Eyeglasses with newspaper and coffee cup


The GOP quandary: How far right without falling over the edge?

“…Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is at or near the top of most early polls among Republicans, likes to boast how he stuck to conservative principles to win statewide office three times in a centrist state. “To win the center, you don’t have to go to the center, you have to lead,” he said last week during a Tea Party Patriots telephone town hall. Tea party loyalists are still somewhat wary of Walker, though, because of past positions on immigration and government support for ethanol, a big issue in Iowa, site of the nation’s first caucus. In 2006, he said during his gubernatorial campaign that “we as conservatives should oppose” federal ethanol requirements. But at the Iowa Ag Summit this month, he said he was “willing to go forward” with federal standards. During last week’s call, Tea Party Patriots president Jenny Beth Martin asked Walker why he switched his position. Walker said his position was consistent, explaining that he wants the standard phased out but would not end it right away. Immigration is also proving a difficult hurdle. Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are all viewed with suspicion because they have been sympathetic to paths to legalization or citizenship for immigrants living in the United States without documentation…”



The GOP quandary: How far right without falling over the edge?





Republicans see best shot yet at approving ObamaCare repeal as budget plan advances

“Republicans may be divided over the particulars of dueling budget plans, but there is at least one area of agreement among GOP lawmakers: the desire to repeal ObamaCare. And this year’s budget legislation could give them the best chance yet to send repeal legislation to President Obama’s desk. The party — which for the first time in eight years controls both the House and Senate — is using the budget process to inch closer toward a repeal of the controversial health care law, even as Obama hailed it a success on its five-year anniversary this week. The House on Wednesday night narrowly passed its version of a budget blueprint after Republican leaders agreed to tack on extra defense spending over the protest of conservative members who opposed busting the caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The Senate, meanwhile, is on track to approve its plan by the end of week following a marathon voting session that starts Thursday. Leaders in both chambers have set a mid-April goal of resolving differences between the two approaches. Why does this matter for ObamaCare? Like many pieces of legislation before it, the proposal calls for undoing the health care law. What’s significant this time is that it’s contained in a budget resolution. While the resolution is not legally binding, it gives Senate leaders a procedural tool by which subsequent legislation — so long as it impacts spending or revenue — can pass the chamber on a simple-majority vote, as opposed to the usual 60-vote threshold. Known as budget “reconciliation,” the tool is critical to GOP hopes of shelving ObamaCare, since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s caucus of 54 is six votes short of filibuster-proof. (The budget itself is also subject to special rules and cannot be filibustered.) Five years after the president signed it into law, polls show that ObamaCare — also known as the Affordable Care Act — remains unpopular, with 42 percent of the public approving of it compared with 53 percent who disapprove, according to the Real Clear Politics average. The fact Obama likely would veto a rollback of his signature legislative achievement isn’t stopping Republicans from fulfilling what they describe as a campaign promise…”



ObamaCare under fire in ‘vote-a-rama’

“Senate Republicans are targeting ObamaCare in the chamber’s marathon session on budget amendments known as a “vote-a-rama” on Thursday. Senators have proposed 85 healthcare-related amendments, including a full repeal of ObamaCare, a ban on any ObamaCare marketing and a shift of Medicaid into states’ control. The symbolic proposals are among more than 600 amendments that the Senate will consider during the “vote-a-rama,” which is expected to last through late Thursday. Senate Democrats used their budget amendments to try to ward off attacks against the Affordable Care Act, which just passed its five-year anniversary. Several Democrats, including Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), tried to strike a portion of the budget that “makes it easier to address Obamacare,” known as reconciliation. Another proposal from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would increase funding for the cash-strapped IRS to help enforce the healthcare law. This year marks the first time that the newly GOP-controlled Senate will put forward its own budget. While it will not become law under President Obama, the budget process allows lawmakers to make political statements about their priorities.”



Freshman Senator: Pay for Obamacare Replacement With … Obamacare

“Bill Cassidy, the freshman senator from Louisiana and a doctor, has been pushing fellow Republicans in his first few months in the Senate to embrace an alternative to Obamacare — one he predicts will insure more people without mandates. And he even says he has a way to pay for it: Obamacare. At an event attended Monday by fellow GOP freshmen to mark the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Cassidy took an unusual tack for a Republican by bemoaning the fact that 30 million people remain uninsured, despite the ACA. He also took aim at the law for leaving pregnancy as “a pre-existing condition.” Asked about that assertion in a hallway interview the following day, Cassidy noted that uninsured pregnant women are only eligible to sign up for Affordable Care Act exchange plans during open enrollment or once their baby is born. “Now if a woman is pregnant, she’s not signed up, she’s not covered until she delivers. She doesn’t get prenatal care! She doesn’t get prenatal care! … Now, is that a good thing? No. But that’s what they left,” he said. More broadly, Cassidy, who noted he treated uninsured people for decades as a doctor in a public hospital, said Obamacare uses a combination of penalties, mandates and “bribes” to get people to submit to the administration’s will. “It’s actually in our nation’s interest for people to have insurance,” but there should be a voluntary approach, Cassidy said. He told CQ Roll Call his plan could cover those pregnant women, and many more, by providing tax credits large enough for people to afford major medical insurance and giving states the ability to auto-enroll people in insurance plans unless they opt out. “That is not a mandate. It is not a penalty, but it is a way, behavioral economics teaches, that will get most people enrolled,” he said. He predicted his approach would insure more people than the Affordable Care Act has. “If you had a system where states could auto-enroll, I think you’d be there. You’re always going to have Theodore Kaczynski, who you don’t know exists, under some hood in Montana.” Women who get pregnant while being uninsured could have a rolling auto-enrollment period, Cassidy suggested. “Somebody who is homeless has now come to the emergency room, didn’t know she had coverage, but we can, in a rolling enrollment, put her in for at least a baseline of coverage,” he said. There could be restrictions on plans purchased mid-year to prevent gaming the system. But even with restrictions, items such as prenatal care could be covered. The tax credits would be at least equal to the tax breaks people get for having employer-sponsored health insurance, Cassidy wrote in a column that ran in The Hill in February. Asked how he would pay for such a bill, Cassidy cited the taxes that finance the president’s health care law and pointed to the upcoming Supreme Court case over the legality of subsidies in states that did not set up their own health exchanges. “King v. Burwell obviously affects only a small scope of Obamacare, and one of the things it does not affect are the revenue streams. So, one thing you can do is basically take those revenue streams and distribute them in a way which is frankly a better plan. It doesn’t have the coercion or the bribes or the penalties or the mandates.” Getting rid of the mandates has broad appeal, he said. “I was with a bunch of college students last night. I said, ‘Everyone raise your hand if you want people telling you what to do?’ Nobody raised their hand.” Of course, the administration and insurers have long contended that without the mandates, the ban on pre-existing conditions would lead to sharply higher premiums as the sickest people get insurance and healthier, younger people opt out…”



Paul Ryan: GOP must have Obamacare replacement by late June

Strategy will tilt with Supreme Court ruling

“House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan says Republicans must have a plan to replace Obamacare by late June, a deadline that coincides with a Supreme Court decision that could blow a huge hole in the controversial law. The Wisconsin Republican is working with other House chairmen to craft the GOP’s long-awaited alternative to President Obama’s health reforms. Their Senate counterparts are meeting, too, ahead of the justices’ ruling at the end of this term. “We have to have a plan in place by then,” Mr. Ryan told reporters. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the closely watched case known as King v. Burwell, with challengers saying the administration is breaking the law by paying tax subsidies to customers in states that rely on the federal HealthCare.gov exchange. The law says subsidies can be paid to customers in exchanges “established by the state.” If the subsidies are struck down, the law will be much less attractive to customers in at least 34 states that rely on the federal portal. Plans would no longer be affordable, and premiums could skyrocket if healthier enrollees drop coverage first. Republicans are cheering on the case, as it provides their best opportunity yet to scale down Obamacare and present their own ideas ahead of the 2016 presidential election…”



Obamacare struggling to enroll high-income Americans

“Obamacare isn’t enrolling enough middle-to-high income Americans to remain stable over the long term, according to a new analysis. Over the past few weeks the Obama administration has taken a victory lap touting the 11.7 million enrollees in Obamacare’s health exchanges during the most recent open enrollment, beating administration estimates of 9 million. However, 40 percent of the people who enrolled in healthcare.gov earn up to nearly $18,000 a year and another 25 percent earn nearly $30,000, according to an analysis from the research firm Avalere health. On the other hand, only 8 percent of people who earn up to $44,000 a year signed up through healthcare.gov, which covers 37 states. Only 2 percent of enrollees earn $60,000 and above. The analysis doesn’t examine the enrollees in the 14 state-run exchanges. If Obamacare doesn’t find a way to enroll higher-income consumers, it could jeopardize the healthcare exchanges, Caroline Pearson, senior vice president of Avalere, told the Washington Examiner. If not enough high-income people sign up, enrollment could decline or sputter and health insurers would be less willing to participate in the marketplace, she said. That could happen within the next few years. Obamacare enrollment is supposed to grow every year, with the goal to have 21 million enrolled in health coverage by 2016. However, the administration could run out of higher-income citizens to sign up. Obamacare has already enrolled 76 percent of eligible U.S. citizens who earn up to $17,655 a year, the lowest income bracket, according to Avalere….”



Amid Affordable Care Act Fight, a Health Center Program Struggles to Stay Alive

“Dr. Savita Gopal, a 27-year-old resident physician at the Family Health Center of Harlem, sat in front of a computer last Thursday, peppering Jacob Doble, a 10-year-old from Harlem, with questions for 20 minutes. As Dr. Gopal typed copious notes, Jacob, accompanied by his mother, Mekisha Hawkins, said he had been to the emergency room repeatedly in February for asthma, migraines and hallucinations. “Like what?” Dr. Gopal asked about the visions. “I saw a giant dragon that looked like it was trying to get me,” Jacob replied. Dr. Gopal, who also gave Jacob a physical examination, said she accepted a residency program at the center last year, after studying at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, because she wanted to work with patients who did not have access to adequate care. “I wanted to continue working in that environment, in an underserved community,” she said. Dr. Gopal’s residency is supposed to last three years, but its future is uncertain. Her training is paid for by a provision of the Affordable Care Act called the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program, which is up for renewal this year. The program has allocated $230 million nationwide over five years to try to tackle a worsening shortage of primary care physicians and draw eager young doctors to places where they are sorely needed…”



Jonathan Gruber to face off with Michael Cannon in Obamacare showdown

“Call it an Obamacare showdown. Two leading voices in the controversy over President Obama’s signature healthcare law will face off next week at an event likely to grab widespread attention. One of them contributed to crafting the law. The other is trying to get a major part of it struck down. Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will appear side-by-side with Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the conservative Cato Institute. The event will take place Wednesday in New York City at a summit hosted by Sun Life Financial. Both men, but especially Gruber, have attracted widespread media attention for their strong stances on the Affordable Care Act. Gruber, who consulted for the White House while the law was being passed in 2010, has been one of its strongest advocates. But he faced a firestorm of criticism last summer when some of his past comments about the law surfaced. On at least one occasion, Gruber suggested the law wouldn’t have passed if not for the “stupidity” of voters. Another time, his comments appeared to uphold arguments by the law’s opponents that its insurance subsidies — which the law’s language says are only available to users of state-run exchanges — can’t go to participants who use the federal exchange website healthcare.gov. That question is currently being considered by the Supreme Court, which is expected to hand down a decision in June. The case, called King v. Burwell, has given Cannon a big platform to air his opposition to the law. Cannon has been King v. Burwell’s loudest champion since it first arose in lower courts and worked its way all the way up to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments earlier this month. If the court strikes the subsidies, millions of low and mid-income Americans who have bought health plans on healthcare.gov won’t be able to afford them anymore…”



How do you define Obamacare success?

