August 31, 2015

Federal Government has a Spending, not a Revenue Problem

In their budget book for 2015, subtitled "106 ways to reduce the size and scope of government," the Heritage foundation provides this quote from the introduction:

"The 114th Congress has an opportunity and obligation to stop Washington’s taxpayer-financed spending spree. Over the past 20 years spending has grown 63% faster than inflation. Unless leaders emerge with the courage to change the nation’s course for the better, the future looks like more of the same as total annual spending will grow from $3.5 trillion in 2014 to $5.8 trillion in 2024."

You can read more here, including the introduction, the danger of inaction, and where to begin, among several other sub-headings.

The budget book contains eight charts, which show the growth of government, including the one below, which shows the federal government does not need higher taxes, but rather has a spending problem:


We encourage all Growls readers to express their outrage over the federal government's unsustainable growth to their members of Congress. Find out what your Congress Critter is doing to achieve sustainable growth for the federal government. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

August 30, 2015

When Bureaucrats Give Taxpayers Indigestion

Having worked for the federal government myself, I know firsthand that most federal employees work hard, and try doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Consequently, this story last week in the Washington Examiner caused real heartburn.

According to the Examiner's Rudy Takala, the federal government "doled out billions despite shoddy paperwork." He writes:

"Staff at the National Institutes of Health continued funding for projects that failed to submit required progress reports on time, according to a report issued by the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services, and a majority of division heads didn't verify whether their staff had even reviewed the reports.

"The IG conducted a random sampling of grants distributed in 2011. "NIH approved 13 percent of awards for funding despite the fact that the awardee did not provide required information regarding its progress towards project objectives," the agency stated in its findings.

"If that percentage held steady in 2014, it would have applied to 6,764 of 52,034 grants issued by the NIH that year, totaling $2.73 billion of the $21 billion handed out for those projects.

"Division heads in 11 of the 27 "Institutes and Centers" comprising the NIH stated that they did nothing to ensure that their staff had reviewed the required reports, calling into question whether project managers really needed to make any progress in order to retain their federal funding.

:The IG found that the NIH continued to fund four projects that altogether removed or failed to meet their goals, at a combined cost of $7.2 million. Because no written documentation is required for funding decisions made by NIH staff, the reasons funding continued were unclear."

Takala included the following comment in his report:

"Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for taxpayer watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste, told the Washington Examiner that NIH had been "skirting the rules" and that it indicated their "flippant attitude" when it came to allocating federal dollars. Ensuring that "federal programs meet their goals is one of the most basic safeguards against wasteful spending," Kalin said."

We encourage all Growls readers to express their outrage at this latest example of government waste. Find out what your Congress Critter is doing to stop the waste and abuse of your hard-earned taxes. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

August 29, 2015

A Thought About Knowledge

"If you start from a belief that the most knowledgeable person on earth does not have even one percent of the total knowledge on earth, that shoots down social engineering, economic central planning, judicial activism, and innumerable other ambitious notions favored by the political Left.

"If no one has even one percent of the knowledge currently available, not counting the vast amounts of knowledge yet to be discovered, the imposition from the top of the notions favored by elites convinced of their own superior knowledge and virtue is a formula for disaster.

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: His May 16, 2007 column, posted at National Review Online. (HT Mark Perry).

August 28, 2015

Extent of Hurricane Katrina Fraud Unknown

In case you hadn't noticed, tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary since Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. See this story today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and this CBS News video.

Getting far less coverage, however, is a story posted today at the Washington Examiner by Sarah Westwood reporting the extent of Katrina fraud is unknown. She writes:

"A decade after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast with historic ferocity, the federal government still doesn't know how many taxpayer dollars were lost to waste and fraud in the aftermath of the storm.

"Botched contracts, rampant fraud and mismanaged projects squandered millions of dollars meant to help the victims of Katrina. Politicians and business owners who skimmed off the top of the government's relief effort were later jailed, with some remaining behind bars to this day.

"Hurricane Katrina "produced one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history," the New York Times wrote of the disaster in 2006, just months after the storm.

