As if 2020 wasn’t scary enough, today Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released its 20th annual compilation of hair-raising, harrowing, and horrifying Taxpayer Tricks and Treats:
Trick: The House Robs Taxpayers of $3 Trillion
In an attempt to shake down taxpayers and steal their money in the dead of night, the House of Representatives approved the $3 trillion HEROES Act on May 15, 2020, with a $915 billion bailout of state and local governments. But according to an August 24, 2020 Department of the Treasury report, of the $150 billion provided to the states under the CARES Act, 37 states have spent less than 25 percent of their allocated funding, and 23 of those states have spent less than 10 percent. After howls of protest from taxpayer groups like CAGW and taxpayers in states that had not wasted money before the pandemic, the Senate rejected both the first version of the HEROES Act and a second version that cut the bailout to $436 billion. But taxpayers can expect the bailout to be resurrected if the Democrats control Congress and the White House after the November 3 elections.
Treat: Cutting Red Tape is Helping the U.S. Recover from Coronavirus
As a breath of fresh air in the rank atmosphere of partisanship that has permeated the nation for much of 2020, more than 850 rules and regulations have been terminated, suspended, or amended at every level of government to help the country recover from COVID-19. It would be a great treat for taxpayers to see the full implementation of President Trump’s May 19 Executive Order that directs federal agencies to review regulations that were suspended, modified, or waived to determine if these changes should be made permanent.
Trick: The Socialist Apocalypse Is as Frightening as Ever
Socialist policies keep rising from the dead. Behind almost every terrifying corner, toxic programs are being peddled to vastly expand the scope and power of the federal government while threatening individual freedom and liberty. An estimated 220 million Americans would frightfully lose their private insurance plans under Medicare for All. The Green New Deal, which aims to overhaul nearly every sector of the economy, could cost a petrifying $93 trillion and destroy the economy. Everyone should fear spooky ideas like "free" public college that would cost $47 billion annually, forgiveness of student loans that would cost $2.2 trillion over 10 years, and "free" childcare that would cost $70 billion annually. Taxpayers should make sure their elected officials run far, far away from the Socialist Grim Reaper.
Treat: Broadband Resiliency Has Been Divine During the Pandemic
As millions of Americans have made the shift to telework, online education, and telehealth during the scary pandemic crisis, broadband internet service providers in the U.S. have managed network traffic extremely well (unlike many European countries), proving that private sector investments in broadband are working. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated the Keep Americans Connected program, with widespread financial commitments from private sector providers, to ensure that Americans do not lose telephone and broadband. The FCC also provided temporary licenses in the 5.9 GHz spectrum band to several providers to allow them to use this spectrum to connect more homes across the country.
Trick: The National Debt Will Haunt the U.S. Forever
The current national debt of $27 trillion is set to grow at an alarming record pace over the next decade. A January 2020 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report forecast an average annual deficit of $1.3 trillion between fiscal years (FY) 2021 and 2030, rising to $1.7 trillion by the end of the decade, adding a horrifying $13 trillion to the national debt and bringing it to $39.8 trillion.
While the January estimates were eerie enough, the October CBO budget review reported that the FY 2020 deficit was $3.1 trillion, more than three times the FY 2019 deficit, and 15.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). This would be the largest deficit relative to the economy since 1945. In its September 2020 long term outlook report, CBO estimated the FY 2020 deficit would be $3.3 trillion and the national debt would grow to a shocking (and unsustainable) 189 percent of GDP by 2049, which is 45 percentage points higher than the estimate made in 2019. The numbers are mind numbing, and the consequences are frightening, unless something is done to prevent this financial plague.
Treat: Increased Mid-Band Spectrum for 5G Networks Is a Reality
As part of its 5G-FAST plan, the FCC has increased the amount of mid-band spectrum available for 5G deployment, a sweet gift to taxpayers that is as good as any Halloween candy. While the pandemic delayed some deployment of 5G both in the U.S. and around the world, the FCC still completed the millimeter wave spectrum band auction, which is critical to implementing 5G deployment in urban and more densely situated markets, netting $4.47 billion in revenue for taxpayers. The c-band spectrum auction, slated to begin on December 8, 2020, which provides a critical 280 MHz of mid-band spectrum for 5G deployment across the country, will add more revenue to the Treasury, and keep the U.S. ahead of wicked competitors like China in the race to 5G.
Trick: Importation of a Witches’ Brew of "Canadian" Drugs
Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Just as Macbeth’s dangerous and wicked "weird sisters" could predict and influence the future, drug counterfeiters are plotting right now how to take advantage of the Trump administration’s regulation to allow states to import drugs from Canada. But Canadian officials have repeatedly said they will not export their drugs to U.S patients, since the country already experiences drug shortages for its own citizens. And the policy prevents certain drugs from being reimported into the U.S. like biologics, which are among the most expensive. Even if drugs are imported, the cost of compliance with strict federal safety requirements will likely negate any savings. Ghastly, greedy counterfeiting creatures will be emboldened to cook up dangerous concoctions that may contain worse ingredients than a fillet of fenny snake, eye of newt, or toe of frog. They’ll do anything to sell their deadly witches’ brew to unsuspecting American citizens, from designing fake Canadian websites to selling their ghoulish wares on the street.
Treat: States have Sweet Success with Occupational Licensing Reform
Many states have had sweet success with occupational licensing reform during the coronavirus pandemic, including recognition of out-of-state medical licenses for telehealth and reduced educational requirements for various professions. Many states have already made permanent changes and others are considering such action. Florida, which ranked fifth according to the Institute for Justice for the most bloodcurdling and burdensome laws in the nation, permanently changed occupational licensing laws for hairdressers, interior designers, nutritionists, and workers in other fields. Arizona, Iowa, Idaho, Missouri, and Utah have also enacted universal occupational licensing reform, which will make it easier for their citizens to find work as the economy recovers from the pandemic.
