Justin Sykes

POLITICO is Wrong: Open Competition Laws Complement "Buy American"


Posted by Justin Sykes on Friday, May 19th, 2017, 4:56 PM PERMALINK

POLITICO Influence’s article released today falsely claims Americans for Tax Reform’s letter urging Congress to allow for an open and competitive bidding process in infrastructure projects contravenes President Donald Trump’s pledge to “Buy American.” 

The story from POLITICO Influence wholly mischaracterizes the idea of “Open Competition” which would actually complement President Trump’s Buy American pledge by increasing the number of American firms that can compete for publicly funded infrastructure projects and in doing so would increase taxpayer savings that could be used toward achieving the President’s trillion dollar infrastructure-plan.

It is too often the case that outdated or protectionist policies restrict what types of materials may be used in publicly funded infrastructure projects. This has the effect of preventing new and innovative materials that are often more cost efficient, and the American firms that produce them, from bidding on public infrastructure contracts. As a result the cost of U.S. infrastructure projects can be artificially inflated, costing taxpayers and the country as a whole.

By allowing Open Competition in infrastructure projects more American firms will be able to compete and in turn offer increased savings to American taxpayers in line with President Trump’s Buy American plan. 

 

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ATR Joins Coalition Urging Repeal of BLM Methane Rule (H.J. Res. 36)

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017, 2:55 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) this week joined a coalition of free market organizations urging Senate lawmakers to pass H.J. Res. 36, a resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) rule relating to "Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation" more commonly referred to as the BLM's "Methane Rule." 

The BLM Methane Rule is a product of federal regulatory overreach, released in the eleventh hour by the Obama Administration that served only to preserve the former President’s legacy at the expense of responsible U.S. energy production. BLM not only lacks the statutory authority to enact the Methane Rule, but the rule is also duplicative and wholly unnecessary. 

The coalition letter released this week and signed by ATR expresses the sentiment to Senate lawmakers that:

"The American people expect you to promote pro-growth policies that support affordable energy, jobs, and economic freedom. The BLM methane rule is not one of those policies...[and] must be undone, and the CRA is the ideal method for doing so. We ask the Majority Leader to bring this resolution to the floor and urge all Senators to vote yes."

Full text of the letter can be found here.

 

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Durbin Amendment’s Disparate Impact on Low-Income Consumers

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Friday, April 28th, 2017, 8:51 AM PERMALINK

When the Durbin Amendment was passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, proponents billed the Durbin Amendment as a measure that would benefit America’s financial consumers. By instituting the anti-free market policy of price caps on debit card swipe fees, Durbin proponents promised savings by merchants would be passed onto consumers in the form of reduced prices in stores. Yet not only has this promise not come to fruition, the Durbin Amendment has now been shown to have had a disparate impact on America’s low-income financial consumers.

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, since enactment of the Durbin Amendment 75 percent of merchants surveyed in the study reported no reduction in prices and 23 percent of merchants actually increased prices since enactment.

Not only did Durbin fail to deliver relief to consumers in the form of lower prices, but as a result of Durbin price caps and other Dodd-Frank regulations, the amount of banks offering free checking accounts dropped dramatically. Banks also increased average minimum deposits, monthly checking account maintenance fees, and many eliminated debit card reward programs.

The cumulative impact of reduced access to traditional banking services resulting from Durbin and Dodd-Frank was that many low-income financial consumers were pushed out of the traditional banking system. A recent study by George Mason University found the impact of the Durbin Amendment has led over 1 million Americans being “unbanked.”

This is a direct result of Durbin’s impact on banks offering free checking accounts. In 2009 75 percent of banks offered free checking accounts. After Durbin was enacted in 2010, that number dropped to 45 percent the following year, and has now fallen to less than 40 percent today. 

Banks are estimated to have recouped approximately 30 percent of their annual revenue loss cause by the Durbin Amendment through higher bank fees, and this impact has played out in truly regressive fashion. According to an April 2017 study by the International Center for Law and Economics, in 1999 the average minimum deposit required in order to avoid fees on non-interest-bearing accounts was $562.27. That minimum fell to $109.28 in 2008, but after Durbin passed the minimum skyrocketed to $732.02 in 2012 and stands at $670.74 as of 2016.

