Recently in Politics, Government & Public Policy Category
President Obama is now pedaling an emotional appeal to the Supreme Court, hoping that the facts on the ground will be allowed to stand despite their illegality. Just as a reminder, zero Republicans voted for Obamacare; the law's shoddy crafting is a product of the Democrats' deception, intransigence, and reckless disregard for the will of the people.
In a speech to the Catholic Health Association, Obama will talk about the hundred years it's taken to reform healthcare in the United States, and the millions it has helped over its five years of implementation. With a ruling due by the end of the month that could potentially send the new insurance marketplaces into a tailspin, Obama will warn, the social contract is at stake.
"The rugged individualism that defines America has always been bound by a set of shared values; an enduring sense that we are in this together," Obama plans to say, according to excerpts released Tuesday morning by the White House. "That's we have an obligation to put ourselves in our neighbor's shoes, and to see the common humanity in each other."
He continues, "Five years in, what we're talking about is no longer just a law. This isn't about the Affordable Care Act. This isn't about Obamacare. This isn't about myths or rumors that won't go away. This is reality. This is health care in America."
"This is reality" he says, but it's a reality built on lies.
Charles Murray has a novel suggestion for overcoming the suffocating rules our American bureaucracy foists on us free citizens: insure yourself against penalties and ignore the absurd regulations. I'd really like to read an analysis by an expert on insurance and insurance law who can tell us if this proposal is plausible.
Seen in this perspective, the regulatory state is the Wizard of Oz: fearsome when its booming voice is directed against any single target but, when the curtain is pulled aside, revealed as impotent to enforce its thousands of rules against widespread refusal to comply.
And so my modest proposal: Let's withhold that compliance through systematic civil disobedience. Not for all regulations, but for the pointless, stupid and tyrannical ones. ...
The risk in doing so, of course, is that one of the 70-odd regulatory agencies will find out what you're doing and come after you. But there's a way around that as well: Let's treat government as an insurable hazard, like tornadoes.
People don't build tornado-proof houses; they buy house insurance. In the case of the regulatory state, let's buy insurance that reimburses us for any fine that the government levies and that automatically triggers a proactive, tenacious legal defense against the government's allegation even if--and this is crucial--we are technically guilty.
Why litigate an allegation even if we are technically guilty? To create a disincentive for overzealous regulators. The goal is to empower citizens to say, "If you come after me, it's going to cost your office a lot of time and trouble, and probably some bad publicity." If even one citizen says that, in a case where the violation didn't harm anything or anyone, the bureaucrat has to ask, "Do I really want to take this on?" If it's the 10th citizen in the past month who says it and the office is struggling with a backlog of cases, it's unlikely that the bureaucrat's supervisor will even permit him take it on.
It's whack-a-mole, but the government doesn't have enough hammers to hit all of us.
More from Michael Barone.
The New York Times carries a river-full of water for the Democrats' argument that the words of the Affordable Care Act don't mean what they say. The NYT invokes the phrase "drafting error" four times and the words "intend" or "intent" five times in the story, as if these magic talismans can protect the sloppy law from itself. Jonathan Gruber is not mentioned even once!
The story opens with a juvenile non sequitur:
They are only four words in a 900-page law: "established by the state."
It's crazy how just a few words can change the meaning of a whole document! You'd think that a journalist who works with words would grok the power of words, rather than be astonished.
But it is in the ambiguity of those four words in the Affordable Care Act that opponents found a path to challenge the law, all the way to the Supreme Court.
How those words became the most contentious part of President Obama's signature domestic accomplishment has been a mystery. Who wrote them, and why? Were they really intended, as the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell claim, to make the tax subsidies in the law available only in states that established their own health insurance marketplaces, and not in the three dozen states with federal exchanges?
The "ambiguity" only exists insofar as the reader wills it into existence by invoking "drafting errors" and ex post facto "intent".
The answer, from interviews with more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans involved in writing the law, is that the words were a product of shifting politics and a sloppy merging of different versions. Some described the words as "inadvertent," "inartful" or "a drafting error." But none supported the contention of the plaintiffs, who are from Virginia.
If every single person you talk to falls on one side of "the most contentious" issue at hand, perhaps there's some selection bias at work? The only elected Republican quoted is former Senator Olympia Snowe, who was always extremely liberal but voted against Obamacare anyway.
