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Brandon Arnold
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Dan Barrett
Research and Outreach Manager 

Melodie Bowler
Government Affairs Intern 

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Director of Research 

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Jihun Han
Communications Intern 

Timothy Howland
Creative Content Manager 

Samantha Jordan
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Communications Intern 

Ross Kaminsky
Blog Contributor 

David Keating
Blog Contributor 

Douglas Kellogg
Communications Manager 

Sharon Koss
Government Affairs Intern 

Michael Liguori
Government Affairs Intern 

Richard Lipman
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Joe Michalowski
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Diana Oprinescu
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Austin Peters
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Kristina Rasmussen
Blog Contributor 

Budget

Export-Import Bank: A Bad Deal for Taxpayers
Posted By: Melodie Bowler - 08/19/14

If you haven’t heard about the Export-Import Bank, here’s a quick rundown of the basics:

  • Commonly called Ex-Im, the bank was established by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 2, 1934.
  • Ex-Im provides loans and loan guarantees to U.S. companies attempting to export and to foreign companies wanting to import U.S. goods.
  • If Congress does not reauthorize Ex-Im by the end of September, it will cease providing loans or loan guarantees. It would continue to service current loans.

While budget-neutral in theory and often on paper, this notion is perpetuated only through faulty accounting and misleading statistics. Let’s debunk some of the rumors running wild on Capitol Hill.

Myth

Fact

90 percent of Ex-Im loans go to small businesses.

Based on the number of loans, almost 90 percent did benefit small businesses in 2013 (according to the bank’s very inclusive definition of “small”). Based on the number of dollars loaned, the large majority of taxpayer-backed financing went to behemoth businesses. In fact, Congress requires 20 percent of the total dollar value of Ex-Im transactions to go to small businesses, but the bank has repeatedly failed to meet that number.

Ex-Im financing is necessary for American businesses to compete in the global market.

In 2013, Ex-Im financed only 1.6 percent of U.S. exports.

Ex-Im is a “self-sustaining agency” that returns profits to the Treasury.

Ex-Im uses faulty accounting procedures rather than fair value accounting to create an illusion of profits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Ex-Im costs taxpayers $200 million each year.

If we take a closer look at Ex-Im’s transactions, the bank’s financing becomes even more questionable. In many cases, large corporations benefitting from Ex-Im financing could have received loans from the private sector. In other instances, the Ex-Im-backed ventures were so risky that private lenders would not fund them. In either scenario, U.S. taxpayers should not be responsible for providing low-interest loans that are unnecessary or unlikely to be paid.

To demonstrate the true horror of what Ex-Im does with our money, the House Financial Services Committee created a blog series titled “Egregious Ex-Im Bank Deal of the Day.” Each weekday, the staff publishes another awful deal that Ex-Im decided was worthy of taxpayer funding. Remember Solyndra, the failed manufacturer of solar panels? After receiving $535 million from the stimulus package, Ex-Im officials decided the now-bankrupt company could use additional help, in the form of a $10.3 million loan guarantee for a foreign supermarket chain to buy Solyndra’s products. In a recent deal, the Australian Roy Hill Iron Ore project received a $694 million loan from Ex-Im after the private market refused to offer financing. Not only are Americans funding this without their consent to bear the risk, but the project will compete with U.S. mines, jeopardizing domestic jobs. Possibly the most egregious deal yet has been $4.975 billion in direct loans to assist building Sadara Chemical Company, a project of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. If the Saudi Arabian government needs American exports for its pet project, they can likely finance those purchases without help from U.S. taxpayers.

If that weren’t enough reason to let Ex-Im’s authorization lapse, in addition, the bank’s transactions are fraught with bribery and cronyism. Abengoa International, a Spanish green-energy company, managed to receive about $150 million in total loans from Ex-Im, to no one’s surprise, since former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson sat on the board for both the company and the bank. Four other Ex-Im officials are currently undergoing investigations of bribery and favoritism. While Ex-Im is financing growth for our foreign competitors, including Russia and Brazil, the U.S. continues to experience economic and employment hardships at home. Rather than risking taxpayers’ dollars for the benefit of other countries, it is time to let the Export-Import Bank expire.

