News Briefing for Saturday, January 3, 2015



Feds Looking for Company to Run ‘National Data Warehouse’ for Obamacare, Medicare

“The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is looking for vendors to run its “National Data Warehouse,” a database for “capturing, aggregating, and analyzing information” related to beneficiary and customer experiences with Medicare and the federal Obamacare marketplaces. Although the database primarily consists of quality control metrics related to individuals’ interactions with customer service, potential contractors are to “[d]emonstrate … experience with scalability and security in protecting data and information with customer, person-sensitive information including Personal Health Information and Personally Identifiable information (personal health records, etc.).” Vendors are also instructed that one of the requirements of a possible future contract would be “[e]nsuring that all products developed and delivered adhere to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance standards.” For a number of years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the division of HHS responsible for Medicare and now Obamacare also, has maintained a “national data warehouse” (NDW) related to the 1-800-MEDICARE helpline. The passage of the Affordable Care Act and subsequent establishment of the Marketplaces has expanded the scope of the NDW. The CMS notice explains the NDW as follows: The NDW performs a significant role with oversight and monitoring functions under the Virtual Call Center Strategy (VCS) initiative and Medicare Reform legislation. The NDW acts as the central repository for capturing, aggregating, and analyzing information related to the beneficiary experience with Medicare and the consumer experience with Marketplaces. The NDW also serves as a foundation for operational and management reporting to support improved decision-making, business practices, and services to callers.  The type of data included in the NDW “includes information for CMS’ Virtual Contact Center operations including, but not necessarily limited to” items such as “Workforce management data,””Quality monitoring,” “Medicare disenrollments,” “Beneficiary satisfaction surveys,” and “Web Chat metrics.” The NDW is part of CMS’s larger $15 billion “Virtual Data Center” program awarded to multiple vendors in 2012. The eventual vendor for the NDW must be able to integrate and share data with the other Virtual Data Center vendors. The description for the “NDW Functional Requirements” included thirty-six items, several with multiple subpoints, and even this list is not meant to be “all inclusive” according to CMS. In addition to these functions, the “contractor shall implement a security program that adheres to CMS security standards.” Interested vendors have until January 19, 2015, to respond.”


How The Affordable Care Act Forced Me To Be Uninsured

“This is the story of how a professional health economist, who knows all ins and outs of health insurance, ended up becoming involunarily uninsured as a direct result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I am self-employed, and I have several significant pre-existing conditions. In other words, I’m just the sort of person who supposedly couldn’t get health insurance under the old, pre-ACA, system, and who was supposed to be able to get insurance under the new system – both for myself and my wife and children. It turns out, neither of those is true. Before the implementation of the coverage provisions of the ACA in 2014, I had no trouble obtaining guaranteed-issue health insurance, despite my having no employer-sponsored coverage, and despite having several rather expensive pre-existing conditions. This was due partly to provisions in an older law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. That plan expired on November 30, 2014. Despite the promises of “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” the plan did not meet the precise requirements of the ACA, and therefore, by law, could not be renewed. However, since I had lost my health insurance, I became eligible for a “special enrollment period” which was supposed to allow me to enroll in a new, ACA-compliant plan effective the next day, December 1, 2014. The deadline for enrollment was November 15. The letter from the insurance company informed me that I had to enroll through (The insurer later said that wasn’t true, but more on that later.) Well in advance of that date – on October 27 – I went to I entered copious data on my family and how we are all related (yes CMS, my daughter is my son’s sister!), and selected a plan. The total cost would be 54% higher than what I’d paid for lesser coverage just two years ago – but at least I’d be covered, right? After all, no one ever said the “Affordable” Care Act would be affordable for everybody. A few days later I got a letter from “The Marketplace” – which is what calls itself when speaking offline – congratulating me for selecting a plan, and reminding to to pay my premium as soon as I got a bill from the insurance company. As November 15 – the deadline for enrollment – approached, I had not received a bill from the insurance company. I called The Marketplace, and they said I had to wait until I got a bill from the insurance company. I called the insurance company, and they said they had not received my enrollment information from the Marketplace. I called The Marketplace, and they said that yes, the insurance company could not enroll me or bill me or accept a payment until they received the information, but they had sent it. They would send it again. Several calls later – to both of them – the enrollment deadline of November 15 passed. After several more calls, December 1 came. For the first time in my life, I and my family were uninsured, and unable to obtain health coverage anywhere at any price. In early December, an intending-to-be-helpful person at the Marketplace called me and offered to get the insurance company on the phone with me at the same time, to see if they could sort all this out. She did so, and in a conference call between the insurance company and the government, both sides agreed that (a) the insurance company could not enroll me without receiving my information from the government, (b) the insurance company could not accept a premium payment prior to enrolling me, (c) the insurance company had not received the information despite the fact that (d) the government had sent it, and (e) none of them could figure out what had gone wrong, and (f) none of them had the authority to fix it. At this point, the insurance company pointed out that while in theory they could have signed me up directly without going through the Marketplace, it was now passed the deadline, and they could not accept a late application. (They later said that wasn’t true, but more on that later.)… Upon hearing that I had pre-existing condition that might require immediate treatment without warning, the Marketplace representative said she would “escalate” the problem to the Marketplace “regional office.” No, she could not give me any contact information for the regional office. The regional office would call me within a few days. I never heard from the regional office. On December 10, I contacted the insurance company directly to enroll in a plan for 2015. Without the “help” of the Marketplace. It took until December 15 – the enrollment deadline – to work out all the details. Well, all but one detail. Apparently they had my date of birth wrong – and if the date of birth doesn’t match the one the doctors and hospitals copy from my ID, claims might not be paid. But, that can supposedly be fixed too, of course. At this point, the agent informed that they could, in fact, enroll me for December 2014 – retroactively! And, without the Marketplace! I would have to pay for the entire month of December even though I would be covered for only half the month – but hey, if I or someone else in my family got sick or hurt in that half month, it would be worth it, right? Because it was after the deadline – a month after, in fact – they would have to process the application by hand, instead of online. They sent me an e-mail with a PDF file of the application, and told me to fill it out on paper and fax it to them. I did so, and never heard back. As I write this, it is now January 1, 2015, and despite all the reassurances from the Marketplace and the insurance company, I have pretty much given up on getting health coverage for December 2014. Fortunately, I and my entire family were able to get through the month with just a minor bout of pneumonia, which we were able to self-treat. But we are set for 2015, right? Well, not exactly. On December 22, I received not one, but two, bills for 2015 coverage – both for a plan I had not selected, and which had my date of birth incorrect. The insurance company assures me that I should just disregard the bill and wait for a correct bill. Hmmm….”


Affordable Care Act is finally hitting employers

Companies with more than 100 full-time employees need to comply or face fines

“Many employers now have to comply with the Affordable Care Act. Companies with more than 100 full-time workers must offer affordable health insurance to at least 70% of their staff. This “employer mandate” was supposed to take effect in 2014, but the Obama administration delayed it to this year. And those that don’t comply face hefty penalties. Companies will be fined if they don’t offer coverage and even just one of their workers gets subsidized insurance on an Obamacare individual exchange. For 2015, the fine is $174 a month times the number of full-time employees (minus 80 workers). But that penalty is higher if the company offers insurance, but it’s not considered affordable or comprehensive. In that case, the employer pays $261 a month for each employee who received subsidized coverage on an individual exchange. Employer insurance offerings now have to pass two tests. To be affordable, the plan’s premiums can’t cost a worker more than 9.56% of his income. This applies only to employee-only coverage since the health reform law does not consider the affordability of family coverage. To be comprehensive, the policy must pay for at least 60% of the staff’s collective medical expenses and cover an array of essential health benefits, such as prescriptions and maternity care. Some 94% percent of firms with 100 or more employees offered health benefits to at least some of their employees in 2014, according to the Kaiser/HRET Employer Health Benefits Survey. But many, particularly companies with more low-wage workers, will have to make some changes to meet the Obamacare standards. “Almost all large employers are having to tweak their benefits somewhat,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. While not every employee opts to get insurance through their jobs, more are likely to sign up because they will have to pay a penalty if they remain uninsured. In 2015, those without insurance will pay the larger of $325 or 2% of income. The burden becomes more onerous in 2016, when larger firms have to offer coverage to 95% of workers. That’s also when the mandate kicks in for mid-sized businesses, with 50-99 employees. Companies with fewer than 50 people on staff, which make up virtually all businesses, are not subject to the requirement. Only 2% of the nation’s firms are considered large, with another 2% defined as mid-sized. A full-time employee is one who works at least 30 hours a week.”


New Year Brings New Obamacare Fines


Half of Obamacare subsidy recipients may owe refunds to the IRS

“As many as 3.4 million people who received Obamacare subsidies may owe refunds to the federal government, according to an estimate by a tax preparation firm. H&R Block is estimating that as many as half of the 6.8 million people who received insurance premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act benefited from subsidies that were too large, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. “The ACA is going to result in more confusion for existing clients, and many taxpayers may well be very disappointed by getting less money and possibly even owing money,” the president of a tax preparation and education school told the Journal. While the Affordable Care Act fines those who don’t have health insurance, it also provides subsidies for people making up to four times the federal poverty line ($46,680). But the subsidies are based on past tax returns, so many people may be receiving too much, according to Vanderbilt University assistant professor John Graves, who projects the average subsidy is $208 too high, the Journal reports. Tax preparers, who frequently advertise their ability to deliver big refunds, have been working feverishly to avoid customer anger stemming from lower-than-expected refunds due to insurance premiums. They also are trying to make sure customers understand the potential fines for not having insurance. “Eighty-five percent of our customers get a refund,” said Kathy Pickering, who directs the H&R Block Tax Institute, according to the Washington Post. “That refund could be offset by the penalty. And if that happens, they’re going to be understandably angry.” The fine for not having insurance in the second year of Obamacare is $325 or 2 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater. But the IRS is also working on a budget that limits its ability to aggressively enforce reporting on insurance. “As always, taxpayers are responsible for the accuracy of the information on the tax returns that they sign,” an IRS spokesman told the Journal.”


