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Odds & Ends for June 23
Posted By:  - 06/23/11

A few odds and ends, things that I've been meaning to get to, and a few things that I've missed and overlooked in my inbox.

Via ACTA's Tim Wise: Cartoonist Scott Adams suggests that the U.S. should create a stupidity tax in an effort to "reduce its prevalence over time." Adams suggests that such an idea is impractical: "No elected official could support a tax on stupidity." I would suggest that politicians are unlikely to make Tax Code changes that are going to lead to dramatically higher tax bills for themselves.

Tim also comments on a story from the Tax Prof Blog where the "IRS allowed 'millions in erroneous car deductions to prisoners, dead people, kid,' citing a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration." Check out Tim's post for all of the details.

Perhaps I should have titled this post Tim Wise blogging. A couple of thoughtful quotations that Tim was kind enough to pass along for you to ponder over the approaching weekend:

"[T]he illusion that by means of progressive taxation the burden can be shifted substantially onto the shoulders of the wealthy has been the chief reason why . . . the masses have come to accept a much heavier load than they would have done otherwise."
--Friedrich A. Hayek
"Nothing is more calculated to make a demagogue popular than a constantly reiterated demand for heavy taxes on the rich. Capital levies and high income taxes on the larger incomes are extraordinarily popular with the masses, who do not have to pay them."
--Ludwig von Mises


A huge (and belated) thank you to Jim Agresti of for including NTUF's BillTally research in their discussion of the national debt. They have a number of helpful charts, tables, and footnotes so that you know where everything comes from. Please check it out.

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Is House Leadership Trying to Kill a BBA?
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 06/09/11

The fix is in, my friends. Speculation on Capitol Hill runs rampant that House Leadership is actively undermining the prospects for passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to our Constitution, effectively eliminating the most powerful tool we have to enforce budgeting discipline into the future. While all 47 Senate Republicans co-sponsored a strong BBA that included a spending limit and a supermajority threshold for tax increases, House Leadership has been either ambivalent or subtly hostile towards real structural budget reform. In interviews, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said he isn't interested in "gimmicks," which many regarded as a backhanded comment about a BBA or a statutory spending cap.

This bad-mouthing seems to be working. The National Journal surveyed Members of Congress about what they expected from a debt ceiling agreement and only 39% of Republicans thought a BBA would be a part of the deal. For some perspective a recent poll found that 81% of Republican voters support a BBA, so I think it's safe to say that elected Rs appear to not be reflecting the will of their constituents very well.

And now word is leaking that Republican House leaders seem to be rushing through a BBA not in order to actually pass it, but to give it a speedy euthanasia and get it out of their hair. Just this morning, I received an email from a House staffer who said "Leadership is planning on bringing H.J. Res. 1 to the floor for a vote sometime over the next two weeks to delegitimize the BBA and separate it from the debt ceiling vote."

H.J. Res. 1 is the version of a BBA that was sped through a House Judiciary Committee markup last Friday with little notice. NTU has been advocating for a BBA for 40 years and I was one of just three people invited to personally testify in its favor at a House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution hearing last month, yet I heard NOTHING about the proposed markup until the morning it was occurring. That's not how a leadership team that's trying to build support for something operates, it's how you try to sneak something through quickly without a lot of scrutiny.

What's so peculiar about this turn of events is that a BBA is not some controversial too-conservative provision toxic to moderate Members' reelection prospects. This isn't, for example, Medicare reform, where dozens of Republican members had to swallow hard and cast the right vote in support knowing that Democrats would demagogue the issue mercilessly. Simply stated, NOBODY will have to "walk the plank" to vote for a BBA knowing that attack ads await them on the other side. It's a rare combination of good politics AND good policy, yet some Republicans are trying to kill it.

The next few weeks will tell you all you need to know about whether or not Republican leaders actually heard the message that was sent last November. Rushing a Balanced Budget Amendment through without allowing grassroots BBA supporters across the country to weigh in and build support would be a pretty clear indication of their true colors. If leaders in the House of Representatives schedule a vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment in the month of June, I'd consider it the equivalent of a big middle finger to the millions of fiscal conservatives who helped create the majority they now enjoy.