“Should you measure Obamacare’s success by how many Americans have gotten health insurance, or by how good that coverage is? It’s evident the health care law’s advocates and opponents hold vastly different views on that question as they mark its fifth birthday. President Obama and Democrats spent this week touting how millions of previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since the Affordable Care Act was passed half a decade ago — 16.4 million, by their count. Some have become newly eligible for Medicaid while others have bought private health plans at online insurance marketplaces with the help of federal subsidies. Young people have been allowed to remain on their parents’ plans, and many with serious medical conditions have gained coverage, too. “A lot of the attention has been rightly focused on people’s access to care, and that obviously was a huge motivator for us passing the Affordable Care Act — making sure that people who didn’t have health insurance have the security of health insurance,” Obama said Wednesday in a speech celebrating the law’s anniversary…”



Gingrich: GOP really doesn’t want to repeal Obamacare



Obama takes stock of health-care law — and presidency

“White House aides insist that, with a year and a half left in his administration, President Obama is not yet talking about his legacy. But this week, the president offered one of his most definitive, bottom-line assessments of his signature health-care law that sounded a lot like he was taking final inventory. “Coverage is up. Cost growth is at a historic low. Deficits have been slashed. Lives have been saved,” Obama said at a White House summit Wednesday, marking the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. “It’s working better than many of us, including me, anticipated,” he said. Obama likes to remind audiences that a lot can still happen in the final stages of his presidency, and he’s determined to retain his political relevance even as the contest to replace him starts to take center stage. But time is running out on his chances for major new initiatives, especially legislation that requires cooperation with Republicans, who control Congress…”



Rarest of victories in House: Bipartisan health bill approved

“The House gave sweeping approval Thursday to a bipartisan plan to alter payment systems for Medicare providers and extend a popular children’s health program, fueling momentum for legislation that could soon reach President Obama’s desk. The vote, 392 to 37, came as Senate Democrats’ resistance to the more than $200 billion health package faded and Obama signaled he would sign the plan. After a first quarter of 2015 marked by gridlock, the legislation provides a modest but important victory that demonstrated congressional leaders have an ability to craft bipartisan deals when they believe it is in their interest. The proposal, negotiated by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has been embraced by liberals seeking increased funds for programs that are key to advancing Obama’s Affordable Care Act and by conservatives cheering an increased premium charged to wealthy recipients of Medicare. It sets up one of the most rare moments in Obama’s second term, a piece of legislation that meets the approval of the president, the speaker and their respective allies. “As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system,” Obama said Wednesday, at a White House ceremony commemorating the fifth year of ACA’s enactment. “I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill, which would be really exciting.”…”



Pressure’s On Senate To Pass ‘Doc Fix’ In Latest Blow To Fee-For-Service Medicine

“The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives has joined the Obama administration and private insurance companies in the march away from fee-for-service medicine in passing a repeal to Medicare’s controversial sustainable growth rate formula. The legislation, which overwhelmingly passed by a 392-37 bipartisan vote in the U.S. House, will avert a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors while at the same time moving future reimbursement to pay-for-performance and away from traditional fee-for-service medicine. Congress has several times for more than a decade now merely made stopgap corrections to avert drastic payment cuts to Medicare payments under SGR, which was created by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 in an effort to slow the growth of Medicare spending. This time, the legislation, which is supported by the White House, will increase payments 0.5 percent annually through 2019. But it would tie more Medicare payments to quality measures that include clinical care, patient safety and care coordination. “The bill brings about a fundamental change in how Medicare reimburses physicians – moving from a volume-based payment system to value-based where physicians receive payment based on quality, coordination and outcomes,” Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executive officers from companies like Aetna AET -1.29% (AET), Johnson & Johnson JNJ -0.2% (JNJ), Merck (MRK) and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) said in a statement to Forbes. Health insurance companies led by UnitedHealth Group UNH -0.25% (UNH), Anthem (ANTM), Aetna (AET) and others are shifting billions of dollars in payments to providers away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care as well. Critics of the fee-for-service approach say it leads to unnecessary medical tests and procedures and results in payments to doctors and hospitals no matter how the care turns out…”



Huge House vote pressures Senate



Boehner says Senate will act ‘sooner rather than later’ on ‘doc fix’

“House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is keeping quiet about whether he expects the Senate to pass the House’s bipartisan Medicare bill before this week’s deadline. Minutes before the House overwhelmingly voted to pass the bipartisan measure, Boehner told reporters that he expects the Senate to take up the legislation “sooner rather than later.” But he declined to say when that vote could take place. “All I know is that the House is going to have a very large vote today,” Boehner told reporters. When asked why few in the Senate have publicly embraced the House’s “doc fix” deal, Boehner said he believes the bill will ultimately pass both chambers…”



Fixing the ‘Doc Fix’ for Good

“Today’s Medicare vote is an important step toward reining in costs while protecting patients. President Obama’s debt is hurting our prosperity today and imperiling the American Dream for our children and grandchildren. On his watch, America’s national debt has increased by $7.5 trillion, to more than $18.1 trillion. Virtually everyone agrees: This simply can’t go on forever. Entrusted with a majority in the House of Representatives since the start of 2011, Republicans have worked hard to reduce out-of-control Washington spending. Despite staunch opposition from the White House and Senate Democrats, we have made 99 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent and we are on track to save taxpayers nearly $2.1 trillion. And every year, we’ve proposed budgets that would balance and set us on a path to pay off our debt. Obviously, we haven’t achieved everything we wanted. The federal government still spends more than it takes in, largely because of mandatory entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which account for more than half of the entire budget. These important programs are still scheduled to go bankrupt in just a few years. It will take more work to save them, not to mention a president willing to do the right thing. We can’t put off progress until 2017, though. Our debt grows by the day, robbing our kids and grandkids of promised benefits that they are unlikely ever to see. Social Security Disability Insurance runs out of money next year. And due to what’s called Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, doctors will be hit with an automatic 21 percent cut to the payments they receive for treating patients on Medicare — unless Congress acts. ADVERTISEMENT We’ve faced this cliff before, nearly 20 times over the past dozen years. And every time, instead of actually addressing the problem with real reforms, Congress has punted with a temporary “doc fix.” But this time can be different. Later today, the House will vote on legislation that will make real progress in strengthening Medicare — a bill that will provide better health care for seniors and real savings for taxpayers. We know that more and more seniors have been losing access to their doctors because of Medicare rules. If enacted, this bill will permanently replace one of Washington’s most infamous budget gimmicks, SGR, with a more stable system that rewards quality and innovation. In doing so, not only will we reassure seniors that they can count on Medicare and continue to see their own doctor, but we will also put in place a stronger Medicare program for Americans who are trying to care for elderly parents…”



A Medicare Bill Conservatives Need to Embrace

It’s not perfect, but it will pay huge benefits in the long term.

“The House of Representatives is poised to pass H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, today by a wide margin. The Senate is expected to follow suit, again by a wide margin, and President Obama is expected to sign H.R. 2 into law. The major components of this bill are: the permanent avoidance of a long-planned 21 percent payment cut to doctors who take Medicare patients; asking wealthier seniors to pay for more of their own benefit; and requiring that “Medigap” plans have a modest amount of cost sharing in their plan design. The Congressional Budget Office finally came out with a score yesterday afternoon. As a conservative, you can be forgiven if you feel a bit of whiplash. Some conservatives say this plan increases the national debt, is too timid, and is a giveaway of key leverage to extract annual spending cuts. Other conservatives (myself included) think this bill will reduce the unfunded liabilities of Medicare without raising taxes, is a good down payment on even more entitlement reforms, and is well worth supporting. So which is it? Let’s start with the CBO score. Under a “current law” baseline (wherein CBO assumes that physician reimbursements will be cut 21 percent next week and stay cut forever), H.R. 2 is a ten-year spending increase of $141 billion, because the law would do away with that 21 percent cut and the government would have to pay doctors more. Under a more realistic baseline in which doctors don’t face a 21 percent Medicare cut next week (or ever), H.R. 2 is a ten-year spending cut of $1 billion. That’s because in this scenario, elimination of the 21 percent cut is already included in the baseline, so it doesn’t count as new spending. So it really comes down to deciding which starting point (another term for baseline) you think is more reasonable. I think the more reasonable starting point is that Congress won’t let next week’s 21 percent reimbursement cut happen (a safe bet, since they’ve avoided it 17 times since 2003)…”



The SGR Fix Will Bust the Budget

But hey, if you’re going to be totally fiscally irresponsible, this bill is the way to do it.

“The House is expected to vote today on a bill to eliminate the annual cuts in Medicare payments to doctors that Congress has been postponing for more than a decade — the so-called “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) cuts. (UPDATE: The bill passed the House by a 392–37 margin.) The bill would result in $145 billion in new federal spending, above current law. It would also require wealthier seniors to pay for more of their own Medicare coverage, and would restrict the ability of seniors to buy supplemental coverage that completely shields them from the cost of the medical care they consume. (Such comprehensive “Medicare supplemental” coverage tends to increase overall Medicare spending.) A number of people have asked me what my take on this legislation is. Basically, it is this: If you’re going to be totally fiscally irresponsible, this is the way to do it. Congress created the SGR to limit Medicare spending on physician services. The SGR uses a formula to cut Medicare payments to physicians automatically. The formula works too well: It mandates cuts so deep that Congress decides every year it cannot stand for them. That’s why Congress has postponed those cuts some 17 times since 2003. This legislation would eliminate the cuts permanently, which of course would increase federal spending — by the $145 billion mentioned above (over the next ten years). As a starting point, we should recognize that the ideal amount the federal government should pay doctors is $0.00. So right off the bat, we know this bill is moving in the wrong direction. The bill compounds this error by not paying for all of that new spending by cutting spending elsewhere or increasing revenues. As a result, it increases the federal debt — which is to say, it imposes a tax burden on future generations who cannot vote or have not even been born yet. So this bill is yet another example of the dessert-first-spinach-later approach to fiscal stewardship that is business as usual in Congress. Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform disagrees. He is the most prominent conservative supporter of this bill’s approach. Ellis argues that if we assume Congress has already spent that $145 billion, then this bill is actually a $1 billion spending cut. Well, yes, but Congress has not already spent that $145 billion. If we assume that in fiscal year 2016, Congress will spend 100 percent of U.S. GDP, then President Obama’s proposed budget will be an even bigger spending cut. (The only difference is in the degree of reasonableness of those two assumptions.) That’s not how we do these things. Current law does not provide for that spending. So if you want Congress to spend that money, it counts as a spending increase. Ellis’s strongest arguments are that the bill increases means-testing in Medicare, prohibits Medicare supplemental plans from providing first-dollar coverage, and — c’mon, folks — this is the best deal we are going to get given current political realities…”



The Medicare ‘Doc Fix’ That Isn’t

“As you listen to House Democrats and Republicans sing kumbaya  over their bipartisan agreement to fix the Medicare physician payment system, keep one thing in mind: The doc fix doesn’t fix much, and what it does repair likely will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt in coming years. The bill would accomplish one big thing: It would repeal a Medicare payment formula that was supposed to cut physician compensation, but which Congress has blocked every year since 2003. This fantastical payment method would result in an impossible 21 percent cut for Medicare docs this year, a threat that is driving congressional action. But beyond repealing that formula, the House’s doc fix is an amalgam of temporary solutions to a host of health policy issues, special interest subsidies, and a promise of better health care for seniors—but not for at least five years. It may improve the way Medicare reimburses docs for the services they provide, but it won’t fix the problem. Equally troubling, the House bill would add $141 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to the official Congressional Budget Office score, and $500 billion by 2035, according to the Committee for a Responsive Federal Budget. And, in reality, it could end up costing much more because it is filled with fiscal gimmicks. It front-loads benefits but delays many offsets for five years or more—a design that will give future Congresses the opportunity to abandon efforts to trim Medicare costs. Which is exactly what lawmakers did when they kept postponing payment cuts under the current formula. Here are a few of the problems, and why the plan would likely end up being far more costly than advertised…”



