News Briefing for Monday, May 25

Eyeglasses with newspaper and coffee cup


Far left, far right unite on some issues in Congress

“…Just last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tea Party Patriots joined forces in a media blitz aimed at forcing Congress to reject a reauthorization of the NSA bulk data collection program. On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul went to the Senate floor to rail against the NSA in a filibuster-style speech. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, joined him with a speech of his own. “Given the overwhelming evidence that the current bulk collection program is not only unnecessary but also illegal, we’ve reached a critical turning point,” Heinrich said, sounding themes similar to Paul’s. Free trade is another area in which certain elements of the left and right are finding common ground. Many Democrats — including all of those in New Mexico’s congressional delegation — are deeply skeptical of giving President Obama so-called “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals…”

Editorial: A patriotic act

Congress should nix the legislative authority behind the NSA’s bulk data collection.

“…Not every senator shares Cornyn’s attitude. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is leading a campaign to block the reauthorization of Section 215. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Tea Party Patriots have even united in running television advertisements against the NSA’s bulk data collection. Whether in an office desk or Google server, all Americans should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal papers…”



No biggie: Your Obamacare premiums are going up. Way up in some cases.

“The “Affordable” Care Act may be looking for a new name in the near future. As Fox News and the Wall Street Journal are reporting, the next round of health care premium cost adjustments are coming down the pike, and you’ll never guess where things are heading. Okay… you probably guessed already. The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Obamacare rates are about to shoot up, in some cases as much as 40%. The rate increases requested by insurance carriers vary state by state, but the overall picture is bad. “In New Mexico, market leader Health Care Service Corp. is asking for an average jump of 51.6% in premiums for 2016,” the Journal reports. “The biggest insurer in Tennessee, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, has requested an average 36.3% increase. In Maryland, market leader CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield wants to raise rates 30.4% across its products. Moda Health, the largest insurer on the Oregon health exchange, seeks an average boost of around 25%.” The Washington Examiner reported today that in Oregon the primary insurance carrier is facing costs (payouts) exceeding premiums (income) by just over 60%. “Moda Health, which serves roughly half of (Oregon’s) individual market, is aiming to raise rates by an average of 25.6 percent. As Jed Graham of Investor’s Business Daily noted, Moda’s costs for 2014 – the first year of Obamacare’s exchanges — exceeded its premiums by 61.5 percent.”…”

Medical Debt Remains Even As Obamacare Picks Up The Tab

“The Affordable Care Act, which is five years old and in its second year of providing subsidized private coverage on government marketplaces, is making it easier for Americans to pay their medical bills. But when it comes to eliminating their debts to health care providers and paying their share of co-payments and deductibles, Americans still have problems, several different studies out in the last week show. The Urban Institute issued briefs showing the health law has taken a load off of family budgets with 9.4 million fewer families “having problems paying medical bills,” the report shows. However, the institute also reported  that nearly one in four adults between the ages of 18 and 64 have tallied medical debt they are still paying off. “It’s encouraging to see that fewer families report problems with medical bills, but at the same time it’s very clear that health insurance does not provide immunity from financial distress,” Katherine Hempstead, who handles coverage issues for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a key funder of the Urban Institute. Those reporting problems paying their medical bills declined to 17.3 percent in March of this year compared to 22 percent in September 2013 before broader coverage under the ACA began. Still, the health law offers access to subsidized private coverage and the health insurance industry and employers are shifting more and more costs onto subscribers and workers for the better part of the last decade. Cost-shifting makes a health plan subscriber think twice before choosing a more expensive treatment and has slowed medical inflation, but it’s also increased health plan enrollee out-of-pocket costs. The 2015 Milliman Medical Index reported last week that the annual cost of benefits through an employer-sponsored preferred provider organization (PPO) rose 6.3 percent, or $1,456, to $24,671 in 2015 compared to $23,215 in 2014. Out-of-pocket costs were rising in that study linked here…”


‘If you can get things for free, why pay for them?’

“The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has created more dependency on government and perverted the capitalist foundations of America, according to a top surgeon. “You just can’t keep giving everything away to people without them working for it,” said Dr. Lee Hieb, former president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. “It’s not capitalism when you let people who are able-bodied not contribute to society but take the spoils. I mean, that’s just not capitalism. We have too many people that don’t work to eat.” Obamacare appears to be worsening America’s dependency issue. The Associated Press reported food-stamp enrollment increased in 11 states between January 2013 and the end of 2014, the period during which Obamacare went into effect. Ten of those 11 states expanded Medicaid under the ACA, and six of them used new online enrollment systems that made it easy for customers to sign up for both Medicaid and food stamps at the same time. Such streamlined application systems were built specifically for the health-care overhaul. In total, nearly 632,000 people were added to the food-stamp rolls in those 11 states during that period, at an estimated cost of almost $79 million a month to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food-stamp program also known as SNAP. This came at a time when the national economy was improving and food-stamp enrollment declined nationwide. Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, sees the phenomenon as part of a government attempt to place more Americans under its thumb. “Self-reliant Americans are being crushed by taxation and regulation, directly and indirectly, and turned into government dependents,” Orient said. “How can you resist if government can cut off your food and medicine?” In almost all of the 16 states that didn’t expand Medicaid, food-stamp rolls have been decreasing as the economy improves….”

Kentucky example shows perils of Obamacare

“IS Obamacare working? Proponents answer “yes” and point to the increased number of people who technically have health insurance. But evidence is growing that coverage is not translating into medical care, and that the Affordable Care Act has exacerbated the financial problems of health care providers. The latest evidence of such problems comes from Kentucky, the only Southern state to expand Medicaid under Obamcare and establish a state-based exchange for people to get subsidized insurance under the law. A report by the Kentucky Hospital Association, “Code Blue,” determined (in the words of a USA Today article) that Obamacare has left Kentucky hospitals “facing billions of dollars in cuts and forced them to lay off staff, shut down services and worry for their financial health and, in some cases, survival.” The association estimated hospital payment cuts under Obamacare will total nearly $7 billion through 2024, which exceeds the amount they will gain in revenue through expanded coverage. A net loss of $1 billion is predicted for Kentucky hospitals by 2020. Again: This is occurring in a state that has fully embraced Obamacare, unlike Oklahoma. In fact, the share of uninsured residents in Kentucky has fallen from 20.4 percent in 2013 to 11.9 percent in mid-2014, according to Gallup polling. That was the second-largest decline in the nation. Yet this increased coverage is actually placing hospitals in financial peril. A major reason is that about three-fourths of newly insured Kentuckians are receiving coverage through Medicaid, which USA Today notes “reimburses hospitals less than it costs to treat patients.” In Kentucky, Medicaid payments cover 82 percent of the cost of treatment while Medicare covers 86 percent. Making things worse, about 20 percent of Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid due to Obamacare previously had private health insurance. This means those patients’ previous coverage paid more of the actual cost of treatment than what they have under Obamacare….”

