ATR Endorses the DUE PROCESS Act to Reform Legalized Property Theft

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 5:30 PM PERMALINK


Last week, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) introduced H.R. 5283, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures (DUE PROCESS) Act, to alter the corrupt federal civil asset forfeitures disrupting American citizens. Americans for Tax Reform is proud to endorse this legislation that restores the rights of innocent citizens from the broken civil asset forfeiture system.

Today, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee. In the Committee hearing, Sensenbrenner thanked ATR’s support for the bill, stating that “I would like to note the statements in favor of this legislation from…Americans for Tax Reform,” among others.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which the government can seize peoples’ property without convictions or warrants. It obstructs inherent rights granted to American citizens in the Declaration of Independence. 

H.R. 5283 increases transparency in civil asset forfeiture proceedings by adding protections for innocent property owners and ensuring that property owners can contest wrongful seizures. It requires the government to give property back to owners while making it easier for them to be heard in court. By facilitating an initial hearing for affected property owners, the DUE PROCESS Act gives folks an opportunity to physically retrieve their confiscated property early in the process if it was not lawfully seized. It also places a higher burden of proof on the federal government, bringing the process closer to criminal asset forfeiture.

Along with Sensenbrenner, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)  supported for the bill.

About the bill, Sensenbrenner stated,

“Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime, but it is also vulnerable to abuse. The DUE PROCESS Act, among other things, will increase transparency and add protections for innocent property owners, including the opportunity to contest seizures and regain illegally seized property immediately. Reform to the current federal forfeiture laws is necessary to curb abuse, restore confidence in law enforcement, and help citizens protect their property rights.”

Federal asset forfeiture must be changed, and the DUE PROCESS Act is a step in the right direction.

ATR President Grover Norquist highlighted,

From 2004 to 2014, the amount of money taken by federal law enforcement increased from under $1 billion to over $5 billion. This represents a significant amount of unaccountable money with little oversight from elected officials to be freely spent by the agencies that confiscated the assets.

For these reasons, states across the nation, including New Mexico, North Carolina, Maryland, and Florida, reformed forfeiture procedure to change it into a criminal-focused regime. The DUE PROCESS Act brings federal rules closer to acceptable standards of protection by increasing evidentiary standards in asset forfeiture proceedings, granting access to counsel for Americans during the proceedings, and improving oversight of forfeited assets and funds.

Unfortunately, this legislation does not touch on one of the most contentious aspects of the federal asset forfeiture program: equitable sharing.

Local law enforcement uses equitable sharing to partner with federal agents to pursue civil asset forfeiture cases using federal rules rather than state rules. Local agencies then receive a high percentage—as high as 80 percent—of seized assets while the Department of Justice keeps some cash for itself.

As stated previously, many states already took steps to give their residents additional legal protections. With equitable sharing, local law enforcement can maintain their profit incentives and use the less stringent standards opposed to their state legislatures. Congress must address equitable sharing profit incentives to ensure that higher state protections are respected.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the men and women who serve as law enforcement officials put their lives on the line to protect their communities. Friction created by civil asset forfeiture between those communities and the people that protect them damages this trusting relationship.”

The full letter can be read here.

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Report Confirms Cover Oregon Obamacare Exchange Sacrificed for Governor’s Reelection Campaign

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 5:00 PM PERMALINK


Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and his advisors unlawfully took control of the now defunct $305 million Cover Oregon Obamacare exchange for political gain, according to a report by the House Oversight Committee.  This occurred despite state law explicitly establishing the exchange as an independent entity.

This latest report proves previous accusations that the taxpayer funded exchange was abolished purely for political purposes to benefit the Governor’s reelection campaign.

Following a botched launch in late 2013, the Cover Oregon exchange became an embarrassment for the Governor and the state. Weeks after this first deadline, the exchange had enrolled zero applicants, forcing officials to install dozens of extra fax lines so that applicants could fax in a 20 page document.

