House Looks to Stop $500 Million Taxpayer Funded Transfer Overseas
The House Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs approved a State Department spending bill this week that would prohibit the use of funds for the U.N. Green Climate Fund (GCF). Such prohibition would stop $500 million in taxpayer dollars from being sent overseas as part of President Obama’s unilateral commitment to fund the GCF.
As part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris last year, the GCF fund was created with the goal of transferring funds from wealthy nations to developing nations to further the commits under the agreement. As part of the GCF, President Obama committed to helping raise $100 billion annually in funding, without the consent of Congress, and pledged $3 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars to the GCF.
The first installment of President Obama’s self-serving, ideological commitment came in March when $500 million was handed out to the GCF. Obama has since requested an additional $500 million as part of the second payment for 2017. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would allow for the $500 million requested transfer to the GCF.
Thankfully, lawmakers on the House side realize the perverse nature of President Obama’s commitment to send millions, and eventually billions, in taxpayer’s hard earned dollars overseas at a time when such funds are desperately needed at home. For FY 2016 U.S. public debt totals $22 trillion, and while $3 billion is a relative drop in the bucket, there is no reason those funds should not be used domestically for the benefit of U.S. taxpayers.
Photo credit: Pictures of Money
Nearly 4,000 EPA Regulations Issued Under President Obama
The House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing this week to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory activity under the Obama Administration, which highlighted the President and EPA’s blatant disregard for the Constitution and State authority. The hearing also addressed the drastic impact increased regulations have on U.S. energy and the economy as a whole.
Since President Obama assumed office in 2009, the EPA has published over 3,900 rules, averaging almost 500 annually, and amounting to over 33,000 new pages in the Federal Register. The hearing highlighted growing concerns from states and affected entities about the mounting complexity, costs, and legality of EPA rules.
The compliance costs associated with EPA regulations under Obama number in the hundreds of billions and have grown by more than $50 billion in annual costs since Obama took office. Such high costs, especially those related to the energy sector, ripple throughout the economy, impacting GDP, killing thousands of jobs, and increasing the cost of consumer goods.
In his opening statement, Chairman of the Subcommittee Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) noted that the impact of compliance costs is only part of the issue with EPA regulations. Chairman Whitfield stated the EPA’s “controversial and extreme interpretation” of it’s statutory authority has transformed it’s role to that of “ultimate” regulator.
Testifying on the Administration and EPA’s overreach of authority, David J. Porter, Chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, lambasted the Administration’s disregard for the rule of law, stating:
“The President disregards the Constitutional limits of his office and public opinion to forward his own liberal agenda…[and] in promoting his agenda, he has allowed EPA to become the mouthpiece for ideological propaganda.”
Vice Chairman Pete Olson (R-Texas) echoed the concerns of Chairman Whitfield and Mr. Porter during his questioning of Janet McCabe, Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Rep. Olson argued that the EPA’s drafting of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) amounted to the Agency writing laws, far outside the scope of EPA statutory authority and in clear violation of the Constitution.
Subcommittee members further pointed out that the EPA is so removed from the rule of law that it has continued to move forward with new rules to implement the CPP, despite the Supreme Court having issued a stay of the rule. Obviously under Obama’s “pen and phone” mentality, EPA bureaucrats feel emboldened to continue enacting major regulations without fear of legal recourse or retribution from Congress or the public.
It is clear from the Subcommittee hearing that President Obama has allowed, and even encouraged, EPA regulators to stretch the legal limits of the U.S. Constitution and the Agency’s statutorily granted authority. The President is obviously indifferent to the regulatory precedent he has set, as well as the impact his economically destructive “legacy” will have on American families, businesses, and the economy.
Photo credit: Billy Hunt
House EPA-Interior Spending Bill Would Rein in Regulatory Overreach
As lawmakers return this week from the July 4th holiday, they will have only until July 15th to act on a number of bills before heading home for the summer recess. Although the legislative schedule is packed, one of the bills that could potentially see floor time next week is the House Appropriation’s Interior and Environment spending bill for fiscal year 2017.