Obama orders Scott to expand Medicaid but without funds to do so

“Florida lawmakers say they’re closer to averting a government shutdown this summer after the Obama administration moved to defuse a health-funding standoff with Republican Gov. Rick Scott that has featured a lawsuit, comparisons to a TV mob family and personal pleas to Congress. Key players in Tallahassee said the administration sped the path to a state budget pact by late June, even though it proposed a significant cut to the Low Income Pool (LIP), a program that helps Florida hospitals care for the poor and uninsured. For weeks Mr. Scott harangued the Obama administration and even sued them in federal court, saying it was using Mafia-like tactics to force him to expand Medicaid instead of reauthorizing more than $2 billion in LIP funding. With no end in sight, the governor accused the federal Department of Health and Human Services of holding his state budget hostage as uncertainty over health care left a big hole in the plans. The administration blinked Thursday, saying it could justify $1 billion for the program in the coming year and $600 million in fiscal 2017, casting it as breathing room for Florida to embrace Medicaid expansion or another system that extends medical coverage to the poor. While it’s half what Mr. Scott requested, the concession from Washington gives state lawmakers a baseline to work with as they hammer out a spending deal. “While we are still evaluating the effect of the new LIP funding level, this progress will greatly help the [state] House and Senate finalize allocations and pass a balanced budget that meets the needs of Floridians during the upcoming special session in June,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Republican who credited Mr. Scott’s “tenacity” in negotiating with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)…”


“This week, Senator Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) 57% and Representative Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) 58% introduced companion bills to the Senate and House respectively that would name an Inspector General to investigate Obamacare overspending and abuses. Since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the Obama administration has made 31 significant changes in the implementation of the act without going to Congress to obtain statutory authority. With these bills, lawmakers are finally attempting to reassert some constitutional control over the executive branch’s usurpations of its legislative authority. It is unclear whether these bills will pass both houses. If they do, an Obama veto is likely, and the ball would be in Congress’s court to secure the 2/3 vote necessary to override such a veto. The bills were proposed as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision, expected next month, which could completely unravel the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by voiding the issuance of Obamacare tax credits to residents of the 37 states that chose not to establish their own health care exchanges. In a statement released on Tuesday, Roskam said his bill, H.R. 2400, would “create a Special Inspector General for Monitoring the Affordable Care Act (SIGMA). The bill is supported by all Majority members of the Oversight Subcommittee and all key oversight subcommittee chairs, as well as a wide array of prominent conservative advocacy organizations.” “In the years since Democrats rammed Obamacare through Congress, our country has already seen the costly consequences of this law: billions of dollars wasted on a failed website and overpayments, millions of Americans kicked off their healthcare plans, and skyrocketing premiums for hardworking families and small businesses,” said Roskam, who is chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. “Now, a pending Supreme Court decision threatens to upend the law—casting further uncertainty over the future of our entire healthcare system,” Roskam added…”

Republicans May Have to Save Obamacare

“A Wall Street Journal editorial Friday predicted what would happen if Republicans won the King v. Burwell case, which the Supreme Court is expected to decide any week now. The Journal said that if Obamacare subsidies disappeared in states with (mostly) Republican governors, there could be another “friendly-fire massacre” as people blamed the party for the collapse of the individual insurance market. On the other hand, Jeffrey Toobin, in the New Yorker, predicted “the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the president and his party.” Who has the better case? Remembering, of course, that the court could decide against the King plaintiffs. Toobin’s argument is straightforward. Most people don’t pay attention to the details of politics. They only know enough to be aware that President Barack Obama and the Democrats reformed health care. That means that if they can’t get health insurance (or the price suddenly skyrockets), it must be Obama’s fault. At an even more basic level: bad things of any kind usually hurt the president’s popularity, whether he had anything to do with it or not. There’s some truth to Toobin’s take, but it’s not the entire story, because “who will people blame?” isn’t necessarily the relevant question. It might be more useful to look at the legislative logic: Will Republicans in Congress believe their constituents will demand a solution if Obamacare starts to disappear. If so, Republicans will attempt to find one. And they will rapidly discover that the only fix they can deliver — that they can pass and that the president will sign — is a patch that restores subsidies until 2017. They might be able to add a little window-dressing to it make it appear as though they are changing the Affordable Care Act, but the president would veto anything significant…”

Vox’s Ezra Klein: Obamacare Is Largely Successful, and Voters Will ‘Eventually Punish’ Its Opponents

“The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.” That proverb sums up Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein’s Friday analysis of the policy and politics of Obamacare. In this metaphor, the dogs are ideologues on both sides who, heedless of evidence, have been barking (and snarling and growling) at each other about the Affordable Care Act. As Klein noted, “Social scientists have [determined that] the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become. When it comes to politics, people reason backward from their conclusions.” The caravan is Obamacare itself, which, Klein opined, is “nowhere near perfect” but in general is succeeding by “doing pretty much what it said it would do, at a lower cost than anyone thought.” Moreover, it’s gaining acceptance: “Even the reddest locales are slowly but surely coming around [on the Medicaid expansion]…It’s a pretty safe bet that once Obama leaves, and some of the polarization around his signature law leaves with him, all or nearly all states will eventually participate in the law.” From Klein’s piece (bolding added): Obamacare stands as a monument to much that’s wrong with American politics. But it also, increasingly, is evidence of much that’s right with it, too… Much of what Americans know about Obamacare is simply wrong. A plurality, for instance, think the law is costing more than originally estimated. Only 5 percent know it’s actually costing quite a bit less… …[O]pinions on the law are pretty much the same as the day it passed: 83 percent of Americans say their view of Obamacare hasn’t shifted over the past five years. But the good news is, well, really good. Obamacare’s premiums are much cheaper than anyone expected…[M]ost enrollees are happy with their health insurance, happy with the value they’re getting for their money, and happy with their choice of doctors and hospitals… Obamacare is an example of a depressing fact of American politics: more information doesn’t change minds. Social scientists have tested this again and again. The more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become. When it comes to politics, people reason backward from their conclusions… …We know how many people [Obamacare is] covering and how much its premiums are costing and how badly was designed and how high the deductibles are and how narrow the networks are becoming and how happy people are with their insurance…”

‘Pathetic’: AP runs cover for Dems scrambling to repair ‘deceptive’ Obamacare


Immigration Hurting Today’s Middle Class (letter)

Since 1970 when legal and illegal immigration began climbing, America’s middle class has been shrinking and steadily losing ground.

“Valerie Terrall (Letters, May 2) errs by appealing to history to play down concerns about today’s record level of immigration. When immigration levels plunged and stayed low during the 50-year period after 1920, America’s middle class exploded as real wages, incomes and productivity all boomed. But after 1970 when legal and illegal immigration began climbing again to today’s unprecedented size, real wages, incomes and productivity have stagnated as America’s middle class has been shrinking and steadily losing ground.”

GOP bill blocks pregnant immigrants from entering the U.S.

