|America's independent, non-partisan advocate for overburdened taxpayers.||Home | Donate | RSS | Log in|
Only in the Internet era…
A parody article is making the rounds online, and apparently causing quite a bit of confusion. The article outlines a fictitious situation where food stamp recipients can supposedly unionize.
National Taxpayers Union had nothing to do with the creation of the article, and no knowledge of it.
It has fooled enough people out there that it required clarification. Back to your regularly scheduled programming…3 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
It's no secret that modern ex-Presidents are usually very wealthy. Speaking engagements, book tours, and other private business pursuits away from Pennsylvania Avenue have earned the four living former Presidents -- Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton -- substantial sums of money in recent years. So it may come as a surprise to some that these former Chief Executives are also eligible for millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded retirement benefits, including travel expenses, office and administrative funds, and a $200,000 pension. In this week's Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF examined some of the history behind these programs and how former Presidents are using the funds Congress has authorized them to use.
With the passage of the Former Presidents Act (FPA) in 1958, Congress authorized funding for certain administrative tasks associated with the President's transition into private life. The FPA was introduced in response to Harry Truman's financial difficulties in his life beyond the White House, particularly his inability to respond to the massive volume of mail he continued to receive from citizens still interested in his post-Presidential doings and opinions. The assistance given to modern ex-Presidents includes $1 million in travel expenses, health benefits (assuming 5 years' enrollment in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program), subsidized office rent, and office staff funding. Additionally, ex-Presidents are eligible for a $199,700 pension, which is tied to the salary of the head of any Executive Department.
In Fiscal Year 2012, the General Services Administration spent $3,671,000 on benefits for former Presidents. The infographic below shows the totals for each of the past 5 years, broken down by President:
In the 113th Congress, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has re-introduced the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act, H.R. 248. The bill would limit former Presidents' benefits to $200,000 per year, and do away with office & administrative subsidies, travel expenses, and reduce benefits by $1 for every dollar over $400,000 an ex-President earns in a year.5 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!
Bob Filner's scandal, settlement, & resignation may have him down for the moment, but a $59K per year, $1.19 million lifetime, pension might turn that frown upside down. Plus, retired Presidents rake in public money; and the Outrage of the Week!
On Friday, NTU Foundation sent out the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab -- a weekly update of BillTally research -- and we got quite a few replies from Tab subscribers. Below is a selection of those responses and some further detail:
"[DC Statehood] looks like another money pit that should be avoided. If Congress does anything it should be the least expensive fix." – Stephen F
If D.C. was made a full-fledged state, federal spending could technically go down. How? The District government would be given the authority to levy taxes on residents and consumers, which would go towards city operating budgets and require less federal tax dollars. This, of course, assumes that the D.C. and federal governments would react to the new tax scheme by balancing spending in a revenue-neutral way.
In regards to the "least expensive fix" to the question of D.C. statehood vs. territorial rights, there are a couple of ways to look at it. NTUF's BillTally project only tracks proposed changes in federal spending, so, if D.C. was made a regular territory, like Puerto Rico or Guam, residents would not pay the full federal income tax. This would result in lower tax revenues. On the other hand, by making D.C. a state, the federal government would spend less direct money on the city and switch to transfer payments, like Medicaid matching funds. From our analysis, we assume that making D.C. a state would ultimately lead to more spending.
"The main reason for not granting statehood to Washington, D.C. is that our seat of national government would be subject to a single state, i.e. New Columbia, instead of retaining power over a small (10 square miles), exceedingly vocal population of 750,000 who continue to demonstrate their incapability to govern their own potholes, education system, and parking maze of signs. Anyone who has worked or lived there knows firsthand." – Larry K
We alluded to a situation in 1783 where unpaid soldiers besieged Congress in Philadelphia and the city did not prevent or break up the so-called Pennsylvania Mutiny. James Madison later argued that a national government would need a federalized city to have the authority to guarantee its own safety. However, when it comes to the District maintaining local infrastructure and education, it is a complicated issue. One argument is that the District should be able to exert more local control to spend money on targeted projects/improvements, either as a state or a city government with more autonomy. Others side with the Constitution, thinking that if Congress thinks it can help run a country, it ought to be able to properly operate a city.
"[DC Statehood] is extremely interesting from a Constitutional viewpoint and also a historical viewpoint ... BUT it would certainly bring about more Democratic Senators (2) and 2 more Democratic Congressmen. I say, let's move the capitol to northwestern Kansas (where it gets pretty chilly and snowy in the winter and subject to tornadoes in the warmer months). There is also the lingering question about Puerto Rico as well." – Red M
Looking at legislation introduced so far in the 113th Congress, I haven't seen any bill that would move the nation's capitol across the country. But a few things to consider if you’d want to do that. Rural Kansas does not have anywhere close to the infrastructure that could support all the government offices that would be required there (think Congress, the President, support personnel for them and cabinet agencies, and protection), not to mention the day-to-day private economy like food sellers, construction workers, and housing. To accomplish a move, you would have to have a massive government spending increase. One other point, by moving out to Kansas, are you anticipating any future D.C. Representative or Senator to lean Republican? If so, how do you justify such a move to those on the other side of the aisle?