Ryan: Medicare deal could be a ‘formula’ for tax reform

“Rep. Paul Ryan joined other congressional Republicans Thursday in arguing that a bipartisan deal to reform Medicare’s formula for paying doctors shows that their party can run Congress and pass big reforms. “I think we’re showing we’re a majority that is working,” the Wisconsin representative said Thursday following the Medicare vote. “And when we see opportunities to find common ground, we’re advancing big reforms.” Ryan spoke to reporters in the Capitol immediately after the House voted overwhelmingly to overhaul the Medicare payment formula. The Senate is working to pass the legislation, and President Obama has said that he would sign it. The bill would end years of congressional patches to prevent steep cuts in doctors’ payments. The legislation, however, was opposed by some fiscal hawks, who argued that it adds to the deficit. The deal was made between Republican and Democratic leaders, bypassing some House conservatives. Ryan, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee that has jurisdiction over taxes and many domestic programs, said the legislation could provide a template for further efforts. House Speaker John Boehner “had a particular impression about how we could get that agreement, he was right on the way we should proceed and we did get the agreement we wanted to get,” Ryan said. “There’s a formula here for getting things done, and we’re going to try to perfect that formula. And maybe tax reform is one of those areas,” Ryan said…”



The 37 lawmakers who opposed Medicare deal



Ted Cruz: ‘Zero intention of taking any government subsidy or Obama subsidy’

“Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, says he’s simply following the law in likely getting health insurance through an Obamacare exchange, accusing the media of playing “gotcha games” with the development. “You know, the mainstream media loves to play gotcha games,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview with CBN News’ David Brody. He said his wife, Heidi, decided to take an unpaid leave of absence from her job when he announced his presidential campaign. Since she’s losing her benefits in the process, he said, they are going to take health insurance from their employer, “so in all likelihood, we’ll go on the exchange.” “And so suddenly, all the media says, ‘Ahahaha, gotcha, because Cruz is now signing up for Obamacare,’ ” he said in the interview, which was posted on The Daily Signal’s website. “Listen, I have zero intention of taking any government subsidy or Obama subsidy. Rather, what I’m going to do is pay in the marketplace for health insurance for my family just like millions of Americans.” Mr. Cruz went on to say that just because he wants to abolish the IRS, for example, doesn’t mean he’s going to stop paying taxes. “Some of these media outlets think that following the law is somehow less than principled,” he said. “I strongly support a flat tax, abolishing the IRS. It doesn’t mean I refuse to pay my taxes today, because the current law isn’t a flat tax. It is my intention to continue to lead the fight to repeal every word of Obamacare so that none of us are burdened by this law. But in the meantime, I and everybody else are bound by the laws that are passed in this country.”



Does Ted Cruz really need to buy insurance through Obamacare?

“When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Tuesday that he and his family would “presumably” purchase health insurance through an Obamacare exchange, the news sparked cries of hypocrisy from Democrats and progressives. How ironic, they said, that one the fiercest opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would decide to use a program he’s vowed to overturn. “Ted Cruz: Obamacare for me, but not for thee,” quipped the @SenateDems Twitter feed, which is operated by staffers for Democratic Senate leaders. Now, it turns out, the Cruz family might not purchase their insurance through an ACA exchange after all. Rick Tyler, a spokesman for Cruz’s just-launched presidential bid, told CBS News the senator “is weighing all the available options to choose what’s best for his family.” Cruz’s current coverage, which he receives through his wife Heidi’s job at Goldman-Sachs, will soon expire because Heidi is taking a leave of absence as the senator runs for president. The furor that greeted Cruz’s acknowledgment that he might purchase replacement coverage through an Obamacare exchange, though, raises the question: Does he have any other choice? An amendment to the ACA, which passed in 2010, required lawmakers and some of their staffers to purchase their coverage through the law’s D.C.-based exchange if they want to receive a subsidy. Nebraska Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican behind that amendment, said members of Congress “need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen.”…”





DHS secretary says Mayorkas will keep his job amid immigration flap

“Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday he won’t fire his deputy despite a scathing internal report that found Alejandro Mayorkas helped several high-profile Democrats get better treatment from an immigration agency. Mr. Johnson acknowledged he has work to do to rebuild trust among the many career staff whistleblowers who said Mr. Mayorkas was playing politics with the immigration system, but insisted Mr. Mayorkas himself did nothing wrong in responding to the requests. “He has been a valuable member of the team, definitely value added, and it would be a big loss to the men and women of our department if he were not full time, fully engaged, occupying his job,” Mr. Johnson said. Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth issued a report Tuesday finding that Mr. Mayorkas, who generally avoided getting involved in investor-visa cases when he was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, did take “unprecedented” intervention after being contacted personally by Sen. Harry Reid, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Mr. Roth said in each case, Mr. Mayorkas overruled career staffers and gave the well-connected Democrats’ concerns special favorable treatment. Mr. Roth also questioned Mr. Mayorkas’s veracity, pointing to a number of instances where he claimed not to have spoken with people when records showed he did, and other instances where Mr. Mayorkas said he was prodded by higher-ups but there was no record of such prodding. Mr. Mayorkas has vehemently rebutted the charges, saying he got involved in the three cases because the system was breaking down, not because he was trying to aid important Democrats…”



Watchdog says senior Homeland official broke no laws

“A senior Obama administration official violated agency ethics policies but did not break any laws when he intervened in three visa cases involving foreign investors with ties to prominent Democrats, a government watchdog told Congress Thursday. The Homeland Security Department’s now deputy secretary used his post as head of the department’s immigration benefits-processing agency to expedite the paperwork in a program long riddled with problems and backlogs, the department’s inspector general, John Roth, said. Alejandro Mayorkas’ interventions in the three cases helped key Democrats whose states and clients stood to benefit from these permits to live and work in the U.S., which pave the way for job creation and economic investments. The visa applications Mayorkas is accused of meddling with were part of the U.S. government’s investor-visa program, known as EB-5. It allows foreigners to obtain visas to live permanently in the U.S. with their spouse and children if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for American citizens. Approved investors can become legal permanent residents after two years and later can become U.S. citizens. The agency, which awards up to 10,000 foreign investor visas every year, is not supposed to give preferential treatment to anyone. Mayorkas drafted the ethics policy himself. “In each of these three instances, but for Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention, the matter would have been decided differently,” Roth told members of the House Homeland Security Committee Thursday…”



DHS Won’t Fire a Top Official Who Did Political Favors for Democrats Because ‘We Need to Move On’

“Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday rejected the idea that Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should be fired for helping Democrats get visas for their favored companies, and instead argued that DHS should just be allowed to learn from the episode and “move on.” Johnson testified at a House Appropriations subcommittee just one day after the DHS Inspector General said Mayorkas intervened in three decisions on whether to grant visas for certain foreign investors. The report said Mayorkas intervened in cases involving well-known Democrats, and managed to get those visas approved. Mayorkas intervened in one case at the request of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and another case involved Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s brother. But while the report said Mayorkas created the appearance of “favoritism and special access,” Johnson said the matter would end there, and indicated he opposed any effort to remove Mayorkas. “I just don’t get it,” Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) said at committee hearing. “You’re not going to do anything with deputy secretary Mayorkas? He’s going to stay where he is?” “Deputy Secretary Mayorkas is a valuable member of our senior leadership team,” Johnson answered. “He is working very, very hard in the public interest. He’s working very hard to reform the management of our organization, improve morale, manage our management action group.” “He has been a valuable member of the team, definitely value added, and it would be a big loss to the men and women of our department if he were not full-time, fully engaged, occupying his job,” he said. “I believe that. I work with him daily,” Johnson concluded. “And I’ve read the report, I’ve read it very carefully. I believe he understands the lessons to be learned from it, and we need to move on.” But Republicans are unlikely to accept that answer. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Johnson on Thursday demanding that Mayorkas be held accountable somehow. “The Inspector General’s report paints a clear picture of how Mr. Mayorkas, when Director of the agency, used poor judgment and provided preferential treatment to certain petitioners and regional center applicants in the EB-5 immigrant investor program,” Grassley wrote. “You have an obligation to ensure there is accountability.”…”



Terry McAuliffe defends pushing for action on stalled visas

“Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) was unapologetic Thursday about his aggressive lobbying of the Department of Homeland Security over investor visa applications, despite an agency watchdog report that said a top official’s actions in response to those pleas created the appearance of political favoritism. McAuliffe, who was involved in a business deal with Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham to seek foreign investors for an electric car venture, insisted his contacts with then-U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas between 2011 and 2013 were intended solely to prod officials to make decisions on long-pending petitions in a program that grants green cards to wealthy foreigners who help create U.S. jobs. “They tell you if you get an applicant in they will make a decision [in] six months — on their website,” McAuliffe said in an “Ask the Governor” call-in program on Richmond radio station WRVA. “Well, I got to tell you when you’re sitting there with someone’s deposit, waiting for a year, a year and a half, or two years, you would be angry.” McAuliffe played down the favoritism allegations by saying he didn’t know Mayorkas prior to their dealings over the visa program. Rodham has not responded to phone calls or spoken publicly about the report. “This guy took calls from everybody, I never knew the guy beforehand,” McAuliffe said, referring to Mayorkas….”




“Details in this week’s Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s report reveal only part of the story behind Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) abuse of his political office in 2012 and 2013. Through a brazen intervention, Reid ultimately forced the Department of Homeland Security to bend to his will in a way that benefited his political allies and family.


The report concluded that Reid pressured a compliant DHS official to override normal departmental procedures and rush through 230 EB-5 foreign visa applications, thereby freeing up $115 million the applicants invested in the SLS Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The report did not, however, reveal the now confirmed fact that the owner of that casino project had hired Reid’s son, Rory Reid, to provide legal representation for the project. “At the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, [current DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas intervened to allow expedited review of investor petitions involved in funding a Las Vegas hotel and casino [SLS], notwithstanding the career staff’s original decision not to do so,” the report found. “The career staff noted that the purported urgency was of the applicant’s [SLS’s] own making and that the decision to expedite fell outside EB-5 program guidelines,” the report stated. “Nevertheless,” the report concluded, “Mr. Mayorkas pressured staff to expedite the review. He also took the extraordinary step of requiring staff to brief Senator Reid’s staff on a weekly basis for several months.”…”



DHS chief: Court should have known part of amnesty was in effect

“A federal judge should have known Homeland Security was carrying out at least part of President Obama’s new deportation amnesty beginning last year, department Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress on Thursday as the administration continued to struggle with what’s become a thorny legal issue. Justice Department lawyers had to apologize to a court earlier this month after revealing that Mr. Johnson had in fact been approving three-year “deferred action” applications from so-called Dreamers — an enhancement included in Mr. Johnson’s memos designed to carry out Mr. Obama’s new immigration policies. But Judge Andrew S. Hanen is considering imposing sanctions on the administration, saying in a court hearing last week that he felt misled when he learned a part of the amnesty was being carried out. He said the government had led him to believe that none of the amnesty — which grants a stay of deportation and work permits to potentially 4 million illegal immigrants — was in effect. Mr. Johnson said his directive announcing the three-year applications was part of the record submitted in the court case, so the Justice Department and Judge Hanen should have been aware. “Sitting here, I do not know whether the number of renewals that had been granted at the moment of the hearing was known to the court, but it should have been clear because it was in the record of the case that we began issuing three-year renewals effective Nov. 24, 2014,” Mr. Johnson said at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. “That’s right here on page three of this directive.” The Nov. 20 directive reads that the change “shall apply to all first-time applications as well as all applications for renewal effective November 24, 2014. Beginning on that date, USCIS should issue all work authorization documents valid for three years, including to those individuals who have applied and are awaiting two-year work authorization documents based on the renewal of their [deferred action] status. USCIS should also consider means to extend those two-year renewals already issued to three years.”



