IRS watchdog finds 6,400 Lois Lerner emails

“…However, one staffer familiar with the investigation, said the emails were from 2004 through 2013, with the bulk coming from 2012. About 650 are from 2010 and 2011, when the alleged IRS targeting began. Tea Party Patriots president Jenny Beth Martin said the news was another development in a “long line of deplorable actions from the Internal Revenue Service against groups who were merely trying to hold their government accountable.” “It will be very enlightening to see the content of the emails as (the inspector general) continues the investigation,” she said in a statement…”




Auditor: States might be using ObamaCare grant money illegally

“Some states running their own ObamaCare exchanges may be illegally using federal dollars to keep them afloat, according to a new warning from a government auditor. The inspector general for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said officials must better inform states about the purpose of the grants to prevent them from improperly using the money to prop up their health insurance exchanges. “This issue is a significant matter and requires CMS’s immediate attention,” inspector general Daniel Levinson wrote to the acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Under current rules, states can only use the grants for costs related to “design, development, and implementation” of the sites for buying insurance. But with some state exchanges facing budget woes this year, the auditor said “there is a risk” that officials will use the grants to pay for overhead costs instead. For example, the audit said Washington state’s health exchange “might use $10 million in establishment grant funds to support operations” in the second half of 2015, citing budget documents. The Washington exchange faces a funding shortfall of $125 million, with the state Legislature asked to cover the additional costs. The auditor warned that if the financial troubles continue, “it could affect [the exchange’s] ability to fund operations.” The watchdog also highlighted Rhode Island’s exchange, which “currently does not have a dedicated revenue stream.” The inspector general’s office sent its letter at the request of Congress, and says it is continuing to investigate the spending by state-based exchanges. Levinson said the concerns surfaced during the office’s review of states’ budget information, in addition to media reports. ObamaCare required that all state-based marketplaces be self-sustaining by January 2015, and the federal government instructed that grants cannot be used after that date to cover such costs as rent, software maintenance, utilities and staffing. A total of 37 states have received “establishment grants” from the Obama administration, costing $4.8 billion since the rollout of the law. That is in addition to more general “state planning and establishment grants,” which were awarded to 49 states at a total cost of $44 million.”


Two-thirds Of Obamacare Subsidy Recipients Had To Repay IRS

“Most Obamacare subsidy recipients in 2014 were overpaid and had to give hundreds of dollars back to the IRS, substantially cutting into their refunds. Almost two-thirds had to repay an average of $729 of the credit this year, which cut their potential refunds by nearly a third, an H&R Block analysis of its latest filing data found. Their average refund was $2,195. The federal subsidy is supposed to help Obamacare enrollees pay for coverage, but is doled out based on income the recipient must report accurately and update. Because it’s aimed at low-income individuals and families, the repayments could hit hard. One in four of the recipients were underpaid, and received an extra $425 in their refund on average…”


ObamaCare tax impact less than expected: TurboTax

“Less than half of taxpayers who got health insurance through the ObamaCare marketplaces had to return part of their tax subsidy to the government, according to data compiled by TurboTax. The online tax preparer said Wednesday that 44 percent of taxpayers who received an incentive to help pay for insurance owed an average of between $315 and $365. For many taxpayers, that payment might have meant a smaller than expected refund. The most recent tax filing season, which ended for most taxpayers on or before April 15, was the first in which people who purchased insurance from healthcare exchanges were forced to reconcile how much of a tax credit they received with earlier estimates of their income. For that reason and others, many tax analysts and practitioners predicted that the IRS would face a rocky filing season. But John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, has said the filing season went “swimmingly,” even as he bemoaned the agency’s dwindling budget and its poor customer service record…”


ACA Tax Filing Was Surprisingly Painless, But Not For All


Shed sunshine on ObamaCare’s subsidies for Congress

“Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has a simple question: How and why did Congress qualify as a “small business” eligible for special taxpayer subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? For anyone in a real small business — private employers who get no such subsidies — the very idea is absurd. But getting a straight answer is as difficult as getting Lois Lerner’s IRS emails. In search of answers, Vitter proposed subpoenaing documents from the District of Columbia Health Benefits Exchange Authority. But his colleagues on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee recently voted (14 to five) to block the effort. They’ve tried to justify their lack of curiosity by calling the proposed subpoena an unnecessary “distraction” or an invitation to a “protracted” legal fight. But these are rather obviously lame excuses. Here’s the backstory. In enacting the ACA five years ago, lawmakers voted to take themselves out of their existing coverage in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and to enroll themselves and their “official” employees in ObamaCare beginning in 2014. The language — Section 1312(d)(3)(D) — was part of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) manager’s amendment to H.R. 3950. While FEHBP coverage carried a generous federal employer subsidy, the ACA language provides for no special subsidies for Congress or staff participating in the government exchanges. In short, the law neither preserves nor replaces the FEHBP subsidy. Here’s another salient fact. The issue was debated. Before final passage, on March 24, 2010, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) offered an amendment to preserve the FEHBP subsidies for members and staff enrolling in the law’s exchanges and to require the president and executive branch political appointees to also participate in the government exchange program. The Grassley amendment was defeated 56 to 43, with all Senate Democrats voting against it. Shortly thereafter, congressional leaders desperately sought a way out of the mess — an “administrative solution” that would give them a special financial cushion without having to cast an embarrassing vote to get the preferential treatment. Though sympathetic to the plight of Congress, Timothy Jost, professor of law at George Washington University, frankly acknowledged that the language of Section 1312(d) created a compensation problem for members of Congress and staff who would no longer get generous employer-based subsidies for insurance and whose income is too high to take advantage of the statutorily authorized exchange subsidies: “The exchanges are only open to individuals and small employers. No large employers participate in the exchange, at least not yet. There is no provision, therefore for large employers, including the largest — the United States government — to pay for exchange coverage.” Enter the Obama administration. In August 2013, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rode to the rescue, declaring it would provide FEHBP subsidies for members and staff enrolled in the exchange. There was a problem: Neither the ACA nor Chapter 89 of Title V (the law governing the FEHBP) nor any other statute authorizes any FEHBP subsidies to health plans outside of FEHBP. Indeed, OPM staff initially held that they had no such authority. OPM’s decision to provide FEHBP subsidies for Congress when Congress no longer had FEHBP coverage was a stunning metaphysical feat, never before attempted in the FEHBP. OPM also decided to declare Congress and staff eligible for enrollment in the D.C. SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) exchange, a program reserved for small businesses. The Vitter subpoena was intended to shed light on the interaction between the D.C. exchange and congressional officials in this ludicrous designation of Congress as a “small business.” This entire exercise, creating special subsidies for Congress and redefining Congress as a “small business,” has been a textbook example of administrative creativity, untrammeled by statutory restraint. An examination of the relevant statutes reveals that continuing FEHBP subsidies for congressional coverage is both illegal and unfair. Some critics go further. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute characterizes the special subsidies as a “bribe” to keep Congress from reopening the Affordable Care Act…”


Lawmakers seek to limit ObamaCare calorie count regulation

“Government regulations that require companies to list the number of calories in the foods and drinks they sell are coming under fire from Capitol Hill. The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, backed by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), would curb the requirements, which were issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under ObamaCare. Restaurants would still be required to provide calorie counts for regular menu items under the legislation, but most grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and movie theaters would be exempted. “Think about it this way: For companies like Domino’s Pizza, every potential toppings combination — well over 5 million options would have to be calculated and publicized,” Rodgers said in a statement. “This requirement simply is not workable.” The FDA issued the controversial menu labeling requirements last November. The menu labeling requirements, which were ordered in the healthcare reform law, apply not only to chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, but also entertainment venues like movie theaters, sports stadiums, amusement parks, bowling alleys and miniature golf course that serve prepared foods. Public health groups praised the menu labeling requirements, arguing they provide consumers with more information about the foods they eat. The National Restaurant Association is also backing the menu labeling requirements as written, saying restaurants want to compete on a level playing field with other companies that sell prepared foods. “As grocery stores and convenience stores continue to sell restaurant food, they should be subject to the same rules as others, allowing consumers to make informed decisions about what they eat regardless of where they were purchased,” Dan Roehl, vice president of government affairs at the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. But many other companies that serve prepared foods say they will not be able to comply with the rules.  “Adhering to burdensome menu labeling requirements will be extremely costly — in both time and resources — for restaurants, grocery stores, delivery chains, and movie theaters across our country,” Rodgers said…”


Buoyed By ACA’s Medicaid Growth, Anthem Adds 1M Enrollees

“Anthem (ANTM), which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans across the country, said the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and new individual members boosted company profits in the second quarter. Anthem chief executive Joe Swedish said the company added 429,000 new customers in the first quarter covered under its Medicaid plans, which contract with states to provide benefits to poor Americans. Anthem is among insurers benefiting from the expansion of Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Anthem now says government business, which includes Medicaid, is now slightly more than half of the company’s total business. Medical enrollment grew by 1 million members, or nearly 3 percent to 38.5 million by the end of the first quarter compared to 37.5 million at the end of 2014. “The pipeline for our government business remains substantial,” Swedish told analysts this morning on a conference call. Because of Anthem’s growth, Swedish raised earnings guidance for 2015 to “greater than $9.90” per share from the current earnings for cast of greater than $9.70 per share…”


Health Insurers Skirt Obamacare Fee

“The Internal Revenue Service needs to do better at ensuring that health insurance policy issuers and self-insured plan sponsors pay a fee required under the Affordable Care Act known as the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research fee, according to a new government report. The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, noted that the Affordable Care Act includes a tax provision that provides for an excise tax equal to one or more dollars based on the average number of lives covered under a specified health insurance policy or self-insured health plan during a specific year. The new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research fee is used to offset the costs of the PCOR Institute, which funds research that will provide information to assist patients and their healthcare providers make more informed health care decisions. In its review, TIGTA found that 72,035 health insurance policy issuers/self-insured plan sponsors filed a Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return, with PCOR fees totaling $114 million for tax year 2012. However, of these filers, 30,996 (or approximately 43 percent) paid a PCOR fee of less than $4.25, which is the IRS’s cost just to process these returns. The IRS developed a PCOR compliance plan that states it will use third-party data sources to identify potential nonfilers. TIGTA noted that the IRS is in the process of analyzing this information for use in evaluating tax year 2012 return filing compliance. However, the data that the IRS obtained do not include the necessary information to calculate the potential PCOR fees owed by these nonfilers. TIGTA reviewed additional data from these third-party sources and identified 25 health insurance policy issuers and 1,753 self-insured health plan sponsors that potentially did not file a Form 720 reporting a PCOR fee in tax year 2012 as required. For the quarter ending June 30, 2013, TIGTA also found 2,242 transactions had transcription errors which resulted in an overstatement of approximately 359 million average lives covered. While the average number of lives recorded in the Business Return Transaction File is not reliable, these errors do not affect the PCOR fees paid. “The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research fee is an important source of funds for research that will enable people to make more informed healthcare decisions,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “As such, it is important for the IRS to take the steps we have recommended to ensure that the applicable health insurance policy issuers and self-insured plan sponsors comply with the requirements in the law.” TIGTA recommended that the IRS obtain the data needed to identify noncompliance with the filing and payment requirements for PCOR fees. Based on these results, TIGTA suggested, the IRS should identify nonfilers, send notices as appropriate, and determine if additional enforcement actions are required. The IRS should also alert and instruct employees on how to avoid the significant Form 720 transcription errors that materially affect the accuracy of the average number of lives covered for the PCOR fees, TIGTA recommended…”


Health insurers ignoring Obamacare rules

“Health insurers are violating new requirements in the Affordable Care Act, say some of the law’s strongest advocates. Two lengthy reports released Wednesday find that many insurers are either denying coverage for certain services or not covering them as mandated by the 2010 healthcare law. Researchers studied plans in 15 states around the country, and found at least one plan in each state that violates the healthcare law by illegally collecting co-payments or imposing coverage limitations on certain services. For example, 14 plans in seven states offer maternity coverage that does not comply with the law. More than 50 plans in 13 states offer preventive services coverage that falls short, the researchers found. They also found widespread violations of the law’s requirement for plans to cover all types of Food and Drug Administration-approved birth control…”