From late 2013 to April 2014, when the state decided to abolish the near working $305 million exchange and move to the federal system, the Governor’s political advisors tightly controlled decision making based on political considerations. As the report notes:

 “Documents and testimony show the Cover Oregon Board of Directors’ decision to switch from the state-supported information technology platform to the federally-facilitated exchange, HealthCare.gov, was driven largely by political considerations and steered by Governor Kitzhaber’s staff and campaign advisers.”

State legislators clearly intended for the Cover Oregon Obamacare exchange to be an independent organization, as the report notes. But even though Governor Kitzhaber did not have authority to make decisions over the exchange, he did so anyway. In one case, staff from the Governor’s office was paid from campaign funds to manage issues related solely to Cover Oregon.

Campaign aides were so desperate to avoid negative publicity they even worked behind the scenes to undermine an attempt to salvage the Cover Oregon system.  As the report notes:

Rather than publicly advocate for a move to HealthCare.gov, the Governor’s staff and campaign operatives privately thwarted the work of the Technology Options Workgroup and manipulated the process to coerce a decision to switch to HealthCare.gov.

These decisions were clearly made based on careful calculation. Campaign staffers even viewed the exchange as a campaign issue. Documentation shows a concerted effort by the Governor's staff to divert attention away from Kitzhaber and assign blame to Oracle, the primary vendor for the project. 

Despite this project being financed by federal taxpayers, recovery of funds has been non-existent. A recent report by the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee found that just over $20 million of the more than $5.4 billion spent on 17 state exchanges has been returned. In addition, this $20 million represents funds that have been “de-obligated,” meaning they were leftover funds not spent before the grant expired.

Given these latest troubling findings, it is clear that stronger oversight and recovery of taxpayer funds is needed. 

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ATR Urges Lawmakers to Support Sen. Blunt’s Resolution Opposing a Carbon Tax

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Posted by Bradley Wyatt on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 3:46 PM PERMALINK


Americans for Tax Reform encourages all members of the Senate to support Sen. Blunt’s carbon tax resolution that expresses the sense of Congress that a Carbon tax will be detrimental to American families and businesses.

In a recent letter of support for Sen. Blunt’s Resolution, ATR President Grover Norquist explained how harmful a carbon tax would be:

“A carbon tax would kill jobs in the United States, reduce economic growth, and set the stage for future tax hikes. Such a tax would drive up energy prices for American families and businesses, leading to an increase in the costs of consumer goods and reduced household income.”

ATR strongly encourages members of the Senate to stand firm in their opposition to a carbon tax and to support Sen. Blunt’s resolution.

 

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Norquist Submits Testimony on Need for Tax Reform

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 2:00 PM PERMALINK


ATR President Grover Norquist today submitted testimony to the House Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee for a hearing examining perspectives on the need for tax reform.

The tax code has not be significantly altered since 1986, and there is a clear need to kick start this process. Spanning 74,608 pages, it is so complex and confusing that it is virtually impossible for taxpayers to know whether they are properly filing their taxes.

The byzantine, overly complex code has a crushing effect on both low and middle-income families but also on American competitiveness in the global economy. For decades, America has been the world leader in innovative ideas and products, and other countries are aggressively implementing pro-growth tax policies to attract American capital and jobs.

One way to get the ball rolling on tax reform, as Norquist points out, is to pass H.R. 27, the Tax Code Termination Act sponsored by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) This legislation sunsets the entire tax code by January 1, 2020, and calls on Congress to replace it with a fairer, simpler tax system.

Once the code is on the pathway to sunset, lawmakers create a tax code that works for all Americans, that has minimal burden on taxpayers, eliminates the bias against savings and investment, and promotes job creation and growth.

The full testimony can be found here. 

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Largest Insurers Fleeing Arizona's Obamacare Exchange

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Posted by Natalie De Vincenzi on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 1:13 PM PERMALINK


Unsustainable losses from Arizona’s Obamacare exchange have forced the nation’s largest insurance provider, United Healthcare, to cease operations in the state's exchange. In addition, BlueCross BlueShield, the second largest insurance provider has stated that it will “evaluate all options,” which may result in some Arizona counties with no insurance company provider coverage.