Furthermore, before Durbin average monthly checking account maintenance fees were $5.90 in 2009, yet fees have now climbed to all time highs of $13.25. Debit card rewards programs have also been reduced, seeing a massive 30 percent drop in the availability of debit card rewards programs in the first year Durbin became effective.

While high-income households are able to absorb the impact of reduced free checking, increased minimum balance requirements, and other increases in fees resulting from Durbin, the effect on low-income households has been quite different. Since enactment of Durbin debit card adoption for lower-income households (less than $25,000 per year) has fallen by roughly 10 percentage points relative to households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. 

For America’s low-income financial consumers, higher minimum requirements, the absolute destruction of free checking accounts, and increased maintenance fees means extremely reduced access too much needed traditional banking services for those who need it most. Instead of helping America’s consumers the Durbin Amendment has instead failed to pass on cost savings and increased the number of unbanked Americans. Such impacts fall hardest on the nation’s most vulnerable.

The 115th Congress should make 2017 the year that lawmakers stand up and protect American financial consumers, especially those of limited means, and repeal the failed and anti-free market price caps of the Durbin Amendment. 

 

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Norquist Statement in Support of Alexander Acosta to Lead DOL

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Thursday, April 27th, 2017, 1:56 PM PERMALINK

ATR President Grover Norquist today issued the following statement in support of President Trump's nominee Alexander Acosta to lead the Department of Labor (DOL):

“Senate lawmakers this week should vote to confirm Alexander Acosta to be the next Secretary of Labor so we can begin reversing some of the harm done to the American economy by the Department of Labor under President Obama. Mr. Acosta is a dedicated public servant with years of experience handling complex legal issues and a record of proven management and federal agency experience, and is a highly qualified candidate to lead the DOL.

"Under President Obama the DOL took a hostile approach to American businesses and industry, issuing a number of costly and burdensome rules and regulations such as the Department’s Fiduciary Rule. Since taking office President Trump has vowed to undo Obama’s regulatory legacy by acting to roll back barriers to economic growth, such as his Executive Order addressing the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule.

“Mr. Acosta has committed to supporting President Trump’s goal of reining in agency overreach, and would be a force for good at the Department of Labor by serving the Department’s mission in a way that foster’s economic growth, instead of setting up regulatory roadblocks. 

“The Senate has previously confirmed Mr. Acosta on three occasions with bipartisan support – once for the National Labor Relations Board, once as an Assistant Attorney General, and also as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida – and the Senate should again do so. 

“I urge Senate lawmakers to vote in support of Alexander Acosta’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor, and look forward to working with Mr. Acosta to begin undoing the Obama regulatory regime and creating a regulatory climate that helps grow our economy." 

 

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Norquist: “Trump’s First 100 Days a Boon for U.S. Energy”

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Thursday, April 27th, 2017, 11:57 AM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist this week issued the following statement praising actions taken by President Trump in his first 100 days to boost U.S. energy independence and growth.

“President Trump’s first 100 days in office have been a boon for US energy. The President has signed a historic number of Executive Orders to foster energy production and used the Congressional Review Act to reverse harmful Obama-era regulations that threatened to kill thousands of American jobs and reduce U.S. economic output.”  

While on the campaign trail then candidate Trump promised to repeal “needless job-killing regulation” and to put in place a requirement that “for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.” Trump also promised that under his presidency he would accomplish “American energy independence” by undoing Obama-era energy policies and approving pro-growth projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline.

During his first 100 days in office President Trump has successfully delivered on his promises on energy development through his use of Executive Orders and by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to roll back Obama-era regulations.  Below is a list of actions President Trump has taken in his first 100 days that will boost U.S. energy independence and growth.