The legislation, which was approved by the House Appropriation Committee (31-18) last month, provides funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Services, the Indian Health Service, and other related agencies. Overall, the bill provides $32.1 billion in funding, which is a $64 million reduction from fiscal year 2016 enacted levels and $1 billion below President Obama’s budget request.
Under the spending bill, the EPA would see a reduction of $164 million from FY 2016 levels, which is $291 million below the amount requested in Obama’s budget request. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Land and Water Conservation Fund would also see funding reductions.
Most importantly, the legislation looks to rein in extensive regulatory overreach. Since taking office President Obama, along with the help of agencies such as the EPA, has enacted and proposed an avalanche of costly energy regulations such as the Clean Power Plan and Ozone Rule that threaten the livelihood of millions of Americans and the economy as a whole.
The EPA-Interior spending bill would not only reduce EPA regulatory programs by 6 percent, but contains a number of provisions that would rein in costly regulations that increase the price of energy in the U.S., reduce GDP, and threaten millions of American jobs. Such provisions include:
- A prohibition on the EPA from implementing new GHG regulations for new and existing power plants and the elimination of funding for GHG “New Source Performance Standards”;
- A prohibition preventing EPA changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the CWA, essentially blocking the “Waters of the U.S. Rule”;
- A prohibition on new methane regulations and requirements;
- Provisions to stop economically harmful changes to the “stream buffer rule”; and
- A rejection of the President’s proposal to increase inspection fees on energy producers.
Speaking on the legislation, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers stated, “This bill will stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations – by the Environmental Protection Agency and others – that hurt recovering communities and kill jobs.”
The House Rules Committee has now set a Thursday, July 7th deadline for amendments to the EPA-Interior spending bill, so many are optimistic it could see floor time soon. While it will likely receive resistance from President Obama, given the provisions blocking EPA and other agency rules, the bill highlights lawmaker opposition to the increase in bureaucratic regulatory overreach that has grown exponentially under President Obama.
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ATR Supports H.R. 4474, the Fairness for Agicultural Machinery and Equipment (FAME) Act
ATR President Grover Norquist today sent a letter to Congressional lawmakers urging support for Representative Ralph Abraham's (R-La.) Fairness for Agricultural Machinery and Equipment (FAME) Act, H.R. 4474.
The U.S. agricultural industry relies heavily on farm machinery and equipment, however the current depreciation schedule for such equipment is not aligned with the average length of debt service on that same equipment. H.R. 4474 would correct this discrepancy by reinstating and making permanent five-year depreciation for farm equipment, thus aligning depreciation and debt service. Doing so is projected to increase after-tax farm income by $1 billion annually.
Below is the full text of the letter, which can also be found here:
July 5, 2016
Dear Members of Congress,
Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) urges your support of H.R. 4474, the Fairness for Agricultural Machinery and Equipment Act, otherwise known as the “FAME Act.” Introduced by Representative Ralph Abraham (R-La.), this pro-growth legislation would increase after-tax income for American farmers by reinstating and making permanent five-year depreciation for farm business machinery and equipment.
The U.S. agricultural industry is heavily dependent on farm machinery and equipment, which on average accounts for over eight percent of assets owned by farmers and ranchers. In fact, farm machinery and motor vehicles in use in 2014 were valued at almost $260 billion, according to the USDA.
The USDA also finds that a majority of farmers and ranchers generally finance business equipment and machinery for a period of five years. Currently however the allowed number of years to depreciate such equipment does not align with the average period of debt service, thus depriving those in the industry of potentially higher tax benefits that could otherwise be used toward the financing of related payments.
H.R. 4474 would correct this discrepancy by aligning depreciation and debt service for farm equipment and machinery with a fiver-year depreciation schedule. It is projected that doing so would increase after-tax farm income around $1 billion annually. With net farm income this year projected to fall by almost half of what it was in recent years, farmers and ranchers need relief wherever possible.