Some brokers encounter hard times under the Affordable Care Act


Report: O-Care ruling would disproportionately affect small businesses

“Small businesses are among the most vulnerable to steep cost increases in healthcare coverage if the Supreme Court rules against ObamaCare, according to new data from the Urban Institute. In addition to the 7.5 million people who could lose their insurance subsidies if the Obama administration loses the case, nearly 3.5 million people on small-business plans would also face “substantially” higher premiums, Linda Blumberg, senior fellow for the Urban Institute, will tell a Senate panel on Wednesday. At least 840,000 of those people would become uninsured, she wrote in prepared remarks for the Senate Small Business Committee’s hearing on the effects of the Supreme Court case King v. Burwell. Families of people who work in small businesses are particularly at risk of feeling the potential aftershock, Blumberg wrote, because they have “disproportionately benefitted” from the law. Healthcare experts have long warned that the loss of ObamaCare subsidies in about three dozen states would trigger an unraveling of the market nationwide…”


Small business could lose Obamacare subsidies in Supreme Court case

“Small businesses would be hit hard if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare subsidies in certain states, according to the left-leaning think tank Urban Institute. If the subsidies go away, a majority of the people affected would be workers at small businesses, the Institute announced in a new analysis released Wednesday. The court will rule in June on the case King v. Burwell, which deals with whether the federal government has the authority provide subsidies to the 34 states that didn’t set up their own exchanges. “The number of uninsured in these states would increase by a total of 8.2 million people in 2016,” according to testimony from Linda J. Blumberg, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, at a Senate hearing Wednesday. Of that 8.2 million, 63 percent, or 5.8 million people, have at least one family member employed by a small business. “Of these 5.8 million people, 4.1 million, or 70 percent, would become uninsured,” Blumberg testified. In addition about 2.5 million people in self-employed families would lose tax credits, 1.6 million of which would become uninsured. If the subsidies go away, these people would face much higher premiums that would be difficult to afford, Blumberg said. The Urban Institute relied on data from its Health Reform Monitoring Survey for the analysis. Congress has bandied about several different proposals for what to do if the high court rules for the plaintiffs in June. So far the GOP has not reached a consensus on any proposal to maintain the public subsidies for private purchases of health insurance. The administration could issue hardship waivers to people who lose subsidies to let them get more low-cost “catastrophic” plans, Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, said during the hearing…”


Obamacare case’s threat to small biz workers ain’t small

“They work for small businesses, but they’d be the biggest hit by far if this Supreme Court case goes against the Obama administration. Millions of people in families with small business employees or self-employed workers would drop health insurance coverage if the high court rules HealthCare.gov customers can’t get financial help for their Obamacare plans, a Senate committee is being told Wednesday…”


More people buying their own insurance


Ohio Obamacare expansion costs $3 billion in first 15 months

“Americans’ tax burden is already $3 billion heavier because of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. By putting more able-bodied, working-age childless adults on Medicaid than Kasich projected, Obamacare expansion is reducing incentives to work and threatening traditional Medicaid recipients’ access to care faster and at greater cost than anticipated. After Kasich expanded Medicaid unilaterally, a state panel approved $2.56 billion in Obamacare spending for the expansion’s first 18 months. The money was meant to last until July, but it ran out in February. Kasich’s Obamacare expansion cost $323 million in March — 84 percent greater than estimates revised just six months earlier…”


Montana officially expands Medicaid

“Montana officially became the 29th state to expand Medicaid Wednesday. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock signed a law Wednesday afternoon expanding the program. The expansion provides medical care to roughly 45,000 Montana low-income residents. The state will have to get a special approval from the Obama administration because it seeks to diverge from traditional Medicaid. For instance, enrollees would have to help pay a small portion of their premiums and co-payments. The bill went through a roller coaster ride to get to the governor’s desk. It passed the state Senate but appeared to die in committee in the Republican-controlled House. However, a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats employed a little-used legislative maneuver to bring the bill to the House floor, where it was approved…”


Assurant Health may exit Illinois Obamacare exchange

“Assurant Health, new to the Illinois health insurance exchange this year, will either be sold or closed in 2016. If there is no buyer, Milwaukee-based Assurant will not be selling plans on the Illinois exchange in 2016, Assurant spokeswoman Vera Carley said. That means consumers with an Assurant plan will have to shop elsewhere for coverage when enrollment begins again on Nov. 1. “Absent a sale, we will discontinue the filing process for 2016 and work towards a withdrawal,” Carley said. With nearly 1 million customers nationwide, Assurant Health sells insurance to individuals, families and small businesses. Assurant is one of eight companies that offered more than 400 plans this year on the Illinois exchange, Get Covered Illinois. The online marketplace has enrolled nearly 350,000 consumers so far, up about 60 percent from its debut in 2014. A special enrollment period ends tomorrow. Nationwide, nearly 11.7 million consumers picked or were automatically re-enrolled in a plan, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in March…”


Florida files ObamaCare lawsuit

“Florida has filed a lawsuit charging the Obama administration is trying to force it to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare. Kicking off a legal battle involving both Medicaid expansion and a separate pot of federal funding for hospitals, Attorney General Pam Bondi filed suit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The lawsuit was threatened last week by Gov. Rick Scott, who accuses the administration of trying to coerce him into expanding Florida’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act — something he and many other Republican governors have so far refused to do. Scott contends officials are pressuring him by threatening to halt an existing flow of federal funds used to reimburse hospitals for caring for uninsured patients…”


Florida governor says concession in ObamaCare dispute was ignored

“Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) argues in a newly filed complaint in his lawsuit against the Obama administration that he made a key concession to the federal government that was disregarded. Scott announced earlier this month that he was suing the administration over what he calls an effort to force his state to expand Medicaid, by linking it to the renewal of separate federal funds to cover uncompensated care at hospitals, known as the Low-Income Pool (LIP).

The administration argues that it is a better system to give people coverage in the first place through a Medicaid expansion rather than reimbursing hospitals for covering uninsured people through LIP. But the complaint filed in the case argues that Florida actually agreed to the administration’s requirement that the LIP money not be used for costs that would otherwise be covered by expanding Medicaid, but that the administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) disregarded that concession in a letter it then sent to the state laying out its terms. “The CMS letter also asserted that ‘uncompensated care pool funding should not pay for costs that would be covered in a Medicaid expansion,’ yet made no mention of the fact that the State had unequivocally expressed its willingness to tailor the size of its LIP program to eliminate that potential overlap,” the complaint states…”


Congress, Here’s How To Prepare for King v. Burwell

Testimony before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

“Chairman Vitter, Ranking Member Shaheen, and members of the Committee, thank you for your invitation to discuss King v. Burwell, a case concerning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) currently before the Supreme Court. King v. Burwell challenges as unauthorized by any Congress both the premium subsidies the Internal Revenue Service is issuing in 38 states with federally established Exchanges, and the tax penalties those subsidies trigger. The Court heard oral arguments on March 4, 2015. Court watchers expect a ruling by the end of June. If the Court sides with the challengers, its ruling will free more than 57 million employers and individuals in those federal-Exchange states from the ACA’s employer and individual mandates. Those 57 million Americans include Kevin Pace, a jazz musician and Virginia resident whose income fell by $8,000 when his employer cut his hours to avoid the IRS’s illegal taxes. They include small-business owners who would expand and hire more workers, but are prohibited from doing so by threat of illegal taxes. A ruling for the challengers would protect small businesses and their employees from an out-of-control IRS. Such a ruling would cause a smaller number of Americans — an estimated 6.7 million — to lose access to subsidies that no Congress ever authorized. A ruling for the government, on the other hand, would for the first time allow the IRS to usurp Congress’s exclusive powers to tax and spend. Few things could be more destructive to small businesses, liberty, or our constitutional order. Congress should investigate how the IRS came to tax, borrow, and spend tens of billions of dollars in violation of the clear limits the ACA places on the IRS’s authority…”


Insurers ignore ObamaCare birth control rule

“Insurance companies are widely ignoring an ObamaCare rule that requires them to provide free or low-cost birth control, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center. Some insurance companies are still charging women out-of-pocket costs for birth control and limiting their coverage to only certain methods of birth control, both violations of the Affordable Care Act, according to the 22-page report to be released Wednesday. “Unfortunately, not every woman who should be getting coverage of her birth control without out-of-pocket costs has been able to access this important benefit,” states the report, which is based on an analysis of 100 plans in 15 states. The most common coverage problems are for the vaginal ring, the patch and an intrauterine device (IUD). In some cases, the insurance company will “even suggest that a woman switch methods if she does not want any out-of-pocket costs,” according to the report. Some companies are not covering the costs of related doctor’s appointments or are imposing age limits on coverage…”



Immigrant removals continue to decline under Obama

“The Obama administration is on pace to deport the fewest number of immigrants in nearly a decade, according to internal government data obtained by The Associated Press. As of April 20, federal immigration officials sent home 127,378 people in the United States illegally. That puts immigrant removals on track to be among the lowest since the middle of President George W. Bush’s second term. The internal statistics reveal a continuing decline in deportations even as the Obama administration fights a legal challenge to a plan it announced late last year to shield millions of immigrants from deportations. “With the resources we have … I’m interested in focusing on criminals and recent illegal arrivals at the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing Tuesday. The new figures, contained in weekly internal reports not publicly reported, average about 19,730 removals a month for the first six months of the government’s fiscal year that began in October. If that trend continues, the government will remove about 236,000 by September – the lowest figure since 2006, when 207,776 were sent home…”


Immigrant Removals Continue to Decline Under Obama

“The Obama administration is on pace to deport the fewest number of immigrants in nearly a decade, according to internal government data obtained by The Associated Press. As of April 20, federal immigration officials sent home 127,378 people in the United States illegally. That puts immigrant removals on track to be among the lowest since the middle of President George W. Bush’s second term. The internal statistics reveal a continuing decline in deportations even as the Obama administration fights a legal challenge to a plan it announced late last year to shield millions of immigrants from deportations. “With the resources we have … I’m interested in focusing on criminals and recent illegal arrivals at the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing Tuesday. The new figures, contained in weekly internal reports not publicly reported, average about 19,730 removals a month for the first six months of the government’s fiscal year that began in October. If that trend continues, the government will remove about 236,000 by September — the lowest figure since 2006, when 207,776 were sent home. Removals have been declining for nearly three years after Immigration and Customs Enforcement recorded a record 409,849 removals in 2012. That federal agency, known as ICE, is responsible for finding and removing immigrants living in the country illegally. President Barack Obama announced a plan in November that would protect millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, but that effort is on hold after a federal judge in Texas blocked its implementation…”





“Approximately 350,000 to 400,000 children are born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. each year. Due to current policy, all automatically become U.S. citizens, Center for Immigration Studies legal policy analyst Jon Feere testified before a House panel Wednesday. “To put this in perspective this means that one out of 10 births in the U.S. is to an illegal immigrant mother,” Freere said at a House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security hearing titled “Birthright Citizenship: Is It The Right Policy For America?” He explained that, regardless of the foreign allegiance and/or illegal status of the parents, their children, if born on U.S. soil, are automatically afforded the benefits of U.S. citizenship, including a Social Security Number and U.S. passports. This benefit also applies, he noted, to those born to mere tourists and other people with temporary status in the U.S. “It is unlikely that Congress intended such a broad application of the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause, and the Supreme Court has only held that children born to citizens or permanently domiciled immigrants must be considered U.S. citizens at birth. Some clarity from Congress would be helpful in resolving this ongoing debate,” Feere said. Feere further testified that the number of children in the U.S. with illegal immigrant parents increased from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4.5 million in 2010 and noted that the birthright policy is intrinsically linked to some of President Obama’s executive amnesties. “Under the immigration enforcement priorities of the Obama administration, illegal immigrants who give birth to U.S. citizens have become low priorities for deportation. Furthermore, the president’s DAPA program, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, currently held up in court would provide benefits to illegal immigrants who gave birth here and allow them to ‘stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.’ The broad interpretation of the Citizenship Clause forms the basis for these policies,” he said. The CIS expert highlighted other implications of birthright citizenship, such as birth tourism, where pregnant foreigners come to the U.S. simply to have a child with a U.S. passport. “Birth tourism is becoming much more common with every passing year and Congress will have to address it,” Feere said…”



