This article originally appeared in The Daily Caller on September 2, 2014
Last month President Barack Obama hosted the U.S.-Africa leaders summit in Washington, D.C. Beneath the fanfare of goodwill, the summit saw three of Africa’s longest serving autocrats Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Yahya Jammeh and Paul Biya – the presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Gambia and Cameroon, respectively, all with decidedly checkered human rights records – be honored guests of America at a state dinner held during the summit. President Obama also saw the summit as an effort to paint the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank as Africa’s new best friend. Two big mistakes in one summit. The first criticism was leveled at the Obama administration from across the political spectrum over the wisdom of feting some of these men. After all, Gambia’s Jammeh has threatened to “cut off the head” of gay people in his country. Obiang has ruled Equatorial Guinea since overthrowing his own uncle in a coup in 1979 and the U.S. Department of State has accused his government of everything from “unlawful killings” to “corruption” to “suspected trafficking in persons.” Questions about why the United States Government saw fit to wine and dine these individuals are entirely valid, but they only scratch the surface. A few taxpayer-funded bottles of pinot noir are nothing compared to the billions of dollars heading for Africa from the U.S. Export-Import Bank of the United States, many of them destined for countries run by similarly suspect leaders.
At a February 2010 New Hampshire Town Hall meeting President Obama famously boasted that independent reports rated his administration as the “most transparent in the modern era.” Oh what a difference four years makes. Taxpayers continue to see Washington waste money and hide behind archaic rules that enable all sorts of ways to conceal and obfuscate exactly what elected officials are doing. The biggest roadblock to transparency has been the Obama administration. This is ironic considering that President Obama often criticized the lack of transparency in previous administrations throughout the 2008 presidential campaign. The promises made nearly six years ago as President Obama began his transition into the White House were supposed to usher in a new and sweeping change of course for a city that thrived on working in secret. Today, there are reports of secrecy, stonewalling, corruption, and even abuses of power that reach into various federal agencies all under the Obama Administration.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) continues its Summer Reading series with yet another issue that Congress should address when they return from their month-long recess, reforming the corporate tax structure. Corporate tax reform is an issue where there is unique bipartisan, bi-cameral, and multi-branch agreement in Washington. The reason for this unprecedented agreement is that the United States, with a 39 percent corporate tax rate, has the highest corporate tax rate among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. It is long past due that Congress and the White House come together and fix what has become a major ailment to a still struggling economy. Corporate tax reform has taken on a great deal of importance in the last several months. The economic driver, corporate investment, has taken a hit and our high corporate tax rate is responsible for much of that burden. In the spring of this year, retiring House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) put forth his plan for overhauling the tax code, which included lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, something that would be welcome news for small businesses all over the country. TPA supported Congressman Camp’s efforts to even take this issue on at a time when not much of anything is getting done in Washington.
Sens. Coburn and Obama discussing transparency website legislation (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
If messing up websites was a profession, the federal government would be considered an expert. Last year Healthcare.gov failed to launch amidst great fanfare and promise. And, just last month, the FCC showed exactly why they shouldn’t be taking control of the internet after problems they had on their own web page caused the website to crash. Now, a government website dedicated to providing greater transparency for spending of taxpayer money is proving once again how inefficient the public sector can be when it comes to basic management. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the USASpending.gov site is riddled with problems with both missing data and inaccuracies of data collected. And, it appears that the Obama Administration may be the key reason for the problems. Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times detailed the news that should alarm taxpayers and anyone concerned with accountability in government.
This article originally appeared on Townhall.com on July 24, 2014
You can’t help but hand it to them – rooftop solar companies have quite cleverly found their way onto the government’s gravy train. For years Washington has subsidized rooftop solar installations for customersin the form of the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which allows homeowners who install rooftop solar panels to receive a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the cost. The subsidy has been one of the many ongoing ways in which the feds insert themselves into the energy marketplace. And while it has hampered efforts to achieve real energy independence in the U.S., and has therefore caused real harm to our economy, it nevertheless has met a legitimate need for homeowners desperate for some relief from high energy costs. But rooftop solar companies – most of which, like SolarCity, Corp., are political connected and favored – have created a scheme to claim the tax credit for themselves. These companies discovered that if they lease the rooftop solar systems to homeowners, the companies themselves can claim the federal tax credit as well as all state and local incentives.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been dogged in its fight against forms of cronyism that aim to give preferential treatment to certain groups or interests when it comes to issues including energy, defense, and telecom. One area in telecom where this has been blatant is in the upcoming spectrum auction (read previous TPA blogs on spectrum here and here) being handled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is sitting on approximately $20 billion worth of spectrum (see TPA infographic here) that should be sold. But, instead of keeping the sale process open and transparent, it appears the FCC is continuing their preferred policy of picking winners and losers in terms of who will get to bid for the valuable spectrum. The latest spectrum and crony capitalism news comes from Todd Shields and Jonathan D. Salant in a Bloomberg story earlier this week.
This article originally appeared in Townhall.com on July 11, 2014
The American people are continuing to struggle with economic uncertainty and are perplexed as to what it’s going to take to turn the economy around. Recent Department of Commerce (DOC) figures are depressing and don’t help for optimism as consumer spending suffered a 0.1 percent decrease in May, adjusting for inflation. This comes on the heels of a 0.2 percent drop in April. It’s no wonder that Americans are reluctant to part with their hard-earned money given the state of the economy at large. Last week, we were treated to yet another grim reminder that our so-called “recovery” is more like anything but. According to DOC’s most recent review of the data, the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014. GDP is critically important because it measures the market value of the goods and services produced by a nation. And while 2.9 percent may not seem like a massive drop, it happens to be the worst such contraction in five years.
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."
Members of Congress are particularly adept at two things: business as usual and over-reaching in response to scandal. If the past is an accurate indicator of things to come, the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs will provide an excellent example of Congressional over-reach. Most Americans were outraged more than a month ago when it was alleged that up to 40 Veterans died while waiting for months to see a doctor at a VA facility in Phoenix, AZ. The Department generally requires that its hospitals see patients within two to four weeks of the time an appointment is requested. Many of the 40 Veterans who died, were placed on a secret waiting list in a scheme to cover up the actual time it took to get an appointment for medical care. Over time, more reports about waiting times and secret lists came to light, and it became clear that the situation in Phoenix was not an isolated incident. As is typical, soon after the initial reports, the finger pointing began. The left insists the problem was President Bush’s fault. The right says that President Obama has known about the problems since 2008 and allowed the condition to fester. Senate Republicans said that the Veterans Affairs Committee did not hold enough oversight hearings. And, for his part, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, blamed it all on the Koch brothers.
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Today the Obama Administration proposed a new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about greenhouse gases from existing power plants. Taxpayers and consumers should be concerned that these new, intrusive regulations would serve only to hinder the production of energy here in the United States and weaken an already vulnerable economy. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance warned about the harmful impact of new regulations last month in an op-ed when we wrote, “President Obama has broken many promises during his first and second terms in office. But, in a sad twist of irony for taxpayers and energy production, the president is intent on keeping one of his 2008 campaign promises, to bankrupt coal plants and force electricity prices to “necessarily skyrocket.” After legislative attempts to pass cap-and-trade failed in the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2009, the president made clear that “cap-and-trade was just one way to skin the cat.” The other way: have unelected bureaucrats and attorneys at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate coal out of business. The EPA has since taken measures to stop coal plant production by requiring new plants to use cost-prohibitive carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology – tech that is only affordable with large taxpayer subsidies. The only plant currently under construction with CCS will receive $400 million in grants and federal tax credits to offset the more than $1 billion price tag for what is unproven technology. That model is unsustainable.”