"When former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced last summer to 10 years in prison for corruption and bribery — some of which occurred during the hurricane response — he became the 17th local politician sentenced since the storm, according to the New Orleans Advocate."

"A Disaster Fraud Task Force initially established to crack down on Katrina-related fraud had charged 1,439 people by 2011 for crimes committed in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

"While some set up elaborate schemes to take advantage of the money pouring into the region in late 2005, others simply gamed the poorly-planned systems put in place by entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The federal government ... received widespread criticism for a slow and ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina," began a 2006 inspector general report about FEMA's handling of the disaster. "Much of the criticism is warranted."

"On Sept. 8, 2005, FEMA began handing out active debit cards, each loaded with $2,000, to supposed victims of the storm at stadiums in Dallas and Houston and an air force base in San Antonio.

"Despite an initial plan to ensure applicants were eligible to receive the assistance before distributing the debit cards, the director of FEMA decided to hand out active cards instead."

Westwood concludes her reporting by saying:

"Members of Congress claimed some companies had submitted duplicate bills for debris removal to the government in order to pocket the extra funds.

"As late as 2014, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, which oversees FEMA, was still recommending the disaster agency attempt to recover portions of grants and other relief funding it had doled out improperly or that had since been mismanaged."

CNN * Politics reported today that a poll showed that "most say the nation is no better prepared." More precisely, CNN wrote:

"Ten years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, nearly half of Americans still think the country has not learned lessons from the tragedy and is not much better prepared for future natural disasters, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

"The survey, released Friday, shows 51% of Americans said the U.S. is just as vulnerable as it was to Katrina-like emergencies as it was in August 2005. That's up from 48% saying so one year after the storm in a survey by CNN/USA Today/Gallup."

Well, at least it's Friday, and the federal government has been closed for at least six hours.

August 27, 2015

Think Voter Fraud is Rare? Not so Fast!

A letter-writer to the editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, yesterday, wrote, "The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law notes that one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to encounter an actual case of voter fraud." And in a July 23, 2015 story in the Winston-Salem Journal, "Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said that voter fraud is rare nationally and in North Carolina."

Finally, the DesMoines Register posted an Associated Press story on August 5, 2015 from Fairfield, Iowa, which noted, "After 2½ years of delays, a prosecutor has dropped an election misconduct charge against an ex-felon accused of illegally voting in the 2012 presidential election." According to the AP:

"The dismissal is another setback for a state effort to criminally punish ineligible voters who participated — or tried to participate — in elections. Under a two-year investigation involving former Secretary of State Matt Schultz and the Division of Criminal Investigation, about two dozen people, including ex-felons and non-U.S. citizens, were charged with registering and/or voting illegally.

"Schultz, a Republican, defended the program as ensuring election integrity. He was a proponent of a plan requiring voters to show identification, which has been blocked by Democrats who say it would disproportionately disenfranchise voters who tend to support them.

"Democrats and civil libertarians, who note in-person voter fraud is extremely rare, called the investigation a waste of money that targeted some who were confused about their voting rights and lacked criminal intent. Five others charged as part of the crackdown are still awaiting trial." (emphasis added)

That said, in a story earlier today at PJ Media, David Steinberg writes, "As a prerequisite to lawsuits, a legal foundation has put all 141 counties on notice that their voter rolls are in violation of federal law, not to mention a national embarrassment" because those 141 counties "have more registered voters than people alive." Steinberg added, "The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), of which PJ Media’s J. Christian Adams is president, has done admirable work in convincing the country that voter fraud is a widespread problem and an embarrassment to the country. We need clean voter rolls and Voter ID now, and an end to this cavalier attitude towards securing our fundamental right."

Here is a portion of PILF's press release(see PJ Media story for link):

"The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) has put 141 counties on notice across the United States that they have more registered voters than people alive. PILF has sent 141 statutory notice letters to county election officials in 21 states. The letters are a prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit against those counties under Section 8 of the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

"The letters inform the target counties that it appears they are violating the NVRA because they are not properly maintaining the voter rolls. The NVRA (also known as Motor Voter) requires state and local election officials to properly maintain voter rolls and ensure that only eligible voters are registered to vote. Having more registrants than eligible citizens alive indicates that election officials have failed to properly maintain voter rolls.