Fuzzy Obamacare Subsidies Could Leave Half Of Obamacare Customers Owing The IRS

“Up to half of the 6.8 million Americans who received premium subsidies in 2014 could end up owing the federal government money because of it this tax season, The Wall Street Journal reports. According to an analysis by top tax firm H&R Block, as many as half of the customers who got premium subsidies may end up owing the federal government money after being overpaid throughout the year. The problem is that customers have to estimate their income for the upcoming year when applying for Obamacare subsidies — and any mistakes or changes could mean that the IRS actually overpays them. “The ACA is going to result in more confusion for existing clients and many taxpayers may well be very disappointed by getting less money and possibly even owing money,” Charles McCabe, president of Peoples Income Tax and the Income Tax School, told WSJ. “The whole implementation of Obamacare will be frustrating for tax preparers.” On the upside, however, the mass confusion at the IRS and amongst tax preparers could leave the agency without adequate resources to fully enforce the individual mandate. And because the White House is behind on approving paperwork for the IRS’ implementation already, according to a report last month from the American Action Forum, the tax on the uninsured is likely to be only lightly enforced this year.”


Affordable Care Act Enrollees May Have to Pay Up at Tax Time


Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate adds some complexity this year

“It’s only the second day of 2015, but the Affordable Care Act has plenty of people already wringing their hands over the upcoming tax season. Prepare for this year to be trickier for individuals and businesses, experts say. Why? This is the first year individuals will be required to tell the IRS about whether they had — or offered — health coverage, respectively. The D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority Executive Director Mila Kofman said she’s expecting some confusion around tax time. For instance, did you know that you might wind up paying more than $95 if you opted out of getting health coverage last year? Or that you could wind up owing the IRS money if you did? “We believe it’s going to create massive confusion,” Mark Ciaramitaro, vice president of health care enrollment services for H&R Block, told the Wall Street Journal.”


How will Obamacare affect your taxes?

“As a new year begins, high on the agenda for most Americans–right up there with New Year’s resolutions–are taxes. Around 80-85 percent of the 140-150 million taxpayers filing returns each year look forward to their refunds from the IRS, but starting this year, the Affordable Care Act could make that refund a little more unpredictable. Every American taxpayer will have to check a box on their tax returns verifying they have qualifying health care coverage, and for them, that’ll be the extent of Obamacare’s impact. But millions of other Americans who don’t rely on health insurance from their employers will see a bigger changes to their taxes. “People are likely to be surprised,” said Kathy Pickering, the head of the H & R Block Tax Institute, in an interview with CBS News. Americans who signed up for health care on the state or federal exchanges will have to reconcile their premium subsidies with their income, and their lives may have changed since they signed up. “They were estimating, and now, when they’re filing their taxes, they have what their actual income was, and there’s often a discrepancy,” Pickering said. That discrepancy could mean that their refund check from the IRS is smaller than expected, which would be an unpleasant surprise. “If people swing from a refund to owing taxes, they’re going to be rather grumpy,” Henry Aaron, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, told CBS News. There are life events that might have changed a taxpayer’s situation. Pickering said, “We’ve all seen the economy is improving. Say you got a bonus you didn’t expect–people don’t think, ‘I should go back to the exchange to adjust my premium subsidy.'” If your income rises, and you forget to reflect that raise, you’ll owe the IRS. Aaron, who is a member of the executive board for Washington, D.C.’s health exchange, said that individuals signing up in DC were told to be conservative and claim just 85 percent of the tax credit they believed they were entitled to because “the shock of having to pay back is greater than the deferred pleasure of getting back more than you were expecting.” Pickering also pointed out that Americans who signed up for health care might have had a misconception about what the subsidies were: “For people who got the premium tax credit, they may have thought about it as a discount [on their health insurance premiums] and not something that they would have to pay back if there was a discrepancy.” And then, there are the people who didn’t sign up for 2014 coverage. “People think the penalty is $95, but it varies, depending on the tax filer’s situation,” said Pickering. The variation here is the other part–those who declined to enroll face either a $95 per unenrolled family member fee or a fee equal to one percent of household income, above a minimum filing threshold, whichever amount is higher (although the maximum is capped at the national average premium for a bronze plan, which was $2,448 in 2014, according to the Tax Policy Center).”


Getting to know the Obamacare tax forms N.J. consumers will have to navigate


Are you ready for the Affordable Care Act changes this tax season?


Democrats Knew Affordable Care Act Wouldn’t Be Affordable

“ObamaCare was sold as a means to making health care more affordable. It even makes that claim in its official name. But its creators knew it wouldn’t, and they forced the idea into law anyway. Obama adviser Jonathan Gruber seems to be carving out a new career as the go-to guy for those of us who were and still are opposed to a government takeover of the health care sector. Statements he made while the Democrats were crafting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act show to what depths they sank to deceive the public to get the bill passed.

First, Gruber once said that “the stupidity of the American voter … was really, really critical” to the passage of ObamaCare. He gleefully admitted that “the lack of transparency is a huge political advantage” for ramrodding the bill through Congress. Now, thanks to the Daily Caller, the public knows that Gruber, who was an ObamaCare architect, knew that the “affordable” part of the Affordable Care Act was a lie and expressed it in an October 2009 lecture at Syracuse University. “There’s a real debate about what is affordable, and there’s no right answer here,” Gruber said in a talk that became a policy brief. “The problem is it starts to go hand in hand with the mandate; you can’t mandate insurance that’s not affordable.” Cost controls, he said, could just come later, after everyone was covered. And one way to control costs, he explained, would be to tell patients “they can’t have something they want.” So along with a lack of affordability, there isn’t full patient protection under ObamaCare, either. Patients can still be denied care.

Three years after he made his remarks at Syracuse, Gruber said in a podcast — also exposed by the Daily Caller — that he wished “President Obama could have stood up and said, ‘You know, I don’t know if this bill is going to control costs. It might, it might not.'” On the other side of the aisle, however, Republicans were talking about ObamaCare’s unaffordability. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called it “a fiscal Frankenstein.” Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming said that “this bill is anything but affordable.” The kicker is the Democrats knew it, too, but publicly denied the facts all the way to the bill-signing ceremony and beyond. Honesty and openness were sacrificed for the sake of a bill that won’t work as promised and the country doesn’t even like. As Gruber has acknowledged, ObamaCare was written in a tortured way, not for effectiveness but for passage. That’s not the way a representative government with constitutional limits should work.”


What This Investigative Report Just Revealed Shows How ObamaCare Makes Millions Sick

…middle-class workers on employer-provided plans are…

“With new ObamaCare rules, regulations, and requirements radically changing the healthcare marketplace, middle-class workers on employer-provided plans are “increasingly staying away” from doctors’ offices, largely because deductibles have skyrocketed. It’s a deep and common concern across the USA, where employer plans cover 60% of working-age Americans, or about 150 million people. Coverage long considered the gold standard of health insurance now often requires workers to pay so much out-of-pocket that many feel they must skip doctor visits, put off medical procedures, avoid filling prescriptions and ration pills — much as the uninsured have done. While the USA Today investigation doesn’t entirely blame ObamaCare for the fact that more and more people are facing prohibitively high deductibles with their policies, the report does say that deductibles have risen dramatically since the ACA went into effect. A recent Commonwealth Fund survey found that four in 10 working-age adults skipped some kind of care because of the cost, and other surveys have found much the same. And a Mercer study showed that 2014 saw the largest one-year increase in enrollment in “high-deductible plans” — from 18% to 23% of all covered employees. The result, according to the USA Today story, is that increasing numbers of Americans are avoiding or delaying health care, and are frequently not taking their prescription medications as their doctors say they should. As to the prospect that time will heal the problem with runaway insurance plan deductibles, the USA Today investigation concludes that relief for those struggling with high-deductible issues — or their potentially negative health consequences — is nowhere in sight. There are no signs high deductibles are going away.The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last month cited these plans as one of the reasons health care spending hit a record low in 2013. But CMS statistician Micah Hartman says his office is “not looking forward to what the impact would be going forward” if consumers who delay care need far more expensive emergency care later.

Given this bad news for so many millions of Americans, one might wonder exactly what President Obama really meant all those times he and his supporters claimed he has been working so hard to “protect the middle class.”


Dilemma over deductibles: Costs crippling middle class

“Physician Praveen Arla is witnessing a reversal of health care fortunes: Poor, long-uninsured patients are getting Medicaid through Obamacare and finally coming to his office for care. But middle-class workers are increasingly staying away. “It’s flip-flopped,” says Arla, who helps his father run a family practice in Hillview, Ky. Patients with job-based plans, he says, will say, “My deductible is so high. I’m trying to come to the doctor as little as possible. … What is the minimum I can get done? They’re really worried about cost.” It’s a deep and common concern across the USA, where employer plans cover 60% of working-age Americans, or about 150 million people. Coverage long considered the gold standard of health insurance often requires workers to pay so much out-of-pocket that many skip doctor visits, put off medical procedures and ration pills, much as the uninsured have done. A recent Commonwealth Fund survey found that four in 10 working-age adults skipped some kind of care because of cost. The portion of workers with annual deductibles — what consumers must pay before insurance kicks in — rose from 55% eight years ago to 80% today, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A Mercer study showed that 2014 saw the largest one-year increase in enrollment in “high-deductible plans” — from 18% to 23% of all covered employees. The size of the average deductible more than doubled in eight years, from $584 to $1,217 for individual coverage. Add to this co-pays, co-insurance and the price of drugs or procedures not covered, and it’s all too much for many Americans.”


Health overhaul deductibles vary wildly

“Insurance plan deductibles under the Affordable Care Act vary so wildly across the country for 2015 that many consumers are left confused and, in some cases, sticker shocked. The addition of new insurers selling on reduced the amount people in many areas would have to pay out of pocket for care, and consumers in other places saw minimal change. But a lack of competition in some areas leaves those shopping on the federal health care exchange with what could be prohibitively high-deductible plans for the coming year, a USA Today analysis found. More than one in 10 of the counties on the federal exchange saw deductible increases — often limiting consumers’ choices to high-deductible plans that stretch to $13,000, the maximum amount allowed by law for a family. handles the insurance sales for the 37 states that didn’t set up their own marketplaces for individual insurance. The deadline to get insurance by Jan. 1 has passed, but enrollment continues until Feb. 15 to avoid penalties at tax time in 2016 for not having insurance. “Everybody is sticker shocked and can’t believe the prices; every single one of them,” said Texas agent Aaron Shinn, who works in Van Zandt County, where the analysis found some of the highest deductibles in the U.S. “They’ll say, ‘I’ve got to pay this much and my deductible is still $6,000?” Pushing off surgery – While high-deductible plans have many fans, some consumer and medical experts worry that the people who are lured by the low premiums are often unprepared for the out-of-pocket costs. That can lead to debt problems, or worse, the postponement of critical medical tests or treatment. “I don’t like them,” surgeon and author Paul Ruggieri of Fall River, Massachusetts, said of high-deductible plans. “You’re just hoping you don’t get sick.” Many of Ruggieri’s patients who have high-deductible plans delay treatment for issues including hernias and gallstones. They wind up needing far more expensive and risky emergency procedures later. Consumers face huge differences in their choices depending on what county they live in, a situation that Anne Gauthier, senior program director for the National Academy for State Health Policy, said has always been present in private insurance but now is more transparent in the data. In some areas, insurance companies are less willing to take risks depending on the health of residents, she said. In other situations, companies are only offering high-deductible plans because consumers have shown a willingness to trade off high deductibles to get lower monthly premiums.”


