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TONIGHT: "Price the Proposals" of the State of the Union Address
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/28/14

Expecting More or Less Government from Tonight’s Speech? Guess Right and Win!

Play our 2014 "Price the Proposals" game to test your budget brain power and win prizes!

Click Here to Play the Price the Proposals Game!

There are now just a few hours left for you to guess how much new savings or spending President Obama will call for in his State of the Union Address (SOTU) in our “Price the Proposals" game!

Time is running out, submit your entry now!

If you make the closest guess to what National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s analysis finds, without going over, you win! Runners-up receive prizes too, but you can’t win unless you enter!

Simply go to www.ntu.org/sotu2014.

What you’re playing for:

  • $50 Visa gift card
  • A one-year Reason magazine subscription
  • Special "Team Taxpayer" gear

Watch the speech to find out what the President proposes, and join with the 362,000 members of National Taxpayers Union and staff online for commentary, fact-checking, and taxpayer talk:

Deadline for entry: January 28th (TONIGHT) at 10 p.m. ET

Please don’t set this aside – enter now before you miss out on the fun!

Then, in the days ahead, stay tuned for a special post-SOTU analysis with NTU and NTUF staff, which will be on our blog soon after the President’s speech.

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Preview: The President's SOTU Proposals
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 01/27/14

Leading up to tomorrow night's State of the Union address, the White House has made at least one thing abundantly clear: the President has both a pen and a phone at his disposal.

While those instruments will probably get plenty of use during the speechwriting process, the Administration has been using the line to emphasize that if Congress doesn't act on certain agenda items, the President will -- either through executive orders or other unilateral actions.

  • The focus of this year's SOTU speech, according to White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer, will supposedly be on creating middle-class job security, with proposals to strengthen retirement safety nets and offer more jobs and skills training programs.
  • Income inequality will likely be a major talking point for the President this year, especially in the wake of recent public debate over minimum wage hikes.
  • As far as "big-ticket" proposals are concerned, it's possible that the President will use the speech to reiterate his support for expanded early childhood education and comprehensive immigration reform, as the Washington Post reports.
  • Don't expect to hear much about the deficit or looming debt ceiling debate, a subject that's caused plenty of political controversy over the past few months.

The price tag accompanying the President's proposals will depend on how specific he'll be in describing his goals for this so-called "year of action." You can follow along with NTU and NTUF staff tomorrow night for real-time analysis during the speech, as well as in the days after as we break down the President's agenda and what it means for taxpayers.

Be sure to let us know ahead of time what you think the agenda will cost!

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New Report Raises Doubts about F-35 Jobs Claims
Posted By: Nan Swift - 01/22/14

Today the Center for International Policy’s Director of Arms and Security Project, William Hartung (a colleague of NTU’s), released a critical report disputing the number of jobs generated by the costly F-35 joint strike fighter program. The report also raises questions concerning the use of foreign contractors and Lockheed campaign contributions.

Fittingly entitled, “Promising the Sky: Pork Barrel Politics and the F-35 Combat Aircraft,” some of the significant findings of the report include:

  • Lockheed Martin’s claim of 125,000 F-35-related jobs is roughly double the likely number of jobs sustained by the program. The real figure, based on standard estimating procedures used in other studies in the field, should be on the order of 50,000 to 60,000 jobs.
  • Similarly, the company’s claim that there is significant work being done on the F-35 in 46 states does not hold up to scrutiny. Even by Lockheed Martin’s own estimates, just two states – Texas and California – account for over half of the jobs generated by the F-35. The top five states, which include Florida, Connecticut and New Hampshire – account for 70% of the jobs.
  • Eleven states have fewer than a dozen F-35-related jobs, a figure so low that it is a serious stretch to count them among the 46 states doing significant work on the program. These states are Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Delaware, Nebraska, North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana and Wyoming.

According to the most recent Selective Acquisitions Report, the total cost for the F-35 program, including both the aircraft and engine subprograms, is $391.2 billion. Other, more inclusive estimates put that total much higher. Despite the program’s numerous setbacks, delays, cost increases, and engineering problems, lawmakers have nonetheless given the F-35 one pass after another. One of the major reasons for the lack of serious scrutiny the F-35 has received has been the repeated claims by military Keynesians that the program is an important “job creator of the highest order, a program that has a home in almost every state.”

