Has the GOP Lost Its Budget Soul? (Interview with Jenny Beth Martin)



The Conservative Populist Breakout

“…Grassroots activists: the unsung heroes of the populist right: An absolutely crucial (in some ways, the most important) part of the emerging conservative populist coalition is the committed citizens who spend hours directly contacting their elected representatives. A large number of Republicans in Congress are on the fence on immigration and will listen carefully to their most determined constituents. Grassroots conservatives are joined together in groups like Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Numbers USA, Heritage Action, and the Tea Party Patriots. It is not an exaggeration to report that in congressional district after congressional district, conservative activists are fighting Big Business lobbyists, not just for the future of the Republican party but, more significantly, for the future of the American constitutional regime as a whole…”



Bernie Sanders: Senate Presser Doesn’t Flout Ethics Rules

“…In 2014, the Tea Party Patriots filed a Senate Ethics Complaint against then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid alleging that he crossed the line into campaign activity by attacking conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch from the floor of the Senate…”





ObamaCare boosts hospitals’ finances, study finds

“Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare is giving a lift to hospitals’ finances, a new study from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation finds. The study finds hospitals’ charity care costs fell by 40 percent in states that expanded Medicaid, compared to just 6 percent in states that did not. As more people gained coverage through Medicaid, the need for charity care fell.

Hospital revenue from Medicaid increased 8 percent in expansion states, but actually declined in nonexpansion states, by 9 percent. “Expanded health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is having a major impact on many of the nation’s hospitals through increases in the demand for care, increased patient revenues, and lower uncompensated care costs for the uninsured,” the study finds. The report measured the changes by looking at Ascension Health, a nonprofit hospital chain that has locations in both expansion and nonexpansion states.”



ObamaCare’s Tax Shock Is Far Worse Than Predicted

“Health Reform: Providing still more evidence of how ObamaCare is “working,” most enrollees learned this year that they had to pay back a huge chunk of their insurance subsidies. So much for “affordability.” Back in January, H&R Block figured that about half of the 6.8 million people who were getting ObamaCare subsidies would owe some of the money back. Another expert reckoned the average payback at $208. That was enough to set off alarms about the “unpleasant tax surprise” these millions would face. The tax experts were too optimistic, however. H&R Block now figures that two-thirds of ObamaCare enrollees who got subsidies had to pay at least some of it back. And the average payback was $729. So roughly 5.5 million ObamaCare enrollees had to return, on average, almost a quarter of their premium subsidies. Given that these subsidies are available only to families with modest incomes, that’s got to hurt.

(H&R Block also found that a quarter of ObamaCare enrollees got an average of $425 in additional tax credits for last year.) Why all the subsidy mistakes? Because ObamaCare uses a Rube Goldberg subsidy scheme that requires enrollees to predict next year’s income. If they guess too low, their insurance subsidies will be too high. Overestimate their income and the subsidies will be too low. H&R Block also found that the average penalty paid by the uninsured last year was $178. That no doubt was also a surprise to many who thought it would be just $95.

In addition, the vast majority of filers who claimed an exemption from the individual mandate penalty picked from a list of exemptions that didn’t require verification from their local ObamaCare exchange. Unfortunately, H&R Block didn’t break down what share of the uninsured claimed an exemption instead of paying the fine. That would provide a good insight into the effectiveness of the individual mandate. But it did say more taxpayers are likely to seek those exemptions next year when filing their 2015 income taxes, since the penalty for not buying government-approved insurance goes up sharply this year. If ObamaCare’s popularity doesn’t climb much this year, it’s a good bet these unpleasant tax surprises are part of the reason….”



Employers feel the effects of the Affordable Care Act

“Now that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, businesses across the country are having to make adjustments to follow federal law and mandates. For some businesses there has not been much change to their operations. For other businesses, the changes are being felt.

“In anticipation of 2014 Affordable Care Act Requirements,” City of Dodge City Human Resources director Barb Slagle said, the City of Dodge City in October 2013 changed their policy of how they define regular part-time workers.” The policy of part-time workers at the time was defined as someone working 20-39 hours per week. “Due to requirements of the ACA,” said Slagle, “the city changed the definition of regular part-time to be split into two categories instead of one: Regular Part-Time I; a person working 20-29 hours weekly – are employees appointed for an unspecified duration to a position which requires regular attendance for a minimum of 20 working hours within a 7-day pay period but less than 30 working hours for a 7-day pay period. “Employment under this type of appointment is eligible for single health and dental, along with a pro-rated benefit package according to the number of hours worked.

“Regular Part-Time II; a person working over 30 hours weekly – employees appointed for an unspecified duration to a position which requires regular attendance for a minimum of 30 hours within a 7-day pay period but less than 40 hours for a 7-day pay period. “Employment under this type of appointment is eligible for family health and dental, along with a pro-rated benefit package according to the number of hours worked. “Regular full-time employees and regular part-time employees working over 30 hours weekly, along with their eligible dependents, may be enrolled in group life, medical and dental insurance with the City. Regular part-time employees working 20-29 hours weekly may be enrolled in single coverage in the same programs…”



Obamacare Exchanges Attracting Younger Customers, Insurers Say

“As health insurance companies tally up the second year of enrollment of individuals from public exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, they are noticing younger customers that tend to submit fewer medical claims. Several insurance companies, including Aetna AET -0.28% (AET) and Anthem (ANTM), this week during their first quarter earnings calls said those purchasing subsidized coverage may have been younger than last year. That could be a good sign for health plan profits and next year’s rate increases for everybody buying coverage on government exchanges. Some analysts say younger people are being coaxed into buying coverage since penalties jumped significantly to $325 per adult or 2% of income this year compared to $95 per adult or 1% of income for those who went without coverage last year. Having younger individuals buying coverage is generally a good thing. Insurance risk pools need younger people and the premiums they and the government are paying for helping cover the costs of older, sicker people who can trigger spikes in costs. The silver-tiered plans, which are the second-lowest priced category, have been the most popular since products were first offered last year on exchanges. Plans are ranked from most expensive with the richest benefit packages from platinum and gold to silver and, finally, to bronze. However, more of these new customers might also tend to be buying skimpier bronze plans. And that could keep profits for health insurance companies selling products on government exchanges low. “Our population has gone a little younger and it’s more bronze than we had originally forecast,” Aetna chief financial officer Shawn Guertin said of the lowest price bronze plans. Anthem, too, said the volume of its growth of new customers purchasing on exchanges was lower than anticipated but it still grew by 191,000 to 898,000 as of the end of the first quarter. “We believe our exchange strategy is playing out well overall, and our early read is that the demographics of exchange lives appear slightly younger than last year’s population,”  Anthem president and chief executive officer Joseph Swedish told analysts…”



Assurant selling or closing health insurance division

“Assurant Inc. says it will sell or shut down its health insurance division that has struggled financially since the introduction of the federal Affordable Care Act. Assurant Health, headquartered in Milwaukee, is expected to report an operating loss of up to $90 million in the first quarter following a loss of $64 million last year. The company, which reported $2 billion in revenue last year, has sold health insurance to individuals in 41 states and on 16 marketplaces set up under the Affordable Care Act. It sold health plans to small employers in 34 states. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1OIQ8Xk ) says federal health care law negated one of Assurant Health’s strengths – determining which customers are the best risk. The law bars insurers from turning away customers because of pre-existing health conditions…”



What Cloud Data Tells Us About The Affordable Care Act’s Impact

“The five years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been marked by political recrimination and legal challenges.  Proponents of the law claim the ACA provides essential coverage to millions of Americans at lower-than-expected cost.  Opponents argue that the ACA imposes excessive requirements on individuals, businesses, and insurers while adding billions of dollars in new spending. This debate has been subject to ample speculation and invective, but short on data as to how the ACA is actually affecting the provision of care.  At athenahealth , my team has been working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to fill this deficit.  Last year, we launched a nonpartisan research initiative to map the effects of the ACA on the day-to-day activities of community physicians.  We are uniquely positioned to do this objectively because athenahealth is a cloud-based provider of health care software and services for 62,000 health care providers around the country.  Data entered by our clients is incorporated into databases that we curate and analyze.  This gives us a near real-time view into national physician practice patterns and an ideal platform to measure the impact of health care reform on the day to practice of medicine…”



Health Insurers Dodge Obamacare Birth Control, Cancer Screening Rules



New York Takes Money, Runs From ObamaCare Exchange

“If ObamaCare were working as well as supporters claim, would New York state have just decided to steer more than half of its subsidized exchange enrollees to a public managed-care plan? New York is the second state after Minnesota to adopt this option included in the 2010 health reform law to establish a Basic Health Program for households up to 200% of the poverty level. Following Minnesota is a curious move, considering that the MNsure exchange is among the worst performers. Minnesota has signed up just 22% of those eligible for exchange coverage, No. 48 among the states and barely half the national average of 42%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The MNsure exchange also ranks near the bottom in its share of young-adult enrollees (24.2%) and near the top in its share of adults age 55 and up (33%).

To top it off, PreferredOne quit the exchange despite being the dominant player in 2014, hardly a vote of confidence in its future prospects…”



Fla. AG says Obama is coercing the state to expand Medicaid

“President Barack Obama is coercing Florida into expanding Medicaid, according to a new lawsuit filed by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday. Bondi announced she had filed the complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, and claimed the coercion came from the federal government withholding Low Income Pool healthcare funding. Bondi filed the suit on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott, the State of Florida and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. “The federal government is trying to do precisely what the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Constitution prohibits it from doing—forcing states to expand Medicaid by threatening to cut off funding for unrelated programs,” Bondi said. “The president, once again, is overstepping his authority, this time by trying to force Florida to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.” Bondi said the state has received LIP funding from the federal government for nearly 10 years, and believes Obama is using the funding “as a bargaining chip to force the taxpayers of Florida to accept the Medicaid expansion.” Adding the move is both wrong and unconstitutional, she says. “We will not tolerate this blatant abuse of power by the federal government,” Bondi said. “Whether to expand Medicaid is a policy decision for Florida, and the decision should ultimately be made by Floridians, through their elected state officials, not by the federal government through force and coercion.”



Florida has its ‘Keep the government out of Obamacare’ moment

“Way back in August 2009, the estimable Tim Noah took note of an annoying trend among far-right activists: “ ‘Keep your government hands off my Medicare.’ It was funny the first two or three times this angry citizen’s cry against health reform got repeated … but the joke is starting to wear thin.” Periodically, some have wondered when we might reach a “Keep your government hands off my Obamacare” moment, and today in Florida, it seems that time is upon us – or at least, it’s awfully close. The Republican-run state government in Florida has found itself in a terrible mess lately, and divisions among GOP policymakers over the Affordable Care Act have gotten a little ugly. As we talked about yesterday, the Republican-run state Senate wants to accept Medicaid expansion, bolster state finances, extend coverage to 850,000 low-income Floridians, and clear the way for another tax cut. The Republican-run state House, meanwhile, wants to oppose “Obamacare” because, well, it’s “Obamacare.” Today, Gov. Rick Scott (R) issued a press statement, sketching out his opposition to Medicaid expansion. Most of the statement is filled with boilerplate rhetoric, but Charles Gaba flagged the fun part:

“Putting the cart before the horse by trying to grab the limited-one-time-only offer of so-called ‘free’ money from Obamacare, on the other hand, will cost Florida taxpayers at least $5 billion over 10 years and could eventually result in the state having to raise taxes to afford the growth of government. Expanding Obamacare in Florida would also further tie us to a federal government that has already walked away from our Low Income Pool healthcare program. “The proposed Obamacare expansion plan would also force Floridians who currently have private insurance on the federal exchange into the government-run Medicaid program – causing them to lose the plans they liked and were told they could keep, practically overnight.” [emphasis added] It’s that part in bold that arguably matters most…”



Medicare Releases Detailed Look at Prescription-Drug Spending

Data for 2013 show that the top 100 drugs represent nearly 60% of total spending

“U.S. officials on Thursday released detailed spending data from the Medicare prescription-drug program, which provides benefits to roughly 36 million elderly and disabled Americans and has been a boon to the pharmaceutical industry since it began in 2006. The data, which cover prescription-drug claims for 2013, showed that out of nearly 3,500 drugs that were prescribed that year, the top 100 drugs by total cost represented nearly 60% of total spending. The largest drug expenditure in 2013 was for Nexium, a treatment for…”



An Obamacare debate worth having

“Repeal is not enough. Five years later, that much should be clear. The law’s ill effects — higher premiums, cancelled health plans, bureaucratic ensnarements for doctor and patient alike — have all been well documented. This spring, the American people also got to know for the first time how Obamacare has complicated the tax code — raising taxes for many, and causing confusion and headaches for everyone. But it’s long past time for the American people to get to know what conservatives would do in Obamacare’s stead. Our healthcare system did face a major threat before President Obama took office — rising costs that threaten to overwhelm middle-class families, and the federal budget as well. But while candidate Obama promised in 2008 to tackle costs, and lower premiums by $2,500 for the typical family, President Obama instead focused on expanding government-run health coverage, and missing the mark on his premium promise by over $1 trillion. So yes, by all means, let’s ask the question: “Obamacare — when have you stood up and fought against it?” But anyone who wants to ask that question should have a detailed answer to this one: “Obamacare — what would you do instead?” Because it’s not particularly courageous for conservatives simply to oppose a law that remains deeply unpopular with voters. We must tell people what we are for, and let the American people know exactly what we will do, and how we will do it…”



Jindal tells candidates: Let’s see your ObamaCare replacement plans

“Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday said he is “surprised” that he is the only 2016 Republican hopeful who has detailed his plans for replacing ObamaCare. “I will tell anyone thinking about running for president, you need to have your own detailed plan about how to replace ObamaCare,” Jindal said at a D.C. panel hosted by The Washington Examiner. “To my knowledge, I’m the only candidate — or potential candidate — that’s actually offered a detailed plan,” he said. Jindal delivered remarks shortly after publishing an op-ed, in which he challenged several 2016 frontrunners for lacking details about how they would replace the law…”



GOP warms to Obamacare — if Americans work for it

More red states are open to Medicaid expansion, but only if it’s tied to employment.