Why your deductible is getting bigger


Iowa: Liquidation could affect CO-OP tax credit access

“CoOportunity Health — a troubled CO-OP health insurer that has about 96,000 enrollees in Iowa and Nebraska —  is still paying claims, but its operations may change significantly. Regulators have said there’s a possibility that the CO-OP could lose its ability to provide coverage that offers enrollees access to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) premium subsidy tax credits. A state court in Iowa has given Nick Gerhart, the Iowa insurance commissioner, authority to put CoOportunity in rehabilitation. CoOportunity has said that claims proved to be higher than expected, and that it now believes that collecting cash from the risk-management programs created by PPACA may take longer than it had hoped. The drafters of PPACA set up the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP) program in an effort to increase the level of competition in the health insurance market. A CO-OP must be a nonprofit entity that’s owned by its enrollees. A CO-OP can get a limited amount of support from the federal government. A CO-OP cannot get support from an existing for-profit or nonprofit health insurers, and the enrollee owners cannot sell a CO-OP. CoOportunity was a major player in the Iowa and Nebraska individual and Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange qualified health plan (QHP) markets. CoOportunity has stopped selling new health coverage, and it has stopped letting workers at employers with SHOP plans enroll in the plans, officials say in a notice. The CO-OP has also suspended making agent and broker commission payments. “Pharmacy prescriptions will be filled for 31 day periods going forward,” officials say. “Claim payments to providers are being processed as usual, but payments will not be made as promptly as they have been previously.” In a separate notice aimed at producers, officials say individuals should continue to pay premiums for any individual CoOportunity coverage they have. Enrollees can change plans until the end of the open enrollment period, on Feb. 15, but changing plans could require a consumer to start a new deductible period with the new carrier. Employers can move to another carrier “off renewal” without providing 30 days’ notice, but CoOportunity will not provide deductible credit reports for groups that move off-renewal, officials say. “If the new carrier honors deductible credit, employees will need to provide [explanations of benefits] to determine the applicable deductible credit.” “If CoOportunity Health cannot put forward a plan to remain viable, the rehabilitator will have to move for an order to liquidate the company,” officials say. “If that occurs, individual plans will remain in effect, but subject to the state guaranty fund limitation of coverage ($500,000 per individual). If the plan is no longer a qualified health plan, the plan may not be eligible for tax credit subsidies.” If CoOportunity loses access to the PPACA tax credit program, the enrollees would have to find other QHP coverage to keep access to the tax credits, officials say.”


New Affordable Care Act rules target aggressive billing, collections

An investigation by NPR and and ProPublica found that hospitals’ use of wage garnishment is widespread in several states.


Since Obamacare, L.A. County ER visits show hospitals in ‘state of flux’

“Data hospitals report to the state show that as insurance coverage was extended to hundreds of thousands of residents, ER visits for ailments not serious enough to require an admission grew 3.9% in the county in the first half of 2014, compared with the same period the previous year. The growth is in line with annual increases of 3% to 5% in the three years prior to the federal healthcare overhaul. Despite little rise in overall emergency room use, the analysis found some significant changes in the distribution of those outpatient ER visits. The county’s three large public hospitals, which historically have cared for many uninsured patients, recorded a 9% drop in such cases. At the same time, several private hospitals reported double-digit percentage increases in outpatient visits, the analysis found. What the uneven and changing usage patterns mean — and whether they signal the beginning of a long-term rearrangement of how patients will seek treatment — is not yet clear. Shannon McConville, a health policy researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, said the slight growth in visits not leading to an admission — generally considered less serious cases that include those that Obamacare aims to divert away from emergency rooms — was “good news.” In addition, several private hospitals said they have, at least for now, been able to handle increases in ER patient visits. Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s emergency department had an average of 199 patients per day in September, compared with 172 per day in the same month in 2013, said Dr. Brian Miura, co-medical director of urgent care at the center. The hospital added doctors and nurses to cope with the new patients, and has plans to add more staff in the coming months, he said. The increased visits aren’t likely to go “down any time in the near future,” Miura said.”


Obamacare aide Marlon Marshall departs White House ahead of 2016

“The Obama administration’s top aide in charge of promoting Obamacare enrollment is leaving the White House, possibly with eyes on helping another Democrat win the job in 2016. Marlon Marshall, an aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, is leaving the White House to rejoin 270 Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm he helped found. “I am thrilled today to announce I will be returning to the management team of 270 Strategies,” Marshall, who served as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, said in a statement. “I want to thank the President for the opportunity to serve and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett for being an amazing boss and mentor.” Word of Marshall’s departure from the White House had been rumored for months, both inside and outside 270 Strategies. Buzzfeed reported in December that he was thought to rejoin the consulting firm and the Washington Post broke the story Friday morning. The now former White House aide is close with Roby Mook, an operative who many Democrats see as the frontrunner for Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager job. Mook and Marshall worked together on Clinton and Obama’s 2008 campaigns and share a small group of confidants and friends. If Mook is tapped for the top campaign job, Marshall is expected to get a top position, too. The Mook-Marshall oddly played out last year when emails for a group of people – the self-proclaimed “Mook Mafia” — were leaked to ABC. In them, Marshall — who refers to himself as “Reverend” – congratulated friends working on campaigns for “crushing it mafia style.” “F U Republicans. Mafia till I die,” Marshall wrote in one email obtained by ABC. “If you have just a few minutes, hop on that activate and punish those voters!” Marshall said he was returning to 270 Strategies because of the group’s commitment to “doing big things and having a meaningful impact on the issues and communities we care about.” “It was our deep-seated belief that grassroots organizing is a necessary component to making change in those communities,” Marshall said. “Today, the 270 mission is stronger than ever, and I could not be more excited to rejoin the team.”



“The Landmark Legal Foundation, the conservative public interest law firm founded by talk radio host (and former Reagan administration official) Mark Levin, filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief this week at the U.S. Supreme Court in King v. Burwell, which could decide the fate of Obamacare. The brief argues that by providing tax credits on federal health insurance exchanges, in violation of the law itself, the Obama administration violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. “The current administration and remaining members of Congress who support the [Affordable Care Act] want the Court and the American public to view the statute as ‘the law of the land’ and some form of an irrevocable compact–subject only to revisions that the Executive Branch sees fit to make arbitrarily on its own,” the crisply-written 17-page Landmark brief argues. “The Executive has in fact made many such revisions to the ACA, with blatant disregard for both the statute’s text and for the legislative process, by ignoring statutory mandates and deadlines and replacing them with new ones out of whole cloth.” The brief goes on to cite examples of the White House effectively rewriting statutory deadlines and other provisions of the ACA–many of which are also at issue in the separate lawsuit filed by the U.S. House against the Obama administration. In this case, subsidies intended for state exchanges–as an incentive for states to join Obamacare–were extended to federal exchange as well. Defenders of Obamacare have called that a minor error. Landmark Legal’s argument focuses on founding principles rather than questions of congressional intent. “The very dangers warned about by Locke and Montesquieu and considered by the Framers during the Constitutional Convention have come to pass,” says the brief. “The Judicial Branch should not allow this to continue.” Citing the Federalist Papers and constitutional scholarship, it also states: “Tyranny flows from the arbitrary wielding of power.”


Ben Carson: It’s a ‘bunch of crap’ that Obamacare can’t be reworked

“Noted conservative commentator and talked-about Republican presidential contender Ben Carson cut to the chase about the fate of Obamacare, saying there is absolutely no reason politicians can’t unravel, reinvent or outright repeal the health care plan — and those who say otherwise are selling a lie. “Health care is a gigantic issue, and there’s no question that the system was broken and that we needed to do something about it,” Mr. Carson said on “America’s Forum” on Newsmax TV. “What we did not need to do is create another massive government program, and we need to be looking at different ways of taking care of it, putting responsibility back into the hands of patients and to their health care providers. There are things that can be done. We keep listening to people saying ‘the horse is out of the barn, you can’t get it back in there, end of story,’ [and] that’s a bunch of crap. We can do anything. This is America.” Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, also decried how Obamacare shifted the role of power in the nation and took health care out of the hands of the people and put it into the control of government. “The people are supposed to be at the pentacle,” he said, Newsmax reported. “The government is supposed to conform to our will, not us to their will.” Mr. Carson still hasn’t decided whether he’ll seek the presidency in 2016. But he did admit that’s been listening to people and learning more of issues of importance to America. “I’m rapidly acquiring that knowledge, listening to people and really finding a tremendous amount of frustration with the status quo, politics as usual, be it Republican or Democrat,” he said, Newsmax reported. “Our system was designed for the people. It wasn’t designed for professional politicians. I’m thinking very seriously, listening to people, and we’ll make a decision in a few months.”



“Just over a decade on from assisted dying being legalised in the Netherlands, as many as 1 in 33 Dutch people are thought to have died this way, including 650 babies a year, euthanized so that their parents don’t have to witness them struggle with disability or disease. The escalation in death by euthanasia over the last six years has led one Dutch ethicist, who had been in favour of the law when it was first passed, to warn “some slopes truly are slippery.” Earlier this week, eighty prominent Britons wrote to the Telegraph calling for a commitment from all the political parties to revisit the question of assisted dying in the next Parliament, if a vote is not taken on the matter before the general election in May. They wrote: “If there is not enough time for the Bill to complete its stages before the general election then it is imperative that Parliament continues this important debate afterwards. “We are closer than ever to allowing dying people to have safeguarded choice in how they approach their deaths. Whoever forms the next government must allow time for Parliament to reach consensus on a safeguarded law.”