“Several House Republicans have proposed legislation that would prevent pregnant immigrants from entering the United States, in a bid to stop them from giving birth in the U.S. to bestow U.S. citizenship on their children. The Stop Birth Tourism Act, from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is the latest GOP attempt to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. In a letter to his House colleagues seeking support for the bill, Rohrabacher said U.S. consular officers are allowed to turn immigrants away for several reasons, but not for reasons related to what he says is “birth tourism.” “[T]hey do not have the ability to refuse a tourist visa if a pregnant foreigner is likely to come to the United States solely for the purpose of giving birth,” he wrote. “My proposal would correct this problem by giving consular officers the authority to deem an alien as ineligible to enter the U.S. on a tourist visa if the officer determines she is likely to give birth in the U.S. if admitted.”…”

Immigration Reform Update: Honduran Immigrant, Latino Lawmakers Call Immigrant Detention ‘Unconscionable’

“Latino congressional lawmakers have again called for the end of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) immigrant family detention program. Members, including those from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, voiced concerns about the inhumane conditions and harmful impacts of detaining immigrant families, especially those awaiting to make their case in immigration court. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, said U.S. law requires immigrants the right to make their case in immigration court. “It is immoral to have immigrant mothers and children in jail while waiting for their day in immigration court,” Lofgren continued, later adding, “We need to commit to law” but jailing mothers and children is not part of the solution. “It’s important for people around the country to know what’s happening to mothers and children in detention facilities,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Immigration Task Force co-chair. “We should all be appalled as Americans that those who arrive at our country’s borders fleeing violence … are incarcerated. … It is the law of the U.S. to apply for asylum and not be punished.” Gutierrez noted that the notion that the U.S. locked up children with their mothers would not be tolerated in any American city yet it has been applied to immigrants…”

When It Comes to Dealing With Illegal Immigration, the U.S. and Britain Couldn’t Be More Different

“Nick Evlogimenos came from Greece to Britain three years ago and now wants to see limits on both illegal and legal immigration into the country he now calls home. “I understand the agony some people face but from my point of view, whoever wants to make a living in a country that is not his own should prove he can provide for that country by being productive,” Evlomenos told TheBlaze. Fresh off his Conservative party’s reelection victory this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigrants and employers who hire them that would allow confiscating illegals’ paychecks and cutting government benefits for legal immigrants. The announcement came after reports that net immigration into Britain in 2014 reached a near record at 318,000, an increase of more than 100,000 from the previous year. Though Cameron and President Barack Obama have displayed a close friendship — with the president reportedly calling the prime minister “bro” — the two leaders have starkly different approaches to immigration. In November 2014, Obama issued executive actions to shield about 5 million illegal immigrants in the United States from deportation. “The U.K. is a smaller country than the U.S., so you can probably accommodate more immigrants,” London resident Ann Salmon told TheBlaze regarding the contrasting policies between Obama and Cameron. “We feel here that immigration is a big problem. A lot come into this country just for benefits.” Salmon said her own family has borne the burden of mass immigration…”

California governor proposes amnesty program for those who cannot pay traffic debt

“Calling California’s traffic court system a “hellhole of desperation” for the poor, Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing an amnesty program for residents who can’t afford to pay off spiraling fines and penalties that have resulted in 4.8 million driver’s license suspensions since 2006. The push by the Democratic governor spotlights concern among lawmakers and court administrators that California’s justice system is profiting off minorities and low-income residents. It’s a civil rights issue that has prompted discussions between the Brown administration and the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the governor’s spokesman, Evan Westrup. It’s not clear if the Justice Department has launched an inquiry into California’s court system. The department did not return requests for comment. Westrup declined to provide details on the meetings with federal officials. Under Brown’s plan, drivers with lesser infractions would pay half of what they owe, and administrative fees would be slashed from $300 to $50. Advocates for the poor have likened California’s problem to the police and municipal court structure in Ferguson, Missouri, which was criticized by the Justice Department as a revenue-generating machine following last year’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer. “California has sadly become a pay-to-play court system,” said Michael Herald, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty who helped write a scathing report released last month by civil rights groups on how Californians are getting caught in a cycle of debt and having their driver’s licenses suspended as a result of costly traffic tickets and court penalties. Traffic fines have been skyrocketing in California and courts have grown reliant on fees as a result of budget cuts during the recession….”


Senate Passes Fast-Track Trade Legislation

Vote paves way for President Obama’s signature Pacific trade deal, though fate in House is uncertain

“The Senate on Friday passed major trade legislation that would pave the way for President Barack Obama’s signature Pacific trade deal, marking a victory for the Obama administration and Republican leaders in Congress and sending the bill toward an uncertain fate in the House. Lawmakers defeated a controversial amendment on currency manipulation that drew a veto threat from the White House and then moved the bill steadily…”


Obama’s prestige rests with wary House after big win from Senate on trade authority

“The first major free trade bill in years is headed for the House, where passage of a bill to grant President Obama powers to conclude a Pacific trade deal faces a stiffer challenge than the one just overcome in the Senate. Although more than a dozen pro-trade Democratic senators linked arms with most Republicans to grant Mr. Obama a major legislative victory in the upper chamber on a 62-37 vote, Democrats in the House are less inclined toward free trade and Republicans in the chamber are even more suspicious of granting Mr. Obama any broad powers. But Friday’s vote was a substantial victory for Mr. Obama, who staked his personal prestige on winning a legacy-enhancing trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The vote was on fast-track negotiating powers, known as Trade Promotion Authority, that will allow Mr. Obama to complete negotiations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. “It’s been a long time coming,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who led the fight for Trade Promotion Authority, said just ahead of the vote on what he called “likely the most important bill we’ll pass this year.” Trade Promotion Authority lays out the conditions for Mr. Obama to complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and any other trade deals. It sets environmental and labor standards and sets a period for Congress to consider and vote on whatever final agreement the president submits. The Senate vote was anticlimactic. The big test was a few hours earlier on an amendment that would have injected language into the fast-track powers requiring the administration to punish other countries deemed guilty of keeping their currency artificially low versus the dollar in order to gain an export advantage…”

Obama Presses Currency Compromise in Trade Pact

Nod to lawmakers who want strong anti-manipulation provisions is aimed at saving accord

“The Obama administration, facing a push by U.S. lawmakers to insert language that targets currency manipulation in a major Pacific trade deal, is pitching a less-aggressive approach that would bolster international oversight and transparency of currency policies. The Treasury Department says the “historic new approach” it envisions would bring exchange-rate provisions into trade negotiations for the first time and strengthen U.S….”

President Obama’s toughest fight on trade still lies ahead

“The White House and Republican leaders have a lot of work to do to push fast-track trade authority through the House. The Senate approved a fast-track bill just before leaving for the Memorial Day recess, with supporters beating back Democratic efforts to delay the bill or undercut it through amendments. But while the Senate managed to work out its procedural knots, the House outcome remains in doubt with proponents and opponents each claiming they can win the toughest legislative battle of the year. The issue has made surprising allies of the president and GOP leaders, who back trade promotion authority (TPA) against progressives who worry about the effect on jobs and conservatives opposed to ceding more power to Obama.