Medi-Cal rolls could swell under Obama’s deportation relief plan

“President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which have sparked a fierce political backlash nationwide, could also provide an unlikely boost for another of his goals: increasing health insurance signups. Immigrants living in the U.S. without permission can’t enroll in Obamacare, but an unusual policy in California allows those granted temporary relief from deportation to sign up for Medi-Cal. That means up to half a million more Californians could apply for the state’s low-income health program, according to data released Wednesday by UC Berkeley and UCLA…”







“The Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is among the terrorist organizations that are benefiting from the illegal drug trade in Latin America, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), told lawmakers. Illegal drug trafficking in Latin American generates at least “tens of millions” for Hezbollah, which uses the funds to fuel its operations in the Middle East, explained the Southcom general. During a hearing this afternoon held by the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee, Ron Johnson (R-WI), the panel’s chairman, asked the general to comment on the nexus between drug traffickers and terrorist organizations in Latin America….”



Dems grease skids for Obama’s immigration programs

“House Democrats are intensifying their efforts to help undocumented immigrants enroll in President Obama’s new programs easing deportations. The lawmakers, representing districts nationwide, have launched a new outreach campaign designed both to grease the application process and to prevent those eligible from being deported before the programs go into effect. Obama’s initiatives hit a wall last month when a federal judge in Texas, ruling that the administration violated a law governing the establishment of new rules, blocked the programs temporarily while the courts weigh broader challenges to their constitutionality.

Behind Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), the Democrats are issuing “emergency cards” to potential participants and asking them to present those cards in the event they’re detained by an immigration official before the court issues are resolved. “If you are … put in harm’s way for deportation, tell them you’ve got the documents, tell them you can prove that you’re established,” Gutiérrez said Thursday. “Because if there is one thing I am clear about, it’s that [Homeland Security] Secretary Jeh Johnson and the president of the United States, Barack Obama, don’t want you deported.” The emergency cards are part of a new “toolkit” Gutiérrez and many other Democrats are distributing at outreach forums they’re hosting in their districts, both over the long Easter recess and beyond.  The lawmakers emphasize that, in lieu of Obama’s executive actions, they want Congress to consider comprehensive reform legislation. But with House GOP leaders refusing to take up such proposals, Democrats are backing the president’s unilateral moves as a way to keep immigrant families together. “It is time for us to bring a bill to the floor,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Thursday. “But in the interim, this packet allows people to understand their rights in this country pursuant to the president’s order.  “If Republicans disagree with the president’s immigration policies,” he added, “they have an alternative: bring a bill to the floor to change that.” At issue are a pair of executive actions launched by Obama shortly after last November’s mid-term elections. One, known as DAPA, would halt deportations and offer work permits to the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. The other would expand Obama’s 2012 program — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative — to a greater number of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids…”



Majority of undocumented immigrants work in low-skill jobs, report finds

“Undocumented immigrants hold more white-collar jobs and fewer blue-collar jobs today than they did before the national recession of 2007-2009, but a “solid majority” still work in low-skilled service, construction and production jobs, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center in the District. The report, based on a five-year study from 2007 to 2012, found that the size of the illegal immigrant workforce has remained about the same — roughly 5.1 per cent of all workers — even though the total number of illegal immigrants has continued to fall since a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 to about 11.2 million in 2012. Overall, it described an undocumented workforce that has stabilized during a period of economic recovery and moved up in some skilled and professional occupations but has remained largely circumscribed by language barriers, poor education and legal status. Within the undocumented workforce, Pew reported, the portion of those in professional jobs grew to 13 percent, while the portion of those in production and construction jobs declined to 29 percent. As in the past, the great majority are concentrated in low-paying jobs including agriculture, cleaning and food service, and production. Critics of illegal immigration often complain that undocumented workers are squeezing out American-born workers by undercutting wage levels. But the Pew center found that far higher percentages of illegal immigrants than U.S.-born workers hold poorly paid jobs with the least desirable or most demanding conditions, such as crop picking, animal slaughter, cleaning and cooking. In certain occupations, such as agriculture, the contrast between undocumented and U.S.-born or legal immigrants is especially dramatic. Only 2 percent of U.S-born workers today are employed in farming, fishing or forestry, while unauthorized workers constitute 26 percent of all agricultural jobs. Although the portion of illegal immigrants in professional occupations remains low, the report noted that, under several existing and proposed policies ordered by the White House, a substantial number of illegal immigrants are obtaining or may obtain temporary legal status, giving them access to better education and professional jobs…”



One in eight undocumented immigrants in the U.S. now has a white-collar job

“The share of all unauthorized immigrant workers with management and professional jobs grew to 13% in 2012 from 10% in 2007 — an overall increase of 180,000, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, the share with construction or production jobs declined to 29% from 34%…”



Christie joins court fight vs. Obama immigration plan (continuation of previous article)



‘The poultry industry never stops’: How E-Verify, immigration rules work in Big Chicken hiring

“Want a job? Alabama’s poultry factories are hiring. Just ask Bruno Gonzalez, who is on the lookout for new workers to fill Wayne Farm’s chicken plants. Gonzalez, 45, is a recruiter for the firm, one of the major players in Alabama’s massive, $15 billion chicken business. It’s his job to ensure that the factories maintain a steady supply of workers despite what he calls a “revolving door” of employees. Wayne Farms’ Decatur plant has a 75 percent turnover, its Albertville plant a 25 percent turnover. “The poultry industry is a tough business,” Gonzalez said. “The (workers) are working in a tough working environment, it’s cold, and they’re standing eight hours a day, but they’re making a living.” Gonzalez spends his days advertising the jobs at job fairs and Mexican grocery stores. The jobs, which do not require English literacy, offer steady work and good pay. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, meat, poultry and fish cutters and trimmers in Alabama make a a $23,850 median wage. Gonzalez says that about 70 percent of Hispanic applicants won’t make it through the employee screening due to their immigration status. Immigration advocates say that about 80,000 undocumented immigrants live in Alabama. “Finding them is a minor challenge,” Gonzalez said. “Once I do, it’s getting them to come through the doors.” Once the employee is hired, some employers will cross check their papers using a federal system, known as E-Verify. The system will match their identification information to a federal database. Alabama business are required to use E-Verify as part of Alabama’s 2011 anti-illegal immigration bill. But that law, initially one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation, has been defanged by federal courts…”



Luis Gutierrez Forced to Flee Immigration Event by Anti-Amnesty Activists (continuation of yesterday’s article)



Immigration Reform News Today: DREAMers Start Hunger Strike, Petition Against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s DREAM Act Inaction



Walker’s Flip-Flop-Flip on Amnesty?

“The Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein is up with a report that, if true — and it is well sourced — will prove very troubling for Scott Walker on the campaign trail. Epstein writes that Walker “told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans this month that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and to eventually become eligible for citizenship.” That conflicts with statements the governor made as recently as three weeks ago that, in a reversal of his previously held position, he no longer supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.  The report comes as Walker is working to position himself as the strongest conservative alternative to Jeb Bush, whose vulnerabilities with the Republican base include his support for comprehensive immigration reform, though not a path to citizenship, as well as to Florida senator Marco Rubio, who led the fight for the Gang of Eight bill in the Senate, but has since said he favors a border security-first approach to reform. Viewed in that light, the revelation about his remarks in New Hampshire may threaten to jeopardize his standing with the party’s rank-and-file-voters, among whom he has engendered tremendous goodwill since standing down public-sector unions and surviving a recall election in Wisconsin. After reports of his past support for a path to citizenship emerged in early February, Walker said that his view had changed. “I’m flat out saying it. Candidates can say that,” Walker told Fox News’s Chris Wallace, adding that “we need to secure the border” before ultimately moving toward a system of “legal immigration that works.” Walker signed resolutions as Milwaukee County executive in 2001 and again in 2006 in support of comprehensive immigration reform, but said the Obama presidency and, in particular, the president’s lawlessness, had changed his view. That shift followed reporting, including here at National Review, on the Milwaukee County resolutions, which was at the time hotly contested by the Walker campaign, which said that the governor’s support for a path to citizenship was distinct from any support for amnesty.  Epstein says three separate sources present at a dinner in New Hampshire, where Walker allegedly made the remarks, confirmed his account. They also said Walker mocked Mitt Romney’s statement during the 2012 campaign that illegal immigrants should “self-deport.”



Scott Walker softens immigration stance at private N.H. dinner

“Likely GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker told a private gathering of New Hampshire business leaders earlier this month that he supports providing some illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship, according a person familiar with the discussion. The position would mark a significant shift from away from the hardline “no amnesty” stance Walker has taken in public in recent weeks. The Wisconsin governor also told the small group that illegal immigrants seeking citizenship should not receive preferential treatment over applicants who are already in line, according to the person, who was not authorized to speak about it publicly. The comments came at a March 13 dinner at the Copper Door restaurant in Bedford, N.H. The Wall Street Journal first reported Walker’s remarks, citing people who were there. “He said no to citizenship now, but later they could get it,” Copper Door owner Bill Greiner told the Journal. But a spokeswoman said the reports of Walker’s remarks were false.  “We strongly dispute this account,” Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement Thursday. ” Governor Walker has been very clear that he does not support amnesty and believes that border security must be established and the rule of law must be followed. His position has not changed, he does not support citizenship for illegal immigrants, and this story line is false.” The controversy comes as Walker prepares for a trip Friday to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas as part of an attempt to bolster his conservative credentials on immigration issues. As he has risen to the top of several polls of Republican primary voters, Walker has shifted sharply away from past public support for a path to legalization to a stance against what he calls amnesty. In a March 1 interview with Fox News, Walker said on immigration: “My view has changed, I’m flat-out saying it. Candidates can say that, sometimes they don’t.”…”



Walker Position on Immigration Becomes Increasingly Unclear

“Where does Scott Walker stand on the thorny subjects of immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship? Well, it’s increasingly difficult to tell — especially after the Wall Street Journal today reported that, according to three people present, he told a March 13 private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans that he favored a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship. The Walker campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about the Wall Street Journal’s report. But the comments are at odds with a March 1 interview, where he clearly stated he no longer supports immigration reform. “My views have changed,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “I’m flat-out saying it.” Here’s a look at how Walker’s views have changed on the subject:…”



Gov. Scott Walker’s immigration stance at center of dispute



Scott Walker to NH Republicans: Illegals should have a path to citizenship; Update: He doesn’t support citizenship, says spokesman

“The WSJ’s headline: “Scott Walker Shifts Stance on Immigration at Private Dinner.” Is that right? What position did he “shift” on? I find myself in the unusual position here of having to defend Walker on grounds that he’s … actually been a true blue amnesty shill of longstanding. How dare the Journal accuse him of flip-flopping to support citizenship for illegals when in fact our Scott’s pushed citizenship for illegals for years! No, really, he has. And unless I missed something somewhere, he’s never reversed himself on that point, even once. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans this month that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and to eventually become eligible for citizenship, a position at odds with his previous public statements on the matter… But during the March 13 New Hampshire dinner, organized by New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn at the Copper Door Restaurant in Bedford, Mr. Walker said undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be deported, and he mocked 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s suggestion that they would “self-deport,” according to people who were there… “He said no to citizenship now, but later they could get it,” said Bill Greiner, an owner of the Copper Door restaurant. Ken Merrifield, mayor of Franklin, N.H., who also attended, said Mr. Walker proposed that illegal immigrants should “get to the back of the line for citizenship” but not be deported. Follow the timeline. In 2002, as a county executive, he signed a resolution endorsing citizenship for illegals. In 2006, while holding the same office, he signed a similar resolution endorsing the McCain/Kennedy immigration bill, which — ta da — endorsed citizenship for illegals. As recently as 2013, when he was already a national conservative rock star and serious presidential contender, he endorsed citizenship for illegals. The guy supports citizenship for illegals, full stop. The flip-flopping that the Journal’s accusing him of comes from him telling reporters over the past six weeks that he’s learned some hard lessons about immigration from Obama’s incompetence and overreach and that his view on the subject has now changed. But did it change specifically on citizenship? Here’s what his spokesman said last month: “President Obama’s lack of leadership has completely changed how our immigration system now needs to be approached and Governor Walker has seen his fellow governors have to deal with the collateral damage of Obama’s decisions and lack of leadership,” Kukowski said in an email to TPM. Walker believes, according to Kukowski, “First, Obama’s executive action should be repealed” and that “we need absolute security at our borders and then we can address fixing our legal immigration system and deal with those here illegally but amnesty is not the answer.”…”



Did Scott Walker change his position on immigration (again)?