This new report reinforces critics’ (NTU among them) arguments that funding for the F-35 shouldn’t be on autopilot. Further, the report underscores the need to apply new scrutiny to not only the F-35, but other major weapons systems as well. NTU has long held that the F-35 program has not adequately justified its huge appetite for taxpayer dollars. We have discussed options such as scrapping the B and C variants in joint reports with the R Street Institute as well as U.S. PIRG.  Given the disparate values and goals of our partner institutions, the fact that both reports would put the F-35 under the spotlight is a clear indicator that it’s time to take a hard look at the program now..

Getting to the truth about the job-creator myth that has grown up around the F-35 is an important part of reexamining and rethinking how taxpayer funds are spent at the Pentagon.  Now, as Mr. Hartung concludes his report, “…Congress and the executive branch can feel free to debate the future of the F-35 on its strategic merits, not pork barrel politics.”

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Taxpayer’s Tab Supplemental: NOAA Funding and H.R. 2413
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/21/14

In the latest edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab, NTU Foundation highlighted H.R. 2413 as the week’s Wildcard bill, which is the section where we highlight proposals we find particularly interesting but that do not fall into any of the other three bill highlight sections. The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act would dedicate new resources to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to research and predict “high impact weather events,” occurring both nationally and globally.  More specifically, NOAA would receive funding to purchase new equipment and conduct research that improves its forecasting abilities ahead of extreme weather phenomena like Superstorm Sandy or last year’s Midwest tornadoes.

The text of the bill as introduced set an authorization of appropriations of $120 million for the years FY 2014-2017. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the bill to determine the outlays, i.e., the actual amount of federal spending that would occur as a result of the authorizations. CBO reported that the programs covered by the bill received funding of $80 million in FY 2013 but it was not sure of actual outlays for FY 2014. Beginning in FY 2015 spending would begin to increase from $89 million reaching $119 million in FY 2017. CBO also determined that additional funding ($42 million through FY 2017) would be required for research and planning. Based on this data, NTUF estimated that the bill would increase spending by a net of $115 million over four years.

That is what we wrote in the Tab, which went out to our subscribers last Thursday. Since the release, NTUF analysts have been contacted by staffers on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to help clarify their position and intentions regarding H.R. 2413. The Committee staffers told us that they disagreed with the conclusion of the CBO report:

The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act does not increase the overall authorization for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Instead, it prioritizes weather forecasting research from funds made available for research at NOAA. At present, NOAA spends more than twice as much on climate change research as it does on weather forecasting research. The bill, as amended and passed by the Committee in December, does not affect direct spending or revenues, contains no unfunded mandates, and does not does not increase the overall authorization for NOAA, NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, or the Operations, Research, and Facilities account at [the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)].

In short, Committee staff say that H.R. 2413 transfers funds from NOAA climate change research to weather prediction research. However, there are a few things to consider in reading our article, reading the Committee’s response, and looking at the CBO cost estimate:

  • BillTally Methodology: The goal of NTUF’s signature project is to determine the original spending intention of legislators and cosponsors. Thus, we analyze the text of bills as originally drafted, not as amended in Committee or on the floor of either the House or Senate. In the original language of H.R. 2413, there is no section that formally details a funding transfer (or explicitly prevents new spending to occur) and so we scored the measure as new spending. However, we only look at spending relative to pre-existing authorizations (known as the baseline). In the case of H.R. 2413, CBO determined that $80 million had already been dedicated to similar activities in 2013. The $115 million total in the Tab represents our estimate of the additional spending it would take beyond that to implement the bill’s provisions.

  • CBO Cost Estimates: Occasionally, CBO estimates do not reflect the intentions of bill sponsors. Sometimes this occurs because the text of legislation does not fully outline those intentions, CBO does not interpret the change in law as is outlined in the bill, or both CBO and the sponsors do not account for all the factors (such as current spending or the full costs of implementing a measure).

  • Sponsor/Committee Response: It should be noted that the staffers’ explanation reflects a version of the bill “as amended and passed by the Committee in December” whereas NTUF scores legislation as introduced. Often times, bill text is amended to reflect the changes negotiated in committee or to correct errors in the introduced versions. These actions can change how a bill is interpreted and scored by CBO and so, in keeping with NTUF’s BillTally methodology, we score the initial version of every bill introduced in Congress.

