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State Action Heats Up & Obamacare Liberates 1.3 Million from Work - Speaking of Taxpayers, Feb. 7, 2014
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/10/14

Subscribe to NTU's podcast Speaking of Taxpayers via iTunes.

1.3 to 1.5 million Americans will lose work hours, jobs, or never get them, according to a new CBO report on Obamacare. NTU State Affairs Manager Lee Schalk has a big update on the states, with BBA news, unemployment insurance, and more. Plus, NTUF's Demian Brady talks budget, and the Outrage of the Week!

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: CBO's Economic Outlook
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 02/09/14

Tab Insert

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual Budget and Economic Outlook report this week, and their projections for the next ten years won't inspire much confidence for those concerned with the country's debt and deficits. In the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF delves into the CBO's report and offers an analysis of the long-term trends they predict, which include steadily increasing deficits after next year and a publicly-held debt topping 79 percent of GDP by the end of the next decade.

Also featured this week:

  • Most Expensive: Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Small Business Innovation Act of 2013. S. 1285 would provide $1 billion over the next five years ($200 million annually) to various financial stimulus programs within the Small Business Administration.
  • Least Expensive: Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Steps Toward Access and Reform (STAR) Act of 2013 in order to reform the current medical malpractice system. S. 1860 would save $18 billion over the next five years by capping the amount that doctors can be sued for over noneconomic damages and limiting the timeframe during which a lawsuit can be filed.
  • Most Friended: In order to address concerns over whether Healthcare.gov offers adequate protection of users' personal information, Congressman Joseph Pitts (R-PA) drafted the Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act of 2014. H.R. 3811 would require the Department of Health and Human Services to notify users of any security breach within two days.

The full issue, with more information on these bills and the CBO report, is available online.

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(VIDEO) What's Government Up To This Week?
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/04/14

The first in a new weekly video series from your friends at National Taxpayers Union! We'll keep you updated on what's really going in in Washington, and the issues that will affect your pocketbook.

NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift talks about the farm bill and debt ceiling action in the U.S. Senate, both of which put billions of your dollars on the line.

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Three Graphs That Put The Recovery In Perspective
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 02/04/14

Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released multiple reports on the state of the U.S. economy. One of them, "The Slow Recovery of the Labor Market," examines current job market conditions and projects where employment figures are heading relative to historical trends. The full report is available online, but here are three quick take-aways summed up in graphical form (visuals courtesy of CBO):

  • The economy is taking much longer to recover than it has after past recessions. Consumers are still hesitant to buy as many goods and services as they did before the downturn, which means employers aren't in any rush to hire.

cbo-2014-econ-recovery-employment

  • People will choose to work less. Aging will contribute to lower labor force participation, but federal tax and spending policies will also motivate many people to work less than they otherwise would. Specifically, CBO cites the current tax code, as well as the Affordable Care Act (ACA): "[B]y providing subsidies that decline with rising income (and increase with falling income) and by making some people financially better off, the ACA will create an incentive for some people to choose to work less." On that point, CBO has estimated that the ACA will reduce the number of full-time employees by over 2 million over the next few years, with the largest impact being felt among low-wage workers.
cbo-2014-econ-recovery-participation
  • Less of the population will be working at all over the next decade. According to CBO, to get back to pre-recession unemployment of five percent, 3 million people currently looking for work would need to find jobs. In 2006, just before the recession, the employment-to-population ratio was at 63.3 percent. By 2018, that could fall to 58.9 percent.

cbo-2014-econ-recovery-population

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Whoever Said “Talk is Cheap”? A State of the Union Analysis - Speaking of Taxpayers, Jan. 31 (AUDIO)
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 02/03/14

$40 BILLION is the cost of President Obama's State of the Union, and that's just what can be quantified - NTUF's Demian Brady explains. Plus, Pete talks Obama's hypocrisy on energy; and the Outrage of the Week goes to the Super Bowl (sort of)! 

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Troubling Contradictions: Obama on Energy Taxes in his State of the Union
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 01/31/14

In the President’s address Tuesday night, sharp-eared observers might have noticed he took credit for growth spurred by the oil and gas industry, saying:


“And here are the results of your efforts: … A manufacturing sector that's adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s -- more oil produced -- more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that's happened in nearly twenty years.”


