Iowa Freedom Summit brings big names to state (TPP-sponsored event)



A mighty conservative summit in Iowa: 23 speakers but no Bush, no Romney (TPP-sponsored event)



Sherwin-Williams Calls Average Hair Color at Tea Party Gathering ‘Balanced Beige’ (TPP-sponsored event)

The South Carolina Tea Party Coalition convened in Myrtle Beach over the weekend, and one thing that stuck out was how few young people were in the crowd… “It’s the children that motivate all the grey-haired people in this room to become champions of our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and the promise of opportunity that this country is noted for,” he said. Why did the attendees skew older? “Older people—they remember what America was like,” Dugan said. “What it was like when you were proud to go to a parade, and sit on the curb or the sidewalk, and see the little children waving flags, and singing God Bless America and The Star-Spangled Banner.’” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a speaker at the event, offered his thoughts on how to reach millennials.  “You get young people by having a clear, principled message that inspires,” said the prospective presidential candidate. “Two Republicans in modern times have most inspired young people: Ronald Reagan and Ron Paul. Now both were septuagenarians! They weren’t young, rugged James Dean types, but you know what? They had bold principles that gave people a reason to stand and fight. Also, you gotta communicate. Would it kill Republicans to crack a joke? I actually think some Republicans it might! You know, lighten up a little.”





Domino’s Pizza on Obamacare calorie counts: It’s an impossible ‘disaster’

“Lynn Liddle, the executive vice president of Domino’s Pizza, said the Obamacare mandate to count and post calories of served and sold food is impossible. “Essentially, we think this rule is a kind of disaster for everybody,” she said, the Washington Free Beacon reported. “Not just pizza but restaurants, and anybody that’s going to fall within this law. It’s still not workable.” The mandate — carried out by the Food and Drug Administration — requires that all restaurant chains post calorie information. But that’s “impossible to comply,” the company said. One big problem, Ms. Liddle said, JoeMiller.us reported: The rule expands the definition of menu. “We no longer know what a menu is,” Ms. Liddle said. “It’s really hard to interpret. Essentially they’re saying anything that a consumer can look at and make a potential ordering decision from is a menu.”


Domino’s to Obama Admin: Calorie Rule is ‘Unworkable’

Obamacare calorie regulation carries criminal penalties

“…Liddle said that the company agrees with the regulation’s goals and has been providing calorie information for more than a decade. The company already offers an online “cal-o-meter” that allows consumers to see the total calories of any pizza they order. A problem specific to pizza chains is the challenge of displaying a vast number of possible calorie totals across all of the materials that the rule potentially counts as a “menu.” Considering that Domino’s customers can customize their own pizzas, there is an endless number of possible combinations of toppings, each of which has a different calorie count. Liddle said a low-ball estimate of combinations Domino’s offers is 34 million. Pizza Hut has 2 billion possible combinations. “Inherently, we’re not against this. We’re for it,” Liddle said. “We’re for giving our customers information that they want and need. So if our customers want calorie information, then we will give it to them–and we do give it to them.” “We just want to do it in a way that makes sense,” she said. Despite the fact that the rule runs 391 pages and addresses details such as whether a limited-time “pumpkin spice muffin” should be covered, it still does not give clear guidance about how restaurants are supposed to comply, according to critics. The rule, finalized in November, will affect chains with 20 or more stores. “Unfortunately once the sausage was made and all the stuff was finalized, it got homogenized into something that the FDA felt was feasible for everybody,” Liddle said. “So they tried to force it into a one-size-fits-all, and I think that’s where the problem began. It really should have been let every brand do it in a way that suits their customers.” The FDA has said it will issue guidance on compliance for companies before the rule goes into effect in December 2015. Though the regulation remains vague on who is responsible for ensuring that calorie information is displayed, it carries criminal and civil penalties. “They say there could be civil and criminal penalties for having incorrect calorie information,” Liddle said. “And not only is that frightening, that is also very unclear and invites a whole host of potential problems not just for pizza, but for anybody that I can think of who is preparing food and selling it to the public.” “You can go to jail, according to the way this is written, if somehow you did it wrong,” she said. The final rule explains that failure to comply with the regulation will render food “misbranded” under the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), which carries criminal penalties. Violations of the law carry a maximum $1,000 fine, one year in prison, or both. If a person is convicted of a violation, a second violation can carry a $10,000 fine and up to three years in prison. According to the law, the U.S. government can also seize misbranded food. While technically the act carries civil and criminal penalties, it is not likely that restaurant owners will find themselves in jail, given the FDA’s approach to enforcement. “The goal of the FDA is to work with industry on menu-vending machine labeling,” said Jennifer Dooren, a press officer for the FDA. “The first step for the agency in helping ensure compliance will be to provide guidance and technical support materials to the industry,” she said. “Before the rules become effective, we intend to issue such materials and further reach out to industry. We also intend to further coordinate with states and local governments.” Dooren added that the government could bring a civil action in federal court over violations of the FD&C Act. “The FDA will determine the level of monitoring needed depending on our initial assessment of the degree of compliance and available resources,” Dooren said. “Enforcement will be considered on a case-by-case basis depending on the specific facts and circumstances.” Even if fines are not issued, the regulation is costly. Liddle said Domino’s does not have an estimate of what compliance will cost her company, though implementing a similar law in New York cost as much as $5,000 per store. The regulation is expected to cost industry $1.7 billion overall. Domino’s is not going to stop pushing back against the regulation, and is hopeful that Congress or the FDA will revise the rule to make it easier to comply. “We’re going to continue to fight,” Liddle said. “We’re going to try hard not to get issue fatigue, because we’ve been working on this for a long time. “Hope springs eternal. I still believe that somebody will listen to common sense.”



Affordable Care Act prompts small firms to drop health insurance, limit hiring, survey finds

“Many small businesses in West and Southwest Michigan plan to drop health insurance coverage for employees and limit hiring, according to a new survey measuring the impact of the Affordable Care Act. The Grand Valley State University survey released Thursday, Jan. 22, found a quarter of small businesses that now offer health insurance do not plan to provide coverage in 2015. Only half said they plan to offer insurance in 2016. And of companies dropping coverage this year, 68 percent said they will encourage workers to buy insurance on the public exchange. The findings are reported by Leslie Muller, assistant professor of economics at GVSU, who worked with Priority Health to survey firms with fewer than 50 full-time employees in West and Southwest Michigan. The survey also found many employers plan to shift more insurance costs to workers, often in the form of high-deductible plans or changes in prescription drug coverage. Small businesses have long paid more than large firms for health insurance, Muller said. Before the ACA, having an employee with a pre-existing condition would have a bigger impact on a small company’s premiums. And the smaller firms have less negotiating power with insurers. Muller cited a 2014 study showing small business have seen insurance premiums rise 123 percent in the past decade, and they paid 18 percent more than big companies for insurance. A factor in the employers’ decision to drop coverage, Muller said, is that there is now an option available for their workers on the public exchange – and those with medical conditions won’t be denied coverage or charged higher rates. “Yes, rates went up. We don’t know if that’s because of the Affordable Care Act or not because rates have been going up for quite a while,” she said. “We really need to look at letting the insurance market play out for a couple of more years.” The survey was conducted in November and involved companies in the West Michigan counties of Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan, as well as the Southwest Michigan counties of Berrien, Eaton and Kalamazoo. Eighty firms responded, and 70 of them had fewer than 50 full-time employees. Under the Affordable Care Act, only companies with more than 50 employees are required to provide insurance. The survey found a degree of uncertainty among the small employers about whether they would continue to offer insurance in the next couple of years. Sixteen percent said they were uncertain about their plans for 2015, and 28 percent said they were unsure about 2016.”



Jonathan Gruber: Obamacare Is Going To Sting For Small Businesses

“Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber said that the health care law was going to sting at first for American small businesses. Gruber currently awaits a call-back from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to give more testimony about how Obamacare was designed. An overlooked quote from an interview Gruber gave with a local Boston public television station highlights the deception that went into the writing process: Gruber knew that Obamacare was going to hurt small businesses, despite the Obama administration’s claims to the contrary. WGBH reported in May on a Cleveland pub owner’s frustration with the 20 percent health insurance rate hike his business saw due to Obamacare. Gruber was interviewed, defending the law, months before his comments on “the stupidity of the American voter” and the health law’s deceptions hit the pages of The Daily Caller. “We’re in a transition period, says Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT,” WGBH reported. “It will sting at first, he says, but, ‘once we’re in this system, we’re not going to see that year-to-year variability we’ve seen traditionally. We’re not going to see these huge swings year to year — one of your employees gets sick and all of a sudden your rates double. That goes away now.’” Nevertheless, the Cleveland pub owner said that the designers of Obamacare “botched it.”



ObamaCare unfairly penalizes the young

“ObamaCare’s 2015 enrollment period is now in its final month, and my patients have been in for a rough surprise. As the Medical Director of Clayton State University’s student health service, I can safely say that young Americans are facing insurmountable hurdles in their search for the affordable healthcare that President Obama and his supporters promised them. College students are the hardest-hit demographic when it comes to ObamaCare’s cost increases. Typical 20-somethings in Georgia now face premiums averaging $2,750 per year—a 179 and 108 percent increase for men and women, respectively, over what similar pre-ObamaCare plans cost. That’s a demoralizing reality for college students working their way through school while still having adequate time to devote to their studies. Georgia’s young are not alone. Millennials—young people between 18 and 29 years old—nationwide are drowning in rising health care costs. Average premiums for 27-year-olds increased in 45 states after ObamaCare went live last fall. Young women saw their health insurance costs skyrocket by an average 62 percent nationwide, while young men paid up to 99 percent higher than they did just one year ago. We should be encouraging Millennials to save for their first down payment on a home, or free themselves of debt by paying down student loans—which, in Georgia, averaged nearly $25,000 in 2013. Instead, ObamaCare forces them to spend thousands of dollars more for health insurance policies that, in many instances, cover less than the cheaper plans they had before. The new Republican majority in the Senate should produce legislation to fix this problem immediately. Before that can happen, however, they should understand what’s causing it: The requirement that seniors’ health insurance not cost more than three times that of Millennials. The supposedly benevolent principle underlying this provision is that seniors shouldn’t have to pay more for health care, even when they disproportionately account for health care spending. The typical 65-year-old spends more than five times what a typical 22-year-old spends in annual medical costs—$9,744 compared to only $1,834 per year, respectively. This 3-to-1 cap thereby forces college students to pay for their grandparents’ medical care, whether they like it or not. This is inherently unfair. Forcing Millennials to pay more for health insurance because of their age rather than their medical needs amounts to little more than government-sanctioned discrimination. These cost increases couldn’t come at a worse time for Millennials, either. The unemployment rate for people between ages 16 and 29 today is a staggering 14.7 percent—more than double the national rate of 5.8 percent. And for those college graduates who are fortunate enough to find a job, their starting salaries are lower in today’s dollars than those of both their parents’ and their grandparents’ generations. With all the problems that they’re facing—problems that older generations have laid at their feet—it’s simply too much to demand that Millennials pay thousands of dollars more every year for their health care. This problem will increasingly worsen unless ObamaCare is repealed, or at least substantially reworked, by a Republican Congress. Healthcare premiums are going up again in 2015 and are all but certain to rise every year for at least the next decade. Even for those fortunate few whose premiums are not skyrocketing, their deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses are…”



Medicaid costs spiked $1 billion in Massachusetts primarily due to Affordable Care Act

“Massachusetts’ Medicaid caseloads spiked in fiscal year 2014, leading to an increase in spending of more than $1.1 billion. The growth was due primarily to the Affordable Care Act, the national health care reform law under which Massachusetts expanded eligibility for Medicaid. The state also added people to Medicaid temporarily after technical problems with its new state exchange made it impossible to figure out what program a person was eligible for. Medicaid spending is important because it makes up around one-quarter of the state budget, a percentage that is increasing by the year. High Medicaid costs are also contributing to a deficit in the current, fiscal year 2015, budget. “Is it a concern? Yes. Is it something we’re not aware of? No,” said state Sen. James Welch, a West Springfield Democrat and the Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “We’re aware of it. We’re going to try to work towards reining those numbers in.” For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, had an average caseload of 1.5 million, according to the state’s comprehensive annual financial report. The Medicaid caseload grew by 143,000 over the previous year – a jump of 10 percent, compared to growth rates of 3 to 5 percent for seven of the last eight years. Unsurprisingly, the amount of money spent on Medicaid grew along with caseloads. Total Medicaid expenditures were $14 billion, or 14 percent more than last year. Some of that increase (around $500 million) was due to the reclassification of money that was previously listed elsewhere in the budget. But even accounting for that shift, Medicaid spending grew by $1.18 billion – or 9.6 percent – compared to 2013.”



House Votes to End Taxpayer-Funded Abortions to Mark March for Life Rally

“The House voted Thursday to permanently end taxpayer-funded abortions, and to ensure that Obamacare is not used to help fund the purchase of insurance plans that cover abortion. The vote was meant to pay tribute to the 42nd annual March for Life rally, which marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Members passed the bill in a mostly partisan 242-179 vote that saw three Democrats vote for it, and one Republican vote against it. But while the bill passed, it was something of makeup call for Republicans who were hoping to pass an entirely different abortion bill earlier in the week. Republicans initially started work on a bill to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, legislation that the GOP also passed in the last Congress. But it was held up by several Republican women who were worried about language that said the rape and incest exceptions to the ban would only be allowed if those crimes were reported. Those worries led GOP leaders to scuttle the bill for now, although Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the legislation would soon be tweaked and brought up again in the House shortly. Smith offered the substitute bill that passed today — the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act. One piece of the bill would make permanent a ban on taxpayer-funded abortions that has routinely been approved as part of various spending bills for several decades. That policy has been carried out under the so-called Hyde Amendment, named after former Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). But the bill is also aimed at correcting what Republicans see is a major flaw in Obamacare that has allowed taxpayer money to subsidize insurance plans that cover abortions. The GOP has said for years that President Barack Obama promised that Obamacare funds would not be directed to abortion services. But Republicans pushed for an investigation on whether it was still happening, and last year, the Government Accountability Office said more than 1,000 insurance plans available under Obamacare covered abortion. “The president promised he would apply the Hyde amendment [to Obamacare], but he did not,” Smith said. While the Democratic Senate ignored the same bill in the last Congress, it’s possible the new GOP Senate will call it up this year. However, Senate Republicans will need to pick up at least six votes to move the bill in the upper chamber.”


House votes to ban taxpayer-funded abortions

“The House voted Thursday to cement a ban on taxpayer funding for abortion through Obamacare or in other cases, a turnaround bid to save face after Republican leaders were forced to pull a groundbreaking bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The 242-to-179 vote reopened the fight over Obamacare and whether it subsidizes abortions, despite President Obama’s promises that it would not. But that debate was overshadowed by GOP disunion that forced leaders late Wednesday to scramble for an alternative to their preferred bill, the 20-week ban. Some Republicans yanked their support for that bill because it required women to have reported instances of rape or incest to be exempted. The sudden swap disappointed pro-life marchers who descended on Washington Thursday. But they still cheered the replacement bill, as it would put into law a longstanding ban on federal funding for abortion known as the “Hyde amendment.” Others were not as generous, saying Republicans had retreated from the principles they vowed to defend.”


