Late on Thursday December 19, 2013 the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the Senate and was sent to President Obama for his signature just moments before he left for Hawaii on his annual Christmas vacation. The bill made its way through the House of Representatives twice, once last summer and another time a few weeks ago, before getting stalled in the Senate due to the question of how exactly the Senate would go about moving the massive defense spending legislation through the chamber. The process was rushed and limited; and in turn produced a massive ill that left much to be desired in the way of meaningful reforms to some of our most costly defense programs. Passing a Defense authorization bill is critical to defending the nation but also defending tax dollars. As the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) pointed out in December of 2011, once appropriators get a hold of the bill there is no telling what will happen (read previous blog posting here). In December 2012 Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) revealed just how much our defense department is doing that has absolutely nothing to do with protecting our country in his report titled, “Department of Everything.” Oh by the way, the total that Sen. Coburn tallied was $68 billion. During last summer, the National Defense Authorization Act moved through the House of Representatives, and TPA was quick to analyze every one of the amendments that was up for consideration to be added to the bill. Even though TPA preferred many more amendments, the fact that the House of Representatives was able to allow a process that put 100 amendments on the table was reason to applaud and be optimistic of real reform at the Department of Defense. The amendment process is one of the few ways that real and meaningful reform can be achieved and when dealing with legislation the size and scale of the National Defense Authorization Act, it is extremely important that every opportunity be given to make improvements to the bill and allow for a process that gives lawmakers a full and free range of input on exactly what will (and will not) be a part of final language. There were many amendments that TPA had expressed opposition to and many we urged members to support, including an amendment sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Jared Polis (D-Col.), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) that “Ends authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act” which received the most attention of any amendment. TPA was proud to be a part of numerous bi-partisan coalitions commenting on both the process and the content of the bill.
NASA's "Little Green Man" (courtesy 'Wastebook 2013')
There has been a long tradition of wasteful spending in the nation’s capital for decades and the problem has only gotten worse as each year passes. A recent tradition has done wonders to expose just exactly how bad the spending habits out of Washington have become and how much taxpayers are shelling out for things that they clearly shouldn’t be paying for. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) left an early Christmas present for all the big spenders on Capitol Hill this week when he released his ‘Wastebook 2013’ report highlighting a plethora of examples of how taxpayer dollars have been wasted over the last year. The more than $30 billion dollars the report cites is just the first of many reasons taxpayers should be hoping that politicians get a handful of coal as they return home for the remainder of the year. This report is even more troublesome considering that agencies spent money on these projects despite the fact that agencies instituted furloughs because of sequestration. The rushed worked of Congress over the last few weeks has given way to a slew of less than desirable pieces of legislation. First, the Murray/Ryan Budget Deal altered the sequester caps and set a dangerous precedent for spending cuts moving forward. Next, the compromise National Defense Authorization Act that passed the Senate last night after passing the House last week. Finally, an agreement to push final Farm Bill passage to January 2014; with details scarce. There is very little hope that the Farm Bill will contain much real reform. The ‘Wastebook 2013,’ released by Sen. Coburn’s office this week, is nearly 200 pages of ridiculous and unnecessary spending that everyone should read.
There seems to be a great deal of lack of leadership, confusion, mismanagement, and fingerprinting in the nation’s capitol when it comes to strategy for the future… and we’re not talking about the Washington Redskins; it’s Congress. Both chambers of Congress were back in session this week, but for only a limited time and from all indicators it seems that they are ready to make your holidays more expensive than you expected. The House of Representatives is expected to finish their legislative business for the year on Friday and the Senate is expected to adjourn for the year sometime next week, which gives the two chambers only a short time period to conclude any work they want to accomplish for the 2013 calendar year. Details have been emerging over the past several days about what exactly the House and Senate are expected to push through before their respective holiday recesses and from all that has been revealed so far, it doesn’t look good for the taxpayers. Here’s a breakdown of the business at hand. First, a budget agreement was announced late on December 10 that may be voted on in the House late this week and the Senate early next week. Negotiations between Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) produced a final deal based on a framework that, from what has been made public so far, is a step in the wrong direction and a early lump of coal for taxpayers. There are no meaningful reforms on entitlements or the tax structure (individual or corporate), and there may very well be increases on taxes/fees, but what the biggest problem is with this deal is that it could very well be the first step in undoing the sequester. Regardless of the menial reforms that budget conferees are seeking in the short terms to levy the coming 2014 sequestration cuts, altering the spending caps should be a non-starter for any agreement that comes to the table. When elected officials are ready to tackle the real problem of long-term spending, then and only then should they have the means to get rid of sequestration, which they agreed to in the first place as a result of their failure to identify detailed long-term budget cuts as the nation continues to grapple with a $17 trillion dollar debt. You can read TPA’s statement on the budget deal here, as well as a coalition letter urging preservation of the BCA 2011 spending caps.
