10 Bills That Can Bypass Congressional Gridlock

NTU Releases 6th Annual "No-Brainers" List

As usual during an election year, Congress will only be in session for a short time between now and the end of the year. Most of that time will be spent focused on “must-pass” legislation, such as funding the government after the end of the fiscal year and tying up other loose ends. However, Congress should take the time to consider National Taxpayers Union’s ten “no-brainers.” All of them are commonsense bills with bipartisan backing that should pass with ease and could result in big wins for taxpayers. Many of them, like addressing the Renewable Fuel Standard, repealing the wasteful catfish program, and taking steps to rein in an out-of-control IRS, are urgent issues that need to be resolved quickly, before it’s too late.

These no-brainer bills are a big opportunity for Congress to give taxpayers a “September surprise”: working together to get things done.

1. Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 5180): Spearheaded by a bipartisan team comprised of Representatives Flores (R-TX), Welch (D-VT), Goodlatte (R-VA), Costa (D-CA), Womack (R-AR), and Richmond (D-LA), this legislation would cap the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated ethanol content of transportation fuel at 9.7 percent – essentially pressing “pause” on the broken Renewable Fuel Standard ethanol mandate.
Without urgent Congressional action, fuel producers could be forced to blend more corn ethanol into the fuel supply than engines can safely process. This could mean less availability and higher prices at the pump for the types of gasoline that consumers – and their vehicles – prefer. H.R. 5180 is an essential stop-gap measure that would provide real and immediate relief to consumers.
2. Joint Resolution Disapproving of USDA Catfish Inspection Rule (S.J. Res. 28): The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) catfish inspection program has been pinged by the Government Accountability Office no fewer than TEN TIMES as wasteful and duplicative. The arbitrary regulatory swap from the Food and Drug Administration (already responsible for all other seafood) to USDA, is little more than a backdoor trade barrier aimed at keeping imported catfish off Americans’ menus. In response, U.S. agriculture exports could expect retaliation from Asian competitors, who would likely prevail when the issue comes before the World Trade Organization. Common sense dictates that U.S. Congress shouldn’t let protectionist policies prevail in the face of a costly trade war.

189 Republicans and Democrats have joined a letter organized by Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) urging House leadership to take up this bill before time runs out. Likewise, a bipartisan group of 34 House Energy and Commerce Committee members sent their own letter to House leadership asking for a “swift vote,” bringing the total support to 203 members. S.J. Res. 28, introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support and the same robust response would be expected in the House.

3. Taxpayers Right to Know Act (S. 282/H.R. 598): For the second Congress in a row, this key transparency measure passed the House with unanimous support, but hasn’t gained the time it needs on the Senate floor to move forward. The Taxpayers Right to Know Act would create a long-overdue online database under the purview of the Office of Management and Budget to track financial data and performance metrics for all federal programs funded over $1 million, providing a more comprehensive picture of how tax dollars are spent.
4. Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act (S. 3057/H.R. 5053): This commonsense bill would prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from requiring 501(c) tax-exempt organizations to divulge the identities of their donors in their annual returns, and preempt future violations of taxpayer privacy and free speech by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Introduced by Senator Scott (R-SC) and Representative Roskam (R-IL), the bill picked up Democratic support from Representative Peterson (D-MN). Given the serious threat to donor privacy, it is essential that Congress act quickly to rein in the IRS and help preserve the robust charitable sector that serves such an essential role in our society.
5. Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2016/FIRE Act (S. 3061): Introduced by Senators Manchin (D-WV), Perdue (R-GA), and Kirk (R-IL), this legislation would create a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that would meet every four years in order to propose recommendations to balance the budget within a ten-year window, stabilize our debt-to-GDP ratio, and address long term spending issues such as the growth in entitlement expenditures. These recommendations would then be presented as a joint resolution for Congressional consideration.
6. RESPECT Act (H.R. 5523): The full title of the bill says it all: Restraining Excessive Seizure of Property through the Exploitation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Tools. But the heart of this bill, introduced by Representatives Roskam (R-IL) and Crowley (D-NY), and backed by a team of bipartisan cosponsors, really is all about “RESPECT.” Respect for small businesses, who regularly deal with cash transactions, and all too often find themselves subject to unfair IRS prosecution and the wrongful seizure of assets. By requiring the IRS to show probable cause before seizing assets, H.R. 5523 would codify the policy changes the IRS claims to have made after a spate of embarrassing and unjust seizures.
7. Milk Freedom Act & Interstate Milk Freedom Act (H.R. 3563/H.R. 3564): This pair of bills introduced by Representatives Massie (R-KY) and Pingree (D-ME), along with bipartisan cosponsors, would decriminalize the sale of unpasteurized milk, currently the only food banned from interstate commerce. The effective ban on the sale of raw milk -- imposed by the Food and Drug Administration, not Congress -- is a prime example of bureaucratic overreach. H.R. 3563 and H.R. 3564 would protect farmers who offer raw milk and allow interstate purchases of this product in states where it is legal. This food-freedom reform is an important opportunity to put purchasing power back the hands of consumers.
8. Inspector General Empowerment Act (H.R. 2395): Introduced by Representative Chaffetz (R-UT), this legislation to expand the investigatory powers of the federal inspectors general, passed the House by voice vote. Inspectors general (IG) perform an essential duty as taxpayer watchdogs over powerful federal agencies and are the primary source of key information regarding how our tax dollars are spent and how federal programs are executed. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) IG found that the agency had not been considering the environmental impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard, as required in the underlying statute. Similarly, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has identified millions of dollars in wasteful spending. Already, IGs have warned about lack of access to key information and witnesses. Given the critical role of IGs in holding our massive bureaucracy accountable, the Senate should act quickly to empower these taxpayer defenders.
9. Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act (H.R. 5063): This legislation, introduced by Representatives Goodlatte (R-VA) and Peterson (D-MN), would prevent the Department of Justice from entering into so-called “sue and settle” agreements whereby as a result of civil action on behalf of the U.S., defendants are forced to make a “donation” to third parties not necessarily directly harmed or victimized by actions of the defendant. The practice has resulted in nearly one billion dollars going to activist groups and other nonprofits outside Congress’ oversight authority. La Raza, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and even the U.S. Coast Guard Alumni Association have all been beneficiaries of this dubious practice. Congress should take steps immediately to halt this appropriations end-run and prevent the misuse of DOJ resources to promote an ideological agenda.
10. Harvest Price Subsidy Reduction Act (S.463/H.R. 892): Harvest price option (HPO) crop insurance is considered “Cadillac coverage” in the agriculture world – an insurance product, on top of other plans, that doesn’t protect against unanticipated losses, but unanticipated profits. The result is taxpayer-guaranteed profits and riskier behavior for farmers who are essentially playing with house money. Senators Flake (R-AZ) and Shaheen (D-NH), along with Representative Duncan (R-TN), and even President Obama, all agree that taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for the business decisions of often wealthy farmers. This legislation would end the taxpayer subsidy of HPO premiums saving more than $18 billion.

NTU’s annual “No-Brainer” lists are comprised of commonsense, bipartisan bills that would be beneficial to the lives of taxpayers.

Previous lists are available at the links below:

2015: Can Congress Be Tempted By This Legislative Low-Hanging Fruit?

2014: 10 Bipartisan “No-Brainer” Bills Congress Should Pass

2013: 10 “No-Brainer” Bills: Does Congress Have the Aptitude for This Test?

2012: Congressional Aptitude Test: 10 “No-Brainer” Bills Even a Caveman Could Pass

2011: Federal IQ Test: 12 “No-Brainer” Bills Congress Should Pass for Taxpayers