House passes bill to block abortions from Obamacare




“The upending of the bill comes as a member of that GOP leadership team, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)—the House GOP conference chair—is leading the House delegation to, and addressing the crowds of pro-life marchers at the March for Life on Thursday on the national mall in Washington, D.C. McMorris Rodgers’ office wouldn’t comment on the decision to cave to what one pro-life member of the House called the “abortion industry,” deferring to others in GOP leadership on that decision, but did profess her own pro-life credentials in an emailed statement to Breitbart News. As CNN reports, the group of female House Republicans “is criticizing abortion legislation that is scheduled for a vote on Thursday, arguing provisions dealing with rape are too harsh, and could threaten the party’s efforts to reach out to women and young people.” A heated, closed-door meeting on Wednesday reportedly led to congressional aides being asked to leave “when the debate turned emotional.” “Republican leadership late Wednesday evening had to completely drop its plans to pass a bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks, and is reverting to old legislation that prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions,” Politico’s Jake Sherman wrote Wednesday evening about the new plan, adding later in his piece, “the new legislation doesn’t stand a chance to become law.” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), one of the most pro-life leaders in Congress, argued—according to Politico—that the opposition to the bill from Ellmers, Walorski, and others came from the “abortion industry,” and he compared this battle to the Civil War. On Tuesday, Ellmers and Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) removed their names as co-sponsors of the legislation. Both, however, took to Facebook to say that they supported the Pain Capable bill and would vote “yes” on it. “To clear up any misinformation, I will be voting tomorrow to support H.R. 36 – The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protect Act Resources bill. I have and will continue to be a strong defender of the prolife community,” Ellmers wrote… As Breitbart News reported January 17, when word of Ellmers’ attempt to sabotage the legislation over language about rape was revealed, leaders of the major pro-life organizations from around the nation expressed their rage that the bill would be undermined by Republicans themselves…”




“In a House Republican majority often driven by the most conservative lawmakers, the pragmatists are suddenly demanding to be heard. These lawmakers defected on an immigration vote last week, and this week they forced GOP leaders to water down abortion legislation. With the new, fully Republican-led Congress three weeks old, they are serving notice they will no longer keep quiet as their more ideological colleagues push legislation to the right, demand votes on social issues, or court government shutdowns to try to block President Barack Obama. “There’s a growing sense in the conference that we need to get things done here, not just make political statements,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, a freshmen lawmaker. “We should be focused on the agenda of the American people and not on taking an infinite amount of symbolic votes that aren’t going to get anything done.” Most of these lawmakers are self-described conservatives themselves, but with a practical, business-friendly approach, and without the uncompromising purity of some on the right. Some, like Curbelo, were elected in districts Obama previously won as Republicans posted dramatic midterm gains in November. They are looking at running for re-election in 2016 in a presidential election year when turnout of Democrats could be higher. Now they are behind a new dynamic in the House after years when conservatives in the party caucus seemed to call the shots. GOP leaders had been forced into one embarrassing retreat after another on legislation, and the federal government had been propelled into a partial 16-day shutdown in the fall of 2013 in a failed attempt to shut down Obama’s health law. In part, the change is because there are more of the new lawmakers. And, they say, the stakes are now higher. With the Senate now under GOP control, House-passed legislation actually has a shot at making it to Obama’s desk. “Much of the legislation we passed in the past we knew wasn’t going to go anywhere in the Senate; we knew Harry Reid wasn’t going to bring it up for a vote,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., who led this week’s revolt over the abortion bill. “Now everything we do has got to be so careful, we have to be so careful about the legislation we put forward, because now we have that opportunity for it to pass in the Senate.”



How Republicans won by losing on an abortion vote



68 percent of Americans oppose use of tax dollars to provide abortions: Poll

“The Republican Party appears to have the jitters over pro-life legislation for complicated reasons. The public, meanwhile, has their own conclusions about abortion according to a new poll titled “Abortion in America,” conducted by Marist College and the Knights of Columbus. “Most Americans, 84 percent, think laws can exist which protect, both, the health and wellbeing of a woman and the rights of the unborn,” the survey states. Here are some of the numbers:

–68 percent of Americans oppose the use of tax dollars to provide abortions.

–64 percent say there are more abortions in the U.S. “than there should be.”

–59 percent say having an abortion does more harm than good in a woman’s life “in the long run.”

–58 percent support “greater legal restrictions” on abortion.

–57 percent say organizations who oppose abortion should not be required to supply insurance that covers the procedure.

–60 percent say abortions is “morally wrong” regardless of its legality.

–49 percent say they are “pro-choice,” 47 percent say they are “pro-life.”

The poll also found that 84 percent of the respondents “agree there should be significant restrictions and safe guards associated with the procedure including limits to within the first three months of pregnancy, allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, or never permitted.” Source: A Knights of Columbus/Marist College poll of 2,079 U.S. adults conducted Jan 7-13.”



Health chief pushes ObamaCare sign-ups ahead of deadline

“Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell pushed a friendly audience of healthcare advocates to encourage ObamaCare sign-ups before the Feb. 15 enrollment deadline in a speech Thursday in Washington.  The administration’s push for sign-ups has a lower profile than it did last year. Then, in the first major test for the law’s healthcare exchanges, President Obama threw himself into the effort, even making a controversial appearance on the comedy show “Between Two Ferns” to promote the law. Obama did not mention deadline in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, leaving the enrollment push to Burwell, who mentioned the Feb. 15 deadline multiple times in a public appearance Thursday. “I’m sure I do not need to remind anyone in this room that that deadline is Feb. 15,” she told the crowd of advocates at a conference of the pro-ObamaCare consumer group Families USA. “It’s something I say early and often, including this morning at 7:55 on satellites to Indiana and Ohio,” she said.  HHS announced on Wednesday that sign-ups had passed 7 million people, which was an important milestone last year, on the way to a target of around 9 million enrollments this year.  Burwell took the opportunity to tout the achievements of the law so far to the crowd.  “We’ve achieved a historic reduction in the uninsured,” she said. “Middle-class families have more security, and many of those who already had insurance had better coverage.  At the same time, we’re spending our health care dollars more wisely and we’re starting to receive higher quality care.”



GOP lawmakers face pressure from base to target ObamaCare – or else

“Republican lawmakers are facing rising pressure from conservatives groups and activists to go big – or potentially go home – in their fight against ObamaCare. After taking control of Congress thanks to big victories in the November midterms, Republicans who ran in part on their opposition to the law are starting to roll out legislation undoing pieces of it. But the party is stuck in an internal debate over how far they can really go – risking a potential backlash from the party’s right flank if they don’t go far enough. Tea Party activists say they are frustrated with the pace of progress toward conservatives’ goal of upending the Affordable Care Act.  Some activists are encouraging members to “fax blast” all 435 House members and 100 senators and demand they “drive a stake through the heart of ObamaCare once and for all.” Some Tea Party-backed lawmakers like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are leading the charge against the Affordable Care Act. The senator, and potential presidential candidate, recently warned that Republicans will “get walloped” in 2016 if they don’t live up to their promises, including working to get the health law eliminated. But so far, several Republican lawmakers, like Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have indicated they’d have better luck chipping away at the law “piece by piece.” On Wednesday, Hatch and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced legislation to repeal the health care law’s individual mandate requiring most people to obtain insurance. The legislation, called the American Liberty Restoration Act, is backed by 20 GOP senators. “This legislation strikes ObamaCare’s individual mandate and restores the freedoms outlined in the Constitution,” Hatch said in a written statement. Hatch and a group of bipartisan senators also are pushing a bill to scratch the law’s controversial 2.3 percent tax hike on medical devices. Several conservative activists and commentators in recent weeks have urged the new Republican Congress to be aggressive. Since right after the election, Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative ForAmerica group has said the Republican majority “must” keep its “promise” to pass a full repeal bill, if only to force a presidential veto. If they don’t, it raises the possibility not only of turbulence for GOP congressional candidates in 2016 but a groundswell of anti-ObamaCare pressure in the presidential primaries and caucuses. In the official Republican response to the State of the Union address, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, vowed that the party will “keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families.” Freshman Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., also has called for Congress to go after the law and is among many GOP lawmakers who have signed a pledge calling for its repeal. He recently told The Hill, “There is a tide rising” against the health law. But like Hatch, he has put forward bills repealing the medical device tax and the individual mandate – parts of the law, not the whole thing. Party strategists have questioned whether aiming for full repeal is worth the effort, when President Obama would surely veto. “Republicans should not, again, go down the road of full repeal for ObamaCare when they know the president’s not going to have an epiphany and say, ‘You know what? I screwed up. Yeah, let’s repeal my legacy legislation,’” Republican strategist Brad Blakeman told FoxNews.com.”



Top lawmakers want answers about Obamacare site

“Top Republican and Democratic lawmakers on a powerful congressional committee want answers from the Obama administration about the sensitive personal information the government’s health insurance website is collecting from consumers and sharing with private Internet marketing companies. On Thursday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell outlining their concerns.”




“New Hampshire state legislators are considering two bills—one in the House, the other in the state Senate—that “would allow individuals and some businesses to purchase health insurance from out-of-state companies.” On Tuesday, Senator Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford), one of 6 co-sponsors of Senate bill (SB-131) testified before the state Senate’s Commerce Committee about the need for the free market-style reform. “Only in health insurance are we seeing such a restrictive (system) that doesn’t allow people to exercise their free will, to exercise freedom of the marketplace,” Sanborn told the committee. “If they [New Hampshire consumers] are able to find a better product that meets their needs and is more cost effective, shouldn’t they allow to buy it?” Sanborn asked rhetorically. “If it’s good enough for Alabama,” Sanborn said, “it should be good enough for New Hampshire.” Introducing free market principles to health insurance, however, is no simple matter. The 2010 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), more than half a century of federal and state laws, a legion of state and federal bureaucrats, and a small army of health insurance lobbyists stand in the way of the New Hampshire legislators’ common sense, free market solutions to the ever increasing litany of Obamacare-induced consumer problems. Northwestern University Law School Professor Steven Calabresi points the finger of blame at a 70-year-old federal law, the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945, that gave health insurers anti-trust exemption and allowed state governments and politicians to create 50 monopolistic/oligopolistic state fiefdoms for “crony capitalist” health insurers and their political allies. The roots of the state health insurance monopolies and oligopolies can be directly traced to a federal law. Thanks to the McCarran–Ferguson Act, which was passed in 1945, each of the fifty states has the exclusive power to license health insurance within a state’s own borders even if, in doing so, a state directly burdens interstate commerce by shutting out-of-state insurers out of the market… The McCarran–Ferguson Act essentially sets up fifty separate state monopoly or oligopoly markets, each with its own set of state licensed health insurance providers. Advocates for a free market in health care, such as Prof. Calabresi and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), have long argued that only free market solutions can improve the performance of our health care and health insurance industries, and that the first step that must be taken is the repeal of the crony capitalist-friendly McCarran-Ferguson Act. In 2013, Roe introduced a bill in the House of Representatives aimed at accomplish such a repeal, but it went nowhere.”



New Arkansas governor wants to renew, then rethink, Medicaid expansion

“Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson called on the Legislature to keep the state’s private-option approach to Medicaid expansion backed by his Democratic predecessor through 2016 so that roughly 200,000 low-income residents won’t lose access to insurance coverage.  But Hutchinson, in a highly anticipated speech Thursday, also called for the creation of a legislative task force to study other options for providing insurance to those who can’t afford it in the future.  “It is time to close this chapter and to start a new one,” he said during the speech. “It is a new day for healthcare in Arkansas.”  Hutchinson was sworn into office this month, taking the place of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who was instrumental in negotiating the private option Medicaid expansion plan. The Legislature must reauthorize the program every year with support from at least 75% of legislators, making it a politically contentious issue.  “The phrase private option itself has become politically toxic,” Hutchinson said.  Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion plan, which provides subsidies to low-income individuals so that they can buy private coverage, has become a model for other states under Republican political control to consider the Medicaid expansion option available under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Just over half the states have already implemented Medicaid expansion and several other states, including Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming and Indiana, are actively considering whether to extend coverage to more residents. The CMS has shown increasing flexibility in allowing states to adopt their own models of expansion in order to bring them on board.”



Attorney General Dewine May Sue Over Affordable Care Act Fee

“Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says he may sue the federal government over a fee it requires the state to pay because of the Affordable Care Act. At issue is the transitional Reinsurance Program, which imposes a $63 fee per person enrolled in the state’s health insurance plans. DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney says the state provides coverage for 85,000 workers and their dependents, adding up to $5.3 million a year. “This is very much a federalism issue. Taxation without representation is one of those things we’ve talked about over the course of American history.” The federal government uses the reinsurance money to help stabilize premiums in the individual exchange market. The fee is slated to sunset in 2016.”



Who suffers if Obamacare subsidies go away? Surprise

“The kind of people who were more likely to vote for Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama in the 2012 election also turn out to be the same kind of people who would be most likely to lose their Obamacare health insurance if a looming Supreme Court case goes against the president, according to a new analysis. Obamacare enrollees who are white, live in the South and have jobs with modest incomes would be disproportionately affected by an adverse ruling for Obama at the high court, which could come this June, the study by Urban Institute researchers found. The researchers earlier this month found that 6.3 million people would lose health coverage because they would no longer be eligible for subsidies if the Supreme Court rules that such federal financial aid issued to customers on the HealthCare.gov Obamacare insurance exchange is illegal, as plaintiffs claim. Without those subsidies to help pay for premiums in the 37 states served by the federal exchange, the plans would become unaffordable for that number of people, the Urban Institute said.”



How Obamacare ruling could slash enrollment

Millions will lose aid, drop plans if court kills subsidies, study says

“Roughly 6.3 million people just above the poverty line will drop their Obamacare coverage or face using as much as half of their income for health insurance if a Supreme Court ruling dismantles subsidies in states that haven’t established their own exchanges, a study released Thursday shows. The findings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute also report nearly two-thirds of those who lose subsidies are white Southerners, and nearly half have full-time jobs. “It quantifies what you may suspect,” said John Holohan, fellow at the Urban Institute and one of the authors of the study, pointing out the numbers reflect the nation’s mostly white majority. He said, though, the number of those coming from Southern states may be surprising, as 3.9 million of those losing subsidies are from that region. But the vast majority of those states did not set up state exchanges and many of those states, such as Mississippi, are among the poorest in the nation. The study comes ahead of Supreme Court arguments, expected in March, on the case known as King v. Burwell. That debates whether the 2010 Affordable Care Act erroneously exempted states that have not set up their own health-care exchanges from being eligible for subsidies. Justices are expected to rule on the case in June. The act was written with the intention that states would establish their own marketplaces to sell insurance, but the vast majority have not. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have constructed exchanges on their own, while another three operate their marketplaces with federal support. The rest, 34 states in all, use the feds’ HealthCare.gov, and could lose subsidies if the ruling determines they’re ineligible.”