  1. Executive Order Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. Signed shortly after taking office, Trump’s Executive Order on regulation took aim at peeling back costly federal regulations perpetuated under President Obama. Branded as a “one-in, two-out” regulatory approach, President Trump said that the only way new regulations would be issued is if “we…knock out two regulations for every new regulation.”
  2. Executive Order Enforcing Trump’s Regulatory Reform Agenda. Signed by President Trump in February, the Executive Order to enforce regulatory reform was issued to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” by ordering federal agency heads to designate a Regulatory Reform Office to oversee implementation of regulatory reform initiatives.
  3. Executive Order Requiring a Review of the “Waters of the U.S. Rule” (WOTUS). President Trump’s Executive Order on WOTUS requires the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the rule and publish a proposed rule rescinding or revising WOTUS. WOTUS would have expanded to EPA’s jurisdiction to “anywhere water can conceivably flow” thus requiring new burdens on energy operations as well as farmers and private landowners.
  4. Executive Order Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. Signed by President Trump in March, the Executive Order promoting energy independence and growth required that “executive departments and agencies immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resource and…suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy.”
  5. Executive Order Reviewing Designations under the Antiquities Act. Signed by President Trump in April, the Executive Order addressing the Antiquities Act focused on the importance of developing America’s natural resources and ordered a review of national monument designations. Under President Obama the Antiquities Act was used to restrict activities on public lands such as mining, pipelines, and commercial development.
  6. Executive Order Expanding Access to Fossil Fuels. On the 100th day of his presidency, Trump is expected to sign an Executive Order that would open up waters in the Atlantic and Artic Oceans to offshore drilling, areas that were previously made off limits by the Obama Administration.
  7. Approval of Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. In late March President Trump announced his administration had approved the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline, which reversed the Obama Administration’s decision to block the projects, both of which are projected to spur new economic growth and job creation.
  8. CRA Repeal of SEC Resource Extraction Rule (Sec. 1504 of Dodd-Frank). Issued as part of the Dodd-Frank Act, Sec. 1504 required the disclosure of proprietary information relating to resource extraction to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This rule put American energy firms at a severe competitive disadvantage internationally. President Trump in February signed off on the CRA repealing the Resource Extraction Rule.
  9. CRA Repeal of the Stream Protection Rule. Issued by the Department of Interior under Obama, the Stream Protection Rule was an egregious and unlawful example of federal regulatory overreach that infringed on the authority of state regulatory bodies and increased targeted burdens on energy production and distribution. President Trump successfully signed off on a CRA repealing this costly rule, in line with his promise to bring relief to America’s coal industry.
  10. CRA Repeal of BLM Management Planning 2.0. Under President Obama the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a rule known as the BLM Management Planning Rule 2.0 that gave the federal government more authority over land use decisions by state and local governments. The CRA signed by President Trump repealing the rule will give state and local governments more control over decisions regarding land use.  

 

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Senate Should Confirm Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Tuesday, April 25th, 2017, 3:40 PM PERMALINK

This week the Senate will vote on the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee R. Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor. Mr. Acosta is a dedicated public servant who has spent his career handling complex legal issues and has a record of proven management and federal agency experience. Lawmakers in the upper chamber this week should vote to confirm Mr. Acosta as the next Secretary of the Department of Labor (DOL).

During President Obama’s tenure the DOL issued a number of burdensome rules that threatened the U.S. economy and the livelihoods of millions of Americans. Since taking office President Trump has worked to reverse the DOL’s heavy-handed approach under Obama by issuing a number of Executive Orders to give relief to the business community, as well as by nominating Mr. Acosta to lead DOL.

Mr. Acosta has committed to supporting Executive Orders put forth by President Trump, primarily Trump’s order directing the DOL to review the Fiduciary Rule.

During a recent confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Acosta stated in regard to the fiduciary rule, “There is an executive action that directs how the Department of Labor will approach this rule. If I am confirmed as secretary of labor, I believe and support my following executive orders of the president.”

Acosta’s commitment to carry out Trump’s Executive actions on the Fiduciary Rule would be a welcome relief for American’s saving for retirement. As a result of the Rule, 7 million IRA holders could be disqualified from receiving investment advice, and the number of IRA’s opened annually would be reduced by up to 400,000.

Thankfully Mr. Acosta could soon be in a position to stop the rush to implementation of the Fiduciary Rule, among other onerous DOL rules put forth under Obama.

The U.S. Senate has previously confirmed Mr. Acosta on three occasions with bipartisan support – once for the National Labor Relations Board, once as an Assistant Attorney General, and also as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Lawmakers in the Senate this week should vote to confirm Mr. Acosta as the next Secretary of Labor. Acosta’s credentials show he not only has the necessary experience but the ability to lead the DOL in a way that serves the Department’s mission but does so in a way that foster’s economic growth, instead of deterring growth through regulatory hurdles and bureaucratic red tape. 

 

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ATR Joins Coalition Urging Congress to Hault DOL Fiduciary Rule

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Monday, April 24th, 2017, 2:56 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform this week joined a coalition of free market organizations urging Congressional lawmakers to quickly act to stop the pending implementation of the Department of Labor's (DOL) Fiduciary Rule. 