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Federal Budget Outlook: Worse Than You Think
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 08/05/14

What are the long-term implications of government spending, and how should policymakers reign in the current trend of unsustainable federal expenditures? Those questions were the focus of a recent event hosted by the Cato Institute, entitled Federal Budget Outlook: It’s Worse Than You Think, featuring Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Cato’s Director of Tax Policy Studies Chris Edwards.

In FY 2013, the federal budget deficit was a staggering $680 billion, and expenditures topped $3.9 trillion. That pattern is projected to continue going forward, with some estimates showing current spending at 20.4 percent of GDP (projected to rise to 31.8 percent by 2040).

Edwards considered five categories of federal spending:

  • compensating federal workers – $407 billion
  • paying interest on the federal debt – $414 billion
  • purchasing goods and services – $571 billion
  • state and local aid – $510 billion
  • subsidy and benefit programs (transfers) – $1.98 trillion

Despite recent deficit decreases, spending on subsidy and benefit programs are growing at an annual rate of 6.7 percent. This spending increase results from the proliferation of entitlement programs including: Social Security, Medicare, SNAP (food stamps), unemployment benefits, agricultural subsidies, refundable tax credits, and so forth. Below is a visual graphic demonstrating the aforementioned categories.

Edwards noted, “the U.S. Constitution does not create an open-ended role for the federal government to transfer wealth or aid to the states. Yet today those two activities account for about two-thirds of federal spending.”

Senator Johnson’s main argument was that reporting by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is fundamentally flawed, allowing an administration to mask the severity of fiscal crises. CBO typically sticks to a ten-year budget window, but Johnson contended that some fiscal scenarios warrant a thirty year window, especially as demographic changes like the aging of the baby boomer generation impact the long-term stability of Social Security, Medicare, and other federal entitlement programs. The Senator said that ultimately, these programs amount to “inter-generational theft.” A sense of urgency has not yet set in among lawmakers because CBO does not adequately report the long-term effects of current fiscal policy.

The speakers suggested that America can move towards budgetary solvency if it eliminates wasteful spending (those that cost more than the benefits they yield) and respects the 10th Amendment. They also suggested that policymakers should work towards reducing regulatory and bureaucratic inefficiencies that cost taxpayers time and money, and open the door to cronyism and abuse.

At the current spending rate, the deficit will soon be many, many trillions. Senator Johnson finished the talk by imploring, “Please, God, don’t tell Washington what comes after trillions.”

Thanks to Paul Bartow for drafting this post.

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Government Spending Gone Wild: California’s Record Setting Budget
Posted By: Melodie Bowler - 06/24/14

California legislators and Governor Jerry Brown just approved the state’s largest budget to date at $156.3 billion, continuing the Golden State’s affinity for out-of-control spending. The budget plan, which goes into effect on July 1st, includes funding for greater preschool access, increasing welfare grants, and expanding public health care. Despite the looming $74 billion unfunded teachers’ pension liability, lawmakers even included plenty of funding for the high-speed railway.

In 2008, Californians voted in favor of Proposition 1A, approving borrowing over $9 billion to fund a high-speed railway that could take a train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in only 2 hours and 40 minutes. The ballot measure was backed by 8,000 words of legislation, now under close scrutiny. Last November, a Sacramento judge ruled that the state agency was not in compliance with the strict language of the proposition. With those funds tied up in court, the recent budget allots 25 percent of profits from the state’s cap and trade program for construction.

The budget sets the general fund, which pays for most of California’s expenditures, at $108 billion, a major 9.6 percent boost over last year. Income taxes supplied 67 percent of the general fund for fiscal year 2012-2013, and the latest budget relies on the income and sales tax increases from a November 2012 ballot initiative. These increases expire after seven and four years, respectively, which will likely leave legislators scrambling for new revenue to maintain the state’s reckless spending.