Also, "who are from Virginia" is apropos absolutely nothing.
The Senate bill was on the floor for 25 consecutive days before it was approved on Christmas Eve 2009 by a party-line vote of 60 to 39. Senators always assumed that their bill would be polished and refined in negotiations with the House. But the expected conference between the two chambers never occurred. Democrats switched their plans after Scott Brown, a Republican, won a special election in January 2010 to fill the seat long held by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who had died the previous year.
Having lost a filibuster-proof majority, Democrats believed they could not afford to make significant changes in the Senate bill; it was then approved by the House and sent to the president, with an agreement that lingering questions could be answered separately. Some were, though these four words were unaddressed.
Elections have consequences?
Anyway, it's completely nonsensical to enforce what someone claims ex post facto the law was "intended" to say. That's rule by men, not rule by law. The written word is the shared understanding that Congress voted on and the President signed. If the written words don't reflect the intent, then the solution is to pass a new law with the correct intent. Problem solved.
We humans use writing to coordinate all kinds of shared activities: contracts, laws, regulations, procedures, religious beliefs, etc. The point of writing things down is to make sure that there's a common understanding that everyone can rely on. If you can't rely on what's written down to mean what it says, then what's the point?
Real Clear Politics has constructed an election index that attempts to quantify Republican and Democrat party strength based on five values. I think it's a valuable tool for analyzing the disparate numbers.
Our index is the sum of five parts: presidential performance, House performance, Senate performance, gubernatorial performance and state legislative performance. The first is measured by the party's performance in the previous presidential popular vote (NB: In this, and all other measurements, third parties are excluded).
House performance is the average of the popular vote for the House and the average of the share of the House won by the party. This helps mitigate the effects of gerrymandering. Senate performance is the share of the Senate held by the party.
Gubernatorial performance is the party's share of governorships (again, with third party candidates excluded). We do not weight for population, for reasons explored further below. For state legislatures, we average four numbers: the share of state Houses and state Senates held by each party along with the share of state House seats and state Senate seats held by each party.
This gives us five metrics, all of which run on a scale from 0 to 100. Adding them together gives us a scale from 0 to 500. We then subtract 250 from the total. All this does is assign a score of zero to a situation where the parties are evenly matched, rather than 250. A positive score then means that the Republican Party is stronger while a negative score means the Democratic Party is stronger.
Congress has passed the first budget in a decade thanks to the new Republican majority. I haven't read the details, so who knows if it's a good budget, but at least it's something we can look at and debate. That's better than the omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions we've had for years. Good job! But, of course, President Obama will stonewall.
The White House signaled in statement Tuesday evening that the budget has no chance of getting Obama's approval. "The president has made clear that he will not accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward, nor one that reverses sequestration for defense - whether explicitly or through backdoor gimmicks - without also reversing sequestration for non-defense," the White House said.
Sequestration is law and will require an act of Congress to reverse, so it looks like the President is going to hold it hostage.
The New York Times builds on Peter Schweizer's book, "Clinton Cash", with an investigation into Russian nuclear giant Rosatom's purchase of American owned uranium supplies around the world. It's hard to summarize the details, because transactions like this are inherently complicated, so read the whole article if you want to really understand it. Conflicts of interest abound, but it doesn't look like there's a smoking gun quid pro quo. The appearance is bad enough.
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One's chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.
At the time, both Rosatom and the United States government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company's assets to the Russians. Those promises have been repeatedly broken, records show.
It's inconceivable to me that Hillary Clinton could win the presidency with a history like she has, but then I was shocked when Obama won re-election.
J. D. Tuccile makes a great point about this IRS pity party.
Whether they worked in Manhattan or Peoria, IRS veterans talk about something else that kept them at the service: the feeling of camaraderie. It was nice that they appreciated one another, because nobody else did. "You go to a party, and if you say you are from the IRS, half the people move into the other room," says Richard Schickel, a former senior collections officer in Tucson who retired in December 2013. "After a while, your wife and relatives get tired of listening to your stories. They say, 'How could you take those people's houses and their businesses?' The only place you get understanding is with other IRS people."
I guess we're supposed to feel sorry for these IRS employees, but Mr. Tuccile makes an insightful observation:
You know...When the people who live with you and (let's assume) love you recoil from you in shock and horror because of your behavior so that the only refuge you can find is among others guilty of the same conduct, perhaps you should consider the possibility that you're doing something really bad.