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The Late Edition: What do Snooki, a Former Marine, and NTU have in common?
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 06/08/11

Today's Roundup of Taxpayer News!

NTU, along with Rep. Michael Grimm, and Snooki (from the Jersey Shore) Support Putting an End to the Tanning Tax

NTU is working with lawmakers to repeal the tanning tax, which has already led to the loss of 24,000 jobs.

GM CEO Wants Higher Gas Taxes

GM’s CEO Daniel Akerson came out in support of higher gas taxes as well as raising taxes on wealthy Americans. He said that higher gas taxes will help GM and the auto industry continue its rebound from the previous economic crisis. What it is it with people on the government dole?

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Fox Business: Property Taxes Rising in a Down Housing Market
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/23/11

Fox Business network  recently cited National Taxpayers Union data on property taxes in a story that exposed how property taxes have not declined despite the downward spiral in real estate values (Video available HERE). As NTU points out, this is due in large part to the fact 60% of properties are over-assessed.

Housing values have dropped about 18%, but property taxes continue to rise by 7% every year. Property taxes now account for over three quarters of local and state government tax revenue, and (surprise!) are not always accurately assessed by government officials.

Fox’s Gerry Willis offered some key tips to find out if your property is over-assessed:

  1. Call the accessor’s office to ask for their taxing authority (how they assess taxes) and ask for your property record.
  2. File an appeal if there is an error in your property record, official challenges can help.
  3. During the appeals process, make sure you have photos or hard evidence.
  4. Grab as many tax exemptions (i.e. disabilities, senior citizen) as you can by applying for them through the accessor’s office.

Avoid becoming one of the 60% of taxpayers whose property is over-assessed. In this down housing market, government officials are in no rush to update your property value. For more tips on reducing your property tax burden, check out NTU’s publication How to Fight Property Taxes.

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Coming This Summer: New DC Bus Tax
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 05/18/11

Folks traveling these days are faced with higher gas prices, more airport security fees, and static rail schedules, but new bus companies like Bolt and Mega Bus have utilized new technologies and business models to drive down the cost and hassle of getting around. If I wanted to take a mental health day from researching our federal budget (taxing as it is bloated), I could have paid a measly $20 for a round trip to New York City from Washington DC. Aside from the long gone Skybus airline, you can’t get any better than that.

The companies get by with rock bottom prices because they don’t have investments in bus depots, heavy union contracts, or out of touch leadership. They pick you up from a designated location -- a parking lot or street curb -- and get you where you’re going in a reasonable amount of time. My trip to NYC would take four hours in morning traffic.

However, the deals might be coming to an end. The DC government plans to impose a public space rental fee of $80,000 (or more) per year on these companies. This is a city government that already taxes its citizens and businesses similar to the nation’s biggest tax-hogs: Tied with California in the Tax Foundation’s Tax Freedom Day and with Washington State in the Americans for Tax Reform’s Cost of Government Day. In as little as a month, consumers will take another blow to their purchasing power because of government taxing and regulation.

This is likely not the end of the story. The nearby states of Virginia and Maryland have an opportunity to become new stop points for the bus companies. Whether they would impose a similar tax or leave the companies to serve their customers remains to be seen.

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Atlas Video: The Morality of Profit
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 05/17/11

For your consideration, the Atlas Network -- an organization connecting and assisting free-market groups on an international scale -- has produced The Morality of Profit. The video features Executive Vice President Tom Palmer asking whether profits are stolen from other people or are created through value generation. Centering on Bill Gates, we are asked if the concept of “giving back” is accurate after making voluntary transactions that are beneficial to both parties. People paid a few hundred dollars for a product that greatly increased connectivity, accuracy, and efficiency.

