Some No-Brainers for the So-Called 'Do-Nothing' Congress

Nan Swift
By Nan Swift | September 25, 2013 | 5:14 PM EDT

All summer, pundits have been making hay over what they call the "Do-Nothing" 113th Congress. NBC reported, "When it comes to productivity, only 15 legislative items have become law under the current Congress. That's fewer than the 23 items that became law at this same point in the 112th Congress, which already passed a historically low number of bills that were signed into law."

Those who would like to see Congress pick up the pace consistently point to an increasingly divided, polarized political climate at the root of perceived gridlock. Yet, with all the obvious problems we see in our government, including the ever-present "waste, fraud, and abuse," there are many targets for reform and plenty of legislation waiting for politicians to act.

For free-market conservatives and fans of limited government, low legislative output isn't cause for derision; especially after a recent liberal onslaught that included passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Still, while legislators might be miles apart on some big-ticket items, there are many opportunities for bipartisan agreement on common-sense issues that would save taxpayers money, help small businesses and the economy, and even benefit the environment - there's something for everyone.

In our third-annual "no-brainers" list, National Taxpayers Union highlights bills that reflect such qualities. Any of these non-controversial initiatives represent potential for Congress to start chipping away at that 81 percent disapproval rating.

No-Brainer: Stop Out-Of-Control Cell Phone Taxes

Just about all of us, rich and poor, shell out for ever-rising cell phone taxes. For multiple sessions, Congress has had the option of stopping these out-of-control taxes with the Wireless Tax Fairness Act (S. 1235/H.R. 2309). The bipartisan roster of authors features Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) in the House and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) in the Senate. With the average wireless tax rate at 17.2 percent - even as the average tax rate associated with most goods and services around the country is 7.4 percent - this is a classic no-brainer.

Given the essential and widespread nature of wireless services, and the harm imposed when governments tap those services like a personal piggy-bank, the Wireless Tax Fairness Act is just one of many opportunities for Congress to start getting things done.

No-Brainer: Repeal the Death Tax

The perennial fight to repeal the Death Tax (S. 1183/H.R. 2429) also makes the no-brainer list. Led by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), this bill has bipartisan backing in the House; and a symbolic vote on a budget amendment offered by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to repeal or reduce the death tax garnered support from 35 Democrats. Originally enacted as a temporary source of defense funds during World War I, ninety years later the death tax brings in less than one-half of one percent of total federal tax revenue, yet plays an outsized role when it comes to wealth-destruction and economic damage.

A recent study by former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin found that full repeal would create 1.5 million jobs. At a time when job growth is anemic, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this type of boost would help the economy.

No-Brainer: Allow America to Produce Energy - And Jobs

For those same reasons, the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3) is a no-brainer too. It would clear the way for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and provide an almost instant injection of much-needed jobs.

There are even more reform options available to Congress that might make you say, "No duh."

The Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Act would save consumers money by ending the black hole of unintended consequences that is the RFS mandate (Renewable Fuel Standard). Not only does this EPA nightmare cost taxpayers, it drives up food prices around the world, and has been abandoned by some of the environmentalists who once supported it. There's nobody left backing this other than self-serving bureaucrats and opportunistic corn producers.

If those don't get Congress moving, how about finally tackling Medicaid fraud? Or adding much-needed oversight to costly regulations?

Together, this no-brainer bill list could provide tangible relief to consumers and taxpayers, while making government at least a little more efficient. When partisan interests can set aside their differences and coalesce around good policy, there's no excuse not to fast track these bills to the President's desk. If Congress wants to move on to the big things, it should tackle these small things first.