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Brandon Arnold
Vice President of Government Affairs 

Dan Barrett
Research and Outreach Manager 

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Demian Brady
Director of Research 

Christina DiSomma
Communications Intern 

Jihun Han
Communications Intern 

Timothy Howland
Creative Content Manager 

Samantha Jordan
Communications Intern 

Curtis Kalin
Communications Intern 

Ross Kaminsky
Blog Contributor 

David Keating
Blog Contributor 

Douglas Kellogg
Communications Manager 

Sharon Koss
Government Affairs Intern 

Michael Liguori
Government Affairs Intern 

Richard Lipman
Director of Development 

Joe Michalowski
Government Affairs Intern 

Diana Oprinescu
Communications Intern 

Austin Peters
Communications Intern 

Kristina Rasmussen
Blog Contributor 

Social Security

IRS Targets the Long Departed for Peanuts, Ignores the Living for Billions
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/03/14

If you didn’t like the 2008 Farm Bill before, get ready for an IRS-sized dose of malarkey. The massive bill, officially enacted to support farmers but in reality does more to benefit the billion-dollar agribusiness industry, has paved the way for the IRS to come after your tax refund, even if you have good standing with Uncle Sam. According to the Washington Post, Congress’ enacted Farm Bill repealed a statute of limitations on old debts owed to the feds. Historically, this statute prevented the Treasury Department from coming after debtors after ten years.  Now, taxpayers across the country are seeing the effects and the government aims to get $1.1 billion.

The article mentions one woman who suddenly had no tax return because the IRS determined that her family was overpaid for her father’s death benefits, which had been paid out since 1960. IRS officials are not sure specifically who was overpaid so they chose her to make up the difference. In all, the IRS has collected $424 million in “new” debt, i.e. debt that has only recently been available to collect in the wake of the statute’s repeal. Yet, this new tactic is not limited to the IRS. The Social Security Administration is now working to get benefits from nearly 400,000 taxpayers, totaling some $714 million.

What does the IRS have to say? “... [W]e understand the importance of ensuring that debtors are treated fairly.” Perhaps the agency should clarify what it means by “fairly” when many taxpayers have received no notice of the actions taken against them. The same woman mentioned above was apparently sent a notice from Social Security but to an address she had in the late 1970s. Generally, the IRS suggests that you keep tax documents for three years, so the accused are depending on the government to produce evidence from their records. It seems that Social Security’s records are often incomplete, making it difficult to contest officials’ claims.

So, to reiterate: a bill presumably designed to protect the agriculture industry included a new power enabling federal officials to take money from Americans who may have indirectly benefited from a payout beyond ten years ago; BUT, those officials don’t really have the records to back up their claims.

There are a few takeaways from this:

  • Taxpayers are paying for massive benefits programs that can’t accurately keep track of payouts (the initial problem).
  • Congress passed a law that included a provision that now permits agencies to take Americans’ money seemingly at will, and with little proof.
  • The IRS and Social Security are expending new efforts (with added administrative costs) to recover about $1.1 billion.
  • Tax collectors have decided that this method is better than the alternatives.

What are the alternatives? Quite a few, but let’s look at two. One would address the core problem and one would be a more fair way to get outstanding debt.

If Americans had a simpler tax system, one which didn’t take 6.4 billion hours and $192.6 billion to comply with, some of these errors and inefficiencies would go away. Some proposals would try to cut down on the number of exemptions and deductions one can take, resulting in a more streamlined and less error-prone tax bill. Others take further steps to reform the entire system in the hopes of making tax preparations a mere inconvenience, instead of a heavy burden. NTU Foundation has examined some of these proposals, including the flat tax and the Fair Tax, many of which would reduce federal spending in addition to less time and money spent by taxpayers.

Another option is to change who the government goes after for outstanding debt. Instead of targeting debt that is decades old, IRS and Social Security investigators could shift their focus to those who are alive and kicking. One easy place to start is inside the government itself. According to a handy chart on Don’t Mess With Taxes, the government could recover $3.3 billion in back taxes (that’s 65 percent more than what is being collected in old debt AND it would be from the debtors themselves, not relatives who had no say in the matter).

If legislators should take just one lesson from all of this (and I know that’s asking a lot), it is to write bills that are simple, succinct, and single-issue focused. Taxpayers are on the receiving end of these bloated Acts that put more complexity in the Tax Code. This is also not a wholly partisan issue. As Republicans rally against the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms, Democrats are pitching fits over the Farm Bill and Defense Authorization, all of which are putting taxpayers on the hook for more when they are in need of less.