Fast-track supporters are cautious but growing more optimistic. Republican leaders see support for the bill building and may take a shot at bringing up the trade bills immediately after the Memorial Day recess.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, told The Hill on Thursday that trade will likely be the first issue leaders consider when they return to Washington.  “I think we’ve been a little bit shy of the runway until the Senate finishes their work,” he said Friday as the upper chamber was still scrambling to finish work on the bill. Sessions said the importance of forging strong trade agreements and giving the U.S. a competitive advantage would win over Republicans and keep defections to a minimum. On the Republican side, the fight is centered around a number of conservatives worried about empowering Obama on trade at the expense of Congress. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has been rallying the troops, holding meetings for months to sell skeptical Republicans on giving Obama the authority he needs to wrap up sweeping global trade deals. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said Republicans are making gains and he “hopes to pass the bill sometime next month because it is vitally important for our country.”…”


“Matt Drudge took to Twitter to deliver an ongoing tirade against Republicans’ eagerness to deliver a fast-track trade bill to President Obama’s desk. The bill’s details have not been made public — which hasn’t stopped Republicans from surrendering Congress’s power to make amendments to a president’s future trade deals. Should a Republican presidential candidate lose the 2016 general election, the Trade Promotion Authority bill could be to blame. Keeping the bill’s details from voters was “clearly treason,” Drudge tweeted…”


“Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) 6% took to the Senate floor Friday evening to make a point-by-point analysis of why a trade deal being negotiated by President Barack Obama would harm the United States. Merkley’s comments came as the Senate voted to give Obama “fast track” authority that will allow him to negotiate a deal that Congress can then approve with an up or down vote, but cannot alter. While Obama has said that the deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is “the most progressive framework for trade” the United States has ever had, Merkley argued on Friday that the deal would hurt American workers, increase inequality and undermine American sovereignty. “We are creating a structure of a group of seven very poor nations with very low wages, five affluent nations with higher wages, and think about the difference between running an operation on the mound or Malaysia or Mexico, with a minimum wage of less than $2 an hour, and in Vietnam with a minimum wage of 60 to 70 cents depending on what part of the country you’re in,” Merkley said. “Think about the difference between that and the minimum wage in the United States. It is a 10-to-1 differential.”…”

GOP turns to Tea Party to win trade powers for Obama

“House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders have turned to some unlikely allies to rally support for a key trade bill: Tea-Party conservatives, including some prominent names from the raucous House Freedom Caucus. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently tapped Rep. Tom McClintock to give the weekly GOP address, in which the conservative Californian declared: “Trade means prosperity.”   At the monthly “Conversations with Conservatives” event, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) informed his colleagues he’s an unequivocal “yes” on granting President Obama so-called “fast-track” trade powers.

And both McClintock and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) huddled with reporters in a leadership office last week to talk up the virtues of legislation to help pass Obama’s trade agenda.

Salmon, typically a source of heartburn for leadership, denounced some of the conservative “Pat Buchananites” he runs with as “protectionists.” Those who warn Obama can’t be trusted on trade are making a weak argument, he said, because Congress has given Republican presidents the same authority. Finally, Salmon pointedly challenged critics who’ve complained about the secrecy of the process to head down to a classified briefing room in the Capitol’s basement to read details of a major 12-nation trade deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). “I’ve read every jot and tittle … 123 pages,” Salmon told reporters during the press briefing, while seated next to House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the No. 4 leader. “To go out there and rail against it when you haven’t even looked at it is insane.”…”

GOP gears up for fight with Obama over defense spending

“On this Memorial Day weekend, the Republican Party is gearing up for a fight on the controversial defense spending bill that recently passed the House, despite White House veto threats and steep Democratic opposition. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, criticized President Obama for politicizing the controversial bill in a video Saturday. “The House bill authorized exactly the amount the president requested to keep America safe,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said Saturday in a video. “But he wants more money for domestic programs and has threatened to veto the defense bill unless he gets it.” “We’re always going to have our differences, but it’s wrong for anyone to play politics with defense,” the House Armed Services Committee chair added. “The world is too dangerous, and the men and women who serve are too precious for that.” Regardless of the president’s veto warning, the House passed the nearly $612 billion defense policy bill last week. House Democrats opposing the measure warned that the bill — which puts $89 billion into an emergency war fund to skirt sequestration’s defense spending caps — could open up the budget to sharp cuts in non-defense domestic spending later in the year. House Republicans are now pushing for their upper-chamber counterparts to pass the bill regardless of the president’s veto threats. Thornberry said the bill “gives our troops a raise and updates their benefits” and helps protect the nation against extremist terror threats like ISIS. But Democrats have pushed back against that claim…”

GOP to Obama: “It’s wrong for anyone to play politics with defense”

Senate approves short-term highway bill, sending it to Obama

“The Senate passed a two-month extension of highway funding by voice vote on Saturday, staving off an abrupt halt in infrastructure projects and pushing back a likely protracted debate over how to finance road construction in the long-term. The vote sends the stopgap highway bill to President Obama, who’s expected to sign it before the May 31 deadline.  But there was also bipartisan agreement that Saturday’s action was nothing more than a punt that barely avoided a shutdown of highway projects during the busy summer months, and that the two parties need to find a way to fund the sort of long-term highway bill that has eluded Congress for years.

“Senate Democrats want to get on a with a long-term solution, because we understand that you cannot have big league economic growth with little league infrastructure,” Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, told reporters on Friday. The Senate vote on highways was also one of the last acts in a hectic week, in which the chamber struggled to find compromises on both President Obama’s trade agenda and surveillance programs. The House and the Senate agreed to back a two-month extension of highway policy after top Republicans like House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) fell short in their efforts to find the $11 billion or so needed to push the highway deadline back until the end of 2015. Hatch blamed the failure to reach a deal squarely on Democrats. “Unfortunately [Democratic] cooperation didn’t last,” he said. “In fact it never really began. By passing the simple two-month deal, lawmakers didn’t have to come up with any new cash for the Highway Trust Fund. The Transportation Department has said that, as long as highway policy was extended, the trust fund had enough money to last until the middle of this summer.  But while infrastructure might have been the least contentious of the three issues this week, leaders in both parties acknowledge that finding the roughly $15 billion a year necessary for as much as a six-year highway bill will be far from easy, and that there are plenty of divisions among lawmakers about how to achieve that goal. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said Friday that he would love to “give some people some legitimate expectations, predictability.”   “But I’m just not sure that we can get that done,” Roberts said. Republicans are expected to push for yet another highway patch before the July deadline, seeking to fund highway programs through the end of the year in what would make roughly two dozen short-term extensions over the last 12 years…”

Congress sets new deadline on highways

“Before scuttling out of town for the Memorial Day recess, Congress met a key deadline by passing a short-term extension of federal highway funds. The punt by lawmakers means they’ll have to pass another bill by July 31 to keep road and infrastructure projects funded, however. And it won’t be as easy then to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the projects. The Highway Trust Fund relies on a federal gas tax for its money, and it is expected to run dry in July. That means lawmakers will have to find a different funding source. The 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been hiked since 1993, and it no longer keeps up with current transportation spending. The federal government spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, while the gas tax only collects about $34 billion. Congress will likely be under further pressure to extend the Highway Trust Fund in light of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia this month. Democrats this week pointed to the accident as evidence of needing to maintain the nation’s infrastructure. “We in Congress can help. We can and must make this investment before another terrible accident, before another life is tragically and needlessly lost,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), who tried unsuccessfully to add $750 million in funding to the bill to help railroads implement communications and signal systems to track train locations and speeds. House GOP leaders originally wanted to renew the Highway Trust Fund through the end of the year. But they struggled to come up with the $10 billion necessary to cover the cost through that timeframe.  House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) acknowledged that Congress will likely turn to yet another short-term patch again in just two months…”