What this means for H.R. 2413: The Committee amended the bill and ordered it to be reported, which means staffers will prepare a written report about the bill including its intentions, section-by-section analysis, and cost information. After that, it would need to be placed on the House’s legislative calendar for floor consideration. In the event the language has been clarified as the Science Committee staff says, the bill would result in a transfer of existing funds and would not increase federal spending.

What this means for taxpayers: For Americans concerned with the accuracy of federally-funded meteorology, especially with regards to large destructive weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes, NOAA will have more resources to improve their predictions and models. This assumes that the redirected-funding for weather research yields better results.

What this means for NTUF’s article and BillTally score: Because the transfer changes were made in the amended version of H.R. 2413 and not the introduced version, we will still record the financial impact of the bill as we reported it in The Taxpayer’s Tab: $29 million ($115 million over four years). This score will be reflected in the agendas of H.R. 2413's sponsor and cosponsors when we release our First Session BillTally report in the coming months. It will likely have a marginal impact on an individual’s proposed spending agenda, but that will also depend on the Member’s other proposals.

Something to remember: NTU Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization and so does not take a stance on any legislation, candidates, or the fitness of currently serving officials to serve. BillTally and The Taxpayer’s Tab is intended to educate Americans on the proposals and spending that can affect the federal budget and their own pocketbooks. We are happy not only to write about the many measures being considered in Congress, but also to clarify our work as a bill evolves and makes its way through Congress.

Not a Taxpayer’s Tab subscriber? Get the most up-to-date research from the BillTally project and the spending trends of Congress now!

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Will the President's Speech Price Taxpayers Out of Prosperity?
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/21/14

Join NTU online to win prizes and chat with your fellow taxpayers during the President’s State of the Union Address – and play our 2014 “Price the Proposals” game to test your budget brain power and win prizes!

Click Here to Play the Price the Proposals Game!

In just one week, President Barack Obama will deliver his 2014 State of the Union (SOTU) Address to Congress and the nation. What policies will he propose? How much will his agenda add or cut from the budget? National Taxpayers Union wants to know what you think!

Before the end of the SOTU speech on January 28th, go to www.ntu.org/sotu2014 and make your guess about how much the Address might cost or save taxpayers. The closest guesses to our researchers’ analysis of the speech (without going over) could win:

  • $50 Visa gift card
  • A one-year Reason magazine subscription
  • A special “Team Taxpayer” Kit

Then, join us online during the speech!:

Our policy experts and grassroots advocates will give you up-to-the-second commentary and the real facts behind the President’s plans.

So, come on down and “Price the Proposals” during President Obama’s State of the Union “showcase” next Tuesday!

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Predict Cost of State of the Union Address, Win $50 Visa Gift Card!
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/18/14

Do the President’s words have weight or is talk cheap?

Join NTU online to win prizes and chat with your fellow taxpayers during the President’s State of the Union Address – and play our 2014 “Price the Proposals” game to test your budget brain power and win prizes!

Click Here to Play the Price the Proposals Game!

On January 28th, President Barack Obama will deliver his 2014 State of the Union (SOTU) Address to Congress and the nation. In this speech, the President will have the opportunity to lay out his policy priorities for the next year. Will he present an agenda to get the deficit under control? Or, will taxpayers see the same old plans for more spending and higher taxes?

Americans could be in store for billions of savings or trillions in new obligations, either of which will affect the country for years to come. But what sort of dollar figure are we talking about? If you can correctly answer that question, you could win a $50 Visa gift card!

Back by popular demand, NTU’s “Price the Proposals” contest is taking the pulse of the nation. All you have to do is guess how much you think the President’s SOTU Address will change the federal budget (without going over) and the $50 could be yours! (Don’t worry, we have prizes for runners up, too.)

Then on the night of the speech, January 28th, join us across the web for up-to-the-minute commentary on the State of the Union Address and its fiscal impact. We’ll see you on Twitter, Facebook, and in our special SOTU chat room (on the Government Bytes blog)!

“Price the Proposals” entries can be submitted at www.ntu.org/sotu2014. The deadline to submit your entry is 10 p.m. ET on the 28th. Don’t miss your chance to play, submit your guess now!

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

Tab Insert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cbo options dec 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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