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Infographic: Where We're at with the Debt Ceiling
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 10/04/13

As Congress continues to play budgetary chicken, prolonging the government shutdown, another debate is brewing that might or might not be fixed with a budget deal: the debt ceiling. The last time we came close to the federal borrowing limit, Congress pushed through the Budget Control Act, which put in place budget caps in exchange for an increase in how much debt the government can issue. However, BCA lacked any real entitlement reform and taxpayers are again looking at a divided and dysfunctional Congress as the debt ceiling deadline ticks down to zero. If the ceiling is not raised, the U.S. could default on our debt, sending shockwaves through the global economy. However, it might be the jump start that the U.S. needs to bring about true reforms and fiscal sanity.

To supplement this week's Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF compiled some information so that folks can get a read on where the government is at on the debt and how we got in this position (hint: entitlements).

Do you think the U.S. should raise the debt ceiling? If not, how would you get the country's finances back in order (especially because a default would likely lower our credit rating)?

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Ac-“customed” to Waste?
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 08/05/13

All too many federal agencies can be cited for having budgetary skeletons in their closet, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is no exception. From poorly managing a drone fleet purchase, to making questionable demands for more employees, CBP has raised fears for the security of taxpayers’ wallets in the past. Yet, Congress has an opportunity to ease future fears, over a controversial new CBP project, before it can cause a fiscal fright.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded a letter of intent with the United Arab Emirates to build a “pre-clearance” facility at Abu Dhabi airport which would allow travelers to the U.S. to clear customs before arriving on American soil. So far, so good: pre-clearance can not only save time and reduce congestion at U.S. points of entry, it can also help ease the way for tourists who contribute to economic activity while visiting here.

Now for the not-so-good:

  • According to Airlines for America statistics, Abu Dhabi airport accounted for less than 600 passenger arrivals per day to the U.S. in 2012, ranking it #80 on the list of top origin points to our country.
  • Right now, no U.S.-based carriers even fly from the Abu Dhabi International Airport back to here.  All other CBP pre-clearance zones in Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean serve many airlines, including U.S.-flagged ones.
  • The primary beneficiary of the deal would be Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline of UAE. Thanks to this status Etihad enjoys an advantage over private airlines around the world that are subject to corporate profit taxes of their home countries. Which brings us to …
  • Another advantage conferred by the United States under the auspices of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), whose risk-taking and subsidization have long been a concern for taxpayer advocates such as NTU. Etihad snagged $593 million in loan guarantees from Ex-Im last year for aircraft purchases, and could qualify for preferential financing that our own airlines (by definition) can’t get through Ex-Im.
  • Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that over the preceding year (before overblown sequester scare tactics), the wait times for getting through customs at stateside airports have “increased dramatically.”

All these drawbacks lead to one long question: Given CBP’s service challenges at existing airports, is it really a good idea to plow ahead with a facility whose use will be comparatively scarce in the near term, and give another leg-up to an airline backed by its own government as well as ours, at the expense of an already overtaxed flying public?

And “overtaxed” is an understatement. As NTU has often noted, the typical overall government tax and fee burden of 20 percent on a $300 domestic airfare is higher than the average effective rate a middle-class American is likely to pay on his or her 1040 income tax return. International air travelers can have it even worse, with impositions such as separate departure and arrival taxes along with a passenger agricultural inspection fee (which the Obama Administration ill-advisedly considered raising in 2009) and a customs fee.

Proponents of the CBP station at Abu Dhabi argue that the investment of U.S. tax dollars will be minimal since UAE will pick up 85 percent of the project’s expense under the current agreement. But that’s little comfort to tax-weary travelers in America (see above), who remain worried that whatever share they will be forced to commit could escalate if construction or operating costs are not contained. Meanwhile, there’s that pesky matter of how best to apply CBP’s fee collections as well as appropriations from general funds – should they be used to expedite higher-priority passenger and cargo entry-exit services?

Many Members of Congress seem to think so. In June, the House of Representatives passed an amended FY 2014 DHS Appropriations Bill specifically blocking the Abu Dhabi pre-clearance scheme. In May, a bi-partisan group of 11 Senators echoed the sentiment of their House colleagues in a separate letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, questioning whether the agency’s “decision was made as a result of a risk based analysis.”

Alas, earlier this month DHS announced it was moving forward with a data-sharing agreement that could pave the way for the facility’s activation, even as it faces a concerted petition effort from interested industry groups with considerable clout.