The President’s excitement over the accomplishments of the energy sector might come as a surprise considering he has consistently worked to make life more difficult for those businesses.


Now, he is taking credit for a natural gas boom that the EPA nearly strangled in its infancy and rather than let the private sector drive it further, he wants subsidized fueling facilities at a cost to taxpayers of $274 million annually.


What made his remarks on this during the State of the Union so startling, was that 15 minutes after this boast – the President (not for the first time) called for massive tax hikes on the industry whose accomplishments he just touted!


“Let's continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don't need it so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.”


The language itself is galling, as if the government created the wealth being discussed and “gives” it away because the tax code isn’t more punitive. But more specifically this short line in a speech means the continued success of a rare economic bright spot could be in jeopardy…


Given the President’s citation of the $4 billion a year number, he is apparently referencing several tired schemes to single out oil and gas for harsh treatment – including repeal of a write-off for taxes paid to foreign governments and a job creation deduction available to numerous other industries. We’ll likely also see a pitch for more “green” energy subsidies in coming weeks.


His stance further endangers the systemic tax reform process, which is building bipartisan steam in Congress. Commendably, the President called for a comprehensive overhaul of the tax laws, one that emphasizes lower rates and a simplified base. Yet, he also proposed to “take the money we save from this transition” and plow it into more government projects.


The notion that the Treasury “saves” money by taking it from the private sector is problematic. Plus, targeting oil and gas would make the Tax Code more, not less, complex.


Obama is acting as if he can continue proposing the very policies that would have killed America’s energy renaissance, and still have economic gains to falsely take credit for the next time he makes such an address.

The trouble is, sending signals like these can do damage, not only to the economy but the cause of tax reform too … and, most ironically, to the Treasury’s bottom line.

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The Lone Savings Proposal in President Obama's Speech
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 01/31/14

President Obama used last night's State of the Union address to lay out his agenda for the coming "year of action," as he described it. NTUF analyzed the remarks and estimated that, if the 13 proposals we were able to score are passed, federal spending would increase by just under $40 billion per year.

At one point in the speech, the President asked Congress to help him bring stability to housing markets without burdening taxpayers:

"And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations of Americans."

There's been legislation introduced in Congress that aims for a similar goal, and NTUF featured it in a recent issue of The Taxpayer's Tab. We based our score of the President's housing proposal on the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) cost estimate for S. 1376, the FHA Solvency Act. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced that bill in order to address financial difficulties facing the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF). The MMIF required a $1.7 billion bailout from taxpayers in 2013 after it couldn’t meet financial obligations it took on during the housing market crisis.

Part of the bill stipulates that the troubled FHA program has to maintain a higher capital reserve ratio (three percent) than it has in the past (two percent), in order to ensure it has sufficient funding to cover expected losses. One of the ways in which it does that is by raising premiums on the mortgage insurance it offers.

This doesn't directly decrease federal outlays, but CBO records these receipts as offsets against spending. The higher rates would take effect in 2018, when CBO expects the government to collect $522 million. Meanwhile, the bill's other requirements would increase spending by about $2 million per year.

This proposal was the only one the President made in his speech that NTUF was able to quantify as a net savings measure. Note that isn't because it reduces outlays, but rather, increases receipts enough to offset the program's potential long-term costs.

This could help minimize the risk that taxpayers would be stuck "footing the bill" for the next housing crisis, but would it guarantee that this won't happen again? The FHA guarantees approximately 1 in 5 mortgages for new homes. Fannie Mae, a "government-sponsored enterprise", remains the largest single issuer of single-family mortgage-related securities. Its market share covers nearly half of all new single-family mortgages. As long as federally-backed entities continue to play such a significant role in the market for new mortgages, taxpayers will be at risk.

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NTUF Celebrates National School Choice Week, Donates to Local Charter School
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/31/14

In celebrating National School Choice Week (NSCW), NTU Foundation and the Alexandria, Virginia chapter of Liberty on the Rocks brought together local taxpayers, educational freedom supporters, and students for a night of discussion, teaching, and skee ball. The Wednesday night event was one of over 5,500 events going on in every state that aimed to build awareness of local and national school choice efforts and educate citizens about the benefits and challenges of changing schools and school systems.

