Organ Donor Shortage Must Be Addressed

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Posted by Natalie De Vincenzi on Friday, May 27th, 2016, 9:20 AM PERMALINK


Our nation faces an alarming organ shortage. Every day, twenty-two people die because they cannot get a transplant and the donor wait list is more than 121,000 people long.

Depending on the organ, wait lists can be up to ten years long, past the point a patient can survive.  Not only does this lead to a loss of life, but this also drains Medicare and other social service funds, which ultimately places a burden on taxpayers.

Each transplant can save an average of $745,000 in medical costs, of which 75 percent of the savings is to taxpayers.  Additionally, a patient who has received a kidney transplant has an added 10-15 years when compared to those who remain on dialysis. If the supply of transplant kidneys increased, taxpayers could save more than $5.5 billion per year in medical costs.

The Organ Donor Clarification Act, introduced by Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), addresses our nation’s pressing organ shortage, and eradicates the taxpayer burden.

First, the act allows for the creation of pilot programs in order to test the promotion of organ donation through non-cash incentives. It should be noted that this legislation has no budgetary impact, it solely authorizes the creation of programs, which must be approved through the normal process.

Second, this legislation clarifies that certain reimbursements, such as travel or medical care expenses do not constitute “valuable consideration.” Under current law, organ donors are prohibited from receiving any valuable consideration in exchange for their donation. This is meant to prevent individuals from selling their organs but also serves as a disincentive for otherwise prospective donors because they are prohibited from being reimbursed for common expenses.

It is imperative that we address the nation’s organ donation shortage, and the Organ Donor Clarification Act does so. It will save both lives and taxpayer dollars. ATR supports this bill and encourages all Members of Congress to co-sponsor and support the Organ Donor Clarification Act. 

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Rep. Frank Guinta Makes Written Commitment to Oppose Higher Taxes

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Posted by Alec DiFruscia on Thursday, May 26th, 2016, 3:59 PM PERMALINK


Rep. Frank Guinta, Congressman for New Hampshire’s First Congressional District, has signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to the American people. The Pledge is a written commitment to the constituents of the First Congressional District and the American public to oppose higher taxes. Rep. Guinta is running for reelection in November.

Prior to being elected to Congress, Guinta served as the mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire, the largest city in the state. During his tenure, Manchester saw the first tax cut in the city in more than a decade.

“The American people are tired of the tax-and-spend policies coming from Washington and they are looking for solutions that create jobs, cut government spending, and get the economy going again. Signing the Pledge is the first step in that process.”

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge has been offered to every candidate for federal office since 1986. In the 114th Congress, 219 Congressmen and 48 Senators have signed the Pledge.

“We are ecstatic about Guinta’s commitment to the taxpayers of New Hampshire. I challenge all candidates for New Hampshire’s First Congressional district to make the same commitment to taxpayers by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge today,” continued Norquist.

We are glad Guinta has made this commitment to the taxpayers of New Hampshire.

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ATR Congratulates Ohio for Passing Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, May 26th, 2016, 3:58 PM PERMALINK


Yesterday, Ohio’s House of Representatives passed H.B. 347 to reform the state’s broken asset forfeiture process. The bill passed 67-24, displaying its overwhelming support from the majority of its citizens.

Ohio’s current civil asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement to seize property from individuals without a criminal charge. By increasing protections for Ohio property owners and implementing due process within the system of forfeited property, the Ohio legislature is moving in the correct direction to improve the rights of its citizens.

The Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit Report gives Ohio forfeiture laws a D- because “it has a low bar to forfeit, no conviction required, poor protections for innocent third party property owners, and as much as 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.” In total, law enforcement forfeiture proceeds averaged at $8,575,933 per year from 2010-12.

According to a poll from the U.S. Justice Action Network that surveyed 500 registered voters in September 2015, 81% of Ohio residents believe asset forfeiture is in need of reform.

H.R. 347 displays that representatives are finally listening to their constituents, and Americans for Tax reform is proud to support it. 

