Eyeglasses with newspaper and coffee cup


Obamacare Co-Ops Cost Taxpayers $17,000 Per Enrollee

“More than 500,000 people enrolled in health plans offered by nonprofit insurance companies created under the Affordable Care Act. And with the co-ops receiving an average of $108.7 million from the federal government, taxpayer-backed funding per enrollee topped $17,000. Twenty-three co-ops received a total of $2.5 billion from the federal government and enrolled more than 520,000 people in plans through September. However, an analysis conducted by The Daily Signal published yesterday found that just one, Maine Community Health Options, was profitable last year. Using the latest quarterly filings for 22 co-ops, The Daily Signal examined how much money (in federal dollars) co-ops received per consumer who enrolled in a group or individual plan. On average, each co-op received $17,344 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services per enrollee. Data for New Jersey’s co-op, Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey, was not available. By comparison, an analysis conducted by Forbes after the end of the first open enrollment period found that taxpayers spent $4,633 per enrollee on the federal exchange. At that time, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said more than 8 million had enrolled in Obamacare. Former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., conceived the idea of Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, or co-ops, during the debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2009. The nonprofit insurance companies are not new to the insurance market, and their inclusion was part of a compromise between Republicans and Democrats who disagreed over a public option. Under Obamacare, co-ops were designed to inject competition into markets with limited insurance options. Through the program facilitated by the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight—a subagency of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—23 co-ops were created and received federal funding. To assist the new insurers in getting off the ground, the federal government disbursed $2.5 billion in low-interest startup and solvency loans as of December. Here’s a comprehensive look at how much in federal dollars the 22 co-ops received per enrollee.”



Yep, Obamacare Costs a Fortune

“Whenever I write about Obamacare’s expansion of health insurance, most of the e-mails I get from readers include some version of: Sure, the premiums may be low, but who can afford to see a doctor? A survey released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, tracking 2015 deductibles and copayments across most exchange plans, says those complaints are at least half right. For all but the most generous Obamacare plans, out-of-pocket payments are usually higher than for employer-based insurance — in some cases, drastically so. Some background: The metal levels in the charts below refer to how consumers are charged. For a bronze plan, the insurer is meant to cover 60 percent of the cost of essential health care, on average, leaving beneficiaries to cover the rest. For silver plans, it’s 70 percent; for gold, 80 percent; and for platinum plans, 90 percent. As a result, premiums are generally lowest for bronze plans and highest for platinum. So it’s not surprising that out-of-pocket payments, also called cost-sharing charges, are higher for lower-cost plans. It is surprising just how high those payments are, even for middle-tier exchange plans, and also how high they are compared with the average plans that workers get through their  companies. Start with annual deductibles. For bronze plans in 2015, they’re enormous — $5,372, or about five times what the average person with employer-based individual coverage faced last year. More important, and potentially worrisome for the law’s defenders: Average deductibles for silver plans (the most popular type of exchange coverage) are about three times as high as on employer plans. Even gold plans have slightly higher average deductibles.”



Vitter to block nomination, citing ObamaCare rule

“Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is blocking a high-ranking nomination at the Office of Personnel Management, an agency that he says is responsible for an “unfair, possibly illegal” exemption from ObamaCare. Vitter announced Wednesday that he will refuse to allow Earl Gay to become the agency’s deputy director because the agency has ignored his questions about what he calls the “Washington exemption for ObamaCare.” “Once they answer some specific questions about why they think Congress is entitled to a special exemption from Obamacare, I’ll release the hold,” Vitter wrote in a statement Wednesday. Vitter, who was recently named chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, has long made it a priority to show the benefits that lawmakers receive from ObamaCare. Last week, Vitter accused congressional clerks of filing false information with the District of Columbia’s ObamaCare marketplace to ensure that lawmakers and staff could obtain subsidized health insurance through the system.  The vocal critic of Congress’s employer healthcare subsidy claimed Wednesday that Capitol Hill administrators ran afoul of ethics rules by classifying Congress as a “small business” on applications to participate in D.C.’s Small Business Exchange. That allows members of Congress to continue to collect a subsidy that pays for a large chunk of their healthcare costs, he said. The rule also allows some staff to avoid the exchange entirely. A loophole used in both chambers allows lawmakers to designate staff as “unofficial” or “official staff,” which permits them to keep their insurance coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. Vitter announced last week that he was launching an investigation into the rule.”



Obama Has Sharp Words for Staples CEO, Businesses Blaming Obamacare for Slashes in Employee Hours

“President Barack Obama offered stinging words to the CEO of Staples and other corporations that have placed blame on his signature health care law as the reason they must cut employee hours. Reacting to Staples telling workers they are not allowed to work more than 25 hours a week, Obama contended there is “no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act.” “I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages,” the president continued. “It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do,” Obama added. “But when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.” Hundreds of employers have cut their employees’ hours to avoid taxes associated with Obamacare, including Regal Entertainment Group, Five Guys Burgers and multiple counties and universities.”



Video: Obama slams Staples for discouraging part-time workers to get ObamaCare

“Which is actually the opposite of what’s happening at Staples. Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith got a one-on-one interview with Barack Obama and offered a few challenging questions on foreign policy and Obama’s lack of success on behalf of some parts of his voting coalition. This question about Staples, a story on which Buzzfeed reported earlier, looked like more of a slam dunk, but Obama ended up getting it wrong in the end (via NewsAlert):

BuzzFeed News: If I can move on to the Affordable Care Act. We reported yesterday that the office supply store Staples is — I’m sure this is an issue you’ve heard about before — is telling its workers that it will fire them if they work more than 25 hours a week. A manager had told a worker we talked to that “Obama’s responsible for this policy,” and they’re putting these notices on the wall of their break room saying that. I wonder what you’d say to the CEO of Staples, Ronald Sargent, about that policy?

Obama: What I would say is that millions of people are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. Satisfaction is high. The typical premium is less than 100 bucks.

BuzzFeed News: But this is a specific consequence…

Obama: No, I’m gonna answer the question. And that there is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act. I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages. [emphasis mine — Ed] This is the same argument that I’ve made with respect to something like paid sick leave. We have 43 million Americans who, if they get sick or their child gets sick, are looking at either losing their paycheck or going to the job sick or leaving their child at home sick. It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do — but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.”



Key Obama adviser: No compromise on O-Care

“White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on Wednesday said the administration is not willing to compromise on ObamaCare. In an interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Jarrett was asked if there is “anything that you can name” in the law that the administration would be willing to compromise on.  “That’s kind of a theoretical question,” Jarrett responded. “When you say ‘compromise,’ no, we’re not willing to compromise on providing access to affordable healthcare for all Americans.” In November, President Obama indicated he would be open to some changes to the law, while making clear that there would be “lines I’m going to draw” to preserve the core of the law.  “If, in fact, one of the items on Mitch McConnell’s agenda and John Boehner’s agenda is to make responsible changes to the Affordable Care Act to make it work better, I’m going to be very open and receptive to hearing those ideas,” Obama said then. In the interview on Wednesday, Jarrett was asked about bills to repeal ObamaCare’s tax on medical devices or to change the definition of full-time work from 30 hours to 40 hours per week, measures that do not strike at the heart of the law. Jarrett did not specifically address those measures in her response. The White House threatened to veto the workweek bill last month and has opposed the device tax repeal in the past. Instead, Jarrett focused on the core of the law in explaining the need not to allow changes. “You can’t cherry pick,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘Yes I want everybody covered if they have a pre-existing condition, but no I’m not going to require everybody to have coverage.’ The numbers don’t work that way.” She also pointed to Republicans’ slew of votes to repeal the law in its entirety.  “They have not been interested in trying to put forward a proposal that actually achieves what the president was trying to achieve, and so we’re always willing to work with them and figure out how we can provide basic healthcare to the American people.”  The law faces a new threat from the King v. Burwell Supreme Court case that challenges the legality of subsidies on the federally run insurance exchange. As other officials have done, Jarrett defended the administration’s unwillingness to discuss a back-up plan if the court rules against it. “First of all, we’re confident that the Supreme Court is going to rule in our favor,” she said. “Second of all, the very same people who are being critical of the administration for not having a backup plan are the people who are challenging the plan in the first place.”