The Fiduciary Rule, put forth by the DOL under President Obama, would greatly reduce the ability of financial advisors to give advice to IRA and 401(k) holders, essentially putting the federal government between Americans and their retirement savings decisions. Estimates show the Rule could disqualify up to 7 million IRA holders from investment advice, and reduce the number of IRAs opened annually by up to 400,000.

The coalition letter outlines three affirmative steps Congress should take to stop the Fiduciary Rule from taking effect before a thorough examination, as ordered by President Trump this year, is completed.

First, the Senate should confirm President Trump's nominee to lead DOL, Alexander Acosta, who can stop the rush to implementation. Second, any omnibus spending package to fund the government for the next fiscal year should include a policy rider denying funding to DOL for implementation of the Rule. Third, Congress should work toward revising the Rule or overturning it entirely. 

The full coalition letter can be found here

 

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CFPB Prepaid Card Rules Will Harm Consumers and Should be Repealed

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Friday, April 21st, 2017, 2:38 PM PERMALINK

In the fall of 2016 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued final rules on prepaid debit cards, now set to go into effect April 1st of 2018. As is the case with most CFPB rule makings, the rule on prepaid debit cards will actually harm the same consumers it was originally designed to “protect.” Over 23 million Americans use and rely on prepaid cards, yet if the CFPB’s rule goes into effect, those same consumers will be pushed out of the market, depriving them of access to basic banking services.   

Since enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, and resulting myriad of regulations, many banks have found it no longer advantageous or feasible to offer free checking accounts, and have alternatively increased fees and required higher minimum balances in order to maintain free checking accounts. This in turn pushed many financial consumers, which tend to be low-income, out of the traditional banking system.

Many of the consumers that lost their free checking accounts or were no longer able to afford them turned to alterative financial products, such as prepaid debit cards, which serve a similar function as traditional bank accounts. Prepaid cardholders can have their paychecks directly deposited onto the cards in much the same manner as standard debit card and checking account arrangements.

In recent years prepaid cards have grown in popularity because they are often cheaper than traditional account linked debit cards, which is why they are often preferred by low-income users. In fact, the amounts placed on prepaid cards have grown from $1 billion in 2003 to a projected $112 billion for 2018.

According to a 2014 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts, of an estimated 23 million consumers using prepaid cards, a quarter of those were low-income Americans, with a third having annual income below $15,000. Obviously these numbers reflect that if the CFPB prepaid card rule moves forward, low-income Americans will bear the brunt of the impact. This will likely increase the amount of “unbanked” Americans, which already number in the millions.

Additionally, as pointed out in a recent piece from the American Action Forum (AAF), according to the CFPB’s own estimates the prepaid rules will result in 137,642 one-time burden hours for prepaid card companies forced to comply, and another 19,494 ongoing burden hours.

AAF estimates that the rules will costs prepaid card companies $5,257,935 just to get into compliance with the rule, in addition to another $744,697 annually just to maintain compliance. Such costs will inevitably be passed onto consumers, depriving even more of needed banking services.

Thankfully, this year the House and Senate introduced joint resolutions of disapproval of the CFPB’s prepaid card rule pursuant to the Congressional Review Act. H.J. Res. 73 was introduced in the House by Representative Roger Williams (R-Texas) and S.J. Res. 19 was similarly introduced in the Senate by Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.). 

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill should support these common sense measures that will protect American consumers, especially those of limited means, that rely on and prefer prepaid debit cards. This will not only increase choice for consumers but will ensure that those who have been pushed away from traditional banking products and services will have access to alternative financial services such as prepaid cards.  

 

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New Study Shows Durbin Amendment is a Failure

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Friday, April 14th, 2017, 11:46 AM PERMALINK

Passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, the Durbin Amendment was touted as a measure to benefit America’s retail consumers. The goal of the Durbin Amendment was to reduce the costs of interchange fees that retail merchants pay for debit card transactions with the hope that those costs savings would be passed onto consumers. Roughly six years later however studies show consumer costs have not been reduced and also that retail merchants are less concerned with reduced fees and more with receiving benefits and flexibility in interchange transactions.

