When the 112th Congress took over in January, 2011, there was quite a bit of excitement and anticipation that the newly elected members (including dozens of tea party members) would be aggressive in demanding real spending cuts and accountability. With a near-miss government shutdown in April, a debt ceiling scare in August and the failure of the super committee in November, last year was filled with missed opportunities to institute real spending cuts. With the federal debt eclipsing $15 trillion in 2011, Congress has quite a bit of work to do in 2012. In addition to the annual budget fiascos that are typical of Washington, D.C., there are seven key areas (Agriculture, Defense, Energy, the Food and Drug Administration/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tax Reform, Telecommunications/Technology, and Transportation) that will determine if Congress and the President are serious about bringing spending under control and having a more efficient government.
It is less than two weeks before Christmas and Congress has not finished work on fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills (they were supposed to be done by October 1). This failure to get their work done should come as no surprise since 2011 has been filled with un-kept promises and crisis politics as Congress has waited until the last minute to finish most of their budgetary work in 2011. The pseudo budget crisis in April when a government shutdown was threatened when Congress failed to pass a budget for FY 2011, the impending downgrade of the nation’s credit status in August with the raising of the debt ceiling (and the ensuing failure of the super committee in November), and the current looming government shutdown shows that when push comes to shove in Washington, D.C., the status quo pushes back and taxpayers get shoved.
One year ago on December 1, 2010, President Obama released the findings of The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform which was led by former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senate Whip Alan Simpson (R-Wy.). The Commission released a report on potential spending cuts that would eclipse $2 trillion from 2012 to 2020. Recommendations include: selling excess federal real property; repealing The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act which was created in Obamacare; and reducing net spending on mandatory agriculture programs. The report was very candid when it stated that, “Our country has tough choices to make. We need to be willing to tell Americans the truth: We cannot afford to continue spending more than we take in, and we cannot continue to make promises we know full well we cannot keep.” Instead of being used to cut spending, the report has been more useful as a virtual paperweight (I am not even sure of any copies were actually printed up).
On November 9, 2011, the Obama Administration issued a press release bragging about its efforts to rein in spending on items such as cell phones, smart phones, laptops and swag including, “plaques, clothing, and other unnecessary promotional items.” The White House estimates that these savings could amount to billions of dollars. While taxpayers should applaud these efforts as every dollar counts when it comes to saving money, it will take much more than cutting out free Department of Energy t-shirts to get the debt and deficit under control. And, let’s be honest, how many people do you see walking around with a federal government branded t-shirt or coffee mug? And, if you did, would that really make you feel better about the government?
With the failure of the Super Committee to meet their deadline and find $1.2 trillion in budget savings over the next decade, Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) president David Williams released the following statement. "Congress has once again failed the American taxpayer with the collapse of the Super Committee. It is time that our representatives in Washington do what we elected them to do-serve the American people and help get our economy up and running again. Instead, they continue to play political games while taxpayers are left holding the bill for our government's out-of-control spending problem. This failure to reach a compromise on an issue of such importance is just another reason why Congressional pay should be cut by at least ten percent. With a country that is $15 trillion in debt, Congress must come together and find a way to cut spending now.” To read TPA’s Congressional Compensation Report and learn why taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth when it comes to Congressional salaries, click here.
Today, November 17, 2011, the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) will be tested. Now, before you get too excited, this test will be nothing more than a dog and pony show to keep its funding alive and try to silence the critics. As one of the harshest critics of the program (see previous blog posts here and here), the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) sent a series of e-mails mails to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medium Extended Air Defense System Management Agency (NAMEADSMA), the Army, and MEADS International on November 8, 2011. The only response was from NAMEADSMA. While we appreciated the response, the answers were less than satisfactory and raised even more questions.
During the next two weeks taxpayers will see some of the elements of the of the August debt ceiling agreement come together with a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) and the report from the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the Super Committee). In typical Washington fashion, there are two potential outcomes for both the BBA and the Super Committee. A weak BBA and a discordant Super Committee could foreshadow a future filled with fake spending cuts and tax increases.
In July, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Our Generation released a report titled “Are Taxpayers Getting Their Money’s Worth? An Analysis of Congressional Compensation.” The report detailed the fact that members of Congress make $174,000 per year or $285,000 when benefits are included. Considering that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy with a $14.9 trillion debt and Congress continues to bicker instead of passing spending bills, taxpayers deserve more from their elected officials. Luckily, a bi-partisan group of members of Congress who think that a pay cut is in order and are encouraging other members to support their efforts. Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) Mike Coffman (R-Col.), Jason Altmire (D-Penn.), and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter urging members of Congress to sign onto a letter that encourages the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the Super Committee) “to reduce the deficit include savings from reductions in Member compensation.” TPA urges you to contact your member of Congress and tell them to support this effort to cut congressional compensation. You can find out who your member of Congress is and their phone number here.
As the second installment of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance's Trick or Treat extravaganza, this one highlights defense spending but in essence is brought to you by the Department of Defense and the Super Committee. As part of the August 2, 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the “Super Committee”) was created to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. If the Super Committee doesn’t come up with recommendations for deficit reduction there will be across-the-board spending cuts and that won’t bode well for the Pentagon. Any cuts in Defense spending must be done wisely to ensure the safety and protection of our troops. Today’s Tricks or Treats should be a guide for the Super Committee as they finalize their plans to find spending cuts. WARNING!! As always, we advise strong parental guidance because some material may not be suitable for children since they are the ones that will ultimately be paying for these tricks.
With a threatened government shutdown in April averted with a deal to cut spending and an agreement to cut spending as a requirement to raise the debt ceiling in August, budget hawks thought that there would be a decrease in government spending. A recent article in Investor’s Business Daily threw cold water on that notion when it reported on October 17 that “In fact, in the first nine months of this year, federal spending was $120 billion higher than in the same period in 2010, the data show. That's an increase of almost 5%. And deficits during this time were $23.5 billion higher.” Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute warned of fake spending cuts in the deal to raise the debt ceiling in an August 1, 2011 blog posting, “The ‘cuts’ in the deal are only cuts from the CBO ‘baseline,’ which is a Washington construct of ever-rising spending. And even these ‘cuts’ from the baseline include $156 billion of interest savings, which are imaginary because the underlying cuts are imaginary. No program or agency terminations are identified in the deal. None of the vast armada of federal subsidies are targeted for elimination.” This makes taxpayers even more frustrated as politicians try to take credit for non-existent victories and continue to use one budget gimmick after another to try and confuse taxpayers and increase spending. Above and beyond real spending cuts, taxpayers ultimately want honesty in budgeting (and all government). It’s easy to find a member of Congress who supports this but the tough task is finding somebody who will put legislation where their mouth is. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has taken the first step in taking real action in trying to bring honesty in budgeting with his aptly named “Honest Budget Act.” This legislation will get rid of budget tricks and lay the foundation for real budget reform to take hold.