David Axelrod: Medical bills almost bankrupted me before ObamaCare

“Former White House adviser David Axelrod is widely known for trying to halt President Obama’s healthcare agenda in his first term, but even then, he said he was acutely aware that the system needed fixing. In an interview on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” the former adviser said his daughter struggled with seizures for nearly two decades — costing him $10,000 or more out of pocket every year. “I almost went bankrupt,” Axelrod told the Comedy Central host in a show that aired late Tuesday. “So I knew why we needed to reform the healthcare system, but my job was to tell him what the politics were.” Axelrod said he knew the task was “very difficult” because seven presidents had tried and failed to reform healthcare. But he said Obama wouldn’t back down. “He said, ‘I get all that, but what are we supposed to do for eight years and put our approval rating on the shelf and just admire it?’ ” Axelrod recalled. “And he said, ‘If we don’t do it now, it’ll never get done.’ ”On the night that the Affordable Care Act finally passed Congress, Axelrod said he cried in his White House office because he thought about “all the families that would never have to go through” what he did. Axelrod said he also went and thanked the president, to which Obama replied, ‘That’s why I do the work,’ ” he said. Stewart quipped back: “If I’d been him, I would have been like, ‘See, I told you.’ ”



The latest liberal defense of Obamacare: Megahospitals love it!

“”If getting rid of Obamacare is such a good idea, why isn’t corporate America getting behind King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court case designed to demolish the Affordable Care Act?” That’s seriously the lead sentence in an article at the liberal Mother Jones. It’s a bizarre argument. The premise appears to be that good ideas have the backing of corporate America. This premise shines through in other parts of the article, including the headline, “America’s Largest Health Care Company Tells Supreme Court That Anti-Obamacare Argument Is ‘Absurd’.” After listing the groups supporting the plaintiffs in King, the writer notes “not a single business group — not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not any of the health industry companies and trade groups that opposed the law when it was being drafted — has presented a brief endorsing this lawsuit.” An industry being subsidized by a law defends the law, and somehow that industry’s arguments are supposed to carry special weight? Imagine the goldmine of articles Mother Jones could dig up in this vein: “If cutting defense spending is such a good idea, why is the military-industrial complex opposed?” “If federal drilling royalties are too low, why does Exxon oppose hiking them?” “If Too-Big-To-Fail is a problem, why do America’s largest banks oppose Brown-Vitter? But I shouldn’t just pick on Mother Jones. This is a standard liberal way of defending regulations and subsidies: pointing to the industries that benefit from the policies, and saying, “look, even industry supports this intervention!” In an editorial, Florida’s Sun-Sentinel defended regulations that protect Realtors and other professionals from competition by pointing out that the protected professionals don’t want these protections to go away. Seemingly on a hundred occasions, liberals defended the light bulb law by pointing out how even the light bulb industry supported these rules, which pad their profit margins. (See examples from the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, the Center for American Progress’s Joe Romm and the New York Times’ Gail Collins. And on climate change legislation, lefties again and again point to support from megacorps like General Electric or Nike as proof that their bill is salutary. As the King v. Burwell case moves more into the headlines, expect more mainstream and lefty journalists to launch the HCA defense of the ACA.”



Obamacare signups slightly increase ahead of Sunday deadline

“Obamacare signups last week on healthcare.gov increased by only three percent compared to the week before, with the open enrollment deadline coming this Sunday. The Obama administration reported Wednesday that 7.75 million consumers selected a healthcare plan or were automatically re-enrolled through healthcare.gov as of Feb. 6, a slight boost from the 7.5 million announced last week. The figure only lists enrollments from 37 states that use healthcare.gov and not states that maintain their own insurance markets. It remains doubtful whether the administration can meet the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of 12 million enrollees this year. However, administration officials said they saw a deluge of interest last week and expect that momentum to continue right up to Sunday. Traffic to healthcare.gov increased 58 percent compared to the week before, and calls to help line centers also increased by more than a third week to week, said Andy Slavitt, deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on a Wednesday call with reporters….”



Obama drafts his own bureaucracy to shill for Obamacare

“President Obama wants millions of new recruiters for Obamacare, so he is drafting federal workers — including soldiers — to ask their friends and family to sign up for coverage at HealthCare.gov. Each worker is being asked to recruit at least one enrollee. The Office of Personnel Management, which the White House uses to oversee the millions of federal employees, has provided pro-Obamacare fliers and postcards for workers to distribute before the enrollment deadline Sunday. With 2.7 million civilian federal employees plus 1.5 million in the military, that’s over 4 million potential recruiters drafted to boost the so-called Affordable Care Act. Their efforts are in addition to estimated annual marketing costs of $674 million, according to The Associated Press. Critics claim promotion costs are closer to $1 billion a year to sell the law to the American public. For example, civilian and military personnel at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, were asked to boost Obamacare, via a Feb. 4 email sent by the Department of Defense’s human resource director, Ronna Garrett. Attached were PDF files of fliers, postcards and bulletin board material. Citing a request by OPM to multiple federal agencies and departments, the email states: “OPM’s desired outcome is to encourage every federal employee to talk to just one person about the [Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges], thereby informing millions of people about the affordable, quality health insurance options available on HealthCare.gov. The email went on: “These [attached] materials are intended to encourage federal employees to talk to their uninsured friends and family members about HealthCare.gov and the Health Insurance Marketplace.” The distribution list for Ms. Garrett’s email indicates that it was sent to civilians working for the Army. However, it also was received by some uniformed personnel. The Department of Defense is not alone in shilling for Obamacare. The Department of the Interior has an item on its website, dated Jan. 30, that provides the OPM handout and tells workers, “Do you have friends or family members who need health insurance? If so, you may want to encourage them to go to healthcare.gov.” OPM’s website features a PDF file of the flier, which repeats the core message to federal workers: “Do you have friends, family members or neighbors who need health insurance? Help spread the word. Tell people you care about to go to healthcare.gov.” The material also reminds government workers that they don’t need to go to the Obamacare website themselves, because they already get insurance through the federal government. The White House claims 7.1 million Americans had signed up for the federally subsidized Obamacare exchanges by the end of 2014, rising to over 9 million in January. Critics say most of the enrollees were insured before the law was enacted but were forced to enter the federal program because their policies were effectively canceled by the law itself.”



ObamaCare signups surge in southern states

“Signups for ObamaCare are surging in southern states, with increases of nearly 100 percent in some states compared to last year, federal health officials said Wednesday. Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi have each seen 80 percent more signups compared to last year, Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt said. The same states are also reporting the fastest rate of growth in the final two weeks of the current enrollment period, which ends Feb. 15. Each of the states has reported 5 percent more signups over the last two weeks compared to last year.

The trend is particularly significant given that the Republican governors in each of the states have made little or no effort to promote signups, leaving the outreach to state and national healthcare advocacy groups. State leaders, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have been some of the law’s harshest critics. “Real simply, I think word is spreading. I think word of mouth is spreading really positively as neighbors tell neighbors how easy it’s been to get coverage this year,” Slavitt told reporters in a briefing Wednesday.”



ObamaCare Despair

Supporters’ arguments grow increasingly bizarre.