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker once supported a path to citizenship for citizenship for some undocumented immigrants living in America. Then he changed his mind, voicing his opposition to a path to citizenship. Now he seems to be changing his mind once again. During a private Republican dinner in New Hampshire on March 13, Walker said he supports allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and eventually become eligible for citizenship, three people present at that dinner told the Wall Street Journal. At the dinner, according to the Journal, Walker mocked 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s position that undocumented immigrants should “self-deport.” He said those immigrants, rather than being deported, should be able to ” eventually get their citizenship without being given preferential treatment.”…”



Is Walker’s Message Mixed on a Pathway to Citizenship?



Scott Walker’s camp says he opposes ‘amnesty,’ blasts report

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s team is disputing a report in The Wall Street Journal that says he told Republicans in New Hampshire this month that he supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The Journal reported Thursday that the Republican governor shifted his position on immigration at private dinner with Republicans in New Hampshire. The Journal said the report was confirmed three people present. The Walker camp quickly countered that the story is erroneous. “We strongly dispute this account,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a Walker spokesperson. “Governor Walker has been very clear that he does not support amnesty and believes that border security must be established and the rule of law must be followed.” “His position has not changed, he does not support citizenship for illegal immigrants, and this story line is false,” Ms. Kukowski said. Mr. Walker recently said he changed his views on the thorny issue, coming out against “amnesty.”…”



Scott Walker’s campaign disputes report he has changed immigration stance



Stein lauds Santorum’s strict immigration stance

Norquist says too early to pick a GOP favorite





$1,185,613,000,000: Federal Taxes Hit Record Through February; Gov’t Still Runs $386B Deficit

“Inflation-adjusted federal tax revenues hit a record $1,185,613,000,000 in the first five months of fiscal 2015, but the federal government still ran a $386,537,000,000 deficit during that time, according to the latest Monthly Treasury Statement. Each month, the Treasury publishes the government’s “total receipts,” including all revenue from individual income taxes, corporate income taxes, social insurance and retirement taxes (including Social Security and Medicare taxes), unemployment insurance taxes, excise taxes, estate and gift taxes, customs duties, and “miscellaneous receipts.” In constant 2015 dollars, the $1,185,613,000,000 that the federal government collected from October through February in fiscal 2015 was $94,803,620,000 more than the $1,090,809,380,000 it collected in October through February in fiscal 2014.

That $1,090,809,380 that the federal government brought in in October through February of fiscal 2015 is now the second-highest-ever federal tax intake through February. Although the federal government brought in a record of approximately $1,185,613,000,000 in revenue in the first five months of fiscal 2015, according to the Treasury, it also spent approximately $1,572,149,000,000—leaving a deficit of approximately $386,537,000,000….”



House Votes To Add Hundreds Of Billions To Debt (DOC FIX)

“The House passed a healthcare bill that could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit Thursday, just a day after getting a balanced budget through the chamber. The “doc-fix” bill passed overwhelmingly, and is a rare example of meaningful compromise between House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. It would solve a problem in the way Medicare payments are made to doctors, extend a children’s health insurance program and require higher-income seniors to pay higher premiums. But the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will add $141 billion to the federal deficits over the next decade, and by 2035 it will add half a trillion dollars to the federal debt, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. All but 33 House Republicans voted for the bill, almost immediately after many lauded the passage of a budget that balances in 10 years. ”It is a budget that credibly addresses our fiscal and economic challenges so we can deliver real results for the American people,” House Budget chairman Tom Price said in a statement Wednesday. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Friday, and it seems likely to pass, although the bill faces opposition from fiscal conservatives and from some Democrats over abortion funding language and the cost-saving reforms…”



Obama happy with ‘doc fix,’ little else in Republican budget

“President Obama traveled to Alabama Thursday to give Republicans rare praise for approving a bill reforming how Medicare pays doctors before slamming the broader GOP funding blueprint that passed the House. Obama said he called both Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to congratulate them on the “doc fix,” which changes the way Medicare calculates doctors’ payments. The measure is soon expected to pass the Senate. Obama championed proposed new rules restricting payday lenders in Birmingham Thursday, and he framed the compromise on Medicare payments as just a sliver of a positive development. “So, that was the good news,” Obama told the friendly audience of the “doc fix.” “The bad news is the Republicans in Congress unveiled their budget. And it represents the opposite of middle-class economics.” Obama has traveled to a handful of red-leaning states in recent weeks, including South Carolina, Idaho and Kansas, hoping to win some converts to his progressive message in conservative bastions….”



What You Actually Need To Know About the Budget Right Now

“It hasn’t prompted many flashy headlines or gotten lots of celebrities weighing in on Twitter, but Capitol Hill has been busy this week going through the wonky, procedurally-complicated political dance known as “the budget process.” And as dry as it might sound, it could have far-reaching consequences for the battle for the White House in 2016 and the future of the GOP. We always hear about how divided House Republicans are. How did they even come together to pass a budget? Good question! House leaders were worried about this very thing after a pretty public spat broke out between Republicans who want to increase defense spending and those who say that the federal government should slash spending across all major departments in order to balance the budget. The way they managed to get a budget passed on Wednesday: Letting members blow off steam by voting on a bunch of different budgets, including some with extra Pentagon money and some without. This was actually a pretty obscure trick, known as the “queen of the Hill” rule, that allows Congress to vote on several different budget proposals from both parties. Under that rule, whichever proposal gets the MOST votes goes to final passage. And House leaders got what they wanted, passing a very conservative budget an extra boost for the military. So wait, what does passing a budget actually mean? In this phase, a budget is a nonbinding plan that lets each party lay out its priorities and try to make political points. But the budget does set overall spending levels for the government, which Congress’s appropriators later break into smaller, specific bills that can become law. It’s still an important process, though (more on that below). Republicans want to use the budget to repeal Obamacare. Will it work? Well, no, not in the short run. That’s because the president is sure to veto anything that comes to his desk that guts his signature legislative achievement. But it doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t try: Now that the GOP has a majority in both the House and the Senate, most GOP members want to make good on their campaign promise to vote to fully repeal the health care law. If they can eventually get a bill with repeal language to the president’s desk, they’ll paint it as a big victory because they’ll say that the president defied the will of Congress and the American people by vetoing it….”



New House conservative caucus divided in budget vote

“Members of the new conservative House Freedom Caucus held a lengthy conference call Friday about whether they would stick together to support or oppose GOP leaders’ new budget strategy. Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who led the call, backed the new approach, which included billions more for defense. But others on the line were frustrated the plan didn’t offset any of the extra spending, according to sources on the call. By the time the phone call ended about 40 minutes later, there still was no consensus. The vigorous debate foreshadowed Wednesday’s vote, where Freedom Caucus members splintered over supporting a backup GOP budget crafted after defense hawks balked at the lower spending levels in the original proposal. Twenty-six Republicans eventually voted against the leadership-backed spending plan, including six of the nine Freedom Caucus co-founders: Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Raúl Labrador (Idaho), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) and David Schweikert (Ariz.).  All of those co-founders but Garrett voted against final passage of the budget. The Freedom Caucus was expected to be a bloc of more than 30 conservatives who would vote together to pull GOP leadership to the right on fiscal matters. It flexed its muscle shortly after launching earlier this year, helping to torpedo a plan by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to fund the Homeland Security Department in late February. But the group’s split on the budget signaled that the caucus won’t hang together and vote en bloc on every issue — a welcome development for Boehner and his leadership team, as they prepare for upcoming fiscal battles to replenish a highway fund, renew the Export-Import Bank and raise the debt ceiling. The budget’s not the only issue this week dividing the Freedom Caucus. Members are also split over a major deal negotiated by Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that would halt cuts to payments for Medicare physicians — a so-called permanent “doc fix.” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a physician, said the temporary patches Congress passes each year are bad policy, but some of his caucus colleagues are concerned that the deal would raise the deficit by billions of dollars in the short term. A vote is set for Thursday…”



McConnell: Public’s ‘voices heard’ in budget vote

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday the Senate’s first budget vote under new Republican leadership is a chance for Americans to be heard after the 2014 midterm elections.  “They called for change and today, the Senate is delivering that change,” McConnell said during his daily opening remarks. “Tonight, the American people will have their voices heard again here in the Senate under new management.” Under Thursday’s “vote-a-rama” marathon budget session, senators will have the chance to offer unlimited amendments before an eventual vote on the final budget. That vote is expected after 2 a.m. Friday morning. McConnell asserted that the GOP’s blueprint would provide a pathway toward a balanced budget, paying down the deficit. That message was underscored by a poster placed behind him as he spoke, which read “balanced budget.” He praised the plan for repealing and replacing ObamaCare, as well as for charting a path forward on entitlement programs. “We can make commonsense improvements to save these programs today, or we can allow draconian cuts to fall on the most vulnerable in the years ahead,” he said. “We can’t tax the problem away.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) criticized McConnell’s view of the GOP’s budget as ill-conceived. He blamed the GOP for calling for the continuation of sequestration cuts, and cited those cuts as scuttling the National Institutes of Health’s progress on a comprehensive flu vaccine. “They’re doubling down on this harmful sequestration on health, education and even defense,” Reid said. He called the GOP’s plan to add $38 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations fund in order to boost defense spending a “gimmick” and warned that the Pentagon wouldn’t see the money. Reid promised that “fortunately for the country, the Republican budget will not become law.” Senate Democrats do not have a comprehensive budget plan of their own, and the Senate recently voted against taking up President Obama’s budget in a vote offered by Republican leadership to force Democrats to take a tough vote on Obama’s policies. With the possibility of snow later Thursday night, McConnell and Reid joked that the forecast could convince colleagues to offer fewer amendments in the hopes of getting out earlier. “The lateness of the evening affects the number of amendments we have,” McConnell told Reid with a chuckle. “We’ll finish the process just as early as members would like to finish the process.”…”



A Marathon Day in Congress: Vote-a-Rama, Explained in 90 Seconds



Senators march through grueling budget ‘vote-a-rama’

“The Senate is marching toward approval of the Republican budget by speeding through dozens of amendments in a “vote-a-rama” expected to end early Friday morning. Republican leaders are expressing confidence that their blueprint will be approved, though they have a tight margin. The GOP can only afford to lose three Republican votes and pass its budget. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he didn’t believe there would be many defections.

