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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Congress Already Reworking Budget Deal
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 01/11/14

Tab Insert

Less than one month after its passage, Congress is already revisiting some of the key agreements it reached in the Ryan-Murray budget deal. In this week's Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF compiled all of the bills that would make changes to two major benefits programs: emergency unemployment insurance, and pay for military retirees.

During the December budget negotiations, Congress failed to reach an agreement on how (or whether) to extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits, which were offered to provide relief for long-term unemployed Americans who had exhausted other forms of payments. One of the obstacles lawmakers continue to face is how those benefits would be paid for if they were to continue. A number of proposals have called for a short term extension without any offsets to the cost; others, including an amendment offered by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), would extend the program for a longer term in exchange for offsets spread out over the next ten (or more) years. A 3-month extension is estimated to cost about $6.56 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Another point of contention arose regarding retirement benefit calculations for military veterans under the age of 62. Currently, those personnel are offered benefits at a reduced rate. Congress is now debating whether those reductions should exist at all, or whether certain servicemembers -- namely, those retired due to disability -- should be exempt.

For a detailed list of the bills NTUF compiled, check out the latest Tab online here.

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Does House Oversight Hearing on Wasteful Spending Mean Hope for Taxpayers?
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 01/09/14

NTU Vice President Brandon Arnold offered testimony to the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform today, making recommendations for saving taxpayer dollars and improving efficiency in government – including submitting NTU and U.S. PIRG’s bipartisan savings report, “Toward Common Ground.”

barnoldThe hearing also included U.S. PIRG’s Jamie Woo, Tom Schatz from Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, as well as Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, who spoke first.

The bipartisan tone may offer some encouragement for taxpayers, who just endured a budget deal that scrapped spending caps over the next two years. All the panelists, and the Representatives who asked questions, offered pro-active proposals for dealing with wasteful federal spending. Perhaps it's just the renewing effect of a new year, but the enthusiasm and energy being focused on finally addressing the most indefensible expenditures of taxpayer money was encouraging.

Arnold urged the committee to draw from NTU and U.S. PIRG’s $523 billion in recommendations (which have a passed a bipartisan test already to simply make the report), citing examples of savings opportunities like the $1.2 billion Essential Air Service, which funds scarcely used airports, and $1.8 billion in potential savings from stopping improper Medicare payments to chiropractic services.

Arnold echoed a theme heard throughout the hearing saying, “Just one of these 65 recommendations has been enacted into law… there remains much work to be done.”

That attitude that the lack of progress in dealing with government waste was unacceptable was universal.Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asked both panels how progress can be made toward getting something done on this front.

Beginning with “low-hanging fruit,” and working to get legislation to the floor, were popular responses echoed by many as they acknowledged the challenges ahead, and failures of recent Congress’ to keep wasteful spending contained.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa pledged to his Senate counterparts to put any legislation addressing reforms they agreed upon in the Senate Oversight Committee to a vote in the House Oversight Committee.

Arnold concluded, “Although cutting waste can limit some red ink, such efforts alone cannot solve our serious long-term debt and deficit problems. However, they can demonstrate to Americans Congress’s desire to act as a good steward of their hard-earned tax dollars.”

Whether the positive, cohesive, tone will translate into more than one of those NTU and U.S. PIRG proposals being passed by this time next year, time will tell.

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New Year's Resolution: Fiscal Sanity.
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 12/30/13

This is your last chance! Tomorrow is the last day of the year, and it's your last chance to make a donation to NTUF and receive a 2013 tax deduction. I appreciate all of the support you've given us over the course of the year. Please make an end-of-year gift right now!

Your end-of-year gift to NTUF is fully tax-deductible.

NTUF has been producing groundbreaking research since our founding in 1977. We have a long history of excellence in highlighting government excess and helping equip taxpayers with the information they need to protect themselves. Through NTUF's research, analysis, and commentary, we are empowering Americans to actively engage in the fiscal policy debate and hold public officials accountable for their decisions.

Your support is critical. So please, help us spread NTUF's message to lawmakers, the media, and voters by making a tax-deductible gift today.

To donate via credit card or Paypal, you can visit our secure online donation page. Thank you for your help!

Remember, to receive a 2013 tax deduction, you must make your contribution to NTUF before midnight tomorrow. Please don’t wait. Support NTUF today!