“If the law is on your side, the juridical adage goes, argue the law. If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound the table. Supporters of ObamaCare have reached the stage of pounding their heads on the table. Three weeks from today the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of King v. Burwell, in which the plaintiffs’ objective is frequently described as “to…”



Major Obamacare selling point could get wiped out

“In a final push to get Americans to sign up for Obamacare coverage, the Obama administration is dangling a carrot: government subsidies many people can use to help purchase plans. But those subsidies could be erased this summer. In three weeks, the Supreme Court will hear the case King v. Burwell, challenging the legality of awarding the subsidies to those buying coverage via healthcare.gov. The justices’ decision — expected in June — could result in the subsidies being blocked from residents in the 37 states using the federal-run marketplace. That possibility isn’t stopping officials from touting the government assistance as a major selling point of the law before enrollment ends on Sunday. Officials released estimates earlier this week that nearly 6.5 million enrollees are qualifying for enough subsidies that the average cost for a plan dropped to $105 — although that average varies widely by state, ranging from $47 in Mississippi to $172 in New Jersey. After the credits are applied, eight in 10 of all enrollees on healthcare.gov will pay $100 or less a month, according to the estimate. “Millions of Americans already are counting on the financial assistance the Affordable Care act provides to put quality, affordable health insurance coverage within reach,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement. “This is further proof that the Affordable Care Act is working for the middle class.” King v. Burwell hinges on part of the law that refers to the subsidies flowing through “an exchange established by the state.” That means it’s illegal to award the subsidies through the federal-run exchanges, according to the challengers in the closely-watched case. If the Supreme Court sides with them, it won’t just be the premium subsidies that are blocked. There are also low-income subsidies to lower the costs for doctor or hospital visits. They, too, would be blocked from the states using healthcare.gov. So, besides having to pay a higher monthly premium, low-income Americans would also have to cover the full cost of their plan’s deductible and co-pays.”



Ohio panel reviews Kasich’s plans on health, social services

“Democrats on a state legislative panel questioned Wednesday whether Republican Gov. John Kasich’s budget could create barriers to health care, while administration officials defended their ideas as fair and promoting personal responsibility. Kasich is seeking to charge a monthly premium to an estimated 100,000 Medicaid recipients with incomes above the poverty line of about $11,770 for individuals. Those adults could pay an average of $20 per month to access their Medicaid coverage, administration officials said. The plan requires federal approval. The federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled provides coverage to nearly one out of every four Ohioans. The administration testified Wednesday on the plan and others in Kasich’s budget before the House Finance Committee. The premium proposal comes after the governor extended Medicaid eligibility in 2013 to cover more low-income individuals. About 492,000 Ohioans have enrolled under the expansion, according to a new state report released Wednesday. Total Medicaid enrollment was at about 3 million last month. The governor’s $72.3 billion two-year spending blueprint would continue to fund the Medicaid expansion.”





Watch: John Boehner’s Blunt Words for Senate Democrats

“House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) minced no words Wednesday morning when he blamed Democrats for holding up a Department of Homeland Security spending bill, and said it’s time for those Democrats to “get off their ass” and allow the bill to move. “The House has done its job,” Boehner told reporters. “Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass and do something, other than to vote ‘no.’ ” All last week, Senate Democrats blocked the DHS bill from moving, an act that could lead to a partial shutdown of DHS when funding runs out on February 27. Democrats hate the bill because it would also defund President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. But Republicans say Senate Democrats need to live with that language, or apparently face a partial DHS shutdown. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it might be up to the House to act next, but House Republicans quickly shot down that idea, and Boehner himself rejected it on Wednesday. “The House did its job,” he said. “We won the fight to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions.” “Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work. In the gift shop out here, they’ve got these little booklets about how a bill becomes a law,” he added, implying that the Senate’s role in this cannot be to simply give up. When asked if the DHS fight is going as he expected, Boehner said, “It’s working exactly the way I envisioned.” A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) admonished Boehner for swearing, and recommended that Republicans cave in and pass a DHS bill that doesn’t attack Obama’s immigration plan. “We know Speaker Boehner is frustrated but cursing is not going to resolve the squabbling among Republicans that led to this impasse,” said spokesman Adam Jentleson. “Democrats have been clear from day one about the way out of this mess: take up the clean Homeland Security funding bill which Republicans signed off on in December – and which is ready to come to the Senate floor – pass it, and move on.” Boehner also had tough words for Obama’s opposition to legislation approving the Keystone pipeline. The House is expected to pass that bill today, which would send it to the White House for Obama. “Even the president’s own State Department will say that it creates 42,000 new jobs,” Boehner said. “But instead of listening to the people, the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists.”



Boehner challenges Senate Democrats to ‘get off their ass’

“House Speaker John Boehner challenged Senate Democrats Wednesday to “get off their ass” and pass a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department and restrict President Barack Obama’s executive moves on immigration. His comments seemed unlikely to change Senate Democrats’ behavior. But they underscored a worsening stalemate on Capitol Hill with funding for the Homeland Security Department set to expire Feb. 27. A day earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the Senate “stuck” on the issue and said the next move was in the House’s court. Boehner rejected that, insisting the House has already done its job. He said Senate Democrats are at fault for blocking a House-passed bill that funds the department through the remainder of the budget year while also overturning Obama’s policies limiting deportations for millions here illegally. Democrats oppose the immigration language. “The House has done its job, why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote no?” Boehner told reporters after meeting with GOP lawmakers. “The issue here is not Senate Republicans. The issue here is Senate Democrats.” In response, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid chided Boehner that “cursing is not going to resolve the squabbling among Republicans that led to this impasse.” “Democrats have been clear from day one about the way out of this mess: take up the clean Homeland Security funding bill which Republicans signed off on in December – and which is ready to come to the Senate floor – pass it, and move on,” said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson…”



Boehner Tells Senate Democrats To “Get Off Their Ass”



Boehner tells Senate Democrats to “get off their ass” on immigration

“House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, implored Senate Democrats on Wednesday to “get off their ass” and help the Senate Republican majority advance a bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security while de-funding President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration. Last Month, the House passed a bill allocating $39.7 billion to the Department of Homeland Security, the agency tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. The bill included language to block President Obama’s move last year to shelter up to 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from the threat of deportation by granting them temporary work permits. The proposal also undid the president’s 2012 decision to defer deportations of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Now the ball is in the Senate’s court, Boehner said Wednesday, insisting no fewer than three times that the House has done its job. “We won the fight to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions,” he said. “Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work.” “You know, in this gift shop out here, they’ve got these little booklets on how a bill becomes a law,” Boehner added. “The House has done its job. Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re gonna get off their ass and do something other than to vote no.” Senate Democrats, wielding a 46-seat majority, were able to successfully block consideration of the bill three times last week by depriving Republicans of the 60 votes necessary to proceed. They demanded a clean funding bill devoid of any restrictive language on immigration, something GOP conservatives have fiercely opposed. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, directed the blame for the impasse squarely at Republicans in a statement on Wednesday. “We know Speaker Boehner is frustrated but cursing is not going to resolve the squabbling among Republicans that led to this impasse,” explained Adam Jentleson. “Democrats have been clear from day one about the way out of this mess: take up the clean Homeland Security funding bill which Republicans signed off on in December – and which is ready to come to the Senate floor – pass it, and move on. If Republicans want to debate immigration policy next, Democrats are happy to have that debate.” “Neither Speaker Boehner nor Senator McConnell appears willing to do the right thing and stand up to the extremists in their caucus,” Jentleson added. Even as he lectured the upper chamber, which came under GOP control in January, Boehner downplayed tensions with Senate Republicans. “The issue here is not Senate Republicans,” he insisted. “The issue here is Senate Democrats — seven of whom criticized the president’s executive overreach on immigration, and yet they continue to block consideration of the bill.”