For this event, NTUF sponsored a “Skee Ball 4 School Choice” game where everyone played a game of skee ball and afterward joined in the larger group talks on what charter and voucher schools are, what everyone’s personal experience was and is in education, and where we see room for reform in educating students at all levels and ages. Congrats to Holly, Juli, & Demian for being the top three scorers in our friendly game of skee ball!

We also called on attendees to bring school supplies to help the efforts of Perry Street Prep, a DC charter school that serves low-income families and sometimes homeless students. The turnout for the students was overwhelming, collecting 3 boxes of assorted supplies like notebooks, composition books, crayons, and pens. Financial donations were also made to directly help the students and teachers at Perry Street Prep. If you would like to help NTUF’s and Liberty on the Rocks’ support, learn how to at their Giving page.

This was the first time that NTU’s education and research arm, NTUF, has hosted a NSCW event but it is not the only instance of our involvement in school choice. For the past three years, NTUF has organized in-person and online events for the Milton Friedman for Freedom Legacy Day, reaching hundreds of taxpayers across the country.

The Alexandria, Virginia chapter of Liberty on the Rocks has hosted school-choice events for three years, including NSCW and Milton Friedman for Freedom Legacy Day. The social group is dedicated to enhancing and expanding the cause of freedom. Check the group’s national site to see or start a chapter new you or go to the Alexandria chapter page to see when the next event will be held.

Thanks to everyone who donated or contributed to our school supply drive! Be on the look out for more chances to donate to Perry Street Prep and for more information on school choice.

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Keystone Pipeline Clears Key Environmental Review
Posted By: Nan Swift - 01/31/14

Yesterday, I wrote that one of the top four ways the President can make good on his promise to uphold an “all of the above” energy policy would be to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline:

The Keystone XL pipeline would bring with it 20,000 much-needed jobs over time, and support thousands of other jobs in many sectors. That’s not to mention an additional 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada, our largest and most stable trading partner. This would inject our economy with billions of dollars in additional activity.  … President Obama’s State Department can stop their delay tactics and approve the pipeline’s permit at any point.

Today, the pipeline cleared a major hurdle. The Associated Press reports:

The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada moved a significant step toward completion Friday as the State Department raised no major environmental objections to its construction.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the pipeline has passed environmental muster.  During President Obama’s first term, the State Department conducted a study and found that the pipeline would not have any substantial environmental impact. However, the pipeline’s permit was still rejected by the President, and TransCanada, the company behind the project, was forced to reapply.

TransCanada did so, but the President postponed a decision until after the 2012 election. Meanwhile, other reports have found that the tar sands derived oil that will be transported by the pipeline is no more risky to transport than other kinds of crude oil and TransCanda has agreed to comply with ever more stringent construction conditions.  The whole saga is described in greater detail here.

Due to the Administration’s past delay tactics, it’s too soon for taxpayers to start popping the champagne. But one thing is clear today:  the President has run out of excuses to stop Keystone XL.

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It’s Time for a True “All of the Above” Energy Plan
Posted By: Nan Swift - 01/30/14

President Obama reiterated his commitment to an “all of the above” energy strategy in his State of the Union address Tuesday. In the past, this strategy has looked more like a “renewable or nothing” plan. However, the President did make surprisingly supportive comments regarding our booming oil and natural gas industries, saying that his “administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth….”

The President also stated that in order to spur the growth of the natural gas industry he would “cut red tape.” That would be a great first step, but here are a few other areas where we could unleash the enormous potential of the energy sector with just a few snips of the old red tape:

1. Keystone XL Pipeline:  H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, which would clear the way for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, passed the House with bipartisan support – but remains lost in the netherworld of Harry Reid’s obstructionist Senate. The Keystone XL pipeline would bring with it 20,000 much-needed jobs over time, and support thousands of other jobs in many sectors. That’s not to mention an additional 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada, our largest and most stable trading partner. This would inject our economy with billions of dollars in additional activity. Of course, taxpayers shouldn’t have to wait for the Senate to act (or, more likely, not act). President Obama’s State Department can stop their delay tactics and approve the pipeline’s permit at any point.

2. Permitting Reform: H.R. 1900, the “Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act,” and H.R. 3301, the “North American Infrastructure Act,” would streamline the permitting process for natural gas pipelines, putting in place commonsense deadlines and guidelines to remove the regulatory limbo where many projects find themselves. The inability to get energy products swiftly and safely from place to place is hampering markets and hurting consumers who have to pay higher prices, or even worse, are going without.

