Obamacare sign-ups hit technical snags on big weekend

“The Obama administration says some people trying to sign up for health insurance ahead of a looming deadline are getting snagged by technical difficulties. Administration spokeswoman Katie Hill says some haven’t been able to get their income information electronically verified. That’s crucial because the amount of financial assistance to help pay premiums is based on people’s income. The IRS handles income verification for the website. The glitch seemed to be affecting people with new applications. People who previously submitted their income details – but hadn’t completed the final step of picking a plan – were able to do so.” Hit With Tech Issues Again Day Before Obamacare Deadline

“On the day before the deadline for Obamacare’s second open enrollment period, some customers looking for health coverage were unable to submit applications on the federal website due to more tech glitches, the Obama administration said Saturday., which is serving 37 states this enrollment period, is facing “intermittent issues” in verifying customer’s income, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s preventing an unknown number of customers from submitting applications and seeking premium subsidies for health insurance. HHS said in a statement Saturday evening that officials are trying to fix the problem with “external verification sources” before the deadline to sign up for coverage hits at 2:59 a.m. ET on Monday morning. Customers who already submitted their income information are able to select plans and enroll, but those who have yet to estimate their income on are out of luck. They’re able to make an account and shop for plans, but without income information, customers can’t see the amount of federal premium subsidies available. So far, close to 8 in 10 enrollees receive subsidies. also faced tech issues just before last year’s open enrollment deadline. The website was down entirely for five hours the morning before the enrollment deadline and customers attempting to create new accounts on the final day were often unable to do so. In response to the problems, the administration continued accepting applications from those who were “in line” on the website for another two weeks.”


Last-minute glitch ahead of Sunday ACA deadline

“…Nationally, Enroll America said 275 mass enrollment events are planned in 93 cities this weekend. “Right now we’re focused on the next few days, on being there for our consumers … to help them select the best plans for their families,” Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said last Wednesday. “Interest in signing up for coverage in the final week of open enrollment is beginning to increase and we’re seeing a really nice ramp.” Anyone who experiences the new issue who is trying to get covered ahead of the deadline for March 1 coverage will be able to do so, HHS said. Officials had already said procrastinators might face waits when they contact call centers or try to sign up online on the final day. Those who don’t finish their applications by the deadline because they can’t get through on the website or are on hold with call centers can also get an extension. As of Saturday afternoon, HHS was suggesting that those who hadn’t submitted an application should come back later. IRS and teams were working to determine the root cause of the verification problems and to solve it. If people “have been working on an application and it hits the stroke of midnight, they are going to be able to continue on their application, and we will make sure that anybody that’s in line gets to enroll,” Slavitt said. People with incomes above the federal poverty level must enroll in coverage by Sunday’s deadline or face an IRS penalty of $325 per person or 2% of household income, whichever is greater – a penalty decried by Obamacare opponents. Less than a week before the deadline, HHS had surpassed its prediction of 9.1 million enrollees nationwide for 2015. Federal officials pointed specifically to recent increases in the South. The fastest week-to-week growth rates are in Louisiana, Nevada, Mississippi, Texas and South Carolina…”


Snag affecting health law sign-ups gets a fix


‘Keep Checking Back for Updates’: Obamacare Sign-Ups Hit Technical Snag Ahead of Looming Deadline (UPDATE: Problem Fixed, Officials Say)

“UPDATE 8:08 p.m. EST: WASHINGTON (AP) — A technical problem that was interfering with sign-ups for President Barack Obama’s health care law has been fixed, officials said Saturday night. Original story below: WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Consumers trying to sign up for health insurance ahead of a looming deadline are getting snagged by technical difficulties, the Obama administration said Saturday. Officials posted an advisory on the home page of the website. It reassured consumers that they would still be able to get coverage once the glitch is resolved. “Keep checking back for updates,” it said.”


ObamaCare enrollment closing with flurry of sign-ups, after Web glitch fixed



Joe Biden Teams Up With YouTube Singers for a Valentine’s Day Message. Watch to the End to See What They’re Pitching.

“The perfect Valentine’s Day gift, according to the vice president: government-mandated health insurance. On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden appeared in a YouTube video posted by the Gregory Brothers, parody song makers who have auto-tuned Biden many times in the past. In the video, Biden opens with a plug for Valentine’s Day, grinning throughout the video’s opening joke. What follows is a “songify”-ed viral video about a little boy’s first kiss — but wait, there’s more! “Your health and well-being is the best gift you can give your parents or anyone else who loves you out there, so go check out, and pick a plan that’s best fit for you,” Biden tells one of the brothers Gregory at the end of the video. “I think you’re going to find that it’s more affordable than your cell phone bill.” He closes with, “Kablooie.”


HHS Pushes Church Talking Points, Bulletins to Promote Obamacare

“In an effort to sign up as many consumers as possible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), the Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to partner with churches and other faith-based groups, even publishing sample church bulletin inserts, flyers, and scripts for announcements, as well as “talking points.” These materials are part of the “Second Sunday & Faith Weekend of Action Toolkit,” which is available on the website of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). From the beginning, HHS has sought to develop partnerships with faith-based organizations to promote the Obamacare. This “toolkit” has been available since 2013. However, the details of these partnerships have largely escaped the attention of the national media. The Second Sunday & Faith Weekend of Action program encourages churches to use the second Sunday of each month during open enrollment to hold informational meetings and sign-up events. The sample bulletin insert appears as follows:..”


Stragglers sign up for health insurance ahead of deadline

“An important health law deadline and the prospect of higher tax penalties for those who remain uninsured prodded some Illinois residents to sign up for coverage this weekend. Sunday is the final day to enroll in private health insurance coverage for 2015 under President Barack Obama’s health care law. “The deadline is all over everywhere you turn. You can’t avoid it: TV, radio, church, wife, kids, co-workers,” said 44-year-old Ramiro Hernandez, a previously uninsured truck repair shop owner who enrolled himself and his family Saturday in Joliet. He said he heard he’d have to pay a sizeable penalty if he didn’t sign up. Technical difficulties tied up some applicants Saturday when the electronic income verification system stalled. The Obama administration said anyone affected would be able to enroll. “They were frustrated, but they were nice about it,” said Miranda Clark, who was helping people sign up in Jacksonville, Illinois. “They can come back tomorrow or call the marketplace or log back into their account and do it on their own.” At a convention center in Collinsville near St. Louis, organizers said an enrollment event Sunday with 25 in-person assisters would stay open until 10 p.m. In Chicago, weekend enrollment events were scheduled to run until midnight…”


Health market’s open-enrollment deadline nears

“Millions of Americans who lack health insurance have until 2 a.m. Monday to sign up for coverage through exchanges established under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”


Obamacare enrollment’s race to the finish


‘Get Covered America’ free help with health care sign-up

“Get Covered America is offering a free opportunity for people in West Michigan to meet face-to-face with an enrollment assistant, and get help with enrolling in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. It’s at River City Scholars Charter Academy at 944 Evergreen SE, in Grand Rapids. The deadline to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act is Sunday. Those who do not have health insurance coverage could face penalties on their federal taxes…”


Officials push Obamacare sign-ups ahead of Sunday’s enrollment deadline

“The Obama administration pleaded Sunday with uninsured Americans to sign up on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, warning it is their “last chance” to get health insurance for the year. “This is important: If you don’t sign up for health insurance today, you won’t be covered this year,” the administration warned in email alerts to customers in 37 states that use the federal exchange. Officials said they have fixed technical hiccups that had thwarted some new users who submitted their income for verification on Saturday. Those customers will get some leeway to complete their applications after the deadline. Otherwise, the administration has been adamant in sticking to the Feb. 15 deadline to sign up. It is a stark turnaround from last year, when widespread problems on and some state-run portals created a series of sliding deadlines throughout the enrollment season. Some advocates are pushing the Department of Health and Human Services to offer a special enrollment period to those who miss the deadline and then realize they have to pay a tax for failing to hold health insurance under the Obamacare’s “individual mandate.” The penalty for lacking coverage in 2014 was the greater of $95 or 1 percent of household income above the filing threshold. In 2015, it is $325 or 2 percent of income.”


Health enrollment centers sign up last minute consumers

“Despite drizzling weather, people seeking health insurance under the Affordable Care Act streamed into some Texas enrollment centers Sunday, the final day they could sign up this year. Enrollment SA, a coalition of San Antonio health professionals, nonprofits and government agencies, kept three centers open to help people navigate the exchanges and find insurance. By mid-afternoon, the centers had attended to some 70 families, with more still expected, though organizers said they were unlikely to see the long lines of 2014. “It’s definitely less than last year that we are helping in person,” said Joe A. Ibarra, a South Texas regional organizer for Enroll America. “But enrollment numbers across the board are up.” He said that the coalition anticipates that about 46,000 new consumers will have signed up for insurance during this enrollment period, which means that more than 100,000 people in and around Bexar County will have received insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Ibarra estimates the number of uninsured in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, at between 200,000 and 300,000. Latinos have been intensely targeted by the coalition through Spanish-language newspaper ads along with radio and TV spots. More than 75 percent of uninsured people in Bexar County are Latino, said Andrea Guajardo, director of community health at Christus Santa Rosa Health System. Latinos here suffer high rates of chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. When these are left untreated, health care costs can skyrocket as drastic interventions such as amputations or vascular surgery may be needed. “The more people we can get access to regular care,” said Guajardo, “the less will be their need to come into the emergency rooms when they are in crisis.”


Millions in Health Coverage Gap Seek to Avoid Tax Penalty

“Enrollment drives are being held across the country to help people beat Sunday’s deadline to sign up for health insurance through the federal marketplace. But in Texas and nearly two dozen other states where millions of people fall into a so-called coverage gap, the outreach effort has involved more than just signups. Nonprofits and other health groups are making sure these people know what steps to take to avoid a federal penalty for not having insurance. About four million Americans fall into the coverage gap, earning too little to qualify for federal subsidies for private insurance but too much for Medicaid. People in the gap can file for hardship exemptions. The U.S. Treasury estimates between 10 and 20 percent of taxpayers will claim an exemption.”


Burwell goes deep in the heart of Texas for Obamacare

“The top Obamacare official is making inroads deep in enemy territory. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell has spent more time selling the health care law in Texas than virtually anywhere else. And while many of the politicians here may hate the law, the Obama administration strategy is clear: If it can get upwards of one million Texans covered, it can prove the law is a success even in the most unfriendly climates. The more people who sign up, the harder it might be – even for the staunchest opponents – to justify killing Obamacare.

Story Continued Below Burwell spent two days this week traversing the Lone Star State and encouraging people to sign up before Sunday’s enrollment deadline. Even with the progress to date, about one in every five residents remains uninsured…”


Houston leaders make enrollment push before Obamacare deadline


6 Things to Know About Feb. 15 Obamacare Deadline

“…Some Could Face Stiff Premium Hikes – Many consumers who already signed up for Obamacare may experience a sticker shock during this enrollment period. They could see their premiums increase sharply if they automatically re-enroll in their current plans, instead of choosing new, lower-priced versions. Learn if you qualify for lower costs on health insurance coverage here.

–There’s a Tax Penalty This Time – This is the first year consumers have to consider their health insurance at tax time. If you don’t have health care coverage in 2015, you’ll have to pay a penalty when you file your 2015 federal income tax return in 2016. Federal health officials predict that 2 to 4 percent of taxpayers will end up paying a fine, which amounts to $95 per adult ($47.50 per child), up to $285 for a family, for the 2014 tax year. The penalties go up to a minimum of $325 per adult for the 2015 calendar year and $695 per adult for the 2016 calendar year. There are exemptions from the fee for not having health care coverage — for instance, if you’re uninsured for only one or two consecutive months of the year, if you were covered by May 1 of last year, or if the cheapest available coverage would have cost more than 8 percent of your household’s income.