Mitch McConnell: Our attempt to defund Obama’s executive amnesty is “stuck”; Update: Get off your asses, Boehner tells Senate Dems



Boehner Implores Senate Dems to Pass Homeland Security Bill

“House Speaker John Boehner implored Senate Democrats today to “get off their ass” and approve a measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security. He said he had no intention of throwing Senate Republicans a lifeline by passing a substitute bill that did not include provisions to block President Obama’s executive action on immigration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday admitted the House bill is “clearly stuck in the Senate,” a stark admission that the Republican-controlled Congress was locked in a major impasse. But Boehner insisted the House will not budge and sought to pressure a small group of Senate Democrats who have signaled their discomfort with the president’s immigration moves. “The House did its job,” Boehner, R-Ohio, repeated four times during a news conference at the Capitol. “We won the fight to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions. Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work.” “You know, in the gift shop out here they’ve got these little booklets on how a bill becomes a law,” Boehner continued. “The House has done its job! Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they are going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote no!” The fight has little to do with most functions of the department, which was established in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The disagreement is over Republicans trying to block the president’s executive action on immigration. And the clock is ticking ever closer to the Feb. 27 deadline when the department runs out of money. Democrats have repeatedly blocked the bill in the Senate, getting an early start on earning the obstructionist label they so often assigned to their Republican rivals. Seeing no path to 60 votes to proceed to debate on the House bill, McConnell urged Boehner and the House to try passing another measure – perhaps without the controversial immigration language – that could pass the Senate. “It’s clear we can’t get on the bill, we can’t offer amendments to the bill, and I think it would be pretty safe to say we’re stuck because of Democratic obstruction on the Senate side,” McConnell, R-Kentucky, said. “So the next move, obviously, is up to the House.” But Boehner has tuned out that plea for help. “I love Mitch,” Boehner said with a smile. “He has a tough job to do and so do I.” To complicate matters, Congress is scheduled to be out of session next week for its first recess of the year. That leaves only six scheduled legislative days to find a solution and send a bill to the president.”



GOP profanity, ‘math challenges’ color showdown on immigration

“House and Senate Republicans offered up plenty of color on Wednesday about the looming shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, but solutions were harder to find. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday used a news conference to lash out at Senate Democrats, telling them to “get off their ass” and stop blocking a House-passed funding bill — a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceded the Senate was stuck and said it’s up to the House to get Congress out of this jam. Wednesday also brought some highly visible shuttle diplomacy between the GOP-controlled House and Senate. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who just moved over from the lower chamber, told their former colleagues the Senate can’t get the 60 votes it needs to advance the House’s DHS bill that would gut President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Hours later, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) wandered over to a closed-door Senate GOP lunch and told lawmakers there is neither the appetite nor the votes in his conservative House conference to send over a “clean” DHS bill, free of GOP riders targeting Obama’s immigration moves. “Both of us have our own math challenges. We obviously need to get to a certain number of votes to pass legislation,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said after hearing from Scalise. Despite all the talk, Congress is no closer to solving the DHS funding conundrum. Republicans in both chambers openly admitted they are clueless on how to avert a shutdown at the DHS, slated for Feb. 28. “I don’t know. I don’t know,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told The Hill. “We should not cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security.” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said a DHS shutdown would be extremely dangerous at a time of growing threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist networks. “I certainly do not think that’s a good idea at this time, when we have lots of national security interests,” Corker said. But despite the senators’ pleas, Boehner and House Republicans said they’re sticking with their original game plan. And some note that Obama has the power to deem DHS employees “essential,” claiming the security argument is overblown. In the morning House GOP meeting, lawmakers told Gardner and Capito to tell Senate GOP leaders to keep trying to move the House-passed bill, even though Senate Democrats blocked it three separate times last week. “They said, ‘Well, we’re struck. We’ve got a ceiling of 54 [Senate GOP] votes, and we can’t go any further,’” said conservative Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). “The reply to them was: ‘Well, you need to go back to work then. … You go need to go back in session and stay in session until you grind it out.’ ”



Top Republicans disagree on how to fund Department of Homeland Security

“The Republican honeymoon is over on Capitol Hill. Just a month into their taking full control of Congress, Republican leaders in the House and Senate are at odds over how to avoid shutting down the Department of Homeland Security as part of an immigration fight with the Obama administration. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were at an impasse Wednesday over how to pass legislation to fund DHS before funding runs out on Feb. 27, and tension is high among GOP factions that can agree only that Democrats are to blame. Now the majority party in both chambers, Republicans are eager to demonstrate that they can govern after a banner election boosted their numbers to historic levels, but with the DHS deadline looming, the party is facing its biggest predicament of the new Congress. Senate Republican leaders argue that, after three failed attempts, they cannot win approval of a House-passed DHS funding bill that challenges President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, because of Democratic resistance. The House Republican position is that the Senate GOP should keep trying…”




“The path forward to overcome a Democrat filibuster of a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill in the Senate remains hazy. House Republicans were adamant Wednesday that it is up to the Senate to move forward with the House-passed DHS funding bill, that fully funds the department but blocks President Obama’s executive amnesty. “The House has done its job,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Wednesday. “Now why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they are going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote ‘no!’” A day earlier, House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pointed to the fact that last week Senate Democrats blocked the bill from coming to the floor for debate three times, and argued that the stalemate requires the House to act. “I think it’s clear we can’t go forward in the Senate, unless you all have heard something I haven’t, and so the next move obviously is up to the House,” he said. Wednesday morning Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) took a trip to the House side of the Capitol and spoke to the House GOP Conference about the battle in the Senate. “Just giving them an update where we were and the fight that we’ve had,” Gardner explained.”



GOP lawmaker: Senate should invoke ‘nuclear option’ for DHS

“Immigration hardliner Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) suggested Wednesday that the Senate change its long-standing rules in order to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security while simultaneously revoking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Brooks urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to change Senate rules so that spending bills only need a simple majority to advance instead of 60.  The Senate voted three times last week to proceed to the House-passed DHS funding bill with the language to freeze President Obama’s immigration actions, but fell short of the necessary 60 votes due to Democratic opposition.

Brooks suggested that McConnell follow in the footsteps of now-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who invoked the “nuclear option” in 2013 during his tenure as majority leader to eliminate filibusters for most executive nominees. McConnell said this week that it’s “obviously” up to the House to make the next move on DHS funding, as the bill cannot move through the Senate. But Brooks had another idea. “There’s another option. Let’s think back for a moment. And let’s look at Harry Reid, when he was Senate majority leader and the power that he wielded,” Brooks said in a House floor speech. “He said, ‘I’m not going to let the filibuster stop me from achieving my political goals.’ “Well if Harry Reid and the Democrats can do that, if they can stand up for their beliefs however wrong those beliefs may be, then where is our Republican Senate leadership? And why aren’t they doing the same thing?” Brooks said. Brooks suggested that the Senate GOP eliminate filibusters for spending bills. “Why don’t they do the same thing with respect to bills that we have to pass to prevent government shutdowns? Bills dealing with spending matters, say only 51 votes is needed,” Brooks said. “No longer can a minority with a filibuster shut down the United States government.” Brooks argued that the GOP’s pledge to aggressively challenge President Obama’s executive actions on immigration merited something as dramatic as a Senate rules change. “I would submit that it’s time for the United States Senate to change their rules, to reflect the will of the American people. And certainly if those rules can be changed for mere appointments by the president, they can also be changed to protect the United States Constitution and the separation of powers,” Brooks said. Brooks’s suggestion came hours after two Republican senators, Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), spoke to the House GOP conference to reiterate the limits of the Senate in passing the DHS funding bill.”




“The newly formed House Freedom Caucus pressed Senate Democrats to allow the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill to come to the floor for debate. “The first priority of the House Freedom Caucus is to stand united against President Obama’s unconstitutional executive overreach on immigration,” members of the conservative caucus said in a statement Wednesday. The House Freedom Caucus was formed last month to be a more conservative, streamlined response to the Republican Study Committee. Also last month, the House passed a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that blocks Obama’s executive amnesty. The DHS bill, however, has stalled in the Senate as Democrats continue to vote against bringing it to the floor. “The House has passed legislation that will restrict President Obama’s unlawful actions while fully funding the Department of Homeland Security,” the caucus continued. “We stand with the American people in opposition to any congressional legislation that funds in any way President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty in November, and will oppose any legislation that does so. America’s voters overwhelmingly support the House-passed legislation.” The new group — which elected Rep. Jim Jordan to be its first chairman Tuesday — went on to call on Senate Democrats allow debate on the bill. “It’s time for Senate Democrats to honor their campaign statements, obey their constituents, end the obstruction and vote to debate the DHS funding bill,” they said.



Always Bitten, Never Shy

Senate Republicans’ bid to win the executive amnesty fight with voters.