“The U.S. likely will not achieve 100 percent situational awareness of the U.S. border before the end of the Obama administration, Department of Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson says. During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) pressed Johnson on the level of control the government is able to maintain at the U.S. border. “The Department has argued 100 percent operational control objective is imprudent and I understand some of the argument for why that is, because you would be devoting certain kinds of resources in places that might be lower risk threats than if you build a matrix in kind of thinking about where we want to make those investments is to try to deter catastrophic events before all else,” Sasse said. The Nebraska lawmaker then Johnson whether the department had 100 percent “situational awareness” of the border, to which the DHS secretary indicated that they are making progress toward getting to 100 percent. “Every time I’ve looked at this exact issue on the southern border in particular and I think I’ve seen analysis for the northern border as well. Our situational awareness is getting better, but it gets better by virtue of surveillance technology, surveillance capability. And there is a lot of that reflected in our budget request. More mobile surveillance, aerial surveillance and the more we have the more situational awareness we have,” Johnson said. According to Johnson the department does have a 100 percent situational awareness goal, “in at least certain sectors.” “I don’t know whether that would be absolutely true for every single sector of the border,” he said. “In general it ought to be, but in the immediate term I know the numbers, the percentage of border land for which we have situational awareness is increasing all the time.” Sasse then asked Johnson if he believed the department would get to that 100 percent objective by the end of his time as DHS secretary. “Probably not during my tenure, my tenure is growing short, I’d like it to be over at a certain time. I don’t know that we’ll be able to achieve that before the end of this administration, if that is your question,” he said. At the close of the hearing, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) encouraged DHS to take a methodical path to achieve situational awareness…”


Johnson admits DHS does not have full control of border

“Homeland Security still won’t have a complete handle on the border by the end of President Obama’s tenure, department Secretary Jeh Johnson admitted to Congress on Wednesday, though he said they are quickly getting better. Appearing before several committees to justify his 2016 budget request, Mr. Johnson said his department does not yet have situational control over the southwestern border, nor does it even have full “situational awareness” yet. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to achieve that before the end of this administration,” the secretary told Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, who was quizzing him on it at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing…”



“The Department of Homeland Security has declined to investigate Southern California Edison on allegations that it is replacing American employees with foreign workers on H-1B visas. In response to a bipartisan call from ten U.S. senators led by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — an agency within DHS —  said that while it is on the lookout for possible H-1B violations, an investigation into the company is “premature.” “At this point, it would be premature for USCIS to speculate as to whether Southern Edison’s participation in the H-1B program has violated any laws,” USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez wrote in a letter dated Tuesday. In a joint statement Wednesday Sessions and Durbin expressed disappointment in the reply to their request for an investigation and took issue with Rodriguez’s letter. “The reply letter was non-responsive, failing to address the questions presented. Director Rodriquez merely stated that ‘it would premature for USCIS to speculate as to whether Southern California Edison’s participation in the H-1B program violated any laws.’ We did not ask for speculation; we asked for an investigation, and an explanation of any legal obstacles to conducting such an investigation,” the pair said. “Why will the Department of Homeland Security not conduct one?” they continued. “Does DHS have insufficient legal authority to conduct such an investigation? This letter does not tell us. There are legions of displaced Americans formerly employed by Southern California Edison and many other companies who deserve answers.” Earlier this month the ten senators called on Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor to look into abuses of the H-1B visa program. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure that the law does not permit employers to abuse our visa programs to undercut domestic wages and workers. If USCIS believes existing law does not prevent these activities, then the law must be changed,” Sessions and Durbin argued Wednesday…”


Homeland Security rejects request to investigate guest-worker program abuse


Demonstrators to gather in Las Vegas for minority issues

“Protesters will gather in downtown Las Vegas Friday to rally for working class and minority issues, such as immigration reform and the growing tension between police and people of color. The Las Vegas Sun reports (http://bit.ly/1ImE0pO ) that the march will be at 4:30 p.m. on May Day, which is typically a holiday for labor groups but has taken on an immigration flavor in the past few years. Local activists have been holding May Day demonstrations in downtown Las Vegas for nearly a decade. The event typically draws hundreds of participants. The protest comes as racial tension has turned to riots in Baltimore after a 25-year-old black man died of a spinal-cord injury under mysterious circumstances while in police custody…”


The Obama Administration and Immigrant Assimilation


Activists Label GOP Immigration Agenda ‘Mass Deportation’

“The GOP 2016 field may still be picking its way through suitable campaign messaging on immigration, but activists already are defining their party’s approach to reform: “Mass Deportation.” On the same day that House Republicans were holding a hearing on whether people born in the U.S. should get automatic citizenship, immigration and civil rights activists affixed that brand to Republicans in Congress and by extension, the party’s 2016 hopefuls. “The GOP-controlled Congress has all but cemented its anti-immigrant legacy and may meet its destiny in 2016,” the activists said in a report they released Wednesday with the words “Mass Deportation” stamped on the report’s cover in bright yellow letters. The report was produced by the Alliance for Citizenship. The cover has photos of several congressional members and juxtaposes a photo of Sen. Ted Cruz, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, with a photo of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has made headlines for years by labeling immigrants as drug mules and suggesting they be stopped at the border with electrified fences. In defense of Wednesday’s hearing, Wadi Gaitan, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said: “Americans across the nation agree that in order to bring forward genuine solutions we must have an open conversation to examine all aspects of our immigration system.” Ruth Guerra, RNC Director of Hispanic Media, said in a statement, “These claims are baseless and inflammatory. Republican presidential candidates will have the opportunity to share their ideas and solutions on how to reform our immigration system, something President Obama and Democrats have failed to do for the past six years.” The activists’ label conjures the failed immigration solution of Mitt Romney who said in his 2012 campaign that immigrants should self deport. He ended up earning just 27 percent of the Latino vote and President Barack Obama won re-election with significant support from Latinos as well from other racial and ethnic groups. Clarissa Martinez de Castro, a deputy vice president at the National Council of La Raza, said there’s still time for Republican candidates to better define their immigration agendas, but she said “it’s not looking bright right now” since several have opposed President Barack Obama’s use of executive authority to protect millions from deportation…”


Games People Play on Immigration

“My fellow Bloomberg View contributor Noah Smith thinks Scott Walker “may have accidentally given away the game.” Many people say they are just against illegal immigration, which they oppose because of their concerns about the rule of law. Immigration boosters, including me, have always suspected that this professed concern for the law masks a deeper opposition to allimmigration. Now Wisconsin Governor and potential presidential candidate Scott Walker has given ammo to the skeptics. Here’s an alternative hypothesis. Some people oppose illegal immigration because of their concerns about the rule of law but favor higher legal immigration. Some other people oppose illegal immigration and also favor reductions in legal immigration, and they take these views for a mix of reasons. Walker may be in group two. When people in group two state their position, they are not revealing anything about group one. And when people in group one state their position, they are not hiding anything. The arguments Smith makes about the effects of immigration on wages have some force. But he ignores the impact on the wages of immigrants who are already here; he seems to regard capital and labor mobility as perfect substitutes for each other, which does not seem obviously correct; and he takes an all-or-nothing view about immigration policy that seems to me mistaken. Smith suggests that limiting legal immigration more than we currently do would amount to America’s “throwing away one of its biggest advantages.” But I suppose if you think that wanting less immigration means harboring “opposition to all immigration,” that’s a natural step to take.”



“Last month, Oregon Governor Kate Brown received considerable media attention when she put her signature on a new law that automatically registers every licensed driver in the Beaver State to vote. Here in California, newly-minted Secretary of State Alex Padilla is pushing for the state legislature to follow Oregon’s lead. Padilla is supporting a bill, AB 1461, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), that would, as in Oregon, require that every person with a driver’s license in California be automatically registered to vote. AB 1461 says that a licensed driver would have to affirmatively opt out of being registered in order not to be enrolled automatically. The bill passed its first legislative hurdle yesterday when Assembly Transportation Committee Democrats, on a party-line vote, approved the bill. In a release, Padilla said, “One of the biggest barriers to citizen participation is the voter registration process. A new, enhanced California Motor Voter law would strengthen our democracy.  It would be a game changer. While Oregon could expand its voter rolls by as much as 300,000 voters through their new enhanced Motor Voter process, California could expand it rolls by millions.” Proponents of the legislation, including Padilla and Gonzalez, argue that requiring citizens to register to vote places an additional step in front of the millions of Californian’s eligible to register, and that resources spent encouraging registration are better spent on voter education…”


Young immigrants in Arizona want in-state tuition

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


Cruz Stands By 2013 Immigration Push, Drawing Contrast With Walker

“Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is standing by a push he made to increase legal immigration in 2013, highlighting an apparent divide between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the rest of the GOP presidential field on immigration. Walker, a likely contender with Cruz for the 2016 GOP nomination, ignited a media frenzy last week when he said legal immigration policy should revolve around the needs of American workers. “In terms of legal immigration … it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today, is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages,” Walker said in an interview with Glenn Beck, reported by Breitbart News. Since 1970, the foreign-born population of the U.S. has more than tripled to 41 million, according to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service for the Senate Judiciary Committee…”


Ted Cruz tiptoes around immigration at Hispanic business event


Jeb Bush: U.S. ‘does not do well when people lurk in the shadows’

“Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday that America should be proud of its status as a “nation of immigrants” and that the United States does not do well when people “lurk in the shadows,” as he called for “earned legal status” for illegal immigrants in the country. “We’re a nation of immigrants — this is not the time to abandon something that makes us special and unique,” he said at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) in Houston.  “We have the ability, because of immigration, to be an emerging country again — to be full of optimism, to believe that our future is brighter than our present,” said Mr. Bush, who sprinkled lines in Spanish during the address. “But we have to fix a broken immigration system and do it in short order.” Mr. Bush has been viewed with a wary eye by some conservatives because of his comparatively moderate views on immigration, which he has consistently defended as he lays the groundwork for a potential presidential run in 2016. “That means controlling the border, that means making legal immigration easier than illegal immigration, that means creating a catalyst for economic growth for sure, but it also means dealing with the 11 million undocumented workers that are here in this country,” Mr. Bush said. “11 million people that should come out from the shadows and receive earned legal status where they pay a fine, where they work, where they do what they want to do, which is to come out from the shadows, work, provide for their families, not receive government assistance, and over a period of time be able to receive earned legal status. “This country does not do well when people lurk in the shadows,” he said. “This country does spectacularly well when everybody can pursue their God-given abilities.”


Jeb Bush leans in to immigration reform in speech to Hispanic Christian organization

“Former Florida governor Jeb Bush forcefully advocated for an immigration reform plan that includes a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants during a speech Wednesday to a Hispanic faith-based group in Houston. And he showed off his Spanish speaking skills while he was at it. “We have the ability because of immigration to be an emerging country again, to be full of optimism, to believe that our future is brighter than our present. But we have to fix a broken immigration system and do it in short order,” he said at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Bush told the audience that reform would mean increasing border security and expanding the possibilities for legal immigration — “…but it also means dealing with the 11 million undocumented workers that are here in this country, 11 million people that should come out from the shadows and receive earned legal status.” “This country does not do well when people lurk in the shadows,” he continued. “This country does spectacularly well when everybody can pursue their God-given abilities.”…”


Chris Christie reiterates he’ll never give drivers licenses to undocumented: ‘I’m not doing it’

“New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, reiterated that he does not believe undocumented immigrants should get drivers licenses because it would compromise homeland security. “I’m not giving drivers licenses to people that are undocumented, that’s it,” Christie said, during a monthly radio segment called “Ask the Governor” on New Jersey 101.5. “It is the single most important form of identification, it gets you on to airplanes…all the things that you need to do to identify yourself a driver’s license does that. I cannot give drivers licenses to people who I cannot be sure who they are and it’s that simple. I’m not doing it. And I’ve had that position right from the beginning.” Of course, the difference now is Christie’s immigration stance matters more today than it did in the beginning because he could very well announce his White House bid in the coming weeks…”




“Trickle Down Economics versus Trickle Down Socialism – Ronald Reagan’s economic plan saw GDP surge at a 3.5% clip – 4.9% after the recession. That’s a 32% bump. During the Obama years, thanks to his big government policies, the US economy has stalled. Today the quarterly GDP was announced. The GDP for the first quarter of 2015 braked more sharply than expected at only a .2% pace. The US economy has grown an anemic 9.6% during the Obama years (excluding today’s dismal number). Of course, Obama’s record on job growth is also much worse than President Reagan’s record…”