While ATR does support the eventual repeal of depreciation schedules, moving instead to full business expensing, for now H.R. 4474 is a productive step to allow farmers and ranchers to better manage costs and reduce their tax burden.
I urge you to support and vote for H.R. 4474, the Fairness for Agricultural Machinery and Equipment Act.
Grover G. Norquist
President, Americans for Tax Reform
Photo credit: Elliott P.
Obama’s $3 Billion Dollar Taxpayer Backed Boondoggle
In March President Obama dolled out the first installment of his ideologically driven $3 billion pledge to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund (GCF). The first $500 million handed out is just the start of what will amount to a massive transfer in the coming years of billions in taxpayer funds overseas. This Obama boondoggle has neither the consent of Congress nor the support of most American taxpayers.
Obama’s billion-dollar pledge came at the end of 2015 as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris. The GCF was created as a fund within the UNFCCC framework, and the Obama Administration agreed to help raise $100 billion annually in funding for developing nations. Obama then unilaterally pledged $3 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to the GCF without the consent of Congress.
While President Obama is no stranger to circumventing the roll of the legislative branch in order to further his own legacy, his willingness to unilaterally commit billions in taxpayer dollars oversees is a new low. Considering that the FY 2016 U.S. public debt totals $22 trillion, a $500 million handout, and more importantly a $3 billion pledge of U.S. funds, ignores the economic realities the country is facing.
In a recent scathing oped, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) argued that GCF funding could instead have been used to combat the spread of the Zika virus, pointing out that Congress has granted the authority to pull money from bilateral economic assistance to foreign countries to combat infectious diseases.
“Congress refused to allocate funding for the U.N. Climate Change Fund…so the president used this account designated for international infectious diseases to pay for his priority,” Lankford wrote.
Senator Lankford is not the only lawmaker speaking out against Obama’s actions. A coalition of 37 Senators, led by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent a letter to President Obama last fall disavowing his diversion of funds without Senate approval.
Photo credit: Steve Jervetson
Obama Appointed Judge Strikes Down Federal Fracking Rule
This week a federal judge appointed by President Obama struck down the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2015 rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. Wyoming District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl, appointed by Obama in 2011, ruled that “Congress has not delegated to the Department of Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing” and that the rule exceeds the authority of the BLM.
The rule was published in 2015, and focused new regulations and requirements on well construction and wastewater storage, among other things. One of the most onerous provisions was the requirement that companies would be forced to disclose confidential information related to chemicals used in the fracking process. Such a requirement would have been a massive blow to the protection of company trade secrets and have set a dangerous precedent going forward.
Judge Skavdahl’s opinion however focused primarily on the lack of jurisdiction and authority, ruling that the Department of Interior has not received the delegated authority from Congress to oversee such far-reaching regulations. He further criticized the Interior’s efforts, arguing BLM was acting outside of its statutory authority and contrary to the rule of law.
Skavdahl also took the opportunity to point out issues of executive overreach. “Congress’ inability or unwillingness to pass a law desired by the executive branch does not default authority to the executive branch to act independently,” Skavdahl argued.
The District Court’s ruling was an embarrassing and sobering blow to President Obama and his signature effort to regulate fracking on public lands, especially at the hands of one of his own appointees. The ruling also comes on the heels of the recent Supreme Court stay that was issued on the President’s Clean Power Plan. Both rulings stand as reminders that President Obama’s repeated executive overreach is no match for basic logic and the rule of law.
While it is likely Interior will appeal this weeks ruling, given Judge Skavdahl’s clear and simple holding on the Department’s lack of statutory authority, President Obama should not count on this onerous and costly rule ever seeing the light of day.
Photo credit: Blake Thornberry
Rep. Sanford Looks to Make Flight-Sharing a Reality
Representative Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) this year has been working to make “flight-sharing” in the U.S. a reality. The concept of flight-sharing would allow pilots to share their travel plans so that passengers looking to fly to the same destination would be able to split the costs of the flight. This free-market, pro-consumer concept would add a new layer of travel accessibility to the already booming sharing-economy marketplace, but is currently stalled by and overreaching FAA.
