Out of the Storm News
Wait, what? Yes, according to rumblings on Capitol Hill, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), will once again attempt to attach the Reid-Durbin-Obama Internet sales tax bill known as the Marketplace Fairness Act to completely unrelated legislation. This time around, rumor has it that he will attempt to move the bill as an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, the bill laying out our nation’s defense priorities and basic funding levels. Though he was rebuffed, he attempted the same tactic on last year’s defense bill…
Ernest Csiszar, former director of insurance in South Carolina and former president of the NAIC, was most open to such changes being made in the case of a renewal: “While I’m in favor of renewing TRIA for an extended period of time, I also think we can take steps to make it more market-friendly.
“First, I suggest we take a look at that $100 million trigger – I think it can be set much higher than it is,” Csiszar said. “I would caution that there are still some modeling problems with this, I would caution that here are still problems with the data, but I would take a close look at that trigger.”
When asked directly what he could recommend as a new trigger, Csiszar pointed to industry loss warranty triggers of $10, $15, $20 billion, of which $20 is the most popular, saying that somewhere in that range would be effective.
He was also the first to suggest the government charging for TRIA in a way that’s comparable to the National Flood Insurance Program, in an attempt to pool funds, effectively setting aside billions for potential terrorism losses.
Ernest Csiszar, an associate fellow at free-market think tank R Street Institute, testified that the program’s trigger should be raised significantly, to as much as $20 billion or $25 billion.
Csiszar also recommended that the U.S. Treasury begin charging a risk-based price for the reinsurance coverage it extends to the industry, and to invest those premiums in risk transfer, including reinsurance, catastrophe bonds or other vehicles.
In testimony that also likely represents the views of committee Republicans, former NAIC president Ernest Csiszar testified that the program’s $100 million loss trigger should be raised significantly, perhaps to as much as $20 billion or $25 billion. Csiszar testified on behalf of the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank.
Csiszar acknowledged the need for further development of private capacity and modeling solutions for terrorism risks, and said TRIA should be extended for five to 10 years beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of 2014.
The attached testimony was delivered by R Street Institute Associate Fellow Ernst Csiszar to the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance at a Nov. 13, 2013 hearing on “The Future of Terrorism Insurance: Fostering Private Market Innovation to Limit Taxpayer Exposure.”
WASHINGTON (Nov. 13, 2013) – Congress should extend the $100 billion federal terrorism risk reinsurance backstop, but only after moving much more risk off the backs of taxpayers and onto the private sector, R Street Institute Associate Fellow Ernest Csiszar said in testimony this morning before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance.
Acknowledging the need for further development of private capacity and modeling solutions for terrorism risks, Csiszar — a former president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners — recommended that Congress extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program for five to ten years beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of 2014. But he said the program’s $100 million loss trigger should be raised significantly, perhaps to as much as $20 billion or $25 billion.
“This would also bring the TRIA program in line with loss triggers in the private markets for industry loss warranties,” Csiszar said. “There is simply no good reason to keep the trigger at its current low level.”
He also recommended raising the industry’s horizontal deductible to 40 percent of the past year’s direct earned premium for commercial lines subject to the law, from its current 20 percent, as well as raising the quota share cost-sharing arrangement for insurers to 25% of losses that exceed an insurer’s deductible, from the current 15 percent. These changes would recognize the increase in private industry capacity since the original Terrorism Risk Insurance Act was passed in 2002.
Csiszar also recommended that the U.S. Treasury begin charging a risk-based price for the reinsurance coverage it extends to the industry, and to invest those premiums in risk transfer, including reinsurance, catastrophe bonds or other vehicles.
“This initiative would protect taxpayers and support the growth of the terrorism risk market, encouraging private investment in models, data sets and other capabilities,” Csiszar said. “Also, by accessing the private market, the program would facilitate risk validation and third-party views of exposure, the efficacy of mitigation initiatives and the effectiveness of prevention regimes.”
Csiszar also made a number of recommendations to encourage the burgeoning insurance-linked securities market to take on terrorism risks, such as a uniform, sensible regulatory framework and appropriate accounting and fiscal treatment. He also proposed that Congress examine the tax treatment of catastrophe reserves to provide insurers and reinsurers financial incentives to increase their capital and expand capacity without endangering their solvency or contractual commitments.