Immigration battle begins in Congress

“The fight over immigration reform began in earnest Wednesday as both conservatives and Democrats balked at a border security measure Republican lawmakers tried to advance in the House. Democrats moved to block the legislation in the Homeland Security Committee Wednesday night, holding up a vote by forcing the committee clerks to read the 72-page legislation into the night. Repubilcans, who outnumber Democrats, eventually passed the bill out of committee by a vote of 18-12. “You abandoned our bipartisan partnership on border security in favor of a partisan approach,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee ranking member said. The GOP’s bigger problem may be within their own party. Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, authored the bill, which centers around a requirement that the Department of Homeland Security secure the nation’s southwestern border within five years and gain “operational control,” within two years. McCaul called the legislation the toughest border security measure produced by Congress, and lawmakers in the new GOP-led Senate announced they plan to offer a companion bill… But conservatives say the border bill is flawed and doesn’t go far enough to stop illegal entrants from remaining in the United States. “We cannot be satisfied with measures that create the appearance of doing something while changing little,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a top member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement opposing the McCaul measure. House conservatives voiced similar concerns. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, said current laws prohibiting illegal immigration are not being enforced and passing new legislation won’t do anything to fix the problem. Salmon also wants the legislation to address the lack of interior enforcement of immigration laws, which the McCaul bill does not include. McCaul and Republicans leaders said interior enforcement falls under the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee, which will draft its own reform legislation to address those issues. “Why couldn’t it be more coordinated?” Salmon said Wednesday at a gathering of House conservatives. “That’s a frustration.”… Conservatives want assurances from the GOP leadership that they’ll keep pushing for legislation that defunds Obama’s executive action. But they fear Republican leaders will back down in order to avoid a spending showdown with Democrats and the president. “We had better stand firm,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Wednesday. Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, said some GOP lawmakers are mistakenly comparing the border security bill to a different measure introduced last year by McCaul that conservatives said wasn’t strong enough. “There are some people attacking the bill, not having read the bill,” Labrador said. McCaul’s latest measure was introduced just this week. In addition to setting time limits for securing the border, the legislation calls for completion of the southern border fence by filling in and completing miles of existing gaps and constructing 27 miles of new fencing. It would also allow border patrol agents access to restricted federal lands that are used by illegal immigrants to sneak into the country. And it would require implementing new biometric identity security measures at all points of entry into the United States within five years. Democrats told McCaul they opposed the measure because it was being rushed through the committee. But McCaul, who represents a border district, said his constituents are demanding Congress act to stop the influx of tens of thousands illegal immigrants cross into Texas each year. “My constituents are fed up with this,” McCaul said. “I don’t think we need any more hearings on this. I don’t think we need any more debates on this issue.”



‘Toughest Border Security Bill Ever’ Sets Table for Piecemeal Strategy

“The House is set to vote next week on what some Republicans are proudly calling “the toughest border security bill ever.” But once the roll is called and the measure is passed, then what? Not yet a month into the 114th Congress, Republican leaders’ plans to advance border security legislation are sparking some speculation this could be the first installment in the GOP’s long-promised “piecemeal” approach to fixing the immigration system. Just what Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and his allies have in mind could have some effect on what sort of support the pending bill receives. The bill, sponsored by Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas, would, among other things, impose harsh penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements. One mandate would be achieving “operational control” — which means preventing every single illegal entry across the Southern border — within five years. Republicans who want to tackle the immigration issue, despite having come up short in the previous Congress, say passing McCaul’s bill will help make the task more palatable this time around: Many members say they won’t even look at fixing other areas of the nation’s flawed immigration laws until they are guaranteed more border enforcement. “I actually think this makes other pieces easier to vote for, if you’re comfortable that an adequate security piece is in place,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “I don’t think doing border security and stopping would be the appropriate thing to do when we know there are other areas where we can get some things done.” A member of Boehner’s circle of confidantes, Cole emphasized leadership hasn’t made a decision yet about how McCaul’s bill fits into a larger immigration strategy — if it does at all — but says discussions on how to proceed are occurring, “without a doubt.” “I think the speaker is very, very determined,” Cole said. Aides to both Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reiterated they have no set plan beyond next week’s intended House passage of the border security legislation. However, some Republicans want assurances sooner than later that the McCaul bill won’t be the end of the conversation on immigration. Some suggested they needed that guarantee before the floor vote. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., said he plans to accompany McCaul over the weekend on a fact-finding trip to the border, where he hopes to extract more information. “I continue to have concerns about timing, as well as the sequence of the other bills that should be coming up as well,” said Denham, an outspoken advocate for providing a pathway to legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants. “I think there needs to be a commitment from our conference that we address all aspects of immigration.” Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., another supporter of comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation, expressed similar sentiments. “I’ll be watching very, very carefully for, ‘You said you needed this first, so we got that first, now let’s talk about other [things],’” he said. More hard-line conservatives, meanwhile, are reticent to support the measure out of concerns the bill could be the first step in a broader immigration push that would include a pathway to legalization. “I’m always apprehensive to advance a piece of legislation that could become a vehicle for a lot of other stuff that’s not very good,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a vocal critic of immigration overhaul efforts. “I’d like to hear from [leadership], ‘What’s your strategy?’” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., dismissed the McCaul bill as having “too many loopholes.” Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said, “I won’t trust border security until I actually see it.” And Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., made his opposition known from the other side of the Capitol for a bill he said “fail[ed] to include the measures necessary to fulfill its promises.” Another concern for the tea party wing is whether McCaul’s border security bill is just an attempt to provide cover for members who will end up voting “yes” on a “clean” funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of money at the end of next month.”



Border bills would roll back environmental laws

“Border security legislation introduced by Republicans in both chambers of Congress would waive a host of environmental and wildlife laws near the Mexican border. The bills are part of the GOP’s attack on President Obama’s actions to stop deportations of certain illegal immigrants. In an effort to better ensure that the Homeland Security Department can keep the border secure from various threats and illegal immigration, the bills waive laws concerning public land protections, protections for endangered species and other restrictions.

“It is a fundamental responsibility of the federal government to ensure the territory of this nation is secure against any illicit entry and concealed threats, but on that account the government has failed consistently,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Wednesday when his panel met to approve the bill, which he sponsored. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced similar legislation in the Senate.”



GOP border bill faces opposition from conservatives

“The GOP’s new border bill doesn’t go far enough in pushing back against President Obama’s immigration policy, according to the labor union for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers, who Thursday called for the House to reject the bill. Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Service Council, which represents the officers who will have to approve applications for Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty, said the House GOP bill doesn’t shut down the amnesty, nor does it prevent anyone from showing up on the border to request asylum. “Where is the outrage from Congress?” Mr. Palinkas wrote in a letter, saying there are too many loopholes illegal immigrants can use to be allowed into the country at the border. “It’s not border security if anyone can recite the magic words and get waved right on in.” The border bill passed the House Homeland Security Committee late Wednesday night, overcoming intense opposition from Democrats who tried to use parliamentary tactics to stall the legislation. The bill would complete 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and require the Homeland Security Department to come up with a plan that would detect and catch 100 percent of illegal border crossings and smuggling attempts. Critics such as Mr. Palinkas wanted to see it go further, but Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, said his bill did what it could within his jurisdiction. He said issues such as interior enforcement, punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants and imposing stiffer penalties on illegal crossers belongs to the Judiciary Committee, not to his panel. In a joint statement Thursday, Mr. McCaul and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said there will be other steps coming down the road on those interior matters, but they said the border security bill is the right start. “House Republicans are taking a step-by-step approach to deliver on these long-overdue promises made to the American people so that we gain operational control of our borders and guarantee that our immigration laws will be enforced moving forward,” the two Republicans said. “The Secure Our Borders First Act is the first step and will move our nation closer to gaining control of our borders so that we thwart national security threats and stop illegal border crossers from coming to the U.S.” Several GOP senators have introduced a version of Mr. McCaul’s bill in their chamber as well — but the measures are drawing fire from some conservatives who, like Mr. Palinkas, say it doesn’t go far enough. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, is one of those, and he said the bill should impose tougher consequences on illegal border crossers. The border bill is due for a vote in the House next Wednesday, and the GOP will need to find unity before then, because Democrats are likely to be nearly unanimous in their opposition. On Wednesday, in the committee room, Democrats used parliamentary tactics to try to derail the bill, including forcing the clerk to read the entire measure aloud and raising a number of objections to proceeding. Democrats said the GOP should instead go back to a bill the Homeland Security Committee passed unanimously in the previous Congress that would have pushed the Obama administration to come up with a plan and yardsticks for border security — but wouldn’t have imposed any penalties for failing to do so. That bill also wouldn’t have completed the border fence or required a biometric exit system. “Republicans took what was a bipartisan bill in the 113th Congress and have now transformed it into a partisan one, which militarizes our southwestern border and denies Homeland Security officials the flexibility required to address existing and new challenges along that border, while doing nothing to improve security in other border areas,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, who said he will rally opposition to the bill.”




“After taking down then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary last year, Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) is aiming to slay a border bill from House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)—a bill Brat says is a “Trojan Horse” for amnesty. “A border security bill should do what its name suggests and this thing– the McCaul bill– still leaves enforcement in President Obama’s hands,” Brat said in a radio interview on The John Fredericks Show— a local Virginia radio program—on Thursday. “So is that where you want to leave authority? If you read through the bill, there’s no enforcement that really draws a stark line and does anything with folks crossing the border.” Brat joins Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, in explaining that McCaul’s bill fails to secure the border. Brat adds that McCaul’s measure is actually part of a bigger plan by some in the Republican Party who want to use it as a fig leaf that then allows them to push amnesty through Congress.”



Union of Officers in Agency Implementing Amnesty Oppose House Border Security Bill

“A union of immigration law enforcement officers is speaking out against House Republicans’ border security bill and the Senate’s silence on the president’s executive action on immigration. The union, which represents 12,000 workers in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services–the agency within the Department of Homeland Security which is responsible for processing the applications related to the president’s amnesty–characterized the Secure Our Border First Act of 2015 as a joke. That bill was marked up on Wednesday by the House Homeland Security Committee after being introduced by Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas). “H.R. 399 – Chairman McCaul’s legislation – does nothing to preclude anyone in the world from turning themselves in at the U.S. border and obtaining automatic entry and federal benefits,” says union president Kenneth Palinkas in a statement. “It’s not border security if anyone can recite the magic words and get waved right on in.” Immigration hawks have come out against McCaul’s proposal, warning that it fails to address interior enforcement, and does nothing to allow immigration officers to deport illegal immigrants. McCaul disagrees with that assessment, and argues instead that his committee does not have jurisdiction over interior enforcement and that he is focused primarily on the nation’s borders. But Palinkas is just as concerned with the Senate’s inaction as he is with McCaul’s proposal. Palinkas is pleading with Congress to help the agency, and is frustrated that the Senate isn’t doing more to stop the president’s executive action. “[A]ll I hear is silence in the Senate,” he says. “It seems Congressional leaders will not rise to defend the laws of the United States, but are giving in to the ‘imperial presidency.’”



Jeh Johnson: Michael McCaul border bill ‘unworkable’

“Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday ripped a border-security bill poised for a House floor vote next week, calling the legislation “extreme to the point of being unworkable.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is sponsoring legislation that aims to completely secure the U.S.-Mexico border within five years. The bill cleared his committee on a party-line, 18-12, vote on Wednesday night. But Johnson, whose agency would be charged with implementing much of the border-security crackdown called for by McCaul, said the legislation was “not a serious effort at legislating border security – and its authors know it.” Johnson contended that the McCaul legislation would leave the southern border less secure, while tying the hands of DHS officials to respond to threats while setting requirements for border security that are “impossible to achieve.” “Unfortunately, [the McCaul bill] is unworkable, plain and simple,” Johnson said Thursday night. “I again encourage Congress to support the homeland security professionals at this Department with the resources they need, without provisions that would micromanage their work or restrict their flexibility in dealing with the nation’s critical homeland security efforts.” McCaul’s legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to achieve “operational control” — preventing all illegal entries to the U.S. — along the entire southern border within five years, and in high-traffic areas within two years. If DHS missed those timelines, political appointees at the department could face punishment such as a ban from using government aircraft and restrictions on bonuses and pay raises. The bill would also deploy new technology along the border, call for new fencing, require DHS to implement a biometric exit system at all ports of entry within five years, and give border patrol agents access to federal lands. The legislation has faced criticism from not only Democrats, but hardline Republicans who believe the bill doesn’t go far enough to crack down on the roots of illegal migration into the United States.”



House heads to vote next week on border security legislation (also Senate companion bill)

“The House is moving toward a vote on a bill aimed at securing the U.S. border with Mexico as majority Republicans try to show they can chart their own course on immigration, not just oppose President Barack Obama’s. The legislation passed the House Homeland Security Committee late Wednesday on a party-line vote of 18-12, and the full House is expected to take it up next week… A companion version was introduced in the Senate by Republicans Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jeff Flake of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday he was adding his name as a co-sponsor. McCain, who led efforts on a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013, said border security must come first. The bill would require operational control of high-traffic areas of the border within two years, and operational control of the full border within five years. The bill defines operational control as stopping or turning back all attempted border crossers, which Democrats said was unrealistic. Some past immigration and border bills, including one advanced in the last Congress by McCaul’s committee, have sought to block 90 percent of would-be crossers. McCaul’s earlier border bill won unanimous Democratic support by leaving it up to the administration to come up with a strategy to secure the border. This time he abandoned Democrats to write a bill designed to be tougher and win more GOP support. It comes as a number of rank-and-file congressional Republicans are eager to advance immigration legislation of their own and hope a border bill will be just a first step. The Senate’s immigration overhaul legislation stalled in the House in the last Congress because of conservative opposition. Now some Republicans want to show they can offer solutions to the pressing national issue, especially heading into the 2016 presidential election where the Latino vote could be critical. “It’s incredibly frustrating to absorb, continue to absorb, the whacks on doing nothing on the issue,” said Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev. “I’m just tired of defending nothing, I can’t defend nothing.” Obama cited House inaction as he took unilateral steps in November to offer deportation relief and work permits to some 4 million immigrants here illegally, a move that infuriated Republicans. House Republicans attached language to a must-pass spending bill for the Homeland Security Department last week to block Obama’s move, but the measure faces near-certain defeat in the Senate, leaving Republicans still searching for a way to stop the president. That issue is certain to complicate any immigration legislation Republicans seek to advance.”