"States with counties which received a notice letter are (# of counties): Michigan (24), Kentucky (18), Illinois (17), Indiana (11), Alabama (10), Colorado (10), Texas (9), Nebraska (7), New Mexico (5), South Dakota (5), Kansas (4), Mississippi (4), Louisiana (3), West Virginia (3), Georgia (2), Iowa (2), Montana (2), North Carolina (2), Arizona, Missouri, New York (1 each). Federally produced data show the letter recipients have more registrants than living eligible citizens alive. (A sample letter is can be found here.)

"Lawyers for PILF have previously brought lawsuits against other counties that failed to clean up voter rolls after receiving a notice letter. The notice letters also seek access to public information about voter roll maintenance efforts. The United States Justice Department also can bring lawsuits to fix corrupted voter rolls but has failed to do so during the Obama administration.

“Corrupted voter rolls provide the perfect environment for voter fraud,” said J. Christian Adams, President and General Counsel of PILF. “Close elections tainted by voter fraud turned control of the United States Senate in 2009. Too much is at stake in 2016 to allow that to happen again.”

"The Public Interest Legal Foundation will monitor responses by the 141 counties and remedial clean-up efforts. Federal law requires that a party sending a notice letter wait 90 days before filing a lawsuit.  The entire list of counties who received the notice letter can be found here."

The Washington Free Beacon today also carried news about the 141 counties with "more voters than people," including:

"Data provided by the group also shows that some counties have voter registration rates that exceed 150 percent.

"Franklin County, located in Illinois, contains the highest voter registration rate of any county on the list at 190 percent. Franklin is followed by Pulaski County, also located in Illinois. Pulaski boasts a 176 percent voter registration rate, according to the group.

"Adams said former Attorney General Eric Holder and current AG Loretta Lynch refused to enforce the law because they don’t have a problem with corrupted voter rolls.

“Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch have deliberately refused to enforce this law because they have no problem with corrupted voter rolls,” Christian Adams told the Washington Free Beacon in an email statement. “They don’t like the law, so they don’t enforce it. It’s a pattern that has come to characterize this Justice Department.”

Consequently, a story today from the Center for Public Integrity is not surprising. According to Public Integrity, "old equipment and partisan battles threaten election integrity, in Ohio and nationwide." As a result, they write, "Fourteen months prior to presidential contest, key questions remain: who will be able to vote, and will their votes be counted accurately?" It's surprising, therefore, that there is so much blow-back about voter ID laws.

The good news, obviously, is that Virginia has no counties where there are "more registrants than living eligible citizens alive." That should not, however, keep local and state voter registration offices from reviewing, and re-reviewing, voting procedures.

UPDATE (8/29/15): Carl Bialik, who blogs for the Wall Street Journal at The Numbers, which "examines the way numbers are used, and abused." He devoted his September 1, 2012 column to "counting voter fraud." Here's a portion of his column:

"Backers of voter-ID laws say the extent of fraud is beside the point. “We don’t pass laws against fraud to stop election results from changing,” said J. Christian Adams, an election lawyer in Alexandria, Va., and advocate for voter-ID laws who blogs about election law. “We pass laws against voter fraud because the system must be free from corruption.” He rejected the notion that corrupt election officials wouldn’t enforce the laws. “You don’t facilitate criminal activity in any other area of life by saying officials won’t enforce laws against fraud, murder, theft,” Adams added.

"Efforts to measure the extent of voter fraud by compiling criminal cases have indicated that the problem isn’t particularly widespread. One study last month, conducted by a group of journalism students through a project called News21, found 2,068 cases of alleged voter fraud in the U.S. since 2000, including 10 cases of voter impersonation.

"Groups that back voter-ID laws, many of which are conservative, dismissed the report as the work of a project funded by left-wing foundations. “This was done in a professional, objective manner” without influence from funders, responded Stephen K. Doig, a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, who oversaw the News21 reporters. “We went as far as we possibly could, putting in an incredible amount of effort.”

