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Government Spending

Opposition to Food/Farm Welfare Bill Grows
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 07/11/12

NTU has been hard at work opposing the massively wasteful, nearly-$1 trillion food and farm welfare legislation that Washington knows as "the Farm Bill." In some of the best news we've had on the issue in weeks, The Hill reported today that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is leery of the pork-filled legislation and could hold the key to protecting taxpayers from it. We've been watching the markup debate over 100 amendments unfold with shock and horror, as positive measures to reduce government intervention in the dairy and sugar markets failed at the hands of special-interest minded Members of the Agriculture Committee. But if Boehner comes out forcefully in opposition to the bill, taxpayers could be spared from its awful provisions in favor of a one-year extension which would allow a presumably more fiscally responsible 2013 Congress to take it up.

Boehner is no stranger to Farm Bill opposition. He opposed the travesties that were the last two versions and has always expressed his distaste for the incredible amounts of wasteful spending that get packed into them. Despite the different makeup of this Congress, the bill they came up with is sadly no different. It eliminates direct payments made for certain commodity crops, but then plows virtually all of the savings into new subsidy programs to effectively guarantee revenue for farmers. The end result, when combined with an exploding food stamp program that has doubled in size since 2008, is a bill that costs upwards of $900 billion and does almost nothing to truly begin to wean farmers off of their sweet, sweet taxpayer money.

The bill is complicated, but the issue is simple. Farm income exceeded $100 billion last year. Average farm household income has consistently grown faster than the average American household, particularly post-1995 (when the "We swear, this is the Farm Bill to end all Farm Bills!" charade began in earnest). Fewer than one in 200 farms fail per year. Crop prices are at or near record highs. Meanwhile, our fiscal challenges have never been larger with a rapidly-increasing $15.8 trillion national debt. As a result, we have a more fiscally conservative House of Representatives than we've had in years.

One could scarcely dream up a better time to truly reform farm programs. Thankfully, it appears that Speaker Boehner realizes that this bill doesn't even come close to doing that. We should encourage him to do the right thing and shelve this monstrosity for good.

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The Internet Tax Threat That Won't Go Away
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 07/11/12

The so-called “Marketplace Fairness Act," a bill to impose onerous tax collection requirements on remote retailers, is back again for another bite at taxpayers' wallets. We've alerted you to this threat timeand time again, and now proponents and their big-money backers are trying to sneak it through once more. Introduced as an amendment to S. 2237 (a small business tax bill) by Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the measure would add to the burden governments heap upon items purchased online while undermining vital taxpayer safeguards. The Marketplace Fairness Act would…

  • Dismantle Key Taxpayer Protection - Currently, online and remote retailers cannot be required to remit a state’s sales tax unless they have a physical presence there. This amendment would dismantle that taxpayer protection by allowing states to force tax collection dictates on businesses regardless of their location. Dissolving the physical nexus standard for collecting sales taxes could encourage overzealous state tax administrators and lawmakers to reach far across their borders in order to fill their coffers.
  • Impose Enormous Compliance Burdens - The Marketplace Fairness Act could force online businesses to comply with the rates, rules, and definitions of every last one of the country’s 9,600 (and growing) sales tax jurisdictions. Meanwhile, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers generally must contend with the sales tax in a single jurisdiction: the one in which their business is physically located. This would be a distinctly “unlevel” playing field that imposes much more onerous administrative obligations for businesses that dare to operate online. Such obligations won’t be made magically care-free by tax software packages, any more than the billions in payroll income tax compliance costs for businesses have somehow disappeared with the advent of computers.
  • Drain More Dollars from Taxpayers with No Reform in Sight -  Piling complex tax rules on the backs of remote retailers could lead to millions (or billions) of dollars in additional tax money for state governments at the expense of online shoppers. But nothing in the proposal ensures that those new costs aren’t just added on top of the many others borne by taxpayers struggling in today’s economy. The amendment doesn’t include any language to require or even encourage states to reform their sales taxes so that net burdens on taxpayers don’t rise.

It is particularly odious and contradictory to attempt hanging this proposal on a bill purporting to assist small businesses. S. 2237 is problematic for taxpayers in its own right, but is made all the worse with an Amendment that fails on so many counts. As a practical matter, the paltry “small seller exemption” contained in the language means that numerous firms will become ensnared in a web of higher tax-compliance overhead costs. Businesses that could be contributing to a more robust economic recovery will instead squander resources extricating themselves from this trap, or worse, resign themselves to oblivion.