House heads to vote on border security bill



House heads to vote next week on border security legislation



House to take up border security and human trafficking bills next week

“The House will consider bills next week to enhance border security, combat human trafficking and expedite exports of liquefied natural gas. The legislation to beef up security at the southern border is slated for a vote Wednesday and will be next week’s main attraction in the House. The measure requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be able to prevent all illegal crossings into the U.S., also known as “operational control,” within five years. Political appointees to the department would be barred from receiving bonuses if operational control isn’t achieved within the timeframe. It would further allow border patrol agents to enter federal lands to apprehend illegal immigrants trying to cross the southern border. “The bill also ensures that we are using the latest technologies to assist with border enforcement and takes the common-sense step of allowing greater access to the border region,” McCarthy said on the floor. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement that he would whip Democrats against he bill.  “Republicans took what was a bipartisan bill in the 113th Congress and have now transformed it into a partisan one, which militarizes our southwestern border and denies Homeland Security officials the flexibility required to address existing and new challenges along that border, while doing nothing to improve security in other border areas,” Hoyer said. Measures to restrict human trafficking are expected to hit the House floor on Monday and be considered under suspension of the rules. That means the bills will need two-thirds majorities to pass. The House passed legislation last year on the issue in light of extremist group Boko Haram kidnapping Nigerian teenage girls. A vote on a bill to expedite liquefied natural gas exports will likely occur on Tuesday. The House passed similar legislation in June. The House is only in session from Monday to Wednesday next week to accommodate the Democratic retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday and Friday.”



House, Senate Republicans Meet in Secret to Discuss Border Security Bill

“Two days after Sen. Jeff Sessions bashed a House border security bill, Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul crossed the Dome Thursday to clear the air and try to secure the support of one of Congress’ most ardent immigration critics. McCaul — with Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas and freshman Gary Palmer of Alabama in tow — met with Sessions, the Alabama Republican,  Thursday in the senator’s Russell office for roughly 30 minutes. The discussion centered on the House bill and a round of comments from both men that have played out in press releases and news reports. Asked as he left the Capitol Thursday if he had spoken to Sen. Sessions following the public back-and-forth, McCaul responded, “Yeah, I actually just sat down with him.” McCaul characterized it as a “very positive discussion” and said he thought he and Sessions had common goals on border security and immigration. “And I obviously explained to him I don’t have jurisdiction over the immigration issues,” he said. McCaul said his legislation was “purely” about border security — “I think he understands that,” McCaul said of Sen. Sessions — and he told the senator he wanted to work with him on the measure. “I don’t think he had anything very specific with respect to my bill,” the Texas Republican continued. “If you look at his seven issues, they’re really all in the judiciary lane.” In a phone interview with CQ Roll Call later Thursday, however, Sen. Sessions adamantly disagreed with that characterization. Sen. Sessions specifically raised issues with the implementation of a biometric exit-entry system and changes related to how many miles of double-layer fence would be required on the border. He also told CQ Roll Call he spoke to the group about the need to end the “catch-and-release” program at the border. Sen. Sessions said that, “fundamentally,” what he expressed to McCaul and the other two House lawmakers was that the bill was being promoted as the strongest border security bill ever, and that, if passed, the nation’s border security problems, “implicitly,” would be fixed. “And this is totally far from true,” Sessions said. “What’s lacking from my perspective is a commitment from the House leadership that we can rely on that would deal with the other issues,” he continued. The senator said he’s worried the border security bill is being brought up now so that lawmakers can vote for a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that doesn’t block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. “For the people who really don’t want to deal with immigration, [the border security bill] could be seen as a cover vote, and I don’t know that it’s necessary that it be rushed so fast,” he said. Sen. Sessions’s staff asked that, as a condition of discussing the meeting, CQ Roll Call make it clear that Sessions was only commenting after McCaul first shared his thoughts. The outspoken Alabama lawmaker called the meeting a “frank exchange,” and he said he hadn’t decided whether he would support McCaul’s border security bill. McCaul told him he would give him a marked-up copy with the latest changes for him to review. On Tuesday, Sen. Sessions slammed McCaul’s border security bill in a 719-word statement that mocked the measure, seeming to compare it to the “repudiated gang of eight bill,” which, as the Sessions release noted, called itself the “toughest border security [and] enforcement measures in U.S. history.” McCaul had earlier made a similar statement about his bill, calling it “the toughest border security bill ever,” and he fired back against the senator on Wednesday, telling reporters, “It would have been nice if he’d called me before he blasted a press release.” McCaul was also overheard outside a Republican Study Committee Wednesday discussing the bill and Sessions’ comments with Alabama Republican Mike Rogers. McCaul asked Rogers if Sen. Sessions understood that he was criticizing him “personally,” and McCaul asked Rogers about the possibility of “back-channelling” a message.”



House Tea Party to McConnell: Don’t Drop Our Amnesty Fight



Obama’s Immigration Trap

Republicans fell into it months ago. Here’s how they can get out.




“A leading conservative in the House of Representatives criticized GOP leadership in the Senate on Wednesday, saying that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already lost the immigration battle to Obama before the first fight has even started. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) said it was “uncanny” that the Republican Senate seems to have capitulated in advance to Obama’s immigration agenda. McConnell, Labrador said, “is already sending the message that we’ve already lost this battle.” “Last year the message was, ‘We cannot get our way because we don’t have a Senate [majority],’” Labrador said. “Now this year’s message is, ‘We cannot get our way, because we only have 54 votes.’” “That’s not leadership. That’s not why the American people voted for us,” Labrador said at the “Conversations with Conservatives” event held by the Heritage Foundation on January 21. Labrador is fighting an uphill battle if what Senate Majority Leader McConnell said early in December still holds. Only about a month ago, McConnell signaled that immigration would not be a priority once the GOP took control of the upper chamber. While he agreed that the immigration system is “broken,” McConnell admitted that, in his view, immigration is “not an early item for consideration in the Republican Senate.” Additionally, only a few weeks ago, McConnell announced that he intends to work with Obama going forward. “I’m not opposed to negotiating with the administration,” the Majority Leader told CNN. “So I don’t object to negotiating with him. I’ve done it in the past,” he added.”



Mark Levin: Republicans won’t stop amnesty, Obamacare

“Mark Levin, conservative talk show host, said during a televised interview that Republicans won’t stop amnesty or do away with Obamacare, no matter how much they promise. Both Democrats and Republicans support amnesty — as well as labor unions and the business world, Mr. Levin said during a Fox News discussion with Sean Hannity on “Hannity.” And that means bad news for Americans who don’t, he said. “The problem is the American people reject it,” Mr. Levin said, Newsmax reported. “So once again, they go through these motions as Boehner did a couple weeks ago, and they’re really going to fight Obama on this issue while at the same time he has one of his guys [Texas Rep. Mike] McCaul, I believe his name is, coming up with the salami tactics for the past six or seven bills.” Mr. Levin said it’s all a farce. “If you’re asking me if these Republicans will defund Obamacare, the answer is no,” he said, Newsmax reported. “You’re asking me if these Republicans will prevent amnesty, the answer is they support it. So these Republicans are not going to do any of those things.”



Face of the immigration fight

Latino voters have a voice at the bargaining table as never before in Congress.

“California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard was tapped Wednesday to manage for House Democrats the annual Homeland Security budget bill — a decision that gives Latino voters a human face and voice at the bargaining table as never before in Congress. Roybal-Allard’s selection, approved by her fellow Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, must still be ratified by the party’s leadership and full caucus. But as the first Latino to hold this post, her approval is certain and she represents a powerful historic symbol at a time when the same bill is caught in a bitter fight over immigration policy between Republicans and President Barack Obama. A veteran lawmaker in her own right, Roybal-Allard is the daughter of the late Rep. Edward Roybal, who preceded her in the House and was one of the founders of the Hispanic Caucus. More important perhaps, she brings to the table the credentials of a Mexican-American mother and grandmother whose focus is on the children left behind when their parents are deported. “That’s a huge part for me because … a large percentage of these children are American citizens who end up in foster care and lose their parents,” Roybal-Allard said in a brief hallway interview. “And so that is going to definitely be a focus of mine, not just in terms of children but as much as possible, holding families together.”



Could States Kill Obama’s Executive Amnesty?

They have a strong case for legal standing to sue the administration.

“On January 30, the Southern District Court of Texas will decide whether 25 plaintiff states in Texas v. U.S. should be granted a preliminary injunction to stop the Obama administration’s latest, lawless executive amnesty. Establishing “legal standing” —essentially, a plaintiff’s right to sue — is highly problematic for petitioners aggrieved by the non-enforcement of our immigration laws, but the plaintiff states have skillfully laid out in their briefs a comprehensive case for why they should be granted standing. The states assert several economic interests harmed by the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. They cite, among other things, the millions of dollars that DAPA will impose in costs to state budgets and the labor-market distortions created by its work-authorization provisions. If the states are granted standing, their challenge to DAPA’s illegality will be allowed to go forward. Non-enforcement of our immigration laws can create massive problems in our communities, job markets, and the environment. In the case of individuals or groups, however, the harms are generally not considered particular or definite enough to support their right to sue. Further, immigration law is often considered “political” and therefore, in the eyes of the courts, outside their purview. Note that this insulation of constitutional immigration law goes only one way. Groups like the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center routinely sue on behalf of illegal and criminal aliens claiming improper orders of deportation or denial of benefits. For state governments, though, it may be easier to achieve standing, especially when they are financially harmed by the federal action. In their briefs, the states cite the costs that illegal aliens add to well-known programs. Texas, for example, must spend an additional $1.3 billion annually in uncompensated medical care, $106 million in CHIP provisions, and $9,473 to educate each illegal-alien child. The plaintiff states emphasize the added cost to state licensing. They claim that under DAPA, illegal-alien recipients in most states, including Texas, will become eligible to apply for driver’s licenses, which will incur costs. Attorneys for the Justice Department have attempted to rebut this claim, asserting that the costs of processing licenses would be recouped with fees. Texas notes, however, that fees received from non-citizen applicants “do[] not come close to covering the State’s costs.” The net loss to the state will be as high as $200 per license, not including the costs of renewals, the plaintiff states maintain. DOJ also argues that states are not required to issue driver’s licenses under DAPA and that these injuries are therefore “self-inflicted.” As the plaintiff states point out, however, DOJ attorneys made the exact opposite assertion in a brief filed in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer. (Joyce Branda, acting assistant attorney general, is a signer of both briefs.) In that case, the Arizona government first offered licenses to recipients of DACA, but not to other illegal aliens, before rescinding that benefit and denying licenses to all illegal aliens, after it was sued in district court for discrimination. For its retraction of benefits, the state government was sued a second time, again on discrimination grounds, and a Ninth Circuit panel of three judges, appointed by Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama, enjoined the law. Now, in its response to the plaintiff states in Texas v. U.S., DOJ is apparently saying that decision was wrong. DOJ’s “new” view of the law creates its own harm, the states argue, and would force them into an all-or-nothing choice: either extend licenses to all deferred-action recipients or stop issuing them to any such recipients, including, for instance, foreign students whose visa conditions were disrupted by Hurricane Katrina. This all-or-nothing choice, the states argue, is akin to the Medicaid-expansion provision of Obamacare, which was struck down as “unconstitutionally coercive.” They add that any doubt about the causal relationship between amnesty and illegal immigration is eliminated by their expert demographer, who affirmed that amnesty will “discernibly and significantly” increase illegal immigration. The plaintiff states rely in part on the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, in which Massachusetts sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate carbon emissions from new cars sold in the U.S. The state claimed that the emissions increased climate change, which would disproportionately impact the coastal state by raising sea levels. In Texas v. U.S., the plaintiffs argue, modestly, that their economic injuries are “far more concrete” and traceable than in Massachusetts’s case and that therefore their legal standing should be much clearer.  They note that under parens patriae (parent of the nation) doctrine, states have been given standing to vindicate certain “state sovereign” interests, such as the protection of their citizens’ economic well-being. That principle was demonstrated in Alfred L. Snapp v. Puerto Rico, in which the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico sued apple growers in Virginia under the Immigration and Nationality Act, for discriminating against Puerto Rican migrant workers by hiring temporary foreign labor. The plaintiffs’ argument in Texas is that DAPA discriminates against U.S. workers by raising the cost of their labor relative to that of illegal aliens, because the latter are exempt from the Obamacare-mandated “minimum essential coverage” that employers would otherwise have to pay. If they are granted standing and a trial on the case’s merits is held, the states will be able to provide further evidence of their injury under DAPA. Texas, for example, should include as an economic interest the $1 billion in un-recouped law-enforcement costs traceable to illegal aliens. But if Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District in Texas finds that the states lack sufficient standing and he dismisses the case, the House of Representatives should pass a resolution authorizing litigation to vindicate its institutional injury by filing a separation-of-powers lawsuit against the executive.”



Immigration critic Jeff Sessions to head Senate immigration panel (continuation of yesterday’s article)

“A key opponent of the push for comprehensive immigration reform has been tapped to chair the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said he has renamed the panel “Immigration and the National Interest,” a move he said is intended as “a declaration to the American people that this subcommittee belongs to them.” Sessions has been a tireless opponent of proposals that would reform the immigration system by expanding visas, work permits and guest worker programs or create a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants now living here. Sessions has argued that increased immigration will lower wages, strain the nation’s entitlement system and reduce jobs. His views often clash with other GOP lawmakers who are in favor of a comprehensive immigration plan, which they say is needed to fix the nation’s broken immigration system and bring those now living here illegally out of the shadows.”




Sen. Sessions Reforms Senate Immigration Committee



Colorado GOP blocks funding for immigrant driver’s licenses

“Democrats who approved driver’s licenses for Colorado immigrants regardless of legal status are outraged over a Republican vote to block funds for the program. The program receives no state taxes and is operated through the fees immigrants pay for their licenses, driving permits, and identification cards. The state Department of Revenue, which oversees the program, asked budget writers for permission to access $166,265 in fees that have already been collected to increase staffing. Republicans who control the Senate for the first time in 10 years used their newfound power on the Joint Budget Committee to reject the request. Democrats passed the law in 2013 when they controlled both legislative chambers. The funding request can be revisited, but Democrats worry that if it’s not approved the program will stop functioning.”



Federal judge issues permanent injunction in DREAMers case

“A federal judge granted a permanent injunction Thursday affirming the ability of young immigrants protected from deportation to obtain an Arizona driver’s license. The ruling by U.S. District Judge David Campbell came exactly one month after the so-called DREAMers began getting driver’s licenses in Arizona for the first time. Arizona was one of the last states where officials refused to issue driver’s licenses to young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children but allowed to remain under a 2012 Obama administration program. Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, waged a lengthy legal battle over the program. Courts ruled against Arizona on several occasions and cleared the way for licenses to be issued starting Dec. 22. Four days earlier, a preliminary injunction issued by Campbell barred Arizona from enforcing Brewer’s license policy. The president’s policy applies to people younger than 30 who came to the U.S. before turning 16, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, are enrolled in or have graduated from a high school or equivalent program, or have served in the military. In the nation’s most visible challenge to Obama’s deferred-action program, Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver’s licenses and other public benefits to immigrants who get work authorization under the Obama policy. Her attorneys have argued that the decision grew out of liability concerns and the desire to reduce the risk of the licenses being used to improperly access public benefits. Young immigrants said the policy made it difficult or impossible for them to get essential things done, such as going to school, work or the store. Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, who took office Jan. 5, said, “We are reviewing the ruling.”