“In nearly a dozen Republican-dominated states, either the governor or conservative legislators are seeking to add work requirements to Obamacare Medicaid expansion, much like an earlier generation pushed for welfare to work. The move presents a politically acceptable way for conservative states to accept the billions of federal dollars available under Obamacare, bringing health care coverage to millions of low-income people. But to the Obama administration, a work requirement is a non-starter, an unacceptable ideological shift in the 50-year-old Medicaid program and a break with the Affordable Care Act’s mission of expanding health care coverage to all Americans. The Health and Human Services Department has rejected all requests by states to tie Medicaid to work. But the idea is catching fire among Republicans —and may well resonate on the presidential campaign trail in 2016…”



Vitter, others, debate what happens if Supreme Court invalidates Obamacare subsidies in Louisiana

“What will happen if the Supreme Court decides that residents in 34 states — such as Louisiana — that didn’t set up their own Affordable Care Act marketplaces can’t continue to get subsidies drew sharply different answers Wednesday (April 29) from supporters and opponents of the law. The forum for the “debate” was a hearing by the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and the panel’s chairman, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., left no doubt about his view. A ruling in favor of those challenging the subsidies in the 34 states, Vitter said, could lead to creation of a “more consumer-driven” system, which fosters “competition among health care providers that will improve quality and lower costs.” But Linda Blumberg, senior fellow at the liberal Urban Institute, said the consequences of the ruling against the Obama administration that Vitter and other opponents of the law are hoping for would be disastrous. “The number of uninsured in these states would increase by a total of 8.2 million people in 2016,” Blumberg said. Particularly hard hit, she said, would be Americans with health problems — i.e. pre-existing conditions — who would find their premiums skyrocket so high as to make them unaffordable…”



GOP divided as Supreme Court ruling on health care law nears

“Sen. Ron Johnson was elected to Congress in 2010 as an adamant foe of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Yet facing a Supreme Court decision that could disrupt how that law functions, the Wisconsin Republican is among many in the GOP who want Congress to react with caution. If the plaintiffs prevail in the Republican-supported case, the justices could annul federal subsidies helping around 7.7 million people afford coverage in more than 30 states. Republicans broadly agree that Congress should respond by temporarily replacing that aid, aware that abruptly ending it would anger millions of voters before next year’s presidential and congressional elections. “Neither politically nor practically can we end those” subsidies, said Johnson, who faces a potentially tough re-election next year. “So let’s just recognize those realities. Let’s set up the 2016 election as the contest, the discussion, the debate” over repealing the law. And while Republicans say they are dedicated to repealing the law, they remain divided over how to respond once the court rules. Johnson’s is among five GOP proposals — and counting — suggested so far, and none have won a consensus. “I think it needs to be part of the presidential campaign, and then the winner will be able to point to that as part of their mandate,” No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said of replacing the health care law. Meanwhile, he said, “what we all need to do is unite around one approach, if that’s at all possible, and that’s been a challenge because there are competing good ideas out there.” The divisions underscore the challenge Republicans face between satisfying conservative supporters who want the law dismantled and providing help should millions lose their ability to afford coverage. But the sheer existence of the GOP proposals could help in court because it might suggest to the justices that despite Democrats’ claims that eliminating the subsidies would spark health insurance chaos, Congress is already working on ways to avoid that…”



House panel issues subpoena in Philadelphia VA probe

“A House committee voted Thursday to issue a subpoena of the Department of Veterans Affairs for personnel and complaint files at its Philadelphia office, part of an expanding probe into mishandling of veterans’ disability and pensions claims. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs committee, said his panel has repeatedly asked for the information since last December with limited success from VA Secretary Robert McDonald and other officials as it digs into allegations of leadership misconduct and whistleblower retaliation. It was only the third time in the committee’s history that lawmakers resorted to a subpoena, a sign of continuing impatience with a department still struggling after last year’s health scandal involving the Phoenix VA medical center. The last time subpoenas were issued was last May, when the committee demanded documents in that Phoenix scandal relating to lengthy wait times and falsified records. “I have not come to this moment lightly,” Miller said. “There is no doubt that there are serious issues plaguing the operations of the Philadelphia regional office, and we can no longer afford to allow the VA to stonewall legitimate requests for information about that or about any other VA facility.” Miller said that after repeated requests the VA responded late Wednesday with three discs containing documents, but that they remained incomplete with large portions redacted. The motion for a subpoena was approved by voice vote with no objections. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., the top Democrat on the panel, did not attend because of a schedule conflict with another committee…”





DHS No. 2 regrets ‘perception’ of favoritism in visa cases

“Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers Thursday he regrets creating a perception of favoritism by getting involved in foreign investor visa cases involving prominent Democrats while head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But the department’s No. 2 official said that he stands by his decision to take part in the cases, telling lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee that he was involved in “more cases (visa) than I can count” to help ensure that the agency was doing its job. “I regret the perception my own involvement created,” Mayorkas told lawmakers. “I did my job and fulfilled my responsibility,” Mayorkas is testifying about a report from his agency’s inspector general that concluded he violated ethics rules when he intervened as head of USCIS in three foreign-investor visa cases involving prominent Democrats. Inspector General John Roth didn’t accuse Mayorkas of breaking the law when he intervened in the three cases that were part of the U.S. government’s investor-visa program, known as EB-5. But he said that Mayorkas violated agency rules that he drafted as head of USCIS. Thursday offered the first chance lawmakers have had to question Mayorkas about the 99-page report from March…”



Fury rises at Disney over use of foreign workers

“At the end of October, IT employees at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts were called, one-by-one, into conference rooms to receive notice of their layoffs. Multiple conference rooms had been set aside for this purpose, and in each room an executive read from a script informing the worker that their last day would be Jan. 30, 2015. Some workers left the rooms crying; others appeared shocked. This went on all day. As each employee received a call to go to a conference room, others in the office looked up sometimes with pained expressions. One IT worker recalls a co-worker mouthing “no” as he walked by on the way to a conference room. What follows is a story of competing narratives about the restructuring of Disney’s global IT operations of its parks and resorts division. But the focus is on the role of H-1B workers. Use of visa workers in a layoff is a public policy issue, particularly for Disney. Disney CEO Bob Iger is one of eight co-chairs of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a leading group advocating for an increase in the H-1B visa cap. Last Friday, this partnership was a sponsor of an H-1B briefing at the U.S. Capitol for congressional staffers. The briefing was closed to the press. One of the briefing documents handed out at the congressional forum made this claim: “H-1B workers complement – instead of displace – U.S. Workers.” It explains that as employers use foreign workers to fill “more technical and low-level jobs, firms are able to expand” and allow U.S. workers “to assume managerial and leadership positions.” The document was obtained by Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California at Davis and a longtime critic of the H-1B program. He posted it on his blog. Disney says its restructuring wasn’t about displacing workers, but was intended to shift more IT resources to projects involving innovation. That involves hiring many new people to fill new roles. Prior to the reorganization, 28% of Disney’s IT staff were in roles focused on new capabilities; after this reorganization, that figure was 65%, a source at Disney said. “We have restructured our global technology organization to significantly increase our cast member focus on future innovation and new capabilities, and are continuing to work with leading technical firms to maintain our existing systems as needed,” Jacquee Wahler, a Walt Disney World spokesperson, said in a statement. Disney officials did not want to comment about the situation beyond that statement. From the perspective of five laid-off Disney IT workers, all of whom agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, Disney cut well-paid and longtime staff members, some who had been previously singled out for excellence, as it shifted work to contractors. These contractors used foreign labor, mostly from India. The laid-off workers believe the primary motivation behind Disney’s action was cost-cutting. “Some of these folks were literally flown in the day before to take over the exact same job I was doing,” said one of the IT workers who lost his job. He trained his replacement and is angry over the fact he had to train someone from India “on site, in our country.”…”



Obama rejects request to investigate guest-worker program abuse

“The Obama administration this week rejected a request from Congress to investigate potential abuses in the country’s key guest-worker program for tech workers, insisting it would “be premature” to look into Southern California Edison’s use of the controversial H-1B visa to outsource jobs. A bipartisan group of senators, led by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions and Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, had asked for a probe after SCE employees testified they were booted from jobs and replaced with guest-workers. Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said his agency takes such allegations seriously — but said there isn’t enough evidence for him to look into SCE right now…”




“President Barack Obama’s administration is bringing on a new “Principal Legal Advisor” for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But she has no experience in immigration law. “I’m very pleased to announce that Gwen Keyes Fleming has been selected to be the new Principal Legal Advisor for ICE,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) general counsel Stevan E. Bunnell wrote in a letter to ICE field offices obtained by Breitbart News. “She is scheduled to start on June 1st.” Keyes Fleming is currently the chief of staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and has a lengthy legal career. “Gwen is a dynamic and accomplished senior government leader and manager, with experience at both the federal and state levels,” Bunnell wrote. She is currently the Chief of Staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where she works with the EPA Administrator and other senior agency officials to oversee the management of a federal agency with an $8 billion annual budget and more than 15,000 employees. She previously served as the presidentially appointed Regional Administrator for EPA Region 4 (based in Atlanta, Georgia), where she oversaw more than 1,000 employees across various operational and administrative divisions. Gwen also has extensive law enforcement and legal experience, having, among other things, served as the elected District Attorney and, before that, the elected Solicitor General in Decatur, Georgia. In total, Gwen has more than 17 years of experience as a law enforcement lawyer.  She is smart, energetic, and has a track record of successfully adapting to new substantive and management challenges. I have no doubt that with her exceptional talents and energy, her law enforcement and legal experience, her fresh perspective, and her proven management skills, she will be an outstanding leader of OPLA and a key member of the OGC team. But after reviewing both her publicly available LinkedIn page and her biography at the EPA, it’s clear that Keyes Fleming—who will now be leading ICE’s legal team when it comes to immigration law enforcement—has no official experience whatsoever in immigration law…”



Young immigrants in Arizona want in-state tuition

“Young immigrants who are protected from deportation under a federal program say they deserve to pay in-state tuition rates at Arizona universities. The Arizona Board of Regents will consider a proposal to reduce tuition to 150 percent of in-state tuition for people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA recipients and other immigrants who lack legal status pay out-of-state rates, which are nearly three times as much as the in-state cost. Voters in 2006 approved Proposition 300, banning students who lack legal immigration status from paying in-state tuition and from receiving any state financial aid regardless of whether they attended an Arizona high school. In-state tuition and fees are more than $10,000 annually. But students in Tucson and Phoenix say the 150 percent rate doesn’t go far enough and many still wouldn’t be able to afford the estimated $15,000 or more annually in tuition and fees. Regents plan to review the proposal at a meeting next week. “One hundred and fifty percent is not attainable. Nobody has that kind of money. It’ll open the doors for some people, but not for the majority,” Dario Andrade Mendoza said Wednesday at a rally in Tucson. A similar rally was held in Phoenix on Tuesday. Andrade Mendoza, who studies part-time at Pima Community College, said he has top grades and wants to transfer to the University of Arizona to get his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. The 20-year-old already has an associate degree from the college, but the current price to attend the university – about $30,000 a year – is impossible, he says…”



Hearing held in Nebraska lawsuit over immigrant licenses

“A judge has heard arguments in a lawsuit that three young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children have filed against the state of Nebraska, which refuses to issue them driver’s licenses. Araceli Martinez-Olguin, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Wednesday that the Department of Motor Vehicles has been unlawfully denying licenses to so-called Dreamers – young people spared from deportation and authorized to live and work in the U.S. under a federal program. She said the denials are based on a 2012 news release issued by then-Gov. Dave Heineman two days after President Barack Obama announced implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1FAlzNv ). Nebraska is the only state in the nation that denies licenses to youths who qualify for the deferred-action policy. Nebraska is singling out program recipients with its policy, Martinez-Olguin argued before a Lancaster County District judge Wednesday, because it denies driver’s licenses only to those immigrants categorized as Dreamers on federal employment authorization documents. All other immigrants with those documents are issued licenses, she said. But Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post defended the practice, saying that while those young immigrants might have a lawful presence, it’s the state’s stance that “they lack lawful status.” Post said the plaintiffs should be taking issue with the federal deferred-action policy, not Nebraska…”




“In a span of just two days, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have discovered two drug tunnels—one complete and the other in progress—spanning the California-Mexico border. According to a statement from the US Border Patrol provided to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the first tunnel stretched 230 feet from Mexicali to Calexico in southeast California, was about four feet high and four feet wide, and was equipped with lighting and ventilation. The tunnel began in a private Mexicali home, and was discovered by the Border Patrol’s search and rescue team after agents intercepted four men hauling 69 pounds of methamphetamine near the All-American Canal. The 25 vacuum-packed packages of meth were worth $694,000. Three of the men fled, but a Honduran man was apprehended with scuba gear he was using to cross the canal. The second tunnel, 220 yards in length, had lighting, as well as a rail system with a cart, according to ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack. It also started in a residence on the Mexican side of the border, this one located in Tijuana. It did not have an opening on the US side. Agents found it while examining what they thought was a sinkhole west of the San Ysidro port of entry…”



With Obama’s immigration plans blocked, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs screens hundreds — and uncovers new options

“Even as President Obama’s immigration programs are held up in a court battle, New Yorkers are getting screened to see if they can apply — and large numbers are learning they might already qualify for other visas and benefits. “That by itself is game-changing, regardless of the lawsuit,” said city Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal Thursday as she visited the 13th annual Daily News/CUNY Citizenship NOW! call-in. “Despite the injunction, we want to go forward and help families who think they might be eligible,” she said. About 54% of the nearly 600 people who recently shared their immigration situations at a legal screening hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs event learned they will potentially qualify if a court fight ends in the administration’s favor and benefits go forward for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and a greater number of immigrants who came to this country as kids. More striking, 40% of those screened learned they might be eligible for other types of relief, according to city officials….”