Illegal immigrants crowd California DMV offices for new licenses

“Thousands of illegal immigrants on Friday took a big step into California life — and its clogged freeway commutes — by completing an American rite of passage: waiting in line at the DMV. The first business day of 2015 was also the first time in more than two decades that they could sign up for a driver’s license in this state. California is now the 10th state, and by far the largest, to permit immigrants living in the country illegally to drive. At least 2,000 people in the Bay Area, and more than 9,300 statewide, made appointments in advance and crowded DMV branches from Pittsburg to Redwood City. Others braved walk-in waits, lining up as early as 4 a.m. in freezing weather outside a Department of Motor Vehicles field office in East San Jose. “It’s going to be a big change,” said San Leandro construction worker Francisco Galvez, clutching his Mexican passport as he arrived for an appointment at the Hayward DMV to prove his identity and California residency and take the knowledge test. “I can get to work without fear. I can have a normal life.” Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, Assembly Bill 60 reverses a 1993 state ban on immigrants being able to get a license without proof of legal U.S. residency. The new licenses are one of two policies this year that will normalize the lives of many longtime Californians who had been living in the shadows. The other is President Barack Obama’s new federal policy to grant work permits and protection from deportation to millions of illegal immigrants with U.S. children or spouses. Challenging the DMV’s reputation for bleak and slow-moving bureaucracy, many applicants cheerfully answered a road quiz, gave thumbprints, posed for a camera and submitted their documents at Bay Area offices. Others appeared nervous as they crammed for the test. Successful applicants left with temporary permits Friday. Most will now have to return for a behind-the-wheel test before the DMV mails them their first driver’s card, although the DMV will waive that test in some cases, such as for those with out-of-state licenses. As he waited in line, San Jose resident Antonio Torres said he vividly remembered passage of the 1993 ban, a relic of then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s crackdown on illegal immigration, because it was the last time he was able to drive legally. Torres, now 46 and working as a quality control engineer at a Silicon Valley manufacturing firm, never stopped driving to work after his license expired in the mid-1990s, but he was forced to pay higher insurance premiums and three times watched his cars get towed and impounded after routine traffic stops. “It wasn’t good for the economy, but tow trucks and police made a lot of money from us,” he said. “Who knows how much money they made just because we couldn’t have driver’s licenses, not because we were bad drivers.” A DMV worker politely congratulated Torres after he breezed through his touch-screen road knowledge test in the recently opened DMV office in East San Jose, one of four around the state designed to accommodate the influx of newly legal drivers. The state appropriated $141 million for the new law, much of which went to hiring about 1,000 new DMV workers. The agency expects to deliver 1.4 million new licenses over the next three years because of the bill. Its author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, has said it will make roads safer and drivers more responsible, citing a study that shows unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal crash. Republicans have challenged those claims, arguing — as Wilson did in the 1990s — that the privilege of driving is a benefit that encourages future illegal immigration. “As a broad principle, we should not be providing so many benefits that we provide an incentive for them to come here,” said Tom Del Beccaro, former chairman of the California Republican Party. Some immigrant applicants interviewed at DMV offices Friday recounted their long commutes on public transit to get to jobs just a few miles away. Many others acknowledged they have been driving illegally for a decade or more, but with the constant fear of being stopped and deported.”


REFILE-Unauthorized immigrants line up for California driver’s licenses

“Thousands of immigrants lined up to apply for driver’s licenses in California under a law that went into effect on Friday, making the most populous U.S. state the latest to expand the privilege to people in the country illegally. To handle the crush of new applicants, the Department of Motor Vehicles created special processing centers at four former businesses: a grocery store, a large dry cleaner, a movie theater and a restaurant. Before noon, nearly 6,200 people had already applied for licenses under the law, said DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez. The law’s backers say they expect an estimated 1.4 million driving age immigrants to apply for licenses over the next three years. Between 2 million and 3 million unauthorized immigrants are believed to live in California, making them the nation’s largest such population. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of the law in 2013 and its support from some Republican lawmakers marked a significant shift in policy toward immigrants in California. “When he signed it, he sent a message that California is leading the way in integrating immigrants into our society, into our communities, it recognizes their hard work and their sacrifices in contributing to California society,” said Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who sponsored the bill. California joins nine other U.S. states and the District of Columbia that also allow unauthorized immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. To meet the concerns of state law enforcement and others, the licenses have a marker that says “federal limits apply,” which Gonzalez said prevents them from being used to board an airline and for federal purposes. But opponents say California and other states are overstepping their bounds. “Certainly the states have become catalysts for undermining U.S. immigration law,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federal for American Immigration Reform which calls for restrictions on immigration.”


Immigrants seek California driver licenses

“The 30-year-old vending-machine installer, who has forked over hundreds of dollars in traffic tickets and car-impound fees as an unlicensed driver, became one of the first to get a permit under a new program to give driver’s licenses to the nation’s largest population of immigrants in the country illegally. “It’s not that I want to drive,” said Moreno, after leaving a packed DMV office in Orange County. “It’s a necessity.” Thousands of people crammed into DMV offices and waited in hours-long lines to apply for a license as California became one of 10 states to authorize immigrants in the country illegally to drive. The DMV expects to field 1.4 million applications in the first three years of a program aimed at boosting road safety and making immigrants’ lives easier. By 3 p.m. Friday, more than 11,000 immigrants had applied, said Jessica Gonzalez, a DMV spokeswoman. Only four DMV offices were taking walk-in applicants. Hundreds of immigrants donning scarves and gloves and clutching driver handbooks braved near-freezing temperatures in the Orange County city of Stanton to try to get a place in line before dawn. “This is a big opportunity for me,” said Sammy Moeung, a 24-year-old Cambodian immigrant eager to get a license to avoid having to ride his bike to work at his brother’s doughnut shop. “Having this is moving a step forward in life, in California and the United States.” Immigrant advocates have cheered the licenses as a way to integrate immigrants who must drive to work and shuttle children to school, though the cards will include a distinctive marking and are not considered valid federal identification. Critics have questioned state officials’ ability to verify the identity of foreign applicants, citing security concerns. Applicants must submit proof of identity and state residency and pass a written test to get a driving permit. Those who don’t possess foreign government-issued identification on a list of approved documents can be interviewed by a DMV investigator to see if they qualify. Immigrants must come back at a later date and pass a road test to get the license, which will be marked with the words “federal limits apply.” Those who have licenses from other states are not required to take the road test again, Gonzalez said. Law enforcement officials have said the program will improve road safety because more drivers will be tested and insured. A DMV study of 23 years of crash data found unlicensed drivers were more likely to cause a fatal collision. Some immigrants who waited in line for hours Friday failed the required written test and vowed to make an appointment to return on another date to try again. About half of new driver’s license applicants fail the written exam, Gonzalez said. Celia Rayon, a 49-year-old warehouse worker from Anaheim, left the crowded office in Stanton with her new permit in hand. For nearly two decades, the Mexican immigrant has refrained from driving, relying on rides from co-workers to get to her job. “You can’t go out anywhere,” Rayon said, adding that she’d like to drive to visit relatives in Georgia once she passes her road test. “Now we’re going to feel more secure.”


Immigration Reform News 2014: 1.4 Million Undocumented Immigrants Expected to Apply for Licenses in California Under ‘AB 60’ Bill

“The California Department of Motor Vehicles expects 1.4 million people to apply for a license in the first three years of the program and has expanded resources to tackle the demand. Prospective licensees must hold appointments at one of four newly created DMV offices. One of them, located in San Jose, will serve as a temporary processing center and has nearly 100 windows to handle expected rush. The licenses issued to undocumented residents will include a distinctive marking and will not be considered a valid form of federal identification. But advocates say they help integrate migrants who must drive to work and shuttle children to school, while law-enforcement officials say the program will improve road safety because licensed drivers must be tested and insured.”


How Hopes for an Immigration Deal Fell Apart

In January, an agreement still looked possible. By December, the two sides were further apart than ever.


It’s time for Congress to agree on a humane immigration solution


I Kid You Not

“Twenty-five states have filed suit challenging the president’s immigration amnesty plan. Who shall rise to defend our chief executive? A goat farmer from Palatka, Fla. No, really.  On December 29, Mitchell Williams filed a pro se motion to intervene on behalf of President Obama in Texas v. United States. According to the motion, President Obama’s plan to provide “deferred action” (which is basically amnesty) to over 4 million illegal aliens would be good for the farmer’s business because “persons from abroad are much more likely to want to buy a goat for special occasions or feast than long resident Americans.”  Mr. Mitchell admits that he had not read the complaint filed by the states because he has “no taste for B.S. legal briefs whether it comes out of a bull or a cow.” He is, however, concerned over more than state opposition to Mr. Obama’s plans. The goat farmer’s motion also laments the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s supposed effort to “massively deport undocumented migrants” and asks the court to “look at exactly HOW the INS is doing this.” Mr. Mitchell believes that when an illegal immigrant is caught, “everything he owns is taken away from him, but the cloths [sic] he is wearing [including] cell phone, money, identification, address books, jewlry [sic], watchs [sic], chewing gum and Yo-Yo.” When the illegal immigrant is put on a bus and deported “back to Mexico he is only given a check for the money he had. Without any kind of identification it is nearly impossible to cash the check. As well, the loss of the chewing gum and Yo-Yo are a great embarrasment [sic].” Mr. Mitchell not only believes that the president’s plan should be upheld as constitutional, but that all “undocumented migrants” in the country should be given green cards by the INS according to a monthly quota “until there are no more undocumented migrants in the country.” If an INS agent fails to meet that monthly quota, it should be “grounds for immediate firing.” The motion also urges that all of the state officials involved in filing this lawsuit be “very quietly arrested by the U.S. Marshalls, chained together and marched off to Alaska to pick up trash on the Alaskan Highway.” So those are the views of President Obama’s latest ally in his fight with Congress and the states over his immigration policy. It’s good to know our commander-in-chief will not have to go it alone on this one. On a more serious note, federal Judge Andrew Hanen has set January 9 for a hearing on the states’ request for an injunction. On Christmas Eve, the administration filed a motion opposing the injunction request and asking the court to dismiss the complaint, claiming the states do not have standing to file suit because they cannot “demonstrate that they will suffer a cognizable injury traceable to the deferred action guidance.”