Even with billions in corporate welfare payment to insurers and subsidies to enrollees, insurers remain unable to break even. Even as insurers begin to flee, federal bureaucrats continue to invent new ways to recklessly spend taxpayer dollars keeping this law afloat.  

Given these two companies are the only providers in some counties, their exits will almost certainly have a chilling effect on Arizona Obamacare enrollees, especially those in rural counties who already had few options. If larger companies with the economics of scale to absorb major losses cannot survive on Obamacare exchanges, smaller insurance companies have little chance of survival.

Obamacare finances its programs through a web of wasteful and cronyist spending programs, but these are still not enough for the system to work, as proven with Arizona. In fact, many of these programs -- both on the enrollee side and the insurer side -- do not work, or have been abused by the government to make billions in illegal payments.

On the enrollee side, individuals have access to the advanced premium tax credit (APTC) and cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. The tax credit reduces the cost of health insurance premiums for enrollees, but the federal government has repeatedly failed to verify whether it is properly making payments.

Worse, CSR payments – which reduce out-of-pocket health insurance costs – have been paid out for several years despite Congress never appropriating any money for these payments. This practice was recently declared illegal by a federal court. According to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, illegal CSR payments would have totaled more than $150 billion over 10 years if not stopped.

On the insurer side, Obamacare plans are subsidized through three programs: Obamacare reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment. Like the APTC and CSR payments, these three programs have been abused by government bureaucrats.

In theory, the risk corridor program encourages insurers to take on high risk individuals by transferring funds from insurers who made money on an Obamacare exchange to those that experienced losses. In practice, the budget neutral program was only able to bring in 12.6 percent of what insurers requested for 2014, totaling $360 million. Again, the federal government attempted to unlawfully pay the full 100 percent, only to be blocked by Congress.  

Another program, Obamacare reinsurance, takes funds from employer-provided health plans and funnels it to Obamacare exchanges. This program also failed to take in as much as the federal government promised, and yet again the administration has ignored the law in an attempt to bail out insurers. Using $6 billion raised from a hidden health insurance fee and through diverting $1.7 billion from the Treasury Department, the Obama administration has illegally funneled $3.5 billion into the reinsurance program in order to bail out insurers.

Unfortunately, this is not a pattern unique to insurers in Arizona. UnitedHealth has warned that it will have no chance but to leave most Obamacare exchanges and other insurers may soon follow. The exodus of insurers from Arizona’s Obamacare exchange -- and nationwide -- proves that this law is not working, even with billions in wasteful and unlawful payments and subsidies. 

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ATR Supports FTC Reform Bills

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 10:56 AM PERMALINK



In a letter to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, Americans for Tax Reform lent its support to the SHIELD Act (HR 5118) and the STALL Act (HR 5097), which would instill much needed reforms in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Currently, the FTC has been able to avoid both congressional and judicial checks on its authority by operating under a system of “soft law” that treats guidelines and recommendations as binding legal edicts. This places an unnecessary burden on small businesses who have to comply with complex guidelines that are unchecked by any branch of government. HR 5118 remedies this and reins in the power of the FTC to circumvent proper oversight.

HR 5097 will help companies suffering from long, drawn-out cases with the FTC. The FTC can currently take action against a company for an infinite time period. HR 5097 limits that to six months and helps small businesses avoid frivolous legal fees, and emboldens them to litigate, instead of settle by limiting the amount of time the FTC can hinder their business.

These concerns and more have been reflected in the testimonies of people such as Berin Szoka, the President of TechFreedom, and Geoffrey Manne, the Executive Director at the International Center for Law and Economics. Their testimony can be found here.

The full text of the Americans for Tax Reform statement can be seen below:

 
May 24, 2016

Dear Members of Subcommittee on Commerce Manufacturing and Trade:

We urge you to support both H.R. 5118, the SHIELD Act, and H.R. 5097, the
STALL Act.

It is Congress’ job to provide rules for administrative agencies to follow.

Both the SHIELD and the STALL Acts set reasonable clarification and parameters of Federal Trade Commission enforcement action authority.