The full text of his written comments can be found here:
Yes, according to rumblings on Capitol Hill, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will once again attempt to attach the Reid-Durbin-Obama Internet sales tax bill known as the Marketplace Fairness Act to completely unrelated legislation. This time around, rumor has it that he will attempt to move the bill as an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, the bill laying out our nation’s defense priorities and basic funding levels. Though he was rebuffed, he attempted the same tactic on last year’s defense bill.
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.
After failing to attach MFA to last year’s defense bill, Durbin eventually convinced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bypass regular order entirely in order to push the bill to the floor without the input of the pesky Finance Committee, which might have asked uncomfortable questions like, “does this bill violate due process by empowering states to impose collection burdens on businesses with no physical presence inside their borders?” or “does this bill violate the Interstate Commerce clause by imposing substantial compliance burdens on sales across state lines?”
Thankfully, the House of Representatives has taken a much more deliberate and reasonable course. In September, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, released a white paper called Basic Principles on Remote Sales Tax, which laid out the most important issues from his perspective. They made clear that the House is taking seriously a contemplative process on the legislation, the likes of which the Senate studiously avoided at every turn.
Hopefully, Durbin’s latest gambit fails. If it wasn’t shameful enough to try subvert regular order to pass a likely unconstitutional Internet sales tax bill, surely trying to attach that same bill to the legislation meant to provide for our nation’s defense (Congress’ most important constitutional duty) is a bridge too far. The Senate would be wise to reject his attempt, then promptly repent and join the 57 percent of Americans that oppose this bill (including 65.6 percent of Republicans, 56.1 percent of independents, and 47.9% of Democrats) in saying “no thanks” to misguided Internet sales tax legislation.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
During the 1966 fight over whether to construct dams within the Grand Canyon, the Sierra Club made their objections known through a full-page advertisement in the New York Times. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had been arguing the new reservoirs would be a boon to visitors by allowing powerboats to get closer to the canyon walls. Sierra’s response: “Should We Also Flood the Sistine Chapel So Tourists Can Get Nearer the Ceiling?”
This example is typical of how conservation debates have played out since the birth of the environmental movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Liberals typically argue that certain places should be protected from development because of their aesthetic merit, because certain endangered species should be protected or because some proposed development would cause pollution. Conservatives retort that the luxury good of conservation is something taxpayers can’t afford and the wilderness must be sacrificed for the sake of economic progress.
The binary nature of this debate – the classic dichotomy of “the environment” versus “the economy” – is woefully incomplete. Environmental problems sometimes quickly become economic or societal problems. A misguided Soviet irrigation scheme contributed greatly to the death of the Aral Sea, turning what was once the fourth-largest lake in the world largely into blasted salt flats. Or consider a recent study of air pollution in China that found it caused 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, resulting not just in personal tragedy, but colossal expense, especially from chronic disease.
Just as environmental devastation can cause social and economic problems, a small-government approach to environmental preservation can be a source of economic benefits.
“Government-lite” conservation is an approach where places are opened up to visitation consistent with the long-term health of the attractions, founded on a good working relationship with local communities. This approach can create long-term economic benefits in nearby “gateway” communities and the nation as a whole, while preserving America’s natural heritage.
It’s a moderate path between total preservation and totally unrestricted resource exploitation, conserving those places that lure tourists, while still permitting resource extraction and devolving authority to states or the private sector where appropriate.
I visited seven towns and cities across the American West to see these contrasts in action firsthand.
WASHINGTON (Nov. 12, 2013) – A new paper from the R Street Institute argues that taking a middle-ground “government-lite” approach to conservation on federal lands would better serve local communities and maximize economic benefits, while still preserving America’s natural heritage.
Authored by R Street Associate Fellow Ryan Cooper with contributions from R Street President Eli Lehrer, and based largely on Cooper’s travels to seven communities in the American West, “The Economic Benefits of Protected Lands: A Government-Lite Approach” makes the case that federal land management agencies could do a better job of spurring growth of the recreation economy by making destinations accessible, while still permitting resource extraction and devolving authority to states or the private sector where appropriate.
