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Government Spending

Harper on Spending Transparency in Committees
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/09/13

Via the Washington Examiner, the Cato Institute's Director of Information Policy Studies, Jim Harper, asks why the Appropriations Committees in both federal chambers don't use technology to better convey their spending intentions when considering legislation:

"For better or worse, the movement of money is a reflection of our values, but the appropriations process is the cloudiest mirror America ever gazed into. More than a trillion dollars move each year based on appropriators' instructions, but Congress's spending decisions are so cloistered in arcane language and inaccessible documentation, the appropriation committees might as well be a pair of mountain monasteries.

"Why not publish proposed spending in appropriations bills using digital formats and uniform codes to indicate what agencies, bureaus, programs, and projects would get the money, as well as what they're supposed to do with it? So far, appropriators have deeply lagged their colleagues in Congress and the rest of the government. There's no sign they plan to change that."

Props to Jim in his efforts to not only change the way government releases information for taxpayers to better understand government but to be active in allowing Americans to voice their opinions on proposed legislation through his website. Check it out & you’ll see some NTUF BillTally figures there!

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House Prepares to Dodge the Sequester
Posted By: Nan Swift - 12/20/12

This afternoon, the House of Representatives plans to take up H.R. 6684, the Spending Reduction Act of 2012. According to the House Speaker’s website, the bill:

… replaces the president’s defense ‘sequester’ with common-sense spending cuts and reforms, and reduces the deficit by approximately $200 billion more than the original sequester. The bill focuses on stopping waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs, eliminating government slush funds (including an ObamaCare slush fund), and reducing waste and duplication in government bureaucracies.

Cutting spending, especially doing so over and above the baseline of the $109 billion in spending restraint called for in the Budget Control Act (BCA), is both laudable and urgently needed.  At the same time, rushing a bill through as part of the Fiscal Cliff package only to avoid the pending $54.7 billion defense sequester is disingenuous , demonstrating a lack of political will to make the tough calls we need to get our fiscal house in order.

Ironically, by including the sequester mechanism in the BCA back in 2011, Congress hoped that when faced with the horror of automatic spending reductions, they would collectively be forced to make exactly those hard decisions. However, the savings outlined in H.R. 6684 are again called “common sense solutions to help end waste, fraud & abuse of taxpayer money” in a write up from May found here.

This begs the question, if these are common sense solutions, why haven’t these savings already been realized? With our deficit topping $16 trillion, Congress should be making every effort to increase accountability and eliminate waste at every opportunity, not simply when it’s useful to avoid cutting pet projects and facing down the defense industry.

While the additional savings from H.R. 6684 will help slow our growing debt, that doesn’t mean that the savings to be found in cutting spending in other areas such as entitlements and in this case, defense, should be left on the table.

As NTU has pointed out again and again, there are billions in savings to be had by going after under performing, unnecessary, and wasteful defense programs.  NTU has written about these reforms here, here, and here.

Last year NTU teamed up with the U.S. Public Interest Group (U.S. PIRG) to find over $1 TRILLION in savings that the right and left of center groups could easily agree on. The list included, “$428.8 billion in savings from ending low-priority or unnecessary military programs.” Surely, programs that such strange bedfellows can agree should be headed for the chopping block makes them every bit as much “common sense” savings as those included in H.R. 6684.

More recently, Senator Coburn (R-OK) released his “Department of Everything” study that found:

The recommendations outlined in Department of Everything could save as much as $67.9 billion or more over ten years without cutting any Army brigade combat teams, Navy combat ships, or Air Force fighter squadrons.

Just as the “Spending Reduction Act of 2012” takes aim at real waste that should be immediately eliminated, Sen. Coburn found the Department of Defense equally ripe for serious reform. Among the many wasteful practices, duplicative programs, and unnecessary spending the Senator discovered:

… the Navy recently funded research examining what the behavior of fish can teach us about democracy while also developing an app to alert iPhone users when the best time is to take a coffee break. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded a study last year examining how to make it easier to produce silk from wild cocoons in Africa and South America.9 Both the Navy and the Air Force funded a study that concluded people in New York use different jargon on Twitter than those living in California.