–You Must Be Able to Prove Your Legal Status – You must be able to prove your legal status to qualify for Obamacare, health officials have warned. About 200,000 people will be dropped from insurance policies at the end of February because they have been unable to prove they are legally living in the U.S., the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. That’s in addition to 112,000 people were dropped from their plans in September…”


ObamaCare sprints across finish line

“The end to this year’s ObamaCare signup season at midnight on Sunday is expected to add more than 11 million people to its rolls, putting the administration ahead of its own expectations. While the second year of ObamaCare has been just as high-stakes as last year, the enrollment drive has been met with far less fanfare. The drive was rarely splashed on front pages and was touted by few big-name endorsements, until the president’s last-minute BuzzFeed hit this week that has already tallied more than 25 million views.

Healthcare advocates say the quieter enrollment period – largely devoid of politics  – has been good news for ObamaCare. “Last year, it was in the news a lot – particularly the website problems – and I think there was still a lot of the fear of what the ACA [Affordable Care Act] is,” said Erin Hemlin, who leads healthcare outreach for the nonprofit group Young Invincibles. “It was such a political issue. I think a lot of that has gone away this year.” This year’s enrollment tally is around 10 million so far – not including all the state signups – and already vastly exceeds last year’s totals, which finished at 7.1 million. Much of ObamaCare’s success in its second year is the result of its more robust website and its more targeted outreach to groups such as millennials and Hispanics. Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, said the large-scale national outreach has been replaced at the local level. With fewer mentions in the country’s biggest newspapers, her organization is seeing more coverage from local outlets. “It is moving from something that was a national, D.C.-based implementation to something that’s really been in communities,” she said.“ We have seen a decrease in national clips but a really significant increase on a local level.” When Enroll America held an event at the Alamodome in San Antonio last year, lines wrapped around the stadium. This year, the group instead held 10 smaller events at clinics serving the Latino community throughout the city. The group is planning more than 275 enrollment events in 93 cities this weekend alone. The events by Enroll America and other grassroots groups are part of an “all-out sprint to the finish line” ahead of Feb. 15, one administration official said. The official said more than 1,400 events were planned in the final two weeks. Last year, there was fevered speculation about whether the administration would reach its goal of 7 million. President Obama later marked the major milestone with a speech in the Rose Garden. This year, the administration easily passed its 9.1 million goal at the end of January. Enrollment in ObamaCare’s second year was universally expected to be better than in 2013, when a mess of technical glitches prevented millions from logging on to Still, the administration faced intense pressure this year as it managed the re-enrollment process for the first time as well as the first round of penalties for people who didn’t buy insurance. Again this year, the Department of Health and Human Services has run a multi-million dollar ad blitz to promote signups in every state. This time, however, it was far more focused on populations least likely to be insured…”


As Public Sours, ObamaCare Faces An Uncertain Future

“In a few weeks, ObamaCare’s second open enrollment season will close. Unfortunately for the president, the law may not live to see a third open enrollment — thanks to an increasingly hostile public and a case before the Supreme Court that could render a major part of the law unconstitutional. According to Gallup, public approval of ObamaCare dropped to a record low of 37% at the end of 2014. The latest RealClearPolitics average of polls shows that 51% of Americans oppose the law. That shouldn’t be a surprise. For a full year, individuals have had to deal with canceled plans, premium shocks, higher deductibles and narrow networks of health care providers — all thanks to ObamaCare. Forty-six percent of Americans now describe health costs as a “hardship,” up from 36% in 2013. Those who purchased coverage through ObamaCare’s exchanges will get a lot more ornery come tax time this spring. They’ll have to fill out a new and extraordinarily complicated form — the instruction booklet runs 21 pages — that directs them to do things like “add allocated amounts across all allocated policies with amounts for non-allocated policies from Forms 1095-A, if any, to compute a combined total for each month.” After enduring this nightmare, about 3.4 million people — roughly half of those who received government subsidies to purchase insurance in the exchanges last year — will have to pay back part of those subsidies because they misreported their incomes, according to tax preparer H&R Block. Business owners have grown disgruntled, too. Forty-two percent of small businesses report that they’ve experienced double-digit increases in the cost of health care in the past year. As a result, 37% have delayed investment; 26% have frozen or cut wages.

Americans may get relief from the U.S. Supreme Court, which will consider King v. Burwell on March 4. The case could effectively destroy the federally operated exchanges active in more than two-thirds of the states. The plaintiffs in King argue that ObamaCare forbids the federal government from providing subsidies through the federal exchange.

The law’s text clearly states that financial assistance from the government can only come through exchanges “established by the State.” If the court sides with the plaintiffs, about 4 million people would lose subsidies. Their premiums would suddenly become unaffordable. They’d likely choose to remain uninsured and pay the individual mandate penalty. That could destabilize the insurance marketplace. Individuals with chronic conditions would likely be the only ones to comply with the individual mandate. Insurers may respond to the loss of millions in subsidized premiums and a sicker population by raising rates for everyone else….”


Like it or not, Affordable Care Act to show up on everyone’s tax forms


Obamacare proving to be the unaffordable care act

“If there were a contest for the biggest untruth told in Washington over the past 30 years, it would be hard to compete with Barack Obama’s boast that he would put 30 million more Americans on Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies – and this would reduce the budget deficit. That’s got to be right up there with Bill Clinton denials about “that woman.” A new Congressional Budget Office report has blown the lid off Obama’s whopper about health coverage. CBO reports that, through the first four months of fiscal year 2015, federal spending is rising at an 8.2 percent annual clip. Most components of spending are relatively flat, and national defense outlays – the most important function of government – are falling. One area accounts for almost the entire budget blowout: Obamacare. Spending on Medicaid, the federal health care program for the poor, is up a stratospheric 23 percent this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, thanks to massive new enrollments. In addition, the $7 billion in Obamacare “exchange subsidies” so far this year brings the “Affordable” Care Act spending boost in one year to nearly 30 percent. In an era of almost no inflation. Obamacare has turned out to be, just as feared, the largest expansion of government since the Great Society programs of the 1960s. This stampede of rising health care costs was so predictable that most budget experts – even liberals, privately – acknowledged that costs would spike when the new health insurance subsidies kicked in. It had to happen. How could we possibly put tens of millions more Americans on Medicaid and other taxpayer-paid forms of assistance and also save money at the same time? It was a laughable claim that Team Obama somehow reiterated time and again – and they even managed to keep a straight face. And this is a president who lectures Republicans in Congress about “simple math.” But now that Obamacare is the law of the land, the White House openly boasts about how many people are relying on taxpayers for health coverage. Listen to what the administration gleefully reported late last year: “Today’s Medicaid enrollment report shows even more great news: Approximately 8.7 million additional Americans now have coverage through Medicaid and [the Children’s Health Insurance Program], many for the very first time. Medicaid enrollment grew to more than 67.9 million in August 2014, which shows nearly a 15 percent increase over the average monthly enrollment for July through September 2013.” Wait. This is “great news”? How is putting more people on Medicaid a triumph? Medicaid is a welfare program. If this were a well-functioning economy, providing enough good jobs, Medicaid rolls would be shrinking and Americans would be coming self sufficient. Bill Clinton used to boast – justifiably so – after signing welfare reform about the millions of people that were taken off welfare during his watch. This president perversely boasts about how many people he puts on welfare. A major reason more people are on Medicaid is that a near-record number of Americans of working age don’t have a job. So they can’t get health care through their nonexistent employer. At the same time, employers are also dropping their health coverage and dumping employees and their families on Medicaid and the Obamacare exchanges. How is this a victory?…”


I have to pay back my Obamacare subsidy

“Janice Riddle got a nasty surprise when she filled out her tax return this year. The Los Angeles resident had applied for Obamacare in late 2013, when she was unemployed. She qualified for a hefty subsidy of $470 a month, leaving her with a monthly premium of $1 for the cheapest plan available. Riddle landed a job in early 2014 at a life insurance agency, but since her new employer didn’t offer health benefits, she kept her Obamacare plan. However, she didn’t update her income with the California exchange, which she acknowledges was her mistake. Now, she has to pay back the entire subsidy, which is forcing her to dip into her savings. “I was blindsided that the subsidy has to be paid back,” said Riddle, adding she didn’t even use the coverage, which she had until she qualified for Medicare in October. “I’m in shock…but I have no choice. Do I want to argue with the IRS or the Obama administration?” Like Riddle, many Americans on the exchange will likely have to pay back some or all of their subsidies. Between 4.5 million and 7.5 million taxpayers received subsidies for insurance premiums when they signed up for coverage on Obamacare exchanges, federal officials said. These folks had to forecast their 2014 income when they applied. Those who underestimated their earnings either will receive smaller tax refunds or will owe the IRS money. Some enrollees, however, had a change in circumstances — such as a raise, new job, marriage or baby — during the year that could affect their subsidy level. Obamacare enrollees were supposed to contact their exchange so it could revise their premium. Some people, however, did not know they had to notify the exchange or simply didn’t bother. Also, just because someone qualified for a certain subsidy at the beginning of the year doesn’t mean they are ultimately entitled to it. It’s the total annual income that matters, so if an enrollee got a big raise mid-year, his entire subsidy may have to be repaid.”


You’ll pay a lot more to see the doctor with Obamacare

“Obamacare enrollees have to shell out a lot more to see the doctor or get medications than their peers with job-based health insurance. Deductibles, co-payments, and drug payments are higher under the average Obamacare silver-level plans — the most popular — than employer policies, according to a CNNMoney comparison of reports by Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust. The reports looked at policies offered on the exchanges for 2015 and those enrolled in employer plans in 2014. To be sure, having Obamacare coverage is often better than being uninsured, especially if you rack up big bills through a major illness or accident. Obamacare also offers cost-sharing subsidies for low-income Americans, which reduces their deductibles and co-pays. Health reform also mandated that insurers fully cover a range of preventative services, such as an annual wellness exam and various screenings, for free. And there is wide variety in out-of-pocket costs in both Obamacare and job-based plans. For many in the individual market, Obamacare eliminated sky-high deductibles of $10,000 or more that were common before health reform…”


Bill Maher: Obamacare Is More Expensive And Too Confusing [Video]

“Bill Maher may be having second thoughts about his vocal support for Obamacare, President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, officially known as the Affordable Care Act. Prefacing the discussion on Friday evening’s installment of Real Time with Bill Maher, he admitted that like most liberals, he’s been boasting about how great the law has been working out. In revealing his disillusionment with the law’s implementation as it applies to the average person, however, he pointed the finger at “shark-like” insurance companies — rather than complicated, one-size-fits-all government regulations — for making medical treatment under Obamacare more expensive and too confusing. The Real Time host was alluding to an unflattering article about the Affordable Care Act called “Insured, but Not Covered,” as recently published in the New York Times, a publication that otherwise generally leans towards the liberal side on most issues. The Times story pointed out that Obamacare “has ushered in an era of complex new health insurance products featuring legions of out-of-pocket coinsurance fees, high deductibles and narrow provider networks.” Against this backdrop, the article also noted that many consumers find themselves paying medical bills on their own rather than through their insurance and/or discovering that their doctors can enter or exit approved networks abruptly. “For still others, the new fees are so confusing and unsupportable that they just avoid seeing doctors.” In a separate but related issue, those consumers who have qualified for subsidized coverage on a government healthcare exchange might also be hearing from the tax man if, even in good faith, they miscalculated their adjusted gross income, especially for those whose income fluctuates from month to month. Moreover, the constitutionality of the subsidies is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Obamacare individual mandate on a 5-4 ruling in June, 2012, with Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly switching his vote at the 11th hour. The Times added that because of the polarized, politicized nature of the Obamacare debate, it is viewed as either a success or a failure, depending upon the ideology lens involved, and “even political supporters seem reluctant to acknowledge that it has some flaws.” Across the ideological spectrum, however, many observers agree that there was too much logrolling among Big Government, Big Insurance, and Big Pharma when Obamacare was crafted by “architects” such as Jonathan Gruber and others…”