The concept of flight-sharing is relatively new, and as mentioned would allow private (as opposed to commercial) pilots to share travel plans online so that passengers traveling to the same destination would be allowed to split the costs of the flight with the pilot. Airline ridesharing startups such as Flytenow have developed technology to allow flight-sharing on an online platform that would pair private pilots with other individuals.
The potential benefits of flight-sharing to consumers and pilots are huge. There are roughly 28,000 commercial flights daily in the U.S., compared to over 50,000 private flights daily. Commercial airlines currently access 560 U.S. airports while private pilots reach over 19,000 airports throughout the country.
However, under existing federal regulations, private pilots are prohibited from using the internet to post flight routes and as a result effectively prohibited from splitting the cost in sharing a ride. As characteristic of a slow to adapt federal bureaucracy, pilots are allowed to post shared flights on a “3-by-5 card” pinned to the bulletin board of the pilots lounge, but are barred from posting the same information on a virtual bulletin board.
Thus once again you have federal bureaucrats preemptively grounding a potentially market changing and consumer driven innovation before it has had the chance to take off. Thankfully Rep. Sanford understands the potential benefits that flight-sharing could yield for consumers and the economy.
In response, Rep. Sanford authored an amendment to correct this issue, the language of which was incorporated into the AIRR Act during committee consideration. The language of Sandford’s provision would require the FAA to issue or revise regulations to ensure that holders’ of a private pilot’s license can communicate with the public through any medium, such as the internet. As such, flight-sharing startups like Flytenow would be allowed to operate their internet-based platform pursuant to FAA rules.
In a recent press release, Rep. Sanford touted the benefits of flight-sharing, stating that, “if private pilots can connect with passengers, the end result is more flights available to more airports – and more choices for me and you as consumers.”
Lawmakers in Congress are currently facing a July 15 deadline to reauthorize funding for the FAA, with the House and Senate both offering competing plans. Regardless of what route lawmakers take, the legislative vehicle should include the flight-sharing provisions Rep. Sanford has put forth.
As we’ve seen play out with the hard-fought success of other sharing economy technologies, government is often slow to adapt to the fast paced innovation of the free-market, thus depriving Americans of life changing products and services. Rep. Sanford’s efforts to support flight-sharing would resolve such regulatory quagmires by allowing a new and market changing service to benefit consumers and the economy.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
Financial Services Appropriations Bill Reins in Obama Government Agencies
Later this week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 5485, the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations Act, introduced by Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.). This legislation allocates 2017 federal funding for numerous agencies including the Treasury Department, the IRS, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FCC.
H.R. 5485 allocates this funding in a responsible, pro-taxpayer way and reins in out-of-control agencies to ensure they do not overstep their bounds and needlessly waste federal resources. ATR supports this legislation and urges all Members of Congress to vote for it when it reaches the floor.
Restrains IRS Overreach
H.R. 5485 contains several important policy riders to rein in the IRS. Under this administration, the agency has targeted non-profit organizations, families, and small businesses again and again in a concerted effort to limit free speech and harass taxpayers.
The legislation prohibits the IRS from implementing a new regulation on non-profit organizations, from giving bonuses or rehiring former employees without proper tax compliance measures, or from targeting individuals based on first amendment rights. In addition, the package implements extensive reporting on IRS spending to ensure the agency is wisely utilizing taxpayer resources.
Reins in SEC Funding and Improves Transparency
FSGG allocates $1.5 billion for the SEC, lowering the agency’s funding by $50 million from previous levels in fiscal year 2016. The legislation also creates new reporting requirements for the SEC, which would improve the transparency and fairness of the agency. One provision requires the SEC to report to Congress the cost associated with the regulatory burdens promulgated under the Dodd-Frank Act.
The legislation also ensures First Amendment free speech is protected by prohibiting the agency from requiring the disclosure of political contributions in SEC filings.
