As people celebrate the holidays in different ways across the country, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance is celebrating Festivus. The holiday created by the television show “Seinfeld” challenges all the normal rules of gift giving and decorations and is essentially a day of telling people why you’re upset with them about the choices they’ve made over the last year.
Airing of Grievances
The first tradition of Festivus is “the airing of grievances.” This part of Festivus expresses the ways that taxpayers have been disappointed over the last year. While there could have been an entire book written on taxpayer grievances, here are just a few grievances that taxpayers have with bureaucrats and lawmakers.
Federal Communications Commission: The FCC has been a disaster for taxpayers and consumers in 2016. The agency, under the failed leadership of Chairman Tom Wheeler, used taxpayer money to expand their regulatory footprint by implementing new privacy rules and trying to ban “free data” services (seriously, the FCC doesn’t want consumers to have free data).
But, one of the most notable policy failures of Wheeler was his attempt to push through a controversial Set-Top Box plan. The proposal would have put the FCC in charge of content distribution and shifted copyright authority to the agency and away from the Copyright Office. The proposal stalled after criticism from both sides of the political aisle, including his fellow commissioners. Wheeler is stepping down in January, so it is hoped this will be the final year of grievances from the FCC.
Nuclear Bailouts: A pair of taxpayer and ratepayer-funded nuclear bailouts mark the next grievances for Festivus. In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is gifting to taxpayers and ratepayers an increase in electricity costs and a multi-billion dollar bailout that didn’t even get a vote in the state legislature. Cuomo increased the state’s renewable standard and included nuclear power as a renewable power source. In Illinois, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that expands the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and also includes a multi-billion dollar bailout for select nuclear plants. The worst part of this bailout is that just one company in New York and Illinois will benefit from the bailouts. Taxpayers don’t deserve this nonsense from governors during the holidays, or at any other time during the year.
D.C. Streetcar: The final grievance is the D.C. Streetcar. To date, the 2.4-mile project has cost $200 million, or $83 million per mile. This is an obscene and insulting waste of taxpayer money for what is nothing more than a vanity project for the city.
Taxpayers Protection Alliance filed a FOIA request for all marketing costs associated with the project. That request led to the discovery of more than $2 million spent on marketing, including an overprice website that cost taxpayers $174,000. In return for all this money spent, taxpayers have received nothing but trouble. There are constant mechanical problems with the streetcar and there is no revenue being generated because the streetcar is free to ride. In 2017, the D.C. Streetcar should ride off into the sunset, never to return.
Feats of Strength
The other Festivus tradition is the “feats of strength.” This is when challenging acts are performed by those able to make it through the “airing of grievances.” It’s always difficult to get things done in Washington, but even more so during an election year. Here’s part of what Congress did manage to get at least something accomplished:
Catfish Inspection: The first of the 2016 “feats of strength” centers on the Department of Agriculture’s Catfish Inspection Program. There have been widespread calls to repeal the wasteful and duplicative multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded program. The Government Accountability Office has targeted the program a record 10 times for elimination. Congress has taken several votes and thankfully the Senate voted to repeal it earlier this year. The program has not yet been eliminated because the House of Representatives has not held a vote to repeal the program. It is time for the full Congress, or President-elect Trump, to finally throw this fish back in the water for good in 2017.
Continuing Resolution: Congress showed a rare feat of strength during the most recent showdown over government funding when it passed a Continuing Resolution that keeps the government funded through April 2017. The deal maintains the fiscal year 2017 spending cap of $1.07 trillion. While it was not a perfect bill as it did include continued funding of the Overseas Contingency Operations Account, which is just a budget gimmick, the Continuing Resolution was passed by both chambers of Congress in time to avoid any last-minute shutdowns that may have ruined the holiday season for taxpayers.
Lame Duck: In a stunning show of strength, Congress managed to keep the lame-duck session relatively quiet. The November election was a pretty clear message to Washington that voters were tired seeing the same old end-of-the-year mad dash for massive spending bills as each December would come and go. This year, many observers were expecting potential problems for taxpayers in a lame-duck session including an earmark-laden Omnibus as well as possible last-minute legislation on internet taxation, an internet-gambling ban, and the Export-Import Bank.
Thankfully, lawmakers left town after an uneventful lame-duck session. There is still much work to be done once the new Congress gets back in January. And, it will be interesting to see if they can accomplish even more “feats of strength” next year.
Well that does it for the 2016 Festivus message. It is hoped that with a new Congress and a new administration coming to Washington, there’ll be a lot less grievances and more feats of strength when the bare aluminum pole goes up again next year.