10 "No-Brainer" Bills: Does Congress Have Aptitude for this Test?

Congress’ impending return is already spurring Washington back to life with debate, primarily over the Middle East. Yet, this will divert attention once again from a wide range of productive, bi-partisan, and helpful proposals for fiscal or economic reform that are ready and waiting on the table.

Can Congress finally pass our “No-Brainer” test they’ve failed the past two years?

Approval ratings and polls seem to indicate the American people are not enamored with Congress’ abilities – hovering around 81 percent disapproval. To help our nation’s legislators show they can indeed take common sense, non-controversial, steps to improve the country, National Taxpayers Union (NTU) has compiled its 3rd annual “No-Brainer List” of bills active in either house of Congress. Specifically these 10 pieces of legislation do not make sweeping changes that would warrant long national debate, they have bi-partisan support, and they frequently tackle problems that are widely acknowledged.

Washington has plenty of intense issues to deal with, so these “No-Brainers” should help ease their burden and regain some of the faith of their fellow Americans as they return from summer vacation.

Government Reform

1.) Congressional Pension Reform (H.R. 423): Introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), this bipartisan bill would further overhaul the Congressional retirement system by repealing the defined-benefit portion of the package entirely and allowing a 401(k)-style arrangement to remain in place. Late last year Congress took the welcome step of bringing its pension formula in line with that of rank-and-file federal employees, though the change mostly applies to lawmakers first elected in 2012. Under H.R. 423, Members’ retirement structure will more closely resemble what taxpayer constituents might face, require more “skin in the game” for legislators, and save taxpayers money.

2.) Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare/Medicaid Expenditures or “PRIME” Act (H.R. 2305/S. 1123): Introduced by dynamic bipartisan duos in both the House and Senate, consisting of Rep. John Carney (D-DE), Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the PRIME Act strives to stem the loss of tens of billions of dollars each year through waste and fraud. By implementing tools to prevent improper payments before they happen, the PRIME Act proactively encourages oversight for two programs that increasingly consume a growing percentage of the annual budget. Increased accountability on the part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and more robust mechanisms to incentivize consumer awareness should help increase savings and re-orient two notoriously mismanaged programs.

3.) Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny or “REINS” Act (H.R. 367/S. 15): Introduced by Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) in the House and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in the Senate, H.R. 367 passed the House in early August with bipartisan support. The REINS Act would increase legislative accountability over federal regulatory policy by requiring Congress to affirmatively approve any rule that may result in an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more. Over the past several decades, the scope of federal regulations ballooned from an average of 11,000 pages per year added to the Federal Register in the 1950s, all the way up to 77,249 pages in 2012 – with an astounding 1,641 added in just one week. This has translated to heavier compliance costs for businesses, $1.75 trillion in 2008 alone, creating a hidden burden on taxpayers and a drag on our economic recovery.


Tax Reform

4.) Wireless Tax Fairness Act (H.R. 2309/S. 1235): Introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Trent Franks (R- AZ) in the House and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) in the Senate, this measure would protect taxpayers from rapidly escalating and regressive taxes on wireless service. The Wireless Tax Fairness Act would freeze state and local charges on wireless phone service and prevents multiple and discriminatory taxes and fees until fundamental reform can be achieved. The bill had no trouble clearing the House on a voice vote with unanimous, bi-partisan support in the previous Congress, making passage a near slam-dunk. The need for serious wireless tax reform is urgent, with many states imposing exorbitant rates, some over 20 percent, on a necessary technology in this day and age.

5.) Repealing the Death Tax (S. 1183/H.R. 2429): Introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. 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. Backed by growing numbers of cosponsors, including members of both parties in the House, an end to the federal death tax is long overdue. Originally passed as a temporary revenue measure, the death tax slows business activity, destroys jobs, and suppresses wages. At a time when we need to spur economic growth, Congress should make repealing the death tax a priority.



6.) Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform Measures “AFFIRM” Act (H.R. 1995): Introduced by Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Tom Petri (R-WI) and backed by a bipartisan group of reform-minded legislators, the AFFIRM Act could save taxpayers billions of dollars through common-sense crop insurance caps, means testing, reduced subsidies to private insurers, reduced indemnities on the part of taxpayers, and increased transparency. Doing so would bring overly generous taxpayer-funded crop insurance benefits in line with other programs, limit harmful market distortions, and encourage privatization of agricultural risk. Since farmers continue to enjoy record-high profits that are expected to continue rising over the next decade even as other sectors of the economy continue to struggle, this is a prime opportunity to make serious reforms in agribusiness.



7.) Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3): This bill passed the House in May with bipartisan support, and would clear the way for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, bringing with it 20,000 much-needed jobs over time, and supporting thousands of other jobs in manufacturing. An August study from IHS CERA indicated the pipeline “will not have any impact” on greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally a March assessment by the State Department raised no significant red flags that should hinder construction, pointing out that other transmission methods of oil from Canada’s oil sands could mean equal or greater environmental risks.  This economic lifeline would 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. With unemployment persistently high, approving the Keystone XL pipeline project is one obvious no-brainer.

8.) Energy Consumers Relief Act of 2013 (H.R. 1582): H.R. 1582 would increase legislative control and accountability over Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory policy by ensuring that any new energy-related EPA rule having an estimated cost (direct or indirect) of more than $1 billion will trigger a more deliberative economic review prior to finalization. This additional oversight would provide a check on a federal regulatory body that regularly hands down burdensome edicts. Such rules can raise energy bills for consumers and harm industries caught in EPA’s crosshairs, while exacting a heavy toll on the economy when we can least afford it. The bill passed the House on August 1 with bipartisan support, so the ball is in the Senate’s court.

9.) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Reform Act (H.R. 1462): Introduced by the bipartisan team of Representatives Goodlatte (R-VA), Costa (D-CA), Womack (R-AR), and Welch (D-VT), the RFS Reform Act would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate, reduce the cellulosic ethanol mandate and cap ethanol blends in gasoline at the current “E10” level. These important reforms would help to ease the current strain on corn supplies and lower costs for consumers on everything from food to transportation. Currently, nearly half of the corn harvest goes into the fuel supply, driving up food prices. Higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline raise the risk of engine damage and ethanol’s lower fuel economy means consumers have to refill their gas tanks more often. And requiring refiners to blend in gallons of cellulosic biofuels, despite the fact that none is commercially available, also conspires to inflate gas prices. Together, the severe market distortions of the current RFS create a “perfect storm” of bad policy that hurts consumers, livestock producers, energy producers, the environment, and the hungry in developing nations. Today, even former advocates of the RFS agree that the damaging unintended consequences of the policy render it in need of urgent reform.

Health Care

10.) Authority for Mandate Delay Act (H.R. 2667): This commonsense legislation passed the House in July with significant bipartisan support. Drafted in response to the Obama Administration’s one-year delay of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s health insurance mandate for employers, this bill codifies and legalizes the Administration’s actions. Doing so provides much-needed, albeit short-term relief for the many businesses already cutting employee hours or jobs as a result of the law. Given the obvious need to delay implementation of this mandate in the wake of employment upheaval, the Administration’s support for the policy, and the bipartisan support for this bill in the House, Senator Reid should move quickly to pass this legislation in the Senate.

Check out past years’ “No-Brainer” lists: 2011 and 2012.