The forgotten cornerstone in the immigration reform debate

“Discussions of immigration reform invariably focus on border security, guest worker programs, deportation or legalization. Rarely, if ever, are the letters “EOIR” – Executive Office for Immigration Review – uttered in this debate. However, the Department of Justice’s EOIR manages the country’s immigration court system and thereby plays a pivotal role in assuring the timely processing of foreign nationals and the security of our nation and its borders.  For each case, EOIR judges interpret immigration laws and regulations, determining if foreign nationals are subject to removal from the United States or if relief is warranted. Without addressing shortfalls related to the EOIR structure and process, achieving comprehensive immigration reform will likely encounter great difficulties and perhaps even severely disadvantage the effort from the start. The four most important issues that need to be addressed at EOIR include lengthy processing times, the large number of continuances, calls for greater use of prosecutorial discretion and the severe shortage of immigration judges.  To put in perspective the time it take to process a case, consider the 2014 congressional testimony of Juan P. Osuna, the EOIR director who pointed out that the immigration courts had over 350,330 cases pending at the end of fiscal year 2013 – an increase of 23,000 over the previous fiscal year. This trend is continuing. As of February 2015, an estimated 436,370 cases were pending in the immigration courts, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. On average, these cases required approximately 597 days to adjudicate, a number that fluctuates based on court location. For example, in Los Angeles the average wait time is 778 days compared to 246 days in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Frequent continuances – the adjournment of cases until a different day or time – further exacerbate the court’s growing dockets. An analysis of a sampling of 2,000 cases by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General showed 53 percent had one or more continuances. Each adjournment adds three months to the process, and the averaged delayed case was subject to four continuances, which prolonged it by about a year. Interestingly, the majority of the continuations, or 62 percent, were requested by the foreign national, whereas only 20 percent were initiated by the court and 18 percent were requested by the Department of Homeland Security, sometimes in conjunction with the foreign national…”




“Conservative activist Richard Viguerie says divisions over immigration could spark a “civil war” within the Republican Party, leading frustrated conservatives to abandon the party if the 2016 Presidential nominee is too liberal on this crucial issue. Viguerie began the exclusive interview with Breitbart News by citing one of his main concerns — and pet peeves — regarding immigration. The “root cause of the problem,” he says, is the desperate situations immigrants face in the countries they are leaving. “Has anyone looked beyond our border?” he asked. “At some point you have to do that, but no one seems to be talking about it…no one is looking at the root causes.” As long as people continue to be oppressed and unable to support their families in these “corrupt, socialist countries,” noted Viguerie, America will continue to face an illegal immigration problem. For people to leave their home country, leave behind family members and friends, and face the incredibly dangerous journey, or send off their children alone as happened leading to the border surge last summer, is something no one would do except “out of desperation,” said Viguerie. “It doesn’t matter how high you build the fence…we’re going to have this problem.” Viguerie also said that the current immigration debates focused too much on “amnesty,” at least within the conservative movement. “To me, the most important ‘A’ word is not amnesty; the most important ‘A’ word is assimilation,” he said, because immigrants have not been assimilating into American culture the way previous generations did. People talk about America as the great “melting pot,” explained Viguerie, telling stories with pride about how their parents or grandparents came to this country. Indeed, this type of narrative is a common element for presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and potential candidate Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), all of whom tell stories about what the opportunities available in America meant for their families when their parents immigrated here…”




“Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) is expressing outrage that the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act includes an amendment encouraging the Secretary of Defense to consider allowing illegal immigrants granted executive amnesty to serve in the military. “It makes no sense to me that, at the same time the Army is downsizing and issuing pink slips to American soldiers serving in Afghanistan, there are Congressmen who help illegal aliens deprive American citizens of military service opportunities,” Brooks, who serves on House Armed Services Committee, said. Thursday the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) passed the FY 2016 NDAA. Wednesday the committee approved an amendment to the NDAA offered by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) to encourage the Defense Secretary to consider allowing illegal immigrants granted President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to serve in the military. “By statute, the Secretary can authorize the enlistment of non-citizens when it is ‘vital to the national interest.’  And enabling the best and brightest in our nation to serve in uniform, including DREAMers, is clearly ‘vital to the national interest,’” Gallego explained Wednesday introducing his amendment, according to prepared remarks. Brooks opposed the amendment. “It’s appalling that some members of the Republican conference, and frankly all members of the Democratic conference, place illegal immigrants on pedestals over American citizens, contrary to the needs and wishes of the American people,” he said. The NDAA overall passed out of committee on a vote of 60-2 Thursday…”



Koch brothers cater to Latinos, hoping for votes

“For Republicans, the road to warming the hearts and winning the votes of Latinos may begin at a Las Vegas flea market. On a recent morning, inside the Eastern Indoor Swapmeet Las Vegas, a group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers helped 250 Latinos — some of them illegal immigrants — pass the Nevada driver’s test. The LIBRE Initiative, an expanding grass-roots organization now operating in nine states, organized the four-hour test prep session to teach the rules of the road in Spanish — no tome y maneje (no drinking and driving), el límite de velocidad es sesenta y cinco millas por hora (the speed limit is 65 miles per hour). Paula Hernandez, 46, an undocumented restaurant supervisor from Mexico, was one of those sitting on folded chairs, listening. She has worked in the United States for 25 years and gave birth to three children here. She has never heard of the Koch brothers or LIBRE but said the free classes were a “great help,” particularly because nobody else is lending her a hand. “President Obama promised to do more for us, and it just didn’t happen,” she said. To Republicans, that sounds like an opportunity — even though the Koch brothers and their conservative allies spend a great deal of their money supporting Republican candidates who oppose citizenship for illegal immigrants…”



Jeb Bush woos Hispanic vote: Give 11 million illegal immigrants chance to remain in U.S.

“Immigrants already in the country illegally should be given a chance to stay, according to Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor of Florida and likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate hopeful told attendees of the National Christian Hispanic Leadership Conference in Houston Wednesday that the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. should have an opportunity to stay. “We’re a nation of immigrants,” Bush said. “This is not the time to abandon something that makes us special and unique.” Acknowledging that an immigration makeover is needed, Bush said it is more than moving to strengthening the border, referring to “11 million people that should come out from the shadows and receive earned legal status.” According to Bush, those immigrants should be required to pay taxes, work and not receive government benefits. “This country does not do well when people lurk in the shadows,” Bush said. “This country does spectacularly well when everybody can pursue their God-given abilities.”…”



Jeb Bush: Give 11 million immigrants chance to stay



Bush defiant on immigration: ‘I’m right about this’

“A feisty Jeb Bush gave a full-throated defense of his immigration stance in front of a Washington audience on Thursday, laying out the economic case that reforms he champions could return the nation to prosperity. Bush took a swipe at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely opponent against Bush for the Republican presidential nomination next year, for saying that he favors limiting legal immigration to the U.S. as a means of preserving jobs in the nation for current citizens. “I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game,” the former Florida goveror said in a question-and-answer session at the National Review Ideas Summit. “I think if we start thinking it’s a zero-sum game, we’ll start playing the game President Obama plays, and it’s just the wrong approach.” Bush argued that immigration reform could bring about an influx of new talent that would keep the U.S. in position to compete with foreign nations that have made gains in technology and other sectors.  He warned that failure to reform the immigration system could put the U.S. in the same position as Japan and some European countries with declining populations. “If you want to grow at 4 percent per year instead of 2 percent per year, you need younger, more dynamic people inside of our economy that are productive,” he said. “You can’t do it by a declining population or this pathetic productivity growth.” “America is at our best when we’re young, inspirational and dynamic, and so maybe I’m stubborn,” Bush continued. “I’m willing to listen to other views on this … but I think I’m right about this. If we’re going to grow economically, we need to figure out how to get this fixed.”…”



Jeb Bush to NR: ‘I Just Think You’re Wrong on Immigration’



Jeb Bush: Immigration Reform Could Make America ‘Emerging Country Again’



Bush forcefully defends his views on taxes, immigration



Ted Cruz: “There is no stronger advocate for legal immigration in the U.S. Senate than I am”

“Via the Weekly Standard, he’s not saying anything here that he hasn’t said before. He supports immigration reform, but not comprehensive immigration reform — only a piecemeal security-first approach will work, the same view now taken by Marco Rubio. But Cruz fans who haven’t paid attention to him on this issue may assume, incorrectly but understandably, that he naturally takes the most conservative position that an electable Republican presidential candidate can take. Not so: It’s Scott Walker(!) who’s staked out the right side of the field by demanding that American wages be a variable when considering target numbers for legal immigrants, hinting that maybe legal immigration levels need to drop rather than rise. Walker’s defenders argue that he’s not saying anything controversial there; of course you’d want to know how a certain level of immigration will affect what American workers are paid. His break from the rest of the field is a matter of emphasis, not a matter of introducing something new into the debate. Fair enough, but it’s interesting to watch Ted Cruz, Mr. True Conservative, talk about this subject at length and not provide the same emphasis. Watch below from around 44:00 to 50:00 and then again at 1:29:00 to 1:36:00. In 13 or so minutes, wages don’t come up. On the contrary, Cruz’s emphasis is on the fact that he wants more legal immigration, at least among better educated immigrants who might qualify for an H-1B visa. It’s interesting that a guy known for having his finger on the pulse of grassroots conservative/tea party sentiment isn’t following Walker’s lead but rather stressing his own relative moderation on the issue. There are obvious political reasons for that — he’s addressing the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here, and as one of the few GOP candidates who opposes a path to citizenship, he needs a way to show general-election voters that he’s no Tancredo when it comes to immigration. But it’s telling that he’s not worried about Walker getting to his right on the hottest hot-button of the GOP primaries. Maybe he figures that, between his stellar tea-party track record on all manner of policy plus Walker’s conspicuous flip-flopping on immigration (which still includes support for a path to citizenship), he can afford to place his emphasis on being pro-immigration — so long as it’s legal. Or maybe Cruz suspects that Walker’s wink-wink at reducing legal immigration levels actually isn’t a position that an “electable” Republican can take. He wouldn’t be alone in that belief, if so…”



Walker vs. Cruz on Immigration: The Debate We Need

“There’s been a lot of commentary about the politics of Scott Walker’s observation that the well-being of American workers must be considered when making immigration policy. John Fonte’s fine piece on the home page today puts it in the context of a growing conservative populist movement. One of the benefits of such a movement is that we may finally have the kind of immigration debate our country needs. Though they mean very different things, all politicians say they support border enforcement and oppose amnesty and illegal immigration. Through continual pressure by progressively better-informed voters, we’ve managed to expose the real differences among politicians on the illegal-immigration issue, especially on the core question of whether you support giving illegal liens legal status before or after the enforcement tools needed to prevent a recurrence are fully operational…”