Thousands to Get Booted From Obamacare Plans (From Feb. 12)

“Some 200,000 Obamacare enrollees are about to be kicked off their insurance policies after they failed to confirm that they are legally living in the United States administration officials announced Thursday. Under the health law, people enrolled in exchange policies must be able to prove legal status. Last summer, the administration announced that there were significant discrepancies in hundreds of thousands of Obamacare applications—specifically dealing with citizenship. Health officials sent out letters in August to about 300,000 enrollees with application discrepancies asking them to send in relevant documents to confirm their legal status and resolve the issue. About 112,000 of those people never responded and got dropped from their plans in September. The new wave of people responded to the administration, but didn’t provide sufficient evidence to conclude they legally reside in the United States. Most of these people had been enrolled on policies for at least a year—and many of their plans were automatically renewed for this year. Officials said their coverage will be officially terminated on Feb 28. The announcement came just as health officials are making their final push to enroll as many people as possible in health coverage through Obamacare’s state and federal exchanges before the Sunday deadline. Last week, officials said some 9.9 million people had selected policies on both the state and federal exchanges—that will be revised down once these plans are terminated. Most of these people received federal subsidies last year to make their coverage more affordable. It is unclear if the Internal Revenue Service will try to recoup that money. Separately, the administration will be taking action to resolve other applicant discrepancies for people who listed incorrect information about their income on their application. This is important because enrollee income determines whether they qualify for federal subsidies, and how much they should receive. The number of people getting kicked off their policies is likely to increase—since the administration’s figures only account for people who enrolled on the federal exchange. It does not include people with application discrepancies on the state run exchanges…”


Cornell students erupt over health care fee

“Students at vaunted Cornell University are plenty smart enough to know they should not have to pay a penalty for not buying the school’s health insurance if they already have coverage, but that’s exactly what a new policy at the Ivy League school requires. The $350 “health fee” for opting out of the school’s insurance plan was announced in a memo school President David Skorton posted on Cornell’s website last week, according to higher education blog The College Fix. But it is just setting in with the student body, and many attending the Ithaca, N.Y., school are not pleased. Under the Affordable Care Act, students must have insurance, but making those already covered pay an extra fee to skip the school’s plan is not sitting well. “Effective next academic year, 2015-16, we will be introducing a student health fee for those not enrolled in the Cornell Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP),” read the memo. “As a physician, parent and president, I am proud of our university’s long history of providing quality medical, mental health, education and prevention services on campus. These essential services play a critical role in student well-being and, therefore, success. Yet funding these services — and creating access to them for all students — has been a growing fiscal challenge, and a personal concern of mine.” The announcement sent students into a fervor, leading to a series of rallies on campus and hashtag activism, with #FightTheFee trending on the social media website. Jenn Grover “Dear Cornell students: welcome to socialism. #FightTheFee”


When They Have to Pay, ‘Liberal’ College Students Suddenly Revolt Against Obamacare-Like Health Fees


A New Fix for Obamacare

“EARLY next month the Supreme Court will hear arguments in King v. Burwell, the latest significant legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The petitioners argue that under the statute, the federal government is not allowed to provide health insurance subsidies in the 37 states that have either declined or failed to establish their own exchanges. Should the court decide in the petitioners’ favor, most likely in June, critics in Congress will feel vindicated. But then comes the hard part: Congress must be ready with a targeted plan to help at least six million people who would quickly lose that federal assistance, and most likely their insurance. While several Republicans in Congress have offered serious proposals to replace Obamacare, debating a wholesale replacement of the Affordable Care Act would take months, even years. But it is essential for Congress to move fast on a short-term solution. About 85 percent of people who bought plans on the exchanges receive subsidies, and most could not afford the policies without them. If fewer people are enrolled and new enrollments decline, premiums will rise, leading to the breakdown of the exchange markets. If the Supreme Court decides that the Affordable Care Act means what it says — that subsidies are available only if a state establishes its own exchange — then President Obama’s signature legislative initiative would be significantly weakened in two-thirds of the states. Fortunately, there is a way out, one that President Obama, forced by the court to the negotiating table, might be willing to accept. The first step would be for Congress to pass legislation that would allow people to keep subsidies they have already received, and allow subsidies for existing policies to continue through this year so people don’t immediately lose their existing coverage. Then, beginning in 2016, instead of subsidies to individuals, the 37 states without exchanges could receive a new, capped allotment from the federal government that we call health checks. States could use the allocation to provide immediate premium assistance to people affected by the court decision, and similar checks could be extended to others who would need insurance afterward…”


As Supreme Court case on ObamaCare nears, focus is on plaintiffs and GOP’s post-decision plan

“The simmering debate about ObamaCare reemerged in Washington this week amid questions about the plaintiffs in the upcoming Supreme Court case on the health law and Republicans sounding more urgent about preparing for the ruling. The high court will hear arguments in early March over whether the health-care law allows people in states without their own insurance markets to receive federal tax credits that reduce coverage costs. The number of uninsured could rise by 8 million if the subsidies disappear, two independent think tanks have estimated. “We have to have a contingency plan,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Friday. Republicans and Democrats agree that a ruling for the plaintiffs could wipe out subsidies for millions of Americans, in three-fourths of U.S. states, and result in the law being rewritten. A ruling is not expected until at least June. Ryan did not say Friday when a contingency plan would be finished but made clear it would not be fixes to the law. “The idea is not to make ObamaCare work better or actually authorize ObamaCare,” he said. Republicans, who control Congress after having won the Senate in November, say dismantling ObamaCare remains a priority. But they appear to think their best chance of undoing the 2010 law is the court case. And they have so far taken a wait-and-see approach, instead of trying to immediately repeal the law or dismantle it in parts. Questions are being asked about the four challengers’ legal right to bring their lawsuit, though experts don’t think court will be deterred in deciding King v. Burwell, referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell…”


Obamacare and Abortion

Americans are often forced to pay for abortion coverage they do not want.

“With just days remaining before the deadline to enroll in a health-insurance plan under Obamacare, Americans who have not yet done so will be hurrying to finish researching their best options for themselves and their families. For many, this research will include the question of whether a plan covers elective abortion. And this is indeed a critical question for many reasons, not the least of which is that enrollment in a plan that covers it would require members to pay a separate monthly abortion surcharge. Yet — as is well documented by now (check here and here) — ascertaining the abortion policy for plans on the Obamacare exchanges has been anything but a walk in the park. To assist Americans in navigating through the complete lack of transparency from the Obama administration, the Charlotte Lozier Institute and the Family Research Council jointly created in November of 2014 to share their findings on plans in each state. The following is a summary of new findings, as the website is constantly being updated.

–For California in 2014, the Government Accountability Office report shows that Anthem Blue Cross’s Multi-State Plans (MSPs) did not cover elective abortion. California, however, has an abortion mandate that forces every insurance carrier to cover elective abortion — except the four MSP plans. In 2015, Anthem Blue Cross Combined Evidence of Coverage and Disclosure Forms for each of the four MSP plans show that these MSPs continue not to cover elective abortion.

–For Connecticut in 2014, there were no plans on the state-based AccessHealthCT that excluded elective abortion. For 2015, four of six new MSPs provided by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and HealthyCT exclude elective abortion. Additionally, the private carrier ConnectiCare is offering a new health plan (Bronze Select POS HSA) that excludes elective abortion.

–For Maryland in 2014, Evergreen Health Cooperative excluded elective abortion from all individual Qualified Health Plans sold on the state-based Maryland Health Connect. However, the 2015 Individual Plan Agreement e-mailed by a company representative on February 6 states: “Services are covered for health services and associated expenses for surgical, non-surgical or drug-induced pregnancy termination.” The representative confirmed in writing that this includes elective abortion. The plan document that contains information about abortion coverage does not appear to be available to the general public on Evergreen’s website nor is it linked to from the Maryland exchange…”


California’s Medi-Cal program for poor grows to 12 million

“Since California embraced the federal health care overhaul, the state’s Medicaid program for the poor has added more than 2.7 million people, a surprisingly high number that has left the state to grapple with making sure there are enough doctors to care for all of them. Medi-Cal, the $95 billion joint federal-state program, covers 12 million people — nearly one in every three residents — for their doctor visits, hospital care, pregnancy-related services, as well as some nursing home care, making California the largest health care purchaser in the state. The figure accounts for 17 percent of the nation’s Medicaid enrollment, even though California has 12 percent of the U.S. population. Lawmakers and advocates say the safety net program has grown so big, so fast that without major fixes, California won’t be able to provide quality health care for its poor. “Medi-Cal is turning into an empty promise with an insurance card,” said Molly Weedn, a spokesman for We Care for California, a coalition of doctors, hospitals, health plans and labor unions pushing for higher payment rates. Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez of La Puente and Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Alameda plan to introduce legislation Wednesday to raise rates. Even though the federal government has injected billions into California, doctors and hospitals say the state continues to pay much less than private insurance or Medicare for medical services. That’s meant fewer primary care doctors and specialists are willing to treat Medi-Cal patients. According to the California HealthCare Foundation, a health care philanthropy based in Oakland, 76 percent of primary physicians accept new patients through private insurance, but only 57 percent accept new Medi-Cal patients…”


As Supreme Court case on ObamaCare nears, focus is on plaintiffs and GOP’s post-decision plan

“The simmering debate about ObamaCare reemerged in Washington this week amid questions about the plaintiffs in the upcoming Supreme Court case on the health law and Republicans sounding more urgent about preparing for the ruling. The high court will hear arguments in early March over whether the health-care law allows people in states without their own insurance markets to receive federal tax credits that reduce coverage costs. The number of uninsured could rise by 8 million if the subsidies disappear, two independent think tanks have estimated. “We have to have a contingency plan,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Friday. Republicans and Democrats agree that a ruling for the plaintiffs could wipe out subsidies for millions of Americans, in three-fourths of U.S. states, and result in the law being rewritten. A ruling is not expected until at least June. Ryan did not say Friday when a contingency plan would be finished but made clear it would not be fixes to the law. “The idea is not to make ObamaCare work better or actually authorize ObamaCare,” he said. Republicans, who control Congress after having won the Senate in November, say dismantling ObamaCare remains a priority. But they appear to think their best chance of undoing the 2010 law is the court case. And they have so far taken a wait-and-see approach, instead of trying to immediately repeal the law or dismantle it in parts. Questions are being asked about the four challengers’ legal right to bring their lawsuit, though experts don’t think court will be deterred in deciding King v. Burwell, referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. The challengers, who live in Virginia, object to being forced to get insurance or pay a penalty. If the subsidies were not available, they would not pay a penalty for failing to be insured because even the cheapest health plan would be too costly, according to sworn statements they filed in 2013. But the Wall Street Journal reported that two are Vietnam veterans who probably could obtain health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning they would not be affected by the subsidies issue. The newspaper and Mother Jones reported that a third plaintiff lived in a motel at the time that her address and age were used to calculate the cost of insurance. She now lives elsewhere in the state. The fourth is a substitute school teacher in Richmond who said she could not recall how she became involved in the case…”


Questions on Plaintiffs Unlikely to Derail Health Care Lawsuit


‘Does That Mean You Fired Them?’: VA Secretary Claims Heads Are Rolling at the VA