The SHIELD Act makes it clear that a violation of current law must take place before an FTC investigation can be pursued. Guidelines and recommendations are suggestions as to how a law can be followed; however, pursuing a different path that still complies with law does not warrant FTC enforcement action.

The uncertainty of an open-ended investigation in which no action has taken place for more than six months leaves is harassing. Individuals may have no idea how to prepare and could sit in a paralyzing state of limbo. The STALL Act, requires that investigations close if no action has been taken in six months. It is reasonable to expect an investigating agency to investigate within a six month timeline.

We encourage the Subcommittee to move these bills for full Committee consideration. 

Please contact Katie McAuliffe by email, kmcauliffe@atr.org, or phone, 202-785-0266, with any questions or comments.

Onward,

Grover G. Norquist
 

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ATR Supports Rep. MacArthur Pro-Growth Amendment to PROMESA

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016, 3:15 PM PERMALINK


ATR President Grover Norquist today sent a letter of support for an amendment introduced by Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) to H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) calling for tax reform to encourage long term, permanent growth for Puerto Rico. 

The latest iteration of PROMESA creates a growth taskforce that will recommend changes to federal law to spur long-term economic growth. As part of its recommendations the taskforce should suggest tax reform that allows the free flow of capital between Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States, as Congressman MacArthur's amendment calls for.

The full letter is below and can be found here: 

Dear Congressman MacArthur,

I write in support of your amendment to H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) calling for pro-growth tax relief as the solution to Puerto Rico’s long-term economic stagnation.

Puerto Rico is more than $70 billion in debt following a decade long recession. The island has no way of paying this back and will soon default on over $2 billion in bonds, including $800 million in constitutionally guaranteed bonds. Congress must act, and PROMESA is the best, most realistic, pro-taxpayer solution to Puerto Rico’s fiscal woes. Importantly, this legislation contains no bailout and does not retroactively grant the island super chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Although PROMESA addresses the immediate crisis, it is also important to promote pro-growth reforms as the solution to Puerto Rico’s underlying economic growth problem.

One cause of this is Puerto Rico being treated as a foreign country for tax purposes. As a result, American companies face double taxation in Puerto Rico, yet foreign competitors operating in Puerto Rico do not. Allowing free flow of capital between Puerto Rico and the rest of the U.S. would spur investment, create more jobs, and increase wages for the territory.

While it is imperative that Congress passes PROMESA to address the immediate fiscal crisis, lawmakers must also acknowledge the need for pro-growth tax reform. The best way to ensure long term, permanent growth for Puerto Rico is by facilitating tax reform that encourages competition, innovation, and the free flow of capital as your amendment calls for.

As such, all Members of Congress should have no hesitation supporting and voting for this important amendment.

Onward,

Grover G. Norquist
President, Americans for Tax Reform

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Chicago Attempts Yet Another Tax Increase to Rescue Pensions

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016, 2:55 PM PERMALINK


Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is trying to save his city’s bleeding pension fund by raising its phone tax for the second time in as many years. This new tax increase is meant to back up a $600 million General Obligation Bond the Chicago government issued.

The decision by Emanuel comes on the heels of the Illinois Supreme Court striking down his previous plan, the Chicago Pension Reform Act (CPRA). Under CPRA, employee contributions to the pension plan would have to be increased 29 percent, and tweaks were made to adjustments in Social Security.

This new phone tax is nothing new for Chicago taxpayers. In 2014, the wireless tax was raised by 56% from $2.50/month to $3.90/month for every phone line, wired and wireless phone. According to Randy Nehert, the President of the Illinois Telecommunications Association, this would cost a family of four an extra $425 a year. That tax was also meant to save the Laborers’ Pension Fund.

This tax, as it stands now, is already the highest in the nation. For perspective, New Yorkers only pay a rate of $1.50/month. In Houston, the rate is 50 cents/month. And, for Los Angeles, that rate is a mere 38 cents, less than ten percent of what Chicago taxpayers are burdened with. Now Emanuel wants to hike the rate once again to save the Pension Fund.

Emanuel is trying to follow through on a promise he made to ex-Governor Pat Quinn, to avoid raising property taxes in order to fund the pensions. However, Emanuel did recently raise property taxes by $700 million, with $588 million earmarked in order to rescue another pension fund for police officers and firefighters.

