corporate profits and corporate taxes to paint a distorted picture.

Also tellingly, the study’s introduction notes that had businesses paid the 35 percent tax rate on all of their profits, “total corporate tax receipts would have been $630 billion (rather than the $242 billion they actually paid), and the deficit would have been reduced by nearly a third.” Of course, the same could be said for individuals: after all, if only America’s families would just cough up more at the regular statutory tax rates, instead of taking those pesky write-offs for things like mortgage interest, charitable contributions, or state and local tax payments, why the Treasury could be flush with surpluses.

The bottom line is that country after country continues to lower their corporate tax rates and simplify their taxpaying procedures, and they are doing this for a reason – to attract business and create job growth. Meanwhile, the U.S. tax system, with the worst rate in the industrialized world, continues to be a laggard in pursuing tax reform. Here’s hoping policymakers stop pointing fingers and start pointing the tax law in a better direction. 

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Ryan-Murray Budget Compromise Set to Increase Spending
Posted By: Demian Brady - 12/11/13

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its cost estimate for the provisions of the Ryan-Murray budget compromise, known as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. As was widely reported, the House's and Senate's budget leaders crafted their compromise around reducing the discretionary spending limits set in place under the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011. These cuts, automatically enforced across-the-board through a process known as sequestration, were effective and helped rein in the budget: not since the 1950s had federal spending dropped in two consecutive years. The numbers reported by the CBO show that this budget compromise would weaken the fiscal discipline that Congress and the President agreed to just a few years ago.

The Ryan-Murray compromise would lift the budget caps by nearly $45 billion in FY 2014 and $19 billion in FY 2015. The new spending resulting from gutting the caps would be spread over the next six years, but the bulk would occur in the first two years: $26.3 billion (42 percent) in the first year and $21.6 billion (35 percent) in the second year. At an annualized rate, spending would increase by an average of $12.4 billion through the first five years.

A part of this new spending would be offset through various changes in direct spending. Unfortunately, on an annualized rate, the spending cuts will not keep pace with the increases. While nearly 75 percent of the new spending occurs up front, nearly 75 percent of these savings occur after the first five-year budget window. The proposals would reduce spending by $19.5 billion through the first five years and by an additional $58.8 billion over the next five years. At an annualized rate, the changes to direct spending programs would save $3.9 billion a year through the first five years.

While many of the direct spending changes would enact some real reforms, such as increasing the amounts that new federal employees and members of the military will contribute towards their pensions (a savings of $1 billion over five years and $6 billion over 10 years), or reducing fraudulent payments to inmates ($33 million over five years and $80 million over 10 years), a large portion of the savings would result from increases in user fees and premiums.

The Ryan-Murray plan would increase aviation security fees, extend customs user fees by two years (currently set to expire in 2021), establish a new user fee for beneficiaries of conservation planning technical assistance, and would increase premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Combined, these four proposals account for $8.8 billion in savings through five years -- 45 percent of the total savings reported by the CBO.

On net, the Ryan-Murray plan would increase spending by $42.3 billion over the next five years, and, on paper, would eventually lead to spending cuts of $16 billion through 10 years. But if Congress can't even abide by the modest discipline it imposed on itself just a few years ago, it would be foolish to believe in the durability of these long-term, promised cuts.

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(AUDIO) “Common Ground” Report Finds $500 Billion in Savings Everyone Should Support - Speaking of Taxpayers, Dec. 5
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 12/11/13

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! 

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: The $109 Billion Question
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 12/07/13

Tab Insert

In the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF explores the fiscal ramifications of repealing or altering sequester cuts in 2014, as both parties have said they're open to doing if it means reaching a deal in the ongoing budget negotiations. It turns out that repealing the $109 billion in 2014 sequester cuts could increase federal spending by over $26 billion annually over the next four years.

Also featured in the newest issue:

  • Most Expensive: Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced H.R. 3546/S. 1747, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2013, to extend eligibility for emergency unemployment benefits for another year. It would increase spending by $25.7 billion over five years, or $12.8 billion annually.
  • Least Expensive: Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) sponsored H.R. 3486/S. 1702, the Transportation Empowerment Act, in an effort to transfer authority over certain federally-managed roads and highways to the states. It would also gradually reduce the federal gas tax over the next five years. The bill would decrease spending by $17.8 billion annually from 2015-2018.
  • Wildcard: Thanks to a new EPA regulation stipulating the amount of lead allowed in plumbing devices, some cities may have to scrap their current supplies of replacement fire hydrants. Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) introduced H.R. 3588, The Community Fire Safety Act of 2013, to address the law and exempt fire hydrants from the lead requirements. It would not significantly affect federal spending.

For more on these bills and their sponsors, check out the latest edition of the Tab online here. You can also sign up to recieve future updates in your inbox.

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'Tis The Season... For More Taxes
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 12/06/13

Holiday shoppers will already be hit with a number of taxes on the presents they put under the tree this Christmas season. But if Congress has its way, they could be facing an additional tax on the tree itself.

A provision in the latest farm bill would institute a 15 cent tax on the sale of Christmas trees, which would fund a Christmas Tree Promotion Board, dedicated to encouraging tree sales and "enhanc[ing] the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States." The proposal is not a new one; in fact, NTUF has covered it twice before: once in 2011, and again earlier this year.

Although many were under the impression that the tax originated within the Obama administration, the Christmas tree industry itself pursued the fee through a regulatory process established by Congressional Republicans. The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 enacted "checkoff" programs, which support within the agricultural industry functions similar to those seen in traditional labor unions. Checkoff funds for beef, dairy, eggs, and other products are funded by producers of those goods; the money is then used to promote and market their products, as well as conduct research on the industry's behalf. There are currently 19 different "checkoff" funds, for products as varied as processed raspberries, hass avocados, popcorn, and even softwood lumber.

Legislation was introduced earlier in the 113th Congress to establish a new "checkoff" fund for concrete masonry, as covered in the Taxpayer's Tab.

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The Late Edition: December 5, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 12/05/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Mismanagement of foreign funds:  A federal watchdog agency is accusing the military of faulty risk assessment and negligent accounting of funds assigned for military aid in Afghanistan. The LA Times has more.

Costly Calendars: State Representatives in Texas are spending thousands on the printing of select few calendars to be sent as gifts. One representative’s calendars cost $11,000. More at details at KENS5.

Scammer sentenced: The head of a U.S. Navy contractor that scammed the department out of $18 million was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the scheme. NBC10 has more information.

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The Late Edition: December 4, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 12/04/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

IT fail: The IRS update of the 140 million taxpayer master file to a high tech date hub has been fraught with overspending and missed deadlines costing $83 million. This system was previously heralded as “a rare federal IT success story.” More from the Fiscal Times.

Too much cheer: The city of El Paso spent $25,000 of taxpayer money on a giant holiday light display. One resident admitted, "We thought it was going to be really big but it just wasn't what we thought it was." KeyeTV has more details.

Health records waste: After the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs abandoned their efforts to build an electronic medical records system, a new report now shows that the deserted project cost taxpayers $1.1 billion. The Fiscal Times has the costly story.

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Spotlight On Sequestration
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 12/04/13

In addition to three new and notable bills we've recently scored, NTUF is dedicating a portion of this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab to an issue that could play a pivotal role in the ongoing budget discussions: sequestration.

The automatic, across-the-board cuts went into effect earlier this year, and have impacted a wide range of government agencies and programs. The budget committee that's been tasked with finding common ground between House and Senate budget proposals is already facing pushback from lawmakers who want the sequester repealed or replaced.

There have been several attempts in the 113th Congress to repeal the cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in 2014. For reference, a brief outline of those bills:

  • H.R. 505: Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-MI) Balancing Act would repeal the sequester cuts in their entirety and replace them with tax increases for corporations and individuals. It would also increase investment in infrastructure projects and job training, and restrict certain types of military spending.
  • H.R. 699: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the Stop the Sequester Job Loss Now Act in February. In addition to repealing the 2013 cuts and modifying several provisions in the tax code, Rep. Van Hollen's bill sought to reduce 2014 budget cuts by $27.5 billion.
  • H.R. 849: Under Adam Smith's (D-WA) Sequestration Relief Act of 2013, sequester cuts would be repealed and partially offset by a reduction in discretionary spending caps.
  • H.R. 857: The Protect Troops at War Act, introduced by Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), would eliminate 2013 and 2014 sequester cuts to the Department of Defense.
  • H.R. 900: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013, which, as the name implies, would outright repeal all scheduled sequester cuts.
  • H.R. 2060: Rep. Van Hollen also introduced this bill, which would repeal (rather than reduce) the 2014 sequester and lower discretionary defense spending limits.
  • S. 388: Senator Barbara Mikulski's (D-MD) American Family Economic Protection Act of 2013 would reduce 2014 sequestration cuts, adjust tax rates for wealthy individuals, and eliminate certain direct payments to agricultural producers.

Most of the legislation discussed above varies significantly in scope and specificity, which makes a blanket cost estimate for any attempt at 2014 sequester repeal difficult to formulate. However, NTUF arrived at a score using the $109.3 billion total 2014 sequester level and the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of how outlays would be affected in the case of a 2013 repeal. By analyzing CBO's projected yearly outlay effects as a percentage of that year's total authorizations, we estimated that if the 2014 sequester were repealed entirely, federal spending would increase by $105.6 billion over four years, or $26.4 billion annually. Note that our estimate is preliminary and subject to revision should new information become available.

Whether sequester cuts are maintained, repealed, reduced, or replaced by some combination of tax hikes and other spending reductions, the implications for taxpayers could be significant.

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