Jeb Bush’s co-author: He opposes a path to citizenship for adult illegals, you know

“Silly, but it’s worth revisiting this subject now that he’s — gulp — the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Mr. Bush is passionately pro-immigration, which may set him apart from some on the right. But he is also passionately pro-rule of law, a principle that guides his entire immigration strategy… Recognizing that the rule of law requires consequences for illegal actions, Mr. Bush proposes that illegal immigrants who came as adults should be subjected to penalties and not be eligible for citizenship. That proposal ignited a firestorm among liberals when the book was published, even as it helped forge a conservative alternative to the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration bill in 2013. Yet now the proposal is derided in some circles as “amnesty,” when it is anything but. If that sounds familiar to HA readers, it should: I wrote two posts about Bush’s supposed opposition to citizenship in March 2013 when his book with Clint Bolick, the author of today’s WSJ op-ed, was first published. It seemed strange, I thought, that a guy who’s been touted for years as the Great Republican Hope among Latinos would take a position to the right of other prominent GOPers like Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. In fact, hadn’t Bush endorsed a path to citizenship for illegals not long before his book came out? Here he is in summer 2012:…”


Jeb Bush, no immigration radical

“Critics of comprehensive immigration reform are leery of opening the floodgates of immigration. Some deride what they think would be “open borders.” But what instead if the system were re-balanced in favor of more productive immigrants? This sort of approach might find favor among more immigration reform critics: “If we want to increase the number of work-based immigrants without substantially increasing the overall number of immigrants, we must reduce family-based immigration. . . . We propose limiting guaranteed admissions to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens.” Likewise, while the Senate bill passed in the last Congress set out a road to citizenship for those who have entered illegally, many anti-reform critics cannot abide by the notion that those who broke the law would get citizenship and the right to vote. They’d prefer something along these lines: “The first step in obtaining that status would be to plead guilty to having committed the crime of illegal entry, and to receive an appropriate punishment consisting of fines and/or community service. . . . Permanent residency in this context, however, should not lead to citizenship. It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the laws can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship.” If so, they should consider voting for Jeb Bush, who co-authored both of those statements with Clint Bolick in Chapter 1 of his book “Immigration Wars.” The combination of laziness and anti-Bush sentiment has led to widespread misunderstanding about Jeb Bush’s views on immigration, which, at least in his book, are much more stringent than the Senate bill championed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others. Bush and Bolick advance the view that we do need immigrants to fuel a dynamic economy. But they do not favor “amnesty” or “open borders” and their preferred reforms are more modest than Bush’s critics would ever let on. Bush favors a greater role for states, including voter ID laws (“states should be allowed to protect the integrity of the franchise with voter identification laws, which are supported by a large majority of Americans, including Hispanics. So long as states make it simple for citizens to obtain such forms of identification, they should have the latitude to require such identification for voting or to secure welfare benefits”).


Security on agenda as embattled Mexican president visits Obama

“Mexico’s embattled President Enrique Pena Nieto will discuss security and justice with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington next week amid public anger about how he has handled a probe into the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers. Pena Nieto’s standing has been battered by a string of massive street protests following the abduction and likely murder of 43 students by a drug gang working with corrupt police in the southwestern city of Iguala on the night of Sept. 26. On Monday, Pena Nieto flies to the U.S. capital to meet Obama, and their talks would touch upon areas of common concern, including Iguala, Sergio Alcocer, deputy foreign minister responsible for North America, said on Friday. “We’ll have the opportunity … to review migration, security and justice,” Alcocer told a news conference. Mexico has so far identified the remains of one of the 43 students, but relatives of the missing youths have kept up pressure on the government with strong criticism and protests. Alcocer stressed that the events of Iguala were just one of a number of violent incidents to affect the two nations, and pointed to recent unrest in the U.S. state of Missouri sparked by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white cop. Pena Nieto will also discuss education and economic competitiveness during his first official visit to the White House since taking office two years ago. The Mexican government would like to shift focus back on to Pena Nieto’s efforts to revive the economy following the controversies that have embroiled him in recent months. After Iguala, Pena Nieto came under more fire when it emerged that he, his wife and his finance minister all bought or used houses built by a company that was part of a consortium awarded a multi-billion dollar rail contract in November.”




US Debt Soars By $100 Billion On Last Day Of 2014, Hits Record $18.14 Trillion

“It seems like it was only yesterday when we reported that, in yet another sleight of hand for the US Treasury and Social Security Administration, US debt rose by $32 billion on the last day of November sending total US debt above $18 trillion for the first time ever.  As we further noted, it also meant “that total US debt has increased by 70% under Obama, from $10.625 trillion on January 21, 2009 to $18.005 trillion most recently.” Fast forward to today when we are happy to report that according to the US Treasury, America’s debt-funded spending spree, while supposedly slowing down if looking at the declining monthly budget deficit report, never actually has. As of the last day of 2014, total US debt soared by $98 billion in one day (driven again by Social Security debt surging on the last day of the month to a record $5.117 trillion), and closing off 2014 with a new all time high total of $18.141 trillion in Federal debt – an increase of $136 billion in the month of December and $790 billion for all of 2014.”


Fed official: Interest rate hikes could come in first half of 2015

“The Federal Reserve could move to raise interest rates as early as the first half of 2015 thanks to the strength of the economy, according to one central banker. “I could imagine interest rates going up in the first half of the year,” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President Loretta Mester said in an interview with Fox Business on Friday. The Fed has held short-term interest rates near zero since 2008 in an effort to stimulate the economy, and said in its December monetary policy statement that it would be “patient” in moving toward raising them. Current market expectations reflected in bond markets put the timing in the second half of the year. But with Fed officials promising to base the decision on incoming economic data, the underlying strength of the economy could prompt them to act relatively soon, Mester suggested. “The economy, I think, is on very firm footing,” she said, citing a range of indicators, including both employment and output data. She also mentioned that low oil prices would be a “tailwind” for the U.S. economy. “I have a pretty good outlook for 2015, I think we’re going to see growth around 3 percent,” she said. It was one of the first few public comments for Mester as president of the Cleveland regional bank. She took over as president in June after being the director of research at the Philadelphia Fed. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said in a press conference following the December meeting of the central bank’s monetary policy committee that rate increases were not likely at either of the Fed’s next two meetings, which would make the late April meeting the first one in which the decision could be made.”


Ten warning signs of a market crash in 2015

Stock markets opened lower on the first day of trading of 2015, and the credit markets that forewarned the 2007 crash are showing signs of strain


U.S. construction spending unexpectedly falls in November

“U.S. construction spending unexpectedly fell in November, held back by a drop in government outlays and by less money spent by businesses on projects other than homes. Construction spending fell 0.3 percent, the first decline since June, to an annual rate of $975 billion, the Commerce Department said on Friday. October’s construction outlays were revised up to show a 1.2 percent gain instead of the previously reported 1.1 percent increase. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending rising 0.3 percent in November. While the readings could point to softer investment by businesses and governments, spending on home construction looked more robust. Outlays on private residential construction rose 0.9 percent in November.”


U.S. Factories Expand at Slowest Pace in 6 Months, but Growth Is Still Healthy


Social Security underpays beneficiaries by $500 million since 2008

“Errors by government workers prevented more than 450,000 Social Security beneficiaries from receiving about $500 million owed to them since 2008. More than 85 percent of those people were identified in a 2008 Social Security Administration Inspector General audit. “SSA had not taken sufficient action to pay underpayments due terminated beneficiaries identified in our 2008 audit,” the IG said in a follow-up report released last week. When the SSA underpays a beneficiary or their survivor, an alert is sent to employees for correction. But if the employees make a mistake or don’t respond, there’s no oversight, according to the IG. As a result, the government employees didn’t always correct Social Security underpayments.”


Dem opposed spending bill due to Postal Service policies

“Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) said Friday he voted against a government spending bill last month partly because it wouldn’t prevent the U.S. Postal Service from closing more mail facilities. “USPS is vital to our region, providing quality mail service to our rural district and creating many good-paying, middle class jobs,” Nolan wrote on Facebook. Nolan argued that Congress should instead overhaul the USPS retiree benefit program. “Our focus should be on the real problem: The unnecessary federal requirement to put $5 billion away per year for future retiree benefits. The fact is, this requirement is no longer necessary and USPS would have turned an enormous profit last year without it,” Nolan said.”


Abolish Corporate Income Tax?

“Business history author John Steele Gordon wrote an Op-Ed piece in The Wall Street Journal on December 30, 2014 entitled, “Top 10 Reasons To Abolish The Corporate Income Tax”. I believe that his reasons are valid and he makes a strong case for abolishing the corporate income tax in the U.S. and the world. However, his Op-Ed lacks a balanced view since it does not point out any of the problems with eliminating the corporate income tax.

–Who pays the corporate income tax? – The first point to make clear when discussing the corporate income tax is that the corporate tax burden is ultimately born by individuals.  While corporations write the checks for the corporate income tax, corporations are legal fictions. The tax paid by corporations reduces the wealth of people. There is debate among economists as to which people are affected by the corporate income tax and in what proportions: shareholders, employees and consumers. The simplest explanation is to assume that the corporate income tax is paid by the owners of capital, which is the assumption Mr. Gordon makes. The benefits to the U.S. economy from abolishing the corporate income tax would be greater than described in the article to the extent that eliminating  the corporate income tax would benefit consumers and employees as well as shareholders.

–Fairness – The most significant problem with eliminating the corporate income is the perception that this would make the wealthy people wealthier and do little for middle and lower income individuals. This issue of fairness is exacerbated by the perception that shareholders are the sole or primary beneficiaries of the elimination of the corporate income tax and the reality that the vast majority of the stock owned by individuals is owned by wealthy people.