California is oft noted for its fiscal troubles, having one of the worst credit ratings of all of the states, second to Illinois. Some of these difficulties stem from not saving during times of expansion to prepare for future recessions. In an effort to change, the legislature has deferred to voters the final decision on the California Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund Act. If passed, the proposition would require the state’s controller to deposit 1.5 percent of general fund and capital gains revenues into the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) when they exceed 8 percent of the general fund.

This savings plan could improve California’s credit rating, but first, the state must pay down its debt. The proposition would also require that starting in 2015 and lasting until 2030, 50 percent of BSA revenues be used to pay outstanding fiscal obligations. While this might be a step in the right direction, based on current projections of general fund revenues and California’s debts, it will take decades for the state to pay its obligations and the BSA will grow at a glacial pace. With high-speed rail construction estimated to cost $68 billion and last until 2029, it’s clear that California legislators should reassess priorities and focus on maintaining financial solvency. This will require taking bolder steps toward reining in state spending and imposing real fiscal discipline in Sacramento.

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Florida’s 19th Special House Election: A Budgetary Guide
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/20/14

In what some are calling a quiet election, there’s still a lot to be said. Though the challenges of taking drug tests have largely been replaced with who can help create the most jobs in the next five months, before the next election for the same office, Florida residents are asking the same questions of candidates as they did in Florida’s other recent special House election: What will you do in Washington, D.C.? Especially in the wake of their last Congressman, Trey Radel, who resigned after being arrested for possession of cocaine.

In just a couple of short months, three front runners have emerged to battle for the 19th District’s seat: businessman Curt Clawson (R), businesswoman and former political activist April Freeman (D), and former health worker Ray Netherwood (L). Each candidate offers different general solutions to America’s fiscal ills but details have yet to come out about how each would actually change the federal budget. However, by using a methodology similar to National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF) BillTally project, taxpayers can see where the candidates stand on at least some of the spending issues. For this brief study, we took direct quotes and campaign materials of candidates and matched them with budget and legislative data to see exactly what the differences and similarities are.

Similar to the New Jersey Special Senate and Florida’s 13th Special House elections, details were few and far between. Even with the campaigns releasing economic plans and platform summaries, we’re still left asking what will they do if elected as the House of Representative’s newest member?

Check out the entire line-by-line analysis of all three candidates. As with NTUF’s other BillTally and campaign studies, only changes in current spending are recorded (similar to the Congressional Budget Office). The reports do not include changes in revenues or costs outside the federal government. Below are summaries of each candidates’ proposals.

Curt Clawson (R) has proposed two (out of 12) quantifiable policies that NTUF was able to score. Combined, they would decrease annual spending by $395.8 billion. The largest budget-influencing item that he supports would cap federal expenditures at 19 percent of GDP, which would be implemented using the “Penny Plan,” which would cut spending by one percent each year as long as the budget is not balanced.

  • Block Grant Education Funds to States: Unknown
  • Continue Federal Flood Insurance Rates: Unknown
  • Create a Budget Cutting Committee: Unknown
  • Freeze Federal Employment: Unknown
  • Limit Federal Spending: $331.9 billion (savings)
  • Require Congressional Approval for Major Regulations: Unknown
  • Block Grant Medicaid Funds to States: Unknown
  • Eliminate Government Health Care Bureaucrats: Unknown
  • Protect Health Insurance Access for those with Pre-Existing Conditions: Unknown
  • Provide for Health Care Plans and Accounts: Unknown
  • Repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: $63.9 billion
  • Restore Medicaid Advantage Funding: Unknown

April Freeman (D) has two (out of 12) policy items that NTUF could fiscally score. Together, they would increase spending by $20.203 billion each year for the next five years. Her largest quantifiable proposal would overhaul the immigration system.

