2018 has been a year riven by deep societal rifts: Yanny or Laurel? Should Khloe stay or leave Tristan? What will millennials kill next? When does Infrastructure Week actually occur? So it’s nice to see Members of Congress put aside these bitter disputes and put taxpayers first in these ten “No-Brainer” bills.
To qualify, a bill must have bipartisan support and provide a commonsense solution to a real problem - not just renaming a post office or creating a commemorative coin. This year, most of these bills would improve how Congress and the federal government work - something we can all agree is needed. Congress should hurry up and pass these no-brainers to let the healing begin:
1. No Pensions for Corrupt Politicians Act (H.R. 4314), Rep. Tenney (R-NY): This long-overdue legislation would restore the intent of ethics laws that have been passed to protect taxpayers from subsidizing the retirement of Members of Congress who are guilty of serious criminal conduct in public office. Currently, even Members convicted of things like corruption and tax fraud can exploit loopholes and continue to receive a generous pension as they draw out the appeals process.
2. Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act (S. 2374/H.R. 4929), Sen. Carper (D-DE) & Rep. Bustos (D-IL): This legislation would give the Social Security Administration the authority to share its official list of deceased individuals with federal agencies and provide better oversight. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that for Fiscal Year 2017, improper payments totalled almost $141 billion, some of which went to dead people, or people using that information fraudulently. It’s not a small problem; a 2013 audit found more than $36 million in farm subsidies went to more than six thousand deceased farmers. GAO has repeatedly pointed to incomplete data and poor data sharing as a major obstacle in reducing this kind of wasteful spending.
3. Readable Legislation (H.R. 5142) & Searchable Legislation (H.R. 5143) Acts, Rep. Amash (R-MI): This pair of bills would remedy a long-standing problem in Washington: it can be hard to know exactly what is in a bill (especially when a bill is hundreds of pages long and Members have only hours to read it before a vote). It’s even harder for anyone outside Washington (unless you happen to have a law degree) to parse the arcane language and follow minor changes back through previous bills and sections of the Federal Code, all of which might not be in a digital-friendly format. These acts are simple: legislation should include the context of what is being changed, not just references; and Congressional information should adhere to one standard, easy to access format.
4. Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (H.R. 4631), Rep. Quigley (D-IL): How many times has this happened to you? You successfully get an important report inserted into an authorization or appropriations bill and a federal agency only sends the report to the Committee in question, who often won’t share it with anyone - not even the Member who made the request. When Congress requests a report, paid for with taxpayer funds on issues important to taxpayers and decision-makers, those reports should be made available to everyone unless the information is classified. This bill was reported out of the Committee on House Administration in April unanimously.
5. Payment Integrity Information Act (S. 2948), Sen. McCaskill (D-MO): Again, taxpayers lose billions and billions each year as a result of improper payments. With the deficit on track to top $1 trillion and debt at a new all-time high, it’s critical that federal agencies take steps to reduce this waste. This legislation would require agencies to put in place other GAO recommendations, such as better data analysis and more focus on preventing these improper payments in the first place. GAO has repeatedly urged agencies to put in place these proven techniques, but ongoing problems make it clear that Congressional action is necessary to end agency complacency.
6. Good Accounting Obligation in Government Act (H.R. 5415), Rep. Walker (R-NC): A lot of taxpayer resources go into the work of the GAO and agency Inspectors General (IG), too much of which is ignored by Congress and the agencies they oversee. This legislation, which passed the House unanimously, would require agencies to provide status reports on the recommendations made by GAO and the Office of Inspector General in their annual budget requests. H.R. 5415 is a commonsense approach to better utilize the GAO and IGs as the government watchdogs they are.
7. “Financial State of the Union” Resolution (H.Con.Res. 8), Rep. Renacci (R-OH): Backed by 139 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, this resolution would require a bicameral meeting of Congress, like the annual State of the Union, where the Comptroller General would present on the GAO’s audited financial statements of the executive branch and provide analysis on federal finances. This is an important opportunity to highlight the increasingly dire fiscal issues facing our country and elevate awareness among both elected officials and the general public. A similar proposal has been recommended by the Convergence Building a Better Budget Process project, from stakeholders from across the ideological spectrum.
8. Fighting Fraud to Protect Care for Seniors Act (H.R. 6690), Reps. Roskam (R-IL) & Blumenauer (D-OR): Again, in an effort to curb an epidemic of improper payments, this bipartisan legislation would create a pilot program within Medicare to deploy smart card technology for accessing services. This would reduce ID theft, a problem that GAO discovered led to the loss of $200 million within Medicaid’s Managed Care Organizations, and could help gather data to reduce other crises, such as prescription opioid abuse. GAO has long recommended the use of smart cards to help avoid fraud; testing this theory is a good place to start. This bill passed the House unanimously on September 12.
9. Fly Smart Act (S. 3399), Sens. Merkley (D-OR) & Kennedy (R-LA): Every dollar wasted is one taken out of a taxpayer’s wallet, either now or in the future. This is especially galling when those funds are being wasted on first-class flights. Federal government employees - including Cabinet members - should be setting an example of the belt-tightening that is needed across all facets of the federal ledger in order to restore fiscal sustainability. This legislation would help ensure that apart from some strict exceptions, federal employees won’t be living large on the taxpayers’ tab.
10. Trade Oversight Legislation (S. 3013 & H.R. 6337), Sen. Corker (R-TN) & Rep. Gallagher (R-WI): These bipartisan, bicameral bills would require that any potential tariffs to be applied under Section 232 first be considered by Congress. Enhanced oversight would reduce the misuse of alleged national security threats for costly, protectionist ends and help more appropriately balance power between the legislative and executive branches. Congress should use their authority to prevent further harm to our economy, farmers, American workers, and consumers.
Previous lists are available at the links below: