A New Year Means New Challenges and New Opportunities
January 3, 2012
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.
Congress is expected to take up a Farm Bill this year and any Farm Bill needs to address the billions of dollars in subsides that go to farmers. Dairy, peanut, and sugar subsidies have become the poster children for what is wrong with agricultural subsidies by distorting markets and artificially inflating prices.
This is an area where Congress has to be very mindful in its efforts to cut spending. With the failure of the super committee there is supposed to be an across-the-board sequestration of funds from each agency, including the Department of Defense (DOD). Instead of blindly chopping the DOD, Congress needs to first defund all the earmarks it passed in the Omnibus Bill late last year (read more here). Also, Congress needs to eliminate the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) which is costly and unnecessary (read previous blog postings here and here) and look into the awarding of the Light Air Support and Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance (LAS/LAAR) program to a questionable Brazilian company instead of a domestic company (read previous blog posting here).
Energy independence is at the top of many people’s “To Do” list. From the Keystone XL Pipeline which would carry roughly 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast, would encompass 1,700 miles and cost approximately $7 billion and be a major job creator in the country (read more here) to fracking, Congress and the President need to get out of the way of energy exploration.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The FDA and CDC have been on a crusade against the tobacco companies. Whether it is the FDA trying to require plain packaging and graphic images on tobacco products or an over-zealous regulation of e-cigarettes (read more here), the FDA is doing a full court press on the industry. CDC’s Community Transformation Grants, formerly known as the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Program have been given a veritable blank check to not only go after the tobacco industry but also fast food and snacks (read previous posting here).
Any tax reform must start with the corporate taxes. The corporate tax rate of 35 percent (the second highest in the world) is an example of an outdated tax system and a burden this country can no longer bear. This rate is higher than every one of America’s major European trading partners and is higher than China or Canada (read previous posting here). Also, Congress must resist the urge to raise taxes on industries such as the wireless industry (read more here).
From net neutrality (read more here) to government subsidized broadband (read here and here) and the Universal Service Fund (read more here), the federal government has done more to stifle competition in the telecommunications field in the last 3 years than at any time in the history of the nation. Another item that could come up is the reform of retransmission consent (read more here). The federal government must also be cautious as it integrates cloud computing into its systems to ensure that all aspects of any new technology are considered including cost, security, and privacy.
Congress is currently working on a multi-year transportation bill and the temptation to earmark will surely be strong. Congress needs to make sure that the transportation bill shifts power from the federal government to the states and localities.
It is going to be a busy year for members of the House and Senate (and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance). If voters don’t see progress in spending cuts it may also be a very short year for some members who may not be back to see 2013.