  • Ensure Wage Equality: $3 million
  • Support Domestic Industries: Unknown
  • Support Teachers: Unknown
  • Ban Hydraulic Fracturing: Unknown
  • Expand Alternative Energy Sources: Unknown
  • Fully Fund Water Infrastructure Improvements: Unknown
  • Fight Human Trafficking: Unknown
  • Pass Immigration Reform: $20.2 billion
  • Protect Citizens’ Privacy: Unknown
  • Secure the Border: Unknown
  • Normalize Relations with Cuba: Unknown
  • Ensure Veterans’ Benefits: Unknown

Ray Netherwood (L) had one proposal that NTUF could identify. It would be to replace the current income-based tax system with a national sales tax, known as the Fair Tax. The measure would cut an average $19 billion in federal outlays for each of the next five years.

Normally, there would be some overlap between the candidates’ platforms. In the other Florida Special Election, the front runners supported increasing current spending by $180 million per year to delay a scheduled rate increase for the National Flood Insurance Program. That was not the case in this House race, although the three candidates were not asked similar questions when interviewed by the same source.

What does this mean for taxpayers and residents of the 19th District? It’s time for the campaigns to give Americans more details. While candidates are asking Floridians for their vote, taxpayers are asking for the roadmap of each candidate’s path to reach a better and expanding economy. As highlighted above and in the full report, the absence of budgetary facts and figures opens the possibility that all of the candidates could have much larger or smaller spending aspirations in mind. Clawson, Freeman, or Netherwood need only clarify their intentions with dollar figures to help complete this report and help educate Americans on important and pressing issues that we’re all facing.

Note: National Taxpayers Union Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our research efforts are intended only to educate Americans on how their tax dollars are being or will be spent by those in office, seeking office, or in appointed positions. For more information on NTUF go here.

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(VIDEO) Sequester-pocalypse Fear Mongering vs. Reality
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/15/14

Congratulations! If you're watching this video, you're one of the 312 million Americans who narrowly survived the "Sequester-pocalypse"!

Watch President Obama and others prophecy about the chaos the moderate "sequester" spending reductions would supposedly cause. In reality, taxpayers saved $85 billion and only one federal employee was laid off. Oops!

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Not a Fan of $1 Million Bus Stop? How about $672K?
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 05/14/14

ARLnow.com, a local news site for Arlington, Virginia, updated residents on the costs of new bus stops proposed along Columbia Pike, a major artery running right up to the Pentagon. As opposed to the $1 million prototype bus stop that I wrote about last year, Arlington County officials released an updated design with a new cost per stop: between $362,000 and $672,000. The three newly termed “transit centers” look similar to the “Super Stop” design but are shorter in height, have wider canopies, and have side windscreens. Each stop will have a different cost, according to its size:

  • Single-Sized: $362,000
  • Standard: $469,000
  • Extended: $672,000

The county provided a breakdown in costs for construction and site design and project management, with the latter representing approximately 23 percent of the total cost for the small- and medium-sized stations.

This all might be an improvement but taxpayers who answered a poll on the site say it’s still too high a cost:

Arlington, VA Bus Stop Poll Results

Area residents questioned why existing bus stop designs (the classic three-sided, glass enclosures) are being replaced for a more expensive, unproven design (especially since the new design still does not protect those waiting from the elements. Others voiced concerns over the still-high costs. One commenter wrote that a standard stop costs $30,000 and some can cost as much as $58,000 across the border in Maryland. The question I ask Arlington Board members is, are the artsy designs of the stops worth spending millions of local taxpayer dollars instead of putting those funds towards other concerns or taxpayer relief?

On a county-level, the cost of the overall effort went from $20.9 million to $12.4 million, a 40 percent decrease. Yet, those savings may be swept away as the Washington Post just reported that the Columbia Pike streetcar – a major reason the county cites for updating the bus stops -- will cost $358 million, or $100 million more than the county’s previous projection. On top of all of this, taxpayers across the country need to keep any eye on this issue because 48 percent ($140.5 million) of Arlington County’s share of the expenses are expected to come from the federal government. The issue comes down to whether Arlington officials are doing what’s best for residents or just building pretty things that will ultimately go underused.