I don't think that the families of most government employees feel this way -- IRS families may be unique. We should consider why this is the case.
It's no coincidence that tax day is opposite of election day (April and November): this is the time of year we're all reminded of how confusing and inefficient our tax system really is. The IRS complains that it doesn't have enough money to administer the system properly, but what about the rest of us? What citizen is happy with the time and effort it takes us to deal with the system?
When callers do get a real person, they can forget about asking questions that require expertise. These are now considered "out of scope." The customer-service agents have been instructed to only tell callers what tax forms they need, where to get them and where to look for online information. Staff can no longer offer line-by-line assistance, provide guidance on tax planning or tax law, or help make payment arrangements.
The IRS doesn't know what it's doing, so how are we supposed to? Instead of pouring more money into the IRS, we need to drastically simplify our tax code to make compliance easier for everyone. Simplification is a separate issue from raising or lowering revenue. We can make a revenue-neutral tax system that is simpler for the government and for citizens.
Meanwhile, this statistic demonstrates the opposite of what the IRS probably intends:
And with 5,000 fewer agents than four years ago to go after tax cheats, officials estimate that $2 billion in revenue will go uncollected.
Each of these agents was only generating $400,000 in revenue? When you subtract the cost of their employment and the value of taxpayer time to deal with the hassle, it seems like a no-brainer to lay them off.
Hillary Clinton is promising a press conference after she attends an event at the United Nations; Ashe Schow has 18 questions worth asking Mrs. Clinton, and they aren't all about her email.
The New York Times broke the news about Hillary Clinton's secret, private email server that she used "exclusively" while secretary of state, but now the paper is poo-pooing the suggestion that this revelation could affect her chances to win the presidency in 2016.
The actual public response to the controversy is likely to be a combination of apathy and partisanship. Few Americans are paying attention to any aspect of the campaign at this point. Those who do notice will most likely divide largely along partisan lines, with Democrats interpreting her actions more charitably, especially once they see Republicans attacking Mrs. Clinton on the issue.
Any significant political costs are also likely to be fleeting because the revelations came so early in the campaign cycle. It is hard to believe that a lack of transparency in Mrs. Clinton's use of email will have a significant effect on a general election that will be held some 20 months from now. As the political scientist John Sides wrote on Twitter, "In October 2016, no persuadable voter will be thinking about Hillary Clinton's email account." It's equally implausible that this revelation will draw a second top-tier candidate into the race for the Democratic nomination given the advantages Mrs. Clinton retains over possible rivals like Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
I'm certainly rooting against Hillary, so maybe I'm biased, but I'm not so sure of Brendan Nyhan's conclusion. Some thoughts:
- Americans understand email. Every email user will cringe if you suggest that their email history might be made publicly available. So they will wonder: why was Hillary hiding her work email? What's on there that she doesn't want anyone to see?
- Hillary apparently fired the ambassador to Kenya in 2012 for using private email and in 2007 attacked Bush administration officials for using private email.
- There's no way to know if everything was turned over to the State Department. Just trust her?
- What if her private email server was hacked, and we just don't know it yet?
- With the Clintons there's a never-ending drip, drip, drip of scandal. "Emailgate" or "Servergate" or whatever this gets called won't be the last.
- It's true that "in October 2016, no persuadable voter" will care about the email... but how many formerly persuadable voters will have turned against Hillary before that point?
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Monday that President Obama is "very interested" in the idea of raising taxes through unitlateral executive action.
"The president certainly has not indicated any reticence in using his executive authority to try and advance an agenda that benefits middle class Americans," Earnest said in response to a question about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) calling on Obama to raise more than $100 billion in taxes through IRS executive action.
King Obama should learn some history.
James Taranto thoroughly mocks John Kerry and Hillary Clinton for their flip-floppery on their support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and makes a keen observation:
Meanwhile, look at the list of prospective GOP presidential candidates (based on the polls we cited in yesterday's column): Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker. Not one of them was in Congress in 2002. That means there is a very strong likelihood the 2016 presidential election will pit a Democrat who voted to authorize the Iraq war against a Republican who didn't. The joke would be perfect if only the Democrat were John Kerry.