U.S. economy stalls in first quarter

“The U.S. economy stalled in the first quarter, expanding by just 0.2 percent, hurt by weak exports and a drop in business investment, according to a report released Wednesday by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. The figure fell short of analyst’s predictions of 1 percent growth and well below the previous quarter’s 2.2 percent growth, indicating that the U.S. economy is losing momentum, undermining President Obama’s recent efforts to tout the economic recovery. The slowdown reflected lower consumer spending, declining exports, lower business investment and less state and local government spending. The declines were offset by lower-than-expected imports, inventory build-ups by private business and an increase in federal spending. Major contributing factor to the declines were the delay in exports caused by the West Coast ports dispute, the prolonged cold winter and a decline in energy prices. Jason Furman, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, repeatedly cited the weather as a principle factor…”


US economy barely grew in first quarter

“The U.S. economy skidded to a near halt in the first three months of the year, battered by a triple whammy of harsh weather, plunging exports and sharp cutbacks in oil and gas drilling. The overall economy grew at a barely discernible annual rate of 0.2 percent in the January-March quarter, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. That is the poorest showing in a year and down from 2.2 percent growth in the fourth quarter. The government’s first look at economic growth for the first quarter, as measured by the gross domestic product, came as the Federal Reserve wrapped up two days of discussions on interest rate policies. While the economy can brush off the temporary factors behind the slowdown, it will have to contend with ongoing challenges like the strong dollar for some time. “A stalling of U.S. economic growth at the start of the year rules out any imminent hiking of interest rates by the Fed,” Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, wrote in a research report. Plummeting exports dragged grown by nearly a full percentage point. The category that includes investments in oil and gas exploration plunged 48.7 percent. Consumer spending slowed sharply as a severe winter kept shoppers home. The first quarter figure was much worse than economists had expected. But analysts are still looking for a solid rebound for the rest of the year, similar to what happened in 2014. The economy contracted in the first three months of 2014, also due to a harsh winter. It was then followed by a strong rebound to growth of 4.6 percent in the spring and a jump of 5 percent in the third quarter. Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at BTIG, believes the first quarter will prove to be the year’s low point, though acknowledges that the momentum so far isn’t as strong as last year…”


US economy entered 2015 on a weak note

“The U.S. economy grew at a disappointing 0.2 percent in the first quarter of the year, as winter weather and weak exports contributed to sluggish growth. Outside analysts had expected growth of roughly 1 percent for the first three months of 2015, but the Commerce Department reported Wednesday the economy barely gained ground. The government reported that while personal spending and business inventory were up, a decline in exports, state and local government spending, and an increase in imports all contributed to laggard growth. Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, blamed the bleak outcome on “tepid foreign demand and harsh winter weather.” Furman said the first few months of 2015 included “historically harsh winter,” the third coldest in 20 years. Those harsh conditions slowed economic activity as Americans stayed home to keep warm, rather than pumping up consumption and business investment…”


Slouching into stagnation – advance read of 1st-quarter GDP +0.2%

“The economic experts had anticipated the slowdown of the US economy to continue in the first quarter of 2015, after the 5.0% annualized real GDP growth in the 3rd quarter of 2014 slipped to 2.2% growth in the 4th quarter, with the consensus being +1.0% growth this past quarter. The bad news – it slowed down to 0.2%: Real gross domestic product — the value of the production of goods and services in the United States, adjusted for price changes — increased at an annual rate of 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015, according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent. The Bureau emphasized that the first-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency. The “second” estimate for the first quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on May 29, 2015. The increase in real GDP in the first quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and private inventory investment that were partly offset by negative contributions from exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased. Reuters and the AP found creative ways to avoid using the “unexpectedly” word. First, Reuters’ lede: U.S. economic growth braked more sharply than expected in the first quarter as harsh weather dampened consumer spending and energy companies struggling with low prices slashed spending, but there are signs activity is picking up. Gross domestic product expanded at an only 0.2 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. That was a big step down from the fourth quarter’s 2.2 percent pace and marked the weakest reading in a year. A strong dollar and a now-resolved labor dispute at normally busy West Coast ports also slammed growth, the government said. The weak growth, though probably temporary, reduces the chances of a June interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve.

While the Reuters dispatch did not offer any real evidence economic activity is actually picking up, they did mention economists’ claims that the weather in February knocked a half-percentage point off GDP growth, that the West Coast ports dispute knocked off 0.3 percentage point, and that the drastic 48% drop in spending on mining and drilling equipment was a result of “front-loading” the cuts into the first quarter…”


U.S. economy stumbles in first-quarter as weather, low energy prices weigh

“U.S. economic growth nearly stalled in the first quarter as harsh weather dampened consumer spending and energy companies struggling with low prices slashed spending. Gross domestic product expanded at an only 0.2 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. That was a big step down from the fourth quarter’s 2.2 percent pace and marked the weakest reading in a year. A strong dollar and a now-resolved labor dispute at normally busy West Coast ports also slammed growth, the government said. While there are signs the economy is pulling out of the soft patch, the lack of a vigorous growth rebound has convinced investors the U.S. Federal Reserve will wait until late this year to start hiking interest rates. The recovery is the slowest on record and the economy has yet to experience annual growth in excess of 2.5 percent. “The U.S. economy has yet to demonstrate the self-sustaining resilience that the Fed wants to see before raising interest rates,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. “A June liftoff is now off the table, our forecast for a September move holds but even that has become tenuous.” The dollar hit a nine-week low against a basket of currencies, while U.S. stocks fell marginally. Prices for U.S. Treasury debt fell in line with a global bond sell-off, sparked by a poorly received five-year German bond auction. Economists had expected the economy to expand at a 1.0 percent rate. The sharp growth slowdown is probably not a true reflection of the economy’s health, given the role of temporary factors such as the weather and the ports dispute. The first-quarter GDP snapshot was released just hours before Fed officials were to conclude a two-day policy meeting. Policymakers at the U.S. central bank are expected to acknowledge the softer growth, but shrug it off as temporary in a statement they will issue after their gathering. “The extent and depth of the weakness in today’s GDP report, sets the U.S. up for another disappointing though somewhat better GDP report in the second quarter. We are not ready to throw in the towel for the year,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco…”


US stocks fall as economy grows at meager pace

“U.S. stocks dropped Wednesday following news that the economy skidded to a near halt in the first three months of the year, battered by harsh weather, plunging exports and sharp cutbacks in oil and gas drilling. Investors were also waiting for a statement from the Federal Reserve in the afternoon following its latest policy meeting. KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 13 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,102, as of 1:25 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 115 points, or 0.7 percent, or 17,991 points. The Nasdaq fell 42 points, or 0.8 percent, to 5,012. US ECONOMY: The overall economy grew at a barely discernible annual rate of 0.2 percent in the January-March quarter, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. That is the poorest showing in a year and down from 2.2 percent growth in the fourth quarter. Plummeting exports pulled growth down by nearly a full percentage point. FED STATEMENT: The Federal Reserve is set to issue a policy statement from its two-day meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Investors will be looking for any hints on when it will raise interest rates, but expectations are that they’ll stay at record lows until at least September. THE QUOTE: Stocks have struggled to maintain their upward momentum this year, after climbing almost 30 percent in 2013 and 11.4 percent last year…”


Gov’t Again Blames Weather for Poor Economic Growth

“The Commerce Department on Wednesday put some of the blame for the nation’s weak economic growth in early 2015 on a villain it has blamed before: the weather. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis said U.S. gross domestic product grew just 0.2 percent, the lowest it’s been since a year earlier, when the economy contracted. In both cases, the agency blamed the weather as a factor. “In the first quarter, the dollar strengthened against major currencies, imports and exports were delayed because of labor disputes in key ports, energy prices declined, and several regions experienced severe weather,” the agency said. The bad weather factor is usually associated with a drop in consumer spending. In the first quarter, consumer spending did increase, but by a paltry 0.2 percent from the 2.2 percent seen in the prior quarter. The Bureau of Economic Analysis said the trade deficit increased, business investment fell, and spending by state and local governments fell as well. Almost exactly a year ago, it reported a 0.1 percent GDP increase in the first quarter of 2014. By May 2014, that was revised down to a 1.0 percent decline. Neither releases made any mention of the weather, but by July, the agency was arguing that weather was a factor. “The economy’s downturn in the first quarter was widespread, with 19 of 22 major industry groups contributing to the drop in U.S. economic activity, the new BEA data show,” it said. “Some of the leading contributors to the downturn included industries that were impacted by the unusually harsh winter weather that hit most of the United States, including agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.”…”


Despite alarms about global warming, Obama blames cold winter for stalled economy

“President Obama often raises the alarm about global warming, but his top economic adviser said Wednesday that an especially cold winter was to blame for slow growth in the U.S. in the first quarter. “As measured by heating degree days, this quarter was the third coldest in twenty years,” said White House economic adviser Jason Furman. “Indeed, winter weather likely reduced both consumption and investment, contributing to this quarter’s below-trend output growth.” The Bureau of Economic Analysis said first-quarter growth in gross domestic product contracted to an annual rate of 0.2 percent, far below projections and much slower than the previous three quarters. Mr. Furman the first quarter “was only the fourth in 60 years on record with three or more snowstorms sufficiently severe to be rated by the National Climatic Data Center’s northeast snowfall impact scale.” He said the winter was “especially harsh” and may have lowered growth by a full percentage point. The president’s top economic adviser even said first-quarter growth has been “especially weak in recent years,” a trend that he said “at least partially reflects generally worsening weather over the past decade.” Some climate researchers say warmer ocean temperatures contribute to heavier snowfall totals, such as the Boston region experienced last winter…”


After U.S. economy slows to crawl, analysts hope the reason is the season

“The U.S. economy slowed nearly to a halt in the first three months of the year as exports plunged, oil companies slashed business and a rotten winter helped keep consumers indoors. The economic slowdown, reflected in government data released Wednesday, was sharper than analysts had anticipated and creates a puzzle for employers and policymakers, who are trying to determine whether the annualized 0.2 percent growth between January and March is attributable to temporary factors or is a signal of broader problems. Sorting out an answer will take at least several more months, but it leaves greater uncertainty about an economy that had until recently been among the world’s best performers. The United States faces challenges not only from a strong dollar, a drag on growth, but also from an oil price decline that has stunted one of the nation’s most bustling industries. The latest economic data may nudge back the timetable for the Federal Reserve to raise rates, which have stayed close to zero for 6 1/2 years. On Wednesday afternoon, the central bank said that the winter slowdown was “in part” reflective of “transitory factors” and that “economic activity will expand at a moderate pace” going forward. Economists now expect that the central bank will hold off until the second half of the year on its rate hike while gauging the direction of the economy, but the Fed did not offer any new hints Wednesday about its timing…”


Four reasons the economy faltered in the first quarter

“A number of factors played into Wednesday’s weak gross domestic product report for the first quarter, which showed that the U.S. economy grew only 0.2 percent from January through March:

1. Cold weather – It was the third coldest winter in 20 years, by some measures, and the Northeast was hit particularly hard with massive snowstorms that snarled traffic and slowed down business. The White House noted that it was only the fourth winter on record with three or more snowstorms sufficiently severe to register on an index kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.The unusually harsh winter likely slowed down consumer spending and investment, especially in home building.

2. The rising dollar – As the U.S. economy has slowly recovered from the recession and the Federal Reserve has moved toward tightening monetary policy, the rest of the world has been going in the other direction.

As a result, the dollar has strengthened rapidly. The euro, worth nearly $1.40 last summer, is now worth under a dollar. A rising dollar makes U.S. products more expensive for foreigners to buy. Exports declined by 7.2 percent in the first quarter.

3. Cheaper oil – Drillers and oil companies have seen the steep drop in the price of oil cut into the historic U.S. shale oil revolution. The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil has fallen from roughly $110 last summer to around $65 more recently, making some drilling operations unprofitable. Investment in mining fell 50 percent in the first quarter, explaining the majority of an overall drop of nearly a quarter in investment in non-housing structures. Oil-producing cities and regions have been losing jobs in recent months, and oil-heavy states like Texas have seen job growth crimped by the falling price of oil. In recent weeks, however, oil prices have firmed up, meaning that the impact should be alleviated. Furthermore, government and private-sector economists expect that low prices at the gas pump will eventually translate into higher spending and better balance sheets for consumers.

