Obamacare’s Co-Ops: A Bigger Scandal Than Solyndra?

“The decline and bankruptcy of insurance co-ops conceived by Obamacare is being trumpeted as another emblem of the law’s many failures. But the fiasco speaks to a much more parochial flaw that animates progressive PGR -0.15% views on healthcare. The co-ops aren’t dying only because they were hastily constructed, or poorly managed. Their disaster is far more willful and deliberate. They meant to lose money. Last year, the co-ops made a big bet. While private plans were raising their premiums for the second year of Obamacare, the co-ops proposed sharp cuts. Liberal policy makers affirmed the invention of co-ops as a success of egalitarianism, arguing that the not-for-profit plans were able to slash their rates because they didn’t have to turn a profit, and therefore were able to pass more savings onto consumers. I wrote at the time for the financial web site “If the co-ops can successfully lower premiums, and still offer comparable benefits, liberal policy makers will hail the scheme as a triumph of government over markets. If they can’t pull off these rate cuts, then the co-op plans could end up bankrupted.” Bankruptcy turned out to be the better prediction… It seems the rate cuts were ill fated from the very get go. Perhaps they were a last gasp attempt by the co-ops to attract enough new members to grow their way out of their own flawed financial planning. After all, the co-ops had nothing to lose. They didn’t have any shareholders on the line, or equity capital — just taxpayer financing. More likely, the poor outcome is a triumph of aspiration over achievement. The co-ops weren’t inspired by a market need but a political creed. In the end, they served the latter master. The entire episode — its poor planning, the awful execution — will eventually vindicate Soylndra. At least that ill-fated green energy boondoggle had a business plan and some owners who were acting like they wanted financial return. Healthcare policy analyst Merrill Mathews, who closely follows the insurance industry, quoted from an S&P report that nicely summarized the financial carnage: “All but one of the 23 co-ops included in our study reported negative net income through the first three quarters of 2014. … Most co-ops’ weak operating performance is a result of high medical claims trend and not enough scale to offset administrative costs… In fact, nine of the co-ops… reported a MLR of 100% or more through September 2014.” In short, they were spending more money on their medical claims than they were taking in as premium revenue. Another recent analysis – this one by the insurance rating firm A. M. Best Company – similarly reported that all but one of the co-ops had financial losses through the end of last year. The aggregate underwriting losses at the co-ops hit nearly $244 million through last September, and by all accounts, have continued to increase since. One of the report’s authors told CNBC that when A.M. Best looked at the co-ops last year, just seven had federal loans that amounted to more than 100% of the value of their total capital and surplus. Now they’re all over 100%. A.M. Best noted that one co-op plan in Arizona, Meritus Mutual Health Partners, had long-term loans of nearly 1,000% and 14 others have loans totaling more than 200% of their assets. This butchery didn’t come about without a lot of government assistance along the way. Collectively, the taxpayers have loaned the co-ops more than $2.4 billion spread over just 23 health plans. Now, Uncle Sam stands to lose a good chunk of that money as the plans start filing for bankruptcy. In Iowa, the bankruptcy of just one co-op will likely cost taxpayers all of the $180 million they flushed into the insurer. The New York Times blamed the failure of that Iowa plan, which went by the name CoOportunity, on the co-op’s success. The newspaper’s healthcare reporter reasoned that the plan proved so popular with consumers, it exhausted its budget…”


Obamacare still on the brink

“No, you can’t relax about Obamacare yet. The big Affordable Care Act number of the week is 11.4 million — that’s the number of people who enrolled in 2015 health insurance plans through the law’s marketplaces, according to a White House announcement Tuesday. The total is 2.3 million higher than the goal the administration set at the outset of this open enrollment season. “It’s working a little better than we anticipated,” President Obama said of the ACA phase in. Let’s not get too carried away: The news is good, but not awesome. The law is finding its footing. But the enrollment number will decline. Some people counted in that 11.4 million, for example, will skip out on their monthly payments. More than a million people left ACA marketplace insurance plans after open enrollment last year. The number of people covered in ACA marketplaces will probably settle well below the 12 million that the independent Congressional Budget Office projected for 2015 enrollment. Besides, the government should still be signing people up, rather than shutting down open enrollment. The deadline to buy health insurance passed before tax season ended this year, and a lot of uninsured people will be hit with tax penalties for the first time when they sit down to finish their 1040’s. Federal overseers should extend open enrollment into April this year to give those people a break, then see where total enrollment ends up after that. But these issues are tiny compared to the implications of another Obamacare number the government released recently: 6.5 million. That’s the number of customers who, as of Feb. 9, the Health and Human Services Department reckons will be due government help in paying their insurance premiums. The number will rise significantly as HHS adds data from this month’s brisk enrollment. For now, HHS estimates the average benefit to be $268 per person per month, enabling some 80 percent of users to buy health plans for $100 or less per month out of pocket. This assistance could vanish with a hostile Supreme Court ruling this year. Revoking this aid would deal a devastating blow to insurance markets that, as this week’s 11.4 million enrollment figure indicates, are just establishing themselves. The Urban Institute has already gamed out the results: Healthy people would drop coverage, raising costs for the sicker people who stay in the insurance system. The number of uninsured would go up, insurance premiums would go up, the quality of insurance that people had would decline, and the law’s finely tuned marketplaces would teeter near collapse…”


HHS secretary: Affordable Care Act is working

Millions of Americans have sent a clear message they need and want health coverage.

“Over the past three months, millions of Americans sent a powerful message: The Affordable Care Act is working, and the quality health coverage offered on its Health Insurance Marketplace is a product that consumers need, want and like. As of midnight Sunday, about 11.4 million Americans selected Marketplace plans or were automatically re-enrolled, including 8.6 million through the platform, and — based on preliminary data provided to us by the State-Based Marketplaces — 2.8 million through these state Marketplaces. Enthusiasm and demand for Marketplace insurance were clear: In the final day, more new consumers signed up for health coverage than any other day this open enrollment or last. Health insurers sent a message as well. Twenty-five percent more of them offered coverage in the Marketplace compared to the last open enrollment. It’s worth putting this all in perspective. We’ve achieved an historic reduction in the uninsured – the largest over any period since the early 1970s. These new numbers add to that progress. We’re also making progress in signing up millions of Americans for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Affordable Care Act is now an important part of the everyday lives of millions of Americans. They finally have the financial and health security that comes with affordable health coverage. They now can fill prescriptions and take their children to the doctor. Some no longer have to choose between paying for health care and paying their utility bill. I traveled to 17 cities to spread the word about this year’s open-enrollment period, logging more than 22,000 miles. I had the opportunity to speak with folks who were in the process of signing up, folks who were newly insured, and the dedicated Americans helping them. I’ve heard so many moving stories about how affordable health coverage is impacting people’s lives. Expanding access to quality, affordable health coverage is about making progress for the hardworking families that rely upon the financial security and peace-of-mind that comes with it. It’s about access, affordability and quality. One thing is for sure: Americans don’t want the progress we’ve made taken away from them. And it’s not just the people in the Marketplaces counting on it. It’s the millions of young Americans who have the flexibility, early in their careers, to stay on their parents’ plans. It’s our mothers, sisters and daughters who are no longer paying more for coverage just because they’re female. It’s the people with pre-existing conditions who can no longer be locked out of health insurance…”


Affordable Care Act sign-ups jump 70% in Arizona

“Arizona health insurance sign-ups surged by 70 percent during the Affordable Care Act’s second annual enrollment period that ended Sunday, with more than 204,000 Arizona residents either renewing plans or signing up for new coverage, according to preliminary figures. During the final nine days alone, more than 20,000 Arizonans signed up for health-insurance plans via the federal marketplace. A total of 204,187 Arizona residents either re-enrolled or signed up for a new plan as of the deadline, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday. A total of 120,071 Arizonans signed up during the first enrollment period that ended April 2014, but the federal government has not said how many kept their plans through 2014…”


54,000 Montanans enroll in Affordable Care Act insurance

“More than 54,000 Montanans signed up for individual health insurance policies through the federal marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act, an increase of nearly 50 percent over 2014’s enrollment of 36,600. U.S. Health and Human Services officials say 11.4 million people nationwide signed up or were automatically re-enrolled, up from 8 million covered in the program’s first year. Enrollment ended on Sunday. State Auditor Monica Lindeen said Wednesday her office plans to survey insurance companies this spring to find out the total number of Montanans with health insurance, no matter how they obtained it. Lindeen said she expects between 50,000 and 70,000 Montanans will continue to lack coverage because they fall in a gap between making too much money to quality for Montana’s Medicaid program and making too little to qualify for federal tax credits under ACA…”


Nearly 125,000 Oklahomans get health insurance under Affordable Care Act during latest enrollment


Indiana sees 65% jump in Affordable Care Act enrollment–jump-in-Affordable-Care-Act-enrollment-5112882


Obama pressured to re-open ObamaCare

“Pressure is building on the Obama administration to give uninsured people a second chance to sign up for ObamaCare before they are slapped with a fine. People without insurance in 2015 will pay a fine of $325 or 2 percent of their income, whichever is greater, during next year’s tax season. Democrats and several advocacy groups argue that people without insurance don’t realize they’re in danger of taking a significant economic hit. “Millions upon millions of people are unaware about these penalties,” Ron Pollack, the executive director of the nonprofit group Families USA, said in a briefing Wednesday.”


When One Penalty Is Enough


ObamaCare penalties could come as a shock

“Almost half of uninsured adults are unaware that there is a financial penalty for lacking health insurance, according to a study released Thursday by the Urban Institute. The study, using data from December, found that roughly 25 percent of uninsured people above the poverty line had heard “nothing at all” about the penalty, and around 20 percent had heard “only a little.” Fifty-three percent had heard some or a lot. Under ObamaCare, people without health insurance who do not qualify for an exemption must pay a penalty. For those lacking coverage in 2014, the penalty is $95 or 1 percent of an individual’s annual income, whichever is greater. The penalty more than doubles for 2015. The low awareness is at the center of a growing push to get the Obama administration to give people another chance to get insurance through ObamaCare before the penalties take effect. The administration is considering adding another enrollment period for people who realize as Tax Day approaches that they have to pay a penalty for not having insurance. The deadline for open enrollment this year was Feb. 15. “Millions upon millions of people are unaware about these penalties,” Ron Pollack, the executive director of the nonprofit group Families USA, which is pushing for the new period, said on Wednesday.”


Almost Half The Uninsured Still Don’t Know They Owe An Obamacare Penalty

“Close to half of uninsured adults are still unaware that Obamacare’s individual mandate will fine them for not buying health insurance, according to a Thursday poll from the Urban Institute. As of Dec. 2014, 25 percent of uninsured Americans above the poverty line said they’d heard “nothing at all” about the fine. Another 20 percent said they had heard “only a little.” A slight majority, 53 percent, reported hearing some or a lot about the tax (which the Obama administration calls the “individual shared responsibility payment”). Americans who were uninsured last year will have to pay the penalty for the first time this tax season. The penalty for going uninsured in 2014 was $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater — but this year, that penalty has grown to $325 or 2 percent of income. Although Obamacare, and especially the individual mandate, has topped headlines for years, the law’s advocates have struggled to reach all of those affected by the penalty. The ongoing lack of awareness has already prompted a group of congressional Democrats to urge the Obama administration to re-open Obamacare enrollment around the tax filing deadline in April, when more people will find out that they owe money. The individual mandate has never been popular. Rasmussen Reports found Monday that a plurality of Americans, 47 percent, still oppose the policy, up slightly since the end of 2014. The public’s distaste for the requirement could cause another backlash against the health-care law when people are required to pay the penalty for the first time come April.”



“Californians may get until the middle of April to sign up for California Obamacare in hopes that the extended time will give the state a chance to reach their goals for sign-ups. Next week Covered California officials will decide whether to extend the signup deadline until April 15. A penalty for not having insurance of $95 for 2014, or one percent of modified adjusted gross income, increases to $325 per adult, or two percent of income in 2015. The executive director for Covered California, Peter Lee, suggested that synchronizing the health insurance deadline with income tax deadlines will hopefully motivate citizens to purchase the insurance. An April deadline would represent a second extension for California’s version of the Affordable Health Care. Lee insists that deadlines are important, but argues for another extension, indicating that “this is the first year that taxes and health care go arm in arm.” According to SFGate, officials hoped to enroll 1.7 million Californians by Sunday, which included re-enrolling about 1.2 million residents already signed up from last year. Moreover, Covered California hopes to add 500,000 new applicants…”


Vermont adds extra ObamaCare period

“Vermont on Thursday became the third state to add an extra ObamaCare sign-up period through the end of tax season, adding pressure on federal health officials to take the same approach. While the official ObamaCare deadline passed on Sunday, about a quarter of all state exchanges have added a grace period to accommodate the millions of uninsured people who will be forced to pay a penalty for the first time this tax season. “It would be awful for a Vermont family to have to pay a fee of several hundred dollars or more, and then have to pay 100 percent of their medical care on top of that, just because they didn’t know the penalty existed,” Lawrence Miller, chief of Vermont’s Health Care Reform, wrote in a statement Thursday.

“When our federal partners expressed an openness to providing this enrollment flexibility, we jumped at the opportunity,” he added…”


Vermont the 3rd state to offer relief for Obamacare penalty payers

“ninsured Vermonters who realize they must pay a special tax for lacking health insurance in 2014 can enroll in the state’s health exchange even though they missed Obamacare’s signup deadline, the state announced Thursday, making it the third state to extend relief to penalty payers. Vermont Health Connect said filers who are blindsided by the law’s “individual mandate” can apply for a special enrollment period by calling the exchange’s hotline. They must enroll within 60 days of realizing they owe a penalty payment, or by May 31 at the latest. “Our goal is to help as many Vermonters find quality health coverage as possible,” said Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform. “When our federal partners expressed an openness to providing this enrollment flexibility, we jumped at the opportunity.” Already, state-run exchanges in Washington state and Minnesota announced enrollment opportunities for those who missed Obamacare’s deadline Sunday. The Health and Human Services Department is mulling whether to offer similar relief to customers in 37 states that rely on the federal exchange known as….”