It seems like you're on precarious moral ground when you feel compelled to write laws that self-destruct if your opponents win an election. Looks like bad faith and sour grapes on the part of politicians who would take such a path.
The city's new municipal ID program allows for personal info provided by applicants to be destroyed at the end of 2016, in case a conservative Republican wins the White House and demands the data, the law's co-sponsor told The Post on Monday.
City Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn) said the measure was crafted so data submitted by those seeking the cards can be destroyed on Dec. 31, 2016.
The cards are aimed at undocumented immigrants.
"In case a Tea Party Republican comes into office and says, 'We want all of the data from all of the municipal ID programs in the country,' we're going to take the data," he explained.
Neither Republicans nor Democrats in Congress have confidence in President Obama as commander-in-chief. And does anyone have confidence in Congress?
President Obama's request that Congress authorize military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was met with skepticism from both parties on Wednesday, raising questions about Capitol Hill's ability to pass a war measure.
The divide is largely centered on language prohibiting the use of "enduring offensive ground combat operations" against ISIS.
Democrats say this does too little to limit the White House from committing ground troops to the fight, while Republicans say the restrictions could handcuff the military.
How those views can possibly be reconciled isn't clear, even with Obama using his bully pulpit to call on Washington to unify against what he said was a "barbaric" terrorist network.
Obama characterized the legislation, known as an authorization for use of military force (AUMF), as the product of "a sincere effort" to consult with both Republicans and Democrats.
"I'm optimistic that it can win strong bipartisan support and that we can show our troops and the world that Americans are united in this mission," Obama said.
Yet that optimism seemed ill-founded given some of the comments about the AUMF from lawmakers.
-- asks Ann Althouse in response to President Obama's new proposed infrastructure spending.
Quite aside from the problem of new taxes on business, what bothers me here is that Obama's old and extremely expensive "stimulus" package -- back in '09 -- was presented as a transformation of the "infrastructure" -- with lots of talk of roads and bridges -- but where are all those improvements we were gulled into thinking we were getting for our money?
Of the $840 billion spent on the "stimulus" here's how it breaks down ($100 billion not shown):
- $300 billion for tax benefits (remember those $400 tax credits?)
- $220 billion for entitlements (Medicare shortfalls, unemployment insurance...)
- $190 billion for contracts, grants, and loans (retaining teachers, etc.)
- $33 billion for infrastructure
It seems likely that Candidate Obama's youth helped him against Senator McCain, who was 72 when he ran for president in 2008. In 2016, Hillary will be 69 -- younger than McCain, but a striking 22 years older than the average Republican candidate:
Then, there's Clinton's health and age. She'd be 69 by election day next year compared to a field of major Republican candidates with fresh faces who average 50 including Romney and only 47 without him.
Whatever you think of it, it's hard to imagine that age won't be a factor in the election.
I've seen at least three stories in the past two days about low morale at important government agencies. Obviously this isn't all President Obama's fault, but in this day and age where does the buck stop anyway?
Here's a bit about low morale at the Secret Service:
The Secret Service has decided to remove four of its most senior officials while a fifth has decided to retire, the biggest management shake-up at the troubled agency since its director resigned in October after a string of security lapses, according to people familiar with internal discussions. ...
A scathing report by a DHS-appointed panel in December concluded that the agency was suffering from low morale among the rank-and-file and was "starved for leadership."
Here's some humiliating testimony from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who admits that IRS employees have low morale because they're being required to obey the law.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified Wednesday that the ongoing investigations by Congress into the IRS targeting scandal are having the effect of lowering morale at the tax-collection agency.
Koskinen testified at a House subcommittee on Wednesday, and was asked by a Democrat how IRS workers were holding up under all the pressure from House Republicans seeking emails and other documents. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said a top IRS lawyer told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week that pressure to respond to Congress's inquiries is putting a strain on workers, and Koskinen agreed.
"When they... are subject to depositions and recorded interviews, it sends -- these are all career people -- it has a deleterious effect on morale because they thought they were actually doing what they were asked to do," Koskinen said.
"Morale in the military is swiftly sinking, with the troops losing both their sense of mission and their faith that their superiors, political leaders - and the nation - still have their best interest at heart," said the Military Times. "Troops say morale has sharply declined over the last five years, and most of those in uniform today believe their quality of life will only get worse."