In his travels, Cooper also found that the recreation economy is best served where federal agencies work to forge constructive relationships with private business and local government, citing the case of Moab, Utah as an instructive example.
“Agencies worked with locals to pass a night-sky ordinance, realizing that a good view of the stars was a major reason people visited, and also work closely with the local search-and-rescue organization, which rescues lost or heat-stricken visitors on an almost-daily basis during the high season,” he writes.
He concludes that “it should be no surprise that the hottest outrage over the recent government shutdown centered on closing the national parks.”
“The very idea of the national park is an American one—Yellowstone was the first in history and was quickly copied around the world,” Cooper writes. “That rich tradition is reflected in the broad popularity of protected lands and their massive yearly visitation. As the United States adjusts to an economy based almost entirely on services, protected lands will form a critical part of our economic future.”
The full paper can be found here:
Cooper will be participating in a teleconference — along with local business leaders from Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington state — later today to discuss the paper at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT. Interested media can dial in at 1-800-356-8278, conference code 127706.
Over at the VICE Podcast, R Street Senior Fellow Reihan Salam sits down with artist Molly Crabapple to discuss her work, much of which deals with subcultures and rebellion.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
A few weeks back, I noted that libertarians were turning to Robert Sarvis over Ken Cuccinelli due to a combination of historical resentment from the Bush era, and hard political calculation that their time has come, if only social conservatives will get out of the way.
Yet if that was the message that the Sarvis vote meant to send, it seems to have been severely scrambled by a simple mathematical reality: There is simply no way Robert Sarvis could have cost Ken Cuccinelli the election as governor of Virginia. Indeed, Sarvis took more votes from Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, and may have helped put the Republican candidate for attorney general over the top (in the event that he wins). In other words, if libertarians did go into the polling booth intending to make their disgust with Republican stances on social issues clear, it didn’t show up in the polls, and thus, for all intents and purposes, didn’t happen.
Not that that’s stopped some people from blaming them anyway, or complaining about libertarians as if they were responsible. Fortunately, some of Virginia’s conservative commentariat has picked up on what a mistake this is. One can understand this on one level – after all, Sarvis’ sins in the eyes of Cuccinelli supporters are not truly mathematical. They are cultural. That is, the Harvard-educated, market-oriented environmentalist software developer Sarvis embodies a breed of voter whose importance to the Republican Party’s future viability is as intense as the loathing which much of the Republican Party’s current base feels for it. Yet when the fire of cultural resentment meets the deluge of electoral math, it becomes clear that no amount of libertarian blaming will obscure the simple fact that Sarvis’ candidacy may have inadvertently done as much to show Republicans their route to growing the party as Chris Christie’s blowout candidacy.
Confused? I’ll explain. Let’s start with a simple fact that no one seems to have noted yet: That if Sarvis was meant as a spoiler candidate for Cuccinelli by his donors, as some evidence suggests he might have been, then those donors didn’t get their money’s worth. At all. In fact, they should have seen that coming. Despite the pre-election media spin that Sarvis was a spoiler for Cuccinelli, polling data such as Quinnipiac’s close to the eve of the election clearly show McAuliffe gaining more support in a Sarvis-deprived world than Cuccinelli. So at the very least, Sarvis’ more liberal and deep-pocketed backers (such as Obama bundler Joe Liemandt) spent their money poorly.
Bear in mind that Liemandt gave his money to a group called “Libertarian Booster PAC,” rather than to Sarvis directly, and also gave that money in January, well before Sarvis was even a factor in the Virginia race. Given also that Sarvis’ voters were disproportionately McAuliffe voters, I want to suggest an alternate idea: That just as the GOP is hemorrhaging voters and money over its social message, Virginia may be the first sign that Democrats are hemorrhaging voters and money over its economic message (which, charitably speaking, is only slightly to the right of Elizabeth Warren). Granted, McAuliffe wasn’t an exponent of that brand of Democratic politics. But to those looking for a third option to rear its head nationally, Sarvis’ candidacy probably looked like a good test balloon. And, indeed, it has been. Sarvis earned a record number of votes for a libertarian.