Boehner downplays spending bill delay

“Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed confidence that House Republicans later Thursday would pass a GOP budget deal and the first of 12 annual spending bills, despite some last-minute hiccups. Action stalled earlier in the week when Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) blocked the budget agreement over objections to what he called “gimmicks” in the plan, disrupting House GOP leaders’ strategy to take up the budget before turning to appropriations bills. By the time Corker relented and signed off on the budget Wednesday afternoon, another issue had flared up over the fiscal 2016 appropriations bill funding military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Votes on the spending bill had been slated for Wednesday night but were pushed back a day over concerns about a bipartisan amendment that would scrap the use of a Pentagon war fund to pay for military construction projects. Defense hawks were opposed, but many were tied up in a late-night markup of a critical $612 billion defense policy bill, so GOP leaders decided to delay the spending-bill vote. “Our goal, obviously, was to pass the budget before we started the appropriation process, but we had a little delay in terms of getting the conference report signed,” Boehner told reporters at a news conference Thursday, referring to the Corker holdup. “All of the members of the House Armed Services Committee who were concerned about some of these amendments were in a markup on the NDAA until some 4:30 this morning,” Boehner added, “and so we just thought it was time to stop, go ahead and do the budget, and then resume the appropriations. “It was a smart move on our behalf.” GOP leaders have a lot riding on passage of the joint House-Senate 10-year budget resolution and the initial spending bills, which are regarded as the least controversial of the 12 annual appropriations measures. For days, they’ve been bragging that this will mark the first GOP budget in nearly a decade, and the earliest start to the annual appropriations process since 1974. But if the House passes the Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs bill later Thursday, it will actually tie its start to the annual appropriations process last year…”



House committee approves defense bill

“The House Armed Services Committee passed a nearly $612 billion defense policy bill early Thursday that seeks to change military retirement benefits and challenges President Barack Obama’s policies on Guantanamo Bay, Ukraine and Iraq. The vote was 60 to 2. The measure will be taken up by the full House next month. Aside from taking breaks to handle other House business and attend the Japanese prime minister’s address to a joint meeting of Congress, the committee worked amendment-by-amendment for more than 18 hours. The panel of sleepy-eyed lawmakers adjourned their marathon session at 4:39 a.m. On Guantanamo, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, tried but failed to amend the authorization to remove restrictions on transferring detainees out of the military prison for terror suspects in Cuba. The measure that passed reauthorizes a ban on transferring detainees to the United States or building detention facilities in the United States to hold them. In an affront to the White House, it also rescinds the president’s authority to unilaterally transfer detainees like he did when he exchanged five Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. And it reverts to a strong transfer policy established under the 2013 defense act, which says transfers may take place only when the defense secretary can certify that a third country will maintain control over a released detainee and prevent him from returning to the fight or threatening the U.S…”



House to adopt compromise GOP budget targeting ‘Obamacare’

“The House moved quickly Thursday on a compromise GOP budget that promises to speed repeal of the new health care law while calling for a major budget hike for the Pentagon. The non-binding agreement promises to balance the budget in nine years with more than $5 trillion in spending cuts, though Republicans make clear they aren’t interested in actually imposing controversial cuts to programs like Medicare, food stamps, Pell Grants or the traditional Medicaid program with follow-up legislation. Instead, the House-Senate budget framework increases spending in the near term by padding war accounts by almost $40 billion next year. And Senate Republicans skittish over politically dangerous cuts to Medicare blocked a House move that called for giving subsidies to future retirees to purchase health insurance on the open market instead of a guaranteed package of Medicare coverage. A House vote is set for Thursday afternoon; the Senate is slated to approve the measure next week. Under Washington’s arcane budget process, lawmakers first adopt a budget that’s essentially a visionary document and follow it up with binding legislation to set agency budgets, cut or raise taxes, and make changes to so-called mandatory programs like Medicare and food stamps, whose budgets run as if on autopilot. Republicans tout the long-term economic benefits of a balanced budget and say it’s better to tackle the long-term financial problems of programs like Medicare and Medicaid sooner rather than later…”



House approves first ’16 spending bill

“The House passed its first appropriations bill for the next fiscal year on Thursday after adopting a controversial amendment prohibiting the use of a Pentagon war fund to pay for military construction projects. Passage of the $77 billion bill funding the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and military construction, including for housing and bases, fell largely along party lines by a vote of 255-163. The legislation moved forward a day later than originally planned after GOP leaders pulled the bill from a scheduled vote on Wednesday night. Republicans said the schedule was changed so that the House could first vote on the GOP budget, which was approved just before the first spending bill. The partisan vote followed the near-unanimous support for last year’s VA spending bill. Many Democrats pledged to oppose it this time due to concerns from VA Secretary Robert McDonald that it wouldn’t adequately fund veterans’ health programs and other services. President Obama issued a veto threat against the bill, arguing in a Statement of Administration Policy that it “fails to fully fund critical priorities.” The White House also objected to a provision in the bill that prohibits the use of funds to construct or expand any facility to house Guantanamo Bay detainees in the U.S.  The bill provides a 5.6 percent increase for the VA compared to 2015 levels. However, it still offers more than $1 billion less in funding than President Obama asked for in his 2016 budget request. Republicans argued that more money for the VA wouldn’t solve the agency’s problems. “I can say with absolute certainty the VA’s problems stem from poor management, not too little money,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the VA. The legislation provides funding for the VA to address its benefits backlog, including $290 million for the paperless claims processing system and $141 million for digital scanning of health records…”



House passes budget in win for GOP

“The House on Thursday passed a Republican budget that would boost defense spending, slash social welfare programs and target ObamaCare, in what GOP leaders cast as a victory for fiscal sanity. The joint House-Senate budget, which was unveiled on Wednesday, passed by a 226-197 margin, with 14 Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition. The 14 Republicans who voted against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Rick Crawford (Ark.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), David Jolly (Fla.), Walter Jones (N.C.), John Katko (N.Y.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Ryan Zinke (Mont.). Republican leaders have pointed to the budget framework, which balances in a decade by cutting more than $5 trillion from spending, as yet more proof that an all-GOP Congress is governing effectively. The Senate is expected to pass the combined budget next week. “We are set to adopt the first balanced budget of this kind in over a decade,” House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said Thursday. “The American people can’t live on borrowed money. The federal government ought not to do so either.” But getting the joint budget to the House floor was not without complications. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) held up the framework for days, insisting the budget relied too heavily on gimmicks…”



House approves first GOP budget since Bush era

“House Republicans approved along party lines Thursday the first GOP budget agreed upon by both houses of Congress since the George W. Bush presidency. “We’ve got a lot left to do, but we’re listening to the American people and we’re getting things done,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The 10-year budget plan passed, 226-197, with all Democrats in opposition. The GOP-controlled Senate will approve it next week, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The vote follows Wednesday’s announcement that negotiators had reached a deal to reconcile House and Senate budget plans…”



Republicans pass deep spending cuts, aim at Obamacare

“Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the first joint House-Senate budget plan in six years on Thursday, a measure that aids the party’s goal of dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law this year. The Republican-authored plan would eliminate deficits by 2024 through deep cuts to social programs while increasing military spending by nearly $40 billion next year. It passed 226-197 largely on party lines. No Democrats supported it, while 14 Republicans voted against it. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass the budget plan next week. Because it is a non-binding resolution, Obama does not sign it into law. The budget seeks to slash about $5.3 trillion from domestic spending over 10 years, with deep cuts to programs that serve the poor, education and infrastructure. It contains no tax increases. Republicans hailed it as the first balanced budget plan since a brief period of U.S. surpluses from 1998 through 2001. “It will not only get Washington’s fiscal house in order but pave the way for stronger economic growth, more jobs and more opportunity,” Republican Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price said on the House floor. Democrats derided the plan as claiming a “phony” balance by calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act but maintaining tax revenue levels associated with the law. The plan also skirts “sequester” spending caps to boost military budgets by funneling $38 billion to an off-budget war operations account next year…”



House Adopts Budget Promising $5 Trillion in Spending Cuts, Speedy Repeal of Obamacare

“The House Thursday adopted a compromise GOP budget that promises to speed repeal of the President Barack Obama’s health care law while giving the Pentagon an additional $38 billion. The 226-197 vote sends the non-binding budget plan to the Senate for a vote next week. It promises to balance the budget in nine years with more than $5 trillion in spending cuts, though Republicans make clear they aren’t interested in actually imposing controversial cuts to programs like Medicare, food stamps, Pell Grants or the traditional Medicaid program with follow-up legislation…”



House adopts GOP budget targeting Obamacare

“The House Thursday adopted a compromise GOP budget that promises to speed repeal of President Obama’s health care law while giving the Pentagon an additional $38 billion next year. The 226-197 vote sends the non-binding budget plan to the Senate for a vote next week. It promises to balance the budget in nine years with more than $5 trillion in spending cuts, though Republicans make clear they aren’t interested in actually imposing controversial cuts to programs like Medicare, food stamps, Pell Grants or the traditional Medicaid program with follow-up legislation. Instead, the House-Senate budget framework increases spending in the near term by padding war accounts by almost $40 billion next year. And Senate Republicans skittish over politically dangerous cuts to Medicare blocked a House move that called for giving subsidies to future retirees to purchase health insurance on the open market instead of a guaranteed package of Medicare coverage. Under Washington’s arcane budget process, lawmakers first adopt a budget that’s essentially a visionary document and follow it up with binding legislation to set agency budgets, cut or raise taxes, and make changes to so-called mandatory programs like Medicare and food stamps, whose budgets run as if on autopilot.

Republicans tout the long-term economic benefits of a balanced budget and say it’s better to tackle the long-term financial problems of programs like Medicare and Medicaid sooner rather than later. Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said the GOP plan “will not only get Washington’s fiscal house in order but pave the way for stronger economic growth, more jobs and more opportunity. It invests in our nation’s priorities, ensures a strong national defense and saves and strengthens and protects important programs like Medicare and Social Security.” But Democrats say the GOP plan unfairly targets the middle class and the poor while leaving in place lucrative tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. “The Republican budget moves this country in exactly the wrong direction,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who Thursday announced a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. “At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, it gives huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, while making devastating cuts to education, Medicare, affordable housing and prescription drug coverage.” This year, Republicans are focused mostly on finally delivering legislation to President Obama that would repeal the bulk of his signature health care law. Successful action on Thursday’s budget plan would permit a health care repeal to advance through the Senate without threat of a Democratic filibuster. Obama is sure to veto the measure, which is scheduled to advance by late July…”



House approves compromise GOP budget that targets ObamaCare



Spending cap battle takes off in the House

“The opening shots in the battle to lift spending caps in Congress were fired on Thursday when Republican budget hawks teamed up with Democrats in the House to try to take down part of a funding bill for veterans. A band of Republicans, led by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, (R-S.C.), joined Democrats, led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), in an attempt to prevent Republicans from funneling $532 billion from an off-the-books defense fund, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations funds or OCO, to bolster the budget for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. It wasn’t the kind of bipartisanship leaders usually celebrate but it is the start of what could be a difficult series of negotiations over how to avoid tight spending caps, known as the sequester, that Congress approved nearly four years ago. Mulvaney said using budget gimmicks, like OCO, is just a way of avoiding the inevitable fight. “We could start that debate today but we’re not,” Mulvaney said. “We still see members of my own party clinging to the naïve concept that we can use the OCO budget and no one will notice. Not going to happen.” Legislation to approve funding for military construction and veterans affairs is usually an easy bipartisan sell in the House. It is tough for any member to turn down a bill that funds health care for veterans but the unrest over OCO is part of a bigger fight. Many Republicans want to return to principles laid out by former Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), last year. The so-called Ryan budget vowed to ensure the special defense funds were “not abused as a means of evading the statutory caps on discretionary spending.”…”



Democrats march to budget war

“Democrats in the White House and Congress are ramping up their attacks on the Republican budget, setting the stage for a months-long spending fight that could leave GOP leaders scrambling to avoid another government shutdown. Senate and House Republicans on Wednesday released a unified 2016 budget proposal that sketches out the party’s legislative agenda, including steep spending cuts to domestic programs, a repeal of ObamaCare and a host of other conservative goodies designed to excite their base. But, foreshadowing the difficulties facing Republican leaders, GOP Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) stalled the package for several days over concerns it won’t cut enough, and a House vote on the first spending bill implementing the budget was abruptly called off late Wednesday evening. The White House has already threatened to veto the first two Republican spending bills over concerns that they cut too much, and House Democrats have made clear that they are prepared to sustain at least one of those vetoes if necessary. Wielding control of Congress for the first time in eight years, Republicans are under heavy pressure to govern effectively. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) entered the year vowing there would be no government shutdowns or debt defaults on their watch. But the budget dynamics leave them with the difficult task of devising spending bills that can attract enough bipartisan support to pass through both chambers — and win President Obama’s signature — for the sake of avoiding a government shutdown like the one that damaged the GOP politically in 2013. Democrats won’t be providing any cover. Obama’s allies from both chambers quickly denounced the Republicans’ budget blueprint as a giveaway to corporations and other special interests at the expense of working people. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) characterized the GOP package as a “bad deal” that would “ransack America’s future.” Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) accused Republicans of “living in an ideological house of mirrors that does not reflect any reality.” And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and a likely presidential candidate, called the proposal “a national embarrassment.”  “At a time of massive wealth and income inequality,” Sanders told reporters in the Capitol, “this budget gives huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, while making devastating cuts to education, Medicare, affordable housing, prescription drug coverage and many other vital investments for the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.”…”