The next ObamaCare shoes to drop will hit at tax time

“And Democrats know it. For some strange reason, the open enrollment that closed on Sunday came two full months before the end of tax-filing season, which means that a lot of people will get an ugly surprise when they do their taxes. This is the first year in which the ObamaCare individual mandate penalty will be enforced, and it may swamp the number of those who went from uninsured to insured over the last two years: “Pressure is building on the Obama administration to give uninsured people a second chance to sign up for ObamaCare before they are slapped with a fine. People without insurance in 2015 will pay a fine of $325 or 2 percent of their income, whichever is greater, during next year’s tax season. Democrats and several advocacy groups argue that people without insurance don’t realize they’re in danger of taking a significant economic hit. “Millions upon millions of people are unaware about these penalties,” Ron Pollack, the executive director of the nonprofit group Families USA, said in a briefing Wednesday.” The Washington Post estimated this week that the number of taxpayers fined could exceed 6 million: “The Obamacare window technically just closed this weekend, but a new round of political headaches could just be beginning for the administration. That’s because it’s tax season, and many Americans could soon be getting an unwelcome surprise that they owe the government a penalty for skipping health insurance coverage. Up to 6 million Americans are expected to pay a penalty for not having coverage in 2014, according to recent Obama administration projections. The 2014 penalty for this tax season is $95, or 1 percent of family income — purposefully on the weaker side to let people adjust to this new coverage scheme. Most of the uninsured won’t actually face the penalty because they’ll qualify for an exemption, either related to their inability to afford coverage or some other hardship. But it’s likely that a lot of people who will have to pay don’t know it yet.”  The White House has been bragging all week about enrolling up 11.4 million people during this open-enrollment period. As Avik Roy points out, though, that’s a little deceptive. First, that’s a cumulative number including last year’s enrollees who re-enrolled this year, which accounts for well more than half of that figure, or about 6.7 million. Furthermore, the additions in the 2014-15 open enrollment are still sign-ups rather than enrollees; last year, ObamaCare exchanges retained about 84% of signups, so the final number of those who actually pay their first month’s premium will be lower…”


Insured through Obamacare? Prepare for a tax headache

“If you’re among the roughly 20 million people affected by the Affordable Care Act — either because you bought insurance through health exchanges or will be subject to penalties or exemptions for failing to get coverage — filing a tax return just got a lot harder. Indeed, potentially millions of people who never before had to file tax returns will now need to file as the result of the health law. The ACA, better known as Obamacare, has put health insurance in reach for millions of Americans by setting up subsidies for those who otherwise couldn’t afford to buy coverage. However, the subsidies that may appear to simply lower the cost of insurance premiums are actually “advance premium tax credits” that are paid directly to health insurers. Because those credits are made on each taxpayer’s behalf, it’s up to individual taxpayers to determine whether the “advance payment” was too much or too little. Though many of these individuals have never had to file before — they simply earned too little to be required to file — they will now need to complete tax returns to reconcile the Obamacare subsidies they got with what they owe, according to the IRS. Meanwhile, those who didn’t buy insurance or had a lapse in coverage that exceeded three months will need to determine whether they’re subject to a tax penalty. Both situations involve slogging through new forms and dozens of pages of instructions. “If you didn’t have any changes in your situation over the course of the year — everyone was covered under the policy and your income is exactly the same as it was in 2013 — it might not be that bad,” said Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst with Wolters Kluwer,Tax & Accounting U.S. “But if you had a change in circumstances or don’t have a perfectly straightforward situation, the amount of time it takes to handle this will increase exponentially.” Why? If you received discounted insurance through a health exchange, you’ll need to fill out the mind-boggling Form 8962. Although this two-page form officially has just 36 lines, there are actually 90 spaces on just the first page that need to be filed in — up to six spaces for each official “line.”


Obamacare Tax Traps Are Ready to Grab Your Refund


Many uninsured are ignorant of Obamacare mandate tax and lapsed coverage deadline: survey

“More than four out of every 10 people likely to be sanctioned for not having health insurance in 2014 heard “nothing or only little” about the Obamacare tax penalty, according to a new study that underscores the potential backlash administration officials could face from uninsured Americans before the April 15 tax deadline. Researchers Urban Institute also found that only a quarter of uninsured people with incomes that expose them to the “individual mandate” tax expect to pay the penalty. Making matters worse, 65 percent of those likely to pay the penalty had either not heard about Obamacare’s insurance exchanges, had heard about them but didn’t know the deadline for signing up, or thought the deadline was in March (it was Feb. 15). The penalty for lacking insurance in 2014 is the greater of $95 or 1 percent household income above the filing threshold. In 2015, the penalty rises to $325 or 2 percent of income. Congressional Democrats and advocates worry that people who do not know about the penalty will also have to pay up next year, since the deadline to enroll in 2015 coverage under Obamacare elapsed on Sunday. Washington State and Minnesota’s state-run exchanges have announced special enrollment periods for penalty payers, although the Health and Human Services Department is still mulling relief for customers in 37 states that use…”


Covered California sends out 100,000 inaccurate tax forms

“California’s health exchange apologized Thursday for sending about 100,000 incorrect tax forms last month to people who purchased private coverage, a mistake that could delay tax filings or force households to amend their taxes. Covered California acknowledged that it sent out inaccurate coverage information on 1095-A forms and is in the process of sending out revised forms, said spokesman James Scullary. In all, the state sent out 800,000 forms for the first time this year. “We certainly apologized for any inconvenience,” Scullary said. “It’s all a new process and this is the first year there’s a connection between health care and taxes.” The mistake brings another headache for people struggling to understand the new tax penalties. The federal health care reform law requires most people to have insurance or face a tax penalty that increases each year. The penalty for a person who makes $40,000 a year will increase from $299 in 2014 to nearly $600 in 2015. And a family of four with that same income would see fines increase from $500 to nearly $1,000. The exchange said many of the mistakes on the tax forms were related to number of months a household had coverage. For example, the 1095-A form may have stated that a family had coverage from April through September, but the family was covered from April through October…”


Covered California Sends Out 100,000 Inaccurate Tax Forms; About 1 In 8 Get Wrong Info

“California’s health exchange apologized Thursday for sending about 100,000 incorrect tax forms last month to people who purchased private coverage, a mistake that could delay tax filings or force households to amend their taxes. Covered California acknowledged that it sent out inaccurate coverage information on 1095-A forms and is in the process of sending out revised forms, said spokesman James Scullary. In all, the state sent out 800,000 forms for the first time this year. “We certainly apologized for any inconvenience,” Scullary said. “It’s all a new process and this is the first year there’s a connection between health care and taxes.” The mistake brings another headache for people struggling to understand the new tax penalties. The federal health care reform law requires most people to have insurance or face a tax penalty that increases each year. The penalty for a person who makes $40,000 a year will increase from $299 in 2014 to nearly $600 in 2015. And a family of four with that same income would see fines increase from $500 to nearly $1,000…”


Obama administration delays another health care rule for small businesses

“One of these days, employers will experience the full effects of Obamacare — but not yet. In the latest in a long string of delays in enforcing the rules under the health care overhaul, the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that they will wait until summer to start enforcing financial penalties on small businesses that provide so-called Health Reimbursement Arrangements to their employees. Under HRAs, employers provide spending accounts that their workers can use to cover a portion of the cost of buying individual health plans. The arrangements, which give employers a tax-free means to help pay for their workers’ health costs, do not comply with insurance standards in the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, according to Treasury guidance issued in the fall of 2013. Consequently, employers who elect to continue offering HRAs could be fined as much as $100 per day per employee. In a public notice, IRS and Treasury officials announced that those penalties (in the form of excise taxes) will not be levied against noncompliant small businesses until July, giving many employers a little extra time to adjust to the new rules. “The Departments understand that some employers that had been offering health coverage through an employer payment plan may need additional time to obtain group health coverage or adopt a suitable alternative,” the notice reads. Officials also hinted at the fact that the new online health insurance exchanges set up under the law, which were meant to give small businesses more choices and more affordable health insurance options, haven’t quite delivered. “The market is still transitioning and the transition by eligible employers to SHOP Marketplace coverage or other alternatives will take time,” they wrote. In regards to the rules in the health care law, the delay is nothing new for employers. Most notably, the Obama administration has several times pushed back the start of penalties for business that do not provide adequate health insurance to their employees, first pushing the entire deadline back one year and then last year announcing an even more gradual, tiered (by company size) rollout…”


IRS Offers Some Relief on Employer Coverage Reimbursement

“The administration has quietly bowed to pressure from small businesses on taxing employers who offer cash reimbursement to employees to purchase health insurance. The IRS and Department of Labor reminded taxpayers last year that premium reimbursement through health reimbursement accounts does not absolve the employer from the requirement to offer health coverage. The employer will still be subject to an excise tax for failure to provide coverage. On Wednesday, the IRS announced transition relief from the tax until June 30, 2015. The tax agency justified the delay due to the slow development of small business insurance exchanges and some employers may need more time to obtain group health coverage. Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley quickly welcomed the tax enforcement delay and Louisiana Republican Rep. Charles Boustany, Jr. urged a permanent delay of the tax…”


Administration delays another Obamacare rule, this time for small businesses

“Every time the administration delays an Obamacare rule, it makes two concessions. One, the law is indeed bad for many businesses and can lead to bureaucratic morass and stagnation in an already slow jobs economy. Two, businesses are more important than little ol’ you, individual taxpayer, who will get no waiver or reprieve from Obamacare’s mandate. You’ll either pay the penalty for not having coverage or if you did sign up for an Obamacare plan and didn’t renew properly, change your plan properly, or estimate your income properly, you’ll be subject to literally paying for those mistakes at tax time. There will be many people like Janice Riddles, profiled by CNN, out there, many of whom did nothing more than make good-faith attempts to predict the future and failed. No matter how much momentary schadenfreude you may choose to indulge in over someone in this particular predicament, especially if they were passionate supporters of the law, we can all agree this is a shoddy way of doing business putting yet another unfairly complicated burden on Americans on April 15. Beware the clawback: The Los Angeles resident had applied for Obamacare in late 2013, when she was unemployed. She qualified for a hefty subsidy of $470 a month, leaving her with a monthly premium of $1 for the cheapest plan available. Riddle landed a job in early 2014 at a life insurance agency, but since her new employer didn’t offer health benefits, she kept her Obamacare plan. However, she didn’t update her income with the California exchange, which she acknowledges was her mistake. Now, she has to pay back the entire subsidy, which is forcing her to dip into her savings. “I was blindsided that the subsidy has to be paid back,” said Riddle, adding she didn’t even use the coverage, which she had until she qualified for Medicare in October. “I’m in shock…but I have no choice. Do I want to argue with the IRS or the Obama administration?”


David Vitter will hold up nominee until he gets answers on Obamacare ‘exemption’ for Congress

“Republican Sen. David Vitter has informed the Obama administration’s personnel chief that he will hold up the nomination of her deputy until he gets answers about how Congress is treated under Obamacare. Mr. Vitter of Louisiana told Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta that he will stand in the way of deputy director nominee Earl L. Gay until he gets “through and complete” answers to his inquiries about how the agency decided to let congressional members and staff retain employer-based health subsidies, even though they must get job-based insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. He’s also launched an investigation into how OPM decided that Capitol Hill should be allowed to use the District of Columbia’s small-business health exchange. “Allowing Congress, which employs nearly 16,000 people, to determine itself as a ‘small business’ should not have passed the common sense test,” he said. “Unfortunately, it appears that the White House, and in particular, OPM, may have had some role in this.” Mr. Vitter’s efforts flow from a part of Obamacare that required members to experience the health exchanges firsthand if they wanted coverage from their jobs. Through rule making in 2013, the administration said congressional members and staff should be eligible for subsidies that have traditionally covered up to 75 percent of their premiums. That determination came after many lawmakers worried that staff would quit without the relief, citing inadequate assistance on the exchanges…”


Vitter: Clerks are blocking ObamaCare investigation

“Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is claiming that congressional clerks are stonewalling his investigation into why some staffers are allowed exemptions from ObamaCare. Vitter has aggressively opposed a provision of ObamaCare that allows certain congressional aides to receive employer subsidies to buy healthcare insurance, which he calls “Washington’s ObamaCare exemption.” Vitter recently wrote to financial clerks in both chambers, as well as leaders of the D.C. health exchange, to demand documents that showed the origin of the exemption. But he said Thursday that each of his requests was rejected. “Key players involved appear unwilling to comply with a straightforward Congressional request,” Vitter wrote in a statement Thursday. “I will continue this investigation until the people responsible for this mess are identified and held accountable,” he said, adding that he has given officials until Feb. 24 to comply. The new investigation comes more than one year after Vitter sought documents from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), but received no response, he said. All members of Congress and “official” members of their staff are required to purchase healthcare through the marketplaces, as stipulated by the Grassley amendment to the Affordable Care Act. The Louisiana Republican has pushed his own version, called the Vitter amendment, which would require all staffers to go through the exchanges. Vitter has redoubled his efforts in the new GOP-controlled Congress, gaining some traction. He announced last week that he would block the nomination of a high-ranking OPM official because the agency has ignored his questions about ObamaCare.”


