Taxpayer Transparency Act
Posted on August 13, 2014 22:00 pm CDT
by Diedre Shesgreen
Read the article here.
WASHINGTON – It has a catchy name — the Taxpayer Transparency Act — and it's pretty simple.
Sponsored by Springfield GOP Rep. Billy Long, the bill would require federal agencies to put a "Published at Taxpayer Expense" label on any promotional or educational materials they distribute.
Long's bill is a narrow measure that has not attracted much attention, but it offers a offers a window into the legislative gridlock in a Congress that's on track to be the least productive ever.
His proposal sailed through the House on a voice vote earlier this year, but it is almost certain to land in the congressional dustbin at the end of this year — along with most of the other 9,732 measures now pending in Congress.
That's at least in part because Long's proposal has a partisan tilt.
Although it's not as politically charged as other measures that the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate are ramming at each other, the bill seems more geared at poking the Obama administration than at solving an urgent national problem.
"It's not going to be make a big difference" in promoting government transparency or fiscal restraint, said Steve Ellis, vice president with Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group.
Long introduced the measure last fall, amid a GOP uproar over a multimillion ad campaign by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the Affordable Care Act.
"Americans have every right to know how their tax dollars are being spent," Long said during the House floor debate in February. He said the bill would hold the executive branch accountable by requiring agencies to be transparent when spending money to promote federal programs.
A handful of conservative groups endorsed the measure. Heritage Action, a powerful GOP advocacy organization, said it would help "inform the public [about] how their hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted by Washington bureaucrats and bring attention to an ever-growing government behemoth."
When it came up for a vote in February, Democrats didn't actively oppose it, but they questioned whether the bill was necessary.
Federal agencies are already banned from spending on "publicity and propaganda," although they can disseminate information about their programs and activities. That has generally been interpreted to mean promotional materials are OK if the funding agency discloses its role in paying the tab — as HHS did with its Obamacare ads.
"The Army prints 'Paid for the United States Army' on its recruiting posters," Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said during the House debate. Long's bill would require the Army to change its wording, Connolly argued, adding that Republican supporters hadn't offered any explanation of why that was necessary.
Long said his bill would ensure that agencies are required to include a disclosure when they publish any ads.
"I don't think people should have to play detective to find out what their government is doing," he said. "My bill will help pull back the curtain on government action and that's an objective I hope everyone can get behind."
When the bill passed, Long trumpeted the House vote as unanimous and urged the Senate to act on it in the name of "good government."
About six months later, the bill hasn't moved an inch. Anytime GOP leaders are asked about Congress' low productivity, they consistently blame the Democratic Senate — saying the House has passed 352 bills that the Senate has refused to act on.
Long's bill is part of that GOP talking point.
Asked if it has any chance of passing the Senate, Long said, "You'd have to talk to Harry Reid," referring to the Senate's Democratic majority leader. "Why won't he take it up?"
But congressional experts say the Republican jab at Senate Democrats is misleading.
There's no question that Reid, D-Nev., has stymied legislative progress on a host of issues by limiting the GOP's ability to offer amendments, many of which are aimed at putting vulnerable Democrats in a politically tough position.
The result is that even modest bipartisan proposals have stalled amid partisan bickering, often over unrelated amendments. And the Senate has not passed a single spending bill so far this session, while the House has approved seven of the 12 measures needed to fund government agencies and programs.
But both chambers seem to spend more time passing "message" bills — aimed at a scoring political points that will help them in the next election rather than at addressing the country's major problems.
Take, for example, the House's 40-some votes to repeal or unravel elements of the Affordable Care Act, which had no chance of passing the Senate.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have trumpeted legislation to raise the minimum wage, ensure pay equity for women and extend unemployment benefits. All those bills are awaiting House action, but Democrats know they won't go anywhere.
Josh Tauberer, founder of Govtrack.us, a website that analyzes legislative output and trends, said that when trying to figure out who is to blame for blocking action, "the numbers don't help much."
"When a bill doesn't get a vote in the other chamber, it shows a failure on both sides to reach consensus," he wrote in a recent analysis. "Both sides want to look good by passing bills without thinking any further ahead about whether what they're passing has any support in the other chamber."
What did the GOP gain from passing Long's bill? A press release highlighting the Obama administration's spending to promote the health reform law, something that's sure to resonate with conservative supporters.
Reporter Deirdre Shesgreen writes for the News-Leader from Gannett's offices in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Billy Long's legislative proposals
Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, has introduced five bills so far in this Congress. Only one — the Taxpayer Transparency Act — has made it to the House floor. The other four proposals are:
The Adoption Promotion Act of 2013 (H.R. 3539)
Summary: Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure that any counseling about pregnancy options funded through family planning service programs include adoption information. Requires the collection of data on the number of pregnancy tests administered to individuals served by family planning service programs and the results of those tests, as well as an evaluation of pregnancy counseling.
Status: Referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee
Fairness for Lost Coverage Act of 2013 (H.R. 3376)
Summary: Provides a 12-month exemption from the health insurance mandate for individuals whose employer-sponsored health plan coverage or individual health insurance coverage is terminated in 2014.
Status: Referred to the House Ways and Means Committee
Enforcing Orders and Reducing Customs Evasion Act of 2013 (H.R. 1440)
Summary: Establishes specific procedures for Customs and Border Protection to follow when investigating allegations of evasion of antidumping duties, tariffs imposed on imports sold in the U.S. at less than fair value. Increases the ability of customs officials to obtain information and collect such duties.
Status: Referred to a House Ways and Means Committee
Resolution against taxing personal savings and other assets (H.Res. 129)
Summary: Expressing the sense that Congress should refrain from considering or adopting any legislation that would tax or confiscate personal savings, including retirement accounts, certificates of deposit, or other assets. Also expressing opposition to providing financial relief to a private business or general sector of the American economy at taxpayer expense.
Status: Referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Financial Services Committee