–Deficit – In addition to the claims that abolishing the corporate income tax is an example of “trickle-down economics”, there is the issue of how will the lost tax revenue be made up. Several of Mr. Gordon’s top ten reasons for abolishing the corporate income tax involve the benefits to the economy. In a dynamic scoring of the revenue losses and gains to the government, the revenue gains from an improved economy may be sufficient to offset the loss of the corporate income tax revenue. However the gain in tax revenue from the improvement to the economy will be difficult to model since nothing as radical as eliminating the corporate income tax has been tried before. There would be much debate and significant risk to the budget deficit if this untested theoretical gain does not materialize…”




Cluster of Concerns Vie for Top U.S. Problem in 2014

“In 2014, four issues generated enough public concern over enough months for at least 10% of Americans, on average, to identify each of them as the nation’s most important problem. Complaints about government leadership — including President Barack Obama, the Republicans in Congress and general political conflict — led the list, at 18%. This was closely followed by mentions of the economy in general (17%), unemployment or jobs (15%) and healthcare (10%). Beyond the top four issues, 8% of Americans named immigration as the country’s most important problem, while 6% mentioned the federal budget deficit or debt and 5% cited ethical or moral decline. All other issues received less than 5% average mentions in 2014. Some of the issues troubling Americans received uneven attention during the year. In particular, mentions of unemployment were consistently higher in the first half of 2014 than later in the year, reaching 23% in February. Also, race relations, usually mentioned by no more than 2% of Americans as the nation’s top problem, surged to 13% in December as recent legal decisions sparked protests nationwide against police treatment of blacks. Similarly, mentions of immigration spiked in July to 17% as thousands of undocumented children from Central and South America created a crisis at the southern U.S. border. But this is the first time since 2001 that no single issue averaged 20% or more for the year.”

Government is the Country’s Biggest Problem, Say Americans


Americans Really Didn’t Like Government in 2014

“Americans named government the biggest problem in the country in 2014, the first time since 2007 that the economy wasn’t identified as the chief concern, according to Gallup. It’s the first time ever that dissatisfaction with government has topped Gallup’s annual roundup of top issues facing the U.S. Complaints about government leadership, including President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress, were named by 18 percent of American adults in Gallup’s year-end average, closely followed by the economy at 17 percent. Concern over unemployment or jobs came in at 15 percent for the year, while health care was at 10 percent. No other issues broke 10 percent for the annual average. Gallup in its release said this is the first year since 2001 in which no issue gained more than a 20 percent average. “With unemployment and gas prices falling, the U.S. not being involved in any major wars and scaling back operations in Afghanistan, and no acts of domestic terrorism occurring, the factors that have caused Americans to converge on a single pressing concern in the past simply weren’t present in 2014,” Gallup said. “Rather, as mentions of the economy and unemployment have dwindled since 2012, mentions of health care and government leadership have grown to join them, forming a set of comparably sized, moderate-level concerns that now define the public’s view of what ails the nation.” The only other issues that got more than 5 percent were immigration (8 percent) and the federal budget deficit (6 percent). Taken as an average of the entire year, just 3 percent named race relations as the top concern, but that percentage rose to 13 percent for the month of December, following unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City after police altercations resulted in the deaths of unarmed black men.”


Gallup First: Disgust with Obama, Congress was top ‘concern,’ beating economy, unemployment




Get ready: The FCC says it will vote on net neutrality in February

“Federal regulators looking to place restrictions on Internet providers will introduce and vote on new proposed net neutrality rules in February, Federal Communications Commission officials said Friday. President Obama’s top telecom regulator, Tom Wheeler, told fellow FCC commissioners before the Christmas holiday that he intends to circulate a draft proposal internally next month with an eye toward approving the measure weeks later, said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agency’s deliberations are ongoing. The rules are meant to keep broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast from speeding up or slowing down some Web sites compared to others. FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart declined to comment on Wheeler’s communications with his colleagues, but confirmed the February timetable, which ends weeks of speculation as to when the FCC would make its next move. It’s still unclear what rules Wheeler has in mind for Internet providers. Analysts and officials close to the agency say that momentum has been building recently for far more aggressive regulations than Wheeler had initially proposed. Advocates of strong net neutrality, including President Obama, have urged the FCC to begin regulating Internet service providers using the same law it uses to oversee telephone companies — Title II of the Communications Act. Industry advocates have resisted that call, saying the FCC should continue to lightly regulate Internet providers under Title I of the act. Many policy experts widely assumed the new rules would be introduced in the early part of the year after the FCC missed its initial December target. The agency is scheduled to hold its monthly meeting on Feb. 26. The timing indicates Wheeler does not see the need for more public input on the benefits and drawbacks of using Title II, as earlier reports suggested. It also implies the FCC will not be able to avoid a showdown with Congress over net neutrality. Republican lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation this month to preempt any FCC rule on the subject.”

February vote planned for new Internet rules


Audit: IRS Doled Out $14.5 Billion in Erroneous Tax Credits

“A recent audit showing the Internal Revenue Service handed out $14.5 billion in improper earned income tax credits in 2012 came as little surprise to budget watchers such as Alan Cole. The fact that the erroneous payouts amounted to about 24 percent of the $63 billion Uncle Sam sent out in refundable earned income tax credits was nothing new as well. “I was not surprised at all,” Cole, economist for the Tax Foundation, a tax policy research organization. “I have seen this report in many incarnations … Over the decade, between 22 and 29 percent are improper payments. Hearing 24 percent, that’s pretty much what we expect.” So does the IRS, to the ire of taxpayers.”


Senate panel to vote Thursday on Keystone XL


Green building codes don’t save energy

“Green building codes have failed to conserve energy use in the nation’s most populated state, according to a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. California, currently home to 12 percent of the United States population, enacted energy building codes for the first time in 1978. The codes were projected to reduce residential energy use and its associated pollution by 80 percent. Instead, buildings constructed after the green energy codes took effect are not using less energy than homes built prior to the codes. The supposedly-green codes added $8,000 to the construction cost of a new home. That’s essentially an $8,000 tax on new homes, with little public benefit. The study was conducted by Arik Levinson, an economics professor at Georgetown University. Levinson’s results were published by the NBER Working Paper Series. Levinson recognized that analyzing the effect of the green building codes was not as simple as comparing energy use between efficient and inefficient buildings. “People with larger energy needs may select energy-efficient homes,” he wrote. Pre-construction estimates of how much less energy a building will use because of the codes ignores the effect of cheaper energy on occupants’ overall consumption. Furthermore, California’s energy consumption cannot simply be compared to other states, because each state determines its own codes based on the energy use of its residents. These problems require more than a surface-level analysis to rectify. Levinson did not only correct for issues that would bias results toward showing how ineffective green energy codes are. Recently built homes actually use more electricity than homes built prior to the 1978 building codes, but these homes are larger, built in warmer climates and have more residents than the pre-1978 homes, according to Levinson. His research accounts for all of these effects through multiple approaches. For instance, Levinson measures the sensitivity of electricity use to temperature changes by analyzing zip code data on monthly utility bills and temperatures. In the end, the evidence still shows that green building codes are ineffective. “There is no evidence that homes constructed since California instituted its building energy codes use less electricity today than homes built before the codes came into effect,” Levinson wrote.”


Obama administration prepares regulatory rush in 2015

“The Obama administration just wrapped up another big year for regulations and executive actions — pushing through everything from a new type of retirement account to a deportation reprieve affecting millions of illegal immigrants to long-awaited standards for coal waste. But thousands of proposed regulations remain on the table and could set the stage for a rush of rulemaking in the president’s final two years in office. Some of the biggest items are expected from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is set to finalize several landmark rules in 2015. Perhaps the most controversial concern new regulations on coal-fired power plants. The Obama administration is trying to get fossil-fuel fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.  The EPA proposed the rules last year and is set to finalize them by summer 2015.  But with Republicans taking control of the Senate and boosting their numbers in the House, incoming leaders are girding for battle.  Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who represents the coal state of Kentucky, told The Associated Press last month he’ll do all he can to stop regulations hurting the industry.

Though the administration is pushing the regulations as part of a broad plan to improve air quality and curb global warming, McConnell told the AP: “My first obligation is to protect my people, who are hurting as the result of what this administration is doing.” He added: “I’m going to do any and everything I can to stop it.” According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Obama administration put out 2,375 proposed rules in 2014 that are still under consideration. That’s in addition to 3,541 final rules and regulations in 2014, according to CEI. The sheer number of rules from the Obama administration is not unprecedented. Early in the George W. Bush administration, the annual number of rules topped 4,000. But critics say this administration is imposing more expensive regulations. Among them is a controversial EPA proposal to expand regulatory power over streams and wetlands. The agency, set to finalize the rule in April, estimates it could impose costs of between $162 million to $278 million per year, but says “public benefits outweigh the costs” — since, the EPA says, the changes would reduce flooding, support hunting and fishing, and ease pollution. Republicans, though, have described the maneuver as a massive land grab. The plan would define which specific waterways the EPA can regulate. The Clean Water Act already gives the EPA the ability to regulate “U.S. waters,” but Supreme Court rulings have left the specifics unclear when it comes to waters that flow only part of the year. The EPA claims this does not expand its authority, and only clarifies it. But detractors claim it is an opening for the EPA to claim authority over countless waterways, including streams that only show up during heavy rainfall. Critics warn this could create more red tape for property owners and businesses if they happen to have even small streams on their land. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has called it an effort to “control a huge amount of private property across the country.”


New diet guidelines might reflect environment cost

“For years, the government has been issuing guidelines about healthy eating choices. Now, a panel that advises the Agriculture Department is ready to recommend that you be told not only what foods are better for your own health, but for the environment as well. That means that when the latest version of the government’s dietary guidelines comes out, it may push even harder than it has in recent years for people to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other plant-based foods — at the expense of meat. The beef and agriculture industries are crying foul, saying an environmental agenda has no place in what has always been a practical blueprint for a healthy lifestyle. The advisory panel has been discussing the idea of sustainability in public meetings, indicating that its recommendations, expected early this year, may address the environment. A draft recommendation circulated last month said a sustainable diet helps ensure food access for both the current population and future generations. A dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is “more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the draft said. That appears to take at least partial aim at the beef industry. A study by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year said raising beef for the American dinner table is more harmful to the environment than other meat industries such as pork and chicken.”


Democrats Call on GOP to Keep CBO’s Elmendorf

“Sen. Charles E. Schumer and five other Senate Democrats raised concerns in a letter Friday that Republican leaders will replace the current Congressional Budget Office director as part of an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “We strongly object to any effort to politicize this important office,” the letter said. “Appointing a new CBO Director on the basis of ideology would fundamentally compromise the integrity of an institution that has served as a trusted scorekeeper.” The Democrats also called for current director Doug Elmendorf to be allowed to stay on. “Director Elmendorf’s record and the importance of continuity in such a critical position are compelling reasons why he should remain in the position, and we hope very much that you will reach that conclusion,” the letter said. The letter was addressed to incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga. Signatories of the letter included Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who is chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center, and DPCC vice chairman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is DPCC strategic policy adviser, and Sen. Mark Warner, who is DPCC policy development adviser, also signed on to the letter. Both were added to the Senate Democratic leadership ranks in reaction to the loss of the majority in the 2014-midterm elections. With control of both chambers, Republicans are entitled to pick a new CBO director. The House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore jointly appoint the CBO director after considering recommendations from the House and Senate budget committees. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who will be ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, also signed on to the letter, as did Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who leads the Democrats ACA Works Campaign. The letter comes after reports that Republicans will seek to replace Elmendorf because of the CBO’s favorable cost cutting outlook for the ACA as well as a desire by Republicans to install a director that uses dynamic scoring, which counts the economic activity created by policy changes, such as tax cuts. “A CBO Director should not be required to revise the score of the Affordable Care Act in order to please partisan interests,” the letter said. “We are also extremely concerned about the possible appointment of a new CBO Director who would use ‘dynamic scoring’ to hide the true costs of tax cuts or make critical government lending programs for students, veterans, small businesses, and others appear more costly than they actually are.” Signed into law in 2010, the ACA, also known as Obamacare, is President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislative accomplishment. Republicans have pledged to try to repeal the law since its enactment and Democrats see efforts to replace Elmendorf as the latest iteration of the GOP’s anti-ACA campaign. “The CBO’s commitment to fair, impartial budget analysis has enabled both Democrat and Republican Congresses to give the American people a full and realistic accounting of their actions,” the letter said. “We hope that the new Republican leadership will continue the tradition of keeping the CBO as a true non-partisan referee‎.”


Senate Dems warn GOP against appointing ‘ideologue’ as CBO chief

“Senate Democrats warned Republicans not to appoint an “ideologue” to the Congressional Budget Office in a letter sent Friday, raising the political scrutiny surrounding the minutiae of the budget process. In a letter addressed to the leaders of the incoming Republican congressional majorities and the chairmen of the budget committees, six Senate Democrats expressed worries that the GOP would use the appointment of the director of Congress’ official budget scorekeeper to pursue a partisan agenda and undercut the CBO’s credibility. The lawmakers wrote that “appointing a partisan CBO director would threaten to erode the public’s faith in a respected institution by making it yet another tool used to rig the system against average Americans.” Bloomberg and other outlets have reported that the GOP has decided not to reappoint current CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf when his term expires Saturday, although Republican lawmakers have not confirmed those reports.”


Krauthammer On Falling Gas Prices: Oil Production Increase Happening ‘In Spite Of Obama’ [VIDEO]

“In what he calls “the biggest story of the year,” syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer said that the United States’ increase in oil production, which has aided the drastic decrease in gas prices, has happened “in spite” of President Barack Obama’s actions. “It’s the biggest story of the year,” Krauthammer said on Fox News’ “Special Report” Friday night. “It’s damaged our enemies, the Russians, the Venezuelans, the Iranians, and, of course, it’s propelling our economy.” “When Obama says that we of been increasing oil production, think of this,” Krauthammer continued, “oil production on federal lands has declined by 16% since 2010.” “This has happened in spite of Obama and not because of Obama,” Krauthammer said to guest host Ed Henry. “It’s occurred entirely on state owned and private lands.” Adding to the debate, Associated Press White House correspondent Julie Pace said that ordinary Americans are paying much more attention to the price of oil than the race for 2016.”


‘Challenging the federal government’: Sharyl Attkisson sues the DOJ


Obamas dine at restaurant with $500k membership fee

“President Obama and the first lady ended New Year’s day with a fancy dinner at Vintage Cave, an exclusive restaurant inside the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, according to White House press pool reports. According to Honolulu Magazine, the members-only restaurant offers only one tasting menu for 13-15 courses, set at $295. Add wine, for two, and the bill is nearly $1,000. But what’s more is the membership fee: a charter member pays $500,000, a special member pays $50,000, according to its website. “At Vintage Cave Honolulu, one can enjoy exceptional food and wine at the hands of gifted masters of the culinary arts. ‘Chef’s recommendation’ commands a gravitas guaranteed to satisfy the most discerning palate. Seasoned sommelier’s conduct the process of pairing wine and food with true finesse and style. Secure in the natural embrace of the cave-like environment, guests are encouraged to relax, ‘hit reset’ and escape the ordinary,” its website describes.”

Obamas Dine At Exclusive Hawaiian Restaurant ‘Not Accessible To 99 Percent Of The Population’



“Republican voters nationwide overwhelmingly want their House representative to elect somebody other than Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House, a new poll from Pat Caddell’s organization Caddell Associates shows. A whopping 60 percent of voters who voted for Republicans in the last election either definitely or probably want their member of Congress to elect someone other than Boehner on Jan. 6, when Congress convenes, according to the poll. The voters were asked: “As you may know the new Congress will select its leaders in January. If it were up to you, would you elect John Boehner to continue as Speaker of the House or would you elect someone new?” In response to that question, 34 percent of the GOP voters surveyed said they definitely want someone other than Boehner and 26 percent said they probably want someone other than Boehner. Only 11 percent said they definitely want to keep Boehner and an additional 15 percent said they probably want Boehner to stay. So the poll says some 60 percent of GOP voters want Boehner gone, while just 25 percent want him to stay. Fifteen percent in the poll either don’t know, or are undecided on Boehner’s future. In addition to that condemnation of Boehner, 64 percent of the GOP voters surveyed either strongly or somewhat agree that Boehner, as Speaker of the House, has been “ineffective in opposing President Obama’s agenda.” Only 24 percent either somewhat or strongly disagree. Twelve percent didn’t know. When asked if they “trust” Boehner to “fight for the issues that are important to most Republicans,” barely more than half of the GOP voters surveyed said they did. Fifty-two percent said they either strongly or somewhat agree that Boehner will fight for Republican issues while 37 percent either disagree Boehner will fight for Republican issues or strongly disagree. Ten percent didn’t know. When asked if Boehner “has the best interests of the American public at heart, rather than special interests,” less than half of the GOP voters answered in the affirmative. Forty-four percent said they either somewhat or strongly agree Boehner will stand up against special interests for the American public, while 43 percent believe Boehner won’t help Americans over the general public. The poll was conducted via telephone from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30, and surveyed 602 Republican voters and independents who voted Republican in 2014’s midterm elections. It has a margin of error of four percentage points, meaning the widespread national opposition among Republican voters to Boehner’s speakership continuing is well outside the margin of error.”


Poll results a devastating indictment of embattled Speaker John Boehner

“House Speaker John Boehner was already in trouble with conservative House Republicans for his deals with President Obama and Democrats during the lame duck session. Now, after weeks of pounding by tea party Republicans and conservative spokesmen in the media, a new poll released Friday shows he’s in a world of trouble with Republican voters, too. The poll found 60 percent of Republican voters “definitely” or “probably” preferred someone new to take over the speaker’s post when the 114th Congress organizes next week, compared to only 26 percent who “definitely” or probably favored the Ohio Republican retaining the post. Possibly most damning, the poll found a solid majority — 64 percent — of Republicans polled think Boehner has been “ineffective” in opposing President Obama’s agenda and only about half of them trust the speaker to “fight for interests that are most important to Republicans.” Even fewer, 44 percent, think Boehner has the best interests of the American people at heart, “rather than special interests.” Conservative House Republicans were particularly unhappy with Boehner over his tactics during negotiations over the continuing resolution/omnibus budget deal in December, when he relied on Democrats to get the majority votes needed the “cromnibus.” But the poll released Friday is particularly stinging, possibly showing the effects of incessant criticism of Boehner by popular conservative voices like radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, who accuse the speaker of squandering the midterm Republican victory and its takeover of the Senate. Fox News’ Sean Hannity has also publicly criticized the speaker, and put forward South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy as a possible replacement. (Gowdy, while popular among conservatives nationwide, has said he isn’t interested in the leadership post.) The poll was conducted by EMC Research and Pat Caddell a Democrat who has worked for Democrat campaigns going back to 1972. He has recently been blisteringly critical of the leadership of both parties, though, most notably calling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a “disgrace to democracy” in the aftermath of the November elections. While the poll didn’t identify a possible candidate to replace Boehner in Tuesday’s organizing election, the poll released Friday did kick up a lot of attention among discontented Republicans.”

Poll: 60 Percent Of GOP Voters Want John Boehner Replaced As Speaker

Poll: 60% of Republicans Want Boehner Out as Speaker


Caddell Poll: GOP Voters Want to Dump Boehner as Speaker

“The resignation of Republican Michael Grimm of New York dropped the total number of House members in the new Congress to 434, with Republicans holding 246 seats. Boehner would need at least 218 votes. So far, as many as 18 Republicans are privately opposing him. Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, one of the few Republicans who are publicly against the speaker, says he “cannot vote in good conscience for John Boehner.” “Right now, I’ve been meeting with a small group, and we — about 16, 18 — and we’re hoping to have a name of a sitting member of Congress that we can call out their name,” he told North Carolina’s Talk of the Town radio program. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, another Republican openly opposing Boehner, sees a lighter side to the campaign, even at a local fast-food restaurant. Some of the strongest opposition to Boehner comes from conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity, who told Breitbart on Tuesday that he supports Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. “It’s time for new dynamic leadership in the House of Representatives,” he said. “Trey Gowdy is my choice for speaker. He has the ability to articulate and implement the changes needed to get the country on the right path.”


New Poll Shows Tepid GOP Support for Boehner in Role of Speaker

“Those aren’t awful numbers, but they’re not exactly warm, either. Particularly after the Steve Scalese headache – is it conceivable the congressman apologized for attending a meeting he didn’t actually attend? – some folks on the Right are saying this recent brouhaha is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and that Boehner has to go. For example, Sean Hannity is calling for Boehner to be replaced with Trey Gowdy. First, basic question: Does Trey Gowdy want to be speaker? The official word is “no.” But the conservative South Carolina Republican says he has no interest in becoming Speaker when lawmakers cast their vote on the House floor next month.  “Rep. Gowdy has said his time and attention will continue to be devoted to the work assigned to him,” said Gowdy’s spokeswoman, Amanda Duvall. “He is not interested in any leadership positions and believes one can have influence without the title.”  This past spring, Boehner (R-Ohio) appointed Gowdy as chairman of the special House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. And Boehner recently said Gowdy would remain in that high-profile post in the 114th Congress as well.  This hasn’t stopped the “Elect Trey Gowdy Speaker of the House” Facebook page from getting 21,000 likes and widespread use of the #SpeakerGowdy hashtag. You can’t beat something with nothing. Replacing Boehner requires a rival that a majority of House Republicans will support – and while it’s understandable that other Republicans might want to hide their ambitions, eventually you need a figure to make this more than a theory or a dream. At this point the “rebellion” against Boehner consists of 16 to 18 guys out of 247 House Republicans. So it’s cute when Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, Tweets out this… but it doesn’t mean much until there’s an alternative named something besides “Not Boehner.”