“No, I think in the end, I think we’ll do what the House did yesterday, which I think is very important for us to accomplish. I’m optimistic,” he told The Hill. The House GOP budget was approved by the lower chamber on Wednesday. If the Senate GOP pushes its budget across the finish line, Republicans in both chambers will seek to reconcile the two documents after a two-week recess that begins Friday. Thursday’s votes have put a spotlight on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and three other Republicans expected to join him in the race for the White House: Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Observers have seen Cruz and Paul as likely “no” votes on the budget. Cruz, who launched his White House bid on Monday, told reporters Thursday that he was still evaluating the budget. “I’m still assessing it. I’m looking at it carefully and I’ll make a decision by the time the vote comes up,” he said. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), another possible “no” vote, also refused to reveal his decision. Asked how he planned to vote, he told The Hill: “I’m kind of in the middle of something.” Graham and Rubio are expected to back the budget. Graham is a member of the Senate Budget Committee and championed an amendment added in committee last week that boosted the Pentagon’s war fund next year to $96 billion. Graham and others hope that funding will give the Pentagon more flexibility as it runs into a ceiling on its spending. Paul and Rubio both offered amendments Thursday to raise spending for the Pentagon, each of which failed. Paul’s measure would have raised defense spending by nearly $190 billion over the next two years, but failed miserably and won only four “yes” votes. Ninety-six senators voted against it. Rubio and freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also offered an amendment to boost defense spending. It fared better than Paul’s effort, but was also defeated in a 32-68 vote to overcome a point of order. Cruz and Paul were split on Rubio’s proposal, which would have given the Defense Department more money by raising its spending to the levels proposed by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2012. Cruz supported Rubio’s measure, while Paul voted against it.  Another difference between the two approaches was that Rubio’s additional defense spending was not offset with spending cuts to other parts of the government. Paul’s increased defense spending was offset with cuts to other programs. Other amendments in the vote-a-rama, which began at noon, have dealt with ObamaCare, the Guantánamo Bay prison, education, paid leave and taxes, among other issues. Divisions among Democrats have been notable in some of the votes, including on an amendment that would require ObamaCare insurance billings to note an ObamaCare tax. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) both voted with Republicans to approve that measure, which GOP sponsor Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said was meant to increase awareness about the healthcare tax paid by people who sign up for plans under ObamaCare. Manchin is from a reliably Republican state in presidential contests, while Bennet is up for reelection in 2016. Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Manchin voted in favor of an amendment from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) intended to block a federal tax on carbon emissions…”



McConnell, Reid want to speed up ‘vote-a-rama’

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) want senators to speed up budget amendment votes. “The senator from South Carolina set a good example by withdrawing his amendment. That’s really what the standard should be,” Reid said on the Senate floor, garnering laughter from his colleagues. “Senator Blumenthal was second best when he said, ‘I’ll take a voice vote.’ ”  Reid warned that if senators were to work through all of the pending amendments it “will take 33 more hours.” McConnell said that it’s “a good time to seek some cooperation.” He warned that at the current pace, senators could be voting on amendments until 5 a.m. Senators have been voting for nearly 10 hours as part of the budget “vote-a-rama,” which allows senators to bring an unlimited number of amendments up for a vote. McConnell urged senators to “get through this as rapidly as possible without denying anyone their rights.” Reid said if they could finish by 11:30 p.m., he would buy dinner for the entire chamber. “If we can finish here by 11:30, I’ll buy dinner when we get back,” he said. “We’ve had an ample vote-a-rama. … No one’s election is going to be determined by what has taken place here tonight.”



Senate Republicans defend balanced budget; Democrats see fodder

“Republicans defended their balanced budget and Democrats walked away with dozens of votes they think can be used against the GOP in upcoming elections as the Senate pressed toward passage late Thursday of a blueprint to govern spending and provide a path for repealing Obamacare. Along the way, the Senate voted to rein in the Common Core education standards, to ban the government from assessing a carbon tax and to prepare new sanctions against Iran should that nation violate a future nuclear arms deal, as lawmakers debated into the night, expecting a final vote in the early morning Friday. It’s the first Senate budget since 2013, and just the second passed since 2009, after Democrats regularly avoided the free-wheeling exercise, which results in a nonbinding blueprint. GOP leaders, however, said this year’s budget includes instructions under a process known as “budget reconciliation” that could pave the way for a major tax overhaul and, most politically charged, for a last major assault on Obamacare. “It would provide tools to finally repeal and replace Obamacare itself, leaving the law’s higher costs and broken promises where they belong — in the past — in favor of a fresh start, and the opportunity for real health reform,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who said just having the debate was a major change for a Senate that had been calcified in recent years. The House passed its version of the federal budget Wednesday, and Mr. McConnell vowed that the two chambers will hold a conference committee to hammer out differences. If they are able to reach agreement, it would mark the first unified budget governing federal spending in six years…”



2016 brawl breaks out on Senate floor

Paul lashes Cruz, Rubio for ‘dangerous’ and ‘reckless’ positions on government spending.

“The 2016 Republican nomination contest spilled onto the Senate floor Thursday, turning a marathon budget debate into a battle over which candidate is prepared to lead the country at a time of war. Four GOP senators are trying to gain the upper hand on the commander-in-chief test — Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham — and their competition was on vivid display as the Senate took up a Rubio plan to pump tens of billions of dollars more into the Pentagon budget. Paul blasted the idea because the new spending wasn’t offset by other cuts. And caught in the middle was Cruz, who’s pitching himself as a fiscal conservative who can appeal to the hawkish and libertarian wings of the GOP but ultimately sided with Rubio and Graham. In an interview with POLITICO, Paul lambasted his foes for engaging in “reckless” and “irresponsible” behavior, showing that they lacked the “courage” and conviction to rein in the country’s mountain of debt. He said there are now two camps in the GOP primary field: one that cares about the debt, and another that does not. “I think there are a great deal of problems for people who want to argue that they are fiscal conservatives and yet would simply borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for defense,” Paul said. “I think it is irresponsible and dangerous to the country to borrow so much money to add into defense.”…”



Senators endorse Iran sanctions in budget vote

“Senators unanimously approved an amendment Thursday that backs bolstering sanctions against Iran if President Obama can’t verify that the country is following a nuclear deal.  The wave of support came after the amendment, offered by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), was amended.

The Illinois Republican’s amendment originally supported restoring rolled-back sanctions, as well as applying new sanctions, if Iran violated the interim deal currently in place or a long-term agreement on its nuclear program. The final amendment supports reimposed and new sanctions against Iran if Obama “cannot make a determination and certify that Iran is complying” with an agreement. The amendment establishes a “deficit-neutral reserve fund,” meaning that it can’t add to the deficit, and is nonbinding, but it does get senators on the record on Iran sanctions.

Kirk is behind a separate piece of legislation that would ratchet up sanctions against Iran. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this week that lawmakers would take up that bill if a deal isn’t reached. Negotiators are currently facing an end-of-the-month deadline to reach a framework agreement for a long-term nuclear deal, with a final deadline at the end of June.”



Gun debate heats up in Senate budget battle

“Gun rights groups are rallying their members behind a series of budget measures aimed at strengthening the Second Amendment and restricting gun control efforts. As the Senate debates the federal government’s 2016 budget, Republicans and gun advocates are pushing for a number of amendments that would expand concealed-carry laws and block the Obama administration from issuing what opponents call a “backdoor” ban on guns. “We expect more gun-related showdowns in the next 72 hours than in the next nine months combined,” the Gun Owners of America wrote in a message to supporters asking them to call their senators about these issues.  The Senate is looking at a number of various pro-gun amendments that would expand concealed carry laws and block future gun control initiatives. For instance, an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) would block “any legislation that would place further restrictions on the right of law-abiding Americans to own a firearm,” according to the senator’s office. The amendment would block gun control measures seeking to ban semi-automatic weapons and magazines, and create a national gun registry, unless they have support from two-thirds of senators…”



McConnell amendment slows EPA regulations

“The Senate passed an amendment Thursday night that makes it harder for the White House to enforce environmental regulations.  Senators voted 57-43 on the proposal by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The amendment blocks the administration from withholding highway funds if a state doesn’t submit an implementation plan for a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation. Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) switched sides and voted with Republicans.  McConnell suggested his amendment was about protecting states from EPA overreach. “It says that Washington bureaucrats shouldn’t be allowed to punish innocent Americans by threatening the roads and bridges they use,” the Kentucky Republican said, “just because a citizen’s state may take a wait-and-see approach … as courts rule on EPA regulations.” McConnell added the EPA regulations “would threaten the middle class without having a meaningful impact on the global climate anyway.” The Kentucky Republican’s amendment is about rule requiring states to submit implementation plans to the EPA as part of its clean-power push. As part of the implementation plans, states are supposed to explain how they will meet EPA-calculated emission targets for a state…”



Dems break ranks on carbon tax amendment



Senators reject push to restore Medicaid funding

“Senators on Thursday rejected an amendment that backed restoring more than a trillion dollars to Medicaid. Senators voted 47-53 on the proposal, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) broke rank and voted with Democrats. The amendment would have rolled back more than $1.2 trillion in cuts to Medicaid. Before the vote, Wyden urged his colleagues to support the amendment, saying it would “be consistent with our Medicaid vote that was cast earlier this week.” “It’s impossible to square [a] budget that has $1.2 trillion in cuts, with the vote that was held earlier this week to protect Medicaid,” he said. “You can’t get those savings without cutting reimbursements for nursing homes and long-term care facilities.” But Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) disagreed with the notion that the budget cut Medicaid, saying instead that it “slows its growth rate.” “The budget before us suggests we modernize the Medicaid program based upon the successful and bipartisan model,” he said. “The Senate budget strengthens and improves Medicaid and protects the most vulnerable among us who rely on the program.” Senators voted Tuesday to approve a budget amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is considering a potential 2016 presidential bid, that opposes cuts to Medicaid…”



Senators block amendment on closing tax loopholes



Republicans block Sanders’s minimum wage amendment



Rand Paul Reverses Stance on Defense Spending by Trying to Increase It

“Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul revealed a new stance on defense spending when he introduced an amendment to the budget that would increase defense spending by $190 billion over the next two years. This increase in defense spending runs counter to the budget the Republican introduced in 2011, just months after joining the Senate. That plan, which failed in the Senate, would have slashed defense spending from $553 billion in 2011 to $542 billion in 2016. Paul’s new amendment failed in the Senate today with only four senators supporting the measure…”



Paul seeks $76B boost for defense

“Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has made a 180-degree turn on defense spending weeks before he is scheduled to launch his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The Kentucky Republican has offered an amendment to the Senate GOP budget that would increase total spending at the Pentagon for fiscal 2016 to $696 billion. The Paul proposal matches another White House hopeful, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has called for the same funding target. Paul would add $76 billion to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi’s (R-Wyo.) total for spending at the Pentagon. Paul wants to increase defense spending over the next two years by $190 billion. It’s a reversal for Paul, who proposed significant defense spending cuts in the first budget he introduced after coming to the Senate in 2011. Enzi’s budget keeps the Pentagon’s baseline budget at $523 billion but increases a separate account used to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to $96 billion. The Paul amendment doesn’t specify whether his funding would be added to the baseline budget or the war account…”



Rand Paul now wants more defense spending. Welcome back to the old GOP.