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New Report, Familiar Conclusions
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 05/13/14

"A fundamental imbalance..."

"...continuous growth in debt..."

"[U]nsustainable."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) uses all of these phrases to describe its most recent long-term budgetary projections, underscoring a less-than-ideal outlook for federal debt and deficits. GAO ran two simulations in its latest report: a "Baseline Extended" forecast, which uses the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) legislative assumptions, and an "Alternative Scenario" that assumes revenue and discretionary spending will grow at rates closer to historical averages. Either way, GAO predicts spending will rapidly outpace revenues in the coming years:

GAO Budget Outlook

GAO Budget Outlook

As the graphs above show, net interest and mandatory spending programs will continue to grow as a percentage of GDP under both models, even in the "Extended Baseline" scenario which assumes tax extenders will not be renewed and discretionary spending caps will be upheld. The report also mentions looming demographic shifts that will continue to affect the nature of federal spending for years to come: by 2029, nearly 11,000 baby boomers will reach the retirement age of 65 every single day, which means much higher spending on retirement and health benefits.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has some helpful context on the GAO's assumptions, and how their projections compare to others.

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Sequester’s Impact: One Job Lost, $85 Billion Saved
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 05/09/14

Remember all of the doomsday predictions about last year’s compulsory spending cuts better known as the sequester? Many claimed this “draconian” measure would lead to economic catastrophe, as thousands upon thousands of federal employees would be fired and the government’s operations would come to a screeching halt. In fact, one study by Goldman Sachs predicted “declines in federal employment by around 100k over the next few quarters.” 

In contrast, NTU argued repeatedly that these concerns were overblown and that the bloated federal government could find plenty of ways to absorb the sequester’s modest trims.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a study that sheds light on the actual impact of sequestration, which cut 2013 expenditures by $85 billion.

The total number of federal job losses that occurred: one.

Yes, you read that correctly. The report states that the U.S. Parole Commission “implemented a reduction in force of one employee to achieve partial savings required by sequestration in fiscal year 2013.” According to GAO, that was the only layoff attributable to the sequester. That means Goldman Sachs’ prediction of 100,000 layoffs missed by a mere 99,999.

That’s not to say that the sequester had no effect on the government. To be sure, furloughs occurred and certain activities were delayed or otherwise hindered. But the fact remains that the federal budget is rife with wasteful, duplicative, and unnecessary spending. There is ample room to pare back federal expenditures and force the executive branch to prioritize its functions. Indeed, that’s exactly what GAO found in its study: “congressional and agency actions mitigated some potential effects by shifting funds to higher priorities while deferring or reducing funding for lower priorities.”

GAO’s study once again demonstrates that the federal government remains far too bloated. While targeted cuts to unnecessary or duplicative programs are generally the best approach to fiscal restraint, in the absence of such leadership across-the-board reductions like the sequester can also work. These findings should give momentum to the advocates of a leaner federal budget and embarrass those who predicted the sequester would cause an economic collapse.

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Democratic Caucuses' FY 2015 Alternative Budget Plans
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/10/14

In the newest edition of The Taxpayers Tab, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) compared the alternative budget proposals put forth by Congressional caucuses including the Republican Study Commission (RSC), the House Republicans, the House Democrats, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). We looked at each budget's top-line numbers relative to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections for 2014 to give taxpayers an idea of how each of these budget alternatives differ from each other and the current budgetary forecast.