As a philosophical matter, the amendment treats the Internet and e-commerce as a sinister, alien force for small business, when the opposite is true. Where would brick-and-mortar retailers be, for example, without the convenience of online inventory control, or other “B2B” transactions that make management so much more efficient today? What losses would retailers suffer without the new markets for goods and services for which the Internet has provided the portal? How many millions of everyday citizens, who have created thriving online “mom and pop” proprietorships, would be denied the opportunities to provide for their families? To be clear: No Senator who claims to support taxpayers and small businesses should vote for this amendment. There are fairer, less burdensome ways to address any real “level playing field” issues in this area of commerce.


It's unclear as of now how the Senate will proceed on this amendment or the underlying small business tax bill, but rest assured that we'll be hammering away to make sure that well-financed lobbyists don't fleece taxpayers and businesses with this awful bill. 


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The Left, the Right, and the Debate over Regulation
Posted By:  - 07/09/12

The term “crony capitalism” has a fairly long lineage, but lately it’s been uttered by supporters of both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party to denounce what they say is a distressingly cozy relationship between big government and some big businesses.

However, while both groups agree that the status quo of corporate welfare subsidies and difficulty of entry for new businesses are intolerable, their solutions could not be more different.

Occupy Wall Street has been consistent in calling for more government involvement in the private sector, from a mandatory 20 dollar-per-hour minimum wage to a regulatory crackdown on what they perceive as corporate opulence.

The Tea Party meanwhile, has called for almost exactly the opposite, citing government as the problem rather than the solution and seeking less interference from Washington.

A recently released report by senior research fellow Matthew Mitchell of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, takes a closer look at the veiled relationship between the public and private sector, and makes some revealing new discoveries.

A common gripe from those on the political left is that without government regulation business will grow too powerful and form large monopolies, which leave the average consumer with less choice and higher prices. Thus, according to this economic philosophy, big business must be regulated into obedience.

Yet, Mitchell’s report debunks this myth by demonstrating how big business can actually profit from what he dubs “Regulatory Privilege:

Though business leaders and politicians often speak of regulations as “burdensome” or “crushing,”…sometimes it can be a privilege to be regulated, especially if it hobbles one’s competition. This insight prompted consumer advocates Mark Green and Ralph Nader to declare in 1973 that “the verdict is nearly unanimous that economic regulation over rates, entry, mergers, and technology has been anticompetitive and wasteful,”and that “our unguided regulatory system undermines competition and entrenches monopoly at the public’s expense.”

Another claim of the left is that without more government regulation on all competitors, large businesses will dominate the marketplace and leave little room for new actors. However, Mitchell’s findings reveal just the opposite, demonstrating how regulation actually serves to keep out new competitors who are often unable to meet the many costly regulations:

While barriers to entry impose costs on all firms, the costs are more burdensome to newer and smaller operators. This is why existing firms often favor regulations. University of Chicago economist George Stigler won the Nobel Prize in economics for showing that regulatory agencies are routinely “captured” and used by the firms they are supposed to be regulating.”

Last year, during the rise of Occupy Wall Street and the political scrambling to form a deficit reduction Super Committee, National Taxpayers Union partnered with U.S. PIRG and published a report titled Toward Common Ground. This non-partisan set of common sense proposals offered solutions that would appeal to both the political left and the political right, by focusing on issues such as ending wasteful subsidies, cutting unnecessary military spending, and enacting entitlement reform.

Although as we all know the Super Committee turned out not to be so “super” after all, if the United States is serious about revitalizing our dreary economic landscape, the left and the right will need to work together more often in changing outdated policies that no longer work. As demonstrated by Mitchell’s research and underscored by the NTU-U.S. PIRG report, restoring a vibrant and competitive economy will mean a commitment to eliminating wasteful “crony capitalism” policies. It will also entail adopting pro-growth reforms that reward companies based on their contribution to the economy rather than the number of lobbyists they can afford to hire to regulate their competitors out of business.



