Sandra Fabry

"Stimulus" - More Fuzzy Jobs Math


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Friday, October 16th, 2009, 12:18 PM PERMALINK

Yesterday, the first batch of recipient reports were uploaded to Recovery.gov, and media headlines are now saying that the $16 billion so far tallied (more data is to be uploaded by the end of the month) created more than 30,000 jobs.

Exactly what the White House wanted - having the media report about jobs "created" when a good number of these jobs previously existed, and we have discussed the challenges associated with the cleverly devised but misleading "jobs saved"-metric before.

But the Administration thinks we shouldn't get hung up on these definitions. In fact, agency memos outlining how recipients were supposed to be tallying the jobs for the reports they had to submit specifically say:

Disregard the distinction between „created‟ and „retained‟. Simply count all employees paid for with Recovery Act funds.

And here's where the big problem comes in: In Indiana, for example, according to the Indy Star, state officials sent in a report to the federal government that stated they had supported 16,000 jobs with "stimulus" funds. (Mind you that only 327 jobs currently show for Indiana on recovery.gov as the data shown at this point only reflects federal contractors not the money passed through state governments).  The 16,000 jobs  number the state has reported to the federal government is based on the $2.3 billion expected to pass through Indiana's government.  But here's the problem:

A large majority of those calculated jobs -- 13,232 -- were tied to $610 million in so-called "fiscal stabilization funds" sent to Indiana to help support its state budget. Daniels chose to use that money as a substitute for a regular appropriation to K-12 schools, freeing up existing state funds to maintain Indiana's budget surplus.

As a result, under the federal calculations, those 13,000-plus teaching and school staff jobs supported by that funding were included in the state's report.

So more than 13,000 jobs of the 16,000 the state reported to the federal government under the "saved/created" category already existed. The Democrat House Speaker of Indiana complained:

"These jobs already existed, and they wouldn't have cut 13,000 jobs without this money."

And Governor Mitch Daniels said:

"I personally wouldn't try to tell a taxpayer this had any effect that I can see on the economy," Daniels said, "or let alone that there is some specific number of jobs attached to it."

Expect this issue of jobs being over-counted to be multiplied fifty-fold, because the problem will exist in every state.  And so the fuzzy math continues.

Then, of course, there's another issue: If we were to take the current numbers at face value, and iIf my math is correct, looking at the 30,000 jobs number based on the $16 billion distributed, then that would be jobs at an individual price tag of over $500,000 - quite a bargain, right? 

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Sen. Bunning: 72 Hours Online Posting of Legislative Language and the FINAL Score for All Bills


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, October 7th, 2009, 4:11 PM PERMALINK

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

Today, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) introduced a resolution to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to require that no committee or subcommittee may consider any legislative matter unless the legislative matter and a final (! - not a preliminary!) budget scoring by the Congressional Budget Office for the legislative matter has bee nposted on the Internet in a searchable form for 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays).  The same would apply for the Senate floor.

It is especially the inclusion of the requirement to get the final CBO score that makes this resolution great - because as we've heard from the CBO director himself, they need the  full legislative langauge and not just conceptual language (or a 'vapor bill' as some call it), and it takes them a few days for them to put it together.  Once a bill is taken off the fast track, there can be a real debate about its merits - or the lack thereof, so passage of the Bunning resolution is critical.

So far, 21 members of the Senate are co-sponsors of the resolution. We're hopeful that this number increases swiftly and that the 8 Democrats who asked Harry Reid for more time yesterday will not hesitate to sign on. Contact your Senator now, and tell him or her to support the Bunning 72 hour resolution.

Photo credit: Brooks Elliott

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Memo to Congress: Taxpayers Want Bills Online Before You Vote - Ideally for Two Weeks


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, September 30th, 2009, 11:45 AM PERMALINK

So certainly, asking for 72 hours is not asking too much!

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

A memo to those in the U.S. House of Representatives who are holding up the discharge petition on the 72-hour bill, which would force a vote on the bill requiring the online posting of all legislation and conference  reports for 72 hours before floor consideration.