4. Seasonal adjustments – The gross domestic product figures tallied by the Bureau of Economic Analysis are adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. Recently, however, some economists have questioned whether those adjustments are accurately capturing seasonal variations or instead making the first quarter appear worse than it really is. Over the past five years, Deutsche Bank economists noted in an analysis published before Wednesday’s report, real GDP growth has averaged just 0.6 percent in the first quarter, well below the full-year average of 2.3 percent. Notably, last year’s first-quarter report was revised down from an initial 0.1 percent real annual rate to negative 2.9 percent in the third estimate. “[O]ur best guess as to why Q1 weakness persists is faulty seasonal adjustments by the Bureau of Economic Analysis,” the Deutsche Bank analysis concluded. Part of the confusion is that winter weather has been unusually bad recently: 2014’s winter was even harsher than this year’s in many respects. If the seasonal adjustments used by the government are failing to capture what’s really happening in the first quarter, the economy would be expected to snap back in the rest of 2015, just as it has in recent years.”


The new GDP number is unexpectedly low. It’s far too early to read much into it (politically).

“Estimates of gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the first quarter came in at a lower-than-expected 0.2 percent, according to the Commerce Department. Given American politics, it’s a safe bet that this will be used to hammer the Obama administration. That’s premature — and the low figure probably won’t end up doing much to hurt President Obama’s approval rating at all, in fact. There are pretty straightforward reasons for this…”


Fed shakes off disappointing economic data

“The Federal Reserve believes the U.S. economy has slowed down, but the central bank is showing no sign of slowing plans to raise interest rates. The latest policy update from the Fed acknowledged the economy slowed at the beginning of 2015 and job gains have “moderated. It also noted household spending declined, even as personal incomes rose and consumer sentiment remained high. But it does not appear as if those changes are leading to any dramatic swings from the Fed’s plan to raise rates sometime this year for the first time in nearly a decade. In its policy statement, the Fed said that despite the slowdown in job and economic growth, it still expects the economy will continue to expand “at a moderate pace.” Earlier Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy only grew 0.2 percent in the first three months of 2015, well below the 1 percent anticipated by economists. And earlier this month, the Labor Department reported that only 126,000 jobs were created in March, disrupting a steady trend of strong growth on the labor front. But the Fed said Wednesday the slowdown in economic growth was partly due to winter weather and other “transitory factors.” And when it comes to jobs, there remains an “underutilization of labor resources,” suggesting there is untapped growth still to be had in the job market…”


Noting slower economy, Fed appears no closer to a rate hike

“The Federal Reserve downgraded its view of the U.S. economy Wednesday after a winter in which growth nearly froze. The Fed offered no sign that a rate increase might be coming soon. On a day when the government estimated that the economy barely grew in the January-March quarter, the Fed acknowledged that economic barometers have weakened of late, in part because of temporary factors. It noted in a statement that growth has slowed, business investment has softened and exports have declined. It also reiterated that it needs to be “reasonably confident” that low inflation will move back up to the Fed’s 2 percent target. In its statement, the Fed removed all calendar references — a message that any move to raise its key rate from a record low near zero will hinge entirely on what the economic data show. The only parts of its policy statement the Fed changed Wednesday dealt with its assessment of economic conditions. It said growth has “slowed during the winter.” That was a downgrade from its March statement, which said growth had “moderated somewhat.” But the Fed partly blamed “transitory factors” for the deceleration and stressed that it expects the economy to expand moderately. David Jones, an economist who has written several books on the Fed, said he thinks a rate hike is unlikely until September. Still, he foresees a pickup in growth and a rate increase by fall…”


Fed: All calendar references removed

“Following through on indications in March, the Federal Open Market Committee on Wednesday offered no changes to its zero interest rate policy. Not only did it not hike rates, it also removed all hints for what may lie ahead. Calendar references were deleted completely from the post-meeting statement. The FOMC indicated after its March meeting that a rate hike in April was unlikely. The U.S. central bank has kept its key funds rate anchored near zero since late 2008, amid the financial crisis. Officials have indicated a desire to raise rates at some point this year, with the market now anticipating a September increase. The move came amid a struggling U.S. economy that barely registered any growth at all in the first three months of the year—a meager 0.2 percent increase in gross domestic product, thanks to a stubbornly frugal consumer, strengthening dollar and rough winter…”


Middle Market Survey Reveals Slow U.S. Economy Ahead

“Middle market companies (MMC) are an important and dynamic slice of the American business pie. With annual revenues ranging from $10 million up to $1 billion, this group of nearly 200,000 businesses ranks as the fifth largest economic block in the world, even larger than Germany. The activity of this segment is also considered to be a good predictor of economic growth. This is not too surprising since MMCs account for one-third of the employment in America. Due to these and other factors, many economists and business leaders keep a close eye on this portion of the American business. The National Center for the Middle Market conducts a regular survey of America’s middle market companies. In this article, we’ll examine the results and discuss what the future holds for this group as well as the broader U.S. economy. I find it interesting that the survey was for the period ending March 31, 2015 and this morning’s GDP report indicated what the survey revealed, a slowing economy…”


Congressional Republicans reach budget deal

“Congressional Republicans announced Wednesday that negotiators have reached a deal to reconcile House and Senate budgets plans, which, if approved, would mark the first GOP budget in nearly a decade and the first joint congressional budget since 2009. “This balanced budget reflects a commitment on the part of the House and Senate to fulfill our obligation to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said House Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., in a joint statement with Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. The ten-year blueprint is non-binding, but it outlines the GOP’s spending priorities and is symbolically important for a party eager to prove its ability to govern ahead of the 2016 election. The final budget was temporarily delayed this week by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who refused to sign off on the deal over concerns that the fiscal plan includes too many budgetary gimmicks. Corker relented on Wednesday. “There is no question this budget is far from perfect, but it is some progress since it has been a long time since the Congress has completed this basic part of governing,” he said. Final passage — which could come as early as this week — will also trigger a legislative pathway for Republicans to vote again this year to repeal President Obama’s health care law. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Monday criticized Republicans’ relentless pursuit to uproot the law, calling it a “smashing success” that has provided coverage for the first time to millions of Americans. “It says a lot about their inability to govern, and quite frankly, their grasp upon reality, that Republicans refuse to acknowledge the facts,” he said…”


GOP unveils budget deal that seeks repeal of ObamaCare

“House and Senate Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a budget deal that aims to torpedo ObamaCare while balancing the federal books within 10 years. The deal would approve more than $5 trillion in spending cuts over a decade, and seeks to use the budget procedure known as reconciliation to send a repeal of the healthcare law to President Obama’s desk. The budget also sticks to the $1.017 trillion sequestration budget ceiling for 2016, and boosts military spending through an infusion of cash into the war fund. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had delayed the release of the deal since Monday because of provisions he described as “gimmicks” that deal with changes in mandatory programs. He relented on Wednesday and signed the agreement. The deal reconciles the rival budget blueprints passed by the House and Senate, and will not require a signature from President Obama. If adopted, it will be the first Republican budget agreement in a decade. The House is expected to vote Friday on the agreement, a leadership aide said. While the House and Senate blueprints were similar, there were several differences that had to be bridged by GOP negotiators…”


Republicans reach budget deal, take aim at Obamacare

“Republican negotiators in the House and Senate announced a deal on a joint budget Wednesday that would cut domestic spending, increase defense spending and open a new door in the quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The deal, which could be approved by the House and the Senate as early as this week, looks like the latest success in a recent flurry of deal­making in Congress. Unlike the bipartisan deals in recent weeks, this budget is a Republican-only agreement for what they would like to accomplish, not a binding prescription for how Congress should allocate money. Lawmakers must now pass appropriations legislation to actually fund the government — a process that will require tough compromise if Republicans hope to advance spending bills that President Obama is willing to sign. “We hope to complete the budget conference report in the House and the Senate, and get going on the appropriations process,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “I’m sure the Democrats will complain that we’re not spending enough on the domestic side, but all of that can be sorted out in the appropriations process.” The Republican budget ignores Obama’s threat to veto any funding bills that lock in spending cuts for domestic programs. Instead negotiators opted for deep domestic cuts, nearly $40 billion in additional defense spending from off-book funds and a new attack on the president’s signature health-care bill…”


GOP unveils budget plans in face of Obama opposition


 Sen. Bob Corker signs GOP budget, green-lighting resolution for floor votes

“Republican Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday he had signed the GOP’s budget resolution after spending the early part of the week as his party’s lone holdout, clearing the way for each chamber to approve the blueprint. Mr. Corker, of Tennessee, had complained about “gimmicks” in the final conference report hammered out behind closed doors, and the standoff threatened to delay GOP plans to vote on the budget resolution this week as it takes up actual spending bills. “There is no question this budget is far from perfect, but it is some progress since it has been a long time since the Congress has completed this basic part of governing,” Mr. Corker said. “I have had conversations on both sides of the Capitol laying out what I believe we need to do to prepare for next year’s budget process so that we can make much greater progress toward addressing the tremendous fiscal challenges our country faces.” The Tennessee lawmaker said one reason he wavered on the deal is because it uses Changes in Mandatory Programs, or CHIMPS, which delay mandatory spending to free up money for other priorities. Critics say it is a phony maneuver that simply delays budgetary pain or results in no actual savings. Aides said draft conference budget report would for the first time limit the use of CHIMPS in the appropriations process, aides said, capping their use at $19 billion in each of the first two years and then phasing them out. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, Kentucky Republican, has said CHIMPS provide needed flexibility under tight budget caps, and eliminating them could derail the spending process…”


Van Hollen urges Dems to oppose rule approving GOP spending levels

“Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is calling on his Democratic colleagues to oppose a rule vote Wednesday that would establish spending levels for next year based on the Republican budgets. “I urge you to oppose today’s rule for the appropriations bills that “deems” the Republican budget resolution conference report as having passed the House and the Senate. A vote for the Republican rule is a vote for the woefully inadequate funding levels set for 2016 in the Republican budget resolution,” Van Hollen wrote in a letter to his caucus. Republicans had originally banked on adopting a House-Senate budget deal before voting on two spending bills this week for fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has delayed the release of that agreement, but eventually signed it. In the meantime, House Republicans are voting on a rule that “deems” or establishes the Republican budget’s spending levels for next year. The GOP is proposing to stick to the $1.017 trillion overall cap, which limits the Pentagon to $523 billion and domestic programs to $493 billion in 2016. “The rule for the first two appropriations bills ratifies this budget gimmickry by including a so-called “deemer” that locks in the budget resolution’s funding level for fiscal year 2016,” said Van Hollen, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a 2016 Senate candidate. Van Hollen warned Democrats that the GOP’s proposed funding levels do not keep pace with inflation, and also would require cuts to certain spending bills. He also blasted Republicans for boosting defense spending through a Pentagon war fund that isn’t subject to sequestration budget ceilings…”


GOP spending bill reignites trucking debate

“A $55 billion Republican funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development is reigniting a debate in Congress about truck safety. Safety groups have accused GOP lawmakers of using the appropriations process to undo a series of trucking regulations they say makes U.S. roads safer, including limits on the length and weight of trucks that have been opposed by trucking companies for years. “The House Appropriations Committee released the FY 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill including safety rollbacks and repeals for special trucking interests,” a group known as the Truck Safety Coalition said in a statement. “Despite significant public opposition, Congress continues to push the industry’s agenda without any public input, hearings or debate,” the group continued. “Truck crash deaths and injuries are up dramatically at the same time Congress is considering major anti-truck safety changes. These safety assaults being pushed in Congress by special trucking interests will increase the safety risks of others including truck drivers, the motoring public, bicyclists and pedestrians.” The groups are planning to hold a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday ahead of a scheduling hearing on the Transportation and Housing appropriations bill, which is known in Washington as THUD…”