More Obamacare changes passed than failed

“Republicans have voted dozens of times to tweak or trash Obamacare, but here’s a little-known fact: A majority of the attempted changes have actually become law. A new report from the Congressional Research Service finds that out of 78 changes lawmakers have attempted to make to the Affordable Care Act — including efforts to modify parts of the law or ditch it entirely — more have been signed into law than have been blocked by Democrats. In total, President Obama has approved 44 changes to his signature health care law. None of them significantly revamp the law — as Obama has consistently said, and White House adviser Valarie Jarrett recently reiterated, he won’t remove its major elements. Still, some of the changes Obama has endorsed have a broader effect than others. He signed a provision in spring 2014 removing a cap on the deductibles small group health plans could collect from patients. But neither party has spent much time talking about the revisions to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have feared that improving the law would make it more palatable to the public and therefore undercut chances of repealing the whole thing. And Democrats don’t see much political benefit from advertising the changes, either. “Though the president largely welcomed (or at least could tolerate) everything he signed into law, he knows that hyping such changes don’t help the rare constructive (or at least not destructive) interactions with the [Republicans] on this subject,” former White House health care adviser Chris Jennings wrote in an email. Instead, it’s been attempts in the GOP-led House to undo the law’s biggest parts that have gained the most attention, as Republicans hammered home their disapproval of the law and Democrats have defended it. Over the last few years, their efforts have followed a familiar sequence: the House passes an anti-Obamacare bill and then the Democrat-led Senate refuses to take it up while Obama issues a potential veto threat…”


When changing ACA full-time definition, careful what you wish for


Congress Is About to Impose Another Unfunded Mandate On Doctors

“Doctors in their day-to-day practice already face a mound of federal regulations. Now, starting Oct. 1, doctors will face a new unfunded mandate as they will be required to transition to a costly and complicated coding system for payment. While the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) system was originally designed specifically for disease classification, since the 1980s, public and private payers alike have required that health care providers use the ICD-9 system when they file reimbursement claims. If, for instance, you go to the doctor’s for treatment for the flu, the doctor’s office will use the ICD code for flu when billing your insurance. But unless Congress acts, the current ICD code will be replaced Oct. 1 by the vastly more complex ICD-10…”


Republican lawmaker wants to end HealthSource RI

“A Republican lawmaker has proposed ending the state’s health insurance exchange. HealthSource RI was set up as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. Deputy Minority Leader Patricia Morgan introduced a bill to prohibit the state from funding HealthSource RI and direct the governor to transfer the operation to the federal government beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Morgan says the estimated annual price of operating the exchange appears to be $14 million to $20 million. She says that’s too much, and it threatens the state’s fiscal health. She says current enrollees would retain their coverage through the federal exchange. More than 30,000 people are currently enrolled. Democratic lawmakers have said they’d like to see the state shift to the federal system. Morgan’s bill was referred to the House Finance Committee…”


North Carolina punts Medicaid expansion until after Supreme Court rules on Obamacare challenge

“North Carolina Gov. Patrick McCrory is punting a decision on whether to expand Medicaid in the state until after the Supreme Court rules this summer on a challenge to Obamacare. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell on March 4. At issue is whether the federal government can offer subsidies to purchase health insurance to residents in states that did not set up their own healthcare exchanges. The Republican governor told the Associated Press Wednesday that he wants to wait due to the magnitude of the case. Any decision will have “major ramifications on the entire healthcare system, especially with the state exchange and federal exchange issue up in the air,” he said Wednesday. If the court rules the federal government cannot offer subsidies, then residents in 37 states, including North Carolina, could lose coverage. A ruling is expected in June. 28 states have agreed to Medicaid expansions, with Indiana being the most recent.”


Arkansas Moves Away From Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

“Arkansas’ so-called “Private Option” Obamacare Medicaid expansion has been a policy misadventure and a political landmine. Costs ran overbudget every single month last year. The Medicaid director who spearheaded the program abruptly resigned to “pursue other opportunities.” And voters overwhelmingly dumped pro-Obamacare legislators last election season, including the program’s chief legislative architect. The debate over whether to end the Obamacare expansion seemed to be settled, with the only remaining question being how to end it. Newly-elected Governor Asa Hutchinson announced last month that he wanted little more than to change the name of the state’s Medicaid welfare expansion, recommending the legislature keep the Private Option for another two years and set up a task force to develop a “new coverage model” for the able-bodied adults enrolled in the program. From that point, the state would move forward with a newly-branded Medicaid expansion that would continue indefinitely. Although Gov. Hutchinson’s vision may ultimately come to pass, the legislature has put forward a more decisive escape plan for the state – one that at long last leads to the end of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Arkansas Legislature Repeals Obamacare Expansion, Effective 2016 – Gov. Hutchinson signed Act 46 into law on February 12, 2015. This new law requires the Arkansas Department of Human Services to amend its state plan to eliminate the entire Obamacare expansion by December 31, 2016…”


ObamaCare opponents try to bolster case

“ObamaCare challengers filed a new brief to the Supreme Court on Wednesday night, seeking to rebut the Obama administration’s arguments defending healthcare subsidies. The closely watched case, King v. Burwell, which the court will hear on March 4, is a major test for President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is leading the challenge, argues that the phrase referring to insurance marketplaces under the law “established by the state” prevents subsidies from being disbursed to people in the 37 states using federally run marketplaces, because those are not established by a state. A ruling in the challengers’ favor would mean millions of people would lose subsidies that help make insurance affordable for them. The new brief is a rebuttal to the arguments made in the Obama administration’s filing defending the law. The opponents focus on the administration’s argument that “established by the state” is a “term of art” and therefore also encompasses federally run marketplaces. “It would certainly be convenient, for an agency seeking to rewrite a statute, if an English phrase can become a term of art on the Government’s mere say-so,” the challengers write. “It cannot.” They argue a phrase must already have a “well-known meaning” for it to be used as a term of art. Aside from the term of art debate, the government’s main argument is that the challengers are simply reading way too much into one phrase in a huge law. It makes no sense that Congress would have hidden an incentive for states to create their own marketplaces in one phrase, the government argues. “It would be astonishing if Congress had buried a critically important statewide bar to the subsidies under this landmark legislation in subclauses setting forth the technical formula for calculating how much the subsidy should be,” the government wrote in its brief filed last month. Outside of the legal briefs, the Obama administration on Wednesday used the new better-than-expected enrollment numbers for health insurance through the exchanges to argue that the Supreme Court should not roll back the expansion of coverage. “One thing is for sure, Americans don’t want the progress we’ve made to be taken away from them,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. The challengers argue in the new brief, though, that the administration brought any bad consequences of a ruling against the law on itself. The brief blames the IRS for ruling that subsidies can also flow to federally run exchanges.”



“April Todd-Malmlov, the former executive director of MNsure, the state of Minnesota’s Obamacare health exchange, is refusing to testify in the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor’s (OLA) investigation into the troubled program. Todd-Malmlov hired Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber (as a subcontractor who developed the “Gruber-Gorman report” for Minnesota using his proprietary Gruber Microsimulation Model) in 2011, and approved $329,000 of invoices he submitted, all of which failed to provide the level of billing detail called for in his contract. The OLA released its Evaluation Report: Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange (MNsure) on Wednesday, which documents that Gruber’s expensive projections were way off the mark on both premium costs and enrollments. For instance, Gruber projected that “overall premium costs in the individual market-inside and outside the exchange-would fall by 34 percent on average.” However, the report found that “(i)n fact, an analysis by Yale University economist Amanda Kowalski supplemented by our own research, showed that, as of mid 2014, premium costs in the overall individual market in Minnesota averaged 5 percent higher.” Gruber’s enrollment projections were no better. “The 2013 Gruber-Gorman report projected that Minnesota’s health insurance exchange would enroll 1.3 million people in 2016… In fact, the exchange enrolled approximately 371,000 people as of November 11, 2014,” the report found. In December, Republican State Representative Greg Davids criticized Gruber’s work and called on Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson to investigate Gruber’s billings practices and require him to refund the entire $329,000 he received for his projections. “The error rate for Dr. Gruber’s work is beyond laughable,” Davids told Breitbart News. Minnesota Attorney General Swanson did not respond to inquiries from Breitbart News to provide an update on her response to Representative David’s request…”


Obamacare opponents slam government’s defense in Supreme Court case

“Exchange established by the state.” Those five words buried in the Affordable Care Act will play a pivotal part in a Supreme Court case on the federal government’s authority to subsidize health coverage for 6.4 million people. A legal brief issued late Wednesday by plaintiffs in King v. Burwell argues that small phrase allows only residents in states that set up their own insurance exchanges to receive federal subsidies. The residents in 36 states that have federally established exchanges aren’t eligible for the subsidies, according to the brief. “The government is manipulating language, purely, simply and without justification,” said Sam Kazman, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank funding the lawsuit. “Congress limited subsidies to ‘exchanges established by the state,’ but the government claims this means exchanges established by anyone…”


The Obama Administration’s Arguments for Obamacare That Are Being Called ‘Laughably Unpersuasive’


Supreme Court case against Obamacare faces obstacles

“A legal challenge that threatens to unravel President Obama’s health care law has been stricken by a series of ill-timed setbacks before next month’s Supreme Court showdown. The four plaintiffs’ qualifications to bring the lawsuit have been cast in doubt because of their low incomes and potential eligibility for other government benefits. At least one of the four Virginians must show that the law constitutes a burden. The legal theory behind the complaint — that Congress intended to deny financial aid to consumers in states that use a federal health insurance exchange — has been refuted by the law’s authors. Officials from 22 states told the court they were never warned of that possibility. The assumption that the administration, Congress or the states would rescue millions of purchasers if the court strips away their federal tax credits has been discredited (in the case of Congress acting anytime soon) or disputed (by officials in several states). “Piece after piece after piece of evidence that they have put forward to try to support their far-fetched interpretation of the statute has fallen apart as we approach oral argument,” says Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel at the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center. “That’s legally relevant, because it demolishes their claim that anyone thought the law works this way at the time.” Unlike 2012, when opponents came within one Supreme Court vote of killing the law before it ever was implemented, supporters have mounted a strong counterattack this time, from legal briefs to the blogosphere. The question looming before the oral arguments March 4 is whether any of the atmospherics will influence the nine justices who have Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement in their hands. If so, they could once again uphold the law, or at least demand more proof of injury from the challengers. “The Supreme Court decides things on the law, but they’re not isolated from what’s happening in the population,” said Robert Weiner, a former Justice Department official who oversaw the earlier legal defense of the law…”


John Kasich: Ohio Will ‘Have to Figure Something Out’ if SCOTUS Ends ACA Subsidies

“Most Republican governors have resisted taking money offered by the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Ohio Governor John Kasich took it right away, and has chastised critics in religious terms. “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter,” told the Columbus Dispatch in 2013, “he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.” On a Wednesday visit to South Carolina, as Kasich stoked speculation that he may run for president, I asked him how he’d respond if the Supreme Court struck down subsidies for people who bought health insurance plans through the federal exchange at HealthCare.Gov. “If we ended up in a situation—and again, I don’t like to get ahead of ourselves on what a Supreme Court might do—but if it threw half a million people [off] insurance, we’d have to look at it,” said Kasich. “And we haven’t made any determination on that, but—I’m gonna try to avoid your question—I’ve got good people working on this. We’ve chatted about this. If the court makes a decision that these exchanges get shut down, then we’re gonna have to figure something out in Ohio.” I followed up, and asked if Kasich would rule out creating an exchange for Ohio. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to tell you exactly. There are things you have to think about. There are a lot of options you have to think about. There’s choices you have to make. I don’t want to have to make choices before I know what’s in hand.” When I tweeted a version of the exchange, Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler suggested that Kasich was flouting the state constitution. And Adler had some stake in this, as he’d shaped the subsidies cases that resulted in King v. Burwell. “@daveweigel Asked Kasich if he’d want Ohio  to create a state exchange if SCOTUS struck down fed exchange subsidies. He was open to it.

Jonathan H. Adler @jadler1969 @daveweigel might be hard to do legally given Ohio’s Health Freedom Amendment” That was a reference to Ohio’s 2011 passage of an amendment prohibiting the state from “compel[ing], directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in a health care system.” Adler unpacked this when asked:…”


A Supreme Court decision against Obamacare could cost states billions and billions of dollars




Immigration: Up vs. Down, Not Republican vs. Democrat

“My colleague Jon Feere appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this morning opposite Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and what struck me was the callers. C-SPAN offers three call-in numbers, for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and I’d guess on issues like taxes or guns or abortion that yields a variety of views. But whatever you might think from watching the Senate battle over funding of Obama’s lawless amnesty decrees — where every Democrat has been voting for amnesty and against enforcement — out in the real world support for enforcing our immigration laws is not a partisan issue. So whatever phone line people use to call in to C-SPAN, my experience from being on the show has been that most callers are pro-enforcement. On today’s show every caller was pro-enforcement (except one who was off-topic and another who was unintelligible). Some samples:

–A Black American Democrat from Los Angeles: If you want to see how negative the impact of illegal immigration has been on a community, come to Los Angeles. The black community has been pretty much overrun by illegals. . . . I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I’m seriously considering becoming an independent if the trend continues in the Democratic party the way it’s going and I know a lot of other African Americans who feel the same way. . . . I listen to C-SPAN every day and I hear African Americans calling in complaining about illegal immigration, and it seems to be that it’s falling on deaf ears.

–An African immigrant calling in to the Independents line: I used to be a Democrat but I’m very disappointed by the Democrat party. . . . When the president said more than 20 times that it wasn’t his constitutional prerogative to give amnesty to the illegals, and all of the sudden he changed, it makes me really think that he’s not enforcing the Constitution that he was elected to enforce. . . . The president is also saying they cannot enforce the border. . . . Let’s just imagine that right now we gave [garbled] to all the illegals, and one year later we have the same problem because our border is not secure. What will we have achieved? I think the border should be secured first. We are the United States of America — we send people on the Moon, we have the most powerful military in the world and you are telling me that we cannot enforce our own border?