Pelosi: GOP has resisted fixing infrastructure

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Sunday that Republicans have decided to pick a fight with President Obama on infrastructure funding, a normally bipartisan issue. “For most of the time, infrastructure has not been partisan,” Pelosi told former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), host of MSNBC’s “Taking the Hill.” “It was a place we could all come together,” she said. “Under President Obama, Republicans have resisted his efforts to improve infrastructure,” she added. “This has been a challenge for a while.” Pelosi also charged that upgrading America’s infrastructure would make it stronger economically and better protect its citizens. “It is absolutely essential from a safety standpoint, from a commercial standpoint, from a quality-of-life standpoint,” she said. “Some of our water systems are still brick and wood, they’re so ancient,” she said as an example. Pelosi said the fatal derailment of Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 in Philadelphia on May 12 showed the consequences of congressional inaction on the matter. “I hope this is a lesson learned that drives home the message that more work needs to be done,” she said. “Republicans have opposed increasing funding for Amtrak for a long time.” Pelosi added that infrastructure technology improvements were too costly for the business world to tackle them without federal support…”

America’s disappointing economic recovery

US Fed is wise to keep its options open at a time of very mixed data

“The coming turn in US interest rates may be the most telegraphed in many cycles. Yet for all Janet Yellen’s strivings at clarity, the US outlook remains clouded by poor visibility. Last week Ms Yellen said the Federal Reserve was still likely to raise interest rates this year — possibly in September — in spite of the sharp slowdown in first-quarter US growth. For one reason or another, including a series of harsh winters, growth in the first three months of the year has tended to underperform the rest of it, often heavily so. The US economy shrank by an annualised 2.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 only to rebound in the next three. Hopefully this year’s anaemic 0.2 per cent first quarter expansion will be equally misleading.

It would, however, be rash to make assumptions. It is quite possible 2015 will end as it began with US interest rates still on zero. As Ms Yellen put it: “Based on many years of making economic projections, I can assure you that any specific projection I write down will turn out to be wrong, perhaps markedly so.”…”


IRS Oversees Taxes And Obamacare. Now Warren Buffett Wants IRS In Welfare Too

“Mega-Billionaire Warren Buffett is awfully savvy, the most successful investor of all time. He has become a strangely hybrid cult figure. A kind of public sage, he is a bellwether of what we all should do. In the language of the 1960s, Mr. Buffett is part of the establishment. Yet he likes simple things, managing to appeal to everyman. Despite public hostility toward the super-rich, Mr. Buffett is always revered, making many perpetually hungry for the facts they never knew about Warren Buffett. He even says he wants higher tax rates, almost mounting a crusade. Heck, I should pay more than my secretary, he famously complained. Of course, Mr. Buffett is famously shrewd when it comes to shaving taxes off his own wealth, with a way of supersizing Buffett tax deductions. And he is deft at entirely side-stepping or shaving quite close all taxes off the endless parade of corporate deals his army of companies keeps acquiring. In the corporate world, Mr. Buffett plays a non-stop Game of Thrones. Truly, no one else can bend it like Buffett. All of this makes it especially unfortunate that Mr. Buffett is championing bringing the IRS into an even larger role than it already has. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Mr. Buffett says we should expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and not raise the minimum wage. As Mr. Buffett puts it, “The process is simple: You file a tax return, and the government sends you a check.” Many tax lawyers, accountants and return preparers who deal with IRS issues daily are scratching their heads. Any American who has dealt with an IRS snafu—and there are many—should be too. Already, a Treasury Department watchdog has admitted that the IRS Made $133 Billion in Improper EITC Payments.And the horrible tally keeps going up every year, with the earned income tax credit still being plagued with terribly high error rates. We pay out billions to the wrong people. And some of the right people don’t get what they should get. Fraud is rampant. And then there is the whole undocumented worker issue!…”

How student debt became a presidential campaign issue

“The $1.3 trillion burden of student debt is becoming an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign as candidates court the millions of Americans grappling with the high cost of college. Congressional Democrats are advocating for debt-free public higher education and pushing party front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton to take up the issue in her campaign. White House hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley have already backed the plan, with Sanders proposing his own federal program to make four-year public college free. Republican contenders have not laid out any specific positions, but New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush have framed the issue as a barrier to economic mobility in recent speeches. “We’re talking about over 40 million Americans who have student debt,” said Sarah Audelo of the Center for American Progress. “We have this multi-generational impact . . . and there has to be a conversation.” The latest data from the New York Federal Reserve shows that 65 ­­percent of student loans are held by Americans younger than 39, while people age 40 to 59 hold another 30 ­percent. The issue weighs heaviest on the minds of millennials, who have endured soaring college costs that forced many to take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt. A Harvard University Institute of Politics poll found that 57 percent of people under 30 believe that student debt is a major problem for young people. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, said he thinks the issue of student debt is as important to millennials as “war and peace issues” were to baby boomers. “A part of the reason student debt is so important for Democrats is that it’s a crucial motivator to get younger people to vote,” Garin said. “Student debt is often the defining economic fact of their lives.” People 18 to 34 account for about one-fourth of the voting-age population. While that group largely sat out the midterm elections, their votes proved critical in the last two presidential elections…”

ISIS rises, the economy falters, and Obama’s legacy falls apart

“Deep into the seventh year of his tenure, Barack Obama is thinking about his post-presidential legacy. We know this because he’s telling us so. In an interview this week with The Atlantic about the potential deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program, the president sought to use the fact of his relative youth and his consciousness about how history might judge him to his advantage: “Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this. I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.” In one sense, this is what we want presidents to worry about. We want them to be restrained by the cautionary examples provided by history and by the fact that history will judge them. But what if the desire to tip the scales of history’s judgment in his favor leads a president to take dangerous risks? In fact, we know that is what Obama has done with the Iran deal because his aides have told us so.

His deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, put it this way last year to a roomful of liberal activists when talking about the initial November 2013 agreement to begin talking about Iran’s nuclear program: “Bottom line is, this is the best opportunity we’ve had to resolve the Iranian issue diplomatically…This is probably the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy. This is health care for us, just to put it in context.”…”


“Some economists are warning that the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of what is essentially a $1.20 per year increase in the minimum wage for the next five years will be so inflationary that rents and other prices will rise. That analysis assumes that inflating wages by 10.76 percent a year will not motivate more employer automation and fewer jobs. With about half of minimum wage workers aged 16-24, the losers from LA’s minimum wage hike will likely end up back in their parents’ homes. National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed UCLA housing researcher Rosalie Ray,who worries that when the 700,000 minimum wage workers in Los Angeles that earn $19,000 today are earning a little more than $30,000 a year in 2020, rental costs will skyrocket. Ray warned, “What you’re essentially doing is increasing the buying power without increasing the supply, which will just drive up the prices,” Ray said. Typical of UCLA academics and NPR, their answer to this impending “problem” of prosperity is to build more government subsidized low-cost and public housing. According to the latest Los Angeles County Business Federation poll, “high taxes, restrictive regulations, excessive permitting and minimum wage hikes” are job killers. Although 40 percent of Federation employers are considering adding employees, 59 percent intend to make the type of capital investments that automate away jobs. Despite liberal politicians’ claim their policies help the poor, Los Angeles holds the crown as America’s Poorest Big City, according to analysis by the American Community Survey-based Census Bureau data. Of the 25 major metropolitan areas in 2013, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim took the booby prize for having the highest poverty rate at 17.6%. California’s overall rate of poverty was also the top contender at 16.8%. The UCLA study and NPR do not realize that about 62 percent of all minimum wage workers are currently enrolled in school. They tend to live in middle-class households and are typically not their family’s sole breadwinner. Since the drive began in the late 1990s for mandated federal, state and local minimum wage hikes, the labor workforce participation rate for 16-24 year old workers have plummeted by 17.4 percent. Much of this shrinkage in youth employment is directly correlated to higher minimum wages encouraging businesses to replace people with mahcines…”