“When thousands of Central American children began arriving on the border between Texas and Mexico last year, President Obama’s team denied that the sudden influx was driven by his decision to grant the practical equivalent of amnesty to illegal immigrants who came to the country during childhood. On Monday, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services decided to avoid a repeat of that summer spectacle at the border by announcing a legal path for those children to enter the country. “There are literally hundreds of millions, if not a billion or more people who would like to be in America; we can’t accept them all,” Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) tells National Review Online. “We just continue to create that incentive. We should have an asylum process. We should have a legalized-refugee status [program]. We’re a very compassionate nation, but, again, it’s got to be controlled.” USCIS revealed the new policy at a convenient time for Johnson and other congressional Republicans, who are trying to publicize the ramifications of President Obama’s executive-amnesty orders in order to turn public opinion against the Democrats. The GOP strategy to thwart Obama by passing a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that denies funding for the orders is palsied by a fear of unfair media treatment, but some lawmakers and activists believe that concentrated fire from Republicans can make it politically painful for Democrats to filibuster the DHS funding bill.

“We’re happy to fund DHS; we want to keep this nation safe and secure,” Johnson says. Democrats need to explain “why do you want to fund, for example, permanent Social Security cards for people who came into this country illegally? Why do you want to fund the process that allows [those] people to claim the earned-income tax credit and additional tax credits?” Johnson has used his post as Homeland Security Committee chairman to explore that last question, revealing that Obama’s amnesty policies provide illegal immigrants with Social Security numbers that enable them to receive up to $24,000 from the IRS. Concurrently, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on asylum fraud, and on Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear from Ohio secretary of state John Husted, who believes that “the president’s executive actions have expanded a loophole” that could allow non-citizens to vote. “The only way you’re going to persuade seven Democrats to do the right thing is if the American people understand fully what’s at stake and what the president’s actions actually mean, so we’re doing everything we can to highlight that,” says Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), who is chairing the hearing along with Representative Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.)…”






IRS to pay back-refunds to illegal immigrants who didn’t pay taxes

Lawmakers fear illegals could use Obama amnesty to find ways to vote

“IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress on Wednesday that even illegal immigrants who didn’t pay taxes will be able to claim back-refunds once they get Social Security numbers under President Obama’s temporary deportation amnesty. The revelation — which contradicts what he told Congress last week — comes as lawmakers also raised concerns Mr. Obama’s amnesty could open a window to illegal immigrants finding ways to vote, despite it being against the law. “While we may disagree about whether your deferred action programs were lawfully created and implemented, we are confident that we can all agree that these programs cannot be permitted to impair the integrity of our elections,” Republican members of Congress from Ohio wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama Wednesday, ahead of a hearing on the issue in the House on Thursday. Mr. Obama’s new deportation policies, which carve most illegal immigrants out of danger of being removed, and could proactively grant as many as 4 million illegal immigrants work permits and Social Security numbers, are increasingly under fire for ancillary consequences such as tax credits and competition for jobs. Mr. Koskinen, testifying to the House oversight committee, said the White House never asked him or anyone else at the IRS about the potential tax effects of his amnesty policy. “I haven’t talked to the White House about this at all,” he said.”




“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sees people from around the world attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally–and San Diego is no exception. Apprehensions of illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico surged last October, including foreign nationals from Ebola-affected countries, according to a source within CBP that spoke on condition of anonymity. One of those caught at the time sported a shirt that bore the name “Obama,” as shown in the above photo. The men pictured were taken into custody during a massive influx of illegal aliens coming from Africa through San Diego’s San Ysidro Port of Entry during October 2014. The foreign nationals flooding the border crossing were turning themselves in, claiming “credible fear” in pursuit of political asylum, the source told Breitbart California. At the time, the local Fox affiliate reported that CBP was preparing to deal with the arrival aliens from Ebola-affected nations, many claiming political asylum. The Fox 5 report cited CBP sources as saying 300 people had been detained in the week prior to the Oct. 20, 2014 report, though the agency was only equipped to handle 180…”



ACLU sues government over records for migrant children

“The ACLU filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking information about allegations of abuse involving migrant children, including many who were placed under the care of immigration authorities while a wave of unaccompanied minors fled to the U.S. last summer. ACLU chapters in Arizona and Southern California filed the suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, claiming the government has stonewalled requests made under the Freedom of Information Act for records pertaining to the children. The law firm Cooley LLP also joined the suit. The ACLU and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in October against DHS seeking information on the department’s policies and procedures at an isolated detention center for immigrant families with children in New Mexico. Both suits stemmed from the unprecedented surge in immigrant children and young families this summer, but ACLU of Arizona attorney James Lyall said issues with how immigration authorities treat children existed long before the wave of children last summer. “There’s also something we learned in the course of preparing that complaint is that many other organizations have filed complaints and have been ignored,” Lyall said. Last summer, tens of thousands of migrants crossed into the U.S. illegally, most through Texas, overwhelming Border Patrol agents who were not positioned to process so many people. Many migrant children who had crossed without a parent were sent to a warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, while they were processed. Some families were eventually sent to the new center in Artesia, New Mexico…”



Immigration Reform 2015: Obama Illegal Immigrant Lawsuit Ruling Could Come Soon In Texas Court

“A federal judge in Texas is expected soon to rule on a lawsuit to block President Barack Obama’s immigration measures. The suit, filed by a group of Republican governors and state attorneys general, asserts that Obama overstepped his constitutional powers by ordering the Department of Homeland Security to hold off on deporting millions of undocumented immigrants who meet specific criteria. The governors have argued that the GOP-controlled Congress is the only body that can alter immigration laws and that letting Obama’s measures remain in place would inflict financial damage in their states. Several attorneys who submitted friend-of-the-court briefs opposing the lawsuit said Tuesday the ruling could come as early as next week. The Obama administration has defended the executive action, reasoning that Republican members of the current and last Congresses refused to work with the president on a plan that included a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. In November — shortly after the 2104 elections — Obama announced executive actions that defer the deportation of nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants and extend work permits to many of them. Those measures add to a 2012 program that defers deportation for undocumented immigrants who were children when they arrived in the U.S., as well as their parents. Federal officials will begin accepting applications for the newest program on Feb. 18. Judge Andrew Hanen, who heard arguments last month in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, is likely to throw the case out because of some of the plaintiff states had not proven substantial harm would be inflicted by Obama’s executive action, wrote David Leopold, past president and general counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in op-ed for the Huffington Post last week. The Obama administration had been on track to deport approximately 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year, a stark contrast to the pro-amnesty image some conservatives have given to the president, Leopold wrote. The states involved in the lawsuit include the Mexico border states Texas and Arizona, as well as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.”



Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants Spurs Debate in New Mexico

“Alejandro Altamirano has called New Mexico home for a dozen years. It’s where his two US-born daughters are being raised. But the 36-year-old dairy farm worker from Durango, Mexico, fears he’ll be forced into the shadows if he loses his driver’s license. New Mexico, for years, was out in front on handing out driver’s licenses to people suspected of being in the country illegally. Now, legislation to stop the state’s practice is gaining traction despite a trend sweeping through several states to offer driving privileges to everyone regardless of their status. Fresh off a political power shift, the GOP-led House of Representatives is poised to pass a measure repealing a 2003 law that made New Mexico one of the first states to offer licenses to immigrants regardless of status. However, the momentum in the lower chamber may not matter since Senate Democrats have vowed to fight the legislation. New Mexico has the nation’s highest percentage of Latinos and the only Latina governor, but the legislation has still sparked a fight. Proponents of the bill say polling shows most New Mexicans want to reverse course and repeal the law. They argue doing so would help prevent fraud and bring the state into compliance with federal identification requirements. California this year began issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, bringing the number of states that do so to 10. California expects 1.4 million people to apply for the licenses in the next three years. “It’s a product of many years and the need for driver’s licenses,” said Tanya Broder, senior staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles. “From a policy perspective, it made sense that all the drivers were tested and licensed and insured and accountable for their driving records.” Those who want to keep New Mexico’s law the way it is argue working families stand to get hurt otherwise. They also say other states that have joined New Mexico in doling out licenses are not running afoul of federal ID laws. The opposition argues New Mexico has become a haven for those seeking to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses. “These fraud operations involve the trafficking of humans to our state for the purpose of committing crimes; and with no intention to live here, they snatch up our license to take elsewhere, to places unknown and for purposes unknown,” said Mike Lonergan, spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.”