“Is the hammer coming down at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs? The lying, failing, whistleblower-harassing agency has fired some 900 employees as scandals rocked the agency, VA Secretary Robert McDonald told NBC News on Sunday morning. “We’re making fundamental changes in the department in terms of leadership,” McDonald said. “We have held accountable about 900 employees who are no longer with us that were with us before I became secretary.” “Does that mean you fired them?” asked host Chuck Todd. “Nine hundred people have been fired since I became secretary,” McDonald said. “We’ve got 60 people that we fired who have manipulated wait times. We’ve got about 100 senior leaders who are under investigation now whose performance reviews have been deferred until we get feedback from the IG and Department of Justice. So we’re holding people accountable.” Watch the clip below:…”


VA empire strikes back — bureaucrats vs. veterans’ health


VA ‘I CARE’ slogan slammed by veterans, employees as mockery of reform




Cost of Illegal Immigrant Students Hits School Budgets

“The cost of educating the tens of thousands of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) who poured across our borders in the spring and summer of 2014 is having a continued effect on the cost — and quality — of public education. A new report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which campaigns for an end to illegal immigration, focuses on the negative effects the greatly increased number of students enrolled in English proficiency classes is having on seven school districts in the Washington, D.C., metro area. FAIR’s report cited data from the Department of Health and Human Services, indicating that more than 55,000 UACs were released to relatives and other sponsors throughout the United States between October 2013 and September 2014, with more than 5,100 of these settled in the Washington, D.C. area. The data indicated that these UACs were added to a pool of approximately 100,000 U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, further increasing the number of students in area public schools who are not proficient in English. In fact, noted the report, most Limited English Proficient (LEP) students are children of illegal immigrant parents. The FAIR report noted: “The money spent on LEP education in the D.C. area is substantial. Most of that funding comes from local sources, usually from property taxes, with most of the rest coming out of state budgets. The federal government, which is primarily responsible for the influx of immigrants and children of immigrants into local school systems, contributes only a negligible amount of funding to offset the cost of LEP education…”



“Illegal immigrants who receive President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty will put a “costly strain” on California’s budget, according to studies from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the non-partisan group that advises state lawmakers on fiscal and policy issues. Even the liberal San Francisco Chronicle editorial board had to concede that since current state law allows recipients of deferred action “to apply for certain government services in health and human services, that would mean a new and potentially costly strain on those programs as well.” In a report released this week, the Legislative Analyst’s Office determined, as the Chronicle noted, that illegal immigrants who receive Obama’s executive amnesty would be eligible for “Medi-Cal, in-home health care services, and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants,” which is a California program to give cash assistance to legal immigrants who are aged or disabled. The Legislative Analyst’s Office’s analysis of the state health budget notes that Governor Jerry Brown’s (D) “budget does not include funding for potential costs related to the President’s executive actions on immigration.” And since any illegal immigrant claiming to have received temporary amnesty who applies for Medi-Cal will receive “full-scope MediCal during the application verification process,” Obama’s executive amnesty, the study concludes, will have a “highly uncertain impact” on the budget, especially since there are also no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in California who may qualify for Obama’s executive amnesty. Some unofficial estimates have put the number at one million. According to analysis, “in cases where, after due diligence, counties are not able to verify [whether an applicant officially received temporary amnesty], the applicant’s benefits would be reduced to restricted–scope Medi–Cal benefits—provided to all undocumented individuals—which include emergency and pregnancy–related services.” “The benefits received by undocumented immigrants through these programs are almost entirely funded by the state and would therefore result in additional General Fund costs of an unknown amount,” the study concludes. “The General Fund costs to provide state–funded benefits to this population are unknown at this time.” At the federal level, illegal immigrants who receive Obama’s executive amnesty will be available for tax credits for the years in which they worked illegally, which IRS Commissioner John Koskinen confirmed at a Congressional hearing. A majority of the states (26) have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Obama’s executive amnesty, arguing that they can do so because of the “hundreds of millions of dollars on health, education and law-enforcement programs” they will be forced to spend. The Obama administration has argued that the executive amnesty is beyond judicial review. Federal Judge Andrew Hanen heard the cast last month in Texas but has yet to issue a ruling…”


Republicans say Obama giving immigrants ‘amnesty bonuses’

“Millions of immigrants benefiting from President Barack Obama’s executive actions could get a windfall from the IRS, a reversal of fortune after years of paying taxes to help fund government programs they were banned from receiving. Armed with new Social Security numbers, many of these immigrants who were living in the U.S. illegally will now be able to claim up to four years’ worth of tax credits designed to benefit the working poor. For big families, that’s a maximum of nearly $24,000, as long as they can document their earnings during those years. Some Republicans are labeling the payments “amnesty bonuses,” one more reason they oppose Obama’s program shielding millions of immigrants from deportation. “I represent hard working, law-biding Texans,” said Rep. Sam Johnson, a senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think these amnesty rewards, and that’s what they are, need to be stopped.”

Advocates argue that many of these immigrants pay taxes, so they should be able to claim the same tax credits as anybody else. Over the past decade, immigrants in the U.S. illegally have paid an estimated $100 billion in Social Security payroll taxes, even though few will ever be able to collect benefits, said Stephen Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary. Obama has issued executive orders shielding about 4 million immigrants from deportation. Some were brought to the U.S. as children; others are parents of children who are either U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Republicans in Congress oppose Obama’s actions and are trying to use a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security to overturn them. Democrats are resisting, resulting in a stalemate that is threatening to shut down the department. Funding for the department, which oversees immigration enforcement, runs out Feb. 27. The dispute over tax credits illustrates the complicated relationship that many immigrants have with the U.S. tax system. Social Security estimates that immigrants living in the country illegally work at about the same rate as the rest of the population, even though federal law bars them from employment. In general, they are less likely to pay federal taxes. Those who do have been boosting Social Security’s finances for years. How does Social Security know when it receives taxes from immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally? There is no foolproof method, Goss said. One way is by tracking reported wages in which the Social Security number does not match the name the agency has on file. Some of these are clerical errors or unreported name changes, But Goss estimates that a majority of these wages come from immigrants who have made up Social Security numbers or used someone else’s. The numbers are huge. From 2003 to 2012, the total was nearly $750 billion in wages. Tellingly, only 7 percent of these wages are ever claimed and credited to an actual worker, Goss said. There are an estimated 11 million to 12 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. By law, you must have a Social Security number to work in the U.S. But millions of people work without them. Some work in the underground economy and do not report their income to the government. For those who work and pay federal income taxes, the IRS provides them with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Since 1996, the IRS has issued 21 million of these numbers. About one-quarter of them are still in use, the agency says. The IRS accepts these tax returns without reporting the taxpayers to immigration authorities, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. That encourages the workers to pay taxes…”


GOP: Obama giving immigrants “amnesty bonuses”

“Millions of immigrants benefiting from President Obama’s executive actions could get a windfall from the IRS, a reversal of fortune after years of paying taxes to help fund government programs they were banned from receiving. Armed with new Social Security numbers, many of these immigrants who were living in the U.S. illegally will now be able to claim up to four years’ worth of tax credits designed to benefit the working poor. For big families, that’s a maximum of nearly $24,000, as long as they can document their earnings during those years. Some Republicans are labeling the payments “amnesty bonuses,” one more reason they oppose Obama’s program shielding millions of immigrants from deportation. “I represent hard working, law-biding Texans,” said Rep. Sam Johnson, a senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think these amnesty rewards, and that’s what they are, need to be stopped.” Advocates argue that many of these immigrants pay taxes, so they should be able to claim the same tax credits as anybody else. Over the past decade, immigrants in the U.S. illegally have paid an estimated $100 billion in Social Security payroll taxes, even though few will ever be able to collect benefits, said Stephen Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary…”



“Border Patrol agents arrested a Middle-Eastern man as he tried to sneak into Texas by illegally crossing the border. The man’s country of origin was not readily available. The arrest took place earlier this week just south of the border city of Pharr, where an agent took into custody a man from a Middle Eastern country, a border patrol spokesman confirmed to Breitbart Texas. The man was then taken to the Weslaco station for processing and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for expedited removal, a prepared statement from the agency revealed. While not common, arrests of people from Middle Eastern and eastern countries have taken place along the Texas border. Just last December, federal agents arrested Bekir Buluc, a Turkish man described by Pennsylvania’s Pocono Record as a criminal with a history of domestic violence. Despite having been deported numerous times, he keeps trying to get back into America to kidnap his children and raise them as Muslim. As Breitbart Texas previously reported, last October Border Patrol agents arrested an East African man from Eritrea. The arrest came at around the time when the nation feared a possible Ebola outbreak which created a scare inside the processing station. At the end it was determined that the man posed no health risk…”


Border Patrol agents advised to release drunk drivers

“A training memo for federal agents who patrol Arizona advises them they are under no obligation to detain an alcohol impaired driver and they face no liability by allowing them to continue driving. The memo was shared exclusively with CBS5 Friday night. It was circulated among Customs and Border Patrol agents who work Arizona’s Tucson sector. The memo gives agents three options of what they can do with a driver they suspect to be impaired:

–Do not detain them

–Detain the impaired individual at the request of a state or local law enforcement officer

–Detain the impaired individual without a request from a state or local law enforcement officer

The memo also explains the ramifications of each option and what liability the agent could face. Only in the “do not detain them” option would the agent be free from any liability. Border Patrol agents are not certified peace officers in Arizona, meaning they do not have the lawful authority to arrest someone suspected of breaking state law. “The question is how much authority does Border Patrol have to enforce state laws against U.S. citizens,” former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney Alex Lane said. “Do we want Border Patrol checkpoints to also be DUI checkpoints?” “I can assure you that the agents I represent and the people I work with just would not release someone who was severely intoxicated,” said Art Del Cueto, president of Local 2544, the union representing Border Patrol agents. Del Cueto says his agents carry a certain moral authority after the 2010 death of CBP agent Michael Gallagher near Casa Grande. Gallagher was killed on duty by a drunk driver. “Especially since we were hit hard by the death of one of our own. How could we release them?” Del Cueto said. Customs and Border Patrol released this statement to CBS5: The recent informational slide, which was inappropriately released outside of CBP, was intended as an internal messaging slide to provide training to Tucson Sector Border Patrol agents about their legal options when encountering drivers who appear to be impaired.  In cases where Border Patrol agents encounter possibly impaired drivers, they are trained to exercise their professional judgment when assessing the current situation. Information on the slide does not direct agents to detain or not detain these drivers, but instead provides them information, based on judicial precedent, to use their discretion when encountering possibly impaired drivers.  The Border Patrol often releases internal messaging on a wide range of topics to inform agents so that they may better perform their duties within the scope of the law.  The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, released a statement as well: “MADD urges all law enforcement officers to protect the public by following standard procedures when encountering anyone suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Law enforcement is the first line of defense in preventing drunk and drugged driving, and their efforts are crucial to keep our roadways safe.”


Boehner: Obama ‘Defied His Oath Of Office’ And Constitution With Executive Amnesty [VIDEO]

“…HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Haven’t you and House Republicans put the GOP in a box with funding for the Department of Homeland Security about to run out and you are demanding changes to the president’s executive action on immigration that Senate Republicans say they can’t pass? BOEHNER: Chris, the Constitution makes it pretty clear that the House has to do its work and the Senate has to do theirs. The House has acted to fund the Department and to stop the president’s overreach when it comes to immigration and his executive orders. Remember Chris, the president said twenty-two times that he did not he authority to do what he eventually did. And the Congress just can’t sit by and let the President defy the Constitution and defy his own oath of office. So the House acted. Now it’s time for the Senate to act.”