“At the movies, Gordon Gekko assured us that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” And that’s true in the private sector. If you’re greedy to make products and deliver services in return for money, you’ll be accomplishing positive things: making consumers happy, earning a living, providing employment to people, and so forth. But greed, when it comes to raking in bribes, isn’t good. Money spent paying bribes isn’t being used productively. It’s simply wasted. So where’s it going? There are private sector bribes, but they’re small potatoes. As long as there’s competition in a sector, if someone demands a bribe for providing goods or services, you can always move on to another supplier. Bribery, then, is mostly a problem in dealing with government officials, who have a legal monopoly in a particular area. In India, for example, the entire governmental system was, for decades, set up around bribes. Under the “License Raj,” getting anything done required the approval of a number of low level officials, and bribing each was simply part of the cost of business. Needless to say, that led to slow economic growth. So along come governments to “save us” from a problem they almost exclusively create. “[A]nti-bribery enforcement has been transformed since the early 2000s, when NGOs started to raise a stink and America stepped up use of its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA),” The Economist reports. “As recently as 2007, the largest fine under the FCPA was less than $50m. Now the worst offenders pay 10-15 times that.”…”



Senate Blocks House Surveillance Bill, Extension of Patriot Act

“The Senate struggled unsuccessfully to prevent an interruption in critical government surveillance programs early Saturday, blocking a House-passed bill and several short-term extensions of the USA Patriot Act. The main stumbling block was a House-passed provision to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of domestic phone records. Instead, the records would remain with telephone companies subject to a case-by-case review…”

McConnell’s NSA gambit fails

“Mitch McConnell staged an epic gamble over U.S. spying powers — and lost. The Republican leader pledged to keep senators in Washington through the weekend to finish work on expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called his bluff. Instead, when the smoke cleared in the early hours of Saturday morning, the 2016 presidential contender was the one with bragging rights. The battle between the two Kentucky Republicans spilled over on the Senate floor, with Paul using procedural tactics to force the chamber into an early Saturday vote. He then used his leverage to kill off McConnell’s repeated attempts to reauthorize the expiring National Security Agency (NSA) programs — first for two months, then for eight days, then for five, then three, then two. McConnell and the Republican leadership team had appeared confident even into Friday evening that they could kill the House-passed USA Freedom Act. They had planned to force the Senate into accepting a “clean” reauthorization of the provisions — set to expire at the end of the month — at least for a short while.  But Paul and other opponents of the “clean” renewal held firm, forcing McConnell to kick the can and adjourn the Senate without a clear path forward on how to prevent a shutdown of the NSA programs.  Leaving the Capitol, Republicans seemed confused on what their leader’s next steps would be. “That’s a really good question,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said, when asked what would change between Saturday and when senators return to Washington for a rare Sunday session on May 31. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seemed equally unsure if Paul would accept a deal before returning to Washington…”

NSA winds down once-secret phone-records collection program

“The National Security Agency has begun winding down its collection and storage of American phone records after the Senate failed to agree on a path forward to change or extend the once-secret program ahead of its expiration at the end of the month. Barring an 11th hour compromise when the Senate returns to session May 31, a much-debated provision of the Patriot Act — and some other lesser known surveillance tools — will sunset at midnight that day. The change also would have a major impact on the FBI, which uses the Patriot Act and the other provisions to gather records in investigations of suspected spies and terrorists.

In a chaotic scene during the wee hours of Saturday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill known as the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the NSA’s bulk collection but preserved its ability to search the records held by the phone companies on a case-by-case basis. The bill was backed by President Barack Obama, House Republicans and the nation’s top law enforcement and intelligence officials. It fell just three votes short of the 60 needed for passage. All the “no” votes but one were cast by Republicans, some of whom said they thought the USA Freedom Act didn’t go far enough to help the NSA maintain its capabilities. If Senate Republican leaders were counting on extending current law and continuing the negotiations, they miscalculated. Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans refused to go along. A bill to grant a two-month extension of the law failed, and senators objected to each attempt by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky offer up a short term extension. The failure to act means the NSA will immediately begin curtailing its searches of domestic phone records for connections to international terrorists. The Justice Department said in a statement that it will take time to taper off the collection process from the phone companies. That process began Friday, said an administration official who would not be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly…”

EPA poised to issue landmark water regulations

“The Obama administration is about to unveil an ambitious — and hotly disputed — plan to strengthen its authority over minor water bodies like wetlands, streams and ponds. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “waters of the United States” regulation, expected to be issued in the coming days, has become one of the most controversial environmental regulations of the Obama presidency, with some of the strongest lobbying forces in Washington staking out positions. The rule dubbed WOTUS in environmental and business circles could indelibly change how the federal government fights pollution and protects water for drinking, navigation, wildlife and other uses under the 1972 Clean Water Act. At the center of the debate among regulators, Congress, industry and green groups is how far upstream — and into the lives of people and operations of businesses — the EPA can and should go to keep safe and clean the nation’s prized waterways. There is also sharp disagreement over what the EPA’s proposed rule, unveiled last March, would actually do. The EPA, Democrats and their supporters frame it as a clarification that would only add 3 percent to the area of its jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the agency would protect important wetlands, headwaters and other water bodies whose statuses have become unclear after a pair of convoluted Supreme Court decisions. Republicans, farmers, developers, miners, paper manufacturers and their allies have labeled it a massive federal land grab so vaguely written — at least in a draft version — that it would expand the EPA’s jurisdiction to ditches, dry creekbeds, puddles, soggy ground and industrial ponds. That would make those areas subject to federal water quality standards and potentially require permits for any activity that would change or harm them, cementing central federal control over all matter of private business, opponents say.  More than four decades after Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire and spurred a nationwide push for water safeguards, everybody involved says that they appreciate clean water and support efforts to protect it. But the argument over WOTUS has forced policymakers to decide how far those efforts should go…”

Feds resist push for new pipelines

“The Obama administration is resisting a congressional push to establish new natural gas pipelines on federal lands in the eastern United States. Lawmakers have introduced legislation to establish pathways for future pipelines. Supporters say it’ll speed up the permitting process for natural gas pipelines, helping the industry get its product to market more quickly and reducing energy prices for consumers. “I think we need to make use of our God-given natural resources, and we need to do it in an environmentally-sound way,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who is cosponsoring the measure with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.). “I think the best way to do it is to predetermine where we’re going to allow pipelines to go.” But the Interior Department says it opposes the bill, arguing that it would limit public input on new pipeline projects, and calling its timelines too constricting.  MacArthur’s bill calls for establishing at least 10 “energy corridors,” swatches of land on which energy transmission lines would be set up, in the eastern United States within two years. It would also speed up the permitting process and environmental reviews. In testimony to a House subcommittee this week, Timothy Spisak, a Bureau of Land Management official, said that is “too short a timeline to adequately coordinate with states, tribes, and other federal partners, and the public.” “The department is committed to providing full environmental review and public involvement opportunities … on proposals for the use of the nation’s public lands,” he said…”