Driver’s licenses a magnet for immigration fraud in Vermont

“As California battles a flood of immigrants seeking driver’s licenses after enactment of Assembly Bill 60, Vermont’s Department of Motor Vehicles has found issuing driver’s privileges to illegals can be a magnet for benefits fraud. In the first week after AB 60 went into effect in January, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued more than 11,000 driver’s licenses and processed nearly 50,000 applications for people living illegally in the U.S. By the end of week two, the number of issued licenses more than doubled, reaching 25,300. Over the next three years, Golden State taxpayers can expect to pay as much as $220 million to give licenses to 1.4 million undocumented immigrants. Across the country in Vermont, a different problem has emerged. A law intended to grant driver’s privilege cards to roughly 3,000 migrants is attracting applications from illegals living outside the state. “In our Bennington DMV office, we have detected some changes where people are coming from outside of Vermont and trying to get a driver’s privilege card. Our investigation has determined that they’re not residents of the state of Vermont,” Glen Button, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles Enforcement Division, told Vermont Watchdog.”




“Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) argued that the US must push for assimilation of immigrants to the US, saying that there needs to be a message that “you can’t come here if you want to overthrow our culture, set up your own communities where you don’t abide by the same laws and freedoms we expect for everybody” on Thursday’s “Laura Ingraham Show.” Jindal first addressed the controversy regarding his comments on no-go zones, stating “a lot of the politically correct commentators want to deny these areas exist. The reality is, I was very careful, I wasn’t talking about entire cities, some have gotten in trouble for saying that, but it’s absolutely clear there are neighborhoods and enclaves where the police say they don’t go as often, where non-Muslim say they’re afraid to go in without veils, I heard that over and over. You’ve seen many different news organizations have documented this, for example, CNN, a while ago did a report on these, Ambassador Bolton has compiled dozens of examples of these.” He continued “in the old days, we used to say that America was the great melting pot, and people came to be here to become Americans, now it’s fashionable to say we’re a salad bowl, now it’s fashionable to say ‘hey, look it’s arrogant to try to impose our values or views on others.’ That’s nonsense, we don’t need to ignore our Judeo-Christian heritage. We need to stand up and say ‘if you want to come to America to be Americans, if you want to learn our language and our values, we welcome you here. But you can’t come here if you want to overthrow our culture, set up your own communities where you don’t abide by the same laws and freedoms we expect for everybody.’” And “I absolutely believe in American Exceptionalism as a unique and special thing, I absolutely believe that America is the greatest country in the history of the world, and it used to be commonplace for everyday Americans to believe that, we’ve got to teach out children in our schools what makes America special, we need to teach our children these values at home, we need to insist on English as the language. If people don’t think America’s this great country, don’t come here, they can stay where they came from.”



The Remedy to America’s Stalled Startup Activity: Immigration Reform



Iowa Hispanics to GOP: Stay away from amnesty foe Steve King

“As GOP presidential hopefuls descend on Iowa this weekend, immigrant rights advocates have a warning for them: Stay away from Rep. Steve King if you want to have a chance at winning Hispanic votes. Eager to recharge the immigration issue that they believe helped doom 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, illegal immigrants who are here under President Obama’s deportation amnesty said they’ll dog the next batch of potential 2016 candidates demanding to know whether they’ll keep or cancel the amnesties that could apply to as many as 5 million migrants by the time Mr. Obama leaves office. And they’ll challenge the candidates to repudiate Mr. King, the Iowa Republican who is hosting upwards of a dozen potential candidates at a forum on Saturday, which is seen as the unofficial kickoff to the next presidential campaign. “If the GOP wants to win [in] 2016, then they are going to have to make sure that they stay as much as possible away from Steve King as they can,” said Erika Andiola, one of the so-called Dreamers who is here under Mr. Obama’s 2012 amnesty for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents. Ms. Andiola and others said that the GOP should have learned from the 2012 election, when Mr. Romney lost the Latino vote by a 44 percent margin after opposing legalization efforts and embracing a “self-deportation” that turned off Latino voters. Iowa hosts the first-in-the-nation caucuses, and interest groups of all stripes use it to try to get candidates to focus on their issues. A decade ago, conservatives came to Iowa to urge GOP primary voters to ask the candidates about stiffening immigration enforcement, helping catapult the issue into a major battle line for Republicans. The Dreamers are trying to use Iowa to reverse that, arguing that the politics have shifted, and voters now want to see illegal immigrants legalized. The immigration rights activists ran an ad in the state’s largest newspaper on Thursday calling on 2016 presidential candidates to support “immigration reform” and pointed to a 2013 Des Moines Register poll that found that “77 percent of Iowans support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.” Monica Reyes, co-founder of DREAM Iowa, said that there will be repercussions for those who stand with Mr. King in trying to reverse Mr. Obama’s executive actions. “We will stand up for our communities, and we will try to protect what we earned and what we worked hard to get,” Ms. Reyes said. “So if they want the Latino vote, if they want immigration allies, they need to change their stances. They need to keep away from Steve King.” Mr. King, who has led opposition to Mr. Obama’s amnesty policies, stirred up more controversy this week when he described a Dreamer who sat with first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address as a “deportable.” Some political observers, though, say associating with Mr. King could be a benefit in the presidential primary. “For those who want to attract more Hispanic voters in 2016, Steve King is a risk because of his high visibility on the issue,” said Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University. “On the other hand, a very large majority of Republican caucus and primary voters are on board with King, so it will probably help them on caucus night and in primaries in most of the red states.”



U.S., Cuba spar over immigration in landmark talks

“U.S. and Cuban officials are starting a second day of historic face-to-face talks. On Wednesday, the talks got off to a rough start, as diplomats tackled the issue of immigration and the Cuban Adjustment Act. The discussions on Thursday are expected to focus on re-establishing the U.S. embassy in Havana and reopening the Cuban embassy in Washington. Manuel Bojorquez reports from Cuba.”





A Debt-Free State of the Union

The most important words in Obama’s speech, and in the Republican responses, were the ones hardly uttered at all.

“Want to understand why President Obama sounded so exuberant last night and the Republicans who responded to him sounded so cautious? The answer lies in the sudden disappearance of two all-important words from America’s political lexicon: deficit and debt. In 2011, facing a newly elected Republican Congress, Obama uttered those words 12 times. They drained the life out of his State of the Union address. When a Democratic president proposes “freez[ing] annual domestic spending for the next five years” and requiring “painful cuts … to things I care deeply about,” he’s unlikely to exude vitality. It’s hard to explain how government can help Americans live out their dreams when you’ve conceded that the government is broke. The Republican who responded to Obama that year was a little-known Wisconsin representative named Paul Ryan. He used the words “deficit” and “debt” 14 times. And they provided his ideological fuel. Declaring that, “Our nation is approaching a tipping point … Just look at what’s happening to Greece,” Ryan warned that debt was destroying not merely America’s solvency but its soul. Without dramatic cuts to government spending, the United States faced “a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.” If debt prevented Obama from making the case for activist government, it served as Ryan’s evidence that activist government was morally sick. Compare that to last night. Obama only mentioned “deficits” to crow that they were going down. He only mentioned “debt” while talking about student loans. And he didn’t mention spending cuts at all. Even more striking was the Republican response. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, representing another newly empowered GOP congressional majority, did not mention debt or deficits once. And denied this tangible evidence of the unsustainability and depravity of big government, she made no real effort to challenge Obama’s speech on ideological grounds. Her sole swipe at excessive government—“we’ll propose ideas that aim to cut wasteful spending and balance the budget, with meaningful reforms, not higher taxes like the president has proposed”—lasted all of one sentence. Then she moved onto cyber-terrorism. We’ve been here before. In the late 1990s, when economic growth and spending cuts erased the deficits of the early Clinton years, Republicans also found it harder to demonize government. As they approached the 2000 campaign, different GOP candidates found different substitutes for the anti-deficit fervor that had powered the Republican Revolution of 1994. Steve Forbes proposed big tax cuts on theory that if government had money to spare, it should send it back to the people. Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes focused on liberal moral degeneracy, using Bill Clinton as Exhibit A. John McCain argued for a heroic “national greatness” foreign policy. George W. Bush peddled a “compassionate conservatism” that used government to help the poor, but demanded more responsibility on their part. When Bush won the nomination, he incorporated elements of all of these themes into his campaign. If you look closely at the current crop of Republican candidates, you can see the beginnings of a similar fracturing of the GOP message. Mike Huckabee looks determined to run on cultural decline. Jeb Bush and even Mitt Romney want to focus on using government to help the poor. Every potential candidate except Rand Paul will likely promise defense hikes and a more aggressive, militaristic foreign policy. And every potential GOP candidate, including Rand Paul, will likely unveil a big tax cut, probably unmatched by real reductions in spending. When it comes to winning presidential elections, diminished ideological fervor can actually be an advantage. The government dependency argument that Ryan trotted out in 2011 worked out poorly for Mitt Romney in 2012. Joni Ernst, by contrast, devoted much of her State of the Union address to personal, non-ideological stories about her hardscrabble farm-girl upbringing, and came across as appealing and non-threatening. The lesson of last night’s State of the Union is that in both parties, the terms of the domestic policy debate have shifted left. As we approach 2016, Republicans will have to contend with a country that knows it really isn’t Greece.”



Boehner, McConnell say Obama’s SOTU plans too expensive

“House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took aim at some ideas aired by President Obama in Tuesday’s State of the Union address. The president said he’d like to raise taxes on the wealthy, to make community college free and increasing the federal minimum wage — all bad ideas, said Boehner and McConnell are all bad ideas. “Why would he wanna raise taxes on people? There’s no free lunch,” Boehner told CBS News anchor Scott Pelley. “And the president wants to raise taxes because he wants to increase Washington spending.” McConnell seemed especially frustrated with making community college free. “The last thing we need to do to these young people is add more debt. And giving away free tuition strikes me as something we can’t afford,” he said. Pelley will have more on the interview with the two GOP leaders this Sunday on “60 Minutes.”



Obama launches $80B child care push

“President Obama on Thursday detailed a new $80 billion proposal intended to help more families afford child care as part of a post-State of the Union policy push the White House hopes can win over Republicans and independents. The president called for the federal government to dramatically expand the Child Care and Development Fund, a federal program that provides states grants for childcare assistance programs to help low- and middle-income families.  “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education — these aren’t just nice to have, this is a must-have,” Obama said in remarks at the University of Kansas. The White House says more money is necessary because budgetary restraints mean only a fraction of children who qualify for assistance receive it. Subsidies provided to those who qualify often don’t do enough to cover child care costs. The proposal to expand the development fund comes on top of the president’s proposal to triple the maximum child care tax credit available to middle-class families. Under Obama’s plan, parents could receive up to a $3,000 credit. And the White House wants to create a new program to help young families who have trouble finding suitable child care programs because they work uncommon hours or live in rural areas. “Expanding access in the early childhood space is tremendously important,” domestic policy adviser Cecelia Muñoz said Thursday. In his speech in Kansas, Obama pitched the proposal as something that could cut across partisan lines. The White House has said Obama’s post-State of the Union swing through two red states — Idaho and Kansas — was a deliberate attempt to reach voters across the aisle. “Republican families feel it just as much as Democratic families,” Obama said. “There’s no distinction. I don’t want any family to face the choice between not working or leaving their children in unsafe or poor-quality child care.” An aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) dismissed Obama’s proposal and noted the president also wanted to reduce tax breaks on savings plans that allow parents to invest money set aside for their children’s college educations.  “Republicans are all for increasing access to quality, affordable education, but we don’t need more top-down policies from Washington or new tax hikes on middle-income families saving for their children’s college education,” Boehner aide Cory Fritz said in a statement. Obama said the child care issue was personal for him, and that he and the first lady struggled to figure out how to pay both child care costs and student loans. “I don’t want anybody being day care poor,” he said. Before speaking at the school, Obama visited a community center where preschool was funded through the federal Head Start program…”




“President Barack Obama’s proposal to scale back the tax benefits of college savings accounts is running into opposition from Republicans in Congress who say they have no intention of raising taxes on families trying to save money for their children’s education. Obama’s plan would reduce the tax benefits of future contributions to the popular 529 college savings plans. Current accounts would be grandfathered, so existing funds could still grow and be withdrawn, tax-free. The administration says all the additional tax revenue would be used to help expand and make permanent a $2,500 tax credit that families can use for education expenses. Under current law, the tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of 2017. “The president’s plan would consolidate education savings incentives into one vehicle and redirect the savings into the better targeted” American Opportunity Tax Credit, the White House says in a description of the proposal. Obama laid out the proposal as part of this week’s State of the Union address. It is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to simplify a sometimes confusing array of tax breaks designed to make higher education more affordable. Obama is also proposing a $60 billion plan to make the first two years of community or technical college free.”



Obamas Make Jumbo 529 Contribution While Pushing Repeal For Everyone Else

“Obama wants the earnings on these plans to face ordinary income tax, at rates as high as 39.6 percent federally.  529 expert Joe Hurley correctly predicts that taxing 529 plans this way will result in their effective repeal, as new contributions in will “dry up” overnight. As I pointed out yesterday, the tsunami of popular outrage (my original post passed the quarter million mark this morning) can be explained by seeing that this tax increase is really an assault on the American Dream. But just your American Dream–not the Obamas’. You see, back in 2007, Barack and Michelle Obama made a stunning $240,000 contribution to the 529 plans of their two daughters.  There’s a special provision in 529 tax rules that allow for a “jumbo” contribution in exchange for not gifting any more money to your kids for the next five years.  The Obamas (wisely) took advantage of this–you can see the actual tax form reporting here. This is odd, considering some of the nasty things the White House has said about 529 plans in recent days. Administration officials have called 529 plans “inefficient,” that 80% of the benefits accrue to those making more than $250,000 per year, and that 529 plans should effectively be repealed in order to plus up an education tax credit.  Obama Administration mouthpiece Slate went so far as to call de facto 529 repeal “a great idea.” In fact, the College Savings Foundation–which knows a thing or two about the 529 industry–says that 70% of families which own a 529 plan make less than $150,000 per year, and almost 95% of families make less than $250,000 per year (note that this is the Obama Administration’s preferred dividing line to mark off the “middle class”).  The average account balance in these 12 million 529 plans is just under $21,000. So which one is it?  Are 529 plans an evil distortion in the tax code?  If so, why did the Obamas plow nearly a quarter of a million dollars in them back in 2007?  And why does Obama want to effectively repeal 529s (there would be no reason to contribute without the tax-free growth) for middle class families today?”