From Rasmussen:

Eighty-three percent (83%) of U.S. voters say legislation should be posted online in final form and available for everyone to read before Congress votes on it. The only exception would be for extreme emergencies.
 
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds only six percent (6%) of voters disagree with this approach while 10% are not sure.
And here's the kicker:
Of those who favor posting congressional bills in their final form on the Internet, 64% say they should be available to the public two weeks or more before Congress votes and 29% favor posting bills one week before a vote. Just four percent (4%) think three days before a congressional vote is soon enough, while one percent (1%) say one day is enough.
In light of these results, it certainly shouldn't be too much to ask for at least 72 hours of online posting of bills before a vote.  Tell your Representative to sign the discharge petition!

Pres. Obama: "Let Them Eat Cake. Wait, Make that Rice Crackers. And Take Away the Soda, Too."


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Monday, September 28th, 2009, 11:12 AM PERMALINK

While public attention focuses in on the tax increases in the Baucus healthcare overhaul bill, the threat a tax increase on sugar sweetened beverages got a new lease on life with a recent interview President Obama gave in Men’s Health.

In the interview, Obama said that a tax on sugared beverages, often referred to as a “soda tax,” although such a tax could also include fruit juices or flavored milk drinks was “an idea that we should be exploring.” A tax on sugar-sweetened drinks had previously been included in a set of policy options to fund a health care reform overhaul put forth by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), but did not make it into the House or Senate bill.

Here are a few good reasons why a tax on these beverages is a bad idea:

Against the president’s promise not to raise taxes on them, this regressive tax would disproportionately hit lower- and middle income taxpayers.

Even if you accepted the premise that obesity is a public health issue and not a personal health issue, the tax code is not the place to address this issue.  The tax code should not be used as a consumer control device.

The “tax bite” the government already takes out of a can of pop is 37.6 percent or $.28 for a 75 cent can.

The economic damage this tax increase would bring with it should not be forgotten, especially as our economy continues to shed job.  The beverage industry and other affected industries employ hundreds of thousands of workers, and jobs would most certainly be at risk.

Excise taxes aimed at reducing consumption of a product of often turn into "placeholders" for future tax increases. While on the one hand trying to discourage certain behaviors through these tax increases, government would find itself in the contradictory position of at the same time relying on the continuance of such behaviors as a revenue source for the programs funded.

Click here for our press release.

Photo credit: maverick3001

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TARP IG "Frustrated" With TARP Transparency


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Thursday, September 24th, 2009, 11:09 AM PERMALINK

Maybe now would be a good time to pass "Maloney/King"?

(the following is cross-posted at www.fiscalaccountability.org)

Neil Barofsky, the IG for the TARP program will tell Congress today that the government's "basic attitude" on the transparency and accountability of the program "remains a significant frustration," reports The Hill.

"We remain puzzled as to why Treasury refuses to adopt our recommendation to report on each TARP recipient's use of TARP funds," Barofsky will say.

One good way to begin fixing the problem would be for Congress to pass the TARP Accountability and Disclosure Act (H.R.1472)  sponsored by Reps. Maloney and King or its senate counterpart.

The fact that relevant data is currently widely dispersed over various agencies and in various formats hinders appropriate oversight efforts.

From a letter we sent on the bill a while ago, here's what that bill would do:

The bill would consolidate and transform that data into a serialized database hosted by the Department of the Treasury and accessible to the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the Comptroller General, and the Congressional oversight panel. Consequently, those tasked with monitoring the implementation of the program will be provided with a useful tool to better monitor and trace transactions, and thereby spot potential problems in a timely fashion.

We continue to maintain that beyond establishing this database, Congress should make sure that more information is not just disclosed to Congress and the watchdogs, but also to taxpayers who are picking up the tab, but creating this database would be a huge step in that direction.

Here's a coalition letter in support of the bill we circulated a while ago.