GOP advancing budget plans in face of Obama opposition

“Republicans controlling Congress moved ahead on multiple fronts on Wednesday with their budget for the upcoming year – and headlong into a battle with President Barack Obama. House-Senate negotiators on a sweeping – but nonbinding – budget plan sealed agreement Wednesday. The 10-year balanced budget plan calls upon lawmakers to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law while enacting major curbs on safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps. It would cut future-year budgets for domestic agencies below already tight spending “caps” that the White House is vowing to dismantle. Separately, the House was moving on a normally bipartisan bill funding veterans’ programs but the measure was running into unusual opposition from Democrats despite increases of almost 6 percent above current levels for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The White House promises to veto the veterans’ bill in protest of unrelated GOP plans to boost the Pentagon’s budget while ignoring pleas to increase domestic programs. Republicans promoted their broader 10-year budget plan, which promises to cut federal spending projected at almost $50 trillion over the coming decade by more than $5 trillion, with the bulk of the cuts coming from federal health care programs. “We are going to be passing a balanced budget for a stronger America so that we can … look to the future of our country and say to our children and my grandchildren that we’re doing everything that we can do to get this budget onto balance,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn…”


GOP budget heads for crucial vote

“Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a joint House-Senate budget that aims to torpedo ObamaCare while balancing the federal books within 10 years. The release of the blueprint sets up a vote in the House on Friday, with the Senate expected to follow next week. That could present a challenge for GOP leaders, who can afford only 27 defections from their ranks if Democrats, as expected, unanimously oppose it. The House GOP has repeatedly struggled to pass measures on the backs of their own members, though they lost only 17 Republicans on March 25 when the House approved its initial budget. The new 100-page blueprint, however, includes some changes after negotiations with the Senate that could make it tougher to pass. It is also being dropped into a quickly forming GOP presidential race in which two candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.), voted against the Senate GOP budget…”


House GOP delays vote on first spending bill

“House Republicans delayed a vote Wednesday night on their first spending bill of the year amid concerns that a controversial bipartisan amendment to eliminate use of a Pentagon war fund for military construction projects might have the votes to pass. The House was originally slated to vote on passage of the first fiscal 2016 appropriations bill, which provides funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects, late Wednesday evening. But leadership decided to push back votes on the legislation, which is considered the easiest of the 12 annual appropriations bills to pass, until Thursday. House GOP leadership aides denied there was a problem with the whip count. Aides said the votes were delayed so that the House can first vote on the budget conference agreement that reconciles the two chambers’ spending plans before proceeding with votes on the appropriations bills. But an amendment from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, also appeared to be a potential problem for passage. The amendment offered by the political odd couple would strike provisions of the bill for military construction projects that use funds from the Pentagon’s war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account. Both Van Hollen and Mulvaney argued it represented a budgetary “gimmick” to avoid spending caps established by the 2011 budget deal known as the Budget Control Act (BCA). “Let’s not go around the BCA. Let’s not use a slush fund or something that is off budget,” Mulvaney said during floor debate. “Let’s not be disingenuous.” Van Hollen warned the amendment might actually pass — which could imperil passage of the typically bipartisan Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs appropriations bill. “There is clearly bipartisan opposition to using the Overseas Contingency Operations budget as a slush fund for non-war related projects. I will continue to work with Congressman Mulvaney and my other colleagues to fight against this abuse of the budget process,” Van Hollen said in a statement. Republicans are eager to return to so-called “regular order” and pass all of the 12 appropriations bills this year — something which hasn’t been done since the 1990s. But signs of potential trouble on the very first bill out of the gate could be a sign of spending fights to come…”


House GOP Postpones Votes on VA Spending Bill

“House Republicans have been boasting about their early start to appropriations season, but consideration of the very first spending bill — considered the least controversial of all 12 annual measures — hit a snag Wednesday night. GOP leaders had intended to hold evening votes on a slew of amendments and on final passage of the fiscal 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, but ultimately opted to postpone that vote series at the very last minute. Some sources suggested it was a matter of fatigue, with House lawmakers still on tap to start slogging through amendment debate on the second appropriations bill in the queue, one to fund energy and water-related programs. Others pointed to the late-night markup of the National Defense Authorization Act that was still ongoing inside the House Armed Services Committee, with members of that panel possibly missing the chance to weigh in on important provisions. But several senior House aides, including those who work in leadership offices, confirmed to CQ Roll Call that part of the reason for stalling MilCon-VA votes had to do with GOP leaders’ anxiety that members on both sides of the aisle were prepared to adopt an amendment that would strip from the underlying bill the ability to spend money out of the Overseas Contingency Operations account. House Republican leaders included that $532 million account to make the spending bill, which is limited due to sequester-level spending caps, more attractive to defense hawks who insist the Pentagon needs more cash to fight terror. But Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., teamed up on three related amendments to eliminate the ability to use the money. “It spends $532 million in the OCO budget for matters that the Department of Defense admits are not war-related,” said Mulvaney, a two-term budget hawk who said last month he’d rather raise taxes than add to the deficit. “These are matters that the Department of Defense included in its original base defense budget request, but which there isn’t enough money under the … caps,” he said during House floor debate earlier Wednesday. “The appropriators have taken those requests, which are admittedly not war-related, and buried it in this appropriations bill using the OCO money.” While Mulvaney and others in his camp are concerned the GOP’s bill goes too far in undermining spending caps, Van Hollen and company feel the bill doesn’t go far enough. “There is clearly bipartisan opposition to using the Overseas Contingency Operations budget as a slush fund for non-war related projects,” Van Hollen said in a statement Wednesday night. “We need to get back to the table to have an honest debate about our budget and renegotiate the funding caps for both defense and nondefense. Only then will we be able to provide the necessary resources for our national security needs.”…”


Has the GOP Lost Its Budget Soul?

“No wonder why Corker “popped his cork.” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is convinced Republicans have lost their budget soul. And he’s furious. And he has every right to be. In case you’re not following this budget drama on the hill, the Grand Old Party has folded like a cheap suit. It seems right now they are no more interested in cutting spending, than I am in cutting carbohydrates. The difference with me not sticking to my diet is I just hurt myself; Republicans not sticking to any fiscal diet just hurts the entire country. (Especially that broad swath of the country that made them the majority in the Senate and boosted their majority in the House.) And now these same folks who said they were serious about slaying the spending beast are pulling the same old games? Offering a ten-year plan that they say balances the budget, but actually increases spending now…a plan that relies on gimmicks to pay for more defense spending, without cutting anything else, at all. That’s why Corker popped a cork, and threw a wrench into this Republican wreck. He wasn’t going to be a part of it, nor push a budget he knew was a sham. It’s amazing to me that a party that came to power built on spirit of a Tea Party movement has now moved so far away from that movement, refusing to stick to sequester cuts they previously agreed to. It’s a sham. And it’s a shame. And I’m telling you, if the Republicans keep this up, Corker’s right: It’s going to make them… history.”


Reid dead set against GOP’s first unified budget in six years

“Congress released a unified budget for the first time in six years on Wednesday, as Republican negotiators sought to cut health and welfare spending, repeal Obamacare and use a budgetary end-round to boost defense. The House wasted no time in allocating 2016 funds, taking up bills to fund energy and veterans’ programs hours after Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, signed the budget resolution despite complaining it relied on too many “gimmicks.” His approval cleared the way for each chamber to vote on the non-binding blueprint and forge ahead with a dozen appropriations bills that must overcome a Democratic filibuster and win President Obama’s approval to become law. Republican negotiators said the final budget, the result of closed-door negotiations, would slash spending by $5 trillion over 10 years while erasing deficits over that period without raising taxes. It also instructs two Senate committees and three House committees to use a fast-track budget tool known as reconciliation to seek repeal Obamacare, even though the effort faces a certain presidential veto. “Now that the Senate is under new management, we are getting back to work rebuilding the trust of hard-working Americans and doing the people’s business,” said Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, Utah Republican said, boasting negotiators produced a balance budget for the first time since 2001. A spokesman for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said the House will vote on the budget resolution Friday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to vote on it this week…”


House Dems bolster Obama veto threat

“Bolstering a White House veto threat, House Democrats on Wednesday began lining up against a Republican bill funding the Veterans Affairs Department next year. “I won’t support it,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday, “and I don’t believe our Caucus will support that, either.” Addressing the Democrats at a closed-door caucus meeting in the Capitol Wednesday, VA Secretary Robert McDonald warned the lawmakers that the GOP’s $77 billion bill funding the department and military construction projects in fiscal 2016 falls short of the resources needed to provide health and other services to the nation’s veterans. Relaying McDonald’s message, Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said the GOP’s bill would scale back health benefits for roughly 70,000 veterans, while also denying funds for medical research, education and veterans’ cemeteries. “The secretary came and sent a very strong message, something we rarely hear: ‘Please don’t let this funding bill become law, if you care about our veterans. We must do better for them,'” Becerra said. Passed with bipartisan support by the House Appropriations Committee last week, the bill provides a 5.6 percent increase for the VA over 2015 levels, but falls more than $1 billion shy of the figure President Obama had included in his 2016 budget request. Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) hailed the measure as “a balanced, thorough bill that will help improve the quality of life … [and] address the current and future needs of our veterans.” The Democratic leaders see it differently, accusing the Republicans of adhering to spending levels dictated by the “incoherent” sequester law at the expense of veterans. “We should not use the excuse — anyone in Congress — that sequester made you do this,” Becerra said. “If we divest in the Veterans Administration for something as incoherent as a bad law … then we’re doing injustice and disservice to our veterans.” Scheduled for a floor vote Wednesday evening, the VA funding bill is expected to pass with overwhelming Republican support….”


Congress Could Make US Retirees Shoulder Puerto Rico’s Debt

“Puerto Rico is in the throes of a massive debt crisis, and a proposed alternative to a taxpayer bailout could force American retirees to shoulder much of the cost. A temporary agreement between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and its investors is set to expire Thursday, reigniting a debate over whether the territory’s public corporations should be allowed to declare bankruptcy, according to a report by Reorg Research. PREPA is perhaps the most visible illustration of Puerto Rico’s growing debt crisis. The Puerto Rican government has amassed over $70 billion in outstanding debt—dwarfing the debt loads of every state but New York and California—of which about $9 billion is owed by PREPA. According to the Puerto Rico Fiscal Stability Coalition, the Commonwealth’s burgeoning debt load could necessitate a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico, which they estimate would cost up to $164 billion….”


White House uses slow GDP growth to push trade agenda

“The White House said sluggish economic growth in the first quarter shows the need for Congress to advance President Obama’s trade agenda. “The U.S. economy is directly affected by the global economy, making clear the importance of advancing trade promotion authority in Congress so the president can take further steps to open up markets abroad to increase U.S. exports and expand opportunities for the middle class,” Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman wrote in a blog post Wednesday.  The U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a 0.2 percent rate in the first three months of the year, a significant slowdown from the last half of 2014.  The White House said falling U.S. exports, driven by slow growth abroad, played a significant role, claiming the decline subtracted a full percentage point from quarterly GDP growth. “The sensitivity of our exports to foreign demand, especially in an environment where foreign demand is slowing, underscores the importance of reducing trade barriers and opening foreign markets to our exports,” Furman wrote. Obama is pushing Congress to pass a bill that would give him “fast-track” authority to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping free-trade pact among a dozen Pacific Rim nations. The president touted progress made toward a deal on Tuesday during a state visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a U.S. partner on the TPP. But Obama faces opposition from Democrats and labor unions, who don’t want to grant him fast-track authority over concerns that new trade deals could ship American jobs overseas…”


Republicans call on Obama to ‘step up’ and help Congress pass TPA

“House Republicans signaled Wednesday that they will need Democrats to help pass trade-authority legislation that their conservative flank opposes and called on President Obama to persuade lawmakers in his own party to help pass the measure. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., wouldn’t say he has the votes to pass a bill that would give President Obama expedited authority to authorize trade deals. Under the legislation, Congress would be able to vote up or down on trade deals without adding any amendments. “We are still working through it,” Scalise said after a closed-door meeting with Republican rank-and-file members. “But this is going to be a bipartisan effort. We want to see that equal push from the administration.” House Republican leaders have allied themselves with Obama on passing the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, also known as TPA or “Fast Track.” But its passage is uncertain as conservatives have grown skeptical of a deal that would award more authority to a president who they believe is already practicing executive overreach by authorizing millions of illegal immigrants to obtain work permits and some federal benefits…”


Obama trade bill in trouble

The measure, a top White House priority, is drawing serious opposition from both parties.


