The president of the nation’s largest grassroots taxpayer organization says we’re seeing more of the same from Congress on the issues of spending and debt and that lawmakers are even breaking their earlier promises to tackle the nation’s red ink.
This week, lawmakers are passing a very short term spending extension to avoid a partial government shutdown. The extension will only last for a few days, but it means that more than two months after the start of the new fiscal year, the federal government will temporarily continue to spend at levels negotiated when Democrats controlled the U.S. Senate in 2014.
“We’ve been down this road many times before with Congress, not only on budget issues but on tax extender issues as well. The key to the budget fight this time is that Congress, unwisely in the opinion of my organization, decided to lift caps on discretionary spending that were enacted in 2011 and were working to drive down federal deficits,” said National Taxpayers Union President Pete Sepp.
“Members of Congress, for the second time in four years, decided they couldn’t live under those caps so they decided to raise them,” said Sepp, noting that discretionary budget items are those which must be approved on an annual basis.
To Sepp’s frustration, Republican control of Congress has not yet translated into the fiscal discipline needed to restore order to the nation’s balance sheet.
“Unfortunately, we have yet to see the kind of commitment that’s really going to keep the debt as well as annual deficits under some kind of control,” said Sepp.
He says avoiding the looming issue of American debt is only going to put a greater squeeze on our government and on taxpayers.
“Just servicing our national debt in the next decade will run about a trillion dollars a year, one trillion dollars spent just on paying the interest on the entire national debt. That is not fiscal responsibility and Congress has compounded the problem by failing to keep even part of the federal budget, the so-called discretionary part, under control,” said Sepp.
Sepp offered multiple examples of what he would classify as a commitment to reining in spending, starting with discretionary spending.
“Congress needs to go and reset the needle entirely and say we are going to assume that every single federal program does not deserve re-authorization unless we can prove it does. That is a smart approach to budgeting,” said Sepp, who also wants to target savings in the entitlement programs.
“We need to do the same with entitlement programs, figuring out how to curb federal benefits in a way that is fair to recipients and fair to taxpayers. We’ve only begun to have that very, very small debate over the Federal Disability Insurance Program,” said Sepp.
He says the program is on the brink of disaster and no one seems to be acting with much urgency.
“That’s going broke in 2016, next year, and Congress has yet to decide how they’re going to address that, much less the Social Security retirement program or Medicare,” said Sepp.
Finally, Sepp urges Congress to get serious very soon about passing tax extenders on several key provisions. He says putting it off so close to the end of the year is flirting with chaos.
“They’ve already expired. Congress needs to act to restore them before people start filing their returns. Otherwise, we’re going to have a mess on our hands,” said Sepp.
While some tax cuts Sepp wants extended are very specialized for specific businesses, he says others could have a more wide-ranging impact.
“There are other provisions, like expensing for small business or the deduction for state or local sales taxes, that could effect hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. If those go away, we’re going to see a very large increase in tax bills,” said Sepp.
Sepp is encouraged that the House legislation contains permanent extenders, but he is also firing back at Democrats and others who oppose extenders in order to grow the government coffers.
“There are many folks saying that the extenders bill that would pass Congress would cost the U.S. Treasury a lot of money. Well, the treasury has never had this money in the first place. These are tax relief provisions that have expired. What we’re talking about here is that the treasury would gain a windfall if the extenders are not passed,” said Sepp.