This article originally appeared in Human Events on July 23, 2014
It’s often cliché to say that history repeats itself. But when it happens over and over again, cliché becomes reality. History is currently repeating itself when it comes to transportation funding and earmarks. The Transportation Trust Fund is set to run out in August and some members of Congress are anxious to exploit that issue to allow the return of unfettered pork spending. Earlier this year Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) suggested bringing back earmarks. Now former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas), who is vying for his old congressional seat, has joined Sen. Durbin in publicly supporting the return of earmarks, as well. This comes as no surprise considering that Sen. Durbin and former Rep. Tiahrt were major appropriators during the heyday of runway spending. Unfortunately, the transportation bill just may be the vehicle that opens the door to allow the return of earmarks.
Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” That saying is as relevant to Washington today as it was during Churchill’s time. Back in 2009, with the country still in turmoil from the financial crisis, then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel echoed the notion that when the country is in crisis politicians should use that crisis to do things they may not normally be able to do. This type of cynical and opportunistic approach to politics is probably just one of the many reasons why so many people have so little faith in our political institutions. The problems on the border are shaping up to be another opportunity for the President and Congress to turn a humanitarian crisis on the border into a fiscal crisis. President Obama submitted a $3.7 billion supplemental spending bill for measures that would (according to the Administration) constitute an aggressive approach to this problem. The White House released a statement calling on Congress to approve the spending with the President saying, "I urge the Congress to act expeditiously in considering this important request."
The economy is struggling to regain footing after a recent report that gross domestic product fell at a 1% annual rate, vs. the 0.1% increase first estimated earlier in the year. This pain is being felt by the millions of Americans who continue to look for a job and those that have a job try to make ends meet with fewer dollars. Government officials seem oblivious to the dire economic straits as the President proposes new regulations and Congress fails to cut spending. But, probably the most out-of-touch government entity is Amtrak, which continues to lose more money and ask for more from taxpayers. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance uncovered astonishing overtime numbers that show that thousands of employees receive more than $35,000 in overtime compensation. The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations (THUD) Bill for fiscal year (FY) 2015 details the alarming overtime figures. In 2013, Amtrak paid out more than $185 million in overtime expenses. Of that amount, $49 million was paid to 1,022 employees who accrued more than $35,000 in overtime. Doing some simple math, that means each employee averaged $47,000 in overtime. With an average salary of more than $80,000, these overtime expenses push those salaries to more than $120,000. This revelation comes at a time when Amtrak is projecting losses and looking for $1.19 billion in operating costs and capital expenses. The deficits Amtrak has been running are nothing to take lightly, the specific numbers should call into question why exactly taxpayers are continuing to subsidize something that loses hundreds of millions of dollars each year
When somebody has a limited amount of time to look at a large, complicated issue, many of the details are bound to escape notice. The number of details missed increases when multiple distractions take away from the limited viewing time. The federal budget is no different. Each year, Congress is required to complete what has become the cumbersome (and expensive) process of funding the federal government. Between the first Monday in February (when the President presents his spending plan to Congress) and the end of the fiscal year on September 30th, Congress must formulate, enact, and execute the federal budget. For many different reasons this process has become an annual exercise in futility. It leads to a mad scramble to keep the government operating through continuing resolutions and ends in the passage of an omnibus spending bill. The result is an almost eight month long spectacle that puts the focus on the big picture, allowing many of the important details to escape notice. For decades, Congress has considered ditching annual budgets for a biennial budget process. While the details of the plans differ, the basic premise is that Congress would use the first year of each Congress to formulate, enact, and execute a budget for the next two years.