Budget Stalemate: House sticks Senate Republicans with stalled DHS bill

“Congress is now in a full-fledged stalemate over a bill stuck in the Senate to fund the Department of Homeland Security and roll back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, now that House Republican leaders have declined to help. Top House Republicans stated their position after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested they draft and pass a new bill, which they could send to the upper chamber and that Senate Democrats would accept. “We did our work to make sure the Department of Homeland Security is fully funded while also defying the president’s unconstitutional executive action on immigration,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday. The California Republican’s remarks were part of a memo to fellow House members recapping the first six weeks of the 114th session. They followed similar remarks a day earlier by House Speaker John Boehner. “The House has done its job,” the Ohio Republican said. “And now it’s up to the Senate to do their job.” Boehner and other congressional Republicans are blaming Senate Democrats for filibustering attempts to even debate the bill in the upper chamber. Funding for the agency expires Feb. 27. And Congress in out of session until Feb. 24, which means members will have just four days to strike a deal before the agency loses much of its funding. McCarthy further suggested the lower chamber has no plans to revisit the issue when he wrote in the memo: “When we return at the end of this month, the House will start quickly with a series of bills expanding equal opportunity in education.” The standoff and the party’s efforts to blame each other is a setback for Republicans who had hoped that winning the Senate in November to take full control of Congress this year would end at least some of the bipartisan gridlock that has frustrated Americans. “I suppose elections have consequences, except in the United States Senate,” complained GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. “Tell me how it would be different” if Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid was still the Senate majority leader. Though Republicans control the upper chamber, they are six votes short of the 60 needed to advance most legislation, and Senate rules grant numerous rights to the minority party. That means if Democrats remain united, they have the ability to block GOP bills just as they did while in the majority…”


McCain: Cutting Off DHS Funding ‘Would Be Terrible’

“The president’s executive order on immigration may be lawless, says Arizona senator John McCain, but cutting off Department of Homeland Security funding to check it “would be terrible.” “The American people didn’t give us a majority to have a fight between House and Senate Republicans,” the 2008 GOP presidential candidate told Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd on Sunday morning. “We cannot — we cannot — cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security. We need to sit down and work this thing out, and there [are] ways we can address what the president did, [which] was unconstitutional, but it is not through cutting – shutting down — the Department of Homeland Security. It’s too serious.” The deadline for authorizing DHS funding is February 27.”


Mark the date: Speaker Boehner gets it right on DHS funding

“We all knew that a fight was coming when the question of funding the Department of Homeland Security came up. The President wants to use that agency for his executive amnesty orders and the majority of the elected legislative representatives of the people did not want such actions to be funded. And not to toot my own horn here, but I made a prediction back on February 4th that the House leadership was going to need to point out some obvious, if painful facts if they hoped to combat the media spin on this. The President’s allies would claim that the GOP was “shutting down DHS” even though the facts were clearly the opposite, and they would hold forth the sad prospect of TSA, border patrol and Coast Guard personnel going without paychecks as the reason. The proper response, I reasoned, was to say the following: “Wages for border patrol and customs agents? Paid for. Wages for immigration officers and Coast Guard employees? Got it covered. TSA screeners? There may be a lot of gritting of teeth over that one, but it’s paid for as well. It’s all there, President Obama, with the money ready to flow and the paychecks waiting to be covered. All it requires is your party to put it through to your desk and for you to sign it.” I’ll confess that I don’t always have the utmost faith in the party leadership when it comes time to hit the sideline pass on fourth down, but it did my old heart good to see John Boehner come out today and answer the question correctly. “Speaker John Boehner says the House has done its job in passing a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and it’s Senate Democrats’ fault if the department runs out of money at the end of the month. And, he makes clear, he’s prepared to let that happen. If funding runs out, the Ohio Republican said, “Well, then, Senate Democrats should be to blame. Very simple.” “The House has acted. We’ve done our job. Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position, and it’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together,” Boehner told Chris Wallace in an interview aired on “Fox News Sunday.” The kicker comes at the end of the interview. “The Senate Democrats are blocking the ability to even debate the bill,” he said. “It’s their turn, that’s the way the system works. That’s the way the Constitution spells it out.” This is what we need for the next two years and far more of it. The Democrats wanted to play this game the entire time they controlled the Senate, pinning the blame anywhere they could except on themselves. Now the shoe is on the other foot and the GOP can not allow them to simply change the rules yet again. The media will play along (and I’ve been seeing it all weekend on cable news) in an effort to pretend that the last six years never happened, but this set of lies is too obvious for even the most obtuse, low information voter to ignore.”


Boehner says Democrats to blame if Homeland Security shuts down over amnesty

“House Speaker John A. Boehner said Sunday that he is prepared to let the Department of Homeland Security shut down in less than two weeks and that Democrats would be to blame. “The House has acted. We’ve done our job. Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position,” Mr. Boehner said on Fox News Sunday. The House passed a bill that would keep the Homeland Security Department running, but defunds the president’s executive amnesty that many Republicans said was an unconstitutional executive overreach. The Senate, however, has failed to overcome multiple Democrat-led filibusters and doesn’t look able to pass the House bill. With the clock ticking on funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which will expire Feb. 27 at midnight, the House and Senate left Washington for a weeklong break for President’s Day. Mr. Boehner said Democrats aren’t even willing to vote to begin debate on the bill — an oft-heard criticism from Democrats when they were in the Senate majority trying to overcome Republican-led stalemates last year. Democrats rejected Mr. Boehner’s finger of blame and said Americans will realize it is Republicans who are refusing to budge and placing the country’s national security at risk…”


Boehner: DHS funding can run out; Democrats are to blame

“House Speaker John Boehner says he’s ready to let funding run out for the federal Department of Homeland Security if the Senate cannot pass legislation soon to keep paying the agency’s bills. “The House has acted. We’ve done our job,” the Ohio Republican said on “Fox News Sunday.” He responded to host Chris Wallace’s question, as to whether he was ready for DHS funding to expire, with “certainly.” If that happens, “Senate Democrats should be to blame, very simple,” Boehner said. Funding for the agency is slated to run out Feb. 27 as part of an effort by Republicans to roll back President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which would free 5 million illegal immigrants from fear of deportation. The Department of Homeland Security oversees numerous government and anti-terrorism functions such as the Transportation Security Administration and agencies that monitor and regulate America’s borders and immigration issues…”


Boehner ‘certainly’ prepared to let DHS funding expire


Boehner Says He’d Allow Homeland Security Shutdown


Conservatives not sweating Homeland Security shutdown

“Hard-line House GOP conservatives aren’t worried about a looming Department of Homeland Security shutdown as the deadline for congressional action draws near.  Many of the conservative lawmakers who most want to aggressively challenge President Obama’s executive actions on immigration think that if push comes to shove, a shutdown will be worth the fight. And at this point, they don’t think there will be any electoral consequences if there is a shutdown. “I’m just not that scared of sticking to principles and filling campaign promises that we made back home, irrespective of what leadership tells us to do here,” said Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.). “It’s worth having this fight,” said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). Gone are assurances from Republican lawmakers that there won’t be a shutdown later this month. Most DHS employees are considered “essential,” meaning that workers like border patrol agents and Transportation Security Administration employees would remain on the job, albeit without pay. So in the eyes of some lawmakers, a DHS shutdown wouldn’t have as much impact as the government-wide shutdown in 2013. “The shutdown would be extremely limited. It would be only in one department, with only a small percentage of people in that one department. But again, nobody has a goal here of shutting anything down. The goal here is to get the president to get right with the Constitution that he swore an oath to uphold,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). Of course, many Republicans in the House and Senate think allowing DHS to shut down would be a bad idea. “I think a shutdown would be a huge mistake for a whole host of reasons, especially given the fact we have ISIS on the march and terrorism again in Europe,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who voted against language last month to freeze a program allowing illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to obtain work permits. “This strategy was never designed to succeed. Everybody knows that. So now we have to face the reality and do what the American public sent us here to do, which is to govern and fund the Homeland Security department,” Dent told The Hill. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is up for reelection in 2016, also thinks a shutdown would undercut Republicans pledges to govern Washington more efficiently. “It’s not livable. It’s not acceptable,” Kirk said of a potential shutdown. “When you’re in the majority, you have to govern. You have to govern responsibly. And shutdowns are not responsible.” The complacency extends to the coming week’s congressional recess. Lawmakers of all political stripes said they weren’t worried about spending all of next week in their districts for the Presidents’ Day holiday.  Congress will have just four days to find a solution before funding for DHS would lapse after Feb. 27.  Even Dent didn’t think it was necessary to cancel next week’s recess, noting that Congress can move quickly when it wants to. “We have time to do it,” Dent said of the DHS funding. “Leadership on both sides needs to make a decision about what the path forward is. Once they determine that path forward, it shouldn’t take long to enact the legislation.” By contrast, both chambers of Congress canceled a recess in September 2013 similarly close to the deadline that ultimately resulted in the first government shutdown in 17 years.


And yet only one lawmaker suggested that Congress should stay in Washington and keep working to solve the impasse. “Forget about recess,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said at an event held with the Heritage Foundation this week. “Imagine what the American people will think about our party, the Republican Party, if we stay here for a week, we decide not to go on recess, and we actually fight for the principles that the American people sent us here to fight for.”


Should Republicans kill the filibuster?


How will Congress fund the Department of Homeland Security?

“Top government officials agree the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to be funded, but no one seems to have a good plan to overcome protracted political differences between Democrats and Republicans. The agency’s funding expires on February 27, but a bill to keep the money flowing to DHS can’t make it through the Senate. Republicans have made the agency’s funding conditional on blocking the president’s executive actions to defer deportation for several million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. A bill passed the House, but has been repeatedly blocked by Senate Democrats. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, predicted that the differences “would be resolved” but didn’t say exactly how he thought that would happen. “I’ll be the first to say when we have a department whose mission is to protect the homeland, especially in these times we need to fund it, and hopefully Congress over the next period of time will figure out a way to go forward,” he said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We do not need to leave our nation in a situation with the type of threats that we have with an agency that’s not working at full steam.”


Republicans must stage a show on immigration

“The 1971 San Diego Padres were a wretched lot. The team lost 100 games. Finished in last place, 28-and-a-half games out of first. They were the least-patronized team in the National League. The front office tired of the Padres’ losing ways and applied pressure on manager Preston Gomez. One day there was a close call at third base which clearly went against San Diego. But Gomez skipped out of the dugout anyway to argue with umpire Harry Wendelstedt. Upon arriving at third base, Gomez told Wendelstedt he knew the call was right but he was on orders from the Padres’ brass to “put on a show.” The Padres may not look like much on the field. But maybe the manager could show some spark and get into a good rhubarb with the umpires. “I don’t mind, Preston,” replied Wendelstedt. “Take as long as you want.” House and Senate Republicans may not be as pathetic as Gomez’s ’71 Padres. But they sure can’t figure out a way to avoid a calamitous shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on February 27. And like Gomez, they need to put on a good show and kick some dirt around the infield to show the conservative base they won’t cave and will fight President Obama’ immigration executive orders. Congress fully funded all federal departments except DHS in December. DHS was the lone stray because conservatives insisted to leaders they use that spending bill to block the executive orders. The House easily passed a DHS bill a few weeks ago. Now the Senate is stymied, unable to even summon the DHS legislation to the floor due to a Democratic filibuster. Democrats are more than willing to consider a “clean” DHS funding bill. But not one with the immigration attachments. Senate Republicans have already engineered three procedural votes over the past few weeks to cut off the filibuster. Such an operation requires 60 yeas. Republicans only hold 54 Senate seats. Thus, the votes failed each time. Congress is now on recess for a week. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has scheduled a  fourth procedural vote for Monday, February 23 – with little chance of success. But Republicans will put on a show. Republicans will use the recess to stir up voters upset about the executive action. Republicans want them to call and write moderate Democratic senators who they think could be pressured into relenting to vote in favor of allowing the DHS bill to come to the Senate floor. For instance, Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) cut a video message for Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), urging him to switch his vote. “By voting to block debate, you’re voting to block the democratic process. If you don’t like the bill we sent you, change it. Offer amendments. Let democracy work,” beseeched Messer of his fellow Hoosier. This may not get anywhere. But it boosts the GOP faithful – and blames the Democrats. And it comes at a time when the House Republican leadership and Senate Republican leadership can’t agree on a path forward. “The House has done its job. We’ve passed a bill. It’s up to the Senate,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)….”