LA schools to let lawyers help students with immigration

“Attorneys for the Los Angeles Unified School District will give legal help to some students facing deportation under a newly approved plan. The LAUSD board approved the move Tuesday. The proposal brought by the general counsel’s office allows the lawyers to volunteer their time on behalf of the students. It’s not clear how many students within the nation’s second-largest school system would be affected, but the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/197z8qG) reports that they could number in the thousands. The lawyers would be allowed to represent one student at a time for between one and three hours a week and would have to make up any loss of work time for the district. The Times reports that about 10 lawyers have expressed interest so far…”



Ted Cruz’s immigration gambit

Pushing his party to take a hard line could backfire as he prepares to run for the White House.



Bosnian immigrants plead not guilty in terror financing case

“An immigrant couple from Bosnia pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges of funneling money and military supplies to extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. Attorneys for Ramiz Zijad Hodzic and Sedina Unkic Hodzic of St. Louis County entered pleas for them separately during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. The defendants, who did not speak in court, remain in federal custody. A federal magistrate judge postponed until next week hearings for each to determine if they will remain jailed while awaiting trial. The delay came at the request of their attorneys, who said they needed more time to prepare. Ramiz Hodzic, 40, and his wife, 35, are among six Bosnian immigrants living in Missouri, Illinois and New York who were charged last week with conspiring to provide material support to groups the U.S. deems terrorist organizations, including Islamic State and Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-affiliated rebel group. The couple is accused of using Facebook, PayPal, Western Union and the U.S. Postal Service to coordinate shipments of money and military equipment to the groups with the help of Abdullah Ramo Pazara, a Bosnian immigrant who left St. Louis in May 2013 to fight in Syria, where authorities say he later died. Each of the six suspects is now in federal custody after Jasminka Ramic, 42, of Rockford, Illinois, was arrested Tuesday in Germany, according to online federal court records. No lawyer was listed for her.”





Fox News Poll: Despite economic gains, many Americans just getting by

“That’s how many American voters view the economy, according to the latest Fox News poll. The number saying the country is still in a recession is down more than 20 percentage points since 2010. Yet the number saying their family is “falling behind” financially is the same. And while more people are getting ahead — the largest portion is still just getting by. In 2010, an overwhelming 88 percent felt the country was in a recession. That’s down to 65 percent in the new poll, released Wednesday. That includes 37 percent who also think things are getting better and 28 percent who say things could get worse. The one-third (33 percent) who says the recession is over includes 18 percent who feel another could be coming. An optimistic 15 percent believe both the recession is completely over and the economy is recovering. That was three percent in 2010. Republicans (42 percent) are much more likely than Democrats (13 percent) to think the country is still in a recession and things could get worse.  When asked about their family’s finances, 31 percent say they are getting ahead. While still a minority, that’s up from 24 percent in 2013 and 27 percent in September 2009 (in the first year of President Obama’s first term). Today about half — 49 percent — say they are “just able to pay most bills,” down from 54 percent in 2009. Eighteen percent say they’re “falling behind.” It was 17 percent in 2009.  Voters living in households with annual income over $50,000 are twice as likely as those with lower incomes to say they are getting ahead (42 percent vs. 20 percent). Meanwhile, more voters are giving President Obama a thumbs-up on the economy: 46 percent approve of the job he’s doing, while 50 percent disapprove. In December, just two months ago, he was underwater by 12 points (43-55 percent). His all-time low rating on the economy came in August 2011 when 34 percent of voters approved and 62 percent disapproved.  The president’s overall rating stands at 45 percent approval vs. 49 percent disapproval. This is the first time since August disapproval of Obama’s job performance has been below 50 percent. It was 42-52 percent a month ago (January 11-13, 2015).”



US budget deficit running 6.2 percent higher than last year

“The federal government ran a bigger deficit in January, pushing the imbalance so far this budget year up 6.2 percent from the same period a year ago. The Treasury Department said Wednesday the deficit for January stood at $17.5 billion compared to $10.3 billion a year ago. For the first four months of the budget year that began in October, the deficit widened to $194.2 billion from $182.8 billion during the same period last year. The budget deficit has gradually narrowed since 2012, which was the fourth straight year in which it topped the $1 trillion mark. The improvement reflects the country’s economic recovery from recession. The government is seeing higher tax revenues as people go back to work and smaller payments for safety-net programs such as unemployment assistance. It also represents efforts by Congress to control deficits through higher taxes and across-the-board spending cuts. Last year’s deficit benefited from a $24 billion special payment Freddie Mac made for the support it received during the financial crisis. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts a deficit of $468 billion for the full 2015 budget year, 3.1 percent lower than in 2014. For the current budget year, government revenues total $1.05 trillion, an increase of 8.7 percent from the same period a year ago. Government spending totals $1.24 trillion, up 8.3 percent over last year. The deficit in 2014 narrowed to $483.3 billion from $680.2 billion in 2013. Before that, the deficits soared to record heights as the government grappled with revenue losses from the Great Recession and increased spending in such areas as unemployment benefits and food stamps. President Barack Obama unveiled last week his new budget proposal, which projects the 2015 deficit to rise to $583 billion, sharply higher than the CBO’s latest estimate. Obama’s new budget is asking Congress for authorization to spend $4 trillion next year and projects a 2016 deficit of $474 billion. The president’s budget proposal will set off months of wrangling in Congress. Obama proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy and using the extra income to support increased funding to rebuild America’s aging roads and bridges, provide two years of free community college to qualified students and trim future deficits to what the administration said would be manageable levels. But Republicans immediately attacked the proposal for raising taxes and failing to tackle rising spending on government benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare. GOP lawmakers said the budgets they put together in coming weeks will eliminate deficits over the next decade. The CBO is forecasting that without any changes in government policies, the deficit will decline slightly to $467 billion in 2016 but then will start rising and top $1 trillion again in 2025 as spending balloons for Social Security and Medicare.”



Steve Rattner: Three Charts That Explain The Real Economy



Obama Discusses Black Unemployment With Congressional Black Caucus, Ignores Immigration And Amnesty

“The high rate of black unemployment was a topic of discussion between President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Tuesday, but they did not broach how illegal immigration and executive amnesty may have contributed to the problem. Instead Obama tried to alleviate CBC members’ fears about Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, which some caucus members worry could kill jobs. Obama asked CBC members at Tuesday’s White House meeting to grant him “fast-track” authority on the trade deal, which he insisted is necessary to prevent China from gaining an upper hand in Asia and the Pacific Rim. The prospect of a trade deal which kills jobs is of special concern for the CBC because the unemployment rate in the African-American community is currently 10.3 percent, compared to a 5.7 percent unemployment rate overall. California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the CBC’s 46 members, has said she will oppose the trade deal. Citing NAFTA and the major trade agreement between the U.S. and China, Lee wrote that “thirty five percent of jobs lost to China, which totals 1 million American jobs, were from communities of color.” But by failing to address how immigration in general and Obama’s recent executive decision to grant amnesty — as well as work permits — to up 5 million illegal immigrants, the two sides avoided discussing what many believe is a major contributor to the high unemployment rate among blacks. Since blacks are disproportionately represented among blue-collar, lower-skilled workers, they are in closer competition for jobs with illegal immigrants. As Peter Kirsanow, a black member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has said, issuing work permits to an influx of millions of previously undocumented low-skilled workers “will devastate the black community…”



The Top 10 Government Programs Deemed ‘High Risk’ for Fraud, Abuse and Mismanagement

“The fiscally shaky Medicare, the Defense Department’s Nuclear Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service were just a few of the federal programs designated as “high risk” by the Government Accountability Office. The high risk designation identifies federal programs with the greatest “vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.” The GAO also faulted the country’s cyber security system to protect government information from hackers, the same week that the Obama administration announced it is establishing a new agency to combat cyberterrorism. The GAO cited 32 programs as high risk and prone to mismanagement. Here are the top 10 most high-risk government programs:

  1. Medicare Program
  2. Department of Defense Supply Chain Management
  3. DOD Weapon Systems Acquisition
  4. Department of Energy’s Contract Management for the National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management
  5. NASA Acquisition Management
  6. IRS Enforcement of Tax Laws
  7. DOD Contract Management
  8. DOD Financial Management
  9. DOD Business Systems Modernization
  10. Ensuring the Security of Federal Information Systems and Cyber Critical Infrastructure and Protecting the Privacy of Personally Identifiable Information.”