That’s a good thing. By drawing disproportionately from McAuliffe’s voters while earning a margin big enough to decide an election, Sarvis handed the GOP a massive key to future victory. For all intents and purposes, his campaign may as well have been a giant neon sign reading “HERE BE DEMOCRATIC CROSSOVER VOTERS.” Even if his donor didn’t intend that, the 6.6 percent of the electorate that Sarvis captured were clearly people with softer allegiances to their political party, and given their distribution, that’s a fact that should worry Democrats.
Not only that, but they were precisely the people who should bolster a libertarian case for being the future of the GOP. To quote the Daily Beast, “the average Sarvis voter was a younger, well-educated, pro-choice white who did not identify with either political party.” Readers should pay special attention to the “younger” part.
What is more, given that the Daily Beast also notes that Sarvis performed well in suburban areas, with moderate voters, it is clear that libertarianism can be a winning message in the areas of America that Mitt Romney tried so desperately (and unsuccessfully) to win in 2012. Combine this with Christie’s win in New Jersey, and you arrive at the counterintuitive idea that a libertarian-moderate fusion, rather than a libertarian-conservative fusion, may be the key to a GOP coalition of the future. At the very least, if libertarians needed proof that their ideology is one that will attract the next generation of GOP voters, Sarvis basically handed it to them.
Can the GOP win over this crop of not-Republicans, not-yet-Democrats? Time will tell. However, it is worth noting the phenomenon even as other commentators continue to celebrate Chris Christie. Politicians like Rand Paul have already argued that bluer voting blocs may be susceptible to libertarian politics, just as Christie’s supporters have pointed to the New Jersey governor’s admirable numbers with minorities. The demographic profile of Sarvis’ supporters mandates that we wonder whether, in the choice between Christie’s strategy and Paul’s strategy, the answer might in fact be “all of the above.”This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
At least when it suits him, President Barack Obama proves himself more than willing to welcome international business to the United States. In late October, for example, he launched a major effort intended to increase foreign investment in the United States. While Obama’s efforts to help international businesses cut through red tape in order to establish new facilities in the U.S., make sense, they aren’t enough…
At least when it suits him, President Barack Obama proves himself more than willing to welcome international business to the United States. In late October, for example, he launched a major effort intended to increase foreign investment in the United States.
While Obama’s efforts to help international businesses cut through red tape in order to establish new facilities in the U.S., make sense, they aren’t enough. Indeed, his administration has presided over a precipitous decline in the nation’s ability to attract capital from elsewhere in the world. In 2008, foreign companies invested $310 billion in the United States; last year, that fell to barely over $160 billion. Changing that is going to require much more than speeches; we need real changes in policy in order to truly welcome foreign business, change burdensome laws and avoid creating outright disincentives.
More foreign investment in the United States would bring huge benefits. Today, companies with headquarters outside the country have nearly $4 trillion invested here, employ about one out of 20 workers, and pay wages that are about $20,000 per year higher than U.S. companies. These are just the types of high-wage jobs that the nation needs.
But getting them will take work.
First, the president and others need to continue efforts to make it clear to the public that investment helps the United States. Xenophobic and nativist arguments may win votes from time to time—both Obama himself and Mitt Romney made them on the campaign trail—but they’re terribly damaging to the nation’s economy.
Second, the American government needs to bring its tax and regulatory policies in line with world standards. America currently has the highest statutory marginal corporate tax rates of its peers and the highest tax compliance costs anywhere. This provides a huge disincentive for companies to create jobs here. President Obama and members of Congress from both parties have expressed willingness to do exactly this but the progress to date has been slow. Things need to move faster. In addition, the overgrown American regulatory state also needs to be reigned in so that companies can, at least, be certain what regulations they’ll face when trying to set up shop in the United States.
Doing all of the right things, however, won’t make much difference if the president continues to do so many things wrong. And he does lots of things wrong. One example stands out. While claiming to welcome investment from around the world, for example, Obama has also joined with Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., and several other members of Congress to propose a massive new tariff on insurance business. The proposed new tax wouldn’t raise much revenue, but it would imperil many of the more than 120,000 jobs that international insurers create in the United States. Meanwhile, insurance consumers, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Brattle Group finds, would see their premiums rise by as much as $130 billion over the course of a decade. And the list of bad policies the administration is pursuing in areas ranging from health care to energy only add to these burdens.