–A Democratic woman from Georgia: I still work at 77 to pay my insurance and when these people [illegal aliens] go to a hospital and they don’t have insurance I feel like they are charging me extra if I go to a hospital to pay for these people that don’t have insurance. A Black American from Miami on the Republican line: It’s already hard enough to find a job . . . now Obama and you guys are trying to legalize people to come here to take jobs that we need. . . . You guys are more concerned about the illegal aliens, people from other countries, than you are about your own citizens, and that’s concerning. . . . What are you guys trying to do, destroy the foundations of our country?…”



“The top two importers of foreign H-1B guest workers are gaming and abusing the guest-worker system to bring in temporary, disposable, and cheaper labor and may be violating the spirit of U.S. immigration and labor laws, according to government data obtained by a prominent Howard University public policy professor. Ron Hira, one of the nation’s foremost experts on H-1B visas and guest workers, noted in his Thursday Economic Policy Institute report that Tata and Infosys, the “two India-based outsourcing companies,” are “major publicly traded companies with a combined market value of about $115 billion, and are the top two H-1B employers in the United States.” He obtained data through the Freedom of Information Act and found that in fiscal year 2013, “Infosys ranked first with 6,269 H-1B petitions approved by the government, and Tata ranked second with 6,193.” Hira found that “the average wage for an H-1B employee at Infosys in FY13 was $70,882 and for Tata it was $65,565,” compared “to the average wage of a Computer Systems Analyst in Rosemead, CA (where SCE is located), which is $91,990 (according to the U.S. Department of Labor).” The savings at Southern California Edison, which has come under fire for replacing at least 400 workers with young and cheaper foreign H-1B workers, though, is much greater: SCE recently commissioned a consulting firm, Aon-Hewitt, to conduct a compensation study, which showed that SCE’s IT specialists were earning an average annual base pay of $110,446. That means Tata and Infosys are getting a 36 to 41 percent savings on labor costs—or saving about $40,000 to $45,000 per worker per year. H-1B employees generally are not even put on a path toward permanent residency, according to the data. Hira found that “Infosys only sponsored seven H-1B workers for permanent residence, and Tata sponsored ZERO H-1B workers, while the U.S. government approved 12,432 H-1B visa petitions for these two companies alone” in fiscal year 2013.” “In other words, the H-1B workers Infosys and Tata hire are being used as temporary, cheaper, disposable labor, not as a way to permanently introduce talent and innovation into the American labor market,” Hira concludes…”


New York Compels 20 School Districts to Lower Barriers to Immigrants

“Twenty New York school districts found to be blocking access for undocumented immigrant children will be forced to modify their enrollment policies to break down illegal barriers to education, the state attorney general’s office said on Wednesday. A joint review by the State Education Department and the attorney general’s office found a broad pattern of intransigence on the part of districts that, despite repeated instructions from federal and state law enforcement agencies, continued to bar children based on their immigration status, said Kristen Clarke, the chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the attorney general’s office. The resulting reforms, under agreements between Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the 20 districts, would compel them to stop asking for documents such as Social Security cards that effectively exclude undocumented children from school…”


New York school districts to stop asking about immigration status


New York schools will remove illegal obstacles for immigrant kids



“During last summer’s border crisis, left-wing and mainstream media outlets mocked Americans who were concerned that illegal immigrants may be carrying disease like Tuberculosis. But in a story downplaying the measles threat from Mexico and Central America, the Los Angeles Times concedes that, “beyond measles, however, there are some serious diseases that are brought to the United States from Mexico and Central America.” Tuberculosis is chief among those diseases, according to the Times, which noted that “in 2013, 65% of the tuberculosis cases in the U.S. occurred among foreign-born people”: A majority of those people came from five countries: Mexico (1,233 cases), the Philippines (776 cases), India (495 cases), Vietnam (454 cases) and China (377 cases). Hepatitis A is another disease that has migrated northward. The Times noted that, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, “six cases of tuberculosis and 145 cases of chicken pox were reported” among illegal immigrant juveniles who would later be released into the United States. In an interview last year with Breitbart News during the border crisis, Dr. Jane Orient, an internal medicine specialist and the Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), warned that diseases like Norovirus and chicken pox can potentially endanger Americans. And she specifically singled out Tuberculosis as a leading threat. “Tuberculosis (TB) is the single most dangerous disease because it is highly contagious and can be easily picked up at the mall, at a school, or on the bus,” Orient told Breitbart News. “Cases coming from south of the U.S. border can be very resistant to medications. They don’t respond to traditional antibiotics, and the few drugs they may respond to are often toxic, with lots of side effects.”


House Dems push Boehner to pass ‘clean’ DHS bill

“More than 100 House Democrats are urging Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to put a bill on the floor that funds the Department of Homeland Security without any provisions revoking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. In a letter to Boehner, the Democrats said “it is clear” the House-passed DHS spending bill with provisions freezing President Obama’s unilateral actions to delay deportations of certain illegal immigrants cannot get enough votes in the Senate. The Senate has voted three times this month, and will do so for a fourth time on Monday, to proceed to the measure, but it failed to secure the necessary 60 votes to advance.

“Given the dire threats America faces both at home and abroad, now is not the time to be playing political games with our security,” the Democrats wrote. “The American people deserve better. When it comes to issues of national security, they expect us to set partisan politics aside and ensure that our government has the resources it needs. We urge you to live up to that responsibility by bringing a clean DHS funding bill to the floor for a vote as soon as possible,” they wrote. Funding for DHS will expire on Feb. 27.”


McCain to GOP: Fund DHS, let courts decide Obama’s immigration actions

“Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday said Congress should not let the Department Homeland Security (DHS) shut down because it appears the courts will decide the fate of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” McCain was asked what he would say to his GOP colleagues in Congress about making sure DHS is funded by Feb. 27. “I would put sufficient blame on the Democrats for not allowing us to move forward in the Senate. But having said that, now I’m hopeful with this court decision—with the declaration that the president himself has acted unconstitutionally as he himself stated I think 22 times—that we would let the courts move forward with this issue since we have a favorable ruling,” he said. McCain didn’t explicitly say Republicans should drop riders the House GOP attached to the DHS funding bill that would roll back Obama’s immigration orders, but suggested that might be the best course of action…”


Fund Homeland Security, But Block Amnesty

“The House should split immigration funding into two bills. Senate Democrats are filibustering a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of spending authority February 26, because it also blocks a number of President Obama’s unilateral executive actions on immigration. At least six Senate Democrats have opposed some of those policies but  –  predictably enough  –  claim this is not the time or the manner in which to challenge them. But there is no time like the present, and the funding bill is a perfectly appropriate vehicle. The amnesty program is about to begin, and once underway, it will almost be impossible to reverse. Both parties make a routine practice of attaching riders to funding bills; it’s not procedure that Democrats object to, but the notion of doing anything real to reverse Obama’s power grab. Wavering Democrats should heed the counsel of federal judge Andrew Hanen, who this week temporarily blocked the implementation of the president’s November amnesty for adult illegal immigrants. Whether the courts determine the amnesty to be strictly illegal (and determine states can sue over it) or not, the ruling should remind those Democrats that they were right in the first place: The president is making immigration policy in dangerously unprecedented ways, usurping powers he repeatedly said he did not have. If Democrats allow debate to go forward on the DHS bill, it could be amended to oppose a narrower range of policies, rather than everything significant that the president has done on immigration. A bill that just targets the president’s most recent, most offensive amnesty  –  from November  –  is most likely to attract Democratic support (or at least acquiescence) and would put the president in the most politically problematic position. But if Senate Democrats will not allow the bill to be amended, it falls to the House to advance a bill that will put them in a tougher political bind. That means focusing on the November amnesty and not taking the risk of a deadlock that shuts off funding authority for all of DHS in two weeks. Even though such a DHS “shutdown” would have little effect on department operations, and Democratic intransigence would have as much to do with it as Republican insistence on reversing Obama’s amnesty, Republicans would still likely get the blame, as they almost always do in these confrontations. Some conservatives have suggested taking this opportunity to get rid of the filibuster, to allow Republicans to send the current bill to the president’s desk over the objections of Senate Democrats. But that is a myopic shortcut. President Obama would simply veto the bill. What might the right approach look like? The House can offer to fund most of DHS in one bill, and the federal immigration bureaucracy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in another, with the latter bill blocking the president’s November amnesty. This would narrow the debate and make it much harder for Democrats to argue that the Republican plan is inappropriate or risky. Many House Republicans, as demonstrated by their votes regarding the earlier bill, would like to undo a broader array of the president’s immigration actions. So would we. But Republicans will never have the leverage to succeed in opposing every action of the president’s that they dislike. Reasserting constitutional limits on the president’s authority requires a politically plausible strategy. Splitting the bill would offer a debate in the Senate that should put more pressure on both Democrats and President Obama. They will surely remain uncooperative, but a narrowly tailored bill would at least put a tighter focus on their stand for a lawless immigration policy. Splitting the bill can also serve as a tolerable final offer for Republicans. If Democrats block an immigration-funding bill with restrictions, then no immigration-funding bill has to pass: It is not as politically vital to fund the immigration bureaucracy as it is to fund the rest of the homeland-security department. Refusing to fund that bureaucracy will, at the very least, ensure that Republicans aren’t affirmatively complicit in funding Obama’s extra-constitutional policy…”


Loretta Sanchez: Shocked, Shocked by Suggestion of Illegal Voting

“Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) recently criticized Republicans for suggesting that President Obama’s amnesty plan might lead to illegal voting by non-citizens. The irony here is shocking, considering how Ms. Sanchez managed to win her first election to Congress. At the Feb. 12 press conference convened by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Orange County congresswoman declared that any and all concerns about non-citizen voting “are just red flags that people who are against immigrant communities are using to scare America.” In Sanchez’s first run for Congress, however, illegal votes were more than “just red flags”: Hundreds of non-citizens cast illegal ballots in a race that she won by fewer than 1,000 votes. The press conference was held in reaction to a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that took place the same day. The Committee was looking into the question of whether President’s Obama amnesty plan for five million illegal aliens will exacerbate the problem of illegal, non-citizen voting. I testified at that hearing (you can read my testimony here), along with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Ohio Secretary of State John Husted. Husted had sent a letter to President Obama at the end of January, expressing his concern that the DHS plan to give Social Security numbers and work authorizations to illegal aliens who receive “deferred action” would, in turn, allow those aliens to receive state driver’s licenses. As Husted pointed out, “by enabling millions of non-citizens to access valid forms of the types of identification required to register to vote, the recent executive actions have increased the risk that non-citizens may illegally register to vote and vote in our elections.” At the CHC’s press conference, a reporter asked Sanchez whether it is a “legitimate concern” that the “president’s executive actions are creating new loopholes for illegal immigrants to vote.” Rep. Sanchez dismissed this out of hand, claiming that the “last thing on their mind is fraud and votes.” But fraud and votes were very much front and center when Loretta Sanchez beat incumbent Republican Rep. Bob Dornan back in 1996. Indeed, the very same House committee wound up investigating that election and issuing an extensive report on its findings….”


Does America want another government shutdown over immigration reform?


DHS stalemate leaves local governments hanging

City, county and state governments rely on grants that the department cannot provide without a full spending bill.


The Next Step One State Could Take to Combat Obama’s Executive Immigration Action

“The recent federal court ruling halting President Barack Obama’s unilateral action to shield 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation presents a perfect opportunity for states to act, said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal to remind illegal immigrants aided by Obama’s executive action that they are still in the country illegally, regarding driver’s license and jobs. Kobach, who has been a national leader on combatting illegal immigration before serving in office, drafted a bill for the Kansas legislature to consider. He says the language of the bill is easily backed up by Texas U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling on Monday. The ruling sided with the 26 states suing the Obama administration. The Obama administration is appealing the ruling. “The bill begins by declaring that the Obama executive action is illegal,” Kobach told TheBlaze. Kansas is among the 26 states in the lawsuit seeking to overturn Obama’s executive action. Kobach is optimistic about the bill passing in a Republican legislature and getting the signature of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Kobach, who before taking office in Kansas was an author of the Arizona immigration law, said he has consulted lawmakers from a dozen other states about legislation to confront Obama’s executive action. “This is a true constitutional crisis we are in now,” Kobach said. “The executive branch has seized power from Congress and ordered federal agents to disobey federal law. We need to see elements acting in this, and they are. The states, the courts and Congress are asserting themselves. If the executive branch gets away with this, it would leave in tatters our constitutional system.”


Judge Hanen’s Flawed Ruling

“He didn’t get to the heart of the problem with the Obama amnesty. Opponents of President Obama’s immigration policy may want to temper their praise of federal judge Andrew Hanen’s decision this week, which blocked the administration’s unilateral policy of refusing to pursue the deportation of millions of illegal aliens. Unfortunately, I think it is likely that an appeals court will reverse Judge Hanen’s decision because it tried — too cleverly — to avoid the fundamental issue of the president’s duty to enforce the law by relying instead on a technical aspect of the law governing administrative agencies. But when the case returns to the trial court, the judge will have to face the critical conflict between the Obama policy and the executive’s constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Judge Hanen, who sits in Brownsville, Texas, issued a 123-page opinion explaining why Texas and 25 other states had the right to challenge the Department of Homeland Security. That part of the decision, which showed how the states were harmed by the federal policy, and so had “standing” to sue in federal court, is likely to be upheld on appeal. As I’ve argued before, the same logic that allowed Massachusetts to sue the EPA for failing to regulate greenhouse gases — on the speculative possibility that gases would lead to global warming, which would lead to rising seas, which would reduce the land mass of the state — would more powerfully support states that had to provide services to illegal aliens allowed to remain in the United States by the Obama administration. Judge Hanen pointed out that Texas would suffer a sufficient harm to sue because it would have to bear expenses to provide illegal aliens with driver’s licenses. Hanen’s opinion straightforwardly rebuts the weak claims of Obama supporters who believed that states had no right to sue in court…”


Immigration delays likely as DOJ weighs legal options

Obama has vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling that blocks his immigration action.