The entire report is well worth a read, especially by our Representatives in the House this afternoon. When legislators go to vote on H.R. 6684, they should know that voting to eliminate yet another ObamaCare slush fund, preventing fraudulent use of the child refundable tax credit, and cutting SNAP waste are all going to help the bottom line.

But those billions can only be the beginning, especially when our debt reaches well into the trillions. There are real and immediate savings to be had by taking a closer look at how our defense dollars are spent. As taxpayers and our economy approach a critical turning point, it demonstrates a lack of leadership and seriousness about our fiscal reality for Congress to continue avoiding the tough decisions they were elected to make.


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The Late Edition: December 11, 2012
Posted By:  - 12/11/12

NTU joins the Cato Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Project on Defense Alternatives in calling on Congress to keep its word on defense cuts as part of the sequester. Article courtesy of The Hill.

NTU’s vice president of government affairs Brandon Arnold appeared in Buzz Feed explaining why Congress shouldn't try to insert a farm bill into whatever Fiscal Cliff deal is hammered out in Washington.

By now you've heard the job numbers released last Friday showed a slight drop in the unemployment rate. Unfortunately, most of that reduction wasn't due to people finding jobs, but instead getting discouraged and departing the workforce altogether. Check out this graphic from the Mercatus Center at GMU detailing labor force participation since the beginning of the year up through November:


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Long-Term Unemployment Benefits: The Costs
Posted By:  - 12/11/12

With the unemployment numbers released Friday showing relatively slow gains in hiring, the latest issue of contention over the Fiscal Cliff is whether or not to extend certain long-term unemployment benefits, including the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and temporary provisions of the Extended Benefit program which are set to expire at the end of this month. These programs are separate from the basic unemployment insurance (UI) structure which will not be affected by the Fiscal Cliff. The Cato Institute explains it well:

 “The extended benefits program provides 13 weeks of benefits in addition to the basic 26 weeks. However, in response to the recent recession, Congress increased the duration of extended benefits and passed various packages of additional increases, with the result that benefits could be drawn for nearly two years in many states.”

Democrats, lead by Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are calling for an extension of these benefits, while Republicans are by and large concerned over the less palatable aspects of extending them long-term: billowing costs and a roughly 11% fraud rate in UI in general, and the documented disincentives to securing employment when benefits are stretched out indefinitely. Although some Republicans would be willing to extend the benefits, they are seeking spending cuts in other areas to offset the costs, something Democrats have shown little appetite for. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn recently stated: “an offset, I think, is unnecessary and its bad economics.”

The costs of maintaining unemployment benefits are no small matter, having mounted to a colossal $520 billion since the economic meltdown in 2007, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This represents an increase of about two-thirds, from $33 billion in fiscal year 2007 to $94 billion in FY 2012. The Hill recently quoted a House GOP aid on the issue:

"After spending $215 billion and adding $180 billion to the debt, more spending on federal unemployment benefits, above and beyond what the states already spend, would have to be carefully considered during fiscal cliff talks.”

While the costs to maintain the entire program are certainly concerning from a fiscal perspective, existing fraud and overpayments within the system are yet another reason why fiscal conservatives are wary of extending benefits. In July of this year, CNNMoney reported some particularly worrying numbers:

“Overpayments are a rampant problem in the unemployment insurance system. The federal government and states overpaid an estimated $14 billion in benefits in fiscal 2011, or roughly 11% of all the jobless benefits paid out, according to reports from the U.S. Labor Department.”

Equally as troubling are the various studies which show extended unemployment benefits actually hinder reemployment, as they appear to provide less incentive for unemployed individuals to actively seek and secure work. In the Cato Institute’s detailed report on the negative economic effects of extended unemployment benefits, the authors cite economists Martin Feldstein and Daniel Altman noting:

 "The most obvious and most thoroughly researched effect of the existing UI systems on unemployment is the increase in the duration of the unemployment spells. By reducing the cost of remaining unemployed, UI benefits induce individuals to have longer spells in order to search for a better job or simply to enjoy some leisure."

If our nation is going to begin reining in spending and situating itself on a path of fiscal sustainability, the long-term unemployment program is a great place to begin meaningful reforms. With the national debt blowing passed $16 trillion this year, it is vitally important that lawmakers at least consider the costs of continuing the extended-benefits program, put mechanisms in place to reduce fraud, and ensure that the benefits are a short term safety program to help individuals while they find work, not a substitute for work itself.