House Freedom Caucus comes out against ExIm

“The House Freedom Caucus — a coalition of about 40 mostly Tea Party House Republicans — came out against the Export-Import Bank on Wednesday. The group, which does not release its official roster so members can speak more freely with each other, urged House leadership to let the bank’s charter expire June 30. “The Ex-Im Bank is the ‘bridge to nowhere’ of corporate welfare, and is a classic example of crony capitalism,” the groups said in a statement. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the group, is chairing a hearing Thursday during which Export-Import Bank president Fred Hochberg is slated to testify. Republicans are deeply divided about whether to save the bank. Tea Partiers say it’s corporate welfare. But other Republicans and Democrats argue the bank helps sustain American jobs and helps U.S. businesses make inroads overseas. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) reiterated he wants the bank to expire. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) — who adamantly opposes the bank — hasn’t said whether he will move a reauthorization bill through his panel, which has jurisdiction on the issue. Eleven Republicans were among thirty U.S. governors who called for the bank to be reauthorized in a letter to Congressional leadership earlier this month…”


Members Face Off on Online Sales Tax Bills

“Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has assembled a bipartisan rump group around a proposal to empower states to collect sales taxes from online sellers outside their borders. At the same time, a loose coalition of retailers, state officials and allied groups is trying rally support for the plan in both chambers of Congress. Chaffetz confirmed in an interview Monday that he was continuing to champion the measure despite potential opposition from Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and some electronic commerce businesses. “We have a lot of outside support,” Chaffetz said. “Governors and state and local government are begging us to deal with this issue. We can’t ignore it. We need a real solution.” Goodlatte’s bill basically defines a remote seller’s home state as where he has the most employees, and ensures that the remote seller would have to deal with just one home state in terms of remitting sales tax receipts (for distribution to the home state of the buyer) and any potential audits. The Chaffetz draft bill would make remote sellers liable to any states where they have a physical presence, meaning they would be liable to audits by their home state and any other states where they have employees. They would not face audits from all the other sales-tax states where they have no employees, offices or another presence. “If you are personally, physically present, operating in the state, that would obviously be physical presence, and would not protect you against regular audits,” Chaffetz said. Retailers and others are coalescing behind Chaffetz because of House Republican resistance to the main online sales tax bill in the Senate (S 698), sponsored by Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo. A similar measure passed the Senate easily in 2013 but died in the House. Enzi made clear in an interview that the Chaffetz bill could be an alternative vehicle for action, if there is bipartisan House consensus…”


Senate moving toward expanding education benefits

“The Senate Finance Committee moved Wednesday toward clearing a measure that would expand tax-free accounts for college education and make them easier to use. The tax-writing panel picked up consideration of the education bill on Wednesday morning, before recessing to attend a speech from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Committee aides suggested that the committee could vote on the measure at the next Senate floor vote. If the bill passes, as expected, it would put the measure one step closer to President Obama’s desk, just months after the White House proposed paring back the so-called 529 accounts. Senior senators from both parties are sponsors of the education bill, but the Finance consideration of the legislation was not without partisan tension. Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) worked to keep his fellow tax writers from changing the 529 bill, which passed the House in February by a 401-20 margin. Keeping the bill identical to the House measure, Hatch said, would allow Congress to more quickly “get this section of the tax code working for everyday Americans trying to improve educational opportunities for the next generation.” ..”


Millennial parents are poorest generation in 25 years

“The stereotypes about millennials have been well-documented. They’re entitled and flighty, and crushed under the weight of student loan debt and mediocre job prospects. But more than 20 million of them are something else, too: Parents. And they’re facing challenges unfamiliar to both their childless peers and older moms and dads. About 20 percent of parents between the ages of 18 and 34 live in poverty, according to an analysis of Census data released Wednesday by the Young Invincibles, an advocacy and outreach group for young people. The Great Recession and slow recovery combined with the rising costs of child care and education are creating the “perfect storm for today’s young parents,” said Konrad Mugglestone, a policy analyst at Young Invincibles and the author of the report. “Today’s young parents are the most impoverished generation in a quarter century,” Mugglestone said. “It’s a concern not just for today’s young parents but for the next generation.”…”


Labor chief: Economy should work like Match.com

“Labor Secretary Thomas Perez wants the Obama administration to be the economic version of a dating website. Perez said Wednesday at a speech in Washington the goal should be to be like “Match.com: Our goal is to match jobseekers who want to punch their way to the middle class with businesses.” Perez said U.S. officials need to “step up our game” and reevaluate the old models that ushered young people into the economy. “We’ve got to get rid of the old models of train-and-pray where you train people for jobs and pray people will find them for those jobs,” Perez said at the forum, hosted by the center-left think tank Third Way. “If people aren’t hiring widget makers — we shouldn’t train people to be widget workers.” Perez said that America was at an “Eisenhower moment.”


Ted Cruz charges Obama’s economic policies as disproportionately hurtful to Latinos

“Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz took his first major step in advocating for the Hispanic vote by challenging the Obama administration’s economic policies, saying they have disproportionately hurt hardworking Latinos. Speaking to a roomful of Latino business leaders, advocates and national media in a question-and-answer session hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, the Texas Republican said that economic growth is the top priority in his campaign, in order to re-ignite business and get “back to the America that we grew up in.” “(I am committed) to bringing back jobs and economic growth and opportunities,” he said. “I’m campaigning on a simple flat tax where every American can file their taxes on a postcard.” Touching on immigration, Cruz continued to voice his opposition to the Obama administration’s plans on addressing the status of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. He said there is a bipartisan agreement outside of Washington that work needs to be done to secure the border, stop illegal immigration and streamline legal immigration…”



Thousands More Of Those ‘Missing’ Lerner Emails Reportedly Found

“The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has found more of those “missing” Lerner emails. TIGTA has reported that it has found roughly 6,400 previously undisclosed emails related to Lerner. Lois Lerner, the former Director of Exempt Organizations at Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been a central figure in the bipartisan investigation into the IRS tax exempt organization scandal. The scandal dates back to 2010 when IRS employees, responding to an uptick in tax exempt applications, were asked to scrutinize tax exempt organizations based on politically-charged keywords, the so-called BOLO (“be on the lookout”) listings. Despite a lot of anger directed at Lerner, it’s been tough to prove any of allegations that she might have played a more direct and impactful role in the BOLO lists. In addition to Lerner’s refusal to testify before Congress, a number of Lerner’s emails from the time period in question went missing…”


IRS watchdog recovers thousands of missing Lois Lerner emails, reignites Hill probes

“A Treasury Department watchdog has recovered thousands of emails from Lois Lerner and turned them over to Congress, reviving the investigation into the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups. Lerner was in charge of the IRS division that targeted Tea Party and other groups with conservative-sounding names when they applied for tax-exempt status from roughly 2010 to 2012. She has since retired, and officials have said that many of her emails are permanently lost because her computer hard drive crashed. “This underscores that our investigation into IRS abuse is far from over,” a House Ways and Means Committee spokesman said Wednesday. “The committee will thoroughly review these new emails as part of our ongoing efforts to find out exactly what happened and provide accountability.” The Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration announced overnight that it had recovered roughly 6,400 Lerner emails that Congress has yet to see and that it will  examine them as part of Congress’ bipartisan investigation that also includes the Senate Finance Committee. Roughly 650 of the recovered emails are from 2010 and 2011, while most of them are from 2012. During those three years, Lerner led the IRS division that targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. The inspector general has found about 35,000 emails in all as it sought to recover emails from backup tapes…”


6,500 Lois Lerner emails recovered from backup tapes


Thousands of new Lerner emails found



IRS Approved Clinton Foundation And Scientology, But Targeted Tea Party

“Will there be an IRS investigation of the Clinton Foundation? Even suggesting it sounds laughable, for few can stand up to the Clintons, let alone to a Democratic administration. Besides, the IRS Exempt Organizations Division used to be run by Lois Lerner, and it isn’t clear how much has changed. In fact, we may never get to the bottom of the Tea Party targeting scandal. It almost looks as though the IRS will attack conservative groups but is silent on the Clinton Foundation. Heck, even Scientology got its IRS church status. When it was revealed in 2013 that the IRS targeted conservative groups, the IRS Commissioner had to resign, but that was about it. Lois Lerner was at the center of the scandal but didn’t suffer any consequences. In fact, she got $129,000 in cash bonuses and retired with a full government pension. She evidently did a good job targeting at the Federal Election Commission, and then she moved over seamlessly to the IRS to do the same. Ms. Lerner is now out of the prosecutor’s eye with no criminal charges, nice bonuses, and a nice retirement. When she broke her silence to Politico, she said she did nothing wrong, claiming that she was the victim. Given Mrs. Clinton’s email proclivities,Mrs. Clinton’s emails are even harder to find than Lois Lerner’s. And the Treasury Inspector General has just found 6,400 missing Lois Lerner emails. We surely will not see the IRS looking at the enormously wealthy Clinton Foundation, even though several watchdog groups suggest there’s something fishy there. First is the politics, since the tracking of who gives money and who needs something from Hillary’s State Department tracks closely…”


The Out-of-Control IRS, Rewriting Laws

“The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in King v. Burwell shines a light on the Internal Revenue Service’s practice of rewriting the Affordable Care Act to suit President Obama’s political agenda. What is lesser known is that this is becoming standard operating procedure for an agency that puts politically connected special interests above the written letter of the law. Nowhere is this truer than in the IRS’s repeated expansion of the controversial wind-production tax credit, which provides federal subsidies to wind-energy producers. Over the last two and a half years, the agency has shown how a slow-but-steady watering down of federal law can completely reshape its original scope and intent — alarmingly, without any congressional action. In December 2012, Congress extended the production tax credit (PTC) to cover wind-energy producers who were in the beginning stages of construction by the subsidy’s cutoff date. The IRS clarified shortly thereafter that wind-farm projects would be able to receive the special tax giveaway if they spent as little as 5 percent of the construction costs. This meant that projects could qualify if they did just 5 percent of the work by the deadline. Then, in April 2013, the IRS apparently decided the tax credit wasn’t large enough. So it simply raised the value of the PTC from $22 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced to $23 per megawatt-hour. Voilà — more federal spending courtesy of you, the taxpayer. Five months later in September 2013, the IRS went a step further. It expanded the PTC to cover wind-farm projects that generate power before the end of 2015, despite the fact that the PTC for all projects was set to expire at the end of 2013. The IRS also said in the notice that even projects that come online after that might still qualify; the agency intends to make decisions on a project-by-project basis. But wait — just like a bad infomercial, there’s more. In August 2014, the IRS decided it would not only pay wind-energy developers for each megawatt-hour they produce. It would also allow them to sell a project — regardless of whether it was completed — and use the selling costs they incur to count toward qualifying for the PTC. The IRS also loosened its requirement that companies need to spend only 5 percent of construction costs to qualify. The agency said it would consider only the nature of the work (such as digging foundations, installing transformers, building roads), not the extent or the cost of the overall project. This more subjective standard gave the IRS even more leeway in doling out government subsidies…”


Fishwrap: Just 2% of younger Americans trust media to ‘do the right thing’

“The media limps in dead last among institutions younger voters trust to “do the right thing,” according to a new and massive Harvard University survey. In the school’s Institute of Politics poll of over 3,000 18-29-year-olds, a tiny 12 percent said they believe the do the right thing. A whopping 88 percent said “sometimes” or “never.” Just 2 percent said they trusted the media to do the right thing “all of the time,” and 39 percent said “never.” The poll is the latest nail in the media’s coffin, a downward spiral that has resulted in fewer younger Americans reading traditional media and especially traditional platforms such as newspapers and magazines…”


President Obama Averages One Veto Threat Every Five Days

“President Obama spent years tarring House Republicans as the cause of a “do-nothing” Congress, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) has turned that critique back on him. Obama welcomed the new Congress by issuing veto threats about once every five days, on average, McCarthy’s team points out. “In the first 100 days alone, President Obama threatened to veto 22 bills, including 17 House-passed bills with bipartisan support,” according to a new post on the majority leader’s website. “He has now issued nearly 25 veto threats since the beginning of the new year.” The post notes that two of those “bills were so bipartisan that they passed committee by a voice vote.” Of course, Obama isn’t alone in this effort. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) filibustered a bill intended to help human trafficking victims after the legislation cleared the Judiciary Committee with unanimous support. Reid and the Democrats claimed they hadn’t realized the bill contained language stipulating that federal funds collected from human traffickers couldn’t be used to pay for abortions. They dropped the filibuster after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) refused to hold a vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general until after the passage of the human trafficking legislation.”