“More than two days after a federal judge blocked expansion of President Barack Obama’s drive to grant quasi-legal status and work permits to millions of illegal immigrants, officials said administration lawyers were still debating how to challenge the injunction, even as immigrant rights advocates pressed the White House for decisive action. The most aggressive legal option federal lawyers could take is to seek a stay of U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen’s order preventing the president from expanding an existing “deferred action” program for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children and launching a similar program for illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. Such a request would go first to Hanen and then to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considered the nation’s most conservative appeals court. If the 5th Circuit rules against the administration, it could ask the Supreme Court to allow Obama’s plans to proceed while the legal battle plays out. A less risky approach would be for the administration simply to appeal to the 5th Circuit and ask the court to hear the issue expeditiously. That option is still likely to take at least several months to resolve. Cases in that circuit typically take almost 9 months from filing to resolution…”


Ruling puts national, local immigration reform on hold

“Monica Reyes and a handful of other supporters of President Obama’s immigration reform gathered in a Waterloo restaurant to watch his formal speech, announcing the executive action. “I was so happy on the progress that we’ve made and I didn’t really think about that and, now, afterward is when everybody started thinking ‘something might happen,’ Reyes said, as she remembered that November night at Chilito’s. That “something” occurred on Monday, when U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued a temporary court order to block the President’s executive action. At least two states formally backed this action to stop the executive order. President Obama made his announcement two weeks after the November midterm elections, where Republicans increased their lead in the House and captured majority control of the Senate over his fellow Democrats. The judge’s ruling came just before millions of undocumented immigrants could have started the process of applying for work permits. “Just in Iowa alone, 18,000 people would be affected by this and this relief is being delayed for these people,” Reyes said. As with many other contentious political issues of our time, immigration reform falls along the common fault lines of political parties. Congressman Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, won election to Iowa’s 1st District two weeks before the President’s executive order. Last month, Blum joined other Iowa Republicans in Congress to support a House bill to overturn the order on immigration, tying it with a Department of Homeland Security bill for funding…”


Immigration Reform Hangs In The Balance


Obama’s immigration orders are a nightmare for everyone


Rep. Guitierrez: Republicans Are Racist Xenophobes For Opposing Illegal Immigration

“Open border activist Rep. Luis Guitierrez is calling Republicans racist and xenophobic for opposing illegal immigration. He’s also attacking U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanan for issuing an injunction against President Obama’s executive action on illegal immigration.  “It is mean and xenophobic,” Guiterrez said during an interview on The Kelly File Wednesday. “I believe that this judge is going to get an atta’ boy when he goes back to his country club, what a great job.” The key part of the interview is when Guitierrez refuses to address the question about President Obama saying repeatedly for years that he didn’t have the authority to change immigration law via executive order…”



“Iowa is hardly Nevada, but national Latino organizations are reportedly organizing Hispanic voters in Iowa to be more vocal and confront 2016 presidential candidates on issues like immigration and amnesty. According to a report in the Des Moines Register, Iowa Latinos “are planning to raise $500,000 to $1 million to help them have a bigger role in the 2016 Iowa caucus presidential campaigns.” Their plans leading up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses reportedly include “conducting town hall meetings and ‘bird dogging’ Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to ask questions about issues important to Latinos” like comprehensive amnesty legislation. Other questions will be about “health, education and jobs.” JoeEnriquez Henry, president of the Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens, “said he expects strong financial support from national Latino groups for the Iowa organizational effort.” He reportedly “just returned from a meeting in Washington, D.C., last week where national Latino leaders, particularly from California, said they want Iowa Latinos to be more heavily involved in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses in early 2016.” “We need to make it known to the presidential candidates that we are an active community, that we are growing here in the Midwest, as we are growing across the country,” Henry told the Register. “We want a seat at the table, and we want to make sure that they know our issues.” According to the outlet, Latinos made up “5.5 percent of the state’s population” in 2013 and Henry “said he believes there are about 73,000 potential Iowa Latino voters, and his organization has already identified about half of them through the state’s voter rolls.” As Latinos in Iowa are gearing up their advocacy efforts, DREAMers from outside of the state have already made their presence known in the state. DREAMers confronted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) last year and crashed this year’s Iowa Freedom Summit and accosted GOP speakers to pressure them on amnesty issues…”



“On Thursday, La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguia said the executive amnesty debate will allow Latinos to determine which politicians stood with “our community.” On Jose Diaz Balart’s MSNBC show, Murguia urged the White House to find the “most expeditious way to move forward” that puts them in the best position to get the injunction against the executive action overturned. Murguia said she was disappointed but not surprised by Judge Andrew Hanen’s injunction. When asked about Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s (D-IL) prediction that the injunction would activate an unprecedented “militancy” among Latino that will drive them to the ballot box, Murguia said Gutierrez was “tapping into a sentiment of frustration by many in the Latino community who see these efforts to dismantle these programs as not attacks on the President,” but “attacks on American families.” Murguia said her organization will help prepare illegal immigrants to apply for Obama’s temporary amnesty because she is confident Obama’s executive amnesty programs are on “solid legal footing” will be allowed to go forward. But she said her group will also use “advocacy”–like voter education and engagement–during the delay to activate the Latino electorate ahead of the 2016 elections. “Ultimately, we can determine which politicians stood on the side of the law and of history and our community and which ones did not,” she said, predicting an “unprecedented effort to get out the vote as we see the presidential elections looming large in 2016.” Murguia said “it is very clear that this issue will be front and center as we look at candidates who are emerging” in 2016 at the state and national levels…”



“After a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty this week, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s pro-amnesty lobbying group vowed it would not give up on the fight for executive amnesty and work permits for illegal immigrants and a comprehensive amnesty bill. declared that it was “confident that this injunction won’t last long” and encouraged “eligible immigrants to continue to prepare for the deferred action programs.” The organization promised to “continue to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country to be able to contribute fully to our communities and our economy, and work toward the permanent legislative solution to our broken immigration system that our country so desperately needs.” “We will continue sharing the message that eligible immigrants should prepare for the deferred action programs that will provide millions of immigrants and their families the chance to live and work free from the fear of deportation,” the organization declared. “Reform advocates have worked tirelessly for this victory, and we are not going to give up because of this temporary injunction.” has spent millions, aided by consultants from the permanent political class on both sides of the aisle, trying to secure a comprehensive amnesty bill with massive increases in guest-worker visas for the high-tech industry that would lower the wages of American workers. But after the group failed to move Congress on a comprehensive amnesty bill last year, its president Joe Green ultimately took the fall and resigned.”




Immigrants feel stuck after judge blocks Obama orders



“Federal agents arrested 17 suspected members of a Mexican Zetas cartel cell operating in Texas. Members of the cell moved massive quantities of of drugs from the Texas border city of Laredo to Dallas, Texas. The U.S. federal agencies involved in the task force ranged from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, all the way to the U.S. Border Patrol. Eleven accused members of the group were arrested in Laredo and two were arrested near Dallas. Four others were already in custody on other charges, information released to Breitbart Texas by the U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed. The charges against them come from a federal indictment that a grand jury handed down earlier this month under seal and it was partially unsealed following the arrests. The group, which is led by 43-year-old Erasmo Trejo Nava, is accused of multiple drug conspiracy and money laundering charges starting on June 2011. While the court records on the new charges are still not available, according to court records from a previous charge on Trejo Nava, he would own properties near the Rio Grande which were used as stash houses from cartel mules that would bring ton quantities of marijuana. As Breitbart Texas previously reported, the area just south of the Rio Grande has little to offer as far as physical barriers making it very easy for Zeta cartel mules to get their drugs into the American side. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Trejo Nava’s group moved those large quantities of narcotics to Dallas and then in return moved large quantities of bulk cash from Dallas to Laredo and then over the river into the Zetas-controlled Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo. Nuevo Laredo is considered by Mexican officials to be one of the main strongholds of the Zetas cartel, a ruthless criminal organization that, in addition to drug trafficking, is known for its ultra-violent executions that include beheadings, dissolving victims’ bodies in barrels of acid, and skinning the faces off of enemies. A federal agent who works under the umbrella of Customs and Border Protection spoke with Breitbart Texas on the condition of anonymity. The agent stated, “Due to the region involved, any large narcotics trafficking cell is going to be Los Zetas. They control the region with an iron fist. The refusal on the part of the federal government to name Los Zetas in their press releases on these matters is akin to the Obama administration refusing to name radical Islam in terrorist acts or identify the beheaded Egyptians as Christians. This cell was undoubtedly Los Zetas, just as any large narcotics ring in the RGV Sector is undoubtedly the Gulf cartel, and any large trafficking ring in the Tucson sector is undoubtedly the Sinaloa Federation.” The agent continued, “If we continue refusing to identify who we are fighting, how can we ever possibly win?”


Student Visas from Saudi Arabia Increase Ten-Fold Since 9/11


Amnesty Unprecedented

“Obama’s legal team has its history all wrong. Judge Andrew Hanen’s leveling of the Obama administration’s executive decree on amnesty is a carefully reasoned analysis of the various legal violations put before him by Texas and the other plaintiff states. In particular, the argument made by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the legality of the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program — which lets illegal aliens with children who are U.S. citizens obtain “deferred action” (relief from deportation) and work permits — rested heavily on the purported scope of the Department of Homeland Security’s discretion in enforcing immigration law. The DOJ placed much emphasis on Congress’s supposed acquiescence to past uses of deferred action. This is one area where Judge Hanen could have gone much further. Obama’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), in its own opinion on DAPA — from which DOJ attorneys in the Texas case borrowed heavily — stated: “Congress has long been aware of the practice of granting deferred action, including in its categorical variety . . . and it has never acted to disapprove or limit the practice.” (Emphasis added.) This statement is breathtakingly false, and anyone making a cursory review of past deferred-action programs will find that DOJ’s assertion that DAPA aligns with past practice is paper-thin. When Judge Hanen fleshes out his analysis in his forthcoming opinion on the merits of the case, it is to be hoped that he will distinguish DAPA from previous programs, in order to end this fantasy of past acquiescence. Judge Hanen’s coverage of the acquiescence issue can be summarized by his conclusion that “past practice by immigration officials does not create a source of power for the DHS to implement DAPA.” President Obama, along with certain globalist academics, has been hammering away at “congressional acquiescence” in the mainstream media for some time — even claiming that President Reagan would have blessed Obama’s amnesties. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (for which I work) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Texas, a brief that sought to rebut these claims by describing and distinguishing each program in detail. To be sure, the executive branch has made many attempts in the past to push through mass deferrals of deportation (although on nothing remotely approaching Obama’s scale). Each effort has been “justified” under the rubric of “prosecutorial discretion.” Congress, however, has consistently responded by restricting and rolling back the executive’s purported “exercise of discretion” and, in turn, has implemented ever more comprehensive and detailed statutory guidelines on how and when illegal aliens are to be removed. In its response to Texas’s complaint, DOJ completely failed to explain how these “past precedents” compare to DAPA — and with good reason. Obama’s revisionist take on Reagan is in reference to both the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 and its companion Family Fairness program of 1990, neither of which worked. First, IRCA was a legislative act, passed by Congress, so it should be struck from DOJ’s argument outright. The Family Fairness program, mentioned prominently in DOJ’s second reply, granted “voluntary departure” (rather than deportation) to a few thousand spouses and children of IRCA recipients who had been left out of IRCA’s ambit due to an oversight. Congress sought to correct this mistake by making provisions for this class in the Immigration Act of 1990; in the interim (of several months), members of this class, despite being illegal, had their deportation proceedings stayed. The program’s small scale and congressional approval make it the polar opposite of both DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA. Another exercise of discretion that DOJ mentions is the executive’s “parole authority.” For years, this provision of immigration law had been used to grant parole to whole categories of refugees — in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, which recognizes parole only on a case-by-case basis. The Second Circuit once described the mass use of parole as a way for the executive to “circumvent congressionally established immigration policy.” Congress enacted the Refugee Act of 1980 in order to curb this abuse…”


Marco Rubio falsely accused

Despite a flurry of news reports, the Republican senator didn’t call for caving in the DHS funding fight.

“Marco Rubio didn’t actually call for his party to surrender to President Barack Obama’s immigration strategy Wednesday — but the recriminations were quick for the GOP senator anyway. “Rubio Folds” blared the headline on the Drudge Report, linking to a newspaper story that suggested the Florida senator was running away from the Republican strategy of tying immigration riders to a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security… The media narrative was wrong, his aides said. “Senator Rubio does not support a clean DHS funding bill that does not repeal the president’s unconstitutional executive order on immigration,” Conant wrote in an email. According to the transcript, Rubio told reporters what anyone on Capitol Hill has seen firsthand: The House-passed bill funding DHS and blocking President Barack Obama’s immigration policies can’t pass the Senate due to a Democratic filibuster. And Obama would veto it, anyway. “We have to fund Homeland Security,” Rubio said. “Look, I’m in favor of any measure that has a chance of succeeding that could stop the new order, but the truth of the matter is the president’s not going to sign it, and we don’t have the votes to pass it in the Senate. We can’t let Homeland Security shut down.” Rubio didn’t suggest how exactly Congress could try to avert a shutdown next week. But House and Senate Republican leaders haven’t laid out a clear strategy on that front either. Rubio’s remarks echo his party leadership. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has scheduled a fourth doomed vote on the House bill for next week but has conceded that the Senate is “stuck” on it. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas has repeatedly said in interviews that there will be no shutdown. And almost every Republican has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the impasse, just as Rubio did on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, so far the Democrats refuse to give us the votes necessary to go on the bill,” Rubio said. “By the rules of the Senate, you need 60 [votes] to begin debate and without the 60 votes to begin debate, they won’t even give us the 60 votes to begin debate on the topic…”


Rick Perry: Unrealistic to send 11 million illegal immigrants home

“Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that while a conversation about immigration reform has to start with border security, it’s unrealistic to think that the approximately 11 million people in the country illegally can just be sent home. “I don’t think American people trust Washington to deal with this issue of immigration reform until the border’s secure — that’s the reason that we did what we did in Texas,” Mr. Perry said Wednesday evening on Fox News’ “The Kelly File.” “It’s the reason I invited the president to come down and see that his policies, whether it was DACA or other policies that they put into place during the six years of this administration are really what’s driving a lot of the illegal immigration that’s occurring.” But, he was asked, what do you do with the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the country before you get the border secured? “I don’t think anyone with a sense of reality thinks that we’re going to ship 11 or 12 million people back to where they’re from,” he said. “But again, I go back to the conversation that has to occur … it’s got to be action,” he added. “We had a 74 percent reduction of apprehensions after we surged our national guard along with our law enforcement down to that southern 150-plus-mile region of the border.” Mr. Perry, a possible presidential contender in 2016, also said Mr. Obama wasn’t the only one to blame…”


Scott Walker approved Milwaukee county resolution backing 2006 McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill

“I should hope so. After signing a separate resolution calling for a path to citizenship in 2002, how could he turn down a sequel? Are we sure Jeb Bush is the most pro-amnesty candidate in the field? Remember, unlike some people, Jeb (supposedly) opposes a path to citizenship for adult illegals. But the likely presidential candidate apparently stood on another side of that debate as the Milwaukee County Executive in 2006. That year, he signed a resolution calling on Congress to pass the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, a bill authored by John McCain and Teddy Kennedy that was denounced at the time by conservatives as “amnesty” — and remains anathema to party activists… The 2006 resolution embracing the McCain-Kennedy bill was sent to Walker by the Milwaukee Board of Supervisors. He signed it despite returning or vetoing numerous other matters that year. The final version of the resolution signaled support for criminalizing federal immigration law violations and increased border fencing. But it also referred to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and “full labor rights.” Good news for Walker: The guy who actually wrote that bill — with Ted Kennedy — ended up winning the GOP nomination in 2008, so it’s possible to be a much bigger amnesty shill and still end up as the “conservative” party’s choice for president. More good news: Although McCain faced a weaker field than Walker will, he also had to contend with people running to his right on this issue. Walker really doesn’t. Cruz will try, but when push comes to shove, he supports legalizing illegals. And still more good news: Judging from the reaction of some of our commenters in Headlines, plenty of grassroots righties are already greeting stories like this with “the media’s trying to take down our guy!” rather than “gee, the great conservative hope sure has a bad record on this issue.” That’s Walker’s strength in a nutshell…”