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Forward! (But To What?)
Posted By: Demian Brady - 07/03/12

In a confusing constitutional Rorschach test, Chief Justice Roberts determined that the individual mandate, which the Obama Administration had alternately argued was either a penalty or a tax (depending on the audience before which it was making the case), does indeed have the properties of a penalty to avoid the Anti-Injunction Act and is a tax for purposes of constitutionality.

Despite the Administration insisting again this week that the mandate is not a tax, this ruling means that federal and state bureaucracies can continue to figure out how to establish and implement the massive new entitlement program known ironically as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As Jerry Seinfeld’s character said:

Meanwhile, below is a selection of recent reports from the Government Accountability Office about how some of our current programs are doing. As I observed a few weeks ago, the GAO goes out of its way to find gentle language to point out what would otherwise be known as failure and incompetence. The studies often seem to imply that if only federal programs were granted sufficient resources and oversight, they could attain a state of perfection.

 If the electorate permits the ACA to continue, I’m sure that it will provide fodder to the GAO for similar reports for years to come.

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Outrage of the Week!: Holiday Recap
Posted By:  - 07/03/12

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


A look back at some of the most shocking "Outrages" from NTU to get you into the Holiday spirit!

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Blue Dogs, Balanced Budgets, and BillTally
Posted By: Demian Brady - 06/26/12

Center Forward, a policy organization formerly known as the Blue Dog Research Forum, started a $1.25 million ad blitz last weekend ads promoting a balanced budget. The ads ran in eight states in support of five Blue Dog Democrats – Reps. John Barrow (GA), Ben Chandler (KY), Joe Donnelly (IN),  Jim Matheson (UT), and Mike McIntyre (NC) – and three fiscally-conservative Republicans – Reps. Tim Huelskamp (KS) , David McKinley (WV), and Todd Platts (PA). All of these Members voted against Representative Paul Ryan’s budget resolution earlier this year. 

The seven ads that Center Forward posted online all have the same text, only the names are changed:

 “Americans know we’re drowning in debt. But some politicians just don’t get it. They want to essentially end Medicare. Increasing costs on seniors. [Representative’s Name] knows there’s a better way. It’s why [Representative’s Name] opposed a dangerous plan to privatize Medicare. And supports balancing the budget by cutting wasteful spending - while protecting Medicare for those who’ve earned it after a lifetime of hard work. Tell [Representative’s Name] to keep balancing the budget - the right way.”

A balanced budget is certainly a laudable goal that most people support. The question is, how do we go about balancing it? The ads only say “the right way” and mention reducing wasteful spending. Cutting wasteful spending would be a good start – there are too many reports of duplicative programs and mis-spent funds, either through error or outright fraud – but there isn’t enough money there to balance the budget. Entitlement reform remains the key to controlling long-term deficits.

And it is also harder for Members to cut the budget when they also happen to be supporters of new spending, which is the case for four of the Democratic Representatives touted in the ads. The net effect of the bills that they have sponsored or cosponsored in Congress would be to increase spending. These are the findings of NTUF’s BillTally program, the most methodical and comprehensive study of Congressional spending legislation. BillTally computes a “net annual agenda” based on each Senator’s or Representative’s individual sponsorship or co-sponsorship of legislation. This unique approach provides an in-depth look at the fiscal behavior of lawmakers, free from the influence of committees, party leaders, and rules surrounding floor votes.

Only one of the Blue Dogs, Representative Matheson, was a “net cutter” last year: if the bills he supported became law, spending would be cut by nearly $900 million. The other Blue Dogs featured in the ads about balancing the budget would each increase spending, ranging from $5.9 billion to $25.2 billion. All three of the Republicans featured in the campaign were net cutters, calling for spending reductions ranging from $134.9 billion to $221.2 billion.



 When politicians talk about balancing the budget yet support legislation with net spending increases, hold on to your wallets because there just might be tax hikes coming your way.

The full list of bills with cost estimates supported by each Member of the House and Senate is available on our website. Find out if your Representative and Senators are net cutters!

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Senate Repeals Confetti Subsidy
Posted By: Nan Swift - 06/22/12

This week the Senate passed an almost $1 trillion Farm Bill, putting it in the same league as the President’s health care law that clocked in at around half-a-billion dollars and has now climbed to over a trillion. Experts who did the real math on the new Shallow Loss insurance program say we can expect the bill’s costs to grow even more.

Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) RAISE Act was among the many, many amendments to the Farm Bill.  What should have been a no-brainer, allowing employers to give individual employees merit-based pay raises and bonuses above the minimum payment stipulated in their union contract, failed 45-54.  Republican Senators Murkowski (AK) and Kirk (IL) crossed the aisle to join their Democratic colleagues in taking money away from hard-working Americans. 

There were many other worthwhile amendments that would have saved taxpayers money and cut waste that also failed on the Senate Floor. The Market Access Program was among the more egregious wastes that the Senate endorsed. Sen. Coburn (R-OK) proposed cutting the program by only twenty percent, down from its current $200 million/year, but Senators votes 69-30 to continue subsidizing the overseas advertising of major private corporations like Welch’s, Sunkist, and Blue Diamond.

It would be hard to say that this was a stellar week for taxpayers, or our growing debt.

Still, there was one good amendment in particular that passed with broad bipartisan support.  For one beautiful moment, Senators came together than agreed that though it is totally appropriate for your tax dollars to fund wine tastings and dog glitter promotions, at least you shouldn’t have to buy the Republicans OR Democrats any more confetti and balloons for their party conventions every four years. The amendment passed 95-4,with only Senators Boxer (D-CA), Landreiu (D-LA), Mikulski (D-MD), and Rockefeller (D-WV) voting against.

Sen. Coburn’s (R-OK) convention funding amendment (#2214) prohibits the use of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (that little box you can check to donate a few bucks at the end of your income tax return) for political party conventions in elections occurring after 2012.  As an added bonus, political parties are more than welcome to return the millions earmarked for the 2012 conventions to the Treasury to be used for deficit reduction.  

Democrats and Republicans, alike, have been appalled at the recent revelation of hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted on a Las Vegas convention for GSA employees, but that is small potatoes compared to the $18.2 million dollars each party received from the Treasury for the 2012 conventions (on top of the $50 million/convention allotted by Congress for security). That’s up almost $2 million from the $16.8 million each received for the 2008 conventions, and it is all a very far cry from the $4 million each for conventions established in the 1970s. Obviously, the “cost of living adjustments” have been very generous.

While conventions used to serve as the nominating vehicle for political parties, these days they are little more than a speech and bunting filled formality.  Or as Sen. Coburn (R-OK) put it, "We're borrowing money from the Chinese to fund a 'Hallelujah Party' in both Tampa and Charlotte this year, each one of them getting $18.4 million. It's time that kind of nonsense stops,"

So if taxpayers aren’t funding an essential function of our democratic process, what are we paying for? lists:

Democrats spent $39,000 for a teleprompter, $140,000 for the podium, $18,000 for “gifts/trinkets” and $3,320 for “makeup artist consultant” at their 2008 convention, according to government records. Among expenditures by Republicans in 2008 were $6,000 worth of flowers, $9,000 for “rally signs”, $3,500 for “promotional hats,” $24,000 for flags and $88,000 for badges.

And the Los Angeles Times lists:

The bill for 2008's conventions, which topped $14 million for Democrats and $12 million for Republicans, includes some interesting items, such as $5,630 for ties and scarves and $947 for gavels at the Republican convention, and $49,122 for photography at the Democratic convention.

For anyone worried that Republicans might be forced to reuse a gavel in future years, or that the 2016 Democratic convention might be more Greek crisis than Greek temple, the conventions’ host committees have proven to be more than able to raise the funds necessary to foot the bill for these giant parties.  In 2008, the Denver host committee raised $62.9 million and the Minneapolis host committee raised $65.3 million for their conventions.

Though it is voluntary to have $3 of your tax dollars siphoned into the Presidential Election Campaign Fund each year, diverting millions to pay for what are basically huge political ads as our debt sky-rockets is hardly a responsible use of funds, especially when the bills are more than adequately paid for by private donations.

Senator Coburn (R-OK) summed up the rare win for taxpayers this way:

“Fortunately, the Senate said the ‘party is over’ when it comes to travel and meetings paid for by taxpayers.  In light of today’s overwhelming vote, I would again call on both the RNC and DNC to immediately return taxpayer funds for this year’s convention parties.  In these tough times, there is no justification for spending public funds on booze, balloons and confetti when both parties are awash in campaign donations.” 

