As the end of 2013 nears, Congress has several pieces of major legislation that have yet to be fully resolved and one of those is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA serves as the authorization for funding for the Pentagon and the Senate is working on getting their version of the bill through final passage before the Thanksgiving holiday. The House of Representatives passed their own NDAA this past summer and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) was playing careful attention to everything that was added and removed during the entire legislative process and the same will be done as the Senate considers their version of the legislation. There are several issues of concern that taxpayers need to be aware of as this bill makes its way through the Senate and many of these issues could prove costly if action is not taken to oppose efforts to continue the trend of wasteful spending that has been plaguing all of Washington.
Appropriations bills have long been used by members of Congress as vehicles for their own special projects and funding measures and the NDAA is no exception. However, in one of the ultimate insults to the integrity of the process and intelligence of the voters, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) will be seeking to use this defense-funding bill to jam an Internet sales tax into law. This isn’t the first time that the NDAA has been used as a possible pathway for an internet sales tax, but after the vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act earlier this year in the Senate, TPA is very unsettled by this development and we urge strong opposition to any amendment that would sneak in an internet sales tax into a defense authorization bill. The Internet sales tax is harmful policy and R Street Institute’s Andrew Moylan summed it up perfectly:
The MFA would empower states to impose their sales taxes on any business, regardless of physical presence, for sales made remotely (the vast majority of which is over the Internet, but also encompasses catalog sales). As I’ve written many times before, this legislation is terrible policy, terrible politics (particularly for conservatives), and has serious constitutional questions associated with it that have not been answered.
Sequestration is another issue at hand that will be very prevalent during the debate on the NDAA in the Senate and TPA has a very simple and responsible message for Senators regarding the sequester: maintain the spending levels set forth in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The goal of long-term spending reduction cannot be achieved without maintaining the all-important spending caps agreed to in the BCA 2011 agreement. TPA has been involved in coalition efforts urging Congress to hold the line when it comes to those spending levels and our position remains the same as the NDAA moves through the Senate. In a letter to Congress just this month, the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), and others, implored elected officials in Washington to maintain the spending caps and resist efforts to undo sequestration:
If Congress reneges on promises to restrain spending just two years after the passage of discretionary spending caps, it would send a powerful message to the American people: Congress cannot control its profligate spending. This could, in turn, jeopardize other important conservative priorities, as well as the prospect for economic prosperity. Thus, we believe maintaining post-sequester BCA caps should be of the utmost importance. We hope you will work to preserve the law and protect taxpayers from further government expansion.
TPA has highlighted wasteful programs in federal agencies before, and in Defense there is no shortage and outdated and needless programs that are costing taxpayers millions of dollars annually. One program which we may see contested during the Senate’s debate over the NDAA is the Abrams Tank, and there is a chance taxpayers may see a major victory here if the Senate can halt production of this dud. Taxpayers have been funding Abrams Tanks for years yet there is major daylight between what the Army needs and what the House appropriated. Since 2011, the Army has been trying to halt spending through 2019 on the Abrams tank, but Congress has continued funding due to concerns from contractor General Dynamics about the impact that decision may have on the defense industry. Though the Army has requested $178 million for FY-14 on Abrams, House & Senate authorizers have proposed additional funding of $168 million, this will set-up a possible floor fight from Senators who may be looking to acquiesce to the Army’s own position on Abrams funding. This project is high on TPA’s radar as a potential earmark when (and if) the appropriations bill is put together.
Finally, TPA was very diligent to identify additional funding requests that members of congress were making as the House debated and passed their defense authorization bill last summer and we will also be looking at what Senators are requesting. The most important part for taxpayers to consider is that this is funding NOT being requested by the Pentagon. There has been a constant stream of warnings from those in the DoD who have stressed that sequestration would do harm and that the cuts need to be reversed. Unfortunately, this repeated mantra would seem at odds with Senators who have no trouble asking for taxpayers to spend more money on something those very officials haven’t even mentioned in their pleas regarding the sequester. Here is a partial list of some of the needless funding that Senators will be looking to add to the NDAA this week:
- C-130 modernization: The Senate NDAA would add an additional $47.3 million.
- EP-3 Modernization and Sensor Upgrades: The Senate NDAA would add an additional $5 million in sustainment funds as well as $5 million for sensor modifications.
- DDG-51 Procurement: The Senate NDAA would add an additional $100 million to purchase one more DDG-51.
- Defense Rapid Innovation Program: The Senate NDAA would provide $150 million.
This is going to be a busy week in Washington and we will likely see some wins and losses for the taxpayers in the ultimate framework of the Senate version of the NDAA. Keeping in mind the interest of taxpayers as well as the national defense of the United States, TPA urges the Senate to ensure that this defense authorization bill leave out the internet sales tax, which has nothing to with our national security; maintain the BCA 2011 spending caps, as long-term spending restraint must start somewhere; and finally hold Senators accountable to taxpayers and make sure that funding requests not sought by the Pentagon are left out of a bill that will be funding the Pentagon.