Amidst a continuing recession (or at least continuing unemployment and problems with liquidity), the government continues to ask business leaders for more tax revenue and slices of economic freedom for status quo results. Most recently, CEOs from top oil companies were questioned by the Senate Finance Committee on their finances. Little was said about the 1.5 million people employed by the petroleum industry or how narrow the profit margin is in the oil business. Tax dollar-hungry Senators like Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said the leaders and to a degree their companies are out of touch with regular Americans and, seemingly as a result, they ought to give more money to a system literally out of cash.

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Obama's "Debt Failsafe Trigger" Just Code for Tax Hikes
Posted By:  - 05/06/11

Apple’s now-ubiquitous catchphrase, “there’s an app for that,” is one of the truer advertising pitches I’ve heard in a long time. There really is an app for literally everything, from the useful, like Shazam which allows you to identify any song that’s playing, to the addictive (I’m looking at you Angry Birds), to the downright absurd, does anyone really need Pocket Girlfriend? Now the Obama Administration has decided to follow much the marketing strategy as Apple. Problem? There’s a commission for that!

Yes, in Washington there is simply no problem that cannot be solved by talking about it…a lot. This has become no clearer than in President Obama’s “attempt” to eliminate our deficit. First, he created a bipartisan deficit commission to identify savings in the budget and come up with a plan to achieve fiscal sustainability. They came up with a plan. Obama promptly put together a budget that completely ignored it. Fast forward six months and we’re facing the same problems. Obama’s solution? A commission, this time to be chaired by Vice President Joe Biden.

Apparently when President Obama doesn’t like his hand he simply demands that the deck be reshuffled and dealt again.

The new commission is off to an ominous start. The Hill reports

“Assistant House Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-SC), who will participate in debt-reduction talks with Vice President Joe Biden Thursday, said Wednesday that a debt failsafe trigger is a “good starting point” for a compromise over the raising of the nation’s debt ceiling.”

The abstrusely-named “debt failsafe trigger” is a clever maneuver to raise taxes, even for Washington’s standards. The provision would specify certain targets for deficit reduction, which if not met, would trigger spending cuts and tax increases. What’s especially clever is that it will allow taxes to be raised automatically, without a vote!

Dick Morris cleverly labeled it “the immaculate conception tax increase.” And it could be just the miracle Democrats need to institute higher taxes without having to answer to already-overburdened taxpayers.

If you haven’t noticed Washington has not exactly been a paragon of fiscal conservatism over the past several decades. Every year they say they’ll spend less yet deficits and debt have steadily grown. Given that reality, a scheme that automatically raises taxes if Washington continue its spending spree seems like a surefire way to take the burden off politicians and place it squarely on the backs of taxpayers.

Not only is it a direct path to higher taxes, it prevents taxpayers from knowing who to blame. Since taxes will be raised automatically, and not by vote, legislators are protected from having to explain why they chose to raise taxes. As the anger of taxpayers shoots through the roof, Washington can collectively throw its hands in the air and chant “who me?”

Yes you! Americans won’t be fooled by this blatant attempt to appear concerned about the deficit while simultaneously funding increases in the size of government. The “debt failsafe trigger” may sound like a sophisticated silver-bullet that can cure all of Washington’s ills, but I’m not buying. Not even if it was only 99 cents in the App Store.

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Help Get Sen. Jim DeMint Appointed to the Finance Committee
Posted By:  - 05/02/11

Senator Jim DeMint has long been one of conservatives’ most effective allies in the Senate. His consistent support for low taxes, limited government, and reduced spending made him the top scorer in NTU’s annual Rating of Congress in 2006, 2007, and 2008. He was also one of the first Senators to embrace the Tea Party movement, recognizing it as a useful tool to provide “a voice to people who are very frustrated that Washington’s not listening.” And now, Republicans have a chance to appoint this vocal leader to a position where he could continue to shake up Washington for the good of the taxpayer – the Senate Finance Committee.

The opening on the Committee comes about as the result of the resignation of Nevada Senator John Ensign. Appointing Sen. DeMint to fill the coveted opening would not only send a clear signal to taxpayers that Republicans are listening to their concerns, it would show tax-and-spend Democrats that they mean business. Senator DeMint has become beloved by conservatives, in no small part because of his willingness to be “in the doghouse” among the Washington establishment. But this deep-rooted unwillingness to bend to politics when it means sacrificing principle is exactly the sort of traits needed on the increasingly important Senate Finance Committee.