"I'm opposed to them having Senators or statehood as such but I’m ok with them having a Representative based on their population." – John D
Depending on your exact intensions, John D, it still does not solve the current problem. Washington D.C. residents do not live in a state and so are not represented in Congress BUT, unless all of the U.S.'s territories and protectorates, those same residents are required to pay federal income taxes. This is where the "Taxation Without Representation" argument gains ground. So the possible solutions, at least highlighted in the latest Taxpayer's Tab, include expanding local D.C. autonomy, granting statehood or making D.C. apart of Maryland, or (as a quick technical fix) exempting D.C. residents from federal income taxes.
"I think Congress should retrocede the District back to Maryland." – Elsie G
An interesting idea, Elsie G. This would avoid granting D.C. statehood while giving local residents proper representation and taxation. However, as mentioned above, there remains the question of having Congress guarantee its own safety. If D.C. is retroceded back to Maryland, it is unclear whether or not Congress could do that. Now, there have been proposals to give all D.C. land back to Maryland except for the inner core, which Congress would still oversee. This alternative would help most residents gain representation by becoming Maryland citizens but what happens to those living right near Capitol Hill?
Thank you to everyone who replies to the Tab each week with what they think Congress should do, either in regards to a particular piece of legislation or how to resolve a challenge facing our nation.
Not in the inner circle of Tab subscribers? Go here and join in the discussion! Otherwise, if you have something you'd like for NTU Foundation researchers to know about (federal spending, budgets, & regulations), email us at email@example.com Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
New Report: Taxpayers Still Backing Contradictory Federal Food Policy
Free-marketers are well aware of “nanny state” encroachment on consumers’ food choices; many of them probably celebrated when a second court in New York recently held against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on larger-sized “sugary” drinks (even though New York City keeps contesting the rulings). What they may not realize is that nannies, especially government ones, often have an arbitrary way of exercising discipline.
We were reminded of this “do as I say, not as I do” phenomenon again thanks to an intriguing new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on how U.S. agricultural policy is working at cross-purposes – often to the detriment of taxpayers and the economy. Among the findings of the study:
Reality-check time – NTU and UCS do not see eye-to-eye on every issue, though we have joined forces on causes such as protections for government whistleblowers and wasteful nuclear weapons spending. Nor will conservatives necessarily support every conclusion in the latest UCS report, which calls for steps such as grants to develop infrastructure for farmers’ markets or putting more money into federal research.
Still, many of the report’s assertions are quite valid, and should appeal to all taxpayers. Using respected sources, UCS calculates that in 2012, Medicare and Medicaid likely spent $172 billion total to treat cardiovascular diseases. If even a fraction of these costs could be preventable, the implications for the future of these programs would not be trifling. Combined with more aggressive action on improper payments, the savings could buy some additional vitally-needed time while we undertake the task of completely restructuring entitlements (through premium support, personal accounts, and other pro-taxpayer reforms). In any case, repealing or dramatically restricting current farm subsidies could more than offset UCS’s recommendations for new federal initiatives, thereby providing much-needed deficit reduction.
Another UCS conclusion worth considering is that USDA’s insurance program “is oriented toward farmers who grow a handful of subsidized commodity crops, including corn, soybeans, and cotton.” The adverse result is that farmers are disincentivized to diversify their crops into fruits and vegetables. Simplifying insurance to cover all livestock and crop revenue on a given farm (plus reducing the taxpayer subsidy for the insurance premiums, as NTU recommends), might make sense. In fact, diversification would help mitigate the risk of variability in crop yields and prices, thus enabling farmers to self-insure their crops and making healthy products more affordable to consumers.
Subsidizing processed food ingredients is all the more bizarre since the government is simultaneously spending whopping amounts of taxpayer money on educating Americans to eat healthy. For instance, in 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) expended $2 million on the initial development and promotion of its most recent food logo, MyPlate, which aims to teach the population what to consume.
A serious problem here is that the USDA and the lawmakers who fund it often fail to see the connection between the agency’s two tasks of administering both farm subsidies and educational programs for healthy eating.
It wouldn’t be the first time. A previous post on Government Bytes recounted findings from a U.S. Public Interest Research Group that corn- and soy-derived food ingredients have received $19.2 billion in federal subsidies since 1995, as revealed by a recent U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) report. This amount would allow the government to buy 52 million Twinkies (fortunately, that proposal is not on the table … yet). By contrast, the only significantly-subsidized fruit or vegetable, apples, received about $689 million in subsidies over the same period. This means that, for every half an apple, each taxpayer has subsidized 20 Twinkies per year.
