Photo courtesy of Dwight Burdette
With much attention in Congress focused on the Farm Bill, Marketplace Fairness Act, and Immigration there are some issues that fly under the radar. One such issue that is experiencing a renewed push is the call for government-mandated "A la carte" programming. Introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), The “Television Consumer Freedom Act,” which would pressure cable companies to provide “a-la-carte” programming, would change the way in which cable providers do business. The legislation is designed to force cable television providers like Verizon and Comcast to alter their pricing and plans in an effort to provide "greater choice" and lower cost to customers who don't want to pay for a bundle that includes hundreds of channels they may or may not want. In bringing this legislation to the forefront, he stated that it "is about giving consumers more choices when watching television." In reality, “a-la-carte” programming is bad for the consumer and not an issue that an already over-burdened Congress should be wasting time on. Sen. McCain was one of the original proponents of “a la carte” legislation going back nearly a decade ago, but at some point his push faded... but now it appears to have made a comeback and he is once again turning his sites on getting an “a la carte” pricing bill through Congress. Sen. McCain continues to argue that passing this legislation would lower the price for consumers and allow them to have greater choice over the services they purchase. Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that moving to “a la carte” could potentially "cost providers advertising revenues that would result in an increase in subscriber fees." The cost isn't the only thing that would be adversely impacted, the notion of "choice" also would be in danger.
(David Strom, a Minnesota resident, is principal at Think Write Do, a public affairs and marketing consulting firm, and Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) Research Fellow.) Minnesota has a reputation as a bastion of liberalism, but for most of the past 2 decades that reputation has not reflected the reality of politics on the ground here. Sure, my state has produced notable liberals such as Senator Paul Wellstone, but until 2010 no Democrat (we call them the Democrat-Farmer-Labor party here) had been elected governor since 1990, when Rudy Perpich left office. Perpich, it should be said, set the goal of reducing taxes and taking Minnesota out of the top 10 states in tax rates, a goal that was finally met by Tim Pawlenty during his two terms in office. All that changed in 2010, when true blue liberal Mark Dayton (heir to the Dayton department store fortune) was elected governor in 2010, and Dayton has made it his mission to get Minnesota back into the top rankings of high tax states. As soon as the Democrats took full control of state government, Dayton proposed increasing sales taxes on both consumer and business-to-business transactions, as well as raising income taxes on “the wealthy” and businesses. He also proposed a 3-year “temporary” income surcharge for incomes over $500,000, raising the effective tax rate on those earners to over 13%. The Democrats have proposed hefty increases on both cigarettes and alcohol, even touching a third rail in Minnesota politics—an increase in taxes on beer. Cigarettes would see an additional tax of $1.60 a pack, making the working class pastime of having a smoke with a beer a substantially more expensive pleasure. Even taking a shower after a hard day’s working, drinking, and smoking will cost more, as fees for water will increase.
Taxpayers Protection Alliance President David Williams issued the following statement in the wake of the Internal Revenue Service scandal, calling on the Obama Administration to release all e-mails between the Cincinnati IRS field office and the Washington, D.C., office. “Late last week we learned that the Internal Revenue Service was engaged in the inappropriate and possibly criminal targeting of non-profit groups based on their political ideology. We have subsequently discovered that these actions were known to be happening by officials in Washington. The abhorrent practices documented by an Inspector General’s report released this week reveal that IRS Agents selectively targeted nearly 500 groups simply for political reasons, completely disregarding the standards and guidelines that have been clearly laid out for these processes. There is no place for this kind of behavior at an agency as powerful as the IRS and it only serves as a reminder of the ways in which the federal government can abuse their power without the proper oversight. TPA is calling on the Obama Administration to force the release of all e-mails between the Cincinnati IRS field office and the Washington, D.C. IRS headquarters that relate to employees singling out groups for added scrutiny that have names like 'Tea Party' or 'Patriot' and groups that educate about government spending or the Constitution."
Led by Heritage Action For America, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance joined with other taxpayers and free-market organizations representing millions of individuals across the nation to oppose wasteful spending in the Farm Bill. The Senate and House appear ready to start legislative work on the Farm Bill as early as this week, and it is important to call attention to the habitual waste of money that has become too commonplace in the Farm Bill. There is tremendous need for reform. Current subsidy programs are rooted in the 1930s, when prices for crops and livestock bottomed out and farm families were desperate for income. Agriculture today could not be more different. Farmers are pulling in record-high levels of income and carrying record-low levels of debt. Technology has eliminated many of the risks that once plagued farming, and the profitability of crops that go without subsidies demonstrates that independent agriculture is viable. So there is just no way to justify funneling tens of billions of dollars to farmers who, by and large, are better off than most of the taxpayers who are shelling out the subsidies. The letter highlights twelve of the most egregious examples of waste to taxpayers. The groups are urging both Chambers of Congress to not continue to spend trillions of dollars on what amounts to simply a laundry list of “subsidies, welfare payments, and environmental patronage.”