Oh, and by the way, Barofsky will also say the following, according to The Hill:

"It is extremely unlikely that the taxpayer will see a full return on its TARP investment."

Anybody surprised?

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Congress: You Can Spare Trillions of Our Dollars, But Can't Spare a Few Days of Extra Time?


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009, 5:11 PM PERMALINK

The Senate Finance Committee today rejected an amendment requiring that the health care bill text and score be posted online for a full 72 hours before a committee vote - ATR and CFA condemned the vote. From our press release:

As the Senate Finance Committee works through committee amendments to Chairman Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) mark on the health care bill, the committee today rejected a provision offered by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) that would have required that the legislative language and the final cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office be posted on the committee's Web site for 72 hours before the committee votes on the final bill.
 
Committee Chairman Max Baucus said that if the bill were to be written that way, it would take at least two weeks for staff to do so. Standard practice in the committee (the only committee working under this practice) is to vote on a bill that is provided in what some have dubbed “plain English” – really only conceptual language. While this practice has been ongoing for the last thirty or so years, this Congress’s leadership vowed at one point to make this “the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history.”
 
Says ATR president Grover Norquist:
“A 72-hour requirement would take an extra two weeks? So what? Senator Baucus, do we not deserve a few extra days of your time given that you and your fellow Democrats are setting out to completely overhaul our entire health care system funded with our tax dollars?”
 
“Conceptual language certainly isn’t good enough. Regardless of what common practice used to be - an overhaul of such proportions handed down from leaders of the supposedly ‘most honest, ethical and open Congress in history’ deserves thorough public scrutiny of every single word in the bill.”

Photo credit: Brooks Elliott

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Milking Taxpayers - Another Bailout for Dairy?


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Monday, September 21st, 2009, 3:16 PM PERMALINK

If Sen. Bernie Sanders has his way, another bailout for dairy farmers is on tap.

On July 31, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack announced an increase in the price support levels for dairy through the Dairy Product Price Support Program increasing farmers’ revenues by an estimated $243 million. (Under the Price Support Program, the federal government purchases and warehouses large quantities of dairy products, thereby reducing supply and raising the price of goods for American families.)

However, to some in the senate, that’s not enough –they’re calling for an additional $350 million to the overall funding for the Farm Service Agency with the purpose of (as pointed out by Sen. Bernie Sanders) increasing price support levels for purchases of dairy products beyond the increased levels announced by Vilsack.

A senate amendment to the 2010 Agriculture appropriations bill to this effect passed in August, and will now be part of conference negotiations.

There are many reasons why this short-sighted government bailout of dairy farmers should be rejected, and perhaps the clearest articulation comes from someone who should know.

As a dairy farmer, John Mueller of Willow Bend Farms in Clifton Springs knows what he is talking about, and he has clearly seen better days, but he says: 

“The market is telling us we got to have less milk on the market, and by him putting more money into dairyman's pockets--it's going to keep milk on the market--it's going to prolong this low-price situation, (...) We need to just ride it through, we need to suck it up, get through it, and we'll be in better shape just like we were in 2007.”

Watch the full clip here:


 (if you’re using Firefox you might encounter difficulties viewing this video. Try using the Internet Explorer instead)

Not only are these types of subsidies counterproductive, as they send the wrong signals to dairy farmers to produce more milk when there’s already too much of it, they also come with a massive price tag. 

In an opinion piece from 2007 the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards cited an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study determining that U.S. dairy price policies created a 26 percent “implicit tax" on milk consumers – and that was 2007.

The International Dairy Foods Association has calculated that raising price support so the levels from 2008 levels to the levels promoted by Sen. Sanders will cost consumers nearly $1 billion over the next months.

Given that children under the age of 18 consume nearly half of all dairy products, it is inconceivable why government would want to add to a family’s burden in these trying economic times with this regressive “milk tax.”

Unfortunately lawmakers like Bernie Sanders or Chuck Schumer, coming from states in which the dairy industry is among the largest segments of the respective state’s agricultural industry, will continue to push for increasing price support levels.