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Massachusetts' Legislature Gives Preliminary Approval to Millionaire's Tax

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Posted by Natalie De Vincenzi on Thursday, May 26th, 2016, 3:31 PM PERMALINK


Last week, the majority of Massachusetts state legislators voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to enact a “millionaire’s tax.” The organization, Raise Up, collected the necessary signatures needed in order to bring the millionaire’s tax measure to the legislature. This proposal would apply a 4.0 percent surtax on income above $1 million, which would be levied on top of the Bay State’s 5.1 percent flat income tax. The good news is, despite legislative action last week, enactment of such a tax hike is far from imminent. The Boston Globe’s Evan Horowitz explains:

“For one thing, backers need something more than a new law; they need a constitutional amendment — because at present the state constitution doesn’t allow for differential tax rates.”

An 80 percent tax surge would hit small businesses especially hard, as the majority of small businesses file under the individual income tax system. The IRS accounts that more than 3,000 small businesses in Massachusetts report incomes over $1 million. The proposed millionaire’s tax would severely burden small business and stymie future economic growth for the Bay State.

The Globe’s Horowitz, explains how this matter would not be resolved until 2018 at the earliest:

“Amending the state constitution is a multi-step process. First, a quarter of legislators have to approve the amendment, which is what’s happening Wednesday. Then, in the 2017-2018 legislative session, they have to approve it again. Only then can it go to voters in the form of a ballot initiative.

This lengthy process has a potentially worrisome correlate. If it turns out there’s an error or problem with the amendment — or merely some ambiguity requiring clarification — addressing it could require another four-year process of constitutional re-amendment.”

Support of only 50 of the 200 state legislators were needed to advance the constitutional amendment. There was more than enough votes to move forward with the amendment, with votes totaling 102 to 50 in the House and 33 to 7 in the Senate.

Massachusetts voters have smartly rejected calls for a progressive income tax five times over the last five and a half decades. Increased reliance on upper income households makes state revenues more volatile, as California, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have first-hand experienced. The millionaire’s tax proposed in Massachusetts will make state revenue collections less stable, budgeting more difficult, and will make the commonwealth less competitive with other states around the country, many of which –such as Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee—have been reducing and phasing out income taxes. 

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Health Savings Accounts Should Be Expanded and Protected

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Thursday, May 26th, 2016, 1:37 PM PERMALINK


Health savings accounts, or HSAs are tax-advantaged accounts which are used to pay for routine, out-of-pocket medical expenses.  They are used in conjunction with insurance plans which tend to cover large and/or unexpected health events and allow individuals to make choices that best fit their needs. Expanding and protecting HSAs is one component to ensuring Americans have access to patient centered health care that best fits their needs and keeps costs low.

The importance of HSAs is why Congress should pass H.R. 5324 and S. 2980, the Health Savings Account Expansion Act of 2016, legislation introduced this week by Congressman Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). This legislation contains a number of important reforms that will make HSAs even better.

First, the legislation more than doubles HSA contribution limits. Current HSA contribution limits are $3,350 for a single filer and $6,750 for a joint filer, and this legislation increases that to $9,000 for single filer and $18,000 for joint filers per year.

Second, the HSA expansion act lifts Obamacare restrictions on over the counter purchases and penalties placed on certain withdrawals.

Third, the bill allows HSA funds to be used to pay premiums and direct primary care expenses.

Lastly, superfluous regulatory requirements would be streamlined with the high deductible health plan mandate eliminated.

In addition to these important reforms, the HSA Expansion act protects existing tax provisions that enable people to pay for and access their healthcare in the way that they prefer, prevents the removal of HSA-eligible plans from Obamacare exchanges, streamlines health care financing, and expands choices for personalized medicine including direct primary care.

Clearly, this legislation makes many important, commonsense improvements to HSAs that increase healthcare freedom for families. As such, ATR supports this important legislation and encourages all Members of the House and Senate to co-sponsor and support the Health Savings Account Expansion Act.

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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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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 released by the House Oversight Committee under the leadership of Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Political staffers took over the exchange despite state law explicitly establishing Cover Oregon 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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