Sandra Fabry

ATR and CFA to MIT Economist: Give the Money Back


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010, 7:09 AM PERMALINK

ATR and CFA have sent the following letter to Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professer who has been under contract with the Department of Health and Human Services while touting the Democrats' healthcare plans in the media without disclosing his relations with the administration:

Dear Mr. Gruber,

In light of the recent revelations that you have been under a $297,600 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services while publicly advocating for the Democrats’ healthcare proposals in recent months, we ask that you return the money you received under the contract.

Your public defense of various provisions of both the Senate and House healthcare proposals while under contract with the Administration represents a serious conflict of interest.

Your engagement with the government to publicly tout a massive spending program is akin to public lobbying campaigns for which consulting firms are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of their (private-sector) clients. The fact that in your case the client was the Administration paying you hundreds of thousands of dollars makes your actions highly unethical. Taxpayers clearly deserve better than having their tax dollars spent on political propaganda.

You may have disclosed your involvement with the administration to reporters “when asked.” However, such important information should not just be provided upon request, but should have been volunteered, and you should apologize to the journalists you left in the dark.

More than anything, though, you owe taxpayers, whose hard-earned tax dollars were used for dubious political propaganda an apology as well as an amount of $297,600 which you should swiftly return to them.

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Backdoor Ping-Pong - Not a Spectator Sport


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010, 4:23 PM PERMALINK

The following originally appeared on www.fiscalaccountability.org:

Now that both chambers of the U.S. Congress have passed their respective healthcare bills, the question was how they would proceed to reconcile the two versions. Earlier this week, we got our answer: There would not be a formal conference committee, but rather, the chambers would resort to "ping-pong" sending the bills back and forth between the chambers until both have passed an idential version. The reasoning behind their move is quite transparent. According to Politico:

On the Senate side, it avoids three separate votes that would require 60 members to cut off debate. On the House side, it avoids amendments, denies Republicans a vote to effectively block the bill and avoids earmark transparency and 72-hour layover rules, according to a memo put out by Rep. David Dreier, the Ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee.

What is not transparent, is the actual process. Negotiations are now being held behind closed door, against all the promises made by President Obama and Congressional Democrats that taxpayers would be privy to the negotiations. 

C-SPAN has taken issue with the secrecy, and has requested that their cameras be granted access to all important negotiations. CFA and ATR have also sent a letter to Congress urging leadership to allow C-SPAN to broadcast  these important deliberations into America's living rooms. After all, this was supposed to be the "most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress," according to Nancy Pelosi.  A petition drive is also underway.

However, the same Nancy Pelosi who so solenmly proclaimed this new open Congress is now laughing at the request that TV cameras be allowed into the negotiation rooms, claiming that there has never been a more open process.

House GOP Leader John Boehner is right when he says:

”Let’s be clear: skipping a real, open Conference would shut out the American people and break one of President Obama’s signature campaign promises.  It would be a disgrace – to the Democratic Leaders if they do it, and to the President who broke his word.  That’s no laughing matter.”

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Sen. Conrad Coordially Invites You To Andrews Air Force Base Part II


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010, 11:45 AM PERMALINK

What: The Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act of 2009 which will lead to a guaranteed tax increase

Who: Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)

When: As early as this month if Senate Democrats have their way

Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) have put forth the “Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act of 2009.” As written, it would lead to a guaranteed tax increase.

(...)

Click here for the flyer.


ATR and CFA: Reject the Conrad/Gregg Commission


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009, 1:08 PM PERMALINK

While the Senate is moving closer towards a final vote on the Obama-Reid healthcare overhaul, one item of unfinished business is still on the agenda for this year - the vote to raise the debt ceiling.  The House has already passed H.R. 4314 which would increase the statutory limit on the national debt by $290 billion, from $12.104 trillion to $12.394 trillion. 