Latino Legislators Tell Immigrants, GOP to Get Ready For Executive Action Programs

“Despite a GOP-controlled Congress seeking to undo President Obama’s new immigration executive programs, Latino legislators this week assured immigrants that may qualify for those programs that they would indeed come to fruition, and they should get ready. Latino lawmakers gathered in Washington to discuss the current status of the battle on immigration reform taking place on Capitol Hill. Since President Obama announced in November plans to enact new executive action programs that would offer a three-year stay of deportation for qualifying undocumented immigrants who are parents of children living in the U.S., GOP legislators have been open about criticizing the measures and have recently begun proposing “poison pill” legislation that would fund Homeland Security at the expense of cutting funding for the president’s new immigration programs. At a press conference the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called, several legislators and members took the GOP to task for moving against the immigration executive action initiatives while telling immigrants who could qualify for the executive action programs to ignore the movement against those initiatives and apply for the programs. “Prepárense, prepárense (Get ready, get ready) because the opportunity that the president of the U.S. made possible is coming,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-California, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, told immigrants regarding the executive action initiatives. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, took Republicans to task, saying that his party was aware that Republicans have as one of their agenda items this year the goal of deporting DREAMers, the term for young immigrant children who were brought into the U.S. at an early age.

“We are very hopeful and working hard towards resolving the issue of immigration, working with the administration on its new executive action to make sure that it’s implemented properly. But what we’re facing is a strong headwind from the new Republican Congress, who are doing every single thing that they can to make it harder for Hispanics and Latinos and other Americans to succeed,” Rep. Castro said. Senate Democrats are currently blocking via filibuster Republican-backed legislation that would finance Homeland Security but take out funding for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. That action has prompted House Republicans to call for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to change the Senate’s rules on filibusters and make them illegal for Democrats, though Senate Republicans have chaffed at the idea of changing the Senate’s rules. Without funding mechanisms in place for Homeland Security, the department will run out of money by Feb. 27…”


Obama’s deferred action on deportation begins next week

“The start of President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Reform starts in a few days. Beginning Feb. 18, some undocumented immigrants can begin applying for one of the deferred action programs. Immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) expanded program are eligible to apply. The action would allow several million undocumented immigrants to temporarily live and work in the country without the fear of deportation. Three applications have to be completed, and proof must be provided to shows that the applicant arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16. Applicants will also need to prove they have lived here continuously since Jan. 1, 2010. Proof of identification is also required through a passport, driver’s license, birth certificate and school or military I.D. Applicants must show they are in high school, graduated from high school, got a GED or earned a college diploma. Samuel Fraga-Gomez of Sacramento said he’s been looking forward to applying. “It will open a lot of doors,” he said. “I can continue my schooling. I get a better job than what I can at the moment. It’ll just help me help my parents and anybody else around me.” Fraga-Gomez has been compiling dozens of items to prove he’s been in the country long enough. He said he was 2 years old when his parents brought him to the states. It wasn’t until later in life that he found out about his immigration status…”


States suing Obama over immigration programs are home to 46% of those who may qualify

“Less than half – 2.3 million – of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants who potentially qualify for deportation relief and work permits under President Barack Obama’s executive actions live in the 26 states that have joined a lawsuit to stop the move, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. The president’s programs are open to an estimated 5 million unauthorized immigrants who were either brought illegally to the country as children or who are parents with a child who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, so long as they meet certain requirements. A group of states led by Texas filed a lawsuit in December to stop the actions, arguing that the president didn’t have the authority to make the changes. A federal judge heard arguments in January. A ruling could come before Feb. 18, the day the U.S. Department of Homeland Security starts accepting applications from those who arrived in the U.S. as children and have become newly eligible (some have already received relief based on a 2012 program).”


GOP mega-donors to hold conference call demanding “action” on immigration

“To echo Ace’s point from yesterday: It’s not your party, if it ever was. It’s their party. And one of the silver linings of nominating a loud-and-proud amnesty shill like Jeb Bush is that it’ll make the quadrennial “do I really want to vote for this milquetoast Republican?” dilemma a bit easier to resolve. BuzzFeed calls this a “teleconference” but it sounds like a silent auction. Whichever Republican campaign promises the most in response to this call for “action” probably wins some coveted operatives and untold millions in contributions. Can anyone outbid Team Jeb? Let’s see what you got, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. The Tuesday call, which will be moderated by longtime conservative immigration advocate Grover Norquist, will include Mitt Romney’s former finance director Spencer Zwick; California-based fast food CEO Andrew Puzder; and billionaire health care executive Mike Fernandez. Fernandez, who contributed at least $1 million to help elect Mitt Romney in 2012 and helped raise many millions more, has said he is leaning toward supporting Jeb Bush in the upcoming election. But Puzder, who helped fund Carly Fiorina’s 2010 Senate campaign, so far appears up for grabs in the early race for Republican money; and Zwick, who led Romney’s 2012 fundraising efforts, has not yet aligned himself with any of the prospective candidates who are courting him… The teleconference will be hosted by the Partnership for a New American Economy, which boasts a bi-partisan collection of co-chairs including Rupert Murdoch, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Marriott, and Julian Castro…”


By Standards Of Immigration Hawks, All 2016 GOP Contenders Support ‘Amnesty’

“Anyone who has ever used the term “Shamnesty” — or, more likely, “SHAMNESTY!!!!” — is going to hate the likely 2016 GOP presidential field. All of it. The immigration reform debate centers around many issues, but probably none is more explosive than what should be done about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. The loudest critics of comprehensive immigration reform in the Republican Party demand that there be no “amnesty,” which they define as any pathway to normalizing the immigration statuses of America’s illegal population, no matter whether those illegals would be forced to pay a financial penalty or even prevented from gaining citizenship. Yet, despite the issue garnering so much ink, the reality is every major candidate supports an immigration policy that includes an “amnesty,” at least as defined by the GOP’s most ardent and vocal immigration hawks. Much has been made of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s support for a pathway to citizenship for most of the illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. But conservative grassroots stalwarts like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also envision some type of normalization for illegals living in the country. Cruz has said he would support ultimately legalizing most of the undocumented immigrants in the country, though without providing a pathway to citizenship…”




GAO Report: Nearly 20 Percent Of Tax Returns Sent To Fraudsters

“The Government Accountability Office still considers the IRS as doing “High-Risk” activities — wasting billions of taxpayer dollars — in its most recent report on the subject. Per IRS data, many fraudsters still receive someone else’s tax refund. “It is a huge problem,” James White, director of the Tax Issues at the GAO, told The Daily Caller. “Although the IRS was able to detect some $24 billion in fraudulent returns, they still estimate that nearly $5.8 billion pass through their detection systems.” To alleviate the problem, White had a few suggestions for the IRS. “First the IRS needs to accelerate the distribution of W2 forms. As of now, the employer has until the end of January to send the forms to their employees, the forms arrive at the IRS by the end of March and their IT systems start the “matching” — between the employer’s and the employee’s W2 — in the summer. If a fraud is elaborate enough, then many fraudulent tax returns can be cashed in before summer.” “The IRS would need to weigh the cost-effectiveness of upgrading their systems so there could be a real-time matching of forms,” White said. “They need to know if it can prevent enough fraud so the upgrade is worth it.” To help improve the speed, he suggests that W2s be filled electronically. “Most forms are still filled with a pen and paper, meaning that IRS agents must put them electronically first before they can be analyzed…”


Obama Weekly Address: Republicans Want to Gut Education Spending

“PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hi, everybody. In my State of the Union Address, I laid out my ideas to help working families feel more secure and earn the skills required to advance in a world of constant change. And in a new economy that’s increasingly built on knowledge and innovation, a core element of this middle-class economics is how well we prepare our kids for the future. For decades, we threw money at education without making sure our schools were actually improving, or whether we were giving teachers the tools they need, or whether our taxpayer dollars were being used effectively. And our kids too often paid the price. Over the past few years, we’ve seen signs that our elementary and secondary school students are doing better. Last year, our younger students earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Last week, we learned that our high school graduation rate hit a new all-time high. This is progress. But in a 21st century economy, our kids will only do better than we did if we educate them better than we were educated. So we have to do more to make sure they graduate from school fully prepared for college and a career. This year, I want to work with both parties in Congress to replace No Child Left Behind with a smarter law that addresses the overuse of standardized tests, makes a real investment in preschool, and gives every kid a fair shot in the new economy. Now, it’s pretty commonsense that an education bill should actually improve education. But as we speak, there’s a Republican bill in Congress that would frankly do the opposite. At a time when we should invest more in our kids, their plan would lock in cuts to schools for the rest of this decade. We’d end up actually invest less in our kids in 2021 than we did in 2012. At a time when we should give our teachers all the resources they need, their plan could let states and cities shuffle education dollars into things like sports stadiums or tax cuts for the wealthy. At a time when we have to give every child, everywhere, a fair shot – this Congress would actually allow states to make even deeper cuts into school districts that need the most support, send even more money to some of the wealthiest school districts in America, and turn back the clock to a time when too many students were left behind in failing schools. Denying a quality education to the children of working families is as wrong as denying health care or child care to working families. We are better than this. I have a different vision for the middle class. In today’s world, we have to equip all our kids with an education that prepares them for success, regardless of what they look like, or how much their parents make, or the zip code they live in. And that means trying new things, investing in what’s working, and fixing what’s not. That means cutting testing down to the bare minimum required to make sure parents and teachers know how our kids and schools are doing from year to year, and relative to schools statewide. That means giving the teachers and principals who do the hard work every day the resources they need to spend less time teaching to a test, and more time teaching our kids the skills they need. Some of these changes are hard. They’ll require all of us to demand more of our schools and more of our kids, making sure they put down the video games and iPhones, and pick up the books. They’ll require us to demand that Washington treat education reform as the dedicated progress of decades – something a town with a short attention span doesn’t always do very well.”


Obama: ‘We should give our teachers all the resources they need’



A Tale of Two Pensions (good graphic)


Consumer Sentiment Down In February

“The University of Michigan (preliminary) Sentiment Index (MSI) decreased to 93.6 from a final January reading of 98.1 that was the highest since the start of Y 2004. The median projection in a survey of economists called for no change from last month. Prices at the gas pump have climbed this month from a 6-yr low, and the survey showed more Americans were less upbeat about the labor market after hearing of dismissals in the Oil Patch. Consumers also said they were less enthusiastic about making big purchases. “Low gas prices have especially helped lower-income households, although consumers now widely anticipate that gas prices will edge upward during the year ahead,” Richard Curtin, director of the Michigan Survey of Consumers, said in a statement. Estimates of the 69 economists in the survey for the sentiment measure ranged from 96 to 100. The Michigan sentiment survey’s index of expectations 6 months from now decreased to 87.5 from 91 last month. The gauge of current conditions, which measures Americans’ views of their personal finances, fell to 103.1 in February from 109.3 a month earlier that was the highest since January 2007. Americans expected an inflation rate of 2.8% in the next year, up from 2.5 percent in January. The average cost of a gallon of regular gas was 2.23 as of 11 February. The price has edged up from an almost 6 yr low of 2.03 reached on 25 January, according to motoring group AAA. The MSI averaged 75.5 from the start of this expansion through last month, compared with 88.8 in the 5 yrs leading to the last downturn that started in December 2007. Progress in the labor market has underpinned sentiment. Job gains in January capped the strongest 3 months of payroll growth in 17 yrs. Employers added 257,000 last month following advances the previous 2 months that were bigger than previously reported. The jobless rate increased to 5.7% in January from 5.6% as more than a million Americans entered the labor force seeking work. Wages may be poised to pick up. Average hourly earnings advanced 2.2% in January from the same month in Y 2014, just above the 2% average since the recession ended in June 2009.”