There were several alternatives offered from the Democrats:

FY 2015 Democratic Budget Proposals
(in billions of dollars)
 
Defense
$514
$549
$521
Unknown
$574
Other Discretionary
$524
$516
$492
Unknown
$596
Mandatory
$2,116
$2,458
$2,728
Unknown
$2,763
OCO1
$92
$85
$85
$49
$29
Total
$3,246
$3,608
$3,826
$3,492
$3,962
Change from FY2014
N/A
+$362
+$580
+$246
+$716
Notes:
Totals may not add due to rounding.
Figures are in budget authority except for the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) (see below).
BillTally does not track changes in debt interest servicing and so they are not included in these figures.
1Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding is not subject to the budget caps.
2The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) does not provide a breakdown of discretionary or mandatory spending. NTUF included CBC's OCO outlays to its FY 2015 budget authority total for a more complete spending total.
3CPC reported their budget proposal only in outlays. NTUF therefore must compare their outlay figure with the budget authority figures of the other entities. This may not reflect the caucus's budgetary intent.

They differed in a few key ways:

  • Both the CBC and CPC budgets explicitly state that under their plans, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) will end after FY 2015. The CBC provides $85 billion in budget authority for that function in 2015, but projects only $49 billion in outlays (with the rest spread out over the next ten years). CPC limits OCO funding in FY 2015 to amounts needed for immediate wind-downs.
  • The House Democrats' budget sticks to the spending caps proposed in the Ryan-Murray budget compromise; the President's budget acknowledges those amounts in its formal request, but also offers policy proposals that adjust those caps and thus allow for higher discretionary spending levels.
  • Each of the Democratic plans emphasize increased support for economic stimulus and job development programs, and thus would increase discretionary spending above baseline levels. However, they also grow mandatory spending largely by way of expanding eligibility for certain entitlement programs.

The Democrats' budgets focus primarily on responding directly to the country's poor economic conditions, both by increasing eligibility for entitlement programs and providing increased funding for job training and development. In general these proposals would be offset by more and/or higher taxes, but none of these plans project a balanced budget within the next ten years.

For more, check out NTUF's full analysis in The Taxpayer's Tab.

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RSC and House GOP Alternative Budgets for FY 2015
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/10/14

In the newest edition of The Taxpayers Tab, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) compared some of the alternative budget proposals put forth by several Congressional caucuses, including the Republican Study Commission (RSC), the House Republicans, the House Democrats, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). We compared the top-line budget numbers from each proposal relative to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections for 2014 to give taxpayers an idea of how each of these budget alternatives differ.

This first of two posts will focus on each of the GOP alternatives.

FY 2015 Republican Budget Proposals
(in billions of dollars)
 
Defense
$514
$521
$521
Other Discretionary
$524
$429
$492
Mandatory
$2,116
$2,1572
$2,2103
OCO1
$92
$85
$85
Total
$3,246
$3,192
$3,308
Change from FY2014
N/A
-$54
+$62
Notes:
Totals may not add due to rounding.
Figures are in budget authority, except where noted.
BillTally does not track changes in debt interest servicing and so they are not included in these figures.
1Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding is not subject to budget caps.
2NTUF assumes that the Back to Basics budget reported mandatory spending in outlays. NTUF therefore must compare their outlay figures with the budget authority figures of the other entities. This may not reflect the caucus's budgetary intent.
3The Path to Prosperity budget reported mandatory spending in outlays. NTUF therefore must compare their outlay figures with the budget authority figures of the other entities. This may not reflect the caucus's budgetary intent.

Some notable points:

  • Both the RSC and Ryan budgets eventually balance, but the RSC's does so within four years, compared to the ten year goal in the Ryan proposal.
  • Both GOP budgets maintain Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding at $85 billion, and propose $521 billion in discretionary defense budget authority.
  • The RSC plan proposes deeper cuts to non-defense discretionary programs than does the Ryan plan, but a simplification of the current tax code is a stated priority for each group.

While the two GOP budgets are similar in that their ultimate goals are balanced books, the RSC plan would try to achieve that within a much shorter timeframe. In both cases, emphasis is placed on cutting discretionary spending rather than any wholesale or fundamental reforms of mandatory entitlement programs.

For more, check out NTUF's full analysis in The Taxpayer's Tab.

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