Photo credit: Steve Arnold

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Issa, Boehner and Johanns to Receive "Nutcracker Award"


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Thursday, September 17th, 2009, 4:43 PM PERMALINK

Following today's House vote to end all federal funding for ACORN, and the passage of of an amendment stripping funding for the organization from the THUD appropriations bill earlier this week, Americans for Tax Reform has decided to bestow upon the three Members of Congress leading the charge the "Nutcracker Award."

The award recognizes “Outstanding Leadership in Protecting Taxpayers from Corrupt Organizations Named After Nuts.”

Says Grover Norquist:

“Finally, it looks like the nut has been cracked. For too long, ACORN – a corrupt and fraudulent organization - has been feeding at the federal trough. It is about time that the federal government, and the same goes for state and local governments, too, sever its ties with this organization. Taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund wasteful spending in general, but they most certainly should not be on the hook to pay for proven criminal behavior. These three Members of Congress deserve credit for taking the first step towards closing the federal money spigot for ACORN.”

Click here for our press release.

Image courtesy of Arkansas Flag and Banner, Inc.

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CFA to Senate: Support Sen. DeMint's Push to End Funding for Murtha's "Air-Pork"


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, September 16th, 2009, 2:14 PM PERMALINK

Not too long ago, the controversy over John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport about two hours East of Pittsburgh flared up when it was one of the first airports in the country to receive "stimulus" funding: $800,000 to repave a backup runway.

Sen. Jim DeMint is now taking on what is one of the most well-known earmarks, and has dropped an amendment to the THUD appropriations bill that would strike funding for the King-of-Pork Airport that sees a full three (!) commercial flights a day carrying no more than twenty passengers.  And just so nobody can say this would be unsafe to do, funding for air traffic control operations is excluded - but what would end is the "monument-to-me" shenanigans.

Says Sen. DeMint:

This is a test to see how serious we are about stopping wasteful spending. If we can’t stop this ridiculous abuse of taxpayer funds for a deserted airport, we can’t stop anything,” said Senator DeMint. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans just marched on Washington to protest out-of-control spending and debt. Millions of Americans are speaking out, but are we listening? This airport -- where the staff and taxpayer-funded buildings outnumber the passengers -- is a national embarrassment.

CFA agrees, and we will be rating a vote for the amendment, which may occur as early as this afternoon, in our annual Congressionl ratings.  For our vote alert, click here.

Photo credit: Morag Casey


Say No to Nationalizing Student Lending


Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, September 16th, 2009, 10:20 AM PERMALINK

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

Largely unnoticed because of the big health care debate that is overshadowing all other legislative business, there is a piece of legislation that may be brought to a vote as early as tonight or tomorrow that stands to have severe consequences for American taxpayers.

The bill, euphemistically-named "Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act," is fraught with many problems relating to cost, the creation of new entitlements, and costly mandates including "green school" mandates and Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements.  More than anything, though, the bill would ultimately lead to the nationalization of yet another industry by barring private lenders from making government-guaranteed loans. 

CFA is sending a letter to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging opposition to the bill, and we will also be rating a vote against it.

From our letter:

First, the bill, which would replace the Federal Family Education Loan program with direct loans made by the Department of Education, carries a huge price tag.  Proponents may be touting the bill as a way to save money, but reality paints a different picture. While the original CBO score, which identified a likely net cost to taxpayers remains the official estimate due to budgeting rules, correspondence from CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf confirms that SAFRA and the expansion of direct spending to the Pell Grant program contained in the bill could cost taxpayers up to $49.9 billion over ten years after accounting for lending risk.

With the government seizing control of student lending, the bill continues the current troublesome trend towards nationalizing entire industries. 

It would further create ten new entitlement programs, and contains “ green school” requirements. Saddling already costly school-construction programs with additional federal regulations will certainly drive up costs, and the fact that the bill would not only seek to impose “green” standards, but would also apply Davis-Bacon prevailing wage mandates only aggravates the burden this bill would impose.


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