"This included adding about 100 cases found from news-archive searches, as well as 268 cases in which law-enforcement agencies didn’t disclose the name of the accused person. “To avoid being accused of lowballing the number, we put in everything we found,” Doig said. “We scoured the earth to try to find actual cases of people doing this.”

"However, no study can include all cases of voter fraud because not all are caught.”I don’t see a good way to add that in,” Doig said of cases that go undetected. “That’s outside of any scientific method I can think of.”

UPDATE (8/29/15): In this article in the June 13, 2012 issue of US News & World Report, Hans Von Spakovsky begins his "voter fraud is a proven election manipulation tactic" column by saying:

"The Supreme Court answered this question in 2008 when it upheld Indiana's voter ID law. "Flagrant examples of such fraud … have been documented throughout this Nation's history by respected historians and journalists," the court said, "[and] not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election." But ask voters in Troy, N.Y., Lincoln County, W.Va., and Florida whether voter fraud is a real problem.

"Four local officials and party activists were convicted in 2011 of voter fraud in Troy for forging enough absentee ballots to "likely have tipped the city council and county elections" in 2009. Two veteran Democratic political operatives said voter fraud is an accepted way of winning elections. One of them who pled guilty, Anthony DeFiglio, told police that such fraud was a "normal political tactic."

August 26, 2015

A Thought on Taxes, Politicians, and Redistribution

"Despite an old saying that taxes are the price we pay for civilization, an absolute majority of the record-breaking tax money collected by the federal government today is simply transferred by politicians from people who are not likely to vote for them to people who are likelier to vote for them."

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: His August 17, 2015 "Random Thoughts" column, posted at Investor's Business Daily.

August 25, 2015

Federal Government Will Collect a Lot of Taxes, Spend More

This morning, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) released their semi-annual Budget and Economic Outlook report for the years 2015 to 20125. According to Scott Greenberg, at the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy blog, the report "forecasts the federal budget deficit over the next ten years, as well as several other economic indicators. An important part of this forecast is CBO’s projection of federal revenues, which determine whether the federal government will bring in enough money in taxes to pay for its spending programs."

Greenberg identifies his  "four tax takeaways" from the CBO report, explaining each:

  • Tax collections have grown significantly in 2015.
  • This year’s growth in federal tax revenue was largely unexpected, and is the main reason why the deficit has fallen.
  • In the next ten years, the individual income tax will become an increasingly important source of federal revenue.
  • Over the next ten years, federal revenues will be higher than the historical average.

The CBO's 2015-2025 Budget and Economic Forecast can be accessed here. Their overall conclusion from the summary says:

"According to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates, this year’s deficit will be noticeably smaller than what the agency projected in March, and fiscal year 2015 will mark the sixth consecutive year in which the deficit has declined as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since it peaked in 2009. Over the next 10 years, however, the budget outlook remains much the same as CBO described earlier this year: If current laws generally remain unchanged, within a few years the deficit will begin to rise again relative to GDP, and by 2025, debt held by the public will be higher relative to the size of the economy than it is now.

"CBO’s economic forecast, which serves as the basis for its budget projections, anticipates that the economy will expand modestly this year, at a solid pace in calendar years 2016 and 2017, and at a more moderate pace in subsequent years. The pace of growth over the next few years is expected to reduce the quantity of underused resources, or “slack,” in the economy, lowering the unemployment rate and putting upward pressure on compensation as well as on inflation and interest rates."

In addition, CBO's report summary makes three important points:
  1. The Budget Deficit for 2015 Will Be Smaller Than Last Year’s
  2. Rising Deficits After 2018 Are Projected to Gradually Boost Debt Relative to GDP
  3. The Economy Is Expected to Grow Modestly This Year and at a Solid Pace for the Next Few Years

Not surprisingly, the report is filled with numbers, tables, charts, and figures, which begin on the report cover. For example, the cover shows total revenues in 2015 will be 18.2% of GDP in 2015 and 18.3% in 2025. However, total outlays are expected to grow from 20.6% in 2015 to 22.0% in 2025. As a result, the annual deficit would grow from 2.4% of GDP in 2015 to 3.7% by 2025. All of that growth in outlays, unfortunately, results from the growth of the two large, so-called entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security.