Republican leaders quietly try to end sequestration

“Even as Republicans Tuesday announced a balanced budget deal, top GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill pushed for eliminating spending caps with a bipartisan compromise that would ultimately increase federal spending. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said it will not be possible for the House to pass 12 spending bills this year unless Republicans and Democrats can agree to a deal that lifts the so-called sequestration imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The law limits requires a trillion-dollar reduction in the federal budget over ten years, which has meant significant reductions in annual spending to meet that goal. “The numbers we are having to appropriate to, I’m not sure we can pass these bills,” Rogers said on Tuesday as he headed into the House chamber to vote. “It’s going to be tough.” Rogers would not comment on reports that he plans to put appropriations bills on the floor that cannot pass, such as those that fund transportation and housing, or health and human services, in order to demonstrate the need for lifting the budget caps…”



Consumer Spending Ends Sluggish U.S. Quarter on Better Note

“Consumer spending climbed in March, capping a lackluster first-quarter performance that was enough to keep the U.S. economy from shrinking. Purchases rose 0.4 percent, the biggest increase since November, after a 0.2 percent February gain that was larger than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 79 economists in a Bloomberg survey called for a 0.5 percent increase. Incomes were little changed reflecting a drop in dividend payments. Economists are counting on household spending to do the heavy lifting in reviving growth after slumps in business investment and exports caused the economy to stagger at the start of 2015. An improving job market and nascent acceleration in wage increases are among reasons such a rebound is probably in the works. “What we went through over the first quarter was simply a soft patch related to the weather and port strikes,” said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets LLC in New York, and the top forecaster of consumer spending over the last two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “Ending the quarter on a pretty strong note like spending did is indicative of an economy that seems poised to rebound.” Stock-index futures trimmed earlier losses after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June fell 0.1 percent to 2,096.9 at 8:49 a.m. in New York. Projections for spending in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent. The previous month’s reading was initially reported as a 0.1 percent increase. The Bloomberg survey median called for incomes to rise 0.2 percent. The unchanged reading last month followed a 0.4 percent gain in February that was driven by a jump in dividends…”



Spring awakening: US consumer spending rose in March

“U.S. consumers boosted spending in March by the largest amount in four months, a hopeful sign that this key sector of the economy is reviving after a frigid winter. Consumer spending increased 0.4 percent in March, the strongest gain since a similar increase in November, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Spending fell in December and January before climbing a modest 0.2 percent in February. Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, should help bolster an economy that barely grew in the first quarter. The data, combined with other reports Thursday that showed rising wages and a 15-year-low in unemployment aid applications, suggest that while the economy started off slowly, it gained momentum as winter turned to spring. Today’s reports “all point to an economy that is doing a lot better than the near-stagnation in the first quarter GDP suggests,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist for Capital Economics…”



Americans Warm Up to Spending After Hard Winter

Signs that spending and the job market are thawing back out suggest the economic weakness in the first quarter was only temporary.



Applications for US unemployment aid likely fell slightly last week as layoffs stay low

“The U.S. Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Thursday. SMALL DECLINE: Economists forecast that weekly applications slipped 5,000 to 290,000 last week, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet. The weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs, and they have been below 300,000 for seven weeks. That is a historically low level that is typically consistent with solid job gains. GOOD SIGN FOR GROWTH: The economy is stumbling through a period of slower growth, but employers haven’t been spooked enough yet to cut jobs. That suggests that the growth slowdown may be temporary. The economy expanded at just a 0.2 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, the government said Wednesday. That’s the weakest showing in a year and a sharp slowdown from the 3.6 percent pace in the final six months of last year. Consumers cut back on spending and businesses sharply reduced their investment in new oil and gas drilling, in response to cheaper oil. The strong dollar also weighed on exports and widened the trade gap, slowing growth. In addition, hiring was weak in March. Employers added just 126,000 jobs that month, the fewest in 15 months and snapping a year-long streak of monthly gains above 200,000. The unemployment rate remained 5.5 percent. Yet unemployment benefit applications are at rock bottom. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, is near its lowest level in 15 years. For those with jobs, the chances of getting laid off are very low. Despite weak first-quarter growth, most economists expect consumer spending will pick up later this year. That should boost growth back to its recent trend of about 2.5 percent a year…”



Jobless claims fall to lowest level in 15 years

“First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to 262,000 for the week ending April 25, the lowest level in 15 years. The drop of 34,000 jobless claims reported by the the Department of Labor Thursday morning beat expectations and signaled strength in the jobs market, only one day after a disappointing report on economic output raised worries about the U.S. economic recovery. The 262,000 jobless claims were the fewest since April of 2000. The four-week moving average of jobless claims also fell, by 1,250 to 283,750. Fewer laid-off workers claiming unemployment insurance benefits is considered a positive sign for job growth. The Labor Department reports unemployment claims weekly, while it publishes payroll job growth and the unemployment rate on a monthly basis. The decade-plus low in unemployment claims is good news and should temper fears about the recovery raised by the disappointing jobs report for March. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in its first estimate for March that the economy added just 126,000 payroll jobs in the month. It also revised down the past two months’ gains by 69,000, raising concerns that the labor market recovery slowed down during the winter months…”



Dollar Strengthens on Robust U.S. Jobless Claims Report

Dollar has tumbled amid weak readings in April for U.S. economic data

“The dollar pared losses against the euro and strengthened against the yen Thursday after a robust jobless claims report indicated U.S. employment gains are holding despite recent downbeat economic data. The number of U.S. applicants for first-time unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in 15 years, the Labor Department said. The…”



New rules will protect retirement funds from risky alternative investments

“The comment period is now open for new rules proposed by the Obama administration that require financial professionals to put workers’ interests ahead of their own when they make recommendations for retirement savings. Modernizing the rules to take account of the growth of worker-directed retirement savings plans such as 401(k) plans and IRAs is long overdue. Loopholes in the current regulations let plan advisers and brokers consider what they will earn in higher fees and commissions when providing financial advice to workers about how to invest their retirement savings. This is especially true when workers roll over funds from a 401(k) or similar account to an IRA — making workers vulnerable to getting bad advice just at the point at when they begin to manage their retirement savings themselves. The Labor Department, which oversees these types of retirement savings accounts, is concerned that workers may not end up in the most advantageous investments and may pay excessive fees that cut into their savings, a double whammy that the White House estimates costs employees $17 billion annually. The traditional employer-sponsored defined benefit pension plans that once provided retirement income to millions of workers appear headed for extinction. Money is flowing out of them as baby boomers retire, and there are few to no new companies making these plans available to employees. Instead, an increasing share of retirement savings is in 401(k) or similar plans or in IRAs. Together, these so-called “defined contribution retirement saving plans” now account for about $11 trillion of the $24 trillion in retirement assets in the U.S. This has not gone unnoticed by alternative investment funds — hedge funds and private equity funds — which are interested in getting in on the action. As BNY Mellon’s Pershing Prime Services put it in a recent piece on the future of alternative investment funds, “The retirement market may be the next frontier. It represents a large and growing pool of assets driven by the importance of retirement saving across multiple investment segments.” The opportunity, as Pershing sees it, is for alternative investment funds to create products suitable for packaging in diversified investment portfolios that independent and registered financial advisors can promote to 401(k) plans and to individuals with IRAs. These would presumably be more liquid than commitments made to these funds by their limited partners and could be embedded in so-called target date funds that are already popular with 401(k) plan investors. Instead of choosing individual investments and creating a portfolio, workers are able to choose a single fund that has a diversified portfolio of investments embedded in it. The goal is to have more risky alternative investment products included in such funds. Alternative investment products may be new and unfamiliar to workers saving for retirement now, but Pershing anticipates that over time they will become as familiar and pervasive in packaged investment portfolios as mutual funds…”



GOP chairmen: Immigration legislation not in trade bill

“Top House Republicans offered public assurances Thursday that an upcoming “fast track” trade authority bill will not be a vehicle for immigration legislation — a fear stoked mainly in online conservative forums in recent weeks. “Absolutely not. It’s the latest urban legend,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Thursday at a forum hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “It is absolutely false. There is no way we would sign off on putting immigration legislation or immigration reform in (trade promotion authority) or the trade agreement. We are unified in that as Republicans.” Congress is working on renewing “fast track” trade negotiating authority that would give the president enhanced authority to finalize negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending 12-nation pact with Asia-Pacific countries…”



Paul Ryan talks flat tax, abolishing the IRS

“House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., talked about the prospects for a flat tax Thursday. “I’ve always been a flat taxer,” Ryan said at the conservative National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit. “I think the flat tax, that direction is the best way to go in my personal opinion.” Ryan added that his goal was to get a new president and pass comprehensive tax reform in the next session of Congress. When asked if he wanted to abolish the IRS, Ryan said “In a flat tax you don’t abolish the Internal Revenue Service. I’ve never seen a flat tax bill that does abolish the IRS.” Ryan said he would have wanted to make the tax code simple enough that people don’t have to feel threatened by the IRS. “[The tax code] gives them so much discretion and subjectivity. Let’s take that away so that we have a tax enforcement or collection agency that is objective.” He added that the IRS shouldn’t be in the middle of Americans’ lives, for example, telling them what health insurance to get…”



Obama to travel to Oregon to push trade agenda

“President Obama will hit the road next week to push his trade agenda during a visit to Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Obama will urge Congress to pass a trade promotion authority (TPA) bill, an important step in finalizing a sweeping trade agreement with Pacific nations that is at the top of his second-term agenda. In his speech next Friday, the president will discuss “how workers will benefit from progressive, high-standards trade agreements that would open up new markets and support high-quality jobs,” a White House official said. Oregon is the home state of Sen. Ron Wyden (D), who co-authored an Obama-backed bipartisan TPA bill with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The president is ramping up his sales pitch on trade to skeptical Democrats, who believe new trade agreements would ship American jobs overseas. Democrats in the House are threatening to sink the TPA bill, which would prevent Congress from amending any trade deals and allow lawmakers only to take an up-or-down vote. Critics believe the measure cedes too much authority to the president and have expressed concerns that the administration has not been transparent in sharing details of new trade agreements. But the administration says the bill is essential to strengthening the United States’s negotiating position in finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would include a dozen nations in the Asia-Pacific region…”



Obama meets with Dems to push trade plan

“A group of House Democrats sat down with President Obama for two hours Thursday and hashed out their lingering concerns about global trade.  About 30 members of the New Democrat Coalition sat around a table in the White House’s Cabinet Room and peppered Obama with questions ranging from environmental and labor protections to investor-state dispute issues.  Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), one of the few Democratic proponents of the president’s trade agenda, called the meeting a “tour de force” where “we had a dialogue with the president.” “He answered every single question. … It was very compelling, he was on his game,” Connolly said. “He made a strong and cogent case for the TPA and the TPP he rebutted every single critique, respectfully, as the lawyer and professor he is.” Connolly said the president vowed that if any of the members faced political challenges, he would be there to support them in their districts.  “That commitment matters, and what he said, you could see for some members that it was very important to hear that,” he said. The promises of campaign help were so impassioned the “we started getting out our appointment calendars,” Connolly said. Last week, the House and Senate trade committees each approved trade promotion authority, or fast-track, bills that are expected to get floor time in May. Fast-track would speed trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress on an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed…”



White House rips Boehner on trade

“The White House fired back at Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday after he suggested that President Obama isn’t doing enough to rally Democrats behind his trade agenda. White House spokesman Josh Earnest questioned why GOP leaders, who control the largest House majority since the Hoover administration, can’t marshal their own troops on an issue traditionally championed by Republicans. “First, let me point out the irony of Republicans campaigning very aggressively to win a majority of both houses of Congress so that they could advance their policy agenda, and three months later, turning around to all of you asking what the president is going to do to get their work done,” Earnest told reporters.  “Yes, it is also part of the president’s agenda, which is why he is going to do his part to make his case to the American public and to Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill” on why trade deals are in the best interest of the United States, Earnest added. Republicans have said that to get one of the president’s signature issues through Congress he must rally enough Democrats to back Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or fast-track, that will help streamline passage of trade deals that reach Capitol Hill, including the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership…”



WH: ‘Ironic’ that GOP is asking Obama to help pass trade bills

“The White House reacted to news that President Obama can’t rely on Republicans to pass trade promotion authority by chiding Republicans for turning to him to pass one of their agenda items. White House press secretary Josh Earnest pointed out what he called the “irony” of Republicans, who worked hard to win back the Senate majority, asking the president for help in “getting their work done.” Obama is meeting with a group of centrist New Democrats today at the White House to help garner their support for the fast-track trade authority. “[He’s] going to do his part to make a very aggressive case,” Earnest told reporters Thursday at his daily press briefing. He will stress that the “agreement that he’s trying to broker is clearly in the best interests of the United States and our workers.” But he noted that the White House is “under no illusions about changing every single mind on Capitol Hill in both parties.”…”