Back in November, the Boston Globe reported on the capacity crunch facing New England:

The projects come as New England struggles to address growing demand for natural gas and supply constraints created by tight pipeline capacity. Those constraints have led to shortages and price spikes during the peak demand periods, such as extended winter cold snaps, helping to drive the region’s already high energy costs even higher.

 “Some days there just isn’t spare gas to be sold,” van Welie said.

Additional pipeline capacity, van Welie added, would help alleviate the issue and could also lead to lower energy costs in New England … .

Today, the cold weather is testing both pipeline and storage capacity in both the Northeast and the Midwest. National Public Radio’s Jeff Brady reported:

With drilling booms in places like Pennsylvania and Texas boosting the country's supply, there's plenty of gas to go around. The problem is building the pipelines and other infrastructure needed to deliver it. This has led to some extreme cases where natural gas prices have been bid way up. Last week in New York, one desperate buyer was willing to pay about 25 times the typical price for gas.

And in Ohio:

Like in the Northeast, the problem is not supply so much as getting the gas to where it's needed, when it's needed. During the cold spell in early January, one utility had problems that left a few thousand customers without gas for more than a day. State regulators are asking customers to conserve to make sure that doesn't happen again.

3. War on Coal: President Obama has made it clear over the years that coal is his least favorite source of energy. Still, it is a crucial part of any true “all of the above” energy policy.  Given its widespread availability and the fact that many alternatives are still prohibitively expensive and unreliable, coal should continue to be a part of our energy profile for the foreseeable future. The President’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other administrative departments have tried to throw up one roadblock after another to keep coal out of the picture. The “War on Coal” has been so successful that almost no new coal-fired electricity plants are being built in the U.S. The few that are have to be outfitted with costly new carbon capture technology. The Washington Post reports:

Last year, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that it was unlikely the technology would become cost-competitive anytime soon. Power plants that can capture and store their carbon are initially expected to cost about 75 percent more than regular coal plants. And those costs won't fall unless there's either a huge technological breakthrough or utilities invest a lot more of their own money in building new plants. Neither appears imminent.

Representative Whitfield (R-KY) has introduced a bill, H.R. 3826, the “Electricity Security and Affordability Act,” to help rein burdensome EPA regulations by enacting common-sense checks and balances that would restore accountability in the rule-making process. The legislation establishes new guidelines for future power plants that are well within the realm of the possible (for a nice change), repeals earlier proposed rules, and requires more Congressional oversight.

4. Renewable Fuel Standard: The corn ethanol mandate imposed by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has had far-reaching negative consequences. Corn ethanol drives up costs for consumers in the form of lower gas mileage, engine damage, and volatile food prices. It encourages farmers to plant on marginal land better left untilled. The list is long. The RFS also set up a market for Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS), which are renewable fuel credits to help refiners comply with the EPA’s cellulosic fuel mandate. Unfortunately, this market has become rife with fraud. Companies that have unknowingly bought and used fake RINs in their attempts to comply with the law have been hit with huge fines by the EPA.

Currently, the EPA is considering lowering the volume of ethanol it will require refiners to blend into the gasoline supply in 2014 due to the fact that gasoline consumption is  down, yet the law requires greater and greater volumes of ethanol to be blended. That’s only a small, uncertain improvement – one that won’t fix the longer term problems imposed by the RFS. Still, it does reinforce the fact that the RFS is a broken, failed policy – hurting everyone but the corn growers for whom the RFS has been little more than a wealth transfer from one portion of the agriculture sector to another.

A bipartisan team of legislators in the House comprised of Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Womack (R-AR), Rep. Costa (D-CA), and Rep. Welch (D-VT), has introduced H.R. 1462, the Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Act, which would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate, reduce the cellulosic ethanol mandate, and cap ethanol blends at E10.

Washington shouldn’t be picking and choosing winners and losers. Red tape, costly regulations, and unsustainable mandates – not to mention subsidies, tax credits, and loan guarantees for “green energy” projects – all wreck havoc on the energy market. Too often, the end result is higher costs for consumers. Further, these misguided policies have left taxpayers holding the bag for failed government backed enterprises.  If President Obama is serious about an “all of the above” energy policy, the remedy is simple: get government out of the energy market. 

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