Obama: Replace No Child Left Behind with ‘smarter law’

“President Obama is pushing Congress to replace the “No Child Left Behind” education initiative in his weekly address. Obama said his own education plan would rely less on standardized test than the program created under President George W. Bush, which has been unpopular with teachers’ unions since it was implemented in 2001. “For decades, we threw money at education without making sure our schools were actually improving, or whether we were giving teachers the tools they need, or whether our taxpayer dollars were being used effectively. And our kids too often paid the price,” Obama said.  “This year, I want to work with both parties in Congress to replace No Child Left Behind with a smarter law that addresses the overuse of standardized tests, makes a real investment in preschool, and gives every kid a fair shot in the new economy,” he continued. Obama criticized congressional Republicans for proposing cuts to federal education funding. “It’s pretty common sense that an education bill should actually improve education,” he said. “But as we speak, there’s a Republican bill in Congress that would frankly do the opposite. “At a time when we should invest more in our kids, their plan would lock in cuts to schools for the rest of this decade,” Obama continued. “We’d end up actually investing less in our kids in 2021 than we did in 2012.” Obama said his education proposal would give more U.S. children a chance to succeed in the modern economy. “Denying a quality education to the children of working families is as wrong as denying healthcare or child care to working families,” he said.  We are better than this. I have a different vision for the middle class. “In today’s world, we have to equip all our kids with an education that prepares them for success, regardless of what they look like, or how much their parents make, or the zip code they live in,” Obama continued. “And that means trying new things, investing in what’s working, and fixing what’s not.”


More than 500 researchers sign NCLB letter to Congress: stop test-focused reforms


Obama trashes GOP education reform bill

“President Obama on Saturday came out swinging against Republicans’ education reform plan, arguing the proposal will reduce the quality of American schools and leave many low-income children stuck in failing classrooms. Other top administration officials, such as Education Secretary Arne Duncan, already have blasted the proposal, which passed the House Education Committee earlier this week. But Saturday marked the first time the president weighed in on the legislation, and while he didn’t issue a formal veto threat, he made clear he vehemently opposes the bill. “It’s pretty commonsense that an education bill should actually improve education. But as we speak, there’s a Republican bill in Congress that would frankly do the opposite,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address. “At a time when we have to give every child, everywhere, a fair shot, this Congress would actually allow states to make even deeper cuts into school districts that need the most support, send even more money to some of the wealthiest school districts in America, and turn back the clock to a time when too many students were left behind in failing schools. Denying a quality education to the children of working families is as wrong as denying health care or child care to working families. We are better than this.” The GOP bill would replace the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law, a widely criticized piece of legislation that virtually everyone agrees has outlived its usefulness. The new measure — which passed the House Education Committee on a party-line vote — would return greater authority to states, allowing them to determine how to fix failing schools rather than rely on prescriptions from the federal government. The proposal also would consolidate multiple federal programs into one flexible local grant program. Republicans also want public money to follow low-income children to new public schools. Republicans’ broader goal is to reduce the power of the federal Education Department and return greater control to states, districts and parents…”


Obama to Congress: Your bill would harm our education system




10 tax facts the IRS doesn’t want you to know

“…2. Calling us for help is a crapshoot. If you need to speak to an IRS agent, you may be out of luck. Last year, 35.6 percent of phone calls went unanswered by customer service representatives. But this year the IRS projects only 43 percent of callers will get through to an agent after a wait of 30 minutes. That’s an average, notes National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson, in a January report to Congress. That means some days will be “truly abysmal,” she says.

  1. We can’t handle the paperwork, either. In the same report, Olson estimates that 50 percent of letters to the IRS were not handled in a timely fashion. This year it will be worse, with 1.9 million fewer pieces of correspondence than last year dealt with in a timely basis — which means within about 45 days.
  2. We’re worried about ObamaCare collection. If you signed up for ObamaCare and thought that was complicated, just wait until you file your taxes this year. If you got a subsidy based on your projected income, and you made more than that projection, you may have to pay back part of the subsidy. If you didn’t sign up for health care, you may be able to file for an exemption, or you could owe a small penalty. If you’re confused, you’re not alone…
  3. We don’t collect about 20 percent of taxes owed. According to the IRS’ last study of the problem, the annual “tax gap” was $450 billion out of a total $2 trillion collected. The tax gap is money the IRS figures it is owed, but that wasn’t paid. Through enforcement it has gotten about $65 billion of that money back. Koskinen estimates the agency won’t be able to collect $2 billion in revenue due to reduced enforcement this year. Fact is, the IRS counts on people paying their taxes voluntarily.”


GOP: “The president is dragging his feet” on Keystone

“Republicans renew their calls for President Obama to make the oil pipeline a reality.”


Obama: U.S. “hugely vulnerable” to foreign cyberattacks

“The United States is “hugely vulnerable” to cyberattacks, President Obama said in an interview with Re/code’s Kara Swisher. Mr. Obama said he considers China, Russia and Iran to be the top cyberthreats among state-actors. “China and Russia are very good. Iran is good. And part of what we’re constantly engaged in is a dialogue with these countries in the same way that we engaged in a dialogue around nuclear arms, indicating to them it doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose for us to attack in ways that may end up eliciting responses and everyone’s worse off,” Mr. Obama told Swisher. The president does not consider North Korea’s attack against Sony to be an act of war, rather a serious act of “property damage [and] commercial theft.” He said North Korea’s hackers are not particularly sophisticated but noted the damage they were able to inflict on Sony.”


Feds fall behind in race against 21st-century cyberthreats, lawmakers say

“President Obama last week took executive action on cybersecurity, but lawmakers say the steps merely lay the “foundation” for a long-term fight against hackers, and analysts argue that the federal government has moved too slowly in addressing 21st-century threats. Mr. Obama’s order, signed Friday during a White House cybersecurity summit at Stanford University, calls for greater cooperation between the government and the private sector on cyberthreats and makes it easier for federal agencies to share relevant, classified information with companies. The move comes on the heels of several high-profile hacks in major industries, including this month’s data breach at insurance giant Anthem Inc. and last year’s cyberattack on Sony Pictures. The White House argues that neither the government nor the private sector can adequately respond to such attacks on their own, and wants to establish a framework for pooling resources and working together. “This has to be a shared mission. So much of our computer networks and critical infrastructure are in the private sector, which means that government cannot do this alone,” the president said at the Stanford summit. “But the fact is the private sector can’t do it alone, either, because it is government that often has the latest information on new threats. There is only one way to defend Americans from these cyberattacks — that is through government and industry working together, sharing appropriate information as true partners.” Analysts say Washington for years has tried to get a handle on cybersecurity with minimal success, and key lawmakers agree. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in December that countless Capitol Hill efforts to address cybersecurity have yielded little result…”



“Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced, via an op-ed in Wired, magazine, that the FCC would reclassify the American Internet infrastructure as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. You read that correctly: they are going to use a law written 80 years ago and signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to decide how the Internet should operate. Ostensibly to protect us from our service providers, Wheeler and his Democratic counterparts on the Commission decided, at the behest of President Obama, to change how the Internet operates, massively. Let’s be clear, though: outside a noisy band of activists, no one believes that this action is either necessary or advisable. The Obama administration guide to significant policy decisions stipulates that, rather than taking a practical approach to solve problems, or potential problems, it must be driven by an ideological desire to achieve a stated goal. In this case, Chairman Wheeler has concluded that using a meat-axe to conduct surgery on the Internet is his only legitimate option. This despite the fact that Senator John Thune (R-SD) is currently working on legislation in Congress to address some of the concerns raised by Net Neutrality advocates. In a speech earlier this week, Thune warned that: “The White House and the FCC [both] appear determined to avoid meaningful bipartisan policy-making any way that they can.” Not long after the FCC’s announcement, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell stated that the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) will most likely sue over the Title II declaration. The tech news site Fierce Cable quoted Powell as saying: “I think it’s just too dramatic, too serious a change not to ask the court to review the propriety of what the commission did, particularly when so much of it rests on whether it had the authority to do it in the first place.” Rather than plowing massive investment back into their networks, Internet Service Providers will pay hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees fighting Title II in court–a process likely to take years. In that scenario the only winners are the lawyers for both sides, who will enjoy a good laugh at their new beach houses as we wonder why Netflix won’t stop buffering. Since its creation 25 years ago, the Internet has spurred the greatest innovative period in human history. Broadband, and the products and services that have been created around it, have fundamentally changed the way most Americans live their lives…”


Obama administration proposes regulations on commercial drones amid security, privacy concerns

“President Obama on Sunday announced plans to regulate the use of small, commercial drones — attempting to get ahead of safety, privacy and economic issues as the unmanned aircraft quickly become more a part of everyday American life. Obama said in a presidential memorandum that drones are already a more flexible and less-expensive alternative to piloted aircraft for public and private users. And they could play “a transformative role” in urban infrastructure management, farming, public safety, coastal security, military training, search and rescue and disaster response. The president has given federal agencies at least 90 days to start drafting guidelines, but the Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday released preliminary rules in conjunction with the memorandum. Among the chores that federal officials envision drones performing are aerial photography and mapping, crop monitoring and inspecting cell towers, bridges and other tall structures. However, the proposal includes safety restrictions such as keeping drones within sight of operators at all times and no nighttime flights, which could mean no pizza or Amazon package deliveries by drone. Commercial operators, for example, will have to take an FAA-administered knowledge test and pass a Transportation Security Administration security check to fly small drones, defined as weighing less than 55 pounds, according to the proposal. The final rules still could be two or three years away. Even if the White House approves the FAA’s proposal, the agency must offer a public comment period, and tens of thousands of comments are anticipated and must be addressed before final regulations are issued. The FAA currently bans all commercial drone flights except for those by a small number of companies that have been granted waivers. Congress has been leaning on the agency to move faster on regulations that would allow a wide variety of companies to employ drones…”


What You Need To Know About The Federal Government’s Drone Privacy Rules

“Today, President Obama issued an Executive Order creating standards for how the Federal government will address the privacy issues associated with drones. Federal government agencies and some recipients of Federal funds will have one year to implement the President’s policies and make them publicly available.  As expected, his Executive Order accompanied the FAA’s release of proposed rules that will allow for some small unmanned aircraft to fly over America. According to the President, drones “may play a transformative role in fields as diverse as urban infrastructure management, farming, public safety…and disaster response.”  The Order acknowledges that drones are a lower cost alternative to manned aircraft, and can reduce risks to human life.  However, the President’s directive seeks to take into account “not only our economic competitiveness and public safety, but also the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns these systems may raise.” Here are some key highlights from the drone privacy Executive Order (styled as a Presidential Memorandum), which requires agencies to implement these guidelines and inform the public about how to access their policies by February 15, 2016:..”