Senate votes in favor of repealing death tax

“The Senate voted in favor of repealing the death tax Thursday evening on a non-binding measure. The upper chamber voted 56-46 on a budget amendment offered by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to repeal the 40 percent state tax. The vote was mostly symbolic, as the budget is not signed by the president and does not become law. It also showed that, while repealing the tax is popular among Republicans who say it discourages investment and hurts family-owned farms and businesses, the Senate does not have the supermajority needed to pass legislation and erase it from the books. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, voted against the amendment. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat considered a centrist, voted for it. Thune introduced the legislation to repeal the death tax earlier in the day. At an event with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, farmers, and family business owners, Thune had said that he “will look for any and all means” of moving the legislation…”



Jobless claims fall to 282,000

“First-time claims for unemployment insurance fell more than expected to 282,000 for the week ending March 21, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Jobless claims were 291,000 the week before, and have now been under 300,000 for three straight weeks. The four-week moving average was of claims fell 7,750 to 297,000. Fewer unemployment claims are a sign of slower layoffs, and a drop in claims taken as a positive sign for net job growth. After rising well above the 300,000 line for several weeks in February, initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits have edged back down, despite unusually harsh winter conditions in some parts of the U.S. Through February, job growth remained strong, relative to previous years of the ongoing recovery from the financial crisis. The U.S. created 295,000 jobs in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and averaged nearly that many throughout the winter…”



Fewer Americans signed up for unemployment benefits



Mike Lee seeks to stall increase in gas tax

“Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wants to make it harder for lawmakers to increase the federal gas tax as they search for way to pay for a new transportation spending bill later this year.   Lee is introducing an amendment to the Senate’s budget resolution that would increase the threshold for lawmakers in the upper chamber to hike the tax or introduce any new levies to replenish the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund. The transportation funding is currently scheduled to run out of money in May, and Lee’s amendment would increase the requirement in the Senate to increase the gas tax to pay for an extension from 50 to 60 votes.  Lee said he is offering the amendment to protect U.S. residents from being hit with an increase in cost when they fill up their gas tanks. “For decades, the American people have been stuck with the same dysfunctional transportation system — a transportation system that costs taxpayers more money every year, while failing to provide value with our nation’s highways, roads, bridges, and transit networks. In response, many offer Washington’s eternal promise: the status quo will work. … it just needs more money,” he said in a statement…”



U.S. consumer watchdog unveils plans to regulate payday loans

“The U.S. consumer financial watchdog on Thursday outlined its plans for cracking down on the payday lending industry and ensuring that borrowers can repay their loans. The framework unveiled by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was a key step toward new rules for various types of loans that regulators say trap borrowers in debt. Payday loans are small extensions of credit that borrowers agree to repay in a short time, such as when they next receive a paycheck. Similar products include car title loans, in which borrowers use vehicles as collateral, and installment loans, which can be longer-term and are paid back in larger amounts. Lenders who offer the products say they help people who are strapped for cash. But consumer advocates say borrowers often roll over or refinance loans rather than paying them back, racking up debt due to high interest rates and fees. “Too many short-term and longer-term loans are made based on a lender’s ability to collect and not on a borrower’s ability to repay,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. President Barack Obama on Thursday called the CFPB’s plan “common sense.” “If you lend out money, you should first make sure that the borrower can afford to pay it back,” he will say in Birmingham, Alabama, according to excerpts released by the White House. The framework gives lenders two options. They can verify prospective borrowers’ income and debt history upfront, or they can offer cheap repayment options and limit how many loans people may take out. The requirements are tailored so that slightly different rules apply to loans that must be repaid within 45 days versus those stretching longer. Even before the framework was released, lenders warned the consumer bureau not to disrupt access to credit. “Consumers thrive when they have more choices, not fewer, and any new regulations must keep this in mind,” the Community Financial Services Association of America, which represents short-term lenders, said in a statement on Wednesday…”



Obama praises payday lender rules, vows veto of limitations

“Embracing proposed new rules aimed at payday lenders, President Barack Obama on Thursday warned Republicans that he would veto attempts to unravel regulations that govern the financial industry. Obama, in excerpts of remarks for delivery later Thursday, praised the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for its proposal to set standards on a multibillion-dollar industry that has historically been regulated only at the state level. “As Americans, we believe there’s nothing wrong with making a profit,” Obama says, according to the excerpts. “But if you’re making that profit by trapping hard-working Americans in a vicious cycle of debt, then you need to find a new way of doing business.” Obama’s remarks come on the same day the consumer agency was announcing the proposed payday lending rules in a hearing in Richmond, Va. Payday loans provide cash to borrowers who run out of money between paychecks. The short-term loans carry high interest rates. The rule would require lenders to make sure that borrowers can afford to pay the money back. Obama says the Republican budget, a version of which just passed the House of Representatives, would make it harder for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to do its job. The budget is a nonbinding measure that serves as a blueprint for ensuing legislation. “If Republicans in Congress send me a bill to unravel Wall Street reform, I will veto it,” he said. Obama also is using his speech in Alabama for a broader attack on the Republican budget. He said Republicans aim to cut taxes for wealthy individuals. “I don’t think our top economic priority should be helping a tiny number of Americans who are already doing extraordinarily well, and asking everybody else to foot the bill,” he said…”



Obama pushing new rules on payday loan industry

“President Obama will push for new regulations on the $46 billion payday loan industry Thursday and will criticize congressional Republicans for trying to undermine the federal agency that enforces consumer laws. In a speech in Birmingham, Alabama, Mr. Obama will say lenders should ensure that they’re not taking advantage of low-income consumers in need of quick cash. “If you lend out money, you should first make sure that the borrower can afford to pay it back,” Mr. Obama will say, according to portions of his speech released by the White House. “As Americans, we believe there’s nothing wrong with making a profit. But if you’re making that profit by trapping hardworking Americans in a vicious cycle of debt, then you need to find a new way of doing business.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering new rules that would require lenders to determine at the outset that a consumer is not taking on “unaffordable debt.” The agency held a field hearing on the problem Thursday in Richmond, Virginia…”



Obama looks to defend CFPB from Republican attacks

“President Obama on Thursday will criticize Republicans for offering a budget plan he says will drain funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The president threatened to veto any legislation that would “unravel” the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, which created the consumer watchdog. “If Republicans in Congress send me a bill to unravel Wall Street reform, I will veto it,” Obama will say during a speech in Birmingham, Ala., on the economy, according to excerpts provided by the White House. He will call the CFPB “one more way Wall Street reform is protecting working families and taxpayers.” “And it’s one more reason it makes no sense that the Republican budget would make it harder for the CFPB to do its job, and allow Wall Street to go back to the kind of recklessness that led to the crisis in the first place,” he will say. Also Thursday, CFPB Director Richard Cordray is unveiling the new restrictions on payday lenders at a hearing in Richmond, Va., intended to help prevent borrowers from falling deep into debt…”



Former DNC leaders urge Dems to back Obama on trade

“Seven former chairmen of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) urged Democrats on Thursday to support President Obama’s trade agenda. In a letter sent to Democratic members arranged by center-left think tank Third Way, the former DNC leaders argued that Obama’s trade agenda would help create jobs. It comes as progressives are urging Democrats to oppose Obama’s request to fast-track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), out of concern that it would lead to trade deals that don’t benefit U.S. workers. “TPA will clear a path for the President to pursue his pro-growth trade agenda—an agenda that will move America forward,” the former DNC chairmen wrote in a letter first obtained by The Hill. The letter was signed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, former Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), former Sen. Paul Kirk (Mass.), Joe Andrew, Donald Fowler and David Wilhelm….”



How gov’t aims to protect low-income users of ‘payday’ loans



Energy Dept revives vehicle loan program after criticism

“The Department of Energy is reviving a vehicle loan program it pledged to retool after criticism it funded flops and wasted taxpayer money. The department announced Thursday it has reached a conditional, $259 million loan agreement with aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. The money will be used to fund an expansion of an Alcoa, Tennessee, facility that manufactures high-strength aluminum used in fuel-efficient cars. The loan is the first issued from the department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program in four years, and comes a year after Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz had promised to revamp the program. Moniz said Thursday the program could play an important role by “helping to finance expanded domestic manufacturing of fuel-efficient technologies.” Republicans have been sharply critical of the program and two other Energy Department loan programs after some high profile failures. Solar company Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in 2011 after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee. Fisker Automative, a manufacturer of electronic cars, received $192 million in department loans before it filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The department said it lost $139 million on the Fisker loan agreement. Energy officials have maintained the loan programs, funded by the 2009 stimulus, are largely successful and on track to pay the government back with interest in the future. Last year, Moniz said the department would make changes to the vehicle loan program, promising to be more responsive to applicants and include parts and component manufacturers — like Alcoa — in the program. Alcoa Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said the loan program could “encourage a greater shift to aluminum intensive vehicles that are safer, lighter and more fuel-efficient.” The company expects the loan to help it create 200 permanent, full-time jobs. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the loan was good news for his home state…”



Taxpayers foot bill for union work, lawmakers seek changes

“When he arrived on Capitol Hill in January, freshman Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., discovered something he had no clue was going on. Hundreds of federal employees spend their entire workday — not doing the business of the government, but working for their unions.  Hice told Fox News he was shocked by what he found.  “Waste on an egregious level by federal employees who are taking taxpayer monies and using it for purposes other than the reason they were hired,” Hice said.  It’s called “official time,” and it was sanctioned into law by Congress in 1978. Lawmakers voted to allow federal employees who are union members to spend part of their day addressing union issues. The reason behind the law: Federal employees are not required to join a union even if they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. The Civil Service Reform Act was designed to make up the financial gap of unions having to represent employees who did not pay dues, by allowing federal workers to “volunteer” time during their working hours to address grievances, work on collective bargaining and deal with other issues. But Hice argues that the situation has gotten out of control, and he’s pushing new legislation to change it.  According to the Office of Personnel Management, in 2012 (the most recent year there are statistics for) federal workers spent 3.4 million man-hours on union issues and not the work they were hired for. OPM estimates the cost to taxpayers was more than $157 million. What’s more, at two government agencies that would seem least able to afford a loss of manpower — the Veterans Affairs Department and IRS — hundreds of workers spent 100 percent of their time doing union work. At the VA, 259 employees worked solely on union issues. At the IRS — which only disclosed their statistics when the National Review sent them a Freedom of Information Act request — the number was 201. Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson — who is co-sponsoring a bill in the Senate to curtail the practice — is outraged. “The VA’s had problems getting veterans appointments within 30 days, yet they’re taking thousands of hours to organize the union. Something’s wrong with their priorities. We need to get it fixed”, Isakson told Fox News…”



U.S. jobs, services sector data point to growth rebound

“The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week while activity in the services sector hit a six-month high in March, underscoring the economy’s solid fundamentals despite a recent softening in growth. Harsh weather, the now-settled labor dispute at the country’s busy West Coast ports, softer global demand and a strong dollar undercut growth early in the first quarter. Thursday’s upbeat reports, however, implied the slowdown would be temporary. “The good news is that claims and the services sector data suggest the economy has gained some momentum heading into the second quarter,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000 for the week ended March 21, the Labor Department said. That was the lowest level since mid-February and was better than economists’ expectations for a dip to 290,000. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 7,750 to 297,000 last week. In a separate report, financial data firm Markit said its preliminary or “flash” Purchasing Managers Index for the service sector rose to 58.6 in March, the highest reading since September, from 57.1 in February…”





Anti-Common Core amendment passes Senate vote

“An anti-Common Core budget amendment passed a Senate vote Thursday, allowing states to opt-out of the educational standards without penalty from the federal government. The amendment would also prohibit the federal government from “mandating, incentivizing, or coercing” states into adopting Common Core or any other standards, instructional content, curricula, assessments, or instruction programs. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — all potential or declared Republican presidential candidates — voted in favor of the amendment. On the Democratic side, potential presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., voted against the amendment. Requiring only a simple majority, the amendment passed with 54 in favor and 46 against on a straight party line vote. The amendment was sponsored by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is running for governor of Louisiana, and co-sponsored by Cruz and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. Speaking in favor of the bill, Vitter said, “The U.S. Department of Education should not be able to bribe or coerce states into any particular set of standards or curriculum or testing, whether it’s Common Core or anything else. That decision should be up to states. That decision should be up to local education communities, not the federal government.” Speaking against, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said:…”



NEA president: It’s time for education companies to be transparent

“Lily Eskelsen García is the president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the United States. (It is in fact the largest union of any kind in the country.)  In this post, she looks at current education reform efforts and calls for education companies to be transparent about what they are doing and how it is affecting young people…”





House Considers Bill To Stop IRS Targeting, Fire IRS Employees Who Do

“The House Committee on Ways and Means is busy with a bill that could change the IRS. H.R. 709, the Prevent Targeting at the IRS Act, calls for firing IRS employees who take certain official actions for political purposes. The fact that such a bill has been introduced makes you wonder. Isn’t that the law already? Not really. Everyone wants to feel secure that they will be dealt with fairly by the IRS. The tax system is full of special rules, and no one can master them all. Thus, one taxpayer may be treated very differently from another who is seemingly in the same position. That probably isn’t fair, but don’t confuse this with fundamental procedural fairness and non-discrimination. That is at the heart of the IRS targeting debate, and why the issue is so terribly important to the tax system as a whole…”




“A new poll of Americans finds that after a one-time rise, the level of concern about environmental threats is continuing a fifteen-year decline. The new Gallup poll taken on March 5-8, finds that while Americans still worry about the pollution of drinking water and air quality, the level of these concerns have dropped since the poll was first taken. Gallup found that the ranking of the various environmental issues it has polled about have remained fairly stable with drinking water, pollution of lakes and rivers, and air quality topping the list while global warming ranks at the bottom. But despite taking a jump in 2014, concerns over these issues have been falling since the year 2000. With this new survey, that decline has resumed. In fact, this year’s results find worries at near record lows. Among Republicans, concern for all six polling points has fallen, in most cases by double digits. But even among Democrats worries have subsided for every question but global warming, the latter of which is up four points…”




“Wednesday in Washington at the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference, Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. ambassadors that one day soon they will be “coping” with “climate refugees” “if not now, in the not-too-distant future.” Speaking about the State Department’s major priorities Kerry listed climate change, saying, “I know a lot of people were sort of surprised, but President Obama and I could not agree more that this [climate change] is a threat to the planet itself. It is a national security threat, it is a health threat, it’s an environmental threat, it’s an economic threat. We’re spending billions upon billions—$110 billion last year—on the damages that occurred because of the increased level of major weather events around the world; droughts that are 500-year droughts, not 100-year droughts; places that have less and less water; food that is less produced where it used to be. There’ll be climate refugees that all of you will be coping with at some point—if not now, in the not-too-distant future. And the science? Ninety-seven percent of all the scientists for 20 years tell us unequivocally that this is happening, and happening now, and humans are causing it, and we have a responsibility to respond to it.”