Regardless of the politics involved, the taxpayer aspects of the issue deserve further exploration – that goes not only for the Abu Dhabi pact but also the ever-troubling direction of the Ex-Im Bank. Allowing the free market and fiscal responsibility to sort out needs from niceties would provide some badly-needed bone-rattling for those accustomed to budgetary business as usual in Washington.

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Obama's FY 2014 Budget on Social Security
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 04/09/13

With budget fever gripping the Beltway policy world and state government inner circles, there are plenty of questions and skepticism on what President Obama's FY 2014 Budget will plan for the country's biggest expenses: government-subsidized health care and retirement entitlement programs. Though the budget is due to be released on tomorrow, some details have already come out on what taxpayers can expect and what this all means for the nation's bottom line. In an analysis by the Fiscal Times, many experts predict few surprises and many repeat proposals from the Obama 2013 Budget. I examine Social Security in the first of three posts. Note: Figures are in ten-year windows (not the usual five-year increments under the BillTally project).

Where it's at: According to the Social Security Administration, the regular retiree program has run a deficit (i.e. its expenditures are higher than the Trust Fund's non-interest receipts from withholding taxes) for the past two years and will continue upwards at an annual average of $66 billion between 2012 and 2018. The budgetary outlook could worsen. Deficits will likely increase sharply as the Baby Boomer generation enters retirement and the pool of workers expected to shrink, relative to reitrees. Jagadeesh Gokhale of the Cato Institute says that the disability portion of Social Security is the real worry because more people have been applying, which has mounted budgetary pressure, so much so that the program may default on benefits by as early as 2016.

What the budget might do:

  • Institute Chained CPI ($130 billion):  By changing how cost-of-living adjustments is calculated for retirees, future payments would likely not be as high as projected as compared to traditional determinations. The change could also push taxpayers into higher tax brackets earlier than expected (a revenue boom for the program but a bust for workers). The concept does have some opponents including the AARP, many Congressional Democrats, and experts who support other options.
  • The FY 2013 Budget also listed a few smaller efforts that could result in a net $3 billion savings, though most of that is improving collections of information on state and local pensions, which may end up costing more than it saves.

For better or worse? Much of the focus is not on Social Security but on the other two big programs. This is likely a timely issue where Social Security is seen as at least momentarily solvent and will stay that way long after Medicare is expected to default. Chained CPI and the already proposed measures may temporarily help guarantee retirees benefits for a longer period of time but the program will eventually need serious reform and, like all of these programs, the sooner sustainable reforms occur, the less it will cost taxpayers. However, none of this addresses the disability portion of Social Security, which would need a bailout in a very short amount of time.

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Payroll Tax Hike Highlights Hypocrisy of Refusal to Reform Entitlements
Posted By:  - 01/09/13

The Fiscal Cliff package ushered through Congress last week has left just about every taxpayer with a holiday hangover, thanks in large part to the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut that was not extended. Aside from any worthy debate over the wisdom of the two year relief on payroll tax rates, what the demise of this policy highlights is the absurdity of those in Washington who refuse to reform the entitlements that these taxes fund.

The end of the holiday, and shock of the payroll tax hike, makes clear the pain workers feel when they lose money from their paychecks. Particularly in the midst of a recession, even $50 a week can be sorely missed when it comes to utility bills, groceries, or supporting an out-of-work spouse.

Yet, it is the complete lack of entitlement reform, or even a discussion of Social Security retirement age adjustment or means testing for Medicare, that makes the sacrifice workers are now making an even more bitter pill to swallow.

Absent reform, the new revenues are essentially futile – dumped into programs that are bound to collapse under their own weight, and unlikely to do much good for those sacrificing their hard-earned money right now.

In fiscal year 2012 alone, Social Security spending totaled an incredible $773 billion, almost 5 percent of the nation’s GDP.

Using Congressional Budget Office (CBO) numbers, the Heritage Foundation explains just how dire the issue is:

“In 2011, Social Security incurred a $45 billion deficit. According to the 2012 trustees report, the expected average annual gap between Social Security spending and the program’s payroll tax revenue is $66 billion between 2012 and 2018.”

When revenues taken in cannot possibly cover the growing expenditures of the program, Americans who have worked and paid into the system could be left out in the cold. The CBO warned in October:

By 2030, Social Security outlays will be about 6 percent of gross domestic product and will exceed dedicated tax revenues by about 20 percent. As a result, under current law, resources available to the Social Security program will become insufficient to pay full benefits in about 20 years.”