Senator DeMint has already expressed interest in the position. “[The Finance Committee] is where entitlement reform will be written to balance the budget, and it’s where our tax laws will be reformed to ensure that America remains the best place in the world to do business,” said DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton. And it is where DeMint belongs.

The upcoming months and years will be a crucial time to ensure that America remains true to its heritage as a bastion of free markets, low taxes, and limited government. The Senate Finance Committee will be one of the key fronts in that battle of ideas. Who better to have in our corner than a principled conservative like Senator Jim DeMint?

Please help NTU’s grassroots effort by calling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at 202-224-3135 and asking him to appoint Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) to the Senate Finance Committee.  

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Some Democrats Joining Adult Conversation Over Debt Limit
Posted By:  - 04/29/11

"Adult conversation” and “serious debate” have become the top political buzzwords over the past couple of months.

President Obama said in February that his “hope is that what’s different this time is we have an adult conversation where everybody says, “Here’s what’s important and here’s how we’re going to pay for it.” Representative Paul Ryan echoed the call, “The fiscal commission gave us hope that we were going to finally have that adult conversation in Washington about how we preempt our debt and deficit crisis.”

Apparently serious adults are rare in Washington. If that’s the case, they must be bordering on extinction among the liberal pundits, journalists and bloggers who have been covering the deficit battle.

This has become no more clear than in the coverage over the debt ceiling debate. The debt ceiling is a cap set by Congress on the amount of debt the federal government can legally borrow. The ceiling currently stands at an eye-popping $14.294 trillion. The utter ridiculousness of that number and the sad fact that we’re constantly exceeding it has engendered some serious concern by conservatives.

They argue that the debt limit vote provides the necessary kick-in-the-pants that Washington needs to pass some real cuts and reforms so that we’re not right back here in six months talking about the debt limit again. A pretty sensible argument. Even President Obama thinks so. In an interview with the Associated Press, Obama said “I think it’s absolutely right that [the debt limit vote is] not going to happen without some spending cuts.”

Ah, sounds like the beginning of an adult conversation. We agree on the end goal, now let’s set about working out the details. And then the pundits got involved.

Take for example what Progressive Paul Waldman wrote in the American Prospect earlier this week:

The reason we're now seeing an unprecedented amount of attention paid to a vote that ordinarily passes with little notice is that the Republican Party's agenda is being set by a group of ideological radicals who seem quite willing to cripple the American economy if that's what it takes to strike a blow against the government they hate so much.

And now we’re back to the kiddies’ table, bickering over who gets the next turn on the Xbox.

Sadly, Waldman is not alone. With an understanding that succeeding in Washington is often about who can yell the loudest, rather than who can speak the most truthfully, liberals have pulled out their bullhorns. Their strategy is transparent enough: Use Armageddon-ish language to describe what happens if the debt limit isn’t raised, then blame any Republican attempt to reduce spending as a ploy to kill the economy.

Mature discourse? No. Would it have worked anyway? Possibly. Until today, when the second part of their plan got trounced worse than the San Antonio Spurs in this year’s playoffs. From today’s Washington Post:

A growing number of Democrats are threatening to defy the White House over the national debt, joining Republican calls for deficit cuts as a requirement for consenting to lift the country’s borrowing limit.

The push-back has come in recent days from Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a freshman who is running for reelection next year. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told constituents during the Easter recess that he would not vote to lift the debt limit without a “real and meaningful commitment to debt reduction.”

Even stalwart White House allies like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said the debt-ceiling vote should be tied to deficit reduction. And Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) went as far as to say, “As catastrophic as it would be to fail to raise our debt ceiling, it’s even more irresponsible to not take this opportunity to own up to our unsustainable spending path.”

More and more people are joining the adult conversation, understanding that our deficit problems are just too big to ignore. There’s always room at the table. Let’s hope some others are willing to set aside their partisan bombastry and help us solve our spending problems.

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