Nice words, new orders and boasts about the country’s significant advantages as a place to do business aren’t enough if President Obama wants to bring more foreign investment into America. The country needs to change some policies and avoid implementing bad ones. For all its nice words, the Obama administration’s record on attracting foreign investment leaves a lot to be desired.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
WASHINGTON (Nov. 11, 2013) – Is the District of Columbia emerging as a “second Brooklyn”? Commentators like Andrew Sullivan think so. But are current land-use and development regulations holding it back?
Local and federal authorities are considering changes to D.C.’s height limit, and the Office of Planning has embarked on a multi-year effort to review and amend zoning regulations, including relaxed parking minimums and additional mixed-use zoning. But should they consider more expansive changes?
Our panel of experts will discuss what they each feel is the most-pressing land-use issue today and offer their own public policy recommendations to address them.
In addition, In My Backyard DC (IMBYdc) founder and R Street Institute Associate Policy Analyst Michael Hamilton will unveil a new website to help residents combat NIMBYism and organize their efforts to build a better, more livable district.
- Benny Johnson, viral politics editor, Buzzfeed (Moderator)
- Matt Yglesias, economics correspondent, Slate; author of The Rent Is Too Damn High
- Michael Hamilton, founder, In My Backyard DC
- Aaron Wiener, housing complex reporter, Washington City Paper
- David Alpert, founder and editor-in-chief, Greater Greater Washington
WHERE: Microsoft Policy & Innovation Center, 901 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20001
DATE: Nov. 19, 2013
TIME: 5:30 p.m. registration/6 p.m. panel/7 p.m. reception
RSVPs required. This event will reach capacity. To register, please visit our Eventbrite page.
This week, President Barack Obama offered an apology (of sorts) to Americans who believed him when he repeatedly assured the public that anyone who liked their current health insurance plan could keep it under the Affordable Care Act. In an interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News, the president said, “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.”
Up until now, the president and his allies have insisted that the “keep your plan” promise had been misinterpreted, and that the plans that were being cancelled were “junk plans” that belonged on the scrap heap, a claim that many insurance beneficiaries found objectionable. Keith Hennessey, a veteran of the Bush White House, constructed a flowchart of the “keep your plan” defenses made by the president and his allies, the complexity of which spoke to the president’s political dilemma. One of the architects of the Affordable Care Act, Ezekiel Emanuel, struggled to defend the veracity of the “keep your plan” promise in a recent episode of Fox News Sunday. So the president’s apology will surely come as a relief to those tasked with maintaining that the “keep your plan” promise wasn’t at least slightly misleading.
The president’s apology didn’t prevent him from making other misleading statements during the same interview. Once again, he insisted that the disruption of existing insurance arrangements applied only to people in the individual insurance market, which represents a relatively small share of insurance beneficiaries. But the Affordable Care Act imposes new regulations on employer-sponsored plans, which have the potential to disrupt the insurance arrangements of many more Americans, and the law’s grandfathering provisions are quite narrow. Fortunately for the president, the apology itself will draw enough attention to distract from this looming issue, which could prove far more politically potent than what some are describing, perhaps prematurely, as the slow-motion collapse of the individual market.
This is not the first presidential apology of the modern era. Conservatives have long accused Barack Obama of apologizing for America, hence the title of Mitt Romney’s mostly-overlooked campaign tome, No Apology. For example, in a Cairo address designed to reframe the U.S. relationship with the Islamic world, the president acknowledged that the U.S. government had aided in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Given that these events had transpired before the president was born, this wasn’t the kind of apology that involved an acknowledgment of personal wrongdoing. It was more like President Clinton’s 1997 apology to the victims of the notorious Tuskegee experiment, or President George H.W. Bush’s apology to the Japanese-Americans interned by the U.S. government during World War II.