TPA President David Williams responds to the Murray-Ryan Budget accord announced on Tuesday evening:
“Washington has yet again failed the American taxpayer by choosing phony spending cuts over fiscal responsibility. The agreement reached tonight between Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) does nothing to address the long-term spending problems that this nation faces. Unfortunately what it does do is create more problems by setting the precedent to increase spending levels previously agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011. While millions of Americans look for ways to change their spending habits by tightening their belts, Washington remains clueless and increases spending. It is inexcusable to think that just a few short years after agreeing to long-term spending restraint, deals are being made behind closed doors to break those very agreements. Sequestration wasn’t the ideal solution for anyone but it was the failure of Congress and the President to agree to specific spending cuts that led us to where we are now, and there is no reason to believe that we won’t see repeated attempts to do away with more required cuts down the road.”
This budget announcement by comes shortly after TPA signed onto a letter spearheaded by the Conservative Action Project urging lawmakers to oppose any budget deal that “raises spending levels or increases revenue”
Click 'read more' below to read the letter
The federal government has a spending problem and federal agencies have shown a particular penchant for spending money in ways that defy explanation. Just this week, we learned that the State Department ran up a $400,000 bar tab.
Also, let’s not forget the wasteful spending by the Internal Revenue Service
, Department of Homeland Security
, and the Transportation Security Administration
among others. Payment errors are also a major problem for federal agencies (and taxpayers) and the problem is getting worse. The Government Accountability Office noted
that federal agencies reported $115.3 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2011 alone. This is inexcusable at a time when taxpayers are feeling the burden of a $17 trillion dollar debt and a government in Washington D.C. that seems not all that concerned when it comes to making meaningful spending cuts and trying to do away with structural reform that would reduce spending in the short and long term. With that in mind, TPA was pleased to join an effort led by Americans for Prosperity
signing this letter
, along with American Commitment, Americans for a Balanced Budget, Americans for Tax Reform, COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes), Concerned Women for America, Cost of Government Center, Generation Opportunity, Less Government, National Center for Public Policy Research, National Taxpayers Union, and the R Street Institute urging Congress to support the Eliminate Preventable Waste Act, sponsored by Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). The legislation would “require federal agencies to show a reduction in the error rate for payments in federal spending. If the rate of improper payments increases in a given fiscal year, then the administrative budget for the agency will be cut by the same percentage of the error rate.” In a time where debt and deficits continue to plague the country’s finances, this is one step of many that Congress can take to move toward solving an enormous and preventable problem. In a spending atmosphere of difficult decisions to make, getting rid of improper payments should be a relatively easy fix.
Click ‘read more’ below for the full letter
As the end of 2013 nears, Congress has several pieces of major legislation that have yet to be fully resolved and one of those is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA serves as the authorization for funding for the Pentagon and the Senate is working on getting their version of the bill through final passage before the Thanksgiving holiday. The House of Representatives passed their own NDAA this past summer and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) was playing careful attention to everything that was added and removed during the entire legislative process and the same will be done as the Senate considers their version of the legislation. There are several issues of concern that taxpayers need to be aware of as this bill makes its way through the Senate and many of these issues could prove costly if action is not taken to oppose efforts to continue the trend of wasteful spending that has been plaguing all of Washington. Appropriations bills have long been used by members of Congress as vehicles for their own special projects and funding measures and the NDAA is no exception. However, in one of the ultimate insults to the integrity of the process and intelligence of the voters, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) will be seeking to use this defense-funding bill to jam an Internet sales tax into law. This isn’t the first time that the NDAA has been used as a possible pathway for an internet sales tax, but after the vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act earlier this year in the Senate, TPA is very unsettled by this development and we urge strong opposition to any amendment that would sneak in an internet sales tax into a defense authorization bill.