House panel passes bill to delay, weaken EPA climate rule

“The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Wednesday to delay the Obama administration’s landmark climate rule for power plants and let states opt out of complying with it. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), represents House Republicans’ first attempt to directly target and change the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) climate rule, proposed last June. The panel voted 28-23 to send the bill to the full House for a vote. Whitfield, who first unveiled the draft of his Ratepayer Protection Act just over a month ago, said the legislation responds to various concerns about the EPA’s rule brought forth by states, utilities, experts and other stakeholders. “We know that rates will go dramatically in many states. [The North American Electric Reliability Corp.] and others have indicated that reliability is going to be affected,” he said at the Wednesday meeting to vote on the bill. Whitfield called the regulation “a federal takeover of the electric generating and distribution system, which has never occurred before.” Under the bill, the rule would not be able to take effect until all court challenges to it have been exhausted. The EPA hopes to finalize the regulation this summer. Additionally, a state government could veto any compliance plan, whether from the state or federal government, if he believes it would bring about various harms, such increased electric rates or decreased reliability. Democrats slammed the bill. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) called it an “irresponsible proposal that would undermine the EPA’s clear authority to protect public health and the environment.” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said it was “a thinly veiled excuse for states to do nothing about climate change.” Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) said he has problems with the EPA’s rule, but he could not support the GOP’s bill. “I prefer that we sit down and craft a bill that addresses the many challenges we face, not only domestically, but as a world leader,” Green said. “Allowing for endless legal challenges or partisan political discussions is not the proper way to handle an issue that affects the entire scope of the environment and the economy.”…”


McConnell confronts EPA chief on climate rules

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took advantage of a rare opportunity Wednesday to attack the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over her agency’s main climate change rule. McConnell grilled Gina McCarthy during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subpanel in charge of the EPA’s budget. McConnell is one of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of the EPA’s carbon limits for power plants. He argues the rules would destroy Kentucky’s coal sector, which he called a “treasure.” “My constituents want their dignity restored, they want to be able to work, they want to be able to provide for their families,” McConnell said after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the panel’s chairwoman, let him have the first round of questions. “You cannot guarantee your carbon regulations won’t cost my constituents jobs,” he said. “You cannot guarantee your carbon regulations won’t raise their utility bills.”…”


WH threatens veto of GOP bill to kill water regs

“The White House has threatened to veto a Republican bill that would repeal a controversial Environmental Protection Agency clean water rule. The House could vote this week on the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, a bill that would require the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw its Waters of the United States rule. The rule would define the EPA’s oversight authority over streams, ponds and small waterways that feed into larger ones, something Republicans have said amounts to overreach. In a statement, the Office of Management and Budget said the rule is meant to clarify the EPA’s regulatory scope over waterways and fulfill the need “to protect the smaller streams and wetlands upstream.” The statement said the House bill would “derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the [Clean Water Act], hamstring future regulatory efforts, and deny businesses and communities the regulator certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.” “The final rule should be allowed to proceed,” the administration said. “It would be imprudent to dismiss the years of work that have already occurred, and no value would be added. The agencies need to be able to finish their work.”  Republicans have long warned against the EPA’s rule and looked to block it via legislation. A trio of GOP senators who are running for president co-sponsored a bill against the rule and, on Thursday, a separate group of senators will introduce its own version, authored by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). The EPA sent its final rule to the White House earlier this month for review…”



“U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Wednesday called for the nullification of the Federal Communications Commission’s decision in favor of net neutrality. The FCC voted in Feburary to regulate Internet service as a public utility, meaning cable companies won’t be allowed to charge websites more for faster loading times. Paul, who has previously criticized net neutrality, introduced a joint resolution of disapproval of the FCC rule under the Congressional Review Act. “This regulation by the FCC is a textbook example of Washington’s desire to regulate anything and everything and will do nothing more than wrap the Internet in red-tape. The Internet has successfully flourished without the heavy hand of government interference. Stated simply, I do not want to see the government regulating the Internet,” Paul said. Speaking in March at South by Southwest, Paul compared the Internet to the postal service. “If we had postal neutrality we wouldn’t charge more for quicker delivery,” he said. “People pay more to have something transmitted fast… These are methods for market efficiency.”…”


WH stops short of veto threat on ‘clean’ Patriot Act renewal

“The White House on Wednesday stopped short of issuing a veto threat against a Republican bill that would extend controversial surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act. But President Obama is seeking changes that would end Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the National Security Agency has used to carry out its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. “The president has been quite definitive about the need to make those kinds of reforms a top priority,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday.  That could set up a high-stakes confrontation between the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the nation’s spying capabilities with portions of the Patriot Act set to expire June 1. McConnell and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) are co-sponsoring a renewal of the Patriot Act without making changes. The Senate leader is fast-tracking the legislation, meaning it will bypass committee review and go directly onto the Senate calendar.  The measure has attracted support from national security hawks in the GOP. Intelligence officials say the data collection powers are critical to tracking terrorist threats. But Earnest applauded a bipartisan measure introduced this week in the House and Senate that would end the NSA’s existing phone-records collection program. Instead, it would require the agency to obtain a court order before collecting records from phone companies. The White House will continue to review the bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, before offering its full support, but it is “gratified that some of those reforms are included” in it, Earnest said. Privacy advocates say the existing data collection program, which was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, infringes on Americans’ civil liberties. The USA Freedom Act has received a tepid reaction from advocates who want sweeping changes to the NSA’s surveillance powers. The American Civil Liberties Union said the measure does not go far enough…”


Most younger Americans prefer a Democrat win the White House in ‘16: poll

“Americans under the age of 30 — a key group that helped propel President Obama’s 2008 election to the White House and his re-election in 2012 — say they want Democrats to keep control of the White House after the 2016 elections. Fifty-five percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 prefer that a Democrat wins the White House in 2016, compared to 40 percent who want to see a Republican win, according to a survey released Wednesday by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. By comparison, exit polling showed that Mr. Obama won the 18-to-29-year-old vote by a 66 percent to 32 percent margin in 2008 and by a 60 percent to 37 percent margin in 2012. Eighty-seven percent of young African-Americans and 68 percent of Hispanics prefer a Democrat, while 53 percent of young whites prefer a Republican and 41 percent prefer a Democrat. As for who potential Democratic primary voters want their nominee to be, 47 percent chose former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 11 percent and Vice President Joseph R. Biden at 8 percent. The survey also showed that among 18- to 29-year-olds overall, Mr. Obama’s job approval rating has increased seven percentage points in the past six months, from 43 percent in October to 50 percent…”


Carly Fiorina ‘picking up speed’ in Iowa, GOP activists say


David Koch supports Scott Walker for president


Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders: ‘I am running for president’

“Promising to fight what he deems “obscene levels” of income disparity and a campaign finance system that is a “real disgrace,” independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday he will run for president as a Democrat. In an interview with The Associated Press, Sanders confirmed his plans to formally join the race Thursday. The self-described “democratic socialist” enters the race as a robust liberal alternative to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and he pledged to do more than simply raise progressive issues or nudge the former secretary of state to the left in a campaign in which she is heavily favored. “People should not underestimate me,” Sanders said. “I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country.”…”


Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist. 52 percent of Democrats are OK with that.

“When he first won election to the House in 1990, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) embraced his political identity. “I am a socialist and everyone knows that,” Sanders said, responding to an ad that tried to link him to the regime of Fidel Castro. He continued: “They also understand that my kind of democratic socialism has nothing to do with authoritarian communism.” Times change. With the Cold War fading in the rear view mirror, being nice to Cuba isn’t the political liability that it once was. And no longer does the term “socialist” carry the same stigma it once did — in part because self-identified socialists are few and far between. Once upon a time, Gallup included “Socialist” in its list of political affiliations in polling. (We’ll take this opportunity to remind the reader that Socialist refers to a member of the Socialist political party, while socialist is someone who adheres to the tenets of socialism — which we’ll come back to.) At no point did more than 1 percent of respondents call themselves Socialists, and Gallup, which started asking the question in 1939, stopped asking by 1948. In part, that’s because they were already late to the wave (having been founded in 1935). A look at historic vote results shows that the peak of interest in Socialist candidates for the presidency came in 1912, when Eugene V. Debs pulled in almost 6 percent of the vote on the Socialist ticket. A number of other socialists appeared on the ballot over the years, in the Socialist Labor or Socialist Workers’ parties — and, of course, there have been regular candidates running as Communists…”


Sen. Coats Says Obama is ‘Desperate for a Deal’ With Iran; Recalls Clinton’s North Korea ‘Mistake’

“Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) on Tuesday portrayed President Obama as being desperate for a nuclear deal with Tehran, and scorned his assurances that an agreement will be verified to prevent cheating, pointing to failed past efforts to shut down North Korea’s nuclear programs. “I have long been concerned that the president is determined to implement his version of the deal with Iran on his own, circumventing the Congress,” he said during a Senate debate on legislation providing for congressional review of a final Iran deal. “This is not acceptable.” “Resolving this issue with Iran is the most significant foreign-policy and security challenge of our age,” Coats went on. “It cannot be pursued simply by the president, overreaching – or potentially overreaching – his constitutional authority, longing for legacy and desperate for a deal.”…”


Rubio, GOP demand information on Iran’s support for terrorism

“Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and six other Senate Republicans are demanding that the Obama administration explain why Iran was excluded from the terrorism section of an unclassified security assessment. The Florida senator and six other Senate Republicans argue a 2015 worldwide threat assessment “made little mention” of Iran’s support of terrorism or threats posed by Shiite militants, and want information from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about how and why that decision was made. “We are writing to express our concern that your 2015 worldwide threat assessment did not fully represent the threat posed by Iranian support for terrorist proxies and violent Shia militants throughout the Middle East,” the Republicans wrote. The release of the threat assessment earlier this month was closely followed, coming amid the high-stakes nuclear negotiations between the United States, Iran and other world powers.  While Iran was listed under the “regional threats” heading in the document and mentioned in a section on cyber threats, the country was left off the terrorism threat list, where it had been mentioned in 2014. The report also praised Iran for its “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.” The Republican senators said they were “perplexed” that the threat assessment “contains no meaningful reference to the chaos that Iran manufactures through its support for terrorist groups and proxy organizations.” “In fact, a fair reading of the assessment leaves one with the impression that only Sunni violent extremists pose a threat to our national interests,” they wrote. The senators asked Clapper to provide them with an unclassified assessment of Iran’s support of terrorism and any threat posed by Shia militants, as well as information about who is responsible for omitting it from the report. “At a minimum, this assessment should include Iran’s support for recognized terrorist organizations and proxy groups and any relevant trends and patterns in Iran’s subversive behavior,” the Republican senators wrote. “We also request that you inform us whether previous drafts of the unclassified assessment contained information regarding Iran’s support for terrorism; the justification for removing those references; and who made the decision to remove them.”…”


Senators clash over Iran votes

“Supporters of an important bill on Iran are walking through a political minefield as they work to set up a series of amendment votes that Democrats warn could bring down the legislation. Approximately 60 amendments have been put forward so far, with almost half of Senate Republicans seeking to challenge President Obama’s handling of the controversial nuclear negotiations with Iran. While the legislation crafted by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has been endorsed by the White House, Democrats are warning that all bets are off if controversial amendments are attached. “Amendments that undermine the administration’s negotiations or structurally alter this careful bipartisan compromise should be rejected by the Senate,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who voted for the legislation during a Foreign Relations Committee markup earlier this month. “While I supported this bill in the Foreign Relations Committee, if the bipartisan nature of the legislation is eroded on the floor, the bill will no longer merit my support.” Under the Corker-Cardin agreement, lawmakers would have 30 days to pass a resolution of disapproval of any final deal. If a disapproval resolution were to become law, Obama would not be able to waive some congressional sanctions on Iran. Corker said Tuesday that the legislation, in its current form, has the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto…”


Corker predicts Senate vote on Iran next week

“Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) predicted the Senate will vote next week on legislation to allow Congress to review a nuclear deal with Iran. “It will be sometime next week,” Corker told The Hill. Work on the bill has been slowed by the dozens of amendments that have been filed to the legislation — several of which are “poison pills” that if approved could cause support for the underlying measure to collapse…”