Obama calls for rules on federal drones to prevent spying on citizens


Senator Demands Answers on Loretta Lynch’s Role in Money Laundering Settlement

“One day after launching an investigation that could delay Loretta Lynch’s confirmation to be attorney general, a Republican senator is raising more questions about her role in a money laundering settlement involving a global bank, terrorists and drug cartels. Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, negotiated a settlement in December 2012 with HSBC bank employees who were accused of funneling millions of dollars to terrorist organizations and Mexican drug cartels. Her decision to let them walk away without criminal prosecution sparked inquiry from Sen. David VItter, R-La., and a host of questions Friday. Lynch, nominated by President Obama to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, is already facing a rocky reception in the Senate, which won’t vote on her confirmation until March at the earliest…”


Republicans Urge Obama Not To Lose Grip On Gitmo To Cuba

“On Friday, two Republican House committee chairmen sent President Obama a letter urging him not to fold to demands from Cuban President Raul Castro to return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba. Although the White House has vigorously denied the idea that there’s any chance Gitmo will end up in Cuban hands, Rep. Mac Thornberry of the Armed Services Committee and Rep. Ed Royce of the Foreign Affairs Committee aren’t sure that Obama is capable of holding his stance in the process of normalizing relations between the previously estranged countries, The Hill reports. Castro has maintained that relations will not move forward without the U.S. conceding the base. “The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalising bilateral relations,” he said, according to BBC. “But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.” Castro is also seeking damages for what he calls an illegal occupation. Thornberry and Royce noted that their fears are by no means irrational. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously stated that no change to U.S.-Cuba relations would occur without the Obama administration consulting Congress first. However, just a month later, the Obama administration broke its promise and announced the start of renormalizing relations with Cuba…”




Obama vows to ‘squeeze every last little bit of change’ out of final two years

“President Obama on Friday night returned to his core 2008 themes of hope and change, telling Democratic party loyalists that he intends to challenge “cynical politics” during his final two years office. Speaking at a party fundraiser in San Francisco, the president blamed Democrats’ poor showing in the November midterm elections on voter apathy driven by frustration and anger with government. He said low turnout largely is to blame for the GOP gaining seats in the House and capturing control of the Senate. But Mr. Obama said he still has two years in office and intends to use that time to strengthen Americans’ faith in Washington. “Part of my goal is also to restore a sense of possibility in our politics and our government. And in some cases, that means challenging folks who are practicing the worst kind of cynical politics, and a politics based on fear rather than hope,” he said. “In some cases, it’s going to be finding areas of cooperating with Republicans. In either case, we’re going to need people like you to support these ongoing efforts.” While battling Republicans — and in some cases, his own party — on political fights of the day, Mr. Obama said he’s also beginning to lay the groundwork for Democratic campaigns in 2016. “Two years is a long time. And two years is also the time in which we’re going to be setting the stage for the next presidential election and the next 10 years of American policy,” the president said. “And so I intend to run through the tape and work really hard, and squeeze every last little bit of change and improvement in the lives of ordinary Americans and middle-class families that I can.”


Alabama Chief Justice: There’s a ‘Fundamental Misunderstanding’ in the U.S. about Who Can Make Law

“In late January, Alabama supreme-court chief justice Roy Moore ordered his state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, contending that doing so was in violation of Alabama’s constitution. On Fox News Sunday, he defended his controversial order. “Well, I’d like to tell President Obama that he’s entirely correct. Federal law does trump state law,” said Moore, remarking on the president’s comments from an interview he performed this week with BuzzFeed. “But what this Harvard professor who is president of the United States does not understand is that a trial court’s decision on the constitutionality of a federal question is just that, it’s an opinion. It may be law of the case before her [a reference to U.S. District Court Judge Callie V. Granade, who ordered an Alabama probate judge to issue a same-sex marriage license, despite Moore’s order]; it is not overturning the Alabama Constitution.” “Federal law is not made by judges,” Moore reiterated. “That’s something very basic. . . . Those interpretations are not law. If they were, then the legislature would have no role. Legislatures are to make law. Congress is to make law. The United States . . . Constitution is law. So is [the] Alabama constitution. We have a fundamental misunderstanding in our country that federal courts by their mere utterance make law. They do not make law, sir. They make law of the case, applicable to the parties before them.”




State-led push to force constitutional convention gains steam, with high-profile Republican support

“A state-level campaign to rein in the federal government by calling an unprecedented convention to amend the U.S. Constitution is gaining steam, picking up support from two high-profile Republicans as more states explore the idea. The latest figures to endorse the effort are retired Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Coburn, a legendary government-waste watchdog, announced this week that he has joined the effort by becoming a senior adviser for the group Convention of States Action, which wants states, not just Congress, to pass constitutional amendments. A primary goal is to get an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget, in which spending does not exceed revenue. Article V of the Constitution says amendments can be ratified either by Congress or by states if two-thirds of them petition Congress to call a convention. Then, any amendment proposed at the convention must be ratified by three-fourth, or 38, states. So far, the Alaska, Florida and Georgia legislatures have each passed a resolution in support of a convention, and 25 more are considering one, according to the group. “Our founders anticipated the federal government might get out of control,” Coburn said Tuesday. “And they gave us a constitutional mechanism to rein it in.” Beyond getting Congress to pass a balanced budget, supporters of the largely Republican-backed effort are also focused on such issues as campaign finance reform and making sure the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t over regulate…”


Rand Paul draw applause in Florida for urging change in GOP

“Of course Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul got big applause from GOP activists when he called for tax cuts and smaller government and accused Democrat Hillary Clinton of “dereliction of duty” before the 2012 Benghazi attacks. But Paul, a likely presidential candidate who spent two days campaigning on the turf of potential Florida rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, also drew sustained applause from an establishment Republican crowd Friday when he said tough drug sentencing laws favored by many in the GOP disproportionately hurt minorities “and we’re mistaken if we don’t understand it.” On Saturday, a crowd of a few hundred at a rally in Sarasota cheered Paul’s call for Republicans to “boldly go where we have not gone before. Republicans have given up on so many people – young people, minorities, people who live in cities, poor people, working-class people. We need to go where we’re not going.” Rubio and Bush have made similar exhortations for the GOP to broaden its base, but largely based on conservative economic themes. Paul said Republicans can win over new voters by advocating conservative economic policies while also championing privacy rights and a foreign policy that is cautious about military intervention.  “There is absolutely no reason for the government to ever look at your phone records without a warrant,” Paul said in Sarasota. Later, he added, “There is no reason we have to give up our liberty to stop terrorism.”


Watch Barbara Bush Tell Son Jeb She’s Changed Her Mind About ‘Enough Bushes’

“It seems Barbara Bush has changed her mind about whether there have been “enough Bushes” in the White House. The former first lady and mother of former President George W. Bush announced via Skype to a gala dinner attended by her son Jeb Bush that she’s simply changed her mind. It was two years ago that the wife of former President George H.W. Bush said in response to speculation that her son Jeb would make a run for the presidency that she thought two Bush presidents was enough. Celebration of Reading, a carity event sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation, when his mother, listening in via Skype, stopped him. “Jeb, it’s Mom,” she said. “Listen, what do you mean, ‘too many Bushes’? … I changed my mind.”


In drive to be 45th president, Jeb Bush faces legacies of 43rd and 41st


Republican senators with 2016 aspirations bolster resumes through bill sponsorships



“Three new NBC News/Marist polls indicate the 2016 GOP presidential race promises to be a wide-open race. The polls questioned respondents in the three early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Although only former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker register in double digits in all three states. Five other candidates also receive double-digit numbers in at least one state. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee leads in Iowa with 17 percent of the vote. Bush followed with 16 percent, Walker had 15 percent, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie received 9 percent, and Rand Paul (R-KY) trailed with 7 percent. Bush led in New Hampshire with 18 percent of the vote, Walker had 15 percent, Paul had 14 percent, and Christie received 13 percent. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham led his home state with 17 percent, Bush followed with 15 percent, Walker had 12 percent, and Huckabee and neurosurgeon Ben Carson tied with 10 percent. On the Democratic side of the ledger, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems dominant: in Iowa, she received 68 percent, Vice President Joe Biden received 12 percent. In New Hampshire, she received 69 percent, and Sen. Bernie Sanders had 13 percent. In South Carolina, Clinton drew 65 percent, Biden had 20 percent. Clinton led Bush, 48 percent to 40 percent in Iowa. She also led Walker, 49 percent to 38 percent. She led in New Hampshire, 48 percent to 42 percent over Bush, and 49 percent to 42 percent over Walker. In South Carolina, she led Bush 48 percent to 42 percent, and 49 percent to 42 percent over Walker.”


RNC chairman: No ‘slice-and-dice festival’ to pick a 2016 candidate

“Priebus said the GOP will win the White House in 2016 “as long as we can contain the process,” adding that he will not allow it to become “a slice-and-dice festival,” as it has been in the past. The RNC chairman also criticized President Obama during the interview, saying the president’s State of the Union address “was like an alternative universe.” “The president is marching to the beat of his own drum,” he said. ”Why is this president is so bizarrely aloof? … It’s inexplicable … Perhaps he’s had enough.”




Benghazi Committee ‘Confirmed’ Forthcoming Testimony From Hillary Clinton, Will Interview White House Officials

“The House Select Committee on Benghazi has “confirmed that the Committee will receive testimony from [former] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the next few months,” according to a memo provided to members Friday. The committee, according to the memo, will also interview numerous current and former Obama administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, former White House press secretary Jay Carney, and former CIA Director David Petraeus. In a letter earlier this month, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), committee chairman, said both Republicans and Democrats expressed interest in Clinton appearing before the committee. The memo seems somewhat more definitive, although it does not provide a date certain. “The Select Committee will call former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to testify before the Committee in the next few months,” the Friday memo said. “This request was made last fall but is contingent on the State Department complying with the Select Committee’s outstanding information requests.” The memo says that the State Department’s response to “compliance with outstanding subpoenas” has been “unreasonably slow.” The Committee investigation is seeking answers from the Obama administration on the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the Benghazi compound, which the Obama administration first blamed on a YouTube video before admitting it was a terrorist attack. When Clinton last spoke about Benghazi at a Senate hearing in 2013, she famously replied, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” when asked how the administration initially described the attack…”


Obama’s Unconstitutional Attempt to Shift the Blame for His Losing ISIS Strategy

His proposed resolution would upend the Constitution’s national-defense framework.

“On Wednesday, President Obama proposed for Congress’s consideration an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The jihadists are already being fought — albeit not nearly vigorously enough — under existing AUMFs. So Obama’s proposal, which would gratuitously repeal one of the prior AUMFs, is unnecessary. It is, in addition, so pathetic a concoction of lawlessness and aimlessness that, in a healthier political climate, Congress would not give it the time of day. The document defies the reality of war. Phrased as a license for the “limited” use of force, it suggests that lawmakers should delegitimize combat even as they authorize it. The president would have Congress limit the duration of combat (to three years), as if war came with an end-date. He’d have Congress limit the means of combat (no ground forces), as if war could be scripted to suit the Left’s anti-war sensibilities…”


Democrats, Republicans suggest Obama’s military plan vs. ISIS doesn’t go far enough


John Boehner: ‘Too early to predict’ fate of Obama’s war request


Former Obama Official On ISIS: ‘Mistakes Were Made. Presidents Make Mistakes.’ [VIDEO]


Robert Fulford: Obama believes in Israel as a valuable long-time ally. He just gets angry when Israel doesn’t obey


Boehner admits keeping Obama in dark about Netanyahu




Boehner: ‘We have every right to’ invite Netanyahu to speak


WHIP LIST: Dems skipping Netanyahu speech


Panetta: Biggest Threat To National Security Is Dysfunction in DC

“LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR (2011-13): I don’t think there is any question that the president can get this done, but it is going to be a continuing contuing commitment. Lok, you want to know what the biggest national security threat to this country is right now? The total dysfunction in Washington, the fact that so little can be done by Congress. They can’t even resolve the issue of Homeland Security, they can’t deal with budgets, immigration reform, infrastructure. They can’t deal with other issues. If they wind up not being able to deal with this war authorization, that sends a terrible message to the world.”




Iran’s supreme leader wrote letter to Obama, report says