The end of the year is approaching and Congress is doing what it does best: trying to spend your money. This week, under the guise of budget talks and congressional hearings, lawmakers and agency officials appeared to be sounding the alarm on sequestration yet again in an effort to undo the needed spending cuts put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The goal of long-term spending reduction cannot be achieved without maintaining the all-important spending caps agreed to in the BCA 2011 agreement. With that in mind, TPA joined in an effort led by NTU and signed this letter along with Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Competitive Enterprise Institute, The Conservative Caucus, Inc., Cost of Government Center, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Freedom Action, Generation Opportunity, Hispanic Leadership Fund, Less Government, Log Cabin Republicans, R Street Institute, and Taxpayers for Common Sense urging GOP Conressional leaders to maintain the post-sequester budget caps in order to "preserve the law and protect taxpayers from further government expansion."
To read the full letter, click 'read more' below
In the throes of sequestration, on the heels of a government shutdown and with our national debt at a record high, it seems like an odd time for the Department of Defense to get into the marketing business. Yet, a marketing stunt would be the only accurate way to describe yesterday’s Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) “test” at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has long identified MEADS as the poster child for waste and redundancy at the Department of Defense. It is an easy case to make, and in fact, TPA identified MEADS as one of the biggest taxpayer “Tricks” during this past Halloween (read more here). After more than $2 billion in cost overruns and delays that put development 10 years behind schedule, the Pentagon rightly pulled the plug on the tri-national program in 2011. The Army didn’t want the program because it was too expensive and was plagued by a host of technical problems that confirmed MEADS just wasn’t up to the task. The Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office supported the Army’s conclusions. Yet, here we are some two and half years later and the Department of Defense is still spending taxpayer dollars on the system that TPA has dubbed the “Missile to Nowhere.” In fact, in the last two years alone, our government will have spent another $800 million on this botched program. But what makes yesterday’s test so troubling is that U.S. taxpayers picked up the tab for a stunt that provides zero benefit to our Armed Forces.
With the fiscal cliff last January and the recent shutdown and debt ceiling debacle, the past 9 ½ months have been a model of congressional dysfunction. And, as we have been doing for years, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance has been following developments on the government shutdown debate and the ongoing fiasco of the endless impasse to agree to terms to reopen the federal government. The biggest deadline is quickly approaching, the debt ceiling, a limit set by Congress regarding the amount of money that the government can borrow for public spending. During the Budget Control Act of 2011, part of the deal was to raise the limit to $16.4 trillion
, in return for spending cuts (those cuts coming now in the guise of sequestration after the failure of the Super Committee). The United States actually hit the ceiling on December 31, 2012, but “extraordinary measures” were taken by the Treasury Department to enable spending to continue and the debt ceiling is at $16.699 trillion now
. The new deadline is set for Thursday, October 17, 2013. Should Congress fail to negotiate a deal that would be signed by the President to lift the debt ceiling, the government would have $30 billion (and cash-on-hand) to continue to spend for services, and payments to creditors; otherwise the US risks default
and some early warnings
have already come as we inch further towards the deadline. Though that may be a great deal of inside baseball, that is very watered-down and to the point in terms of what is going to happen at midnight tonight.
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The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been keeping a close eye on the House, Senate, and White House as they have been going back and forth trying to resolve the current impasse that has kept the government closed
(or at least slowed down many services) since the fiscal year began on October 1. Now, with the debt ceiling deadline less than 48 hours away and the threat of default a very real possibility, it appears that leadership on both sides of the aisle in Senate have reached a deal that would both extend the debt limit and keep the government open into early 2014. The crisis is by no means over, and it remains to be seen how this will play it out in the House, where many Republicans are wary to accept a clean Senate bill. The uncertainty is still very much a real factor in all of this, but one thing clear: this deal highlights another failure of elected officials to protect taxpayers, and instead is another sign
that the era big government is still very much alive. It is also a sign that Congress will continue to budget by crisis and not by common sense and fiscal responsibility. It is almost fitting that this fiscal fiasco plays out in October, a month known for Halloween and scaring people.