GOP senators object to climate planning directive for federal agencies

“Six Senate Republicans blasted the Obama administration’s proposal to change how federal agencies consider climate change in environmental impact reviews. The Republicans, led by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), argued Thursday that the draft guidance from the White House is an illegal expansion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The draft from December says all federal agencies should consider the potential climate change effects of any project they approve or other action they take that requires an environmental review. For the first time, the draft would mandate that agencies consider climate in land and resource management decisions. “We are deeply disappointed that the administration is continuing down a path that is both illegitimate and irresponsible,” they said, urging the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to withdraw the proposal…”



Lawmakers unhappy with new fracking rules

“Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House have found something in common: Many have issues with the Obama administration’s new regulations requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Republicans say the new regulations, announced last week, will delay new drilling projects and take marginal lands out of production. Democratic lawmakers say the regulations are so mild that they won’t change current operating standards. The lawmakers’ complaints were aired Thursday during a House subcommittee hearing called to review the Bureau of Land Management’s budget for the coming fiscal year. Bureau Director Neil Kornze said fracking is taking place in 32 states, and the new federal regulations were aimed primarily at those states with limited or no regulation of the practice. He projected that the new regulations would increase costs by about $11,000 per well. “We think the confidence that this brings to the American public, and the protection it brings to groundwater and other resources, we believe it’s worth it,” Kornze said. The new rule will take effect in June. It also updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids used in fracking, as the drilling method is more commonly known…”



Obama to ask chemical agency chief to resign, lawmakers say

“House lawmakers say President Obama is asking the embattled chairman of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) to step down. Rafael Moure-Eraso’s departure from the agency would come after months of pressure from Congress, where members of both parties have accused him of breaking the law, being an ineffective and hostile leader and retaliating against whistleblowers. Spokesmen for Obama and Moure-Eraso did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday night. But CNN confirmed the news, citing congressional sources. Leaders of the House Oversight Committee, who have been calling for Moure-Eraso to resign since at least June, welcomed the news. “The Chemical Safety Board is in desperate need of new leadership and we are pleased that the president has recognized the importance of making key changes within the Chemical Safety Board,” the panel’s leaders, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said in a joint statement…”




“The Obama administration, ever eager to inject race into a debate in order to call conservatives racists, is coyly denying charges that the GOP-controlled Senate is holding up Loretta Lynch’s nomination for the post of attorney general because she is black. But a closer look at the remarks emanating from the administration reveal an insidious method of crying racism in a subtle manner by refusing to acknowledge the GOP’s reasons for the delay, while letting their minions in Congress make the charges. On Wednesday, “press secretary Josh Earnest was asked five times” whether the delay of the Senate vote on Lynch was due to her race. He responded, without mentioning the GOP’s stated reasons for the delay, “I think that the delay we have seen from Senate Republicans is indefensible. I think you’d have to ask them about why they think this delay is somehow in the best interest in the country. I feel very confident in telling you that it is not.”…”



Loretta Lynch to lead pack — going three White Houses back — of waiters

“Loretta Lynch is not only embroiled in “the longest confirmation process for an attorney general in three decades” — as President Obama noted in his weekly address Saturday — but she’s also one of the longest nominees-in-waiting of any Cabinet official in the past three White Houses. And when the Senate returns in mid-April after its two-week spring break, Lynch will have waited longer than any Cabinet nominee under Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton for her confirmation vote…”



DEA agents had ‘sex parties’ with prostitutes, watchdog says

“Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration reportedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by drug cartels in Colombia, according to a new inspector general report released by the Justice Department on Thursday. In addition, Colombian police officers allegedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties,” the report states. Ten DEA agents later admitted attending the parties, and some of the agents received suspensions of two to 10 days…”



FTC Denies Report That Agency Ignored Staff Recommendation on Google

“Three Federal Trade Commission members denied media reports that the agency essentially ignored a staff recommendation to sue Google during its 2012 investigation of the search giant’s practices. In a blog post, the commissioners said that “contrary to recent press reports, the commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.”


“Some of the FTC’s staff attorneys on the search investigation raised concerns about several other Google practices,” the commissioners continued. “In response, the commission obtained commitments from Google regarding certain of those practices. Over the last two years, Google has abided by those commitments.” The statement was signed by Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, Commissioner Julie Brill and Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen. The two other FTC commissioners, Joshua Wright and Terrell McSweeny, didn’t sign the statement since they weren’t at the agency when it was conducting the Google investigation….”



English Socialist Russell Brand: Like Obama, Hillary Is Corporate Tool Disguised As A Liberal



Yemen and the Collapse of Obama’s Middle East Policy

He has left the U.S. with few military options and little influence over allies or regional actors.

‘Astounding.” That was how ABC News’s Jon Karl reacted yesterday to Josh Earnest’s assertion that Yemen remains a model for counterterrorism. In fact, Karl was so astounded that he asked Earnest to clarify. The White House press secretary dutifully responded: What the United States will do and has done is work to try to support the central government, build up the capacity of local fighters, and use our own technological and military capabilities to apply pressure on the extremists there. There are a few problems with this strategy. First, Yemen’s “central government” no longer exists. Second, Yemen’s “local fighters” are divided between the Houthi rebels, al-Qaeda, and regional separatists. Third, with the CIA and Pentagon having evacuated Yemen, ground-level U.S. “military capabilities” are almost nonexistent. Moreover, Yemen is now a regional war zone. After all, a coalition of Sunni governments is now pursuing Operation “Storm of Resolve” (a title perhaps designed to repudiate President Obama’s “steady resolve” strategy) to restore Yemen’s deposed president, Mansour Hadi. To be sure, a movement of regional actors to check the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels seems positive. But there’s one problem. Beyond intelligence/logistics support, America isn’t directly involved. And that means the U.S. will have little influence over what the Sunni alliance actually does in Yemen. And that leads to another problem. Because while U.S. interests in Yemen center on restraining al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (and now ISIS), the Sunni governments are fixated on Iran. As I’ve explained before, terrified by Iran’s growing influence, the Sunni governments are rolling the dice. In turn, with Iran promising to counter the Sunni military operations, the risk of a wider military conflagration in the region is significant. America’s absence makes it far more likely that the Sunni monarchies will restore de facto alliances with Salafi-jihadist groups and pursue policies that exacerbate the sociopolitical conditions that have helped Yemen become a breeding ground for terrorism. This growing chaos only underlines the ultimate truth of American policy in the Middle East. The truth is that U.S. policy success isn’t measured solely by what actors do, but also by what they don’t do. Having essentially ceded Iraq to Iran in pursuit of his nuclear deal and ignored allies’ concerns about that deal, President Obama has greatly weakened his regional influence. And U.S. allies are detaching their policies from American interests. As I’ve explained before, with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East looming, the consequences of this detachment are potentially catastrophic. Yet, led by foreign-policy luminaries like Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, and Valerie Jarrett (a.k.a. “the Oracle”), Obama is confident that his detachment is good strategy. Correspondingly, Earnest’s comments yesterday weren’t a symptom of political spin, but rather a signifier of immense, albeit genuine, delusion. The White House genuinely believes that Middle Eastern stability is best served by American hesitation.”



Intelligence Files on U.S. Operations in Yemen Looted by Iran-Backed Rebels: Report

“Confidential files about U.S. intelligence operations were looted by Iranian-backed militiamen in Yemen, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to the Times, the secret files had been held by Yemeni security forces and contained details about U.S. informants and plans for American-backed counter-terrorism strikes. U.S. intelligence officials told the newspaper they believe Yemeni officials siding with Houthi rebels handed Iranian advisers additional files that had not been looted. The Times described the damage to U.S. intelligence in Yemen as “severe.”…”



Analyst: Afghan Holdover Could Near $6B

“With lingering questions remaining on the mission and the operational tempo for the extra troops that will now remain in Afghanistan, it is impossible to determine the exact price tag for President Barack Obama’s decision this week to halt troop withdrawals. CQ Roll Call’s Megan Scully has more on the estimate…”



AP: U.S. Considering Letting Iran Run Hundreds of Centrifuges in Underground Bunker in Exchange for Other Limits

“The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites, officials have told The Associated Press. The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work. Instead of uranium, which can be enriched to be the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, any centrifuges permitted at Fordo would be fed elements such as zinc, xenon or germanium for separating out isotopes used in medicine, industry or science, the officials said. The number of centrifuges would not be enough to produce the amount of uranium needed to produce a weapon within a year – the minimum time-frame that Washington and its negotiating partners demand. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the sensitive negotiations as the latest round of talks began between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. The negotiators are racing to meet an end-of-March deadline to reach an outline of an agreement that would grant Iran relief from international sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. The deadline for a final agreement is June 30…”






Former Obama Defense Secretary: ‘The Iranians Can’t Be Trusted’ [VIDEO]



Final make-or-break moment for Iran nuclear talks

“The United States and Iran proceeded on Thursday with a final round of talks on Iran’s nuclear future, even as they backed opposing sides in a war for control of Yemen. Meetings, the first after a week’s break, resumed between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz also attended, as did his counterpart on the Iranian side, Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and Helga Schmid, the deputy secretary general of the European Union. In an indication that the talks are heating up in the rush to a March 31 deadline, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani sent a letter to President Obama and the heads of the other five countries negotiating with Iran, explaining Iran’s stance. He announced it on his Twitter account. The National Security Council confirmed that the letter had been passed on to the U.S. negotiating team in Iran, but its contents were not released. Rouhani also spoke by phone with the leaders of all the nations involved in the negotiations, except for the United States…”






U.S. Caves to Key Iranian Demands as Nuke Deal Comes Together

Limited options for Congress as Obama seeks to bypass lawmakers



Iranian president pens letter to Obama on nuclear talks

“As negotiators work to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran by the end of the month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reached out directly to British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande Thursday. He also sent a letter to President Obama. A spokesperson for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, confirmed that Rouhani sent the letter to the president through the U.S. negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, where American negotiators are meeting with their counterparts from Iran and five other world powers. Meehan did not share any further details about the contents of the letter, but Rouhani appeared to outline its contents in a series of tweets…”



US Declassifies Document Revealing Israel’s Nuclear Program



John Boehner slams Barack Obama’s leadership on terrorism



Former Senator Chambliss: Cost of Bergdahl Prisoner Swap Was Too High