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New Year's Resolution: Deficit Reduction?
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 12/28/13

As the year comes to a close, undoubtedly we begin to reflect on the ups and downs of the previous year. But lawmakers in Congress may be looking back a little further than that after reading the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) latest report on the federal debt and deficit.

Last week, the non-partisan budget agency released an update to its November report, "Choices for Deficit Reduction." The report offers some sober analysis of the country's mounting debts and deficits, which are at historically high levels. The graphic below puts things into some perspective:

cbo options dec 2013

As CBO shows, not only are total outlays higher than they've been over the previous three decades, they are on pace to grow even more, and the revenues they're funded by are coming in relatively slowly. That particular trend illustrates the fact that for all the talk of a recovery, the U.S. economy still has a long way to go before things return to pre-recession levels of prosperity. As CBO explains:

"Making the task of deficit reduction more complicated is the economy's slow recovery from the severe recession. By CBO's estimate, the economy is now about 5 million jobs short of where it would be if the unemployment rate was down to its sustainable level and participation in the labor force was back up to its trend. The shortage of jobs has occurred mostly because demand for goods and services has been weak relative to the productive capacity of the economy."

But historical trends mean very little if we can't draw some conclusion for policy and outcomes going forward. CBO paints a rather harsh picture of where the current path of spending and borrowing at such high levels may lead:

"Because federal debt is already unusually high relative to GDP, further increases in that debt could be especially harmful. ... Higher debt would lead to larger interest payments; making those payments would eventually require some combination of lower noninterest spending and higher taxes. In addition, increases in debt tend to reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn reduces people's future income relative to what it would otherwise be. Also, when debt rises, lawmakers are less able to use tax and spending policies to respond to unexpected challenges, such as economic downturns or international crises. Rising debt could itself precipitate a fiscal crisis by undermining investors' confidence in the government's ability to manage the budget."

At the end of the day, deficit reduction matters a great deal, and is ultimately a matter of either reducing spending, increasing taxes significantly, or both. Lawmakers will have to make a decision about which direction to pursue when they return to Washington for 2014.

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Per-Mile Fees Would Drive Up Transportation Costs
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 12/26/13

In a recent edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, we here at National Taxpayers Union Foundation highlighted a bill offered by Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that would phase out federal control of certain roads and other infrastructure in order to transfer that authority to the states. The Transportation Empowerment Act was introduced in the wake of warnings from the Congressional Budget Office that the Highway Trust Fund, which finances the construction and maintenance of most of those transportation projects, is in poor fiscal condition.

Among the recommendations for keeping the Fund solvent? A nearly 83 percent increase in the federal gas tax, up to 33.3 cents from its current level of 18 cents.

That particular suggestion came from the office of Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who also recently introduced H.R. 3638, the Road Usage Fee Pilot Program Act of 2013. Rep. Blumenauer’s bill would authorize $35 million to study how a mileage-based fee program might be implemented in place of the gas tax.

The Congressman has called for similar studies before. In January, NTUF highlighted legislation that Blumenauer introduced in the 112th Congress that would have authorized nearly $155 million for review of the same scenario.

A per-mile fee would likely be instituted in one of three ways:

  • A GPS-based system would use satellite technology to track the total mileage a registered vehicle travels during a pre-determined period of time. That information would then be sent to a central database, where bills would then be processed and sent to drivers.
  • A "pay-at-the-pump" system would also rely on wireless tracking systems to log drivers' travels, but the fee would instead be charged at gas stations across the country whenever drivers decide to fill up.
  • A prepaid system would require drivers to buy "mileage licenses," authorizing their use of public roads for a certain period of time or total mileage before requiring renewal.

Aside from the obvious privacy concerns and challenges of implementation and administration (especially from a financial and logistical standpoint), these proposals all have one thing in common: they would increase the cost of driving significantly.

The Government Accountability Office recently modeled the effect of a (seemingly modest) 0.9 to 2.2 cent per mile tax on the typical American driver. They found that the average driver would pay between $108 and $248 per year under that system, compared to the $96 they pay now – an increase of at least 12.5 percent.

Current funding for federal transportation infrastructure, under the MAP-21 Act, expires at the end of 2014.