The Senate is still looking to pass the debt ceiling increase before the year is out, and there still is the danger of Sens. Conrad and Gregg insisting on offering their ill-conceived tax/spending "reform" commission bill as an amendment to the debt ceiling bill.

ATR and CFA have been pointing out the dangers of such a commission as envisioned by Sens. Conrad and Gregg on numerous occasions, and, in the event this issue comes up before year's end, have informed Senators that both groups would negatively score a vote in support of the commission in our annual congressional ratings.

From our vote alert:

In the event this issue comes before the U.S. Senate before year’s end, Americans for Tax Reform and the Center for Fiscal Accountability urge all members to vote “No” on any amendment to H.R. 4314 establishing the Conrad/Gregg bipartisan commission to develop legislation making wholesale changes to the tax code and spending policy.

While innocuous-sounding, a commission as envisioned by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) would lead to a guaranteed tax increase:

It would establish an eighteen-member task force comprised of ten Democrat and eight Republican Congressmen, Senators, and Administration officials. A report from the commission would need to gather fourteen votes in order to make an expedited recommendation to both bodies. The recommendation would only pass with a supermajority vote in each chamber.

Despite the appearance of protection for taxpayers, this commission would guarantee a net tax increase be in its proposal. Every Democrat on the commission would insist on tax increases to “balance” spending cuts in the recommendation.

There is no conceivable scenario whereby the commission would issue a report that does not contain tax hikes.

To be acceptable from a taxpayer perspective, language would have to be included that explicitly removes tax increases and/or new taxes from commission consideration, but, as envisioned by Sens. Conrad and Gregg, setting up this commission would be a horrible deal for taxpayers.

Stand up for Taxpayers!

Vote “NO” on any amendment to H.R. 4314 establishing the Conrad/Gregg bipartisan tax/spending “reform” commission!

ATR and CFA WOULD SCORE POSITIVELY a vote AGAINST the Conrad/Gregg commission in our annual Congressional ratings.

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"Last Train Leaving the Station" Appears to be a Ghost Train


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009, 5:37 PM PERMALINK

The following is cross-posted at www.fiscalaccountability.org:

As Democrat negotiators continued to hash out the details relating to their unfinished legislative business for 2009 on Tuesday, House leaders said that they are hoping to wrap up the yet-to-be-filed bills on Wednesday.  This rushed timeline once again stands in stark contrast to Speaker Pelosi’s professed dedication to transparency and accountability.

The Speaker once claimed that her leadership would create the “most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history,” and even made an express promise to post the final language of the healthcare bill online for a full 72 hours. While allowing slightly more time for public review, she still failed to deliver on that promise.

Says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform:

Democrat lawmakers are busy attaching cars to the last train leaving the station – the final spending bill, or now bills as they seem to have decided to split them for political reasons – but it looks like it will be a ghost train. We’ve heard quite a bit about what the package(s) might look like, but nobody has seen it or them yet. Nonetheless, they are hell-bent on getting their remaining agenda rushed through and then head out of town for the holidays.

A recent Rasmussen poll has shown that 83 percent of Americans want Congress to post bills online before they are voted on, and of these 83 percent, 64 percent think that bills should be available to the public two weeks or more before Congress votes. Only four percent think three days before a congressional vote is soon enough.

Norquist continues:

Congressional leaders are clearly defying the will of the people. Especially when bills stand to affect the livelihood of all Americans, as these bills they have cobbled together behind closed doors certainly will – it is all the more important that taxpayers have an opportunity to provide their input. This hasty process only goes to show that Congressional leaders are willing to talk the talk when it is politically expedient, but are unwilling to walk the walk if they feel it might slow down or even derail their misguided priorities.

Click here for the press release.

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ATR Urges Co-Sponsorship of Rep. McHenry's CORE Spending Act


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Friday, December 11th, 2009, 2:23 PM PERMALINK

ATR is urging all members of the U.S. House of Representatives to become a co-sponsor of H.R. 4249, the "CORE Spending Act," sponsored by Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC). 