Republican: Obama ‘caving to political extremes’ with budget request

“A top House Republican appropriator on Wednesday blasted the Obama administration as “caving to political extremes” with its request to boost the funding of a Wall Street regulator. President Obama has asked Congress to give the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) $322 million for fiscal 2016, a nearly 50 percent increase from the $215 million it is receiving now. A funding increase of that size would nearly triple the amount of money the agency received in 2008, when the financial crisis hit. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees CFTC funding, said at a hearing Wednesday he’d recommend the agency’s budget stay at its current level. “I am concerned hat this administration is caving to the political extremes,” Aderholt said. “In Washington, we call this ‘moving the goal posts.’ ” CFTC Chairman Timothy Massad told lawmakers the additional funds would help his agency better police the nation’s financial sector and prevent threats to economy. “The CFTC’s budget is not at a level that is commensurate with the responsibilities Congress has assigned,” Massad said. CFTC’s spending has increased 123 percent since the 2008 financial crisis, Aderholt noted.  “I challenge the CFTC to show where this increase in taxpayer money has reduced risk in the marketplace,” Aderholt said. “How do we know that even more cops on the beat will prevent another ‘too big to fail?’ I see no direct correlation between CFTC’s repeated increases and reduced risk.” The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law boosted the CFTC’s responsibilities, giving the agency expanded jurisdiction over the nation’s $400 trillion swaps market, trades that played a role in the 2008 crash.  Massad said his agency is struggling to keep up with its new responsibilities and needs money for technology, staff and for dealing with emerging cyber threats. “Trading is increasingly conducted in an automated, electronic fashion and cybersecurity has become a major new threat to the integrity and smooth functioning of the critical market infrastructure that the commission regulates,” Massad testified. He said that the agency’s “capabilities have not kept pace” on cybersecurity issues.”



Unemployment Is Dropping, Thanks To A Republican Policy That Obama Opposed



Top economists lean toward favoring dynamic scoring for big tax bills

“Republican plans to use a method of budget-keeping that will lower the estimated budgetary costs of tax cuts are getting modest support from economists. In a survey of top economists conducted by the IGM Forum at the University of Chicago published Tuesday, a plurality responded that using so-called dynamic scoring would improve tax revenue estimates. The controversial budgeting method incorporates the feedback in tax revenues that would follow economic growth that resulted from tax changes. Using conventional “static” analysis, in comparison, the added economic growth from tax cuts is assumed to be zero. House Republicans established a rule for the current session of Congress that would require dynamic analysis from Congress’ in-house budget scorekeepers for major tax legislation, a move that Democrats warned would lead to bigger deficits. But 47 percent of the economists surveyed by the IGM forum agreed that dynamic analysis for major bills would “probably be more accurate.”



Senate panel pushes targeted tax bills

“An eye toward a total overhaul of the tax code did not stop Senate lawmakers from advancing 17 different tax bills Wednesday. Top tax writers are adamant they still want to pursue a major reworking of the tax code, but with progress hard to come by on that front for the last several years, the Senate Finance Committee agreed to easily pass several targeted tax tweaks in the meantime. Their sponsors described the bills now heading to the Senate floor as long-overdue fixes to ignored tax provisions, some of which that have languished, as lawmakers have pursued a broader overhaul of the code. Panel leaders maintained that the broader reform effort remains ongoing, with an eye toward simplifying the tax code. But they added that that was no reason to not pursue more precise relief at the same time. “The push for comprehensive tax reform is going to continue,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel. “This legislation may not be a comprehensive overhaul, but it makes a number of targeted improvements that will benefit our economy, workers and families.”



The Debt and the GOP

Where do the potential Republican presidential candidates stand on the National Debt?



Stronger U.S. growth seen in 2015; Fed to hike rates in June: Reuters poll

“The U.S. economy is set to record its best performance in a decade this year as a rapidly strengthening labor market buoys domestic demand, giving the Federal Reserve the confidence to start tightening monetary policy, a Reuters poll showed. The poll of 82 economists, which was published on Wednesday, forecast gross domestic product (GDP) growing an average 3.2 percent this year, which would be the fastest since 2005. Economists are maintaining their lofty forecasts despite the economy having hit a speed bump in the fourth quarter and appearing to have remained in the slow lane at the start of 2015.”





Full repeal of Common Core fails in Miss. Senate

“Tea Party conservatives pushing for a full repeal of Common Core protested by voting “present” on a state Senate bill they claimed fails to require Mississippi to adopt new educational standards. The measure passed the floor anyway Wednesday by a vote of 31-16. If it becomes law, it will create the Mississippi Commission on College and Career Readiness, whose members will recommend new educational standards to replace the Common Core State Standards adopted nearly five years ago. But the bill doesn’t require the Board of Education to implement the commission’s recommendations – just to listen to them – prompting concern it will do nothing to change its standards. An amendment offered by Republican state Sen. Angela Hill would have required the adoption of the commission’s recommendations. It also would have prohibited the recommendations from mirroring Common Core in any way…”



Jeb Bush WON’T SAY ‘Common Core’ But Insists He Totally Supports Common Core

“Former Florida governor and almost-certain 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush took part in an education summit in his home state of Tallahassee, Fla. on Tuesday. As he spoke and participated in a 44-minute, education-related question-and-answer session, he was impressively able to avoid using the toxic phrase “Common Core” — the whole time. Bush focused on a mantra of “higher standards” and an insistence that his goal is to limit decisions about education to state and local governments instead of the federal government, reports CNN. “I am for creating real restrictions on the federal government’s role in this so you can alleviate people’s fears that you’re going to have some kind of control by the federal government of content, of curriculum, or even standards. I’m against all that,” the Republican said. “I’m against the federal government being involved in demanding that assessments are done in a certain way,” Bush added.”



“Special Report” Panel: Jeb Bush And Common Core Debate








IRS apologizes after seizures hammer small businesses

“Top IRS officials, under intense pressure from Congress, apologized on Wednesday to small business owners for seizing their bank accounts after they structured bank deposits that just barely avoided federal reporting requirements. The seizures, actions that are usually aimed at stopping drug dealers from moving large amounts of cash out of the country, cost the business owners tens of thousands of dollars to undo. “To anyone who is not treated fairly under the code, I apologize,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told a congressional panel. The tax agency said it is changing its policy so that businesses that obtain their money legally would not have their accounts seized. One person hurt by the seizure is Andrew Clyde, a Georgia gun shop owner, who told the House subcommittee he regularly made deposits at just less than $10,000 because that was the limit covered by his insurance policy. By law, bank deposits and withdrawals over $10,000 must be reported to the IRS. It’s a felony to “structure” transactions to avoid that law. Clyde, who owns the Clyde Armory gun shop in Athens, Ga., admitted to making more than 100 just-under-$10,000 bank transactions over 10 months — but said he did so because of the insurance policy. In April 2013, Clyde, a former Marine, was approached by two IRS agents, he testified. The agents told him his account had been seized. Clyde, who completed three tours in Iraq, testified that he “was never so afraid in my life.” Then, without formally accusing the store owner of evading taxes or illegal activity, the IRS sued the business owner. Three days before his trial was scheduled to begin, Clyde settled. He was forced to forfeit $50,000 and his legal bills swelled to $150,000. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), chair of the subcommittee, called Clyde’s case no isolated incident. Structuring is “catching a lot of innocent people — a Mexican restaurant, a gas station, a dairy farmer,” he said in his opening statement.