Economic optimism doesn’t substantially boost Obama’s approval: poll

“Renewed optimism from Americans on the state of the U.S. economy has not translated to a marked bump for President Obama’s approval ratings, a new poll said. Forty-eight percent say the country’s economic conditions are good and 52 percent say poor — a big jump from February 2014, when 36 percent said things were good and 64 percent said they were poor. And 56 percent say things will be in good shape in one year — the largest percentage to have said so in a CNN/ORC during Mr. Obama’s second term. Still, Mr. Obama’s overall approval rating was at 47 percent in the poll, with 51 percent disapproving — about the same as a similar poll in December. Fifty-four percent still disapprove of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy. And 45 percent approve of his handling of the issue of helping the middle class, up a bit from 40 percent in June 2014. The survey of 1,027 American adults was conducted Feb. 12-15 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points…”


Parties, golfing, ‘casino nights’ part of Energy Dept.’s $21M conference budget: report

“Cruise-boat dinners, Super Bowl parties and golf tournaments were part of Department of Energy conferences that cost taxpayers more than $21 million over a 16-month span, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general. The report examined more than 300 Energy Department conferences held from April 2013 through September 2014 and found that, in at least some instances, work wasn’t the only thing on the agenda. “Our review also identified conference information regarding social events that in our view could lead to negative public perceptions. Existing guidance notes that participation in any associated social events should be limited and restrained to the greatest degree practicable to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” the inspector general said in the report. “Despite this admonition, we found that attendance at some conferences included associated social events. For example, [Energy Department documents] showed department-sponsored conferences that included a casino night, Super Bowl party, golf tournament, banquet on a dinner cruise boat, dinner at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a tour and dinner at an aquarium.” The report went on to say that Energy Department officials claim improper records make it appear as if the department fully paid for such activities, when in reality it did not. Officials told the inspector general that the banquets, parties and other after-work functions should be listed as “co-sponsored” by the department or “not sponsored at all.” “Further, federal officials told us they have little control over associated conference social events in such situations,” the report says.”


IRS Paid $5.8 Billion In Fraudulent Refunds, Identity Theft Efforts Need Work

“From 2011 through October 2014, the IRS has stopped 19 million suspicious tax returns and protected more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds. That’s good, but some of the other figures are less so. Are your dates, numbers and passwords safe? It’s become a near obsession, with good reason. This tax filing season started with new and alarming incidences of identity theft. And right on cue, the Government Accountability Office has released a new report. Even though it is based on past numbers, it is revealing. The IRS is wracked by budget cuts, and has all the usual tax season issues of seasonal employees and technical problems. This year, it is made worse by additional burdens of implementing Obamacare, coupled with a sharp uptick in identity fraud filing problems. It’s not a pretty picture, and the report says change is needed…”


You Won’t Believe Which Senator Won ‘Porker Of The Year’

“Citizens Against Government Waste awarded Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Porker of the Year,” for her “inane” suggestion that the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service should start acting as a bank. CAGW, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating government waste, gives the award annually to the lawmaker, government official, or political candidate who has shown the most “blatant disregard” for taxpayers that year. Warren won over six other candidates with 34 percent of the vote in a public online poll. She won the award because in 2014 she suggested the USPS fix its financial troubles by rebranding itself as a bank. If USPS offered basic bill paying, check cashing and small loans, it could make enough money to provide those services and shape up its finances. It could “make a critical difference for millions of Americans who don’t have basic banking services because there are almost no banks or bank branches in their neighborhoods,” she wrote in an op-ed published by the Huffington Post. The USPS has been on the Government Accountability Office’s annual High Risk List since 2009, because it “continues to face great uncertainty and risk related to its financial condition.”


Elizabeth Warren named ‘Porker of the Year’ by taxpayer watchdog


Number of Corporations in U.S. Hit Lowest Level Seen in 40 Years

“The number of corporations in the United States has hit the lowest level seen in 40 years, according to data from the Tax Foundation. The Tax Foundation’s report titled, “America’s Shrinking Corporate Sector” states that “recently released IRS data shows that there were 1.6 million C corporations in 2011. This is the lowest number of traditional corporations since 1974 and 1 million fewer than there were at the peak in 1986.” “In other words, in every year since 1986, roughly 40,000 U.S. corporations have disappeared from the tax rolls,” states the report. “However, the losses have accelerated since 2006 to a rate of about 60,000 per year.” C Corporations, according to the Tax Foundation, face double taxation due to the corporate tax and shareholder taxes on dividends on capital gains. According to the Tax Foundation, while C corporations have seen a decline in number over the years, the number of partnerships and S corporations have increased. “The decline of the traditional corporate sector has generally coincided with the rise of the pass-through sector, comprised of businesses such as partnerships and S corporations that pass profits to owners who report them on their individual tax returns,” explains the report. “Pass-through businesses are subject to just one layer of tax, the individual income tax, while C corporations face double taxation due to the corporate tax and shareholder taxes on dividends and capital gains.” In addition to a decline in the number of corporations, business sector growth and profits have taken a dip as well. “The recession and subsequent slow recovery have led to slow overall growth in the business sector,” explains the Tax Foundation. “As a result, the growth rate of pass-through entities have tapered off in recent years.” “Since 2006, S corporations have grown at a rate of about 1 percent a year, down from a rate of about 8 percent in the 20 years prior,” states the report. “Likewise, partnerships have grown at a rate of about 2 percent a year since 2006, down from a rate of about 3 percent in the 20 years prior.” “Not only has the total number of traditional corporations declined, so has the total of their profits,” states the Tax Foundation. “C corporation profits, while extremely volatile, have generally trended downward as a share of GDP in recent decades, while the profits of S corporations and partnerships have trended upwards.”


Gauge of US economy posts slight 0.2 percent January gain

“An index designed to predict the future health of the U.S. economy rose in January by the smallest amount in five months, indicating the economy’s momentum may have slowed a bit. The New York-based Conference Board said Thursday its index of leading indicators increased 0.2 percent in January, the weakest gain since a 0.1 percent rise in August. In addition, the December increase was revised lower to a 0.4 percent rise instead of the initially reported 0.5 percent increase. The pace of growth in the index has moderated in recent months from gains of 0.6 percent in both September and October to smaller increases since that time. “While the LEI suggests a positive short-term outlook in 2015, the lack of strong momentum in residential construction, along with a weak outlook for new orders in manufacturing, poses a downside risk for the U.S. economy,” said Conference Board economist Ataman Ozyildirim. Five of the 10 forward-pointing indicators that make up the index made positive contributions in January with the largest boost coming from low interest rates and consumer expectations for business conditions. Four indicators were negative in January with the biggest weakness coming from the new orders index compiled by the Institute for Supply Management and a drop in stock prices. Overall economic growth slowed to a 2.6 percent annual rate in the final three months of 2014 after gains of 4.5 percent in the spring quarter and 5 percent in the July-September period. Many economists say the economy is growing at a moderate pace of around 2.5 percent in the current January-March quarter…”


Obama: ‘America poised for another good year’

“President Obama is touting 2014 as a “breakthrough year” and painting a positive economic outlook over the next 12 months in his annual economic report to Congress. “America is poised for another good year, as long as Washington works to keep this progress going,” Obama wrote in the report, released on Thursday. Obama hit on many points of his economic agenda, including increasing the child tax credit, pushing for paid sick leave and maternity leave, raising the minimum wage, offering free two-year community college tuition and focusing on high-skilled jobs through better infrastructure and science and technology investments. He also argued that the trade deals his administration is pushing for in the Atlantic and Pacific would help U.S. businesses by opening up new markets, and called for Congress to reform the tax code and “broken immigration system.” Republicans, who hold a majority in both the House and Senate, have criticized Obama’s policies as increasing the size of government and increasing taxes…”


WH warns weak productivity, inequality could threaten economic recovery

“The U.S. economic recovery is strong and set to accelerate in 2015, but dangers lie ahead in slow productivity growth and inequality, the White House said Thursday. There is “every reason to believe the U.S. can have another good year economically in 2015,” if policymakers avoid major mistakes, Obama economic adviser Jason Furman said Thursday morning. Furman was speaking after the release of the Economic Report of the President, which projected the growth in U.S. output to accelerate from 2.1 percent in 2014 to 3 percent this year and next, and remain above the recent trend through 2018. The Obama administration sees the unemployment rate, currently at 5.7 percent, falling below 5 percent by 2017. The report recapitulates many of the policy agenda items laid out by the Obama administration in its fiscal 2016 budget released earlier this month and adds detail about the White House’s broader view of long-term economic trends and developments…”


White House seeking more ways to raise wages

“The Obama administration said Thursday that it will keep seeking ways to raise wages for workers as more sweeping efforts stall in Congress.  White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Wal-Mart’s decision to raise starting wages to $9 an hour in its U.S. stores beginning in April and up to $10 next year — $1.75 above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 — “is another example of businesses along with cities and states taking action on their own to raise wages for their workers, recognizing that doing so can raise productivity, reduce turnover and improve morale.” Schultz said that more than a dozen states, the District of Columbia and businesses of all sizes have raised wages since President Obama first called for action in his 2013 State of the Union address. “We continue to call on Congress to give all workers in America a wage — a raise hike,” he said. “But given their recalcitrance on this, because Republicans keep blocking it, we’re going to continue to make progress in other ways.” Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest employer, with 1.3 million people on its U.S. payrolls. As many as 500,000 people could be affected by the change that includes better training programs and more schedule flexibility…”


White House Makes Economic Pitch

“The latest economic report from the White House is part victory lap, part pitch for enacting what President Barack Obama calls his “middle-class” agenda — including new trade deals with Europe and Asia and the president’s budget. At a briefing for reporters Wednesday, ahead of Thursday’s release of the Economic Report of the President, chief economic adviser Jason Furman ticked off the statistics that have buoyed White House spirits of late — improving economic growth, the best job performance since 1999 last year and lower gas prices. But there are several troubling caveats, Furman acknowledged. The percentage of men in prime working age who have dropped out of the labor force has grown substantially in recent decades and is higher than many competitors. More troubling, the income of middle-class families has been largely flat, although there are recent signs of modest improvement. Median family incomes remain stuck at mid-1990s levels. “This is the big picture challenge that we’re trying to overcome as an economy,” Furman said. Furman said much of the lag in wage growth, which he attributed to decades-long trends, came from slower productivity growth, and somewhat less important was growing income inequality. Furman said a bright spot is in export industries, which have seen higher wage growth, and made the pitch for new trade deals that would lower trade barriers. Adviser Maurice Obstfeld said growing trade, particularly in services, has the potential to bolster middle-class incomes. And he noted the trade deals under development would phase-in in an effort to cushion the adjustments to U.S. industries and workers. The average U.S. tariff was 1.4 percent on imports, while most of the governments the United States is negotiating with have far higher barriers, he said. There’s also the China card. Per the White House pitch, China doesn’t insist on the same standards as the United States in its deals, and if the United States doesn’t engage these countries, China will be setting the agenda. “What we would like to do is … level up the playing field rather than leave it to others to level down the playing field,” Obstfeld said. Of course, the administration still has work to do to convince members of the president’s own party of the merits of new free trade deals; many Democrats say earlier trade deals should take some of the blame for stagnant wages and lost jobs. Furman also pointed to the an end to budget crises as a reason for 2014’s economic performance. He said government spending cuts ceased to be a net drag on the economy, helping to boost growth. And he said Obama’s success in ending the sequester and increasing spending $70 billion in his budget would boost economic growth by some multiple of 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, provided Congress goes along…”


Biden in NC: America must rebuild its infrastructure

“In a visit to Charlotte, where local leaders say prosperity is linked to infrastructure investments, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday reiterated the administration’s call to invest billions in highways, bridges and passenger rail service to promote long-term economic growth. “How can we afford not to modernize our infrastructure,” Biden said, on the second day of his swing through the Carolinas, to about 100 people in a building close to the city’s aging Amtrak station. Biden appeared with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the city’s former mayor, who’s making a five-state tour to promote a plan to spend almost $500 billion over the next six years to fix the nation’s infrastructure. Biden also appeared with Foxx in South Carolina on Wednesday, where the vice president touched on some of the same themes: the United States lags behind the rests of the world in transportation infrastructure. “The United States shouldn’t be 28th in the world in anything,” he said. Foxx said Charlotte’s explosive growth can be attributed to the substantial investment in infrastructure over the last three decades…”


Six Years Into Obama Presidency, Joe Biden Says Middle Class Is ‘Being Killed’

“As President Barack Obama heads into the final stretch of his two-term presidency, his vice president, Joe Biden, said Thursday that the middle class is “being killed” and in “worse shape than they’ve been any time since the ‘20s.” Biden was in Charlotte, North Carolina, promoting a $500 billion federal “investment” in infrastructure to provide a jolt to the U.S. job market. In his speech, he also lamented the fact that the middle class “has been slammed.” “What’s the way to grow the middle class? Jobs. What’s the way to get jobs? Generate a virtuous cycle where you generate more opportunity, more employers, more concentration of work in our communities. And that’s what infrastructure does,” Biden said. Watch the clip via the Washington Free Beacon:..”