House Conservatives Join Forces To Oppose Boehner In Upcoming Speaker Vote

…his ostensible failure to stand up to the leftist policies…



“Conservatives have grown used to being a minority in Washington, irrespective of which party controls the White House and Congress. But on Tuesday, January 6, a group of just 29 conservatives will have perhaps its only opportunity to change the course of history and drive the direction of the country. It would only require 29 House members to depose current Speaker John Boehner. With this leverage, conservatives could negotiate significant reforms from a successor who emerges on a second or third ballot, thereby restoring the mandate given to them by the electorate on November 4. Tuesday will be a profound time for choosing, and given the way Obama has ostensibly overturned the results of the midterm elections, the Speaker’s election could prove more impactful than the votes cast at the ballot box. We are not living through ordinary times; we are experiencing a constitutional crisis – one in which the sitting president has threatened to remake our immigration system and other fundamental laws, traditions, and values through executive fiat. Yet, at the same time, the leader of the Republican-controlled House has admitted to giving the president the green light to implement executive amnesty. More broadly, he has demonstrated time and again that he will pass votes with Democrat support and whip votes together with Obama to avoid fighting the president on the fundamental issues of our time. At this critical juncture, the few dozen conservatives in the House have two options. They can allow themselves and the 2014 electorate to remain disenfranchised, helplessly standing by while Boehner passes crucial legislation on amnesty, budget bills, Obamacare, and debt ceiling increases with Democrat support. Or they can seize control of their own destiny by using the first vote of this Congress – the only vote for which Boehner cannot rely on Democrat support – to veto the Speaker himself and preempt a disastrous two years of lawmaking. Despite misinformation some Republican members and incoming freshmen have given constituents, the selection of John Boehner for Speaker, unlike the election of the other party leaders, has not been cemented. And in fact, on Tuesday, if every Republican who claims to be frustrated and even appalled by Boehner’s behavior would vote for any other name, they can deny him reelection as Speaker. Unlike last month’s vote, which served to nominate Boehner in conference as the GOP pick for Speaker, the vote on the floor of the House will not be a voice vote by acclimation, nor will it be a secret ballot. Each of the 435 members is called to stand before a packed chamber and the millions of viewers on television to proclaim a choice for Speaker. No member is bound to vote for the nominee of his party; each member is free to vote for any individual qualified to serve as Speaker. Indeed, on 17 occasions since 1913, individual members have registered votes for “third choices.” A group of 17 progressive Republicans orchestrated a similar stratagem in 1923, whereby they blocked the party’s nominee from securing a majority for nine consecutive ballots until the party leadership agreed to implement some of the reforms they were suggesting. Certainly the seriousness of our current constitutional and political crisis warrants an effort like this from a group of bold conservatives in order to secure a reasonable compromise with a new Speaker, even if the choices that emerge are from the establishment wing of the party.”


Why I Will Not Vote for John Boehner to Be House Speaker

“The day after Republicans won the largest majority in the House of Representatives in almost 100 years and won a significant majority in the Senate, our liberal activist president claimed to hear the voices of all the people who didn’t vote. It was another example of stunning obstinacy from this president. It seemed Democrats were melting down, Republicans were unified, and all we had to do was buy enough time to get our Republican reinforcements to Washington in January. Like President Obama, Speaker John Boehner must have heard voices that didn’t vote.nTogether, they crafted the CR/omnibus, a $1.1 trillion spending bill that funded the government for 10 months and blocked our newest elected Republicans from advancing conservative policy and delivering on campaign promises. With this vote, Republicans gave away the best tool available to rein in our liberal activist president: the power of the purse. The power of the purse is Congress’ constitutional strength. For the next 10 months, the CR/omnibus will fulfill Obama’s ambition of creating an even larger constituency of dependency on Obamacare. The president’s goal has always been to create as much dependency as possible before enforcing the destructive employer mandate. The CR/omnibus hands the liberals that victory. This is unconscionable after watching the campaign rhetoric that won such decisive victories for the GOP. Department of Homeland Security appropriations expire in February, when Republicans will supposedly fight to defund the illegal amnesty plan created by the president. Does anybody believe that Obama is concerned about Republicans not funding DHS? Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have already sued the administration for not allowing them to enforce the law. The Constitution requires the president to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. He has refused to enforce the laws on border security, Obamacare, illicit drugs and the release of detained terrorists. His activism in his last two years has accelerated to include executive amnesty, initiating international climate deals without a treaty, and establishing an embassy in Cuba without consulting Congress. When our Constitution is under assault and House Republicans give away our constitutional power of the purse, they share the guilt of abandoning our founding principles. The CR/omnibus legislation sufficiently undermines the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution that it warrants my pending vote against the speaker. John Boehner went too far when he teamed with Obama to advance this legislation. He relinquished the power of the purse, and with it he lost my vote.”



10 possible Senate retirements


Ted Cruz scheduled to address South Carolina Tea Party convention

“Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the fourth annual South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention to be held Jan. 17-19 in Myrtle Beach. Joe Dugan, founder and executive producer of the convention, said Friday that the event will also feature training classes for grassroots leaders and activists and panel discussions. The convention offers a platform for possible 2016 contenders to pitch their message to potential voters in the early presidential state; other speakers scheduled to appear include retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Mr. Cruz, Mr. Santorum, and Mr. Carson are also scheduled to head to Iowa — home to the first-in-the-nation caucuses — the following week for GOP Rep. Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit along with a number of other possible 2016 contenders, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.”

Cruz to keynote SC Tea Party event

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will headline the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention this month, joining a pair of other potential presidential candidate also weighing bids to enter the 2016 field. Cruz is listed as the “featured speaker” on the group’s website. The roster of speakers also includes former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who ran for president in 2012, and Ben Carson, the Tea Party favorite and former neurosurgeon who’s debating entering the fray. Joe Dugan, the convention’s executive producer, told Breitbart News that the event gives the potential candidates a forum with active GOP voters just a year before South Carolina’s primary.

“I think true conservatives like Senator Cruz are very astute in reaching out to the grassroots at this early stage,” he said.  “These are the people who will control the ground game before the all important South Carolina GOP Presidential primary. These are the people who will knock on the doors, and man the phone banks with a zeal and persistence that Establishment big money cannot buy.” Whether by causation or correlation, the winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to secure the Republican nomination in every year except 2012, when former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) won. The primary, which began in 1980, is typically an important early momentum-builder for presidential candidates. Cruz, Santorum and Carson are all popular presidential picks for the Tea Party and staunch conservative Republicans. Cruz and Carson placed fifth and sixth respectively in an ABC News/Washington Post poll of Republican leaning voters from December. Santorum finished 14th. The freshman Texas senator won the Value Voters Summit’s presidential straw poll in September, and Carson won the Conservative Political Action Committee poll in August. Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) will also speak at the Jan. 18 event.”


The Donald Donates to Cruz

The real estate mogul doles out cash to the fiery Texan.

“Donald Trump is showing his cards in the early 2016 sweepstakes – and he’s betting on Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The New York real estate mogul donated $5,000 to the Texas senator’s leadership PAC during the first quarter, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.”


Ben Carson to decide on 2016 run by May


It’s Time to Brew: the Tea Party Needs to Come Alive


Messina: Obama’s OFA ‘built to last,’ will not close after Obama leaves office

“The grassroots political and fundraising operation that President Obama created to win election and push his agenda will continue past his presidency, a first in American politics. Jim Messina, co-chairman of Organizing for Action, said in an email to supporters that the group will continue to lobby for “change” after the next election, even if Hillary Clinton wins office. “OFA is not a political campaign,” he declared of the nonpartisan group closely aligned with the Democratic Party and that is Obama’s booster operation. The president regularly fundraises for OFA. It’s website is “We’re a built-to-last movement that’s not going anywhere. When the polls close and elections end, we’re the ones still here, fighting for the principles we believe in,” said Messina, Obama’s campaign manager. OFA started as Obama for America, his campaign operation. It morphed into Organizing for America during his re-election and is now a stand-alone liberal advocacy group. “We are — and will continue to be — the sum of millions of grassroots voices calling for change,” said Messina’s note. The group has 250 offices around the nation. No other president has kept a 24/7 lobbying and campaign operation up and running after their election and re-election like Obama. And keeping it operational after he leaves office Jan. 20, 2017, indicates that he may take charge of it. Among the issues OFA advocates for are climate change, comprehensive immigration reform, gun control and women’s rights.”


Obama sanctions North Korea as punishment for Sony hack

“President Obama issued sanctions Friday against North Korea in response to the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, punishing individuals and government entities in Pyongyang. “We take seriously North Korea’s attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a U.S. company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “As the president has said, our response to North Korea’s attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment will be proportional, and will take place at a time and in a manner of our choosing. Today’s actions are the first aspect of our response.” The Obama administration recently blamed North Korea for the Sony hack and subsequent terror threat against movie theaters planning to screen “The Interview,” a comedy about an assassination plot against Kim Jong Un. A North Korean intelligence agency, arms dealer and other government officials are subject to the sanctions. Those being punished are banned from conducting transactions in the U.S. financial system, and Americans cannot do business with them. The Reconnaissance General Bureau, Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. and Korea Tangun Trading Corp. also have been slapped with economic penalties. Some cyber analysts have questioned whether North Korea was involved in the Sony hack, but the new sanctions show the Obama administration is not backing down from its original assessment. “Today’s actions are driven by our commitment to hold North Korea accountable for its destructive and destabilizing conduct,” said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. “Even as the FBI continues its investigation into the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend U.S. businesses and citizens, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States.”

US sanctions North Korea over Sony cyberattack–politics.html

Obama administration imposes sanctions on North Korea, after Sony hack

Obama imposes fresh sanctions on North Korea

Obama sanctions North Korea as punishment for Sony hack

Obama slaps Kim Jong Un with new sanctions