Fast Track the TPP or Risk Anarchy

“Thomas Friedman of The New York Times agrees with me on the Trans-Pacific Partnership I discussed last week. I say, let Obama fast-track this deal like Bain Capital would – aggressively and with an end in mind. Friedman thinks so too. I see not only better global supply chain performance, but also a rule of law governing the environmental, labour and public health impacts of our geometrically evolving business world. He sees nothing less than a bulwark against anarchy. The post-industrial world is here, but we’re still playing by rules that made sense in 1955. Meltdown is possible, but so is epiphany…”



Republicans clash over U.S. Export Import Bank plan

“Two top Republicans clashed over the future of the U.S. Export Import Bank on Thursday with the speaker of the House of Representatives warning time is running out to decide whether to renew the bank’s charter, close it or reform it. Republican Speaker John Boehner said he would support any plan to reform or wind down the trade finance agency that can win approval from the committee with jurisdiction over the bank, but he said he is concerned about job losses if the bank closes. “Listen, I’d support any plan that the chairman can get through his committee, whether it would reform the bank, wind it down,” Boehner said. “But there are thousands of jobs on the line that would disappear pretty quickly if the Ex-Im Bank were to disappear.” Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee and wants the bank to close when its charter expires on June 30, signaled no plans to take up any bill to renew the agency. A majority of committee Republicans did not support reauthorization, he told reporters. The panel has 34 Republicans and 26 Democrats. “I know of neither Republican nor Democrat chairman of the House Financial Services Committee that has ever put forth a bill that was not supported by a majority of the majority.” Hensarling told a committee hearing the bank cost jobs by supporting the overseas buyers of U.S. goods who in some cases compete with local firms, such as foreign airlines who use Ex-Im financing to buy Boeing Co. (BA.N) wide-body aircraft…”



Ex-Im: Welfare for Commodity Traders and China

“An obscure taxpayer-backed government bank funneled $113 million in aid to an even more obscure commodities trading company. This isn’t some insidious plot revealed in the opening scene of a John Grisham novel. Rather, it is the widely accepted practice of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. At the heart of this story is, almost predictably, a Swiss company. Glencore claims to be “one of the world’s largest global diversified natural resource companies.” The company’s U.S. presence is “modest” according to Ken Silverstein, who wrote the book The Secret World of Oil; however, its Stamford, Connecticut office “helps run” the company’s massive oil and gas trading activities. Why would those activities be eligible for export assistance from the Ex-Im Bank? It is hard to know for sure because publicly available information about the bank’s activities is sparse. According to Ex-Im’s website, the $113 million in assistance was simply for “banking and finance.” So what exactly were Glencore’s 325 traders exporting? It “involves not the fabrication of products with a punch press and other shop equipment,” wrote the Greenwich Time, “but rather the movement of commodities across borders at the punch of a computer key.” That same year Glencore produced $233 billion in revenue, making it one of ten largest companies in the world. Exporting American commodities isn’t Glencore’s entire business model, though. Quoting a seasoned commodities trader, Silverstein explains China’s manufacturing base “could not exist without Glencore, because it is dependent on raw material imports, many of which Glencore plays a major role in trading and producing.” While that may be a bit of hyperbole, it is also ironic considering proponents of the Ex-Im Bank frequently invoke the specter of “China Inc.” to justify the continuation of taxpayer-backed export subsidies. Last October, bank chairman Fred Hochberg told the Financial Times “Even a large business cannot compete against the second-largest economic power in the world.” But, if you need more evidence this isn’t really about combating China’s aggressive use of export subsidies, consider that America’s credit export agency actually subsidizes state-run Air China and even the Export-Import Bank of China. That’s right, our Ex-Im works with their Ex-Im to, supposedly, create jobs in America. Some policymakers may be able to overlook the blatant corporate welfare to foreign-owned commodities traders and Chinese-run industries if the Export-Import Bank actually created jobs. However, even proponents of the bank, like American Action Forum, acknowledge, “Export financing merely redistributes jobs across the economy rather than create more overall jobs.”…”



Obama And Democrats Raise Their Minimum Wage Proposal To $12

“With fast-food workers going on strike and local governments raising their wage floors, Democrats in Congress have decided their stalled proposal to hike the minimum from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour needs to be revised. On Thursday, they introduced a bill that would boost it to $12 per hour by 2020. The new bill is no more likely than its predecessor to garner support from congressional Republicans, who control both chambers and have so far staunchly opposed raising the federal wage floor. But the proposal made Thursday shows Democrats’ desire to put the wage issue front and center heading into the 2016 election season, and their willingness to wager that Americans will like the idea of a more robust minimum wage hike. “This is a key piece of our work to grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who introduced the bill in the Senate, said at a press conference Thursday. “The truth is, for most Americans, wages have been stagnant for decades.”…”



Top Dems line up behind $12 minimum wage

“The Obama administration and congressional Democrats are making a new push to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Top Democrats are getting behind the Raise the Wage Act introduced Thursday, which they say would increase the federal minimum wage for nearly 38 million workers. The push goes beyond a previous proposal to lift the wage to $10.10 over three years. That effort, championed by then-Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in the last Congress, stalled amid fierce opposition from Republicans. But Democrats say they are resolved to keep pressing for an increase, even now that the GOP controls both chambers of Congress. “Let’s make sure hard work pays off,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a sponsor of the bill. “Right now, the minimum wage can leave a family in poverty,” she told a group of reporters. “Even after working full time, and even without taking a single day off.” Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are also putting their weight behind the effort to raise the minimum wage…”



Evil Capitalist Pizza Shop Shuts Down Rather Than Pay Seattle’s $15/Hour Minimum Wage

“More money is better than less money. Everybody knows that. Therefore, we must force businesses to pay their employees a certain amount of money, or none at all. That way, everybody wins. Yay. KCPQ, Tacoma: “It may be one of the first casualties of Seattle’s new minimum wage law. The owner of Z Pizza says she’s being forced to close her doors, because she can’t afford the higher labor costs… Ritu Shah Burnham doesn’t want to go out of business, but says she can’t afford the city’s mandated wage hikes. “I’ve let one person go since April 1, I’ve cut hours since April 1, I’ve taken them myself because I don’t pay myself,” she says. “I’ve also raised my prices a little bit, there’s no other way to do it.”



How The Millennial Generation Could Affect The Economy Over The Next Five Years

“This year, Millennials are expected to surpass Boomers as the largest living American generation, and soon, their effects on the economy will be felt in even greater measure, according a new Standard & Poor’s report released Wednesday. The report by Beth Ann Bovino, Standard & Poor’s U.S. chief economist, noted that this generation, born from 1981 to 1997, numbers 80 million and that they spend an annual $600 billion. By 2020, they could account for $1.4 trillion in spending, or 30% of total retail sales. Surprisingly though, this generation has conservative spending habits similar to those of the Silent Generation, which grew up during and after the Great Generation. What distinguishes Millennials from other generations is the historic student loan debt that the generation carries, which in turn has meant that Millennials (and some of Gen X) have had less access to full-time jobs and wealth than previous cohorts. Bovine looked at what this generation might do over the next five years to see how they might affect the U.S. economy. If the economy continues to strengthen, as Standard & Poor’s projects, there’s potential that Millennials could start making big-ticket purchases that contribute to economic growth. On the other hand, their student loan debt could keep them from spending and not buying houses, costing the economy. “Millennials are going to be making up half the workforce in just five years. They’re already the largest cohort of American workers,” said Bovino, to explain the importance of this generation. That’s why some of their characteristics — marrying and having children late, renting instead of buying a home, preferring to live in cities and not own cars — could disrupt the U.S. economy. “Two thirds of GDP is consumption, so we rely on people spending money,” says Bovino…”





Jeb Bush: Parents should ‘rethink’ opting out of Common Core tests

“Potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush advised parents against opting out of Common Core tests Thursday, saying not taking the tests would make it harder for students to graduate high school and go to college. “If [opting out is] going to make it harder for you to graduate, it’s going to make you harder to get into college, I think you need to rethink [opting out],” Bush said when asked what he would say to a parent who was considering opting their child out of Common Core tests. “The idea that you’re opting out of a test because it’s stressful — what’s the world like?” Bush’s remarks came during an interview at the conservative National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C. Bush said Common Core was not to blame for the standardized tests, and that schools had to give standardized tests well before Common Core was in place. This spring, tens of thousands of parents across the country have opted out of Common Core-aligned standardized tests…”






“Let’s have another slow clap of appreciation for the Obama Administration’s slow-walking scandal control protocols. By dragging historic scandals out for years, the Administration has time and again slipped devastating revelations past the short attention spans of the public… and the even shorter attention spans of media loyalists who can’t wait to declare each damaging story “old news.” Thanks to this tactic, revelations that would have been bombshells a few months ago become footnotes, ground into dust by the relentless turning of the news-cycle millstone.  For example, the latest revelations in the IRS scandal give us abundant cause to doubt the veracity of statements made to Congress by Internal Revenue Service officials, notably including the current commissioner, John Koskinen. A trove of emails from former Tax Exempt Organizations chief Lois Lerner, the key figure in the jaw-dropping abuse of power against political opponents of the Democrat Party, has suddenly been discovered, months after Koskinen assured us they were lost forever in one of the many computer crashes that mysteriously befell Lerner and other IRS officials.  From The Hill:…”



IRS $20 Million Response To Latest Pile of Lois Lerner Emails Is Worrisome

“Lois Lerner’s latest lost and found hoard of 6,400 newly discovered emails may end up not showing much. The IRS didn’t find them. A watchdog did. Maybe they will underscore the targeting and Ms. Lerner’s political chops honed at the Federal Election Commission. But at least the Treasury Inspector General found the 6,400 additional emails. A little more than 10% (650) are tied to 2010 and 2011. The rest date to 2012. But the IRS statement in response to this latest revelation is, well, a little disturbing: We welcome the Inspector General’s recovery of these Lois Lerner emails. This is an encouraging development that will help resolve remaining questions and dispel uncertainty surrounding the emails. The IRS has been committed to cooperating fully with the investigations. We understand that, during the course of the past 10 months, the Inspector General found about 650 emails from the period affected by the hard-drive crash. It’s important to note that last summer, the IRS produced 24,000 emails from that period. The IRS will continue to cooperate with the Inspector General and the congressional committees to complete work in this area, and we look forward to the results to determine what additional steps the IRS can take to ensure that we continue to improve our processes. It’s important to note that the IRS has produced to Congress more than 1.3 million pages of documents related to the investigation, including more than 147,000 emails. Total estimated cost of just the IRS portion is at least $20 million…”



9 tea party groups still waiting on IRS approval, IG report says

“Nine tea party groups were still awaiting IRS approval for nonprofit status nearly two years after the political targeting program was exposed, the inspector general said in a report Thursday, adding that the tax agency has taken major steps to clean up its act. IRS employees no longer judge groups based on political leanings of their names and has come up with an approved set of questions that mean its agents can no longer ask the types of intrusive questions that landed the agency in trouble, the investigators said in their update report. But the IRS still doesn’t have a good grasp of how to evaluate how much politicking is too much for nonprofit groups, and the agency is still slow to train its employees, Inspector General J. Russell George said in the new report. That means anyone who doesn’t agree to the IRS’s optional expedited processing faces a subjective judgment by agency employees, Mr. George said. Overall, the report amounted to a fairly clean bill of health for the beleaguered agency. “The IRS has taken significant actions,” Mr. George said. “It has eliminated the selection of potential political cases based on names and policy positions, expedited the processing of Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization applications, and eliminated unnecessary information requests.” In a May 2013 report, Mr. George revealed that the IRS had singled out conservative and tea party groups for special scrutiny and then asked intrusive questions about their activities…”



IRS no longer targeting groups, fed watchdog says

“The government watchdog investigating the IRS said the agency has made “significant” progress in cleaning up the problems that led to improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups. Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration said the IRS is no longer asking inappropriate questions of groups seeking a tax exemption, and is moving much more quickly to approve groups seeking 501(c)(4) status. The Treasury inspector general first detailed the IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups in May 2013, through the agency’s use of so-called Be on the Lookout Lists, or BOLOs. Lois Lerner, the former agency official at the center of the controversy, apologized for the IRS’s actions that May, setting off congressional and Justice Department investigations that remain largely unfinished almost two years later. John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, has said for months that the agency had worked to implement the inspector general’s recommendations. On Thursday, the agency said it appreciated the watchdog’s “acknowledgement of the significant actions we took.”



IG: IRS takes significant steps to stop tea party targeting

“The IRS has taken “significant actions” to stop agents from targeting political groups based on their names and policy positions, according to a report issued Thursday by the government watchdog who disclosed the inappropriate activity two years ago. The agency’s inspector general says the IRS is doing a better job processing applications for tax-exempt status. His report said the IRS has eliminated intrusive, unnecessary questions, and has cleared a backlog of applications that had languished for months and years. The report is a follow-up to the inspector general’s 2013 audit, which said agents had inappropriately singled out tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections. The 2013 audit blamed poor management. It ignited a firestorm that led to numerous investigations and the replacement of much of the agency’s top management. “The IRS has taken significant actions in response to the recommendations made in” the 2013 report, said J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. The 2013 audit found that agents were singling out groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in the name. They also singled out groups that talked about “limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” the audit said. These terms appeared on “be on the lookout” lists that agents used when scrutinizing applications for tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) (4) of the federal tax code, which is for social welfare groups.”