Most American consumers are likely not aware of the process that goes into debit card transactions with their local retail stores. In fact, most consumers likely are not aware of the Durbin Amendment and the interchange fees it sought to cap. Yet the process and costs of using debit cards is something that effects millions of Americans on a daily basis as well as the merchants with whom they are transacting.

To put it simply, interchange fees are the fees paid by retail merchants to financial institutions for the privilege of accepting debit card payments in their stores. As mentioned, Durbin set a cap on the interchange fees financial institutions were allowed to charge merchants for the privilege of processing debit transactions.

In passing Durbin, proponents claimed that not only would consumers see reduced prices in stores but that merchants’ themselves would prefer and benefit from reduced interchange fees. The problem with such claims by Durbin proponents though is neither has proven to be true since enactment.

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in conjunction with Javelin Strategy & Research, since enactment of the Durbin Amendment 75 percent of the merchants surveyed in the study reported no price reduction as a result of the regulation. In fact, of the merchants surveyed 23 percent had actually increased prices on consumers since Durbin passed.

As to the second claim, that merchants’ primary concern was on reducing interchange fees, new findings show the majority of small merchants are actually more concerned with preserving the benefits they receive from increased flexibility and choice in the partnerships they hold with financial institutions. This stems from the fact that the agreements merchants reach with financial institutions for debit card processing often provide the merchants with benefits that outweigh any reduction in fees they pay.

A new study released in April of this year by Javelin Strategy & Research found that for America’s small merchants, “value is a more significant factor than price when it comes to satisfaction with debit interchange fees and partnerships” with financial institutions.

That is to say merchants want more flexibility and options stemming from the benefits they receive from partnerships with financial institutions for processing, and when fees are capped under Durbin the benefits offered to merchants from such partnership agreements are diminished.

The April study surveyed 500 small merchants, those with annual sales between $250,000 and $10 million, and concluded that “small merchants want choice and flexibility more than low prices” on interchange fees paid. In fact, more than four in five merchants surveyed were satisfied with the transparency and value they get from their debit card payment processors and of the merchants who were not satisfied just one-quarter believe interchange fees hurt their profitability.

Even more revealing is that the study found over sixty percent of small merchants were unfamiliar with the details surrounding federal efforts to cap debit interchange fees under Durbin. Clearly the narrative from Durbin supporters that capping interchange fees would be a benefit and preference for merchants is mischaracterized and for the most part wholly misleading. 

Thus over six years since enactment of the Durbin Amendment, the two driving justifications for enactment of price caps on interchange fees are proving false.

Small merchants not only prefer choice and flexibility in their partnerships with financial institutions, which are increased when prices are not capped, but prefer such benefits over reduced prices. Furthermore, the price savings consumers were supposedly guaranteed under Durbin have not come to fruition, and even worse a number of merchants have increased prices despite the Durbin price caps.  

Lawmakers in the 115th Congress should keep in mind these two failed outcomes when considering Durbin Amendment repeal, and know that the benefits to consumers and merchants promised under Durbin have been an overwhelming failure. 

 

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Norquist Praises Trump Executive Orders Rescinding Obama-era Energy Regulations

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Tuesday, March 28th, 2017, 12:14 PM PERMALINK

ATR President Grover Norquist issued the following statement in support of President Donald Trump’s release of his executive order on energy independence that will halt a number of costly Obama-era regulations such as the former President’s signature Clean Power Plan:

“President Trump’s release this week of his executive order on energy independence is a positive step towards rolling back a number of Obama-era regulations which would have had drastic economic impacts on the U.S. with little to no environmental benefits. 

“The President’s executive order will halt past regulations such as President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but will also look to create a framework to encourage U.S. energy production and independence moving forward.

“Under President Obama Americans witnessed a massive increase in the regulatory state and executive overreach that deterred innovation while driving up the cost of energy in the U.S. for taxpayers and businesses while providing no real environmental impacts.

“For instance the President’s executive order will begin rolling back the Clean Power Plan, which would have increased electricity rates by double-digits in 44 states while killing thousands of jobs and decreasing U.S. competitiveness. 

“Trump’s order will also require reviews of other costly and duplicative Obama energy policies such as the Bureau of Land Management’s rules on methane emissions and the Interior Department’s moratorium on new coal leasing on federal land.

“I applaud President Trump’s for his leadership rolling back anti-energy Obama policies and his work to encourage U.S. energy production and independence.”

 

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