Right now in Washington, D.C. there is a great deal of activity in Congress as members rush towards the July 4th holiday break. The last few weeks we've seen a several appropriations bills make their way through committees and onto the House and Senate floors funding Transportation, Education, Housing, Energy, and Defense. Today, as Congress continues work on H.R. 4870, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015 it is important to know that there are a great deal of attempts made by representatives on both sides of the poltiical aisle to use these spending bills as a vehicle to save money for taxpayers. As much waste and unncesary spending as we see during the rush to get appropriations bills through both chambers, there are also examples of smart and reasonable amendments that will cut spending and provide taxpayers with a rare win. Today, in a letter sent to the House by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), TPA joined with Antiwar.com, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Council for a Livable World, DownsizeDC.org, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Just Foreign Policy, National Priorities Project, National Taxpayers Union, Peace Action, Peace Action West, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Taxpayers for Common Sense, United for Peace and Justice, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), Win Without War, and Women’s Action for New Directions to support several taxpayer-friendly amendments that have been put forth in the debate of the 2015 defense spending bill. TPA is hopeful that more amendments saving taxpayer dollars will be put forth as the appropriations process continues in the coming weeks.
The duplicative USDA Catfish Inspection program is just one of many examples of waste CARFA would help to eliminate, saving taxpayers money
Today, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and the National Taxpayers Union sent a joint letter to Capitol Hill expressing our support for establishing the Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies (CARFA). The legislation, H.R. 4566, introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), would be an important step in the right direction to fight the growing waste and inefficiency within our federal agencies. CARFA would conduct a six-year comprehensive review of federal agencies and programs in a bi-partisan construct and would give recommendations for elimination or realignment of duplicative, wasteful, or outdated functions.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has been keeping a close eye on Congress as the process for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) begins to move at a faster pace. This week, the House of Representatives is likely to file amendments, set rules for debate, and ultimately vote on an NDAA bill before adjourning for the Memorial Day weekend. One amendment that TPA and other groups are supportive of comes from House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the amendment to the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act is designed to allow the Department of Defense to find savings through the consolidation and closure of domestic military facilities via the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. Finding cost savings within defense spending is crucial at a time when the national debt is over $17 trillion and opportunities to cut cost are there for the taking.
A couple weeks ago the House of Representatives passed the Baseline Reform Act. It then proceeded to consider the budget resolution for fiscal year 2015 and illustrate precisely why enactment of the Baseline Reform Act is necessary. Annual budget forecasts are guided by a series of assumptions set forth in the law. One of the assumptions is that spending on discretionary programs automatically will increase by the amount of inflation from year to year. This means that from the very beginning of the process, the federal budget assumes increased spending. It also changes the language that Members of Congress use when discussing the budget. Members take credit for spending “reductions” when budgets actually increase and opponents of lower spending claim programs are being cut or gutted even though their funding is actually increasing. The Baseline Reform Act ends the assumption of increased spending and forces Congress to determine spending amounts on each program based on merit and need, not inflation.When one listens to a budget debate, there is rarely clarity. The exact same document either “cuts non-defense discretionary spending by $791 billion . . . slashes education funding” and “decimates the safety net programs” or, it actually “grows the federal budget by 3.5% annually.” And, while it’s growing the budget by 3.5% annually, it is also cutting total funding by $5.1 trillion. Confused yet?
Tax Day and the pain of filing and paying taxes has come and gone. When Congress returns back to work next week (yes, they’re on another break) they will have quite a bit of work to do to do to ensure that next year’s Tax Day isn’t as painful. Congress and the President have found numerous ways to spend tax dollars, it is now time to find ways to cut spending. The good news is that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released its fourth consecutive report on duplicative spending and cost saving recommendations that could save taxpayers billions of dollars. The report details 64 new actions to address concerns in 26 areas. The 2014 report notes that over the past four years, 123 actions have been addressed, 172 actions have been partially addressed, and 75 actions have not been addressed.Taxpayers should be both disappointed and also encouraged by the findings in the report.
Click 'read more' below to see highlights of potential savings from the GAO report.
Find out what 'angry wives' have to do with taxpayer waste!
Taxpayers will reach the dreaded April 15th deadline to file their taxes tomorrow, so the Taxpayers Protection Alliance presents a new web video titled Top 10 Taxpayer Flops, Follies and Fiascos of 2014. This year’s list includes a National Institutes of Health study that says wives should calm down; a taxpayer-subsidized reality show for the Army; and the United States Postal Service paying a “futurist” named Faith Popcorn to give stamp advice.