Another problem is that neither strategy seems to be working. In regards to nutrition education, studies have shown that Americans followed MyPlate recommendations in only 2 percent of days in 2011. As for subsidies, they artificially influence consumers’ eating decisions.
Both UCS and USPIRG’s calls for action show why so many voices on various parts of the political spectrum are arguing that farm subsidies should be completely eliminated or curtailed. This chorus for reform, among taxpayer groups, government transparency advocates, international aid societies, and others, will only grow more vocal if or when lawmakers attempt to cobble together yet another flawed Farm Bill this fall. And why not? After all, since farming came before subsidies, it should be more than able to outlive politicians’ manipulations.6 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
With a net worth estimated at $55 million, and having earned nearly $125 million (mostly from speaking engagements) since leaving office in 2001, it's no secret that Bill Clinton is one of the wealthiest former Presidents in history. Each of the 3 other living ex-Presidents, including both Bushes and Jimmy Carter, are all estimated to have holdings of at least $7 million as well. However, all are still entitled to a number of taxpayer-funded benefits that total in the millions of dollars.
Under the Former Presidents Act (FPA), which was enacted into law in 1958, ex-Chief Executives are provided pensions, support staff, mail & office expense funds, and travel reimbursement, in addition to Secret Service protection. Prior to the law's enactment, former Presidents received no pension or other type of benefits. The legislation was originally intended to ease the transition into post-presidential life, during which Presidents are expected to brief the incoming administration and generally wind down the affairs of their own.
Currently, former Presidents are entitled to a pension equal to the salary of the head of an executive department -- in 2013, that is equal to $199,700 per year. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, former Presidents are also authorized to spend:
The use of taxpayer funds to subsidize former Presidents' private activities has been well documented over the years. Additionally, CRS has compiled extensive data comparing the extent to which former Presidents have utilized these benefits:
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which is in charge of carrying out the provisions of the Act, requested over $3.5 million for FPA expenses in Fiscal Year 2014.
Some in Congress and the news media have expressed concern over how former Presidents are using the public resources the law affords them. The New York Times reported earlier this month that President Clinton's non-profit foundation has been experiencing financial and legal instability (to which Mr. Clinton personally responded). In the 112th Congress, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R. 4093, the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act. That bill would have capped pension benefits for former Presidents at $200,000; repeal the travel, office, and staff expense privileges; and reduced annual benefits by $1 for every dollar earned above $400,000 in any fiscal year. The bill was referred to committee, but no further action was taken.
Former Presidents, especially, hold a unique position in the public sphere even after they leave the White House. While some have historically been less financially secure in their private lives than others, as the costs to provide post-service benefits consistently reaches into the millions of dollars, a re-examination of the benefits (in particular, those not related to security) provided to former Presidents would certainly be in the interest of all taxpayers.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
The Settlement Act of 1790 established the national capital of Washington, D.C. in its current location. Since then, two issues have continually sparked debate among legislators and District residents alike: namely, those of local control and "taxation without representation." In the latest edition of the Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF looks at some of the legislation designed to address these controversial policies.
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress total legislative control over Washington, D.C., but since 1973 the District has been allowed to pass local laws and set its own budget (subject to Congressional approval). Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has introduced a number of bills in the 113th Congress that would expand the District's autonomy in these respects, including:
Seven bills have been introduced in the current Congress that are designed to grant D.C. outright statehood, or some form of the voting and representational rights associated with that designation. They include:
For more information on these bills, their sponsors, and an in-depth look at the history of D.C.'s unique political status, check out the latest edition of the Taxpayer's Tab online here. We've already seen a variety of responses to this edition, as Dan Barrett explores in his latest blog post.
Be sure to sign up for future updates by clicking here.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!
0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Pete & Doug discuss NTUF's "10 Most Mind-Boggling Taxes" list with author Austin Peters, NTU VP Brandon Arnold stops by to talk about his Washington Times op-ed advising the GOP to protect spending caps, and the Outrage of the Week!
Today’s Taxpayer News!
U.S. Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) penned this op-ed for the Colorado Springs-Gazette, remarking on recent efforts by the Colorado Legislature to grow spending and expand the size of government.
President Obama is pushing for a new “fee” on cell phone users through the Federal Communications Commission. The fee (which supposedly would start around $5 per year) would be used to expand and improve Internet connections in America’s public schools.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
Today’s Taxpayer News!
The Washington Times published this exposé earlier this week, bringing to light the Obama administration’s practice of using taxpayer dollars to fund campaign emails. NTU’s Pete Sepp comments on the ethics and legality of the issue.
The president once again hits the road next week, embarking on his first bus tour of his second term next week, in the hopes of garnering support for his new “middle-class” agenda. As NTUF reported in a recent study, Obama is on track to become one of the most traveled presidents in American history.
If you lived abroad, would piles of tax paperwork cause you to renounce your citizenship? NTU’s Pete Sepp weighs in, pointing out that high taxes and an excessively complex code could cause such a trend.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts