The 112thCongress has had a tumultuous first seven months, capped off by an epic debtceiling debate that will guarantee … well, another debt ceiling debate when thelatest $2.4 trillion check eventually runs out. In so doing, Congress has leftbehind a great deal of unfinished business whose quick resolution could help toimprove America’s cloudy fiscal forecast. In hopes of providing at least astart to this process, the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union hasidentified 12 specific pieces of legislation that ought to be “no-brainers” forany legislator focused on fighting for the American people’s financial future.
Everyyear we hear rhetoric from Washington politicians about finding common ground,ending “waste, fraud, & abuse,” cutting ineffective programs, and streamlininggovernment. Many citizens will see their Representative or Senator tout a billthey have introduced that would implement a seemingly obvious reform, never tohear of it again.
Thefollowing list – by no means exhaustive – is a collection of reforms thatshould have bipartisan appeal due to their obvious and practical nature. Onlypoliticians concerned about a small special interest, or completely uncommittedto improving government, could stand against these “no brainers.”
CongressMembers returning from summer recess looking for budgetary savings, and justplain smarter government, should work to push these helpful bills over thefinish line…
1. The REFUND Act (H.R. 1358/S. 1009),introduced by Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT) in the House, and SenatorMarco Rubio (R-FL) in the Senate, is perhaps the king on the ‘no-brainers’ inlight of our massive debt. The bill would allow states that refuse federalfunding to redirect that money to pay down the national debt, rather than allowit to be redistributed to other, less fiscally prudent states. This would shortcircuit the “use-it-or-lose-it” approach to accepting and spending federalgrant money that has been a major contributor to Washington’s overspendingproblem.
2. The FreeSugar Act (S. 685, H.R. 1385/1739),spearheaded by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Representative Robert Dold(R-IL), would remove the absurd system of tariffs, quotas, and other federalsupport that artificially inflates U.S. sugar prices. Concerned consumers havegrown weary of the disturbingly ubiquitous, and unfairly subsidized high-fructosecorn syrup, making now the perfect time for government to stop preventing sugarfrom returning to the marketplace.
3. TheDATA Act (H.R. 2126/S. 1222), sponsored by Representative Darrell Issa(R-CA) and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), would greatly increase government transparencyby building on the success of the USAspending.gov website which puts federalgrant, contract, and other information at the fingertips of any concernedcitizen. There is currently no standard for financial data collection,significantly hampering the usability of current transparency portals. The DATAAct would remedy that, and also counter waste, fraud, and abuse by streamliningdatabases across agencies. Though imperfect, this bill constitutes a big steptowards greater transparency.
4. TheTaxpayer Receipt Act (S.437/H.R. 1527), the product of Senator BillNelson (D-FL) and Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), would give taxpayers areceipt showing how their taxes are being spent. The detailed electronic orpaper accounting would show how much the government is borrowing in their name,as well as break down where their money goes into categories like Medicare,Social Security, national defense, net interest on the federal debt, education,and federal employee benefits.
5. TheSetting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (H.R. 1891), authored by Rep.Duncan Hunter (R-CA), is a bill that definitely lives up to its name. Far fromtaking “the meat axe approach” that alarmists always use to defend theeducation-spending status quo, Hunter’s bill is a thoughtful attempt to clearthe decks of federal school programs that no longer make sense. These includemany that have been defunded but not de-authorized, have been cited for poorperformance or duplication, or have even been consolidated or eliminated inPresident Obama’s own Fiscal Year 2012 budget. With this kind of balancedapproach, lawmakers who care about taxpayers, the effectiveness of federaleducation policy, or both, can back this legislation.
6. TheFiscal Responsibility and Retirement Security Act (H.R. 1173/S. 720),from House Members Charles Boustany (R-LA), Phil Gingrey (R-GA), and SenatorJohn Thune (R-SD), would put an end to the controversial Community Living AssistanceServices and Supports (CLASS) Act that was passed as part of the PatientProtection and Affordable Care Act. Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) called the CLASSAct “a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoffwould have been proud of.” The CLASS Act is an entitlement that provides a cashbenefit for the purchase of nonmedical services, yet a primary reason for itsadoption was to help obscure the overall cost of the healthcare reform bill towhich it was attached. It did so through a five-year vesting period where “premiums”would be collected but no benefits would be paid out. Once CLASS benefits actuallykick in, the program could quickly become a vacuum for federal dollars,something we can ill-afford with our massive debt.
7. TheDecrease Spending Now Act (H.R. 1111/S. 726) is the work of RepresentativeTom Price (R-GA), and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). This bill is a verystraightforward deficit reduction measure that would rescind unobligatedfederal funds and use them to pay down the deficit. An Office of Management andBudget report found an estimated $703 billion in previously obligated butnever-expended resources sitting in department coffers. These unspent resourcesdo not have some dependent constituency subject to immediate hardship should theynot be spent, making passage of this bill a much saner alternative to raisingtaxes on overburdened Americans.
8. TheEminent Domain Tax Relief Act (H.R. 2327) introduced by RepresentativePhil Gingrey (R-GA), would rescue Americans targeted by eminent domain seizuresfrom having to pay federal capital gains taxes on the often-dubiouslycalculated “fair market value” they receive for their property. Losing one’sproperty to government without benefitting from the time and choices inherentin a truly private sale is bad enough; being taxed over the transaction addsmuch more than mere insult to the injury.
9. TheCongressional Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act (S. 1261/H.R. 2162)initiated by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), with subsequent House legislationintroduced by Robert Dold (R-IL), would greatly expand the number of feloniesthat would be grounds for stripping Members of Congress of their pensions (to atotal of 20 criminal offenses). NTU’s own figures show that atleast 16 living, former Members of Congress convicted of serious (at orapproaching felony-level) charges are eligible for pensions with a combinedyearly value of roughly $800,000. Consideringthe recent outrage over less-than-criminal antics, it is shocking anddisconcerting to taxpayers to find out they currently fund pensions forfelonious Congressmen. If we can’t save federal dollars in this area, how canthe American people expect larger budget reform?
10. TheCongressional Retirement Age Act of 2011 (S. 742/H.R. 2397) sponsoredby Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) would link the eligibility age ofdefined-benefit pensions for Members of Congress to the retirement age forSocial Security - the House companion was subsequently introduced byRepresentative Bobby Schilling (R-IL). As Congress begins to consider changesto the Social Security retirement age, this step is a ‘no-brainer’ that willshow they are willing to lead by example. Additionally, it would find savingsfor taxpayers who are subsidizing retirement plans for Congress that can bemuch nicer than their own.
11. TheFAST Act (S. 1275). Senators TomCarper (D-DE) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have introduced the “Medicare and MedicaidFighting Fraud and Abuse to Save Taxpayers’ Dollars Act,” which is a welcome attemptto reduce the massive problem of Medicare fraud. The bill would institute newchecks and balances to greatly increase the prospect of preventing improperMedicare payments before they happen, rather than simply identifying them afterthe fact. Whether our representatives in Washington are in favor of savingpublic dollars, or ensuring a program works properly for its intendedbeneficiaries, the FAST Act is something they can get behind.
12. “TheByrd Committee” (H. Res. 307), introduced by Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH),would recreate the Committee on the Reduction of Nonessential FederalExpenditures. Also known as the “Byrd Committee” (namesake of the late Senator HarryF. Byrd of Virginia, not Robert Byrd of West Virginia), this body proved highlysuccessful at rooting out waste, inefficiencies, and duplications.Reconstituting such an entity within Congress’s committee structure, andrequiring expedited legislative consideration of its recommendations, givesMembers of both parties who pay lip service to government efficiency a chanceto regularly back up their words with votes.
Clearlythere are many other pieces of legislation – some controversial, others far lessso – that could improve the plight of taxpayers if they were enacted. Perhapsby tackling these 12 “no-brainers” first, Members of Congress will rediscoverthat old principle of “mind over matter” and give better thought to theentitlement, tax, and budget-process reforms that will put our nation on a moresustainable fiscal path.