The bill is important in light of current proposals to establish a bipartisan commission to recommend changes  to federal spendign programs and the tax code, like the Conrad-Gregg proposal floated in the senate, which represents a big threat to taxpayers.

From our letter in support of Rep. McHenry's bill:

This bill establishes a bipartisan commission to recommend comprehensive changes to federal spending programs and the tax code WITHOUT the fatal flaw (a guaranteed tax increase) other similar House bills have had in the past.
 
In light of the dire current fiscal situation, calls for establishing such a commission have been getting louder. On the senate side, Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) have introduced a bill which may seem innocuous at first glance. However, given the way it structures its bipartisan tax and spending reform commission and procedures to vote on its recommendations, the bill would lead to a guaranteed tax increase. Similarly flawed proposals have been proposed on the House side by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA).
 
Congressman McHenry’s bill avoids this deadly trap by incorporating an explicit prohibition of a tax increase as part of the commission’s proposal:
 
 LIMITATION- The legislation developed under this subsection may not include any new, or any increase in an existing, Federal tax.
 
Consequently, House members should co-sponsor this bill, and stay away from any other bills creating similar bipartisan commissions without explicit langauge removing tax increases and/or new taxes from commission consideration. 

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The President's Jobs Plan: Put Lipstick on a Pig


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, December 9th, 2009, 2:03 PM PERMALINK

 In a speech at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday President Obama – without giving specifics or numbers and staying away from the term “stimulus” – outlined his plan to spur job creation against the background of a still-ailing employment market. While the package contains a few small and temporary tax cuts, the bulk of the package is more of the same Keynesian spending along the same lines of the last “stimulus” package, in the wake of which unemployment had surged to currently 10.2 percent at its highest just several weeks ago.

Among the tax cuts are dropping the capital gains rate for small business investments to zero for one year, and extending expensing for small business otherwise set to expire at the end of the year. The rest of his package, however, consists of a flood of new infrastructure spending, new spending for weatherization projects and green jobs, and more money to further extend unemployment benefits, COBRA and more money for state and local governments.

The President suggested that repaid funds of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) could be used to pay for part of his plans – rather than repaying the money to the Treasury, as the original law stipulated.

Here's what ATR president Grover Norquist had to say:

What the President is largely doing here, is putting lipstick on a pig. The last “stimulus” package was a failure even by the Administration’s own standards of preventing unemployment from going over 8 percent. The package has been growing government at all levels while leaving the private sector in the cold. Now the President wants to throw businesses a bone with a few small tax cuts, but largely continue his spending and debt spree to grow government on the backs of American businesses and families, while turning TARP into a revolving slush fund.

We are reminded of what a smart person once said: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ If he were serious about job creation, he would look at dropping his job-killing and tax-hiking healthcare, cap-and-trade and card check initiatives and embrace free-market solutions instead.

Click here for the press release in PDF.


Transparency vs. Spin? The Open Government Directive


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Tuesday, December 8th, 2009, 4:59 PM PERMALINK

The following originally appeared at www.fiscalaccountability.org:

Today, the White House released the long-awaited Open Government Directive via webcast. And a lot of what is said in the memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies sounds pretty good.  It talks about a presumption of openness when it comes to government information and spells out a schedule for agencies to comply with this presumption. 

While the first part talks about general agency data, the second part of the document focuses on improving the quality of government information and specifically focuses on the area of Federal spending information. In that context, the following timetable is set:

  • within 45 days each agency is required to have designated a high-level senior official to be accountable for the quality and objectivity of spenidng information on venues such as USAspending.gov
  • within 60 days, OMB will isssue a guidance focusing on the quality of suc hinformation requiring agencies to submit plans relating to information quality
  • and within 120 days OMB will issue a longer-term comprehensive strategy for Federal spending transparency which will be interesting to see.

While this all sounds good, as do most of the other parts of the directive, it remains to be seen what this will actually mean once implemented. 