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Rep. Landry (R-LA) Stops DOE's Shameless Plug
Posted By: Nan Swift - 06/08/12

Despite the fact that millions and millions in wasteful spending on public relations campaigns on the part of big government have come to light in recent weeks, the Department of Energy almost got away with even more propoganda spending.

Though many were appalled  to learn Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services had a total of $40.5 million on media campaigns to promote the President's unpopular health care law, were it not for an amendment to H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2013, offered by Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana, Americans would be footing the bill for yet another government funded national media campaign. This time it was to promote another unpopular part of the Adminstration's agenda, "to decrease oil consumption in the United States." NTU issued a vote alert urging a "Yes" vote on the amendment. 

The amendment to defund the "green energy" media campaign passed by a voice vote. Watch the whole thing here:

Not only should the government not be picking winners and losers in the energy market, when our federal government is already strapped with out of control debt, we shouldn't be wasting money on campaigns to tell us how to behave or think.  Thanks to Rep. Landry for catching this big government money grab.

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Speaking of Taxpayers (AUDIO): Ex-Im Hypocrisy, BillTally Update
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/25/12

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!
NTUF Policy Analyst Dan Barrett and NTU Vice President of Government Affairs Andrew Moylan join the podcast (sans Pete) to discuss BillTally's analysis, Ex-Im's extension, and the Outrage of the Week on this Memorial Day Weekend "Speaking of Taxpayers."
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Spending Proposed by Senate Delegations in the 112th Congress
Posted By:  - 05/25/12

This is the last in a series of posts that looks at data from NTUF's recently released BillTally report for the 1st Session of the 112th Congress.

Yesterday, we looked at net spending agenda by Congressional delegation and how House delegations compare with one another.  Today, we look at Senate delegations.  While the average delegation in the House had a net spending agenda of $142.2 billion, the average Senate delegation was a net saver with a net agenda of -$89.6 billion.  As in the House, the difference in party control (whether there are more Democrats or Republicans in the delegation) does appear to have an impact on the delegation's net spending agenda.  States that have two Democratic Senators have an average net agenda of $49.6 billion, while states with two Republicans have a net savings agenda of -$245.3 billion.  Delegations with one from each party (split delegations) also had a net savings agenda, -$99.7 billion.

The table also highlights the delegations with the largest spending and savings agendas.  If you don't see your delegation, you can download delegation data here (in Excel).

If you're not familiar with BillTally, here's a little background:  Since 1991, NTUF has computed the legislative spending agendas of Members of Congress by analyzing the costs – and savings – of the bills that they sponsor and cosponsor as part of our BillTally research project.  BillTally is the only comprehensive look at the potential cost to taxpayers of what Members want to spend on a Member-by-Member basis. 

If you're curious about what proposals your Members of Congress have made, you can search detailed reports for each Member of Congress here.

Average Net Spending Agendas for Senate Delegations
112th Congress, First Session

(Dollar figures are in millions)

Delegation Average Increases Average Decreases Average Net # of Increase Bills # of Decrease Bills
Overall Average $26,694 ($116,338) ($89,644) 22 9
Democrat-controlled Average $55,820 ($6,199) $49,621 36 4
Republican-controlled Average $2,427 ($247,766) ($245,339) 9 14
Split Control $17,268 ($116,990) ($99,722) 20 10
Largest Net Spending Agenda  
VERMONT  $542,693 ($10,757) $531,936 48 5
Smallest Net Spending Agenda  
KENTUCKY  $1 ($378,326) ($378,325) 1 13
Largest Democrat-controlled Net  
VERMONT  $542,693 ($10,757) $531,936 48 5
Smallest Democrat-controlled Net  
MICHIGAN  $16,713 ($28,863) ($12,150) 25 5
Largest Republican-controlled Net  
MAINE  $11,200 ($46,482) ($35,283) 35 8
Smallest Republican-controlled Net  
KENTUCKY  $1 ($378,326) ($378,325) 1 13
Largest Split-controlled Net  
ALASKA  $80,190 ($25,500) $54,690 39 7
Smallest Split-controlled Net  
WISCONSIN  $1,665 ($149,645) ($147,980) 8 9

Source: NTUF BillTally , 112th Congress
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