This morning, Keith Hall, CBO director, briefed the press on the CBO's budget and economic analyses. The C-SPAN video lasts 43 minutes. His briefing slides are available at the CBO blog.

In news coverage on the CBO report this evening, the headline on MCClatchy's report, which says "short term good, long term blah," pretty much says it all.

The Washington Examiner's Joseph Lawler includes this quote in his report on the CBO's latest release of their budget and economic outlook:

"Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, attributed the falling deficit to spending caps put in place as part of negotiations over the federal debt ceiling.

"Today's report from CBO demonstrates the tremendous impact the budget caps approved as part of the Budget Control Act have had on our overspending as the nation's annual deficit forecast for 2015 will be at the lowest level in years," Enzi said in a statement. "Our nation's long-term debt outlook, however, is not so rosy. I would caution those who would use this report as an opportunity to take these short term-savings and push for more spending."

So, while the federal government is set to collect more taxes, it's also set to spend an ever larger share of GDP on the largest of the so-called entitlement programs. Unfortunately, in an ever more dangerous world, spending on defense is expected to decrease from 3.3% of GDP to 2.6% of GDP.

Do you know what your Congress Critters on Capitol Hill are doing to bring the federal budget under control? We urge Growls readers to communicate with their members of Congress, and find out. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (8/26/15): At their blog, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) concludes their analysis of the CBO's updated outlook by writing:

"CBO shows an unsustainable fiscal outlook under current law, and an even more dangerous one if policymakers continue to act irresponsibly. Lawmakers will therefore need to strictly abide by pay-as-you-go rules and take steps to control the growth of entitlement spending, while enacting other tax and spending reforms to put debt on a downward path over the long run."

UPDATE (8/26/15): In writing about the CBO's new report, the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan writes:

“The growth in debt is not sustainable,” CBO Director Keith Hall said in presenting the estimates. “At some point, it’s going to get to a very high level. Obviously, you can’t predict tipping points, but at some point this becomes a problem.”

"Democrats saw the short-term outlook as progress and said it’s time to close tax breaks and bring in more revenue for spending on investments such as infrastructure.

"Republicans kept their focus on the longer-term warnings in the CBO report. They noted that taxes will remain higher than their historic average over the past five decades but deficits will persist because spending will still outpace revenue.

"Budget watchdogs pleaded with all sides to go beyond the numbers and talk about solutions to persistent debt.

“I don’t know how anyone can declare victory when trillion-dollar deficits are just on the horizon,” said Judd Gregg, a former senator and a co-chairman of the advocacy group Fix the Debt. “While deficits are down this year, the real story is that they are on the rise and that our national debt is at record-high levels and growing."

"Watchdogs pleaded with presidential candidates to start talking about the national debt in their campaigns."

UPDATE (8/27/15): The headline of an editorial, posted last night for today's Investor's Business Daily, says, "The nation's budget outlook is worse than you think." Here are the first and last paragraphs:

"The bad news is that the country is headed toward $1 trillion deficits in 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The worse news is that, if history is any guide, this forecast is probably way too optimistic.

< , , , >

"The CBO's latest grim 10-year forecast can be avoided. But only if lawmakers take it as a best-case scenario and act accordingly."

(UPDATE (8/27/15): Yesterday, at the American Thinker blog, Rick Moran quotes the Washington Times article, above, and then concludes:

"As a political issue, the debt is not very sexy.  At the moment, it is only remotely connected to people's everyday lives.  But once the deficits begin rising toward a trillion dollars again, people are going to have to sit up and take notice.

"A lot of that increase in the deficit will come from a massive increase in servicing the debt.  With interest rates at zero, debt servicing is less than $250 billion.  But once the Fed starts to bring interest rates back to historic norms, debt servicing will skyrocket, perhaps as high as $800 billion.  It's easy to imagine the impact on defense spending and other vital government programs that the increase in debt servicing will have.

"Sadly, it appears that nothing will be done about the structural deficit caused by rapidly increasing payments to Social Security and Medicare recipients.  In fact, not much will happen until the crisis is already upon us, and the solution then will be far more wrenching than if we began today to address the problem."

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