At a Rose Garden press conference in May 2004, President George W. Bush recounted an apology he offered to Jordan’s King Abdullah, after the abuse at Abu Ghraib became public: “I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families.” But this was an apology on behalf of the machinery of government that had failed to stem prisoner abuse, rather than an acknowledgment of a personal failing. Had President Bush accepted the premises of his most scathing critics, he might have apologized for his poor judgment in prosecuting the war, or for misleading the public about the threat Iraq posed to the United States and the wider world. An apology of that kind would have been unprecedented, but of course President Bush rejected the notion that he had erred.
One of the issues raised by President Obama’s apology (of sorts) to Americans facing the disruption of their current insurance arrangements is that it’s not clear that the Affordable Care Act would have passed had the “keep your plan” promise not been front and center. When President Bill Clinton tried to build support for universal coverage in the 1990s, he faced withering criticism from conservatives and moderates over the fact that many current insurance beneficiaries would see substantial changes in their insurance arrangements. Because most Americans were content with their existing coverage, for better or worse, this threat of disruption ultimately proved politically fatal, dividing Democrats and handing Republicans a winning issue.
In contrast, the Obama administration succeeded in keeping all but a handful of congressional Democrats in their corner, in no small part because of the president’s insistence that those who liked their plan could keep it. According to a new report from Colleen McCain Nelson, Peter Nicholas, and Carol E. Lee of the Wall Street Journal, members of the Obama administration debated whether the president should be quite so clear-cut, as his aides recognized that while people with “good” insurance (in their view) could keep it, people with “bad” insurance (also in their view) might not be able to do so. It seems hard to deny that this was a pretty big lacuna, since it’s obvious that not everyone will dislike the plans the president thinks they should dislike.
So will the president apologize for having misled the public in service to what he saw as the noble cause of covering the uninsured? I doubt it.
Dear Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell,
As you know, the recently passed Continuing Appropriations Act provides the government with funding through January 15, 2014. As Congress considers appropriations for the remainder of the fiscal year, we urge you to maintain the spending restraint established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). This should be the principal goal for fiscal conservatives.
The BCA established limits on discretionary spending through FY 2021 including a cap of $967 billion for FY 2014. While the law is imperfect, the spending caps are perhaps the biggest policy victory in recent years for advocates of limited government.
Capping discretionary expenditures will not, by itself, solve all of our nation’s fiscal problems, but it represents an important step toward spending restraint. Unfortunately, President Obama has previously suggested that he would veto appropriations bills that fail to eliminate the sequester. Meanwhile, Senate Appropriators have completely ignored the post-sequester caps. It is imperative for fiscal conservatives to uphold the BCA and restrain spending.
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.
National Taxpayers Union
Christine Harbin Hanson
Americans for Prosperity
Americans for Tax Reform
Campaign for Liberty
Andrew F. Quinlan
Center for Freedom and Prosperity
Coalition to Reduce Spending
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Peter J. Thomas
The Conservative Caucus, Inc.
Cost of Government Center
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Mario H. Lopez
Hispanic Leadership Fund
Gregory T. Angelo
Log Cabin Republicans
R Street Institute
Taxpayers for Common Sense
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
WASHINGTON (Nov. 8, 2013) – Efforts to delay reform of the National Flood Insurance Program must be resisted to protect taxpayers, the R Street Institute and 15 other conservative, libertarian and taxpayer groups write in a letter to every member of Congress.
As called for under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, the NFIP is set to transition some of the roughly 1.1 million participants currently receiving premium subsidies to risk-based rates. The groups argue this change “was a necessary improvement to a troubled program in massive debt to taxpayers.”
“NFIP is $28 billion in debt to taxpayers and without the improvements passed last year, this number will only continue to rise,” the groups write. “Given the grueling battle Congress just held over the nation’s debt ceiling, it is odd that some are pushing an extension of subsidies that would cause NFIP to more quickly hit its own borrowing cap of just over $30 billion.”
Moreover, the groups point out that existing subsidies disproportionately benefit wealthier homeowners, noting that among 29 percent of properties are in counties among the top 10 percent in income and 29 percent are in counties in the top 10 percent in home values.