Memo To Obama: Middle Class Families Use 529 College Savings Plans



Obama claims U.S. wages are growing, despite data

“At a rally to build support for raising taxes on wealthier families, President Obama repeated the dubious assertion Thursday that U.S. wages are rising. “Here’s what’s most important: Today, because the economy is growing at a faster pace, we’re starting to actually see wages tick up for the first time in a very long time,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of about 7,100 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He cited wage growth as proof that his economic policies are succeeding. But the government reported last week that wages essentially didn’t grow at all in 2014. The Labor Department said the seasonally adjusted median weekly wage at the end of 2014 was $796; at same time in 2013, it was $794. Hourly earnings in the private sector rose 1.7 percent last year, which is much weaker than earnings climbed prior to the recession that began in December 2007. Before the recession, earnings were growing at more than 3 percent per year. The president also made the claim about rising wages in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, when he called on Congress to raises taxes on capital gains and to close tax loopholes on wealthier families and on corporations that keep profits overseas. Republican leaders say they oppose the tax hikes, in part, because it would threaten the economic recovery. In Kansas, the president said the GOP needs to come up with alternative ideas to pay for his initiatives such as expanded child care credits for middle-class families and government-paid tuition for community college students.”



Capital gains tax hike bad for the economy, middle class

“Tax Foundation economists say Obama’s capital gains tax hike would decrease employment by 134,579 jobs per year and cut the economy by 0.8 percent, or $142 billion, per year. Wages would fall by an estimated 0.7 percent. Despite the higher rate, tax revenue would actually fall by almost $12 billion when the negative economic effects are accounted for. One problem is that the middle class and the wealthy buy and trade the same public companies — and the wealthy buy and sell much more of the stock. When the higher tax on them is priced in, they are not willing to pay as much, and stocks immediately lose value. Everyone who holds stock — including middle class families with tax-deferred retirement plans — takes a hit. This effect comes on top of the normal opportunity costs that all tax increases have — pulling more money out of the economy and reducing opportunities for investment and consumer spending. This is why, when Congress passed and President Clinton signed a cut in the capital gains tax in 1997, stocks rose in value immediately and transactions increased dramatically. The effect was so pronounced that this was a rare case in which a simple tax-rate cut actually resulted in an increase in the amount of revenue brought in by the tax in question. Obama pitched the capital gains tax hike as a way of making the rich pay their fair share. However, the Tax Foundation analysis shows the economic hindrance would hurt everyone in the economy, including low- and middle-income families. Families with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 would see their after-tax income fall by $461 a year. Those earning $10,000 to $20,000 would lose $128 a year. The wealthy would still be hit hardest, with incomes over $1,000,000 losing an estimated $67,939 a year. Obama’s capital gains tax proposal would increase the top rate on capital gains to 28 percent, up from the current 23.8 percent. The rate was 15 percent when he took office in 2009. Obama also proposed a new tax on big banks and expanding the capital gains tax to inherited gains. In addition, he proposed a new credit for two-earner families and tax changes to child tax benefits. The Tax Foundation did not account for the economic effects of these other tax changes, opting to focus on a 28 percent capital gains tax rate.”



Tax hikes won’t improve the state of our union

State of the Union address offers more wealth distribution, job-killing recommendations

“President Barack Obama revisited a number of familiar — and failed — themes in his State of the Union address. Once again, the president is asking for higher taxes on the wealthy and more government entitlement programs for the poor and middle class. Very little of what Obama put on the table Tuesday night is likely to pass Congress, but we’ll get to that later. What is notable is that despite six years of sluggish economic growth and repudiation of his economic policies in last fall’s elections, the president is sticking to his class warfare guns, choosing to grow government rather than the economy. Centerpiece to his plan is yet another tax hike on higher income earners. Soaking the rich has been this administration’s go-to tactic. Just this month, a range of new taxes on the upper income bracket kicked in to help pay for Obamacare. Before the economy has a chance to measure the impact of those increases, Obama is asking for another hike in the capital tax, to 28 percent from 23.8 percent. He previously raised it from the more investment-friendly 15 percent. Taxes on investment are the most detrimental to growth, and Obama’s persistent raids on investor income may explain why economic growth has averaged a tepid 2.3 percent during his tenure, compared to the 4.5 percent achieved during the recovery of the 1980s. The new tax revenue — $320 billion over 10 years — would go toward expanded tax breaks for low- and middle-income households, including a new $500 tax credit for two-earner households. He also wants to triple the amount of an existing child care credit, mostly for low-income parents. Wealth redistribution hasn’t significantly improved household incomes for low-income families or the middle class. That will only happen through greater job creation, not bigger government. Hitting an economy with higher taxes just as it is gaining real steam is a risky enterprise. And with the economy growing, there seems little justification for this sort of stimulus spending. It’s disturbing that none of the new tax revenue Obama is seeking will go toward deficit reduction or the national debt — that seems like a long-forgotten goal. And while he is proposing some worthwhile reforms of the corporate tax code, they mostly come on the revenue side, without addressing the burden on businesses.”



State polls show lack of support for gas tax hikes

“A trio of state polls released this week show voters in states such as Georgia, New Jersey and Utah do not support an increase in their gas taxes to pay for new transportation projects.  The surveys come as lawmakers in Washington are indicating a willingness to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax for the first time in 20 years.  In Georgia, where drivers pay an additional 7.5 cents per gallon on top of the federal gas tax, according to the America Petroleum Institute (API), 60 percent of voters said they are opposed to paying more at the pump to pay for new transportation projects in a poll conducted by Landmark Communications, according to a report from Atlanta’s WSB. Similarly, 68 percent of New Jersey voters said they are opposed to a gas tax increase in that state, where drivers currently are paying an extra 10.5 cents per gallon to fill local transportation coffers, according to a Trenton Times report.  Finally, in Utah, where drivers pay an extra 24.5 cents per gallon at the pump, only 35 percent of voters said they supported a gas tax increase, according to a report from Salt Lake City TV station KSL about a poll that was conducted by the Exoro Group.”



Reid expresses opposition to trade promotion authority

“The Senate’s top Democrat said he won’t consider giving President Obama expanded trade powers until he is convinced that far-reaching trade agreements will help the middle class. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that he is opposed to trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track, over concerns that the expanded trade deals will harm U.S. workers. “I’ve always been suspect my entire career in Congress of these trade agreements,” Reid said during his first public appearance on Capitol Hill since an accident sidelined him earlier this month. “I don’t support fast-track because I have not been shown that trade agreements have helped the middle class,” he told reporters.  He said he would “be happy to keep my eyes wide open, and if something changes I’ll change.” “But until it’s shown to me that the trade agreements help the middle class, I’m not going to be jumping on the bandwagon.” This is not the first time that Reid has thrown cold water on Obama’s efforts to push for trade promotion authority that would help smooth the approval of two major global deals that could reach Capitol Hill before the president leaves office.  Reid has said that the trade agreements of the past have not been good for U.S. workers, a central complaint of many Democrats. But despite his opposition in the past, he has allowed agreements to reach the floor for debate and passage.”



Paul Ryan: Trade agreements and tax reform “high on our list”



DOJ collects $1.8 billion in corporate fines

“The federal government collected more than $1.8 billion in penalties in 2014 from companies accused of cheating consumers, the Obama administration announced Thursday. This is one of the biggest annual collections from the Justice Department’s antitrust division in history. “The size of these penalties is an unfortunate reminder of the powerful temptation to cheat the American consumer and profit from collusion,” said Bill Baer, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division. “We remain committed to ensuring that corporations and individuals who collude face serious consequences for their crimes.” The Justice Department collected penalties of more than $100 million each from five separate companies. Bridgestone Corp. paid $425 million to settle what was the fourth-largest criminal fine ever issued by the antitrust division, according to the DOJ. Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd. paid $195 million, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. paid $190 million, Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. paid $120 million, and JTEKT Corp. paid $103 million.”




“Thursday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, while discussing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently taking credit for positive upticks in the economy, Vice President Joe Biden admitted when he was in the Senate in the 1980s, he took credit for President Ronald Reagan’s economic successes, saying, “You know when things were roaring in the Reagan years, I was, yeah that’s a good idea man, it’s working.”



The FairTax Makes a Comeback

It won’t become law, but some new congressional Republicans think it can help the GOP win in 2016.



George Will: The harm incurred by a mushrooming welfare state

“America’s national character will have to be changed if progressives are going to implement their agenda. So, changing social norms is the progressive agenda. To understand how far this has advanced, and how difficult it will be to reverse the inculcation of dependency, consider the data Nicholas Eberstadt deploys in National Affairs quarterly: America’s welfare state transfers more than 14 percent of gross domestic product to recipients, with more than a third of Americans taking “need-based” payments. In our wealthy society, the government officially treats an unprecedented portion of the population as “needy.” Transfers of benefits to individuals through social welfare programs have increased from less than 1 federal dollar in 4 (24 percent) in 1963 to almost 3 out of 5 (59 percent) in 2013. In that half-century, entitlement payments were, Eberstadt says, America’s “fastest growing source of personal income,” growing twice as fast as all other real per capita personal income. It is probable that this year a majority of Americans will seek and receive payments. This is not primarily because of Social Security and Medicare transfers to an aging population. Rather, the growth is overwhelmingly in means-tested entitlements. More than twice as many households receive “anti-poverty” benefits than receive Social Security or Medicare. Between 1983 and 2012, the population increased by almost 83 million — and people accepting means-tested benefits increased by 67 million. So, for every 100-person increase in the population there was an 80-person increase in the recipients of means-tested payments. Food stamp recipients increased from 19 million to 51 million — more than the combined populations of 24 states. What has changed? Not the portion of the estimated population below the poverty line (15.2 percent in 1983; 15 percent in 2012). Rather, poverty programs have become untethered from the official designation of poverty: In 2012, more than half the recipients were not classified as poor but accepted being treated as needy. Expanding dependency requires erasing Americans’ traditional distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. This distinction was rooted in this nation’s exceptional sense that poverty is not the unalterable accident of birth and is related to traditions of generosity arising from immigrant and settler experiences. Eberstadt’s essay, “American Exceptionalism and the Entitlement State,” argues that this state is extinguishing the former. America “arrived late to the 20th century’s entitlement party.” The welfare state’s European pedigree traces from post-1945 Britain, back through Sweden’s interwar “social democracy,” to Bismarck’s late-19th-century social insurance. European welfare states reflected European beliefs about poverty: Rigid class structures rooted in a feudal past meant meager opportunities for upward mobility based on merit. People were thought to be stuck in neediness through no fault of their own, and welfare states would reconcile people to intractable social structures.”





Teacher on Common Core testing: ‘I am a broken woman’

“Jennifer Rickert is a sixth-grade teacher who has worked for 22 years in the Ichabod Crane Central School District in New York State. She just gave a powerful, detailed speech to her Board of Education about her objections to the state’s English Language Arts Common Core test and her decision not to administer it this spring. New York is part of a multi-state consortium known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, which is auditioning its newly designed Common Core tests this school year. But New York education officials were so eager to start testing students on the Common Core State Standards that it didn’t wait for the consortium to finish its work but paid millions of dollars to Pearson to design Core-aligned tests, which were first given to students in 2013. Problems with the content and administration of the exam led thousands of parents to opt their children out of the test in 2014. Now teachers, at the risk of losing their jobs, are speaking up, saying why they have decided not to administer it. This week, Rickert gave some detailed testimony about problems with the test being given to 11- and 12-year-olds, and concluded it by saying: “I have the greatest job.  I am a teacher.  I, today, am standing up for my students.  Finally.” Here is the video (done by Mert Melfa) and beneath that is the text of her speech:”



What the new Common Core tests are — and aren’t

“At a Senate education committee hearing this week on how the No Child Left Behind law should be rewritten, the subject quickly turned to standardized testing and whether the federal government should maintain NCLB’s annual testing mandate. Witnesses and legislators talked about the amount of time students are tested, the stakes tied to the scores for students and teachers, and the quality of the tests. Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools, praised new Common Core tests as being more sophisticated than earlier standardized testing. He said: “The new generation of assessment which will be introduced this spring is a much more sophisticated set of assessment [than previous standardized tests used for accountability purposes].  It is much more around complex thinking, problem solving. It’s not about rote memorization.” Well, actually, the new Common Core tests are not anywhere near as sophisticated as they were originally promoted to be several years ago when the Obama administration gave $360 million to two multi-state consortia to develop them. Let’s review: On Sept. 2, 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a speech called “Beyond The Bubble Tests: The Next Generation of Assessments.” He was talking about new standardized tests that were being created to align with the Common Core State Standards by two multi-state consortia created specifically for the task. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, were given a total of $360 million in federal funds to create the new tests, which were supposed to go well beyond the multiple-choice standards tests that students have been taking for many years and criticized for measuring very narrow bands of what students can do. The two consortia developed different sets of assessments; both were designed for the computer, though paper versions are available and will be used in many states where schools do not have enough computer technology. PARCC’s exams consist of fixed questions for grades 3-11, most of them multiple choice; SBAC’s tests, for grades 3-8 and 11th grade, are computer adaptive, meaning that the difficulty changes as students answer each question. Both consortia developed summative exams, which are mandated, as well as optional diagnostic and interim exams. Duncan was optimistic about the new tests, saying in that speech to state leaders at Achieve’s American Diploma Project Leadership Team Meeting: I am convinced that this new generation of state assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education. For the first time, millions of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know if students are on-track for colleges and careers – and if they are ready to enter college without the need for remedial instruction. Yet that fundamental shift – re-orienting K-12 education to extend beyond high school graduation to college and career-readiness – will not be the only first here.  For the first time, many teachers will have the state assessments they have longed for – tests of critical thinking skills and complex student learning that are not just fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills but support good teaching in the classroom. That’s not what has happened. Design constraints as well as money problems and other issues have all contributed to a result that is far less than being a game-changer in public education.”



National Testing Debate Reveals Strange Bedfellows

“Currently, NCLB requires all public school students to be tested in math and reading every year from grades 3-8 as well as once in high school. Students also need to be tested three times in science. Now, Senate Republicans are looking to roll back that mandate, or perhaps eliminate it entirely. “Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests? Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?” Sen. Lamar Alexander said to open the hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is spearheading the NCLB reform effort. Here’s a breakdown of the chaos, and how different groups are lining up on the matter of annual tests. Conservative Republicans: Against – In Congress, the strongest support for rollbacks in testing comes from conservative Republicans such as Rand Paul. For them, the concern is not just about the quality of the tests themselves, but more about what the testing mandates represent: A federal intervention into what was until 2002 a state-run issue. Not helping matters is the growing opposition to Common Core, and some, including Paul, have proposed eliminating the Department of Education entirely. Reflecting this growing sentiment on the right, Alexander has suggested a major overhaul of testing, creating a “choose your own adventure” approach that would compel states to have some kind of testing regime, but would allow them to choose what grades are tested, what the tests cover and even whether tests are chosen at the state or local level… Progressive Teachers: Against – Perhaps the toughest critics of standardized tests are teachers. That hostility is particularly strong among those who identify as strong progressives, who bash testing as at best a waste of time and at worst totally antithetical to proper learning. This opposition was on display Wednesday, as the two teachers invited by Alexander to criticize annual tests were both from a left-wing background. New York high school teacher Stephen Lazar, who blogs online about his experiences as a “very progressive” educator, spoke for many teachers in lambasting the culture he says is encouraged by annual tests… Barack Obama: For – President Obama has drawn a line in the sand on testing, dispatching Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to argue that annual testing is essential to any federal education law. Duncan has suggested that Republican fervor for scrapping tests shows an indifference to how schools and students actually perform…”



OPINION: SAT Shift To Common Core TOTALLY SHAFTS Poor Kids

“The Common Core makes noble demands on teachers and students. But, at the end of the day, they are still demands, and it will take students and teachers time and effort to fulfill them. One problem with tying the SAT to these new standards is that it will force students and schools to play a long game of catch-up. Most states will be gradually implementing the standards over the next few years—assuming it will only take that long and assuming that any student taking the exam attends a school that is successfully using standards. At last check, 42 states are in the process of implementing the Common Core standards — three of the original participants dropped out — but they are doing so at different rates. The other consequence of (theoretically) basing the new SAT on what students are doing in their classrooms is that it threatens to makes success on the exam even more subject to socioeconomic background. Students at struggling schools — where teachers tend to have less experience and support and where Common Core-related textbooks can be scarce — could be at a disadvantage. After all, they haven’t had exposure to the very materials and instruction integral to performing well on the test. This could all amount to an ironic twist: For all the faults of the SAT, one of its merits, at least in theory, is that it can identify students whose formal education might be lacking but who have the mental firepower to succeed given the opportunity.”





