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Issue Brief

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Congressional Aptitude Test: 10 “No-Brainer” Bills Even a Caveman Could Pass

September 5, 2012
By Nan Swift
By Douglas Kellogg

NTU Issue Brief #185

September 5, 2012

With Congress and the political world off on recess and focused on party conventions, the National Taxpayers Union took to sorting through all the legislation left in the halls of the Capitol. NTU has compiled its second annual “No-Brainer” list to highlight common-sense, bipartisan bills that Congress has yet to pass. These measures would address problems that would save the American people money, or otherwise make government more efficient while not being legitimate cause for an ideological stalemate.

The popularity of the legislative branch remains in the basement; perhaps by working together to pass these straightforward, “No-Brainer” bills, Members of Congress can gain some momentum toward reforming government, and demonstrate to the American people they still have plenty of neurons firing upstairs.

Transparency

The DATA Act (H.R. 2146/S. 1222): Introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the legislation would greatly increase government transparency by building on the success of the USAspending.gov website, which provides public access to federal grant, contract, and other information. There is currently no standard for financial data collection, significantly hampering the usability of the current transparency websites. The DATA Act, a holdover from the 2011 “No-Brainer List”, would remedy that problem while also addressing waste and fraud.  It passed the House this April with strong bipartisan support on a voice vote, but the Senate has inexplicably failed to take it up.

ACCOUNT Act (H.R. 4454): Introduced by Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), the Agency Conferences and Conventions Operating Under Necessary Transparency (ACCOUNT) Act would require the heads of federal agencies to approve in writing any conference costing more than $25,000, allow consideration only of those conferences necessary to the core mission of the agency, and require a summary of each conference published on the agency’s website detailing the purpose, total cost, and cost per employee in attendance. Recent revelations like the $800,000 Las Vegas bash thrown by the General Services Administration (GSA) have shocked and outraged Americans. This is neither a new problem nor one unique to GSA: Between 2000 and 2006, the federal government spent at least $2 billion on conferences with little disclosure or oversight.

Taxpayers Right to Know Act (H.R. 3609/S. 1957): Ever wonder what government bureaucracies are up to? This bill, introduced by Rep. Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Coburn (R-OK), would help citizens to better monitor government by increasing transparency and requiring every federal agency to disclose basic information about the cost and performance of the programs they administer. Details would include the beneficiaries of each program, the number of employees required to execute the program, federal undertakings with duplicative or overlapping missions, improper payment rates, and more.

Spending

Cost Savings Enhancement Act S. 2085/EASY Savings Act H.R. 4237: Introduced by Sen. Rand Paul  (R-KY) and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) respectively, these two bills expand federal agency awards programs by empowering employees to recommend ways to not only eliminate waste and mismanagement, but also to disclose unused budget authority and surplus funds. Should a given suggestion result in savings, the worker who developed the idea is awarded a small portion of the funds (1 percent, or $10,000, whichever is less), providing an increased incentive for stewardship.

 

Tax Reform

Wireless Tax Fairness Act (H.R. 1002/S.543): Introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), this measure would protect taxpayers from rapidly escalating and regressive taxes on their wireless bills. The legislation freezes most state and local government charges on wireless phone service and prevents multiple and discriminatory taxes and fees until fundamental telecom tax reform can be achieved. The bill had no trouble clearing the House on a voice vote with unanimous, bi-partisan support, but has not budged from the Senate Finance Committee. The need for serious wireless tax reform is urgent, with many states imposing exorbitant rates, some over 20 percent, on a necessary technology for many families.

Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 1864/S. 3485): Introduced by Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) in the House and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the Senate, this “no-brainer” legislation would bring state income tax filing requirements up to date with our mobile 21st century economy by eliminating unnecessary tax compliance headaches for workers performing duties in states where they do not reside. The bill passed the House unanimously with bipartisan backing and has since been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

 

Agriculture

Sugar Cartel Repeal Bills (S. 25/S. 685/H.R. 1739/H.R. 1385): These bills to effectively end the repressive sugar cartel enjoy broad bipartisan backing and represent a common-sense step that has been a long time coming. The current sugar program costs U.S. consumers and businesses $3.5 billion and 20,000 jobs each year thanks to enormously complicated trade restrictions and price supports. Fully 42 percent of sugar subsidies go to only 1 percent of sugar growers, and for every one sugar-producing job saved, three are lost by industries that face higher costs for their sugar-based products.

 

Energy

Keystone XL Pipeline: North American-Made Energy Security Act (H.R. 1938): Introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), this bill directing the Administration to end its regulatory foot-dragging on the Keystone XL Pipeline passed the House in 2011 with bipartisan support but has since languished on the Senate legislative calendar. With unemployment persistently high, approving the Keystone XL pipeline project has even earned the “no-brainer” moniker from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT). Best described as a vital economic lifeline, the project would provide 20,000 much-needed jobs in the near term and over time support hundreds of thousands of American jobs in many sectors, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute. The pipeline would also have the potential to deliver an additional 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada, our largest and most stable supplier, injecting our economy with billions of dollars in additional activity.

Phantom Fuel Reform Act (H.R. 6047): Introduced by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), this bill is a “no-brainer” fix to an expensive, illogical mandate that costs fuel refiners millions of dollars a year. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires refiners to blend over 8 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel into the U.S. fuel supply, even if no cellulosic biofuel is produced. There is in fact, no cellulosic biofuel available commercially; U.S. energy producers are forced to buy credits for “phantom fuel” from the EPA at a cost of millions of dollars (or risk large fines). This extortion will cost energy producers more than $14 million by 2013. As a result, energy prices for consumers go higher while our energy production is harmed – and there’s only more hurt to come as the mandate is pushed up annually to 16 billion gallons by 2022. The Phantom Fuel Reform Act would simply require that the EPA’s annual cellulosic biofuel mandate reflect reality.

Renewable Fuel Flexibility Act (H.R. 3097/S. 3428): Introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), this bipartisan legislation is an important first step toward reforming the broken Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). The market-distorting RFS requires ever-increasing amounts of expensive “renewable” fuels to be blended into the gasoline supply; H.R. 3097/S. 3428 would change this unsustainable situation by more realistically linking the amount of corn ethanol required for the RFS to current corn supplies. This “no-brainer” plan would provide relief to livestock, food, and energy producers, as well as consumers struggling with record-high corn prices. RFS mandates already force a large portion of our tight corn supplies toward fuel production, and drought conditions only exacerbate the pain. The Renewable Fuel Flexibility Act is backed by an ideologically diverse coalition of organizations including livestock, grocery, anti-hunger, and environmental groups.