Kentucky conflict? Paul, McConnell start to clash

“Mitch McConnell stood at his desk on the Senate floor after 1 a.m. Saturday, the eyes of his colleagues trained on him. He seemed bewildered. “Enter your motion to reconsider,” Laura Dove, his chief floor aide, told the majority leader, the exchange audible throughout the chamber. “You need to enter your motion to reconsider.” McConnell has studied Senate procedure firsthand over five decades, and there is not much that can leave him flummoxed, even momentarily. But here he stood — thanks to, of all people, his fellow Republican, fellow Kentuckian, close political ally and the man he has endorsed for president — Sen. Rand Paul…”

Kasich Categorically Rules Out Vice Presidential Run: ‘Forget It!’ [VIDEO]

“Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Republican Ohio Gov. and potential Republican presidential candidate John Kasich categorically ruled out joining a Republican ticket as the vice presidential nominee. “Let me ask you… you’re from Ohio, you won big there,” guest host Jon Karl noted. “If you’re not the nominee, you’re going to be looked at as a possible vice presidential candidate.” “Forget it!” Kasich responded. “Would you do it?”…”

John Kasich, Ruling out VP Run, Says ‘I Don’t Play for Second’

Fiorina: Clinton ‘must not be president’

Republicans pick favorite presidential hopeful in straw poll

“After three days of speeches at the conservative cattle call that is the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC), one presidential candidate stood out in an already crowded Republican field of hopefuls: neurologist-turned-politician Dr. Ben Carson. Carson, who announced his candidacy for the White House earlier this month, emerged victorious at the SRLC’s closing straw poll, drawing just over a quarter of the votes. Considered an early indicator of southern primary voter support, the conference straw poll is also the first in the election cycle. A win in this contest, however, does not always guarantee a strong showing in Republican primaries: In the 2011 straw poll, for example, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul won by a margin of nearly 15 percentage points over former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. At this year’s SRLC, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker finished in second place, currying favor with just over 20 percent of the crowd. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz followed with 16.6 percent of votes. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came in fourth at 5.3 percent, with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry trailing close behind with 5 percent of votes…”

Carson wins early GOP straw poll

“Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson won the presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City on Saturday, beating out Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).  Carson won 25.4 percent of the vote, while Walker took 20.5 percent and Cruz received 16.4 percent…”

Possible Clinton running mate decries Benghazi ‘witch hunt’

“Julian Castro, an Obama Cabinet secretary floated as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, said on Sunday the release of State Department emails relating to Benghazi is part of “basically a witch hunt.” “What you have here with these emails is basically a witch hunt, and Congressman [Trey] Gowdy [R-S.C.], who is leading this, is very intentionally trying to manipulate this witch hunt to play politics,” Castro, the Housing and Urban Development Secretary, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Under public pressure, the State Department on Friday released hundreds of emails between Clinton and other department officials related to the 2012 attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Gowdy, who is chairing a congressional investigative committee into the events around the attack, has called Clinton to testify on the matter before Congress later this year. “This thing has been studied to death, by Republicans and by Democrats, several committees, including in Congress, that have all said, ‘Yes, of course what happened was tragic, but Secretary Clinton was not in any way at fault,’ ” Castro said…”

If Hillary Falters, Why Not Joe?

“Ten years ago, I wrote an article making the case for Hillary Clinton in 2008. The former first lady, then a senator from New York, was popular with Democrats and boasted near-total national name identification. She’d proven her fundraising prowess, was improving her résumé, and had ambition to burn. “Why Not Hillary?” my essay was titled. It didn’t happen for Clinton in that election cycle. She ran up against a historical juggernaut in the person of Barack Obama, who’d been in the Senate only a few months when I assessed Hillary’s chances. In a long primary season they essentially split their party’s votes, but Obama narrowly edged her out in delegates, mainly with superior organizational skills. When it came to dividing the spoils, Clinton seemed to get short shrift again. Although she would become Obama’s first secretary of state, Joe Biden—a distant also-ran in the Democratic primaries—was tapped as Obama’s running mate. But Biden seems to have been informed by his boss that this was as far as he was going in politics. Clinton was told no such thing, not that she would have accepted such a restriction anyway, and she’s running again. For those who care about good government, this is problematic. Eight years ago, Bill and Hillary Clinton hadn’t yet perfected the sophisticated money-making operation that has Republicans salivating and Democrats fretting. The details are only now coming to light, but the scheme seems to work like this: huge corporations and wealthy individuals—and foreign governments—donated millions to the Clintons’ foundation, while also paying Bill huge speaking fees, and then turned around and lobbied the administration in which Hillary was a high-ranking official for various favorable decisions that will generate great profits. The projects we’re talking about range from transnational oil pipelines to uranium mines….”

Tea Party affiliate FreedomWorks refocuses, changes to stay relevant in 2016

“FreedomWorks, often considered the ideological brains behind the 2010 Tea Party wave, is trying to reinvent itself for the 2016 elections and beyond, even borrowing from the progressive playbook. Chief Executive Officer Adam Brandon said Friday the group is refocusing its strategy — from expanding its digital outreach and getting more involved in such torch-bearing issues as civil asset forfeitures and mandatory-sentencing reform to providing more financial support for conservative Capitol Hill lawmakers so they can keep challenging the Washington establishment. “As the battle moves, we need to be able to participate in different ways,” Brandon said recently from the group’s Washington headquarters. He and others say the Republican Party’s most conservative wing, particularly in the House, is under increasing pressure to go along with leadership or risk losing re-election money. “I want to make it easy for you to win but not have to worry about K Street backing,” Brandon said. Tea Party-backed Rep. Thomas Massie, elected in 2012, suspects he’s in that category. The Kentucky Republican had little problem raising enough money from business interests and others to win reelection last year, reporting $46,000 from tobacco, trucking, health care and other industries in just the first quarter of 2013. He since voted against returning Ohio Rep. John Boehner as House speaker and he broke with GOP leaders when they avoided a standoff with President Obama over immigration reform. Now, in the first quarter of 2015, Massie has collected just $1,000 from political action committees, or PACs, which funnel contributions to candidates from business, labor or ideological interests. He and other conservative caucus members bluntly say the reason business contributions have fallen is that GOP leaders are retaliating. “Those who don’t go along to get along aren’t going to get as many PAC checks,” said Massie, making an allegation that Republican leadership flatly denies. FreedomWorks was found in 2004 with the assistance of former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey as a conservative advocacy group that helped in campaigns and trained and mobilized volunteers…”

GOP: ‘The world is safer, better when the United States is militarily strong’