Obama to nominate deputy chief at EPA

“President Obama said he will nominate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) acting deputy chief to take the position officially. Stan Meiburg came back to the EPA as its acting deputy administrator in October. He had worked at the agency for nearly four decades before retiring earlier in 2014 as the head of the EPA’s Atlanta office. Meiburg would replace Bob Perciasepe, who was deputy administrator throughout the Obama administration until he resigned last year. Lisa Feldt briefly acted in the No. 2 spot before Meiburg came back.

“His experience spans the agency, having worked closely on air, enforcement, toxics, operations and countless other EPA issues,” EPA head Gina McCarthy said in October. “He’s literally done it all, and I know he’ll be a great addition to the team.” Meiburg is the first Senate-confirmed EPA nominee Obama has named since Republicans took control of the Senate.”



GOP targets Obama’s climate change deals

“Republicans took aim at President Obama’s international climate change agenda Thursday when they voted 51-46 to require any global or bilateral emissions deals to get Senate approval. While that wasn’t enough to pass, since 60 votes were needed, it demonstrates that the GOP intends to hamstring Obama’s attempts to sign an emissions pact at United Nations climate negotiations in Paris in December. “I think the Constitution is pretty clear on agreements negotiated between countries. There is a Senate role to be played — it requires the advice and consent of the Senate. The Senate should insist that we do that job,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the sponsor of the amendment on legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama intends to use much of this year to drum up momentum for the Paris talks. The nearly 200 nations involved want to strike a deal to reduce emissions beyond 2020 to keep global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius by 2100… The White House is seeking an arrangement that wouldn’t require Senate approval — likely by agreeing to a legally enforceable system of reviewing country pledges, but not to a specific, legally enforceable emissions cut. The administration wants to avoid going through the Senate because it’s likely it wouldn’t get the 67 votes needed from the GOP-led upper chamber to ratify an international treaty. The amendment from Republicans is a direct shot at the administration’s international climate strategy. It channeled the GOP’s intention to take whacks at Obama’s authority to execute his climate agenda beyond U.S. borders. “That puts too much authority in the hands of the president,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., told the Washington Examiner. “I would consider this as a kind of a low-grade trade. Just like with the czars and all this other stuff, it’s just a way of going around what’s traditionally been done. These whatever you want to call them are extremely important agreements.” Even though the amendment failed, battles over Obama’s international climate plans await. Obama is expected to ask Congress for $3 billion in additional climate aid to give to the Green Climate Fund, a U.N.-created bank that doles out funds to developing nations so they can adapt to the effects of climate change. Republicans aren’t expected to acquiesce. Republicans were particularly incensed over a non-binding deal Obama reached with China in November. They said it forced the U.S. to make immediate commitments while China would not. Under the agreement, the United States would aim to curb emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China said it would aim to have its emissions begin to fall around 2030, which conservatives slammed as giving China a free pass. “In the president’s climate change deal, the United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said when Obama announced the November accord. “This deal is a non-binding charade.” Still, observers of international climate negotiations say the Chinese commitment is significant, even if it matches the government’s previous estimates for reaching peak emissions. That’s because China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, for the first time publicly acknowledged it would attempt to curb emissions. That comes after years of obstructing international negotiations out of concerns that reducing emissions would keep millions of its residents in poverty.”




“Mitt Romney said Wednesday night that he believes in global warming and that humans contribute to it. “I’m one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that,” said Romney at an investment management conference. Romney added, “On both sides of the aisle, we just haven’t been able to take on and try and make progress on the major issues of the day.” This is not the first time Romney has voiced his believe in man-made global warming. In his 2010 book he said, “Human activity is a contributing factor.” Romney also discussed the need to combat income inequality. “Let’s deal with poverty. Have done it? No. Let’s do it,” said Romney. Romney is presently said to be considering a possible third run for the Republican presidential nomination.”



Republicans introduce bill to rein in regulators

“Republicans could more easily reject regulations from the Obama administration they don’t like under new legislation introduced this week. The highly controversial Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would give Congress the final say over any major rule with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more. Federal agencies would be required to submit major rules to Congress for approval before they could take effect. This would all but guarantee Republicans the ability to block dozens of controversial rules from the Obama administration. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.) reintroduced the REINS Act Wednesday in both chambers of Congress, but it is unlikely to get enough support from Democrats to pass. “Today, we are introducing legislation to increase transparency in the federal regulatory process,” Paul said in a statement. “If the Obama administration wants to impose regulations that effectively operate as laws on U.S. citizens, it is important that those citizens are made aware of how the laws come to be. Cutting red tape and opening the regulatory process to scrutiny is an important first step in holding government accountable.” The REINS Act has passed the House twice, in 2011 and 2013, the last time in a 232-180 vote. But it was not taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate in the last Congress.”



Net Neutrality Opponent Says Dems Have ‘No Incentive’ to Actually Resolve It

“The head of one tech group says that despite President Barack Obama’s call for net neutrality, he predicts Democrats won’t actually push hard on it — because they have more to gain by dragging the issue out. “This is really about theater because the net neutrality issue has galvanized the left. It has been enormously directive for building mailing lists, including donors,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom.org, which opposes net neutrality. ”This fight, the longer it goes on, is just a political winner for Democrats. They have no incentive, at least not at the White House, to see these issues resolved in a sustainable way.” Obama vowed to expand Internet access for all during his State of the Union address Tuesday, an issue that’s been thrown into relief as the Federal Communications Commission is poised to vote on net neutrality next month. “I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world,” Obama said. Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers should not be able to restrict customers’ Internet speeds based on how much they pay. Obama has called for the FCC to classify the Internet as a public utility, which would allow the agency to regulate it for all consumers. Szoka, however, said the notion of “fast lanes” for higher-paying customers isn’t grounded in fact. “They’ve built an entire movement based on this idea of an imagined threat that cable companies are about to flip the switch and turn off the Internet,” he said. ”If they actually cared about that, they would want clear legal authority but not get tied up in court.” House Republicans have taken up legislation that would ban Internet service providers from slowing or blocking consumers access to any websites and stop  them from creating “fast lanes” for customers who are willing to pay more. The Republicans’ bill would also prevent the Federal Communications Commission from making its own net neutrality rules, countering any actions the FCC might be planning to take. The FCC is expected to propose a new set of rules Feb. 26 that would reclassify the Internet as a public utility.”



FCC Commissioner Speaks Out Against Federal Regulation of Internet

“Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Michael O’Rielly criticized recent calls from the White House for the commission to begin federal regulation of Internet services. Appearing at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Wednesday, O’Rielly said that what the White House wants the commission to do is either bad for the economy or contrary to the law. “The foundation of the U.S. economy is for private companies to offer products and services  — not government-sponsored companies,” O’Rielly said. “Whether federal regulation would be of value, he said, “is something I have to step back from a bit. The question is whether I at the FCC have the authority to overturn… law.” President Obama has repeatedly expressed a desire in recent weeks for the FCC to take steps towards regulating the Internet and overturn laws in 19 states that prevent municipal governments from starting their own Internet services. In his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, Obama reiterated his plan to get the federal government involved in providing “free” Internet to all Americans: “I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks.”



Obama abandons telephone data spying reform proposal: U.S. officials



Settling $1.8 Billion in Claims with Cuba Likely Needs Congressional Approval | Commentary



Obama: We had universal childcare in the 1940’s, so let’s do it in 2015

“Echoing an argument he put forward in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama told an audience at the University of Kansas on Thursday that if the United States could provide “universal childcare” in the 1940’s, it should be able to now. When his grandmother worked as a bomber assembly line in Wichita during World War II, Mr. Obama said, “this country provided universal childcare because they understood if women are working, they’re going to need some help… Research shows that it was good for the kids, good for the parents, but we stopped doing it.” He added, “If we knew how to do this back in 1943 and 1944, and here we are in 2015, what’s the hold up?” It’s time to stop treating childcare as a “side issue,” he said, and time to treat it as a national economic priority. Specifically, Mr. Obama is proposing funding to expand access to high-quality care for more than 1 million children. He’s also proposing a $3,000 tax credit to help families pay for childcare. In 1942, in the wake of the Great Depression, the nation set up funding for nursery schools under the Works Progress Administration — Time magazine reported on the issue back in July 1942. After the WPA closed in 1943, the nursery schools were subsidized with Defense Department funding and the program provided nearly universal childcare. The program was shut down after World War II ended. It’s doubtful the Republican Congress will support the proposals Mr. Obama put forward in his State of the Union address, so he’s spending this week building public support for them. Before speaking at the University of Kansas, Mr. Obama stopped by a childcare center that serves 48 children through the Head Start program, which provides education and other support to children under age five from low-income families. A day earlier, Mr. Obama went to Idaho to promote his 2015 agenda. In both Idaho and Kansas, Mr. Obama stressed that Democrats and Republicans should be able to get past their differences.”



Obama highlights child care in GOP strongholds of Kansas

“Wrapping up a two-day sales trip to conservative states to sell his State of the Union proposals, President Barack Obama pitched expanded child care Thursday to help families make ends meet, while calling for less of the political division that has rendered Washington virtually dysfunctional. At a campaign-style rally at the University of Kansas, a liberal redoubt deep in Republican territory, Obama was introduced by a college student and working mother who said she once spent an entire paycheck on child care for her three children. Obama said that quality child-care programs “aren’t just nice to have. It’s a must have” with two working parents in so many U.S. households. He has proposed expanding access to child care to more than 1 million children by tripling the maximum child-care tax credit for middle-class families with young children to $3,000 per child and spending $80 billion over the next decade to help states provide subsidies to eligible families with preschool-age children. “I don’t want anybody being day-care poor,” Obama said. He recalled when he and his wife, Michelle, found paying for child care difficult “and we had good jobs.” Obama wants to pay for expanded child care and other proposals, including making community college free for most students, by eliminating tax provisions that benefit the wealthiest individuals and imposing a fee on large financial institutions. But the idea has received a cool reception in the Republican-run Congress.”





Parents Want Help, Not Day Care

Obama would help them pay for day care, but most want help raising their children at home.

“…And, indeed, everyone wants to help working families. Conservatives concerned about declining workforce participation and a growing dependency culture may find the president’s work-facilitating proposal particularly appealing. But parents may react differently. As nice as affordable, high-quality child care sounds in the abstract, that’s not what most parents want for their own children. When the research firm Public Agenda asked parents of children under age five about the best child-care arrangement, 70 percent thought it was best for one parent to be at home. Just 6 percent thought a quality day-care center was optimal. More than seven in ten parents agreed with the statement “Parents should only rely on a day-care center when they have no other option.” Parents’ actual behaviors confirm these stated preferences. According to the Census Bureau, in 2011, less than one quarter of children under age five were in an organized day-care facility, and just 13 percent were at day-care centers. About 60 percent of children under five spent some time in an alternative child-care arrangement, but most of that care was provided by a relative. Of course, the lack of affordable, high-quality day-care centers may contribute to these outcomes and expressed preferences: Parents may welcome good day-care centers and express reluctance in surveys only because the day-care centers in their neighborhoods are too expensive, overcrowded, not high-quality, or all of the above. Yet expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, as the president proposes, is unlikely to solve that problem. An expanded, non-refundable tax credit won’t help those without a positive income-tax liability, and it may encourage child-care centers to raise prices to eat up the subsidy (a phenomenon that has helped drive college tuition through the roof). This could leave parents who qualify for the tax credit no better off and those who don’t qualify with bigger bills. The best way to make child care more affordable and plentiful is to make the market more competitive and easier to enter for would-be child-care providers. Today, many government policies make running a child-care business more difficult and expensive than it needs to be. In addition to the normal costs of operating the business and obtaining adequate liability insurance, child-care centers must comply with often-stringent state regulations. States create rules for the maximum children-per-caregiver ratio, how much space must be available per child, and what day-care center facilities must include. These regulations significantly impact costs for parents. As Jordan Weissman wrote in The Atlantic, “in Massachusetts, where child care centers must hire one teacher for every three infants, the price of care averaged more than $16,000 per year. In Mississippi, where centers must hire one teacher for every five infants, the price of care averaged less than $5,000.” Reducing unnecessarily burdensome regulations would allow more entrepreneurs to enter the child-care arena and ultimately lead to more affordable options and a greater diversity in the kind of care arrangements that are available. Moreover, while bringing costs down is a worthy goal, costs aren’t the only reason most parents prefer alternatives to institutional day-care centers. Parents want their children cared for by someone — ideally, a relative – who loves them and is focused on their long-term best interests. Second-best to a loving relative is likely to be a friend or a known, local care provider who will form a lasting bond with the child. Big, formal day-care centers, even the good ones, seem less likely to offer this kind of consistent, loving care. Rather than push parents toward their least-preferred child-care arrangement, policymakers ought to focus on providing tax relief to parents across the board. Although this runs counter to the important goal of simplifying the tax code, policymakers could explore targeting additional tax relief to parents of younger children (such as five and under), since they require the most hands-on care, which can preclude a parent from engaging in paid work.”