IRS May Be Trying to Stop Tax Exemption of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS

“The IRS may be trying to block the tax exemption of one of the largest politically active nonprofit groups, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, an organization founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove. The oblique disclosure can be found between the lines of an inspector general’s report released on Thursday, which said that 149 of 160 stalled applications from nonprofits with potential ties to politics have been resolved. Of the other 11, six are in litigation with the IRS — which Crossroads isn’t — and five have received proposed denial letters or are appealing. That suggests that the Internal Revenue Service has sent Crossroads a denial letter. Crossroads is one of the most politically involved nonprofit groups, and its bid for tax exemption is being closely watched by campaign-finance lawyers…”



McConnell has new argument for EPA climate rule

“Opponents of the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants have unearthed what they believe to be a significant new legal argument against the regulation. They say that the Clean Air Act restricts states from entering into multi-state agreements to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule, unless Congress approves each agreement. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brought up the argument at a Wednesday congressional hearing with EPA head Gina McCarthy, saying Section 102(c) of the Clean Air Act will hamper the EPA’s ability to encourage states to enter into multi-state agreements. EPA officials, including McCarthy, have said that multi-state agreements will allow states to comply with the rule at a lower cost while achieving better emissions cuts than they could alone. They’ve called it a “significant” part of their strategy to reduce emissions. But McConnell argues that the multi-state agreements would require congressional consent — and that’s not coming…”



Senators target Obama’s water rule

“A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Thursday to force the Obama administration to try again in its regulatory effort to define the federal government’s power over streams, wetlands and other waterways. The legislative effort goes further than previous Republican-led attempts to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Waters of the United States rule, giving the agency specific instructions and a deadline for how it should write a new rule. Republicans and centrist Democrats backing the bill by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said it would strike the right balance in defining the federal government’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. “The legislation basically gives the EPA the direction that I believe it needs to write a reasonable rule that will truly protect America’s navigable waterways and adjacent wetlands,” Barrasso said at a Thursday news conference unveiling the bill. “By striking the right balance, we’re going to keep our waterways safe and pristine, and allow them to be used as natural resources,” he said. Barrasso was joined by Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). A staffer for Heitkamp said the bill was the result of months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. The EPA’s rule, which it plans to make final this spring, aims to establish the agency’s authority after two Supreme Court cases made it unclear which waterways are covered. The Army Corps of Engineers, which is also responsible for the Clean Water Act, is working with the EPA. While the agencies say the rule would not significantly add to their jurisdiction, Republicans, some Democrats, farmers and other businesses have called it a massive land grab that would include ditches, puddles, isolated ponds and dry creek beds. Landowners could have to get permits for a variety of activities if their waters are under EPA authority. “There is not one single federal regulation in the entire country that has caused more concern in the state of North Dakota than this Waters of the United States proposed regulation,” Heitkamp said. “There is incredible uncertainty out there.”



Obama to sign bill to boost energy efficiency in buildings

“President Barack Obama is signing long-delayed legislation to boost energy efficiency in buildings. Obama plans to sign the bill into law in the Oval Office Thursday afternoon. It aims to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants and homes. The measure was widely popular in both parties. But it was defeated last year after becoming enmeshed in a partisan fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The bill exempts some energy-efficient water heaters from pending Energy Department rules. It also requires federal agencies to develop best practices to increase energy efficiency in federal buildings, among other provisions…”



Obama signs energy efficiency bill into law



Oklahoma takes aim at climate plan

“Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and the state Legislature are taking a stand against Obama administration climate rules.  Fallin signed an executive order this week saying her state will not comply with a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule setting targets for carbon emission reduction at power plants. Republicans have said the plan is an unfair expansion of executive power. Fallin’s order prohibits the state’s Department of Environmental Quality from writing a strategy to reduce carbon emissions under the Clean Power Plan. It directs the state’s attorney general, himself an opponent of the plan, to analyze the legality of the climate rule and “take such action as is necessary to enforce the rights of the state of Oklahoma and its citizens from such federal actions as may impact the freedoms of its people.” “As Governor, I will not submit [a plan] to ensure Oklahoma’s compliance with such a clear overreach of executive authority,” Fallin’s order said.  Oklahoma is the first state to definitely say it will not comply with the rule. States that don’t write their own climate plans will receive implementation guidelines from the federal government. Declining to comply with the rule is a strategy being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has questioned the legality of the climate rule. But the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club slammed the decision as “adding more bureaucratic roadblocks” to better climate protections. “Without a state implementation plan, Governor Fallin will force the EPA to swoop in and create a federal solution for our state,” Oklahoma Sierra Club Director Johnson Bridgewater told The Norman Transcript. “And while Oklahoma and some other states are pushing back against the EPA, it is important to note that many states are fully backing what the EPA is doing at the state level.”…”



Blacks, Hispanics reject Obama climate change agenda over concerns about poor

Minority leaders worry EPA carbon regulations will drive up utility bills, stifle opportunity

“The very same voters who helped put Barack Obama in the White House increasingly are turning against the president’s climate change agenda, with influential black and Hispanic leaders warning that stiff regulations to limit carbon emissions will have a devastating effect on the poor and will further stifle economic opportunity for minorities. Some of Mr. Obama’s most ardent supporters say they simply cannot go along with the administration’s increasingly ambitious program to combat global warming. They argue that, contrary to the Environmental Protection Agency’s claims, the carbon regulations will drive up utility bills for poor households and will stunt economic growth in low-income areas. The mounting wave of criticism shows that for many minority leaders who backed the president’s election bids and support him on a host of other issues, Mr. Obama’s environmental agenda runs counter to their chief concern: protecting the poor and ensuring that they can afford to keep their lights on…”



House panel says EPA officials caught watching porn, harassing women must be fired

“Environmental Protection Agency officials need to be fired for sexual misconduct, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform charged in a hearing Thursday. One government official was promoted, rather than fired, despite at least 17 females employees’ sexual harassment claims beginning as early as 2009. Another two were caught watching porn and were put on paid leave. “It is well past time someone is held accountable for these management failings,” said Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “We have a duty and obligation to the American taxpayer to fire the people who are abusing the system.” Elijah Cummings, the committee’s top Democrat, was equally critical. “There is no doubt that these employees should have been fired,” the Maryland congressman said. Chaffetz pointed out that environmental agency policy requires employees to be fired after two sexual harassment claims…”




“California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Wednesday mandating a statewide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent under 1990 levels by 2030, an ambitious addition to the state’s already-tough emissions cutback targets. California already has the most rigid climate change laws in the country. State law requires that California cut its emissions 80 percent over 1990 levels by 2050, according to The New York Times. In 2006, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which served as a stepping-stone for the larger state target by mandating a cut to 1990 levels by 2020, a goal that the state is already “on track to meet or exceed,” according to the governor’s office. Brown’s new order is an effort to ensure the state’s long-term target is met. “With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached–for this generation and generations to come,” the governor said in a statement accompanying the executive order. Brown has made the fight against climate change a key feature of his tenure as governor and a central policy goal for California. In his State of the State address in January, Brown called for an increase in renewable electricity sources from one-third to fifty percent within 15 years and a doubling of buildings’ efficiency in the same time frame. “We must demonstrate that reducing carbon is compatible with an abundant economy and human well-being,” Brown said at the time…”



New regs for Friday: Homeless veterans, women-owned small businesses, debt collection



Obama nominates Gayle Smith to head Agency for International Development

“President Obama has tapped veteran development expert and Africa hand Gayle Smith, a co-founder of the anti-genocide Enough Project, to head the Agency for International Development (AID), the White House announced Thursday. Smith, now senior director for development and democracy on the White House National Security Council, also served on that council as senior director for African Affairs in the Clinton administration and then worked as a top AID adviser. Before that, Smith lived and worked in Africa for nearly 20 years as a freelance journalist and for relief and development organizations. Before joining the Obama administration, she worked at the Center for American Progress. If confirmed by the Senate, Smith would succeed Rajiv (Raj) Shah, who headed AID for five years before stepping down earlier this year…”



Dems: Feds have authority to force super-PAC disclosure

“The Democratic sponsor of a House bill to bring more transparency to campaign ads is pressing the Federal Communications Commission to act on its own if the legislation stalls.  Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who introduced the bill Thursday, said it is critical for the FCC to use the power it already has.   “I would hope that this bill would get attention, and if it is not successful — this legislation — I would hope the FCC would look carefully at what it can do in its existing authority to provide transparency,” he told FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was testifying at a committee hearing on an unrelated topic. The The Keep Our Campaigns Honest (KOCH) Act, named after GOP mega-donors Charles and David Koch, is unlikely to advance in Congress, where Republicans control both chambers. That point was highlighted by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) who called Democrats hypocritical for knocking private citizens like the Koch brothers while sparing Wheeler, a public official.  “So I guess it is better to attack a private citizen that goes about his business trying to make money than to attack someone who has entered public life,” he said, alluding to Democrats who had previously defended Wheeler against GOP attacks during the hearing…”




“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce purports to be a Republican-leaning organization, but it actually ranked Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid better than Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in its new scorecard for 2014 votes. Last year, the Chamber gave Sessions a 57 percent ranking. He  voted four times with the big business group, three times against and once didn’t have a recorded vote. Reid, on the other hand, voted with the Chamber five times and against it three times, earning a 63 percent rating. “Some may be surprised by the scores, but when you look at the bills the Chamber prioritized you can understand why a solid conservative like Jeff Sessions would perform poorly,” Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler, whose organization does its own scorecards, tells Breitbart News. He says the Chamber’s scorecard “is littered with special interest programs and big government spending.” Sessions has gone head-to-head with both Reid and the Chamber of Commerce on numerous occasions, especially on immigration policy. They both preach that increasing the number of workers allowed into America through the immigration system is good for the economy, while Sessions prefers to speak up for struggling American citizens. “There was one group of people not referenced when Majority Leader Reid and Sen. Schumer talked earlier this morning,” Sessions said on the Senate floor last year, while arguing against Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) support for open-borders immigration policies. “You know who it was? Completely omitted was the American worker. That’s who’s not being discussed in this debate.” “You bring in 30 million people in the next 10 years—as this bill [the Gang of Eight bill] would do—tripling the number that would normally be given legal status in America and it will bring down down the per-person wealth and it will bring down wages,” Sessions added…”



Boehner on Hillary emails: ‘These things just don’t go away’

“House Speaker John Boehner wants the Benghazi Committee to continue its effort to find the Hillary Clinton emails that Clinton’s lawyers say have been destroyed. “They deleted all the Lois Lerner emails, but they keep finding them,” Boehner told a group of conservative journalists Thursday afternoon. “You know, these things just don’t go away. So I don’t know where the server is, I don’t know what condition it’s in, I have no idea, but the American people deserve the facts. That’s all. Just tell us what the facts are.” Boehner does not want the House itself to search Clinton’s email system. “We have no interest in physically having the server,” he explained. “We think the Inspector General at the State Department is the right entity to look at the server, determine what’s private, what’s public and what’s mixed. They’ve got the ability to do that.” Boehner’s words suggested that House leaders were surprised by Clinton’s choice to delete emails and then tell investigators that there was nothing at all on her secret email servers. “If you look at the resolution that set up the Benghazi Committee, they have the subpoena power to go after lots of documents,” Boehner said. “But the House has never subpoenaed a thing since the Nixon tapes. So it just wasn’t in the resolution.”…”



Is Donald Trump serious about running for president?

“We’ve seen this show before: real estate developer and reality television star Donald Trump expresses interest in a presidential bid. He flies around the country inflaming the conservative faithful. He talks himself up and lobs a few bombs at other contenders. And he ultimately decides not to run because he’s just that committed to his day job. In each of the last four presidential cycles, Trump floated a bid but never quite pulled the trigger. The pattern has led many political observers to conclude that his periodic flirting has more to do with nurturing his brand than with any serious interest in becoming president. “Donald Trump is here…still.” President Obama joked last weekend at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. But could 2016 be different? “I am more serious about this than I’ve ever been before,” Trump told the Washington Post in February. He’s steadily making the rounds to early primary and caucus states, even hiring staffers in several states to lay the groundwork for a run. He flew his private jet to Iowa on Wednesday, speaking to voters and shaking hands at the Cedar Rapids Country Club. He visited New Hampshire earlier this week, and he’s scheduled to visit South Carolina early next month. Speaking to CBS News Cedar Rapids affiliate KGAN, Trump suggested his decision to hire staffers shows his seriousness about a 2016 bid. “It’s certainly a signal,” he explained, as if the signal were emanating from somewhere outside of Donald Trump. “I’m looking at it very seriously, and in my own mind, I think my mind is made up.”…”



Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s big (presidential?) plans: editorial

“Gov. John Kasich is obviously intrigued by the idea of stepping into what is sure to be a bruising battle for the Republican presidential nomination before the GOP National Convention in Cleveland 15 months from now. The governor has been roaming the country, ostensibly to push a balanced budget amendment, but also making himself available to Republican gatherings and political talk shows — and paying particular attention to early primary states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He has started raising money, too, although he has not put together an official exploratory committee. These are not the actions of a man averse to the presidential conversation. Kasich is being cagey for now, and with good reason. There are a lot of bodies to climb over before he could even get to a spot on the stage in the first GOP debate, expected to occur in Cleveland sometime this August. The Republican pack is alive and growing, with a number of announced candidates and others with exploratory committees…”



Why Bernie Sanders is running for president



‘We’re in This Race to Win’: Bernie Sanders Hammers Income Inequality as He Seeks the White House

“Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Thursday that his newly launched campaign to win the White House in 2016 would be focused finding solutions to the growing income inequality in America, and getting corporate money out of politics. In a brief meeting with reporters just outside the U.S. Capitol, Sanders also stressed that his goal wasn’t to simply inject these ideas into the race, but to occupy the White House in 2017. “We’re in this race to win,” he said…”



Who is presidential candidate Bernie Sanders?