Reforming Social Security is something that makes lawmakers tremble, but it is absolutely vital. Fortunately, creative ideas for reducing costs and expanding choice for prospective retirees are being offered by some leaders in Congress. In the House, Paul Ryan’s proposal would enact the following reforms:

  • Preserves the existing Social Security program for those 55 or older.
  • Offers workers under 55 the option of investing over one third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, similar to the Thrift Savings Plan available to Federal employees. Includes a property right so they can pass on these assets to their heirs, and a guarantee that individuals will not lose a dollar they contribute to their accounts, even after inflation.
  • Makes the program permanently solvent – according to the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] – by combining a more realistic measure of growth in Social Security’s initial benefits, with an eventual modernization of the retirement age.

In the Senate, Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Mike Lee (Utah), and Lindsay Graham (SC) have brought forth the Social Security Solvency and Sustainability Act, which they assert could create a solvent social security system by lowering benefits for those with higher incomes, and gradually increasing the retirement age, among other initiatives.

What simply cannot continue, is forcing taxpayers to throw their earnings away into programs politicians refuse to properly manage, when they could do better saving and investing on their own.

In the 133th Congress, it will be imperative that lawmakers put in the time to fix Social Security so working men and women have a fighting chance to get back the money which gets taken out of their paychecks every week.

 

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The Late Edition: October 22, 2012
Posted By:  - 10/22/12

Today’s Taxpayer News!

NTU recently joined a coalition of taxpayer rights groups in opposition to H.R. 6477, sponsored by Albio Sires (D-NJ), which would force taxpayers in all fifty states to subsidize billions of dollars worth of disaster insurance for those who live in disaster-prone regions.  

Lately the talk over extending the Bush Tax Cuts has overshadowed yet another important tax quandry: the temporary reduction in mandatory Social Security contributions is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, costing workers an additional $1,000 a year according to this article form the Columbia Tribune.

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NTUF Release GOP Presidential Candidates Studies
Posted By:  - 04/26/12

In case you missed it...


Study of GOP Candidates’ Platforms Finds Romney Proposes Double Gingrich’s Budgetary Savings; Paul’s Blueprint for Cuts Dwarfs Others’ Plans

(Alexandria, VA)Mitt Romney’s spending cut agenda is twice as large as Newt Gingrich’s, while Ron Paul proposes double the reductions of his nearest challenger. Those are just some of the key findings of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF’s) in-depth, line-by-line analysis of the 2012 GOP contenders’ federal budget proposals. NTUF has conducted studies of Presidential and Senatorial candidates’ fiscal policy platforms for more than a decade.

NTUF analyzed all of the candidates’ key proposals outlined on their websites, in their official campaign documents, and touted in speeches. By referencing these plans with equivalent bills in Congress, items in the federal budget, and a variety of other cost sources, NTUF builds a comprehensive picture of the bottom line impact of the candidates’ budget-focused proposals. Some cost estimates are based on NTUF’s BillTally system, which since 1991 has served as a resource on thousands of pieces of legislation introduced each year that could affect federal expenditures.

All told, NTUF identified 151 proposals among the four Republican Presidential office seekers with a potential impact on annual federal outlays. Ninety-four of those impacts could not be accurately determined, generally because the candidates failed to provide sufficient detail to pinpoint a cost.

2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Spending Analysis

Type of Proposal

Newt
Gingrich

Ron
Paul

Mitt
Romney

Rick
Santorum

Spending Increase

6

2

3

6

Spending Cut

6

6

11

16

Unknown Cost

27

13

28

27

TOTAL

39

21

42

49


Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation

According to NTUF, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s platform would reduce federal outlays by a net of $353.0 billion annually, Newt Gingrich’s extensive policy plans would shed $146.2 billion from the budget, and Rick Santorum had $670.6 billion in cuts on his radar prior to ending his campaign. Ron Paul seeks $1.2 trillion in yearly net reductions.

2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Spending Analysis

(Dollar Amounts are in Billions)

Spending Category

Newt
Gingrich

Ron
Paul

Mitt
Romney

Rick
Santorum

Economy, Transportation & Infrastructure

-$4.565

-$4.565

-$4.3

-$4.565

Education, Science & Research

-$60.056

N/A

N/A

$0.144

Energy, Agriculture & Environment

-$40.561

-$5.953

Unknown

-$2.465

Federal Government Reform

Unknown

-$1,173.0

-$383.409

-$647.158

Health Care

-$41.155

-$40.235

-$136.098

-$42.655

Homeland Security & Law Enforcement

$0.120

Unknown

Unknown

$1.148

National Security & International Relations

$0.052

Unknown

$170.802

$30.591

Veterans

Unknown

$2.704

N/A

N/A

Miscellaneous

N/A

N/A

N/A

-$5.637

TOTAL

-$146.165

-$1,221.0

-$353.005

-$670.597


Note:  Totals may not add due to rounding.

Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation

Key findings include:

  • Romney's plans to reform the federal government -- including proposals to limit federal spending to 20 percent of GDP and to reduce the number of government workers over time -- would save taxpayers an estimated $383.4 billion per year. The area in which Romney would propose the largest budget increase is national security with a boost of $170.8 billion. (PDF version)
  • Ron Paul’s single largest savings item is his multi-pronged effort to balance the budget – at $1.078 trillion in reductions, it is a stark reminder of the size of the current federal budget deficit. (PDF version)
  • Newt Gingrich’s moon base plans would cost at least $4 billion per year. His vision for new rocket propulsion technology could not be quantified at this time. (PDF version)
  • Rick Santorum’s largest individual savings item was signing off on a version of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would save $519.6 billion per year. A major assumption was that Santorum would abide by the terms of the Amendment he backed, which calls for limiting total federal expenditures to 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product. (PDF version)

“The field of candidates has often changed over the past year, but their ideas for federal spending and savings will continue to be debated as the campaign season evolves,” concluded NTUF’s Director of Congressional Analysis Jeff Dircksen. “Through it all, NTUF will be monitoring the candidates’ proposals – including those of President Obama – to inform the vital national conversation about the future direction of Washington’s fiscal policy.”

Note: The detailed NTUF analyses of Mitt Romney’s, Newt Gingrich’s, Ron Paul’s and Rick Santorum’s federal budget policy platforms are available online at www.ntu.org.

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Social Security Still Going Broke (Again)
Posted By:  - 04/23/12

Last year, Social Security was going broke.  This year, Social Security is still going broke -- again.  The Wall Street Journal highlights items from the Trustees' report that documents the system's continued slide into bankruptcy:

Here is some key data released by the trustees:

1) The Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund will exhaust its reserves in 2016, two years earlier than projected one year ago.
2) The Social Security trust fund that goes mainly to retirees will be exhausted in 2036, two years earlier than projected last year.
3) If the funds are combined, they would be exhausted in 2033, three years earlier than projected last year.
4) In 2011, 44.8 million received benefits from Social Security’s trust fund for retirees, compared with 43.8 million in 2010.
5) In 2011, 48.7 million people were covered by Medicare, up from 47.5 million in 2010. That means the program is covering on net an additional 100,000 Americans every month.
6) The trustees said the worsening picture for the Social Security trust funds was due to “updated economic data and assumptions.”
7) The ratio of workers paying taxes per Social Security beneficiary continued to fall. It will hit 2.8 workers per beneficiary in 2012, down from 3.4 in 2000.

For reference the Journal provides a look back at previous estimates:

The historical data from reports over the past five years is below.

Key:
DI=Social Security Disability Insurance
OASI=Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (the bigger account mostly used by retirees)
Combined=an estimate of what would happen if DI and OASI were combined into one fund

2011 trustees reports
 DI exhausted 2018
OASI exhausted 2038
Combined exhausted 2036
Medicare HI trust fund 2024

2010 trustees reports
DI exhausted in 2018
OASI exhausted in 2040
Combined OASDI 2037
Medicare HI trust fund 2029

2009 trustees reports
DI exhausted 2020
OASI exhausted 2039
Combined OASDI 2037
Medicare HI trust fund 2017

2008 trustees reports
DI exhausted 2025
OASI exhausted 2042
Combined OASDI exhausted 2041
Medicare HI trust fund 2019

2007 trustees reports
DI exhausted 2026
OASI exhausted 2042
Combined OASDI exhausted 2041
Medicare HI trust fund 2019

Of course, we could just pay the System more interest on all of its IOUs.

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Social Security STILL Going Broke
Posted By:  - 05/13/11

Last year, Social Security was going broke.  Hopefully, you're sitting down for this because it turns out that Social Security is still going broke -- only a little faster than expected, according to the new Trustees's report:

Trustees for the two funds said the Medicare trust fund is projected to exhaust its funds in 2024, not 2029 as estimated last year, and that the Social Security retirement program will run out of money in 2036, not 2037 as previously thought.

Any bets on whether there will be an alternative report from Medicare's Chief Actuary this year?

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