“Passage of Biggert-Waters last year was a step in the right direction of a freer flood insurance market that is not built on payouts from taxpayers,” the groups write. “Gutting that reform by eliminating its central component of phased-out subsidies for would undo that progress and put taxpayers on the hook for billions more in NFIP costs.”
In addition to R Street, other signatories include representatives of the American Conservative Union, American Consumer Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Club for Growth, Competitive Enterprise Institute, ConservAmerica, Cost of Government Center, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action for America, Less Government, Let Freedom Ring, National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
Text of the full letter can be found here:
E-cigarettes are gaining traction as legitimate harm-reduction alternatives for cigarette smokers, but one nagging question persists: should vaping be permitted in interior public spaces?
With few exceptions, indoor smoking bans, which protect nonsmokers from exposure to thousands of airborne toxins, are now the standard. Tobacco prohibitionists would extend these measures to cover e-cigarette vapor. E-cigarette enthusiasts insist they should be able to vape wherever they like, since their products’ vapor is harmless. I’ll suggest a compromise that will please no one in these polarized factions.
E-cig fans point to scientific evidence that suggests that e-cigarette vapor confers extremely low health risks. The Food and Drug Administration reports that adverse events related to e-cigarettes are virtually nonexistent, and it is unlikely that inhaling a mist of water, propylene glycol or glycerin, nicotine and flavors – even for an extended period – will lead to any medical illness.
Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives funded a study of e-cigarette aerosols by Igor Burstyn at Drexel University’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. He concluded that:
There is no evidence that vaping produces inhalable exposures to contaminants of the aerosol that would warrant health concerns by the standards that are used to ensure safety of workplaces…the aerosol generated during vaping as a whole (contaminants plus declared ingredients), if it were an emission from industrial process, creates personal exposures that would justify surveillance of health among exposed persons in conjunction with investigation of means to keep health effects as low as reasonably achievable. Exposures of bystanders are likely to be orders of magnitude less, and thus pose no apparent concern.
Professor Burstyn’s report on his thorough investigation has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed forum.
The problem is that, however innocuous e-cigarette aerosols are, a bystander exposure level that is “orders of magnitude” lower than for vapers is still not zero. Modern indoor environments are remarkably free of obvious airborne contaminants, such as smoke or noxious odors. As a society, we frown upon indoor emissions of all types. Interestingly, unobserved e-cig use is effectively undetectable, as resulting vapors dissipate almost instantly. Vapers often suggest that indoor e-cig bans will force them outside, where they may return to deadly cigarettes. The reality is they can stay indoors and continue vaping, so long as they are discreet – no one will know.
Still, it is unreasonable for vapers to expect that they will be given a free pass to use e-cigarettes in every interior public space. The fact that e-cigarette aerosols are low-exposure and low-risk for bystanders does not make a compelling case to allow them.
Vapers should realize that the vast majority of Americans do not use any form of tobacco, are ill-informed at best about e-cigarettes, and are uncomfortable with others exhaling clouds of an unknown substance.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Like most Americans, I enjoy attending live entertainment events. But also like most Americans, I find the complex world of online ticket sales as user-friendly as the Healthcare.gov website. Navigating a mass of specialty pre-sales, credit card promotions, online ticket queues and a swath of venue and seller fees makes attempting to attend a concert or sporting event a costly and complicated experience.
Which is why I tend to prefer to get my tickets secondhand, on an open market on StubHub, where I might pay a little more than the suggested retail price of the ticket, but can choose my seats and my budget in a straightforward, ostensibly free-market atmosphere.
I suppose if I were really pressed for time, I could also purchase my tickets from someone holding them up in a fan shape outside of an event venue. But in most states, despite the secondary online markets where tickets can sell for more than face value, selling tickets person-to-person on a street corner for even a penny over the printed price is a crime.
The law, of course, that prohibits person-to-person sales of tickets over face value, is unquestionably designed to curb a market and preserve the profits of a few, while ostensibly making tickets more expensive for the average consumer. Under the guise of preventing counterfeiting and venue integrity – and eliminating middle men – ticket companies have long objected to any change in the law that opens ticket sales up to the free market, even as technology and consumer demand has long passed them by.