In 2016 Dem race, Bernie Sanders is the new Elizabeth Warren



Green groups get their man in Bernie Sanders



Hillary Clinton, of all people, calls for restoring trust in public life

“Bill and Hillary Clinton’s durability in American public life is built largely upon their complete inability to be embarrassed or shamed by anything. Think about all the controversies, everything they’ve been involved in. Don’t think too graphically, but Cattlegate, Travelgate, the Lincoln Bedroom, Monica, Paula et al. Benghazi. Cutting consulate security there. Violating agreements with the White House. Private email server. Deleted emails. Influence peddling. Opaque transparency on fundraising. Uranium deals. No apologies. Just their immensely enriched bank accounts. So, there Clinton was Wednesday 10 days into her final bid to capture the Oval Office, on a Columbia University stage calling for the restoration of trust in American public life.

“We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans,” she said, tying her remarks to Baltimore riots to piggyback on media coverage. “Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society.” Seriously?…”




“Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer’s new book, Clinton Cash, makes condemning allegations about the financial practices of the Clinton Foundation. This article originally appeared in the New York Times: Aides to former President Bill Clinton helped start a Canadian charity that effectively shielded the identities of donors who gave more than $33 million that went to his foundation, despite a pledge of transparency when Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of state. The nonprofit, the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (Canada), operates in parallel to a Clinton Foundation project called the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which is expressly covered by an agreement Mrs. Clinton signed to make all donors public while she led the State Department. However, the foundation maintains that the Canadian partnership is not bound by that agreement and that under Canadian law contributors’ names cannot be made public. The foundation cited that restriction last weekend in explaining why it did not disclose $2.35 million in donations from the chairman of Uranium One, the subject of an article in The New York Times last week. The article examined how company executives and shareholders had sold a majority stake in the company — and with it a significant portion of American uranium reserves — to an arm of the Russian government in a deal that required the approval of the United States government…”






Lawyer Tells Judge He Can’t Find Former Ill. GOP Congressman Who Resigned Last Month

“Where is Aaron Schock? An attorney for a campaign donor suing the former Illinois congressman has told a federal judge he can’t locate the Republican who resigned in March amid questions about his spending. Daniel Kurowski filed the lawsuit April 15 for Chicagoan Howard Foster. Foster donated $500 to Schock’s campaign and wants him to repay millions of campaign dollars on grounds the Peoria politician tricked contributors into believing him. The Chicago Sun-Times reports ( http://bit.ly/1JbTV8C ) Kurowski told a hearing in Chicago Wednesday he hasn’t been able to inform Schock about the lawsuit. Kurowski tried a Peoria address for Schock, but the property is now vacant…”



Exclusive: Britain told U.N. monitors of active Iran nuclear procurement – panel

“Britain has informed a United Nations sanctions panel of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to two blacklisted firms, according to a confidential report by the panel seen by Reuters. The existence of such a network could add to Western concerns over whether Tehran can be trusted to adhere to a nuclear deal due by June 30 in which it would agree to restrict sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief. Talks between six major powers and Tehran are approaching the final stages after they hammered out a preliminary agreement on April 2, with Iran committing to reduce the number of centrifuges it operates and other long-term nuclear limitations. “The UK government informed the Panel on 20 April 2015 that it ‘is aware of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network which has been associated with Iran’s Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) and Kalay Electric Company (KEC)’,” the Panel of Experts said in its annual report. The panel monitors Iran’s compliance with the U.N. sanctions regime. KEC is under U.N. Security Council sanctions while TESA is under U.S. and European Union sanctions due to their suspected links to banned Iranian nuclear activities. Iran, which is has been under sanctions for years, has a long history of illicit nuclear procurement using front companies and other methods of skirting sanctions. That has enabled it to develop a substantial atomic program in spite of aggressive international efforts to curtail it, U.N. diplomats say. But analysts and Western intelligence officials say sanctions have slowed the development of Tehran’s nuclear program. The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly said that Tehran has so far complied with the terms of a limited agreement struck in November 2013 between Iran and the six powers involving some reductions in its nuclear activities, including enrichment…”



Marco Rubio Has a Brilliant Amendment to the Iran Bill

“The Senate is currently considering whether to add specific requirements for an Iran deal to the legislation it’s currently considering that will require Obama to submit a deal to Congress, where it could be rejected by a veto-proof majority. That’s pretty small rose water, so senators especially worried Obama is going to reach a dangerous deal, including Rubio, want to write parameters for a deal into the legislation. The problem is that Obama is protesting some of these strictures would box him in and prevent him from reaching a deal, so he’s saying he’ll veto the bill if it has certain (read: almost any) requirements.  Hence Rubio’s idea: an amendment that requires a deal to abide by the terms the Obama administration used to describe the outline deal reached at the beginning of April. As Bloomberg View’s Eli Lake reports, this would mean sanctions can only be phased out gradually, as the Iranians demonstrate compliance. Iran has said it will insist on immediate relief, and the Obama administration is suggesting it’s willing to move in that direction. So, sure, this would box the Obama administration in — with its own promises.”



The Obama Administration Is Giving Up the Gulf to Iran



The Obama Administration’s Ominous Veto Threat

“Yesterday the White House issued a veto threat against any amendment to Senator Bob Corker’s Iran bill that would condition the lifting of sanctions on the release of American captives in Iran. Here’s the exchange between ABC’s Jonathan Karl and White House press secretary Josh Earnest (hat tip to my former colleagues at the ACLJ): JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: The Senate of course is debating the Corker Bill. Corker announces he has a veto proof majority. He doesn’t really need it, because you’ve endorsed the compromise bill. But there are a whole series of amendments that are going to be voted on. You know, for instance, there’s an amendment that says before any sanctions are lifted, Iran would have to release those three Americans known to be in Iranian prisons. What is the administration’s view on these amendments? Are you saying it is this deal or no deal? Would we go back to a veto threat situation if, in the specific instance I just mentioned, an amendment passes that says first Iran needs to release those Americans? Would you veto that bill? JOSH EARNEST: The President would certainly veto any amendment or any bill with an amendment that undermined the unanimous compromise that was reached in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or that interfered with the ongoing negotiations. Certainly a provision, an amendment, that made this nuclear deal contingent on Iran’s release of those three American citizens would fall, I think frankly, into both categories. It would directly undermine the unanimous compromise that was reached in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and it certainly would interfere with the ongoing negotiations between the international community and Iran on their nuclear program. The imprisoned Americans include Saeed Abedini, an American pastor imprisoned only for his Christian faith. While I don’t want to see American citizens essentially held for ransom – where Iran coaxes nuclear-deal concessions from the U.S. in exchange for their freedom – there is a significant difference between ransom and a gesture of good faith. A gesture of good faith would require Iran to take a concrete action indicating its willingness to abide by any agreement. Two weeks ago, President Obama indicated that some degree of immediate sanctions relief was on the table in the Iran negotiations, yet it would be foolish to give Iran relief without some concrete evidence that Iran is willing to change its internal policies to accommodate American requirements. If Iran can’t even give up wrongfully-imprisoned American citizens — men who offer no conceivable threat to the Iranian regime — why would we think Iran would be willing to give up strategically-significant nuclear assets?”



John Boehner denies saying Congress can’t stop Iran nuclear deal

“House Speaker John A. Boehner said it’s too soon to tell if Congress could muster the votes to stop a bad Iran nuclear deal struck by President Obama, denying a report that he’d already admitted defeat to a private audience last weekend. “It’s too early to speculate on whether we can or can’t,” Mr. Boehner said at his weekly press briefing. Congress is in the middle of writing procedures that would give them a chance to review any deal Mr. Obama strikes with Iran — but it would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to actually block such a deal. Bloomberg News, citing four sources, reported earlier this week that the GOP speaker told the Republican Jewish Coalition that he didn’t think Congress could muster the two-thirds vote needed. Mr. Boehner pushed back Thursday, denying he’d made that prediction. Mr. Obama is working along with European leaders and China’s leaders to try to strike a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. says is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon, but which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes. Under the outline reached a month ago, Iran’s capabilities would be halted, but not eliminated. A final deal is due by the end of June, and Congress is rushing to insert itself into the debate, demanding a chance to review the agreement before Mr. Obama lifts congressionally-imposed sanctions on Iran…”



House members press Boehner for vote on ISIS war resolution

“A bipartisan coalition of 28 lawmakers are urging Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to take action on an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The group — led by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) — formally sent a letter Thursday to the chamber’s top Republican asking him to instruct the relevant committees to mark up the proposal, schedule a floor debate and vote on it.  The document caps a more than weeklong lobbying effort by Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Cole, one of Boehner’s closest allies, to get debate moving again on President Obama’s AUMF.

The president sent his war powers resolution to Capitol Hill in February, and it was declared dead on arrival by both parties. Republicans said language restricting “enduring offensive ground combat operations” could limit military options. Critics on the left argued the same language could lead to an open-ended U.S. ground presence in the Middle East…”



McConnell: Pass Iran bill

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday pressed his colleagues to pass a key piece of Iran legislation that has been slowed by a debate over dozens of amendments.  “Now is the time for Congress to pass the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act,” he said, referring to the legislation spearheaded by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). The bill “will ensure Congress gets a vote,” he said. Senators began debating the legislation last week, but the process has been slowed as Republicans have introduced more than 60 amendments, including proposals that would force Democrats to take politically tough votes. Conservative Republicans are worried that the Corker bill doesn’t give Congress enough of a say, and want to link the legislation to support for Israel and Americans currently being held by Iran. McConnell suggested that lawmakers are focused on “one point above all else, that the American people and Congress deserve a say before any congressional sanctions are lifted.”…”



Conservative senators sandbag McConnell, jeopardizing Iran bill

“Two junior conservatives blindsided Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Thursday by attempting to force a vote on an amendment that could derail the bipartisan Iran nuclear review bill. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is running for president, surprised McConnell by leapfrogging ahead of colleagues waiting for chances to get votes on their amendments. They used a procedural maneuver to force McConnell to schedule a vote on an amendment requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist as part of any nuclear deal.

McConnell’s only way of avoiding the controversial amendment would be to file a motion to end debate on the Iran Nuclear Review Act, which would block Republicans from offering any amendments to the bill. It would also represent a reversal of McConnell’s intention to allow amendments on legislation in the GOP-controlled Senate after he criticized Democrats for not doing so when they held the chamber. The GOP leader now faces a tough choice over whether to save the Iran bill from a poison-pill amendment or to cut off debate and move to a swift final vote on the legislation — despite earlier pledges to allow a robust floor debate. Rubio’s amendment calling for Iran to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal with the United States is dangerous because Iran would never agree to it, and so it might doom the nuclear talks. Democrats have said they will not shoulder the burden of defeating it, meaning that the amendment would likely be approved if it were to come up for a vote. That would likely lead the White House to veto the Iran legislation….”



What We Don’t Know About Iran Could Hurt Us

“To hear the Obama administration tell it, the framework nuclear accord agreed to between the P5+1 powers and Iran earlier this month in Lausanne, Switzerland is a good deal. The White House has pledged that the final agreement to be concluded in coming weeks, backed up by a robust monitoring and verification regime, will block Iran’s pathways to a bomb for at least a decade—and perhaps considerably longer. But is this feasible? The Iranians, at least, appear to have other ideas. Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared that he will not sign off on a final nuclear agreement unless the country’s military facilities are declared off limits to Western oversight. Similarly, the deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, publicly equated the idea of opening up the Islamic Republic’s military facilities to outside inspectors to a “national humiliation.” That’s significant, given that a number of key Iranian nuclear sites—including Parchin in northwest Iran and the controversial uranium enrichment facility at Fordo—are known to be co-located with the regime’s military installations. Any inspection and verification regime that fails to gain access to these facilities would by definition be woefully inadequate. Yet, given the track record of the nuclear talks so far, there’s little reason to believe that the Western powers will stand firm on this demand in the face of continued Iranian intransigence…”