The 113th Congress is about to return from summer recess, and if you believe the hype that this is a “do-nothing” Congress, perhaps you aren’t expecting much. Whether that’s a fair moniker or not, Congress could do much to dispel it by passing some of the thoughtful, bipartisan legislation that has been introduced during this session.
That’s why National Taxpayers Union has put together our fourth annual list of “No-Brainer” bills – straightforward measures that should not invite fierce ideological debate, but save taxpayers money and make government more efficient.
If Members of Congress can avoid being too distracted by elections, they can do some good for the American people by passing these 10 “No-Brainers.”
Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act, H.R. 916: Introduced by the bipartisan duo of Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Rob Bishop (R-UT), the FLAIR Act would direct the Secretary of the Interior to create and maintain a full inventory of federally-owned land in order to ensure proper use and management of billions of dollars worth of vacant or underutilized properties.
This is such a “No-Brainer” you might be surprised to find out such a system does not already exist! Currently, lack of reliable data makes it difficult for agencies to estimate exactly how much excess property is sitting on government balance sheets, but new technological advancements in mapping and databases would allow for easy tracking and save taxpayers money. In July, H.R. 916 passed out of committee by unanimous consent, showing its bipartisan bona fides.
Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act, H.R. 6: Introduced by Representative Cory Gardner (R-CO), this legislation would streamline the process for current and future liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications – unleashing the enormous potential for growth in the domestic natural gas industry and with it up to 45,000 jobs in the next four years! All this with a simple tune up for the bureaucratic machinery. H.R. 6 has a slate of bipartisan cosponsors and passed the House in June with broad support from both sides of the aisle.
Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, H.R. 3086: Introduced by Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, or PITFA, would permanently ban taxes on Internet access. Keeping Internet access free of new or discriminatory taxes has helped to create a dynamic environment where the Internet is thriving, and affordable.
PITFA passed the House on a voice vote in July, but if the Senate doesn’t act soon, taxpayers may be bombarded with an onslaught of new predatory “fees” and taxes when the current moratorium expires in November. Avoiding that should be a “No-Brainer” for Congress.
Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, H.R. 4156: Introduced by Representatives Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Tom Graves (R-GA), this legislation would repeal a 2012 rule requiring airlines to aggregate federal taxes and fees in the total advertised airfare price, hiding the true cost of the growing financial burden Washington imposes on air travel. Few passengers are probably aware that they can be subject to 17 different taxes and fees. On an average domestic flight, some of those taxes can comprise up to 20 percent of the total price! Americans have the right to know just how much of their airfare is going to the government coffers. H.R. 4156 passed the House on voice vote in July with broad bipartisan support.
Save American Workers Act, H.R. 2575: Introduced by Representative Todd Young (R-IN), H.R. 2575 has bipartisan cosponsors and passed the House in April with 18 Democrats joining Republicans to push the bill forward. The legislation would repeal the flawed 30-hour definition of full-time employment established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and replace it with the conventional 40-hour work week standard originally codified by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. PPACA’s 30-hour definition is a strange outlier that threatens jobs and our ongoing economic recovery. Employers being faced with providing health insurance for workers who previously would have been considered part-time has resulted in raised prices, laid-off part-time workers, and stagnant hiring, or implementation of other cost-cutting measures to stay under the new arbitrary limit. A related bill in the Senate, S. 1188, also has a slate of bipartisan cosponsors.
Harmonizing PPACA’s work-week definition with the standard already recognized by the Department of Labor and across federal and workplace labor regulations is a needed “No-Brainer.”
Audit the Pentagon, S. 1510 and H.R. 5126: While these two bills differ on their legislative approach, both would achieve the same essential, “No-Brainer” goal: that taxpayers should know how their dollars are being spent at the Department of Defense (DOD).
The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 required all federal agencies to provide annual auditable financial statements, but so far, DOD has been unable to comply. Since 1995, DOD has made an annual appearance on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) “High Risk” list for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. As legislators make tough decisions about our nation’s defense and spending priorities, it’s essential that they be able to do so with clear, up-to-date information to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t misused. S. 1510 was introduced in the Senate by the bipartisan team of Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV); H.R. 5126 was introduced in the House by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), and both bills are backed by a team of bipartisan cosponsors.
Reducing Overlapping Payments Act, S. 1099: Introduced by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Angus King (I-ME), this legislation would require the Social Security Administration (SSA) to temporarily suspend Disability Insurance (DI) benefits during any month in which a beneficiary also receives Unemployment Insurance (UI) in order to prevent overlapping payments. According to the GAO, in FY2010, 117,000 individuals received overlapping DI and UI benefits totaling more than $850 million.
These overlapping payments, a threat to the sustainability of both programs, are largely a result of inconsistent eligibility requirements creating a unique loophole that President Obama proposed closing in his FY2014 budget and that SSA can easily fix if given the authority under S. 1099. Doing so could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help ensure the longevity of the DI and UI programs.
Taxpayers Right-To-Know Act, S. 2113/H.R. 1423: Introduced by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Tim Scott (R-SC) in the Senate and Representative James Lankford (R-OK) in the House, the legislation is backed by bipartisan cosponsors in both chambers. The Taxpayers Right-To-Know Act legislation would require every federal agency to produce an annual report card for each program detailing costs, expenditures, number of beneficiaries, and program administrators. The bill also requires the report card to include the specific statute authorizing the program, whether that authorization has expired, any findings of duplication or overlap, and any program performance reviews. Increasing transparency in this fashion across the federal government would be a major step toward reducing duplicative wasteful spending and improving the value of our many programs.
Death Tax Repeal Act of 2013, S. 1183/H.R. 2429: Introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) in the Senate and House respectively, this legislation would repeal the federal estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes, as well as permanently cap the gift tax at 35 percent. Originally passed as a temporary revenue measure, the death tax slows business activity, destroys jobs, and suppresses wages. Since appearing on the 2013 “No Brainers” list, the Death Tax Repeal Act has garnered over 218 co-sponsors in the House, including members of both parties, making it very likely to pass if brought to the floor. At a time when we need to spur economic growth, Congress should make repealing the death tax a priority.
Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, S. 1271/H.R. 2638: Introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) in the Senate and House respectively, this legislation would bring much-needed fiscal discipline to the sprawling foreign aid process by requiring federal agencies to establish performance-evaluation guidelines for assistance programs and creating a user-friendly website to track how taxpayer money is being spent (in compliance with the Open Government Plan).
A 2012 Congressional Research Service report on the effectiveness of foreign aid programs said that “success or failure is not entirely clear” due to lack of evaluation, varied methodologies, and unclear objectives. This “No-Brainer” fixes these flaws and has bipartisan cosponsors in both chambers as well as support from members of the international aid community.