Responsibly Allocates IRS Funding
The legislation provides $10.9 billion for the IRS, reducing their funding by $236 million compared to fiscal year 2016. In addition, the legislation funds the agency $1.3 billion below President Obama’s budget, which called for more than $1 billion in additional funding for the agency.
FSGG also allocates this funding in an efficient way. Of the $10.9 billion in funding, the legislation allocates $2.1 billion to taxpayer services and provides $290 million for the IRS to improve customer service, fight fraud, and improve cybersecurity.
Given the IRS's record of ineptitude and incompetence, the last thing the agency needs is more money. The agency’s woes are due to its management problems, not because of insufficient resources and this legislation will force the agency to spend its resources in a more responsible way.
Blocks Implementation of Obamacare
FSGG also contains important provisions that restrict the ability of the federal government to implement Obamacare. Specifically, this legislation stops transfer of funds between the Department of Health and Human Services and the IRS to fund Obamacare. Since passage of the law, the Obama Administration has funneled funds across agencies to hide the true costs of the law and pay out special interests at the expense of the American people.
Most importantly, the legislation restricts the use of funds to implement the individual mandate. Under current law, anyone not buying “qualifying” health insurance – as defined by President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services -- must pay an income surtax to the IRS. This year a family in the middle class will be forced to pay 2.5 percent of Adjusted Gross income or $1,390 if they do not have insurance. The Obama administration uses the Orwellian phrase “shared responsibility payment” to describe this tax.
Increases CFPB Oversight and Accountability
This legislation provides increased oversight over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by subjecting the agency to annual congressional appropriations process, something that has not occurred since the CFPB was created in 2010. By bringing funding for the CFPB under the congressional appropriations process, this legislation increases the accountability of the CFPB to congress and taxpayers.
Further, H.R. 5485 temporarily halts the CFPB’s costly and overreaching arbitration rule by requiring the agency to study the use of pre-dispute arbitration before issuing such regulations. The CFPB has not adequately justified the need for rule, and enactment would increase the costs of products and reduce access for the very consumers it would supposedly protect.
The FCC’s snowballing regulatory binge continues to tighten its grasp on basic functions of the Internet and the free market. The FCC's dubious interpretations of "ambiguous" legal language, even at the protest of Congress, leave no other options but for Congress to restrain and direct FCC spending as Congress is statutorily required to do.
To enhance transparency and public participation, funds must be used for the agency to make all proposed regulations public three weeks before the final legally binding vote. It constrains some of the agency’s overreaches on policy, by preventing the agency from using any appropriated funding for “Net Neutrality” regulations until court proceedings conclude.
The dollars in the public pot are limited. While the agency does receive less money for operations than it asked for, and the is an overall decrease in funding of $25 million, the FCC maintains an ample budget of $315 million to aptly pursue its core functions and target waste fraud and abuse within its programs.
Speaker Ryan’s Regulatory Reform Agenda is Pro Consumer and Pro Energy
This week Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released his regulatory reform agenda, which is the third installment of his “A Better Way” plan. The regulatory reform agenda released outlines a number of policy proposals aimed at reigning in a regulatory burden that has grown exponentially under Obama. While the proposed reforms would have widespread benefits for the economy as a whole, many would prove especially beneficial to energy consumers and the energy sector, both of which have seen costs skyrocket under the Obama regime.
Since taking office, the President has actively worked to expand executive agency control over the economy through increased regulations, specifically as it relates to the energy sector. Over the last eight years U.S. consumers and the economy have been subjected to an avalanche of energy regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan and Methane Rule, which increase the costs of energy.
By growing the regulatory burden, the Obama Administration has increased the amount of time and resources U.S. businesses expend to comply with such regulations. The increased compliance burden trickles down to U.S. families and consumers in the form of higher monthly energy bills, reduced household income, and increased costs of consumer goods.