In Michigan, Rep. Tim Kelly has introduced a bill that would loosen the ban on person-to-person ticket sales, or ticket “scalping,” allowing free competition in a secondary marketplace for event tickets. In the Legislature and in the public square, there has been little opposition. From those who are working to protect their stranglehold on ticket sales, however, there have been a few thin arguments.
Clearly, venues and ticket sellers are concerned about activities like counterfeiting, scalping and “bulk ticket purchases,” all of which, they say, ruin the consumer’s purchasing experience. But innovations in technology like electronic ticketing have already made counterfeiting tickets more difficult, and while the practice of counterfeiting is a serious crime, it has little to do with consumer choice.
Scalping and bulk ticket purchases already happen, as anyone who has ever attempted to purchase a wristband for a summer music festival like Lollapalooza already knows; “scalpers” or “ticket sales companies” purchase nearly all of a festival’s wristband passes and turn to sites like StubHub to sell them at twice their face value, with the blessing of ticket sales companies who have forged deals with online retailers like StubHub specifically to allow ticket resales. Consumers still pay, sometimes twice face value for tickets to these events, but because the transactions take place on a clean, well-designed website that accepts credit cards and allows users to trumpet their purchases on social media, rather than through an exchange outside of the music venue itself, they are magically deemed acceptable.
That makes the law inconsistent at best and a troublesome burden on the free market at worst.
Ultimately, opposition to allowing person-to-person ticket reselling is about maintaining a strict hold on profit. Ticketmaster, for example, already controls more than 80 percent of ticket sales, but is one of the most vocal opponents of ticket re-selling. Unless, of course, you sell the ticket through Ticketmaster’s own online resale website, where Ticketmaster is able to take a cut of any profits made by reselling a ticket for more than face value, and can charge a fee to transfer the tickets from one consumer to another.
In any other industry, we would consider this kind of inconsistent law, which protects the profits of a small group of producers, a travesty. But in the realm of event ticket sales, we are uniquely willing to stifle the free market, even if it means more convenience to the consumer, and even if it means that these retailers who have their own secondary markets might be able to make an even greater profit on particularly rare tickets.
The Michigan law is a good start that should expand to other states, as the free market opens and consumers are presented with a greater landscape of choices when purchasing their event tickets, and an inconsistent, outdated law gets corrected.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks recently claimed the right needs to declare a ceasefire on the safety net, a controversial statement for the leader of what is arguably Washington’s top center-right think tank. According to Brooks, those in need want three things – transformation, relief, and opportunity.
Forthcoming research from Mark Rank of Washington University in St. Louis, Thomas Hirschl of Cornell University and Kirk Foster of University of South Carolina helps to bolster his case. Their research shows that during the last 40 years, almost 40 percent of Americans lived in poverty for at least one year between the ages of 25 and 60. But while many Americans find themselves falling on hard times, only 11.6 percent spend five or more years in poverty. Even more importantly, only 6.1 percent of adults in this range spend five consecutive years in poverty, and less than 2 percent stay there longer than ten years.
So for a large swath of Americans, poverty is a temporary circumstance. Many of these Americans take advantage of means-tested welfare programs while they are there. But most of them move out of poverty, and out of the programs.
However, given the 11.6 percent figure, it’s worth noting that many Americans either are hovering around the poverty line or slipping back into poverty through repetitive hardship. It wouldn’t appear, though, that these individuals aren’t trying to take advantage of opportunity, or, as the harsher rhetoric would have it, becoming dependents. The reentry into poverty is more likely due to some combination of the changing nature of work, family hardship and lack of educational attainment.
Brooks called the ability to provide a safety net one of the Western world’s greatest achievements. With 40 percent of Americans experiencing extreme want at some point in their lives and too many living at the edge of poverty for extended periods, Republicans would do well to think through Brooks’ message.
Certainly incentives matter, and welfare programs should always be structured as a hand up, but this snapshot view of 40 years of economic life in America shows it to be uncertain and difficult. It adds to the already large literature on decreased mobility, stagnating wages and broken civil society. But it also shows that Americans are taking opportunities as they find them and attempting to move up. Conservatives should tread carefully when discussing a side of life so many Americans have experienced and programs in which even more Americans have taken part.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.