Column Obama has a strategy for fighting ISIS — one that isn’t working

“Obama administration critics often charge that the president has no strategy in the war against Islamic State, but that’s not true. Eight months ago, after Islamic State’s army swept across northern Iraq, President Obama’s national security aides drew up a plan to reverse the militants’ gains. It began with airstrikes, to stop their advance. It also included a series of steps to enable Iraq to defeat the invaders without using U.S. combat troops. First, the United States planned to push Nouri Maliki, the stubborn Shiite prime minister, out of office. Then it would help a new government rebuild the country’s security forces, set up a “national guard” of local militia units, and arm Sunni tribesmen who wanted to fight Islamic State. Once those steps were underway, a strengthened Iraqi army would march north and retake Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. So Obama does have a strategy — but for the most part it hasn’t worked. U.S. pressure helped shove Maliki out of the prime minister’s office last fall, but his successor, Haider Abadi, hasn’t succeeded in making most of the other changes the administration sought. Some 3,000 American military advisors are in Iraq, but they couldn’t prevent Iraqi army units from abandoning the western city of Ramadi to Islamic State last week. Abadi’s government drafted a law to set up the national guard, which would allow Sunni military units to defend Sunni provinces, but Shiite politicians have blocked the bill in parliament…”

Obama’s Iraq Failures as Bad (or Worse) Than Bush’s

“The fall of Ramadi, Iraq’s fourth-largest city, 64 miles from Baghdad, to the vicious terrorists of the so-called Islamic State has renewed interest in an old controversy. “Knowing what we know now,” invading Iraq was a mistake, say most GOP presidential candidates —including the brother of the president who ordered it. Many generals thought so at the time. Invading Iraq “was the dumbest thing we ever did,” said retired Marine Gen. James Mattis. We were right to go into Afghanistan and Iraq, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, but we went wrong when we stayed to “nation build.” The Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime were ousted in quick, nearly bloodless campaigns. If after them we had left Kabul in the hands of the Northern Alliance and turned Baghdad over to (more or less) friendly Iraqis, our two longest wars would have been among the shortest. The fundamental mistake in Iraq — creating the Coalition Provisional Authority — was compounded by slow recognition of and slower response to the insurgency, and a “strategy” which didn’t include protecting civilians from terrorists. With the troop surge and the change in strategy that accompanied it, the Bush administration eventually got things right. By the summer of 2008, five years into the war, the insurgency was over.

Iraq was in “good shape” in 2010 and early 2011, said Robert Gates, who was secretary of defense at the time. Such good shape that President Barack Obama claimed credit for a victory he had nothing to do with. The unraveling began with the war in Libya. After Moammar Gadhafi’s regime fell, weapons from Libya were shipped to rebels in Syria, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch May 15. Extreme Islamists dominate the rebellion in Syria, said a Defense Intelligence Agency report in August, 2012. They pose a “dire threat” to Iraq, which was vulnerable because Mr. Obama — over the protest of his generals — withdrew virtually all U.S. troops the year before…”

Congressional Dems, Republicans agree Obama’s Islamic State strategy is now, at best, stuck in neutral

“Top congressional Democrats and Republicans agreed Sunday that President Obama is not winning the fight against the Islamic State, with one of his top House supporters acknowledging a “stalemate” at best. The criticism from Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was not unexpected following the Islamic State last week taking over the Iraq city of Ramadi, then pushing into the Syrian city of Palmyra. “Clearly ISIS has gained momentum … as we’ve seen the ground that they have gained both in Iraq and Syria,” Gabbard, an Army combat veteran who has criticized Obama for not calling Islamic State “Islamic extremists,” told CNN’s “State of the Union.” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged the U.S.-effort to stop the Islamic State appears stuck. “I don’t think we’re winning, but I wouldn’t say we’re losing either,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think it’s something of a neutral stalemate.” He also called the Ramadi loss “a very serious setback,” while acknowledging the complexity of aligning militarily with the region’s varying religious sects and suggesting an unchecked Islamic State becomes more of a threat to “our national security.” Schiff introduced legislation earlier this year to give Obama the legal foundation to continue to use military force — specifically air strikes and the training of regional forces — to defeat the Islamic State. Obama told The Atlantic magazine that the Ramadi takeover was a “tactical setback” but maintains the United States and its allies are not losing the larger campaign to stop the group. “I disagree with the president on this,” Gabbard said…”

Dem pushes back against Obama: ‘Clearly ISIS has gained momentum’

“Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said Sunday that she disagrees with President Obama’s assessment that the United States-led coalition is not losing to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East. “Clearly ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week, as we’ve seen the ground that they gained both in Iraq and Syria,” Gabbard said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi last week and later pushed into the Syrian city Palmyra. Obama told The Atlantic last Tuesday, after Ramadi fell, that “No, I don’t think we’re losing. … There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback.” Gabbard, a combat veteran, said the U.S. coalition and the Iraqi government should look to arm new potential fighters in Iraq to push back against ISIS. “You have the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni tribesmen who are literally begging, for arms, heavy weapons, ammunition, to be able to fight against ISIS to protect their families and their tribal lands, their territories,” she said. “But to this point both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government have failed to provide that, and therefore ISIS continues to be able to grow.”

John McCain: We’re Losing to ISIS

“President Obama’s plan to “degrade and ultimately defeat” ISIS is failing, according to Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.). “The president [must] recognize that he was incorrect when he said we`re not losing,” McCain said on Face the Nation on Sunday morning. “We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is, I would like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn`t apparent now, and right now we are seeing these horrible — reports are now in Palmyra they`re executing people and leaving their bodies in the streets. Meanwhile, the president of the United States is saying that the biggest enemy we have is climate change.” Obama told The Atlantic that the recent capture of Ramadi by ISIS terrorists is just a “tactical setback.” McCain said that he believes the American people would support deploying “a number of thousands” of troops back to Iraq.  “I called for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, my own president`s secretary of defense, because I saw we were losing,” he said. “Then, George W. Bush at least had the guts to reverse and sponsor the surge, which we eventually then succeeded. I wish, I pray that Barack Obama would do the same thing.”

Defense Secretary Carter: Iraqis lack ‘will to fight’ to defeat Islamic State

“Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter warned that Iraqi troops will not be able to defeat the Islamic State until they develop a “will to fight,” reflecting the deep level of concern and frustration inside some quarters of the Obama administration in the wake of the Iraqi military’s collapse in Ramadi last week. His comments, in an interview that aired Sunday, came after fighters with the Islamic State, which had appeared to be retreating in parts of Iraq, swept through the western Iraqi city of Ramadi and were gaining ground in Syria. President Obama has described the losses as a “tactical setback” and said that the administration’s overall strategy in Iraq and Syria would not change. Carter’s comments, though, suggested deeper problems with Iraqi forces. His remarks about the recent Iraqi defeats in Ramadi, a city where scores of U.S. troops were killed during the Iraq war, carried added gravity because they came over the Memorial Day weekend…”

Obama DoD Secretary Blames Iraqis For Fall Of Ramadi: ‘No Will To Fight’ [VIDEO]

Special Ops to Obama: Let Us Fight ISIS, Already

They’re supposed to be at the forefront of the battle against ISIS. But U.S. special operators say the Obama administration’s restrictive rules of war are harming their mission.