Speaker Ryan’s regulatory reform agenda looks to reverse this economically disastrous trend by proposing common sense reforms such as: providing for a regulatory budget; requiring regulators to take the cumulative impact of rules into account; and using reproducible and transparent data.
Speaker Ryan points out that Washington’s regulatory bureaucracy rarely knows the financial costs of the regulations it enacts, even with regard to major regulations. In order to fix this issue, Ryan proposes requiring Congress, when it passes new regulatory legislation, to prepare and report estimates of how much a regulation will cost. This would essentially impose a “regulatory budget” on the process, ensuring lawmakers take into account the associated costs of new rules.
In the same vein, the regulatory reform agenda notes that while regulations are enacted separately, often the cumulative effect of such regulations on the economy is overlooked. This issue only compounds as more and more regulations are added each year. For instance, in 2015 the federal government enacted 3,408 new regulations while repealing few. Ryan argues that such regulatory impacts should not be considered in isolation, but the burden on the economy should be considered as a whole when enacting new rules.
It has also been a constant criticism that federal agencies are often not transparent or accountable in reproducing and making available the scientific data used to justify new regulations. As part of the reforms proposed, Congress would require federal agencies adhere to accepted principles of scientific practice during research, and make such data available to the citizens, industries, and organizations that would be impacted by proposed regulations.
Ryan’s regulatory reform agenda also outlines needed reforms such as reducing paperwork, requiring “meaningful” judicial review of rules, and adhering to statutory mandates, among a number of other positive reforms.
The reforms outlined by Speaker Ryan would not only be a boon for U.S. competitiveness as a whole but also would be particularly beneficial to energy consumers and businesses, reducing compliance costs and in turn reducing the price of energy American families and businesses pay each month.
Unlike the existing regulatory climate under Obama, requiring regulators and lawmakers to work within a regulatory budget and take into account cumulative costs would protect businesses from a continuation of a suffocating compliance burden and ensure consumers are not subjected to even more increased energy costs. Additionally, making the regulatory process more transparent would allow for the interests of citizen stakeholders and businesses to have a voice in the process that has been muffled by federal bureaucracy for too long.
Overwhelming Majority in the House Votes to Oppose a Carbon Tax
Last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to oppose a national carbon tax. Lawmakers in the House voted 237-163 to a pass a resolution offered by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), that expressed 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.”
The vote by the lower chamber found the support of 231 House Republicans, all voting to oppose a carbon tax. No Republicans voted to support a carbon tax, and six Democrats crossed the aisle also to oppose a carbon tax.
While the vote on Scalise’s resolution is largely symbolic, it marks a huge win for those in Congress that understand just how economically disastrous the impact of a carbon tax would be in the U.S. The 237 votes represent not just a vote against a carbon tax, but also a vote to protect American families and businesses.
As Americans for Tax Reform has repeatedly pointed out, a U.S. carbon tax would have far reaching impacts on the entire economy. For instance, projections show a carbon tax would reduce U.S. GDP by over $140 billion and crush over 1 million jobs within a few decades. Energy prices would also see up to a 30 percent increase, impacting the nation’s most vulnerable populations as energy costs and the costs of consumer goods rise.
With the House’s vote last week, lawmakers in the lower chamber have committed to going on record to oppose any future proposals of a national carbon tax. Now, focus shifts to the Senate where Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has introduced a companion resolution to the one passed by the House, which would put members of the upper chamber on record opposing a carbon tax.
Sen. Blunt’s resolution S. Res. 472, has already garnered 25 co-sponsors since it was released last month. As was the case with Rep. Scalise’s resolution, Sen. Blunt’s expresses “the sense of the Senate that a carbon tax would be detrimental to U.S. families and businesses.”
Americans for Tax Reform urges members of the Senate to support Sen. Blunt’s resolution, and also applauds the 237 House members that voted to oppose a carbon tax in the House. Such measures lay the groundwork for protecting American families and businesses from possible efforts in the future to enact burdensome and economically disastrous carbon tax policies.
Photo credit: Henk Sijgers