Newsflash: A lot of people already have paid sick leave, and mandating it costs money, can hurt workers

“You’d also think we live in a country where very few people get paid sick leave. Why else would the government need to impose paid sick leave on greedy private companies from the top down? The president: “Here’s another example. Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. 43 million workers have no paid sick leave. 43 million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington. (Applause.) Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)” Though he’s right that there are people without paid sick leave, the impression he’s creating that we’re a workaholic country full of flu-ridden zombies staggering through workdays because we can’t afford to take off is not, strictly speaking true. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the Labor Department, which is part of the Obama administration: “Paid leave was the most prevalent employee benefit provided by employers in private industry throughout the United States in 2012. Eighty-four percent of private industry workers received vacation, holiday, or personal leave.1 Seventy-two percent of workers received both paid holidays and paid vacations, and 61 percent were covered by sick leave plans. For employers, the cost for providing these benefits to employees was $1.98 per hour worked, and these benefits made up 6.9 percent of total compensation. The eligibility for paid leave has undergone change over the past 20 years. While fewer workers enjoy paid vacations, employers are increasingly providing access to sick leave, personal leave, and family leave. (See table 1.) Also, by comparison, the employer cost per employee hour worked for paid leave was $1.09 or 6.8 percent of total compensation in March 1992.” It’s also not true that we’re the only advanced country without such a guarantee. We’re right up there with such disasters as…Canada and Japan: “Obama exaggerated when he said the United States was “the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave.” While Canada and Japan have social insurance programs that would cover an extended leave for cancer treatment, they don’t have guaranteed paid leave for an illness that lasts a few days. And Obama made the claim in calling for “a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.” A 2009 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a group funded by various labor groups and foundations, examined policies in 22 countries “ranked highly in terms of economic and human development.” It says in the first paragraph that the U.S. is “the only country that does not guarantee that workers receive paid sick days or paid sick leave,” but it goes on to say that neither Canada nor Japan has a policy for financial support for short-term leave, for an illness such as a five-day flu. Those countries do have social insurance that would cover some of the pay for an employee needing 50 days off for cancer treatment. Those are the two scenarios examined in the study…”



Bill O’Reilly On Obama’s SOTU: “What Did You Expect?”

“BILL O’REILLY: Some people I know were upset by the State of the Union address last night believing that Barack Obama is not doing the right thing for the country. But to me the President is consistent — his liberal view of the world was on full display. So my question is what did you expect? Simply put, President Obama believes the federal government should give stuff to people who don’t have very much. And take stuff from the affluent and business. That is a core liberal tenet in this country and it’s never going to change. Also it’s clear the President doesn’t want to confront Islamic terrorism in a major way. He devoted only two minutes to it last night… Now on the home front, the reason Barack Obama remains fairly popular in the country is that many Americans feel they’re not being treated fairly. Certainly, the minority communities believe that. And some white Americans are frustrated with their standing, as well. Money is tight. Good jobs are hard to get and we Americans want a lot of material things. Problem is we don’t have much money. Wages have fallen significantly during President Obama’s tenure. He will tell you that’s because he inherited a terrible recession but I’ll tell you the wage situation is due to the expansion of high-tech in the marketplace when machines replace people and the high cost of doing business in the U.S.A. Obamacare has constricted hiring — we all know that. Federal regulations make it far more difficult for businesses to start up and high taxation drains profit. Remember, the U.S.A. now has the highest corporate tax in the world. And president Obama wants more. The result, fewer good jobs and plenty of applicants to fill them — that means salaries go down. Yes, the general economy is getting a bit better thanks to the falling oil prices but that doesn’t mean more money for workers. Only business expansion where employers need labor, need people will drive salaries higher. President Obama doesn’t seem to understand macroeconomics. And that’s why when he says he’s looking out for the folks it kind of rings hollow. The President’s entitlement jihad if you will cannot replace upward mobility driven by private sector good jobs. Bottom line — it’s easy to give a speech saying things are great. All presidents do that. The truth is we are not defeating the Islamic terrorists and America is not creating enough good-paying jobs to drive wages higher.”



5 State of the Union moments when Obama was completely out of touch



Obama seeks broader audience through YouTube personalities

“President Barack Obama picked three of the most popular YouTube content creators for an interview Thursday, hoping to reach an audience typically not tuned to the daily give and take of Washington and its politics. After all, these were YouTube personalities with hits such as “The five worst places to vomit,” and “My push-up bra will help me get my man.” But the weirdness, the limit-pushing, the cuteness that has contributed to the questioners’ success in social media was not much in evidence. Instead, Obama encountered fairly mundane questions about current affairs — from North Korea to terrorism, to marijuana laws to police and race relations.”


Obama seeks broader audience in interview with YouTube personalities



Obama’s YouTube interviews deliver awkward moments

“The White House wanted unusual, viral moments — and Thursday’s presidential interview with three YouTube stars provided plenty of them. President Obama sat down with three bloggers who have garnered millions of followers on the video website Thursday for his first comprehensive interview following the State of the Union. The result was at times comical, awkward, and bizarre — but certainly a departure from a normal presidential interview. Some of the most memorable moments came as Obama was chatting with GloZell Green, a Los Angeles comedian known for stunts like the “cinnamon challenge” and eating cereal out of a bath tub of milk that she was currently bathing in. Green certainly raised eyebrows when pressing Obama over his Cuba policy, saying that Fidel Castro “puts the d*** in dictatorship.” The president took the question in stride, launching into his routine explanation of why he felt it was necessary to change policies toward Cuba that had prove ineffective in diminishing the power of the Castros. And Green said she had cut the hoods off of the sweatshirts of her husband, who is black, to protect him from being shot by the “po-po.” Obama again responded somberly, saying it was necessary “to remind ourselves that the overwhelming majority of police officers are doing a really good job,” but that additional training could help root out biases displayed by law enforcement. The president did crack a grin when the entertainer, known for wearing green lipstick, wrapped up the interview by presenting a gift of three tubes for the president’s family, including one for “your first wife.” “My first wife?” Obama said. “Do you know something I don’t know?” A clearly mortified Green repeatedly apologized and said she meant to refer to the first lady. In a session with 19-year-old fashion adviser Bethany Mota, Obama was asked what television shows he watched (SportsCenter) and what he wanted to be when he grew up (an architect). Quizzed on what super power he wished he had, Obama said that “the flying thing seems pretty cool.” He went on to explain that “the invisibility thing seems a little sneaky to me,” but then revealed his “nerdy” wish of being able to speak any foreign language. “I would love, like, anybody I met anywhere in the world I’d be able to just talk,” Obama said. Press secretary Josh Earnest cast the interviews as part of the White House’s digital outreach effort surrounding the speech. The White House used its social media channels to build anticipation for the address, and offered an annotated live stream where viewers could learn more information about some of the president’s plans. “It simply is an effort to engage as many Americans as possible in a variety of venues,” Earnest said Thursday.”



YouTube Star GloZell Green to Obama: Castro Puts the “Dick” In Dictatorship

“I grew up in Florida and I have a lot of friends, close friends, who are Cuban-Americans, and I have heard the stories of their families escaping and some of them didn’t even make it to come to the United States for a better life to get away from the Castros. I mean, the guy puts ‘dick’ in dictatorship. So I am trying to understand how do you justify dealing with the Castros?” Green-haired YouTube star GloZell Green asked a laughing President Obama.”




“In one of his much-hyped interviews with YouTube stars on Thursday, President Barack Obama declared that politicians created colleges and universities through big-government legislation. “The truth of the matter is: The reason we even have colleges is that at some point there were politicians who said, ‘You know what? We should start colleges,’” Obama suggested to interviewer Bethany Mota. “Well, basically, politics is just how do we organize ourselves as a society? Ummm, you know, how do we make decisions about we are going to live together?” the wearied-looking U.S. President also instructed his bubbly YouTube interlocutor. However, Obama’s assessment about the history of colleges isn’t quite accurate. Like any complex institution, the various colleges and universities in advanced Western countries evolved into being through a slow, gradual process largely outside the sphere of government. The world’s oldest college that has been in continuous existence is the University of Bologna. It was founded in 1088. It arose not out of government at all but through civil society — specifically mutual aid societies of foreign students who hired private scholars to teach them. About 80 years later, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa granted a charter to the by-then established institution.”



One of New York’s Most Powerful Lawmakers Was Just Arrested

“One of the most powerful lawmakers in Albany is facing corruption charges after he allegedly took payments from a New York law firm and didn’t report the income. New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, was arrested by the FBI early Thursday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Journal reported that Silver was allowed to turn himself in, rather than face a “perp walk” arrest. The New York Times first reported Wednesday night that Silver’s arrest was imminent. The case against Silver has been long building; while details of the charges are still unclear, the Times reported that people close to the issue say Silver’s corruption charges stem from years’ worth of payments from Goldberg & Iryami, which specializes in New York City real estate taxes. Sources said the firm had been paying Silver substantial amounts for years, all while he did not report the income as legally required. Along with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Silver was known as one of the “three men in the room” because he held the lion’s share of power in Albany, the New York Daily News reported. He’s served as assembly speaker since 1994.”


N.Y. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Accused of Abusing Power

U.S. Attorney Says Politician Amassed Personal Fortune Through Kickbacks, Referrals



Political Insider Tells Beck the GOP Primary Will Come Down to These Four Men

“Glenn Beck recently had a conversation with someone he described as a trusted source in politics, and someone his audience would “really look up to.” Beck said he couldn’t reveal the man’s name, but the man gave him a “bleak point of view” on who the GOP primary will come down to in 2016. As Beck’s source sees it, the “final four standing” will be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. “I don’t think this is necessarily accurate, but he made a compelling case,” Beck said on his radio program. “This is a guy who is very involved in politics and very involved in the way things operate.”



Huckabee: I’d Be ‘Dumbest Man Alive’ To Leave Fox And Then Not Run For President [VIDEO]



Romney, Bush to meet amid presidential bid chatter

“Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney plan to meet in Utah as early as Thursday, as both men consider launching a Republican presidential run. Aides to both former governors confirmed the private meeting to Fox News on Thursday. The sitdown apparently had been planned before Romney took the surprise step two weeks ago of telling donors he was considering a 2016 bid. A senior Bush adviser described it as a “long-scheduled meeting.” “Gov. Bush is looking forward to catching up with Gov. Romney,” the adviser told Fox News. Whether the meeting, first reported by The New York Times, will be a symbolic gesture — or a chance for the heavyweight Republican figures to try and avoid a bitter clash on the campaign trail — remains to be seen.  Both former governors appear to be seriously considering a presidential run. If they both enter, their campaigns could divide the GOP establishment and donor base — particularly if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters, too.  According to The Times, Bush, the former governor of Florida, asked for the meeting, with the intention of showing respect for the party’s 2012 nominee. They kept the appointment even after Romney began openly flirting with a third presidential run. The former Massachusetts governor also spoke before a Republican National Committee summit last week.”


Both Are Major GOP Names. Both May Run in 2016. And Both Are Secretly Meeting This Week in Utah.



Reid holds first news conference, says he plans to run in 2016



Cincinnati councilman to challenge Rob Portman in 2016



Convention of States Movement Gains More Momentum

“After movement already from 10 states in the early weeks of legislative sessions this year, one conservative group believes an Article 5 convention to amend the Constitution can be achieved by the end 2015. Resolutions have been introduced in Arizona, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming to support fiscal restraint and limit the scope of federal power.”



Netanyahu Agrees to Address Congress on March 3



Democrats whine: Boehner broke with protocol by inviting Netanyahu without telling Obama first

“…Turns out they’re quite surprised by his affront. Via Breitbart, watch below as Jen Psaki calls it an “episode of the bizarre.” Obama’s handing out work permits to people who are here illegally under U.S. law and Boehner’s invite is “bizarre”? Am I awake? “He didn’t consult with the White House before extending the invitation, and administration officials are not happy. Press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday afternoon that Boehner’s invitation is a breach of normal diplomatic protocol. Typically, a nation’s leader would contact the White House before planning a visit to the United States, he said. The White House heard about the invite from Boehner’s office, not from the Israelis.  According to pool reports, Earnest called the invite “interesting,” and when asked if the White House was annoyed because Boehner did not reach out first, he said, “No.”… However, this isn’t the first time a House speaker has reached out to a world leader despite a White House request to stay back. In April 2007, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad despite the Bush administration’s objections. Pelosi wanted to start a dialogue with Syria, as diplomatic relations had broken down in the 1990s; President George W. Bush rejected such negotiation, saying, “Sending delegations doesn’t work.” Speaking of Pelosi, she’s mad at Boehner today too — not for breaking with White House protocol but for breaking with protocol within Congress. “When I was — also when I was minority leader and became one of the four leaders, it was clear always that if we wanted — if we had a suggestion about a head of state to come, that it was something that had to — you passed around the four top leaders,” Pelosi told reporters at a press conference today… Pelosi said Boehner has “awesome power” in his position as speaker, but “that power is not to be squandered.” “It’s hubris to say, you know, ‘I rule; I’ll decide.’ And without any sensitivity to the fact that an [Israeli] election is taking two weeks — and within two weeks, the invitation I get is for the 3rd of March and the election is the — what? — the 17th, something like that. And also the fact that what is the purpose of it. Is the purpose to come and talk about sanctions? To talk about a policy in opposition to the policy that our president has just put forth in his State of the Union address and that has been in operation for many months?”


Pelosi: Boehner invitation to Netanyahu was ‘hubris’



Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress strains U.S. ties; no meeting with Obama

“The Israeli prime minister’s surprising announcement that he will address a joint meeting of Congress in early March is straining relations between Israel and its closest ally. House Speaker John A. Boehner invited the Israeli leader to speak to Congress amid a heated debate over whether new sanctions, to be imposed if talks fail, would scuttle tenuous negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The White House on Thursday said that President Obama would not meet in Washington with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in the midst of an election campaign. “We want to avoid even the appearance of any kind interference with a democratic election,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest Netanyahu is expected to offer up a harder-line view, supported by many Republicans and some Democrats, that the threat of more sanctions is needed to blunt Iran’s ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. Such a move, Obama has said, would cause the delicate talks with Iran to fail and increase the likelihood of armed conflict. Neither Boehner nor Netanyahu gave the administration any notice of his planned visit, and on Thursday, some U.S. officials were warning that the breach of traditional diplomatic protocol could have lasting consequences for the Israeli leader. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has made nearly 50 calls in the past month to world leaders on issues such issues as the U.N. Security Council Resolution on Palestine and a probe by the International Criminal Court. “The bilateral relationship is unshakable,” said a source close to Kerry. “But playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.”



Obama will not meet with Netanyahu this March

“President Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March when he travels to the United States, CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante reports. Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress on March 3 at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. In an unusual move, Boehner did not consult with the White House before inviting the Israeli prime minster to speak. “As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement. “Accordingly, the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.” Netanyahu is expected to talk about the threat of radical Islam and Iran, according to Boehner. Netanyahu is an ardent foe of the negotiations with Iran, a longtime adversary of his country, and he’s spoken out against a deal that could leave Iran with the “break-out” capacity to convert a nuclear energy program into a nuclear weapons program…”


Obama to pass on meeting Netanyahu during Washington visit



Obama, Kerry won’t meet with Netanyahu during U.S. visit

“When Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington in March, he will not meet with President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry. The Israeli prime minister accepted an invitation to address Congress in March from House Speaker John Boehner, but will not be received at the White House due to of the proximity of the visit to Israel’s elections, U.S. officials said Thursday. “As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in an email, according to Reuters. Israel’s elections are slated for March 17.”



No Confidence Votes on Iran

Congress is asserting itself because almost nobody trusts Obama.



Obama Administration: We Don’t Need Congress to Approve an Iran Treaty





Yemen chaos threatens U.S. counterterror efforts, including drone program


With Yemen collapse, is U.S. counterterrorism strategy in trouble?



Obama Administration Unofficially Halts All Guantanamo Transfers To Yemen