Now, the Laborers’ Pension Fund is running out of money yet again, in Chicago, and the city government’s solution is to just throw out taxes on their citizens to try and fix the problem. It has yet to work, and Emanuel is not even confident this one will either. The goal of this new tax is only to have the pension fund funded to 90% by the year 2055. The plan is, evidently, to use the same tactic that failed in the past, to partly fix a problem over 40 years.

The Chicago government’s policy will also tax the city’s middle and lower classes out of existence. Most obviously, these types of taxes cut into a greater percentage of lower income families’ paychecks. Below the surface, though, many of these families are using phones as their primary access to the internet. Tax increases like this are threatening the stability of Chicago’s residents and their access to basic needs. We urge Mayor Emanuel to find other means to save his city’s floundering economy.

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President Obama’s “Methane Rule” Threatens to Eradicate Energy and Innovation

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Posted by Bradley Wyatt on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016, 2:01 PM PERMALINK


With less than a year left in his presidency, President Obama is looking to leave yet another harmful legacy behind. With the use of executive agencies such as the EPA, Obama is trying to carry out his own agenda with the help of the unelected EPA bureaucrats.

In the last year, the EPA has been over-regulating large quantities of energy sources, most of which are relied on by for low to middle-income families. Not only does over-regulation harm many American families by ignoring the fight to keep abundant low cost energy options, but it also creates a new problem: job loss and economic downfall. It is clearly abundantly clear that the bureaucrats of the EPA and our President are on a self-guided mission to increase costs to consumers, tax payers, and the energy industries. 

With the new mandates of the Methane Rule, energy producers will now be forced to install expensive equipment on new operations, the costs of which will inevitably be passed onto consumers in the form of higher energy rates. Once again, we see that our government is out of touch and out of date with technology and innovation.

 Even though gas production has increased by 44% in recent years, the energy industry has decreased methane emissions. By businesses making investments and innovation in new technology, methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector have decreased by 12%, with the largest reductions coming from natural gas recovery sites, which have decreased methane by 73%.

To continue to allow businesses, especially in the energy industry, to provide low cost services to low and middle-income families, we must have a government that does not seek to over-regulate and overtax its citizens. Washington’s lawmakers need to realize that the Methane Rule has an underlying agenda that will harm more than help taxpayers and industries. Furthermore, President Obama’s “one-size fits all” style government regulatory regime must be rained in before any further damage is done.

 

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ATR Supports Sen. Blunt's Resolution Opposing a Carbon Tax

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016, 12:39 PM PERMALINK


Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist sent the following letter to Congress this week, urging support for Senator Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) resolution opposing a carbon tax. The resolution introduced by Senator Blunt expresses the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses and is not in the best interest of the United States. 

Below is the full text of the letter:

May 9, 2016

Dear Senator Blunt:

Americans for Tax Reform strongly supports your leadership in the fight against any form of a carbon tax.

I urge all members of Congress to support and vote for your Senate Resolution, which puts Congress on the record in opposition to a carbon tax. 

A carbon tax would kill jobs in the United States, reduce economic growth, and set the stage for future tax hikes. Such a tax would drive up energy prices for American families and businesses, leading to an increase in the costs of consumer goods and reduced household income.

A carbon tax would be wholly regressive, falling hardest on low-income families who can least afford it. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office pointed out, “low-income households spend a larger share of their income on goods and services whose prices would increase the most” as a result of a carbon tax.

A study by the National Association of Manufacturers found a carbon tax would: have a negative effect on consumption, investment and jobs; increase the cost of coal, natural gas and petroleum products thus resulting in higher production costs and less spending on non-energy goods; and lead to lower real wage rates, lower labor productivity, and decrease workers’ incomes.

Americans for Tax Reform encourages all members of Congress to vote for your resolution opposing a carbon tax. 

Thank you Senator for your continued strong leadership in protecting Americans from a carbon tax today and forever.

Sincerely,

Grover G. Norquist

President 

Americans for Tax Reform

 

PDF link to letter

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