How Safe Is that Flight? Auditors Question Airport Security

How Safe Is that Flight? Auditors Question Airport Security

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

A government spat between Congress and the Transportation Safety Administration yesterday raised a question: Is the TSA trying to stonewall a congressional committee looking into reports suggesting the agency may be failing in its $7 billion-a-year mission to safeguard airports and air travel from terrorist threats?

At the start of Wednesday’s TSA: Are Airports Safe? hearing, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT ) immediately pointed out a glaring absence from the witness panel—the TSA.

Related: Poor Maintenance Could Make that Airport Scanner a Dud

Chaffetz said the committee had invited TSA acting administrator Melvin Carraway, but the agency offered a lower-level official in his place.

“The Department of Homeland Security objected to [Carraway’s] presence on the panel because they felt it was demeaning to have the acting director sit on the same panel as a private sector witness,” he said, referring to Raffi Fron, president of New Age Security Solutions, a company that provides security systems such as video surveillance.

The hearing was prompted by two separate but equally scathing watchdog reports that question the TSA’s ability to effectively screen passengers.

“Our audits have repeatedly found that human error— often a simple failure to follow protocol—poses significant vulnerabilities,” DHS’s IG John Roth said—adding that despite offering hundreds of recommendations the TSA has failed to assure that its mission is succeeding.

Related: Report Says TSA Wasted $1 Billion on Screening Program

DHS stood by its decision not to send its acting administrator. An agency official told The Fiscal Times that the department only participates in congressional hearing panels with other government agencies—not with private-sector witnesses in order to avoid conflicts of interest. 

A spokesperson for the committee said that “witness invitations are not transferable” and that the “DHS does not dictate how we run our hearings.”

This isn’t the only roadblock the Oversight Committee has run into with the TSA. During the hearing, Chairman Chaffetz showed off a heavily redacted document he had requested from the agency—saying even members of Congress had “exceptional” difficulties getting information from them.

The committee spokesperson said House Oversight is currently looking into other ways the TSA has frustrated congressional inquiries—and what kinds of action can be taken.

Can Trump Bring Democrats Along on Taxes?

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a list of politicians as he speaks about tax reform in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 11, 2017.   REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
JOSHUA ROBERTS
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Although Republicans are prepared to go it alone on tax reform, President Trump suggested creating a bipartisan working group on the topic during a Wednesday meeting with senators from both parties. Some senators were open to the idea, but it doesn’t look like Republicans have much interest in slowing down the process with in-depth negotiations. “I don’t really personally see the benefit of creating additional structure. I think we’ve got all the tools we need,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who attended the meeting, according to Politico. Democrats appear skeptical, too. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said he told Trump that the distance between what Republicans were saying about their plan and what it actually does is a serious problem.

Where Trump Will Compromise on Tax Reform

U.S. President Trump speaks about tax reform during a visit to Loren Cook Company in Springfield
KEVIN LAMARQUE
By The Fiscal Times Staff

White House officials tell USA Today’s Heidi Przybyla that President Trump will include a number of compromises to limit his tax plan’s benefits for the wealthy when he promotes the blueprint next month:

“The compromises will include ending a 23.8% preferential tax rate for hedge-fund managers, or the so-called carried interest rate, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told USA TODAY. … Retaining parts of a state and local tax deduction that benefits many middle-class families in blue states is also an area where Trump is expecting compromise.”

Trump campaigned on raising the carried interest rate, saying its beneficiaries are “getting away with murder.” But changes to the carried interest rate may run into opposition from House Republicans, and the tweaks appear unlikely to win any Democratic support.

Larry Summers Savages Trump Tax Plan Analysis

By Michael Rainey

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers made his distaste for the Trump administration’s tax framework clear last week when he said Republicans were using “made-up” claims about the plan and its effects. Summers expanded his criticism on Tuesday in a blog post that took aim at the report released Monday by the Council of Economic Advisers and chair Kevin Hassett, which seeks to justify the administration’s claim that its tax plan will result in a $4,000 pay raise for the average American family.

Never one to mince words, Summers says the CEA analysis is “some combination of dishonest, incompetent and absurd.” The pay raise figure is indefensible, since “there is no peer-reviewed support for his central claim that cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent would raise wages by $4000 per worker.” In the end, Summers says that “if a Ph.D student submitted the CEA analysis as a term paper in public finance, I would be hard pressed to give it a passing grade.”

One of the authors cited in the CEA paper also has some concerns. Harvard Business School professor Mihir Desai tweeted Tuesday that the CEA analysis “misinterprets” a 2007 paper he co-wrote on the dynamics of the corporate tax burden. Desai’s research has found a connection between business tax cuts and wage growth, but not as large as the CEA paper claims. “Cutting corporate taxes will help wages but exaggeration only serves to undercut the reasonableness of the core argument,” Desai wrote.

For Tax Reform, It May Be 2017 or Bust

By The Fiscal Times Staff

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said Monday that tax reform has to happen this year, even if it means Congress has to stay in session longer. "I think we have a unique window in time right now, but unfortunately we keep losing days to this window,” he said. “The opportunity is now." House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week he’d keep members over Christmas if that’s what it takes. And Ryan predicted Monday that tax reform would pass the House by early next month and then get through the Senate to reach the president’s desk by the end of the year. But there are plenty of skeptics out there, given the hurdles. Issac Boltansky, an analyst at the investment bank Compass Point, told Business Insider, "The idea of getting tax reform done this year is a farcical fantasy. Lawmakers have neither the time nor the capacity to formulate and clear a tax reform package in 2017."