Consider for example the requirement that within 45 days each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets and register them on Data.gov.  Sounds pretty good, right? 

But what threw me off a litttle was the explanation given during the webcast with CTO Aneesh Chopra (left) and CIO Vivek Kundra of how the data sets are chosen: Sitting down with agency heads, identifying their policy goals and then determining the release of which data sets will help them accomplish their goals - which sounds to me like targeted release of information to serve a specific purpose, or short: propaganda.

Consequently, we are concerned - also based on our experience with Recovery.gov which is the poster child for spinning numbers - that what we'll end up getting will not be that much more transparency, but more spin.


Ready for More Hope and Change?


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Tuesday, December 8th, 2009, 10:35 AM PERMALINK

The following was originally posted at www.fiscalaccountability.org:

We've said it over and over again - the Administration's job counting metric of counting "jobs saved and created" is bogus, and the "stimulus" has failed. But it can't hurt to say it again, especially in light of the President's speech at the Brookings Institution later this morning, in which we can expect him to call for more "stimulus"-like measures without calling them that. And he'll likely tout the "progress" that has supposedly been made, when reality paints a different picture with unemployment now significantly higher than before the "stimulus" was passed.

Thomas Sowell discusses the President's flawed approach to job creation on Townhall today.

He argues (along the lines of what we, and many others, have been pointing out):

What does it take to create a job? It takes wealth to pay someone who is hired, not to mention additional wealth to buy the material that person will use.

But government creates no wealth. Ignoring that plain and simple fact enables politicians to claim to be able to do all sorts of miraculous things that they cannot do in fact. Without creating wealth, how can they create jobs? By taking wealth from others, whether by taxation, selling bonds or imposing mandates.

However it is done, transferring wealth is not creating wealth. When government uses transferred wealth to hire people, it is essentially transferring jobs from the private sector, not adding to the net number of jobs in the economy.

If that was all that was involved, it would be a simple verbal fraud, with no gain of jobs and no net loss. In reality, many other things that politicians do reduce the number of jobs.

Unfortunately, none of this is resonating with the Administration, and we can expect more of the same Keynesian experiments:

Constant government experiments with new bright ideas is another common feature of Obama's "change" and FDR's New Deal. The uncertainty that this unpredictable experimentation generates makes employers reluctant to hire. Destroying some jobs while creating other jobs does not get you very far, except politically. But politically is what matters to politicians, even if their policies needlessly prolong a recession or depression.

Leadership in the House of Representatives is expected to stuff parts of their "jobs initiative" aka "stimulus II" into one of the remaining appropriations bills later this week or next.

Are you ready for more "hope and change"?

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ATR and CFA Endorse House GOP "Doc Fix" Alternative


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Thursday, November 19th, 2009, 4:15 PM PERMALINK

CFA and ATR have sent a letter in support of the House GOP alternative to Rep. Dingell's "Doc Fix" shenanigans.  From our letter:

Unlike H.R. 3961, the so-called “Doc Fix” bill sponsored by Rep. John Dingell, (D-Mich.), the Republican alternative is shenanigan-free, and would provide for fair physician reimbursement while being fully paid-for by cutting wasteful spending.

Just like the Senate bill Sen. Reid tried and failed to pass through the Senate last month, Rep. Dingell’s bill is nothing but a poorly veiled attempt to sneak past taxpayers a massive healthcare-related cost. Honest accounting would have meant that this cost should have been part of the estimate for the already outrageously expensive government health bill passed by the House.

By contrast, the Republican alternative would ensure that physicians are appropriately compensated while including reforms that would fully offset the cost of the bill.

Taxpayers are already struggling to make ends meet, and should not be forced to shoulder yet another costly burden. Only a fully-offset “Doc Fix” bill can be considered responsible, and we consequently urge you to support the Republican motion to recommit and reject Rep. Dingell’s Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act.


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