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A Message from NTU Foundation
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 12/23/13

On behalf of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, I would like to convey our deep appreciation for your support in 2013 and wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday Season, and a prosperous New Year.

Thanks to you, NTU Foundation has reached more taxpayers with vital information on Washington's spending addiction, more lawmakers with our special BillTally project data, and more reporters and bloggers in need of analysis that you won't find anywhere else. This year has been a great success and we want you to know that we couldn’t have done it without your help. That is why I am asking you for your continued support in America's time of need.

As Congress continues to avoid the tough choices, Americans are being hit with higher taxes and more spending. The politicians say that we need to spend our way out of this economic slump, but you know better. You can't run a household by borrowing: you have to cut back your costs. Congress doesn't understand that. They think that more legislation and regulations will put Americans back to work, but the reality is that taxpayers are the real job creators, not the government.

You know how to balance a checkbook -- to prioritize -- and I'm asking for you to keep NTUF in your thoughts as you do your end-of-year planning. We need your continued support because NTU Foundation is entirely member-supported. Unlike some other organizations in and around the nation's capitol, we don't take government handouts. Instead, we rely on contributions from taxpayers like you, who understand that the more transparency there is regarding the cost of bills in Congress, the closer we can get to a balanced budget and lower taxes.

Did I mention that all contributions to NTUF are fully tax-deductible?

With your $100, $50 or $25 gift, not only will NTUF be better able to cut through the political rhetoric with clear-cut data but you can also help ensure that Washington's big spenders will get that much less from you on Tax Day! Next year, we plan to score more legislation, show more Americans the cost of government, and help educate the next generation of policy experts ... and you can help us make a difference!

Again, I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and appreciate your continued support!

With gratitude and thanks,

Duane Parde

P.S. Remember, to receive a 2013 tax deduction, you must make your contribution to NTUF by December 31st. To donate via credit card or PayPal, you can visit our secure online donation page. Please don't wait. Support NTUF today!

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: What Did Congress Miss?
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 12/21/13

Tab Insert

The Murray-Ryan budget compromise cleared all of the Congressional hurdles this week, capping off a tumultuous negotiation process that began after the government shutdown earlier in the year. In this week's edition of the Taxpayer's Tab, National Taxpayers Union Foundation has a detailed breakdown of what exactly is in the bill, as well as some of the other deficit-reduction options that Congress left on the table.

The compromise bill:

  • Increases federal spending by $65 billion (75 percent of which will be seen in the first two years alone);
  • Raises the self-imposed budget caps Congress recently agreed on;
  • Offsets additional spending by $78 billion -- but 75% of that amount won't be realized for another six to ten years;
  • Accounts for half of its proposed savings by way of increased user fees.

Congress did, however, have other options for budget cuts throughout the year. A list of all the savings bills we identified as part of the BillTally research program is available for browsing and download in this week's edition.

Check out the Tab online here and be sure to subscribe to our mailing list for future updates.

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Shining a Light on Government Advertisements
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 12/20/13

We’ve been exposed to all sorts of ads promoting Obamacare lately – from beer-guzzling fraternity “bros” to the recent “pajama boy.” Fortunately, Americans are starting to ask if these ads are being paid for with taxpayer funds.

Such questions are certainly warranted given the federal government’s history of wasting public resources.  For example, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) just pointed out in his “Wastebook 2013” that the federal government took $65 million of the emergency funds provided for Hurricane Sandy disaster relief and spent it on tourism ads for New York and New Jersey.

It’s clear that the government needs to provide more transparency and sunshine about its expenditures. Last month, former National Taxpayers Union Foundation intern Curtis Kalin identified some of the features of the “Taxpayer Transparency Act,” which was introduced by Rep. Billy Long (R-MO). The bill would require government agencies to disclose the use of taxpayer funding in any print, online, radio or television advertisements.  This seemingly small step could go a long way to helping people understand how their tax dollars are being used (and misused).  Speaking for National Taxpayers Union, I’m pleased to hear that Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) will soon introduce companion legislation in the Senate.  

In an ideal world, politicians and government agencies wouldn’t squander public funds on advertisements. But until we can achieve more fiscal discipline in Washington, we need legislation like the bills introduced by Rep. Long and Sen. Blunt so we’ll at least know when our money is being spent on such activities.

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