More States Push Back Against Common Core

“Common Core continues to be a top concern in the states, with Mississippi and Wisconsin being the latest states taking steps to distance themselves from the controversial standards. Mississippi is considering full repeal of the Common Core standards. State senators Michael Watson and Angela Burks introduced legislation to repeal the standards last month, with Watson telling Mississippi “will end up with our own standards that are better, higher and cleaner than Common Core.” This measure follows Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s December 2013 executive order affirming Mississippi’s right to define their education standards. The bill would create an advisory board to evaluate other state standards (using resources such as Fordham Institute’s State of State Standards), and introduce new Mississippi standards to the state department of education. This way the advisory board could craft a set of standards exclusively for Mississippi students, by borrowing from rigorous standards like California’s math and Massachusetts’s language arts standards, but also keeping strong standards of their own. In addition, in January, the Mississippi Board of Education voted to withdraw from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, which is one of the two tests aligned to Common Core, and requested proposals for new state tests on Feb. 2. Until a new test is adopted, however, the state will use NCS Pearson Inc. assessments. This was met with skepticism because Pearson signed a contract with the PARCC last year, leading to concerns that the new tests will be influenced by Common Core standards. Mississippi is practicing competitive federalism, which is the process of states evaluating their current standards, keeping what is good, discarding what is bad, and using what has worked in other states. Competitive federalism is the opposite of one-size-fits-all approaches like Common Core. Wisconsin is also moving away from Common Core standards. Earlier this month Gov. Scott Walker, R., Wis., cut state funding for the other Common Core-aligned exam, the Smarter Balanced assessment, in his budget proposal. The proposal doesn’t prohibit schools from using Common Core, but encourages district level innovation. “I want high standards—and those decisions should be made by school board members and parents and others at the local level,” said Walker in his budget address. Withdrawing from the Smarter Balanced consortium gives Wisconsin the opportunity to use a new test—perhaps approved by the University of Wisconsin-Madison—that could reflect state and district-driven standards…”


After Common Core, Are AP Tests The Next Domino?




Obama underwater in Colorado, Virginia, Iowa: poll

6 in 10 want a change in direction

“A majority of voters in three swing states disapprove of how President Obama is handling his job and by wide margins want to see the next president shift away from his policies. Forty-three percent of voters in both Colorado and Iowa approve of how Mr. Obama is handling his job, compared to 52 percent who disapprove. Forty-four percent in Virginia approve and 53 percent disapprove, a new Quinnipiac poll said. Mr. Obama carried all three states in both 2008 and 2012. By 58 percent to 34 percent margins in Iowa and Colorado, voters also say they want the next president to “change direction from Barack Obama’s policies,” and voters in Virginia, by a 61 percent to 31 percent margin, say the same. A majority of voters in each state do support Mr. Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to give tax breaks for the middle class, but majorities in Virginia and Iowa oppose his plan to offer free community college tuition for two years. In Colorado, a plurality, 49 percent to 46 percent, disapproves of his community college plan. Solid majorities are also satisfied with how things are going in their states, but pluralities say that Mr. Obama’s policies have hurt rather than helped the U.S. economy and that his policies have hurt rather than helped their personal financial situation…”


More buyer’s remorse in the swing states

“In 2012 Barack Obama managed to carry Iowa, Virginia and Colorado. But after getting a good look at his second term agenda, particularly his plan to provide “free” community college education for most people, the voters there seem to be having a change of heart. According to a new Quinnipiac poll, the shift in opinions is rather stark. Iowa voters oppose President Barack Obama’s free community college plan by a 15-percentage-point margin, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday. The president in his State of the Union address last month proposed making community college free for more students. The poll found that 55 percent of Iowa voters disapprove of the plan and 40 percent approve. In Virginia, voters were more closely divided, with 51 percent opposed to the plan and 45 percent in support of it. In Colorado, voters were pretty much tied, with 49 percent against the plan and 46 percent for it. Obama won all three of those swing states in 2012, but today voters there say they want the next president to take the country in a different direction—in Iowa, 58-34 percent; in Virginia, 61-31; and in Colorado, 58-34. Perhaps those voters should have been paying a bit more attention when the President assured Vladimir Putin’s flunky that he would have more flexibility after his election. That flexibility has been on display in a number of policy areas, both foreign and domestic, and it doesn’t seem to be selling well in the heartland…”


FCC/FTC Commissioners: ‘The Internet Isn’t Broken, And We Don’t Need The President’s Plan To ‘Fix’ It’

“Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai gained an ally in the fight against his agency’s net neutrality proposal in a Wednesday op-ed, in which Pai and Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright argue the plan will take FTC protection away from Internet consumers. In a Chicago Tribune editorial, both commissioners argue that the FCC’s plan to regulate Internet service providers as public utilities is unnecessary, as the FTC already has the power to protect Internet consumers from anti-competitive and privacy-invasive practices by ISPs, and that Wheeler’s February plan — first called for by President Obama in November — would take that protection away.  “Federal law already protects competition and consumers online — and the president’s plan would strip away those protections,” the two wrote. “Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to quickly address any anti-competitive exercise of market power, protect consumer privacy, and prevent deceptive and unfair practices that harm consumers. And it uses its authority aggressively to police market power and fraud in the Internet economy.” Under federal law the FTC would lose that ability were the FCC to reclassify ISPs as “common carrier” public utilities similar to telephone service providers — essentially the backbone of the plan called for by Obama and announced by Wheeler earlier this month.  The plan won’t be released to the public until after the FCC votes on it on Feb. 26, but according to Wright and Pai — who has been discussing its most controversial points in the weeks since Wheeler handed it out to his fellow commissioners — its so-called “Internet conduct” rule could jeopardize popular connection plans currently offered to consumers.”


Obama has set aside “more public lands and waters than any president in history”

“The president touted his environmental preservation record during a ceremony in Chicago.”


President’s ‘Every Kid In A Park’ Initiative Offers Free Access To Fourth Graders And Their Families

“Families have a new opportunity to fall in love with the one of the nation’s greatest resources: our national parks. Today President Barack Obama launched the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative to provide all fourth grade students and their families with free admission to National Parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year. The effort is in anticipation of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, and serves as a way to encourage families to get off the couch and into nature.”Today, more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces.  At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens instead of outside.  A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people now devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week – more than a full time job,” said the White House in a press release. The initiative starts with the 2015-2016 school year, and will provide:

–Information and resources to make it easy for teachers and families to identify nearby public lands and waters and to find programs that support youth outings.

–Transportation support to schools with the most need

–Educational materials..


Obama to give free parks admission to fourth graders


Electricity officials push for more time on EPA rule

“Electric utilities and state environmental agencies pleaded with the nation’s top electric grid regulator Thursday to push back on the deadlines the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed for complying with its power-plant emissions rule. The first Federal Energy Regulatory Commission technical conference on the EPA proposal showcased unified worries about the agency’s aggressive proposed interim emission reduction targets. Those targets begin in 2020, but organizations that are affected contend there’s not enough flexibility or time to comply.


“Don’t be chopped liver. You need to have an active role in this process,” Susan Kelly, president of the American Public Power Association whose members include electricity generators, urged the commission. “[The EPA has] come and swept you into the maelstrom, whether you want to be there or not.” Top EPA officials have acknowledged it is considering scuttling the near-term target. Both EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Janet McCabe, the agency’s air chief, said at a utility regulator conference this week that revisions were on the table.”


Citigroup To Spend $100 Billion Fighting Global Warming

“Citigroup is planning to spend $100 billion over the next 10 years on activities and programs to fight global warming. This, just a few years after receiving a $50 billion taxpayer bailout. The financial institution’s $100 billion pledge builds on a 2003 initiative to spend $50 billion by 2013. Citigroup will continue to fund activities, including financing green energy, energy-efficiency programs, and pushing for carbon dioxide emissions reductions. Citigroup will also fund projects to improve infrastructure and make areas better prepared for global warming. “Citi has demonstrated its deep commitment to not only taking environmental consequences into account, but also finding innovative ways to finance projects that lead to sustainable growth,” said Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat. Citigroup was a major recipient of bailout funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was launched under President George W. Bush to prevent major banks from going under during the 2008 financial crisis. Fox News reported in 2011 that Citi got “$50 billion from the government’s TARP programs,” on top of “$73.6 billion from FDIC programs and $125.3 billion from the various Federal Reserve liquidity programs.”


State Department’s Jen Psaki to become White House communications director

“State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has been selected as President Obama’s next communications director, tasked with leading the White House messaging shop during the final stint of the Democrat’s presidency. “I fully trust Jen – and I am thrilled she’s agreed to come back to the White House,” Obama said in a statement Thursday. Psaki will replace Jennifer Palmieri, who will soon join Hillary Clinton’s expected presidential campaign. She will begin her new role on April 1. In tapping Psaki for the post, Obama is bringing a familiar face back to the White House at a time of great flux. With the departure of Palmieri and senior advisers Dan Pfeiffer and John Podesta, Obama faced the prospect of having few familiar senior aides left. Psaki was a traveling press secretary for Obama’s first run to the White House and had a senior messaging post during his first term.”


Obama Names State Dept. Spokeswoman as New Communications Director

“President Barack Obama has named State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as the new White House communications director. Psaki, an Obama hand since 2007, replaces Jennifer Palmieri, who is leaving to work on Hillary Clinton’s presumed presidential campaign. “[Psaki] worked on both my campaigns, she’s served in the White House, and she’s traveled the world as an advisor to Secretary Kerry,” Obama said in a statement. “I fully trust Jen – and I am thrilled she’s agreed to come back to the White House as communications director.” After working in the White House press office, Psaki moved over to the State Department two years ago, where she’s been known for contentious and sometimes head-scratching exchanges with reporters, as well as blatantly evading questions. In her new role, she will have limited time before a camera, not conducting a daily press briefing. Last year, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly criticized Psaki as being “out of her depth,” prompting Psaki colleague Marie Harf to slam O’Reilly as lacking “intelligence and class.” There was initial speculation that Psaki might replace Jay Carney as press secretary, a job now occupied by Josh Earnest. As communications director, she will be in charge of all messaging coming out of the White House. In a tweet, Psaki said she was “Honored to be rejoining the team @WhiteHouse in April, exciting two years for @BarackObama ahead. Wil miss incredible colleagues @StateDept.”


Obama picks State’s Psaki to be White House communications director


The promise of hashtag: Jen Psaki gets a big promotion


Senate GOP grills AG nominee over money laundering case

“Republicans are grilling Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch about her role as the federal prosecutor in a controversial money laundering case. Concerns about Lynch have shifted, at least for the moment, from her views on immigration to how she handled claims that British bank HSBC laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for Mexican and Colombian drug lords. As the U.S. attorney in New York, Lynch led the prosecution of HSBC, which culminated in hefty $1.9 billion fine — but no criminal charges against the bank’s top executives. Republicans suggest she was two lenient toward the bank executives. “Why do you believe that concluding an investigation into $881 million in money laundering without a single indictment or fine of an individual is a satisfactory result?” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Lynch in a series of follow-up questions after her confirmation hearing. Grassley delayed Lynch’s confirmation last week, saying he was disappointed that she seemed to be avoiding his questions. Lynch responded to a second round of written questions from Republicans this week, defending her actions in the HSBC case in levying “perhaps the most stringent [terms] ever imposed on a financial institution.” She said she “carefully considered” the case and determined there was not enough evidence to convict the bank executives. “In the course of your investigation, which individuals at HSBC do you believe were most culpable for this money laundering?” Grassley asked. “Virtually all of the senior executives who oversaw HSBC’s flawed compliance programs were replaced,” Lynch answered. “Furthermore, HSBC ‘clawed back’ bonuses for senior executives who oversaw the anti-money laundering program. HSBC also took a number of steps to correct the lack of accountability over its anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance programs.”



Massive drug, terrorism scandal ropes in Obama’s AG nominee


Carter tells military brass, troops he intends to defend nation, Pentagon funding


In Havana, Pelosi delegation promotes Obama’s Cuba thaw

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of congressional Democrats concluded a three-day trip to Cuba Thursday, heaping praise on President Obama’s attempt to mend relations with the island but offering few details about their meetings with high-level Cuban officials. After addressing reporters on the back patio of a U.S. diplomat’s residence, Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the eight other members of the delegation, departed for an appointment with Cuba’s first vice president, Miguel Diaz-Canal, in what is believed to be the first official meeting between U.S. politicians and the man next in line to succeed 83-year-old Raul Castro. Pelosi said the purpose of their trip was to gauge Cubans’ reactions to Obama’s moves, and they had perceived “great enthusiasm” among the Cubans they spoke with. “We’re proud of our president’s decision to move forward and change our policy,” she said. The group was scheduled to depart the island after meeting with Diaz-Canal, 54, who is due to take over Cuba’s one-party communist government in 2018, when Raul Castro has said he will step down. Pelosi’s group was the first official House delegationto visit Cuba since Obama and Castro simultaneously announced Dec. 17 that the countries would re-establish diplomatic relations that were severed by Washington in 1961. But coming immediately after a visit by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the group is just one of several congressional delegations who seem eager to engage in tropical diplomacy while ducking the brutal cold in Washington. A group of Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) is also planning a visit…”


Barack Obama’s ‘reckless disregard’ of the law

“Reckless disregard. It’s a phrase in legal writing that means “gross negligence without concern for danger to others.” And it’s a phrase that characterizes much of the attitude toward law of an administration headed by a man sometimes described as a constitutional scholar. The most recent case in point is the decision by federal district judge Andrew Hanen in Texas enjoining the operation of Barack Obama’s order barring prosecution of something like 4 million illegal immigrants. The administration has a plausible legal argument: the president is ordering immigration authorities to exercise discretion, just as a prosecutor does not bring all possible indictments. In his 123-page opinion Judge Hanen disagrees. “The DHS cannot reasonably claim that, under a general delegation to establish enforcement priorities, it can establish a blanket policy of non-enforcement that also awards legal presence and benefits to otherwise removable aliens…”