For example, according to the Military Times survey, in 2009, 91 percent of active-duty service members said their overall quality of life was good or excellent. In 2014, that percentage declined significantly to 56 percent.
"When nearly every category surveyed reveals a significant dip from 2009 to today, we must all take notice and ask, why is morale so low and what can we do to fix it?" said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in response to the Military Times survey. McCain added that it "requires immediate attention and action" by the White House, Pentagon and Congress.
And finally, a story about generally low morale across the Obama administration.
How bad is federal employee morale?
The good news tells the story.
In the 2014 government-wide survey of federal employees, positive responses dropped for 35 questions and increased for just 10 compared with 2013.
As bad as that is, it's a marked improvement compared with the three-year trend in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. From 2011 to 2014, positive responses dropped on 64 questions and increased for none.
Some people are incensed that the bipartisan omnibus spending bill doesn't defund Obamacare, but I think that's a mistaken instinct. "Defunding" is a gimmick move that is played from a weak hand -- because "defunding" is all you've got. With Republicans in control of Congress, they have a lot more options available than turning Obamacare into another funding fight.
There are several items in the bill that are big wins for America:
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: One of the GOP's favorite targets will see its budget slashed by $345.6 million. The nation's tax agency also would be banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.
The bill once again prohibits new standards that would ban the use of cheaper, less energy efficient incandescent bulbs.
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH:
The nation's premier medical research agency would receive $30.3 billion, a $150 million overall increase.
The bill stops assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it becomes a member of the United Nations or UN agencies without an agreement with Israel. It also prohibits funds for Hamas.
For the first time, the benefits of current retirees could be severely cut, part of an effort to save some of the nation's most distressed pension plans. The change would alter 40 years of federal law and could affect millions of workers, many of them part of a shrinking corps of middle-income employees in businesses such as trucking, construction and supermarkets.
The pension change is a big, inevitable change that's been a long time in coming. Pensions can't defy mathematics forever.
From a comment by Cicero Skip over at Ace:
During the 3-1/2 years of World War 2 that started with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and ended with the Surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, "We the People of the U.S.A." produced the following: 22 aircraft carriers, 8 battleships, 48 cruisers, 349 destroyers, 420 destroyer escorts, 203 submarines, 34 million tons of merchant ships, 100,000 fighter aircraft, 98,000 bombers, 24,000 transport aircraft, 58,000 training aircraft, 93,000 tanks, 257,000 artillery pieces, 105,000 mortars, 3,000,000 machine guns, and 2,500,000 military trucks.
We put 16.1 million men in uniform in the various armed services, invaded Africa, invaded Sicily and Italy, won the battle for the Atlantic, planned and executed D-Day, marched across the Pacific and Europe, developed the atomic bomb, and ultimately conquered Japan and Germany.
It's worth noting, that during the almost exact amount of time, the Obama Administration couldn't even build a web site that worked.
Instead of comparing these accomplishments to the Obamacare website, compare them to the past 13 years of "combat operations" we've suffered through in the Middle East.
Yesterday President Obama issued an executive order declaring that up to five million illegal immigrants will not be deported, and will eventually be given work visas. It seems obvious that the President exceeded his authority, and he did so for at least three reasons: to ease the suffering of millions of people, to win Hispanic affection for the Democrats, and to poke the Republicans in the eye.
Republicans are up in arms over the President's imperial overreach, and their anger is justified. The President intentionally provoked it.
However, everyone needs to settle down. It's important to remember that there are more than ten million people here in the country illegally, and the vast majority of them have committed no crime other than their illegal presence. They're already here, and there's no practical way to "make them leave", no matter how strongly you feel about it. It's just not going to happen. America is not going to forcibly deport ten million people. This executive order didn't "create facts on the ground", it responded to facts on the ground: the people are already here.
Furthermore, President Obama could have Constitutionally issued pardons to each illegal immigrant individually if he wanted to, and there's nothing Congress or any future president could have done about it.
So, while the method and motivation behind this amnesty are troubling, it isn't the end of the republic. 99% of these illegal immigrants will make great Americans. The fact is, America's ambivalence to illegal immigration has led us to where we are now, and we really have no choice but to regularize their presence. If there's a national consensus to avoid this situation in the future, then Congress will have to pass some laws that will actually prevent it, and we citizens will have to elect presidents who will enforce those laws.