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Sen. Vitter and Rep. Pompeo Launch Opposition to Proposed Carbon Tax
Posted By: Nan Swift - 12/05/12

Members of Congress are trying to hang their hats on anything that might help them avoid making any serious spending cuts ahead of the looming “Fiscal Cliff.” Among the many truly bad ideas that are being floated all in the name of raising “revenue,” as if there was any tax large enough to get us out of the hole our unbridled spending has dug, is a potential carbon tax. While past carbon tax proposals, aimed at curbing greenhouse gases, have also included components aimed at revenue neutrality and other ways to mitigate the regressive nature of such a tax, the current carbon tax talk is pure cash grab.

Senator Vitter (R-LA) and Representative Pomeo (R-KS) have introduced concurrent resolutions opposing such a carbon tax in an effort to get ahead of the harmful tax. As they state in a join press release here, a carbon tax would have a detrimental effect on taxpayers and our already struggling economy:

“There’s a lot of talk in Washington about raising taxes, and finding ‘revenues’ in creative ways, to avoid going over the fiscal cliff,” Vitter said. “But a carbon tax – which would force more financial hardship upon family budgets, energy consumers and job seekers – needs to be completely taken off the table. Our resolution would enshrine that.”
“A carbon tax would be disastrous to our nation’s economy by driving up energy prices and increasing the cost of everything built in America, as well consumer goods purchased by every American,” said Pompeo.  “I am proud to join Senator Vitter in introducing this resolution, which is aimed at putting Congress on the record in opposition to this awful idea.”
The concurrent resolution states that a carbon tax, which would increase the cost of manufactured goods and harm America’s manufacturing sector, is regressive in nature and would unfairly burden those vulnerable individuals and families in the U.S. who are struggling under a stagnating economy.

There’s virtually no part of the economy or everyday life that wouldn’t be negatively impacted by a “revenue-raising” carbon tax. For consumers it would mean higher costs on everything from food and manufactured goods to transportation and heat for the winter months ahead. This would be a massive burden on our economy and would further slow what little growth we have.

Instead of looking for quick cash gimmicks that will only hurt in the long run, Congress needs to make substantive spending cuts and reforms to put us back on the path to long-term prosperity. Higher taxes rarely bring in the revenue that was expected and at the end of the day, we’ll still be left with a growing debt and no one left to tax.

For a good reminder of just how urgently we need to cut spending and what little higher taxes will do, check out this new video from NTU.

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Taxing the Rich to Cover the Deficit Doesn't Add Up (VIDEO)
Posted By:  - 12/04/12

Watch NTU's NEW VIDEO which uses some real world items to show just how little taxing the so-called "rich" would dent our massive deficit.

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The Late Edition: December 3, 2012
Posted By:  - 12/03/12

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Pete Sepp tells US News’ Debate Club ATR’s pledge forces elected officials to limit Congress’ overspending.

As the Fiscal Cliff approaches, Republicans and Democrats are still holding vigilantly to their respective preferences: President Obama maintains that his reelection provided a “mandate” to raise taxes on upper-income earners, while Republicans continue to fight against all tax increases.

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Speaking of Taxpayers, November 30 (AUDIO): Nick Kasprak of the Tax Foundation on Fiscal Cliff Taxes
Posted By:  - 12/02/12

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes HERE!


Pete & Doug are joined by Nick Kasprak of the Tax Foundation for a very informative session on the "fiscal cliff" tax threats, plus the "Fiscal Five" and "Outrage of the Week!'"



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Speaking of Taxpayers, November 21 (AUDIO): The Fiscal Cliff
Posted By:  - 11/24/12

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes HERE!


The biggest issue for lawmakers to deal with in the following weeks is the fiscal cliff, and Pete Sepp explains exactly what's on the line for taxpayers. Also: five things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. 

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Speaking of Taxpayers, November 16 (AUDIO): Congress is Back in Action
Posted By:  - 11/18/12

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes HERE!


What's happening on Capitol Hill that taxpayers need to watch? What isn't! The fiscal cliff is approaching. Also, NTUF experts join Pete & Doug to offer agenda insights on the incoming Congress.

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