GOP’s 2016 donors want a hawk

“Free agent Republican bundlers are prioritizing foreign policy and national security as they ponder where to park their money and lucrative Rolodexes in 2016. In hindsight, Republican rainmakers have concluded that Mitt Romney’s near-singular focus on domestic issues squandered an opportunity to expose President Obama three years ago. They don’t want the next Republican nominee to make the same mistake against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic standard-bearer who as secretary of state was Obama’s chief foreign policy lieutenant. On this topic, at least, coveted Republican donors happen to be in tune with other likely GOP primary voters and the conservative grassroots. They are alarmed by events abroad and determined to nominate a candidate who will re-assert aggressive U.S. global leadership that gets tough with America’s enemies and reassures traditional allies. “I think there’s a belief on the part of donors and operatives that there’s a real opening. The world’s only gotten more dangerous since the last election,” Robert C. O’Brien, a Los Angeles attorney and staunch financial supporter of Romney, said in a telephone interview with the Washington Examiner. O’Brien has yet to pick a horse in the 2016 primary. Republican bundlers are a small group relative to the universe of GOP activists who play in the presidential arena every four years. Most have backgrounds in business and finance, law and government service; although some earned money through non-traditional means or inherited their wealth. While they’re a lucrative source of big checks for political organizations that can accept unlimited contributions, like super PACs, their value to presidential campaigns are their social and business networks…”


Wetumpka Tea Party leader Becky Gerritson eyes Congressional run, Rep. Roby responds to allegations


GOP proposes 33 candidates for 2016, including Romney


Brutal Anti-Jeb Video: Rough Stuff Begins in GOP Race

“Jeb Bush performed a delicate balancing act yesterday with a speech in Chicago in which he showed a good fluency with overseas issues. He also unveiled a list of 21 foreign-policy advisers, many of them veterans of the administrations of his father and brother. But at the same time, he told his Chicago audience “I am my own man.” But that will not satisfy conservatives who are convinced Bush is “insufficiently rigorous” on issues ranging from immigration to the Common Core. Take ForAmerica, a group headed by conservative activist Brent Bozell. Its new video relentlessly pounds Bush for bestowing a public-service “Liberty Medal” on Hillary Clinton at a 2012 ceremony hosted by the National Constitution Center. The video darkly notes that the event occurred one day short of the first anniversary of Benghazi, an attack that is etched in the memory banks of every anti-Hillary conservative activist out there. Senator Rand Paul has said that Clinton’s failure to act decisively before and during the attack “disqualifies her” from future national office. Here is National Journal’s summary of the video: “I want to say thank you, both to Secretary Clinton and to President Clinton,” Bush says in the video, speaking from a podium. “Thank you for your service to our country. We are united by love of country and public service.” The screen, fading to black against ominous music, then scrolls the following text: “Hillary was responsible for the security of the American embassy in Benghazi. . . . She denied repeated requests for security. . . . The attacks occurred on her watch. . . . But on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attacks. . . . Jeb Bush gave her an award for public service.” “You can imagine what use Hillary Clinton will make of that tape and that award,” ForAmerica’s Bozell told me recenlty. “Bush would have no credibility attacking her on foreign policy after having given here an award on the eve of the Benghazi massacre.” Team Jeb is not commenting on the Bozell video, making the argument that their foreign-policy rollout is far more important in the eyes of donors and voters. But Bush will have to be prepared for criticism from his Republican rivals who will argue that he not only doesn’t have the desire to take the fight to Hillary but has even undercut his own ability to do so.”




Ben Carson taps senior political adviser for possible presidential bid


Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina head to New Hampshire in April for GOP summit


Joe Biden is heading to New Hampshire, his third early-voting state in as many weeks


Clintons’ foundation has raised nearly $2 billion — and some key questions




Conservatism is Cushman’s cup of tea

“Well David Cushman has a heart. It’s just one that provides blood to a brain that has allowed him to decide even before he became a rabble-rousing college student that conservatism always made more sense to him. Maybe it started when he watched his parents, as small business owners, fighting an increasing more hostile regulatory environment just to keep their doors open and provide for his family. But Cushman – who is now the President of the Manteca TEA Party Patriots – always had a conservative side at a young age. It was something that he carried with him to college at California State University at Stanislaus in Turlock, where he found that more students didn’t care about politics at all than disagreed with him… “The conservative platform, to me, makes sense in the real world,” he said. “I think that conservatism works best because it preaches having to be responsible with a budget over this ‘tax tax tax’ mentality and just expect the economy to keep growing. It works in theory, but not in reality and I think that conservatives live in reality and that’s what really drew me to them.” Is Cushman the first in a transformation of a party that has traditionally been pegged as only appealing upper middle class Caucasians?  To say he’s the first would be unfair to the young conservatives that have come before him. But his fellow TEA Partiers took note of his age and his abilities and also for ability to rationalize, while still a student, some of the more complex political ideas that tend to either get overlooked or overblown in the day of the 24-hour news cycle.  Simplicity, Cushman says, is key. It’s all about what works for the individual person and if it works for the individual person then it should work for the country.  “Throughout my young life what has kept my interest in conservatism has been observing people my own age and the things that go on around me,” he said. “I saw what kinds of red tape my parents had to deal with when they were just trying to run their business, and in college I saw kids that would get behind causes without conferring about what was going on in the real world because they don’t have any real world responsibilities yet. When I was going to school I was balancing that with a full-time job and now a fiancé and I’m soon going to be in a position where I will have my own budget and will have to run a household. “I have to stay within those lines or else I don’t have any more money. I see that the TEA Party is affecting people – for some it affects them the other way – and I stand behind those core values.”


Ron Paul: “Good News” That Secession Is Happening

“The good news is it’s gonna happen. It’s happening.”


What Kind of Portrait of America Does Obama Paint?

“…Does Barack Obama not love Rudy Giuliani, the attendees of that dinner, or ‘this country’? Let’s look at Obama’s four most recent public remarks. Today, in his second address to the White House Summit on ‘Violent Extremism,’ the president suggested most Americans don’t personally know a Muslim and thus perceive them as dangerous and threatening: I’d like to close by speaking very directly to a painful truth that’s part of the challenge that brings us here today.  In some of our countries, including the United States, Muslim communities are still small, relative to the entire population, and as a result, many people in our countries don’t always know personally of somebody who is Muslim.  So the image they get of Muslims or Islam is in the news.  And given the existing news cycle, that can give a very distorted impression.  Yesterday, in a separate address to the summit, Obama suggested that U.S. law enforcement is abusing the Muslim community, that they unfairly target Muslim Americans, and that past outreach efforts by law enforcement have been in bad faith:  I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement.  And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.  So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities.  Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith.  (Applause.)  Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance. On February 17, Obama suggested that critics of his immigration executive order are opposing those who are ‘American by any other name except for their legal papers’ and want to stop them from serving their country. As we saw with the executive action that I took for DREAMers, people who have come here as young children and are American by any other name except for their legal papers, who want to serve this country, oftentimes want to go into the military or start businesses or in other ways contribute — I think the American people overwhelmingly recognize that to pretend like we are going to ship them off is unrealistic and not who we are. On February 14, in his weekly address, Obama contended that the Republican Congress wants to deny American children a quality education – and for that matter, quality health care and child care: At a time when we have to give every child, everywhere, a fair shot – this Congress would actually allow states to make even deeper cuts into school districts that need the most support, send even more money to some of the wealthiest school districts in America, and turn back the clock to a time when too many students were left behind in failing schools. Denying a quality education to the children of working families is as wrong as denying health care or child care to working families.  We are better than this. Every Obama speech has a villain, and that villain is often other Americans who disagree with the president. He doesn’t hesitate to paint a very dark picture of the country he leads: citizens who are xenophobic and paranoid about Muslims, abusive police forces unfairly focusing on Muslim communities, a public eager to forcibly deport good Americans who just want to serve their country, and lawmakers determined to deny good education to children…”


Giuliani says President Obama doesn’t love America

“At a private dinner in New York City Wednesday, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani openly questioned the president’s patriotism.”


Rudy Giuliani Draws Ire of Top Dem for Saying Obama Doesn’t Love America


Rudy Giuliani Backs Off Assertion that Obama Doesn’t Love America

The former New York City mayor attempts to clarify his remarks.


Giuliani Is Wrong: Obama Loves America So Much, He Wants To Change Everything About It


How Americans are feeling about the fight against ISIS, economy

“As President Obama seeks new congressional authorization for using military force against ISIS, Americans’ views on how things are going for the U.S. in its conflict with the militant group are negative and getting worse. Sixty-seven percent of Americans think things are going at least somewhat badly for the U.S. in its fight against ISIS – up ten percentage points from last October – including 33 percent who describe the situation as very bad. There is public consensus for passing the military authorization bill President Obama has requested from Congress, which would allow the U.S. to use ground troops for limited operations for three years without any geographical limitations, but would preclude the use of ground troops for long term offensive operations. Two in three Americans think Congress should pass this authorization, including majorities of Democrats (71 percent), Republicans (65 percent), and independents (64 percent). There is also widespread and growing support for U.S. airstrikes – 77 percent of Americans favor the use of airstrikes against ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, up from 71 percent last October. More significantly, support for the use of U.S. ground troops has also risen. For the first time, a majority of Americans (57 percent) favor the U.S. sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. In October, Americans were divided, and in September these numbers were reversed. Support for sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS has risen among all partisans, but particularly among Democrats and independents. Back in October, more Democrats and independents disapproved than approved of using ground troops – now more approve than disapprove.”




Obama: Religious Acceptance Key to Combating Extremism

“President Barack Obama told world leaders on Thursday that promoting democracy and acceptance of people of all faiths are essential to stopping the spread of violent extremism. “Groups like al Qaeda and [ISIS] peddle the lie that some of our countries are hostile to Muslims. Meanwhile we’ve also seen, most recently in Europe, arise inexcusable acts of anti-Semitism, or in some cases anti-Muslim sentiment, or anti-immigrant sentiment,” Obama said at the closing session of a White House summit on combating extremism. “When people spew hatred towards others — because of their faith or because they’re immigrants — it feeds into terrorist narratives.” The president’s remarks come as anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in Europe following terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen…”


Obama Calls ‘Bridges of Communication’ the Key to Winning Against Terrorism

“President Barack Obama stressed the need to win the communications battle against the Islamic State and other extremists groups in order to change the narrative recruiting terrorist fighters not only in the Middle East but also in the West. “We need to build and bolster bridges of communication and trust. Terrorist traffic in lies and stereotypes about others, other religious, other ethnic groups,” Obama said Thursday, speaking on the final day of the White House’s summit on violent extremism. “Let’s share the truths of our faiths with each other. Terrorists prey upon young, impressionable minds.”


Obama: Americans Are Inviting Jihad By Criticizing Islam

“American and European citizens and journalists are spurring jihadi violence by protesting the arrival of Muslim populations into their societies, President Barack Obama declared Thursday. “We’ve also seen, most recently in Europe, a rise in inexcusable acts of anti-Semitism, or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment,” Obama told a Feb. 19 audience of U.S. and foreign officials and advocates, who met to discuss ways to minimize jihadi violence. Peaceful criticism of Islamic culture is bad, he suggested. ”When people spew hatred toward others — because of their faith or because they’re immigrants — it feeds into terrorist narratives. … It feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey,” he said. So “we have to ensure that our diverse societies truly welcome and respect people of all faiths and backgrounds,” said Obama. He insisted the conflict between Muslim and Western cultures is not caused by fundamentally different attitudes about freedom and religious solidarity.”


Obama: Americans Will Defeat Jihadis With Diversity, Tolerance


Obama avoids using “Islamic” and “terrorism” in the same phrase




Tom Cotton: ISIS Already Winning Without Obama ‘Legitimizing’ Them with Islamic Label



“According to recent reports, the Italian Secret Service fears an air attack by ISIS, compounding the already existent danger of terrorist infiltration among with throngs of immigrants coming to Italy by boat from neighboring Libya. Several days ago, the air defense system went into high alert after the secret service sent a notice. The notice spoke of aircraft prepared to take off from Sirte and able to strike the Italian peninsula. Though this has not yet occurred, tensions remain high because of the strong risk of an attack carried out by “lone wolves” as occurred in Paris and in Copenhagen. The State official responsible for the Secret Services, Marco Minniti, said that ISIS has what he called both “symmetric and asymmetric” capabilities, in that it can execute “both military and terrorist campaigns.” According to Minniti, this means that the ISIS threat holds the “maximum unpredictability,” which is “unprecedented.” Minniti also said that the dynamics of the situation makes necessary “comprehensive data collection.” Specifically, Minniti has called for the immediate implementation of a Europe-wide sharing of Passenger Name Records (PNR) on all flights, exchanging pertinent information especially regarding n passengers that trigger suspicions, because though the Schengen open treaty should not be suspended, “it is essential to maintain control of who moves in or out of the theaters of war.” Meanwhile, the Egyptian journalist Mustapha Bakri has released details on the Egyptian special forces strike on Derna yesterday. According to Bakri, Egyptian forces “killed 155 terrorists and captured 55 others before returning safely to Egypt.” Bakri also reports that the Egyptian army was able to destroy several bases of the jihadist group. Yesterday evening at a UN Security Council emergency meeting, discussions centered on what course to take to confront the growing ISIS threat in Libya. Sebastiano Cardi, the Italian Permanent Representative to the UN Security Council said that Italy is “ready to contribute to the monitoring of a ceasefire and the maintenance of peace” as well as “to provide training of the armed forces in a framework of integration of the militias into a unified battalion.”


Video: US unprepared for expansion of ISIS into North Africa


U.S. to train 25,000 Iraqis for Islamic State offensive in Mosul




Dems urge Boehner to delay Netanyahu address to Congress

“A group of 23 liberal House Democrats urged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday to delay Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress next month. In the letter spearheaded by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the lawmakers argued that Netanyahu was being used as a “political tool” against President Obama. “As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president,” they wrote.

Netanyahu’s March 3 address will be just two weeks before the Israeli elections and while international negotiators work on a deal with Iran to curtail the country’s nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu is expected to focus on the Iran negotiations in his speech and call for harsher sanctions. Instead of March 3, the House Democrats suggested, Netanyahu’s speech could be moved to some time after the Israeli elections. “We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the floor of the House,” they wrote to Boehner. The Democrats warned that Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu violated protocol, as it was scheduled without input from the Obama administration or congressional Democrats. “We very much appreciate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has twice had the honor of speaking before a joint session. However, at this time your invitation is contrary to the standards by which our Congress operates and has the potential to harm U.S. foreign policy,” the lawmakers wrote. They further argued that Netanyahu’s speech would put a wrench in the international negotiations between Tehran and the P5+1 group of world powers on Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama threatened to veto legislation that would establish new sanctions against Iran during his State of the Union address last month…”