(The following op-ed first appeared in Roll Call on May 7, 2013) The Environmental Protection Agency is always looking for ways to expand its power and scope. That’s not exactly news in Washington and not dissimilar to most federal bureaucracies. But unlike many other agencies, the EPA has figured out a way to completely eschew government transparency and circumvent the traditional regulatory process in a way that needlessly spends more taxpayer dollars. This unconventional tactic, known as “sue and settle,” works when the EPA and a like-minded group, such as the Environmental Working Group, coordinate a lawsuit between each other where there is no aggrieved party. The court then quickly adopts a pre-arranged settlement. In addition to undermining the adversarial litigation process, that settlement paves the way for new regulations that are favored by the environmental groups and the EPA — such as tougher emission standards for fossil fuels.
Since 1994, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been conducting competitive auctions for the use of electromagnetic spectrum, which is used to send electromagnetic signals through the airwaves. Spectrum carries signals used for radio, TV, mobile phones, mobile broadband, and other personal communications systems. To be considered a qualified bidder, companies must submit an application and a down payment. These auctions in the past have been conducted over the Internet so they can be tracked by those bidding. However, over the last few months there have been some developments in how the process for bidding may be moving forward, which coincides with a change in leadership at the FCC. Last week President Obama tapped former fundraiser Tom Wheeler to head the FCC after current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his retirement. According to Forbes, there are a host of issues that will be welcoming him in his new role, “Mr. Wheeler will be confronted with several pressing issues, ranging from the FCC’s merger-review authority to the broadcast-spectrum auctions to net neutrality to the IP transition.” The first issue that will be at the doorstep of the new FCC Chair will be DOJ’s attempt to weigh-in on Spectrum auctioning, as the department authored an ex-parte submission to the FCC a few weeks ago calling on the commission to “ensure that the allocation of spectrum at auction does not enable carriers with high market shares to foreclose smaller carriers from improving their customers' coverage." The DOJ’s wading into this issue comes as the FCC will be opening up a new auction in the 600MHz band (used primarily for TV, Radio and Mobile Broadband).
The Senate recessed on April 26, and one of their final pieces of business was to vote on cloture for the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), a vote that did reach the needed threshold to gain cloture, thus ending debate on the bill. The final vote was then scheduled for Monday May 6, and lawmakers returned to DC and the Senate began the final vote late yesterday afternoon. The legislation unfortunately passed by a 69-27 vote. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has written in the past about MFA and why the proposed law is not good for business (click here). There are also a number of free market and taxpayer groups opposed to the bill on the premise that any new taxes will hurt the economy and prove to be unfair for on line businesses. Even with that strong case against MFA, a majority of Senators voted to increase taxes on small business and raise the cost of goods and services on the consumer.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has expressed concerns about government-funded broadband for many years. One program in particular that TPA has highlighted has been the Rural Utilities Service Broadband Loan Program. We were encouraged last year when during last year’s consideration of the Farm Bill, the Senate adopted an amendment sponsored by Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) which laid out the 25 percent unserved-household standard for the RUS Broadband Loan Program. This effort received bi-partisan support from co-sponsors Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Michael Bennet (D-Col.), which made significant reforms to the RUS Broadband Loan Program. Even though the program should be eliminated completely, limiting the RUS to serving areas where 25 percent of the households in an applicant’s proposed service is unserved is a step in the right direction. Today (May 3) TPA sent a letter to the Senate encouraging and urging the Senate to keep Sen. Warner’s language as they craft this year’s Farm Bill.
The history of Obamacare so far has been a very rocky road with very little hope of stabilizing. The crafting of the legislation, the passage of the bill, and the Supreme Court challenge, and now the costly rollout and implementation have been marked by hurdle after hurdle and sometimes from very unlikely source. The latest news out of the nation’s capital regarding Obamacare is word that members of Congress are allegedly seeking bipartisan deal that would allow themselves and their staff to be “exempted” from that law. According to Politico, “Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.” While many would doubt this on its face, the fact is that there have been many instances of “waivers” being granted to particular industries when it came to who would have to follow the rules as outlined in the 1,000-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Albert Einstein described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” President Obama should take note. The Daily Caller recently had a story detailing how Obama’s budget makes the case to permanently extend carve outs and favoritism for the green energy industry. Specifically, the White House’s 2014 budget calls for “$23 billion for incentives for renewable energy production and energy efficiency programs over the next decade. An additional $2.5 billion in tax credits would be given to companies that invest in advanced energy manufacturing projects, such as facilities for green energy manufacturing — bringing the total amount of clean manufacturing tax credits to $4.8 billion when combined with credits from the stimulus package.” Thankfully presidential budgets really have no teeth to them – in that they don’t have the power to control the appropriation of funds – but they do offer great insights and an indication of what the president’s priorities are and where he’s allocating his political capital.