Trick: Most Favored Nation Zombie Price Controls
One way to turn America’s vibrant biopharmaceutical research and development into a zombie apocalypse would be the permanent adoption of President Trump’s most favored nation (MFN) Executive Order drug pricing policy for Medicare. MFN adopts price controls, which never work, by allowing Medicare to pay the lowest price for a drug found in a select group of mostly European countries. In the late 1980s, the European drug industry spent 24 percent more than the U.S. on pharmaceutical research. But socialist healthcare systems turned the European pharmaceutical industry into the walking dead of research and development by 2004, when it trailed the U.S by 15 percent. In a not too distant future, after the U.S. biopharmaceutical industry has been bitten by MFN, it too will become a zombie, virtually unresponsive to finding cures for complex diseases like Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and muscular dystrophy. In the middle of a pandemic, the U.S. has picked a bad time to give up global leadership in pharmaceutical R&D.
Treat: Candy Corn Is Sweet, but Cocktails Are Sweeter
The pandemic lockdowns have haunted the liquor industry, but several states have proposed novel ideas to alleviate the serious economic impact by either temporarily or permanently allowing restaurants and liquor stores to offer yummy to-go cocktails. These states include Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and New Jersey. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine signed HB 699 into law on June 10, 2020, to permanently allow the sale of alcoholic beverages by carryout or delivery. The Buckeye Institute noted that the hospitality and leisure industry had nearly 142,700 fewer jobs compared to 2019. Allowing carryout and delivery for alcoholic beverages will be a sweet treat for these workers and consumers.
Trick: Maryland is Haunted by Spooky Taxes
Lawmakers in Maryland summoned something wicked when they proposed spiking the state’s sale tax on alcohol from 9 percent to 10 percent in 2021. House of Delegates Minority Leader Nic Kipke (R-Pasadena), predicted, "This type of tax increase could be the final straw that puts many out of business." The measure is expected to raise an estimated $14 million a year from Maryland taxpayers within the first two years after the law would be enacted and will continue to haunt them with an additional $22 million each subsequent year. Like other "sin tax" increases, those figures will be shockingly short of expectations, as millions of Marylanders can walk, bike, scooter, or drive themselves to D.C., Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, as well as go online to buy alcohol.
Trick: AB 5 Haunts Gig Economy Workers
An attempt by California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) to reverse provisions of AB 5, a scary law that has haunted California gig economy workers for the past year fell to its grave. But voters still have a chance to undo the law’s application to Uber and Lyft drivers if Proposition 22 is approved on the November 3 ballot. The supposed purpose of AB 5 was to protect workers by guaranteeing a minimum wage, sick leave, workers’ compensation, and unemployment benefits. Instead, the law has led to the loss of work for millions of independent contractors in every imaginable industry. In what could be the death knell for app-based workers and other self-employed and self-sufficient Americans across the country, former Vice President Joe Biden plans to federalize the law if he is elected President on November 3.
Trick: The Fiscal Nightmare Continues at the Department of Defense
The 19-year procurement nightmare known as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program is approximately $195 billion over budget and nine years behind schedule. The total costs for the F-35 are estimated to reach $1.727 trillion over the lifetime of the program, which is just an evil expenditure of the taxpayers’ money. Of this total, $1.266 trillion will be needed for operations and support. Of course, the program’s many ghastly problems have not stopped the Department of Defense (DOD) from asking for funding, and members of Congress from supplying it, oftentimes exceeding the budget request. This trend continued in FY 2020, when legislators added $2.1 billion to fund the acquisition of 22 JSFs beyond the amount requested by the Pentagon. Since FY 2001, members of Congress have added 29 gruesome earmarks for the JSF program, costing $8.9 billion.
Treat: DOD’s Chief Management Officer Makes Progress (May Be a 2021 Trick)
In an effort to get the Pentagon’s hideous business operations in order, the Chief Management Officer (CMO) position was created in fiscal year 2017. The position has already proved its worth, identifying vast sums spent to stock a commissary system with items that are of limited interest to customers. Of the 1.4 million items carried, nearly 1 million produce less than $1,000 in revenue each year, including 23 brands of apple juice. Overall, the CMO has claimed to have identified $22.3 billion in savings between FYs 2018 and 2021. Taming the bureaucratic beast has always been and will continue to be a challenge because of institutional inertia, contractor resistance, and the Pentagon’s benefactors in Congress. In fact, just three years after touting its creation and despite its success, legislators have taken steps to unwind the CMO position. Instead of allowing some of the Pentagon’s most horrible management practices to be resurrected, Congress should support efforts to strengthen and institutionalize the office.
Trick: DOD Still Fails to Complete a Clean Audit
The DOD scarily remains the sole federal agency to have never undergone a clean audit. The books are so unnerving that areas within the DOD have been on the Government Accountability Office’s list of programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement since 1995. In November 2018, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan took a stab at describing the Pentagon’s attempt at an audit, stating, "We failed the audit, but we never expected to pass it." The DOD did not indicate how much money turned up missing in the audit, but with a budget topping $800 billion when factoring in the $70.7 billion provided in the Overseas Contingency Operations account, that amount is likely to be shocking to taxpayers.
CAGW is the nation’s largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.
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Alexandra Abrams (202) 467-5310