“Many people can’t afford a long, drawn-out fight, so they settle, handing over thousands of fairly earned dollars to the IRS — all without having done anything wrong,” Roskam said. The IRS seized 147 accounts last year, Koskinen testified. Randy Sowers, a Maryland farmer, was also victimized by the IRS. Sowers said he and his wife split a $12,000 deposit — proceeds from a festival — into two parts at the suggestion of a bank teller. That triggered an IRS seizure of his account containing $62,000. Sowers was forced to pay $30,000 to get the seizure lifted, he said.”



Small business owners forced to battle IRS over seized bank accounts



IRS accused of abusing small businesses



IRS under a spotlight for freezing assets

Rep. Roskam calls the seizure practice an “abuse by the federal government against citizens.”

“On April 12, 2013, the IRS seized every penny of a nearly $1 million business account held by Georgia gun shop owner Andrew Clyde. His misdeed — if you can call it that: depositing business checks into his bank account in increments under $10,000. A bipartisan group of lawmakers on House Republicans are on Wednesday preparing to shine a spotlight on the government’s practice of seizing small business civil assets without charging them with a crime, signaling a new oversight focus on an issue gaining more attention and hinting at new legislation backed by both parties. In one instance, a U.S. attorney suggested to one witness’s attorney that he may be getting a harsher punishment because the witness spoke to the press, according to an email reviewed by POLITICO. “There is a strong indication that the IRS has been involved in civil forfeiture that has hurt innocent people,” said House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) in a brief interview, calling it an “abuse by the federal government against citizens.” The hearing was the first for Roskam, who takes over the subcommittee that in the past year focused nearly exclusively on the IRS tea party targeting controversy. But Wednesday’s hearing struck a rare bipartisan accord as Democrats joined their counterparts in lecturing the IRS. “Whether or not it is within the law, it is wrong to, without any criminal evidence, seize somebody’s property,” New York Democrat Charles Rangel fumed. “Common sense and decency says that when the Congress screws up, we expect you people to come back and say this is not working.” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in the hearing apologized to “anyone who got caught up in this,” calling lawmaker’s concerns “legitimate and appropriate.” But he also said his agents were merely following the law. Under the law, banks must report cash bank deposits of $10,000 or more to the federal government — a provision aimed at catching illicit traffickers. Criminals have tried to sidestep the reporting requirement by keeping their deposits under the $10,000 threshold that triggers the reports, a practice called “structuring” that is also illegal. The IRS — like other agencies that engage in the practice, such as the DEA or FBI — has sweeping authority to take assets, having to prove only “preponderance of evidence.”



GOP opens new line of attack on IRS

“Congressional Republicans accused the IRS Wednesday of seizing the assets of innocent small businesses, adding to a steady stream of GOP criticism of the tax agency and its leadership. Lawmakers made the assertions during a hearing before the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, citing cases in which the IRS has accused small-business owners of illegally structuring funds and seizing business assets when there is no evidence of illegal activity.  “How can you be guilty on a suspicion,” demanded Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), who often touts his own background as a small-business owner. The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 requires financial institutions to report cash transactions exceeding $10,000 in currency. The reports, according to the IRS, are used to uncover an array of illegal cash-generating activities like drug dealing. To get around that reporting requirement, however, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said criminals manipulate cash transactions to fall below the $10,000 threshold. This restructuring is a felony offense, and businesses that handle cash transactions under $10,000 have become a target of civil asset forfeiture cases. Republicans cited cases they said point to overzealous federal actions, including a case of an Iowa woman who lost her cash-only Mexican restaurant after the IRS wrongfully seized her bank account for $33,000. Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said it took the woman a year and a half to get her money back.  “The IRS grabbed these taxpayers by their throat and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed without mercy and nearly ruined them and made their lives miserable,” he said. “Would you be willing to apologize to those taxpayers who were so abused? Following repeated calls from Roskam for an apology, Koskinen said he’s “sorry that mistakes happen.”  “Anyone not engaged in illegal activity who got stuck in the system, I think, deserves an apology,” he said. “I would apologize to anyone who was not treated fairly under the code.” Still Koskinen said the IRS is not solely responsible for determining which businesses to bring cases against. He said it takes a U.S. attorney and a federal judge to find probable cause. He said the agency changed its civil asset forfeiture policy in October to better protect innocent taxpayers. He said the IRS is now focusing its resources solely on cases where evidence indicates that the structured funds are derived from illegal sources. The exchanges reflect the latest in a string of issues at the IRS that have drawn Republican ire, including the high-profile investigation into the agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups and loosing emails from a former official at the center of the transgression.”



IRS chief laments tax season struggles

“If you’re having trouble filing your taxes and you call the IRS, you have less than a 50 percent chance of getting a live representative to help answer your questions, the head of the Internal Revenue Service told members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. IRS Commission John Koskinen’s remarks were met with concerns among the panel’s members. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said he is “deeply concerned” about how budget cuts are impacting the IRS. Koskinen said the agency is working with 13,000 fewer people this tax season and stands to lose an addition 2,000 to 3,000 people with proposed budget cuts.  “We are trying to be as efficient as we can, but we have far more people calling than we can handle appropriately,” he said.”



House Sends Keystone XL Bill To Obama’s Desk



Congress approves Keystone XL bill Obama plans to veto



Keystone XL: House backs oil pipeline, defying Obama



With veto looming, GOP searches for way forward on Keystone XL

“Senate Republicans are working to drum up enough support to override President Obama’s threatened veto of legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which the House is expected to approve Wednesday. Neither chamber last month passed the legislation with enough support to trump a veto, which the Obama administration threatened. Republicans still hope the president will sign the bill. If not, they have 63 supporters in the Senate, with nine Democrats crossing the aisle. But finding four more will be challenging. “The next best option is to find four more Democrats who will vote for Keystone,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, told the Washington Examiner. When asked whether Republicans had identified four such Democrats, the Missouri Republican said, “No. No.” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said he was confident Obama would reject any legislation that would authorize Keystone XL and that Democrats had the numbers to reinforce a veto. “I think we have 34 stalwarts who will sustain this veto,” the Illinois Democrat said in a recent interview. “This president seems resolute on this issue. I don’t think they can sneak up on him.” But a Senate GOP aide told the Examiner that some Democrats might come across with concessions, though the aide didn’t detail whether that meant putting conditions on Keystone XL or trading another policy favored by Obama and Democrats. “We have cards to play,” the aide said. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the lead sponsor of the bill to approve the 1,700-mile pipeline, has said he envisions wrapping the legislation into a broader energy or spending bill that Obama might sign.”



House sends Keystone XL to Obama

“The House passed legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday. The bill now goes to the White House, where it is expected to meet President Obama’s veto pen. The 270-152 vote was short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto. Twenty-nine Democrats voted for approval. One Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted against it. The Senate, which would vote first on a veto override, is four votes shy of the 67 lawmakers it would need. Supporters of the $8 billion Canada-to-Texas pipeline think they can find the support, but Democratic leaders are convinced their members won’t budge. Asked whether the upper chamber might attempt a veto override, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said, “We very well may. … But that decision hasn’t been made yet.” The House also plans an override attempt, said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton. “To finish it,” the Michigan Republican said of the override attempt. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell implored Obama to reconsider his veto threat. The pipeline’s backers have touted the 42,100 direct and indirect jobs the State Department said it would create during its two-year construction phase. “The Keystone jobs bill is just common sense,” the Kentucky Republican said Wednesday. “That’s why this bipartisan legislation already passed the Senate with support from both parties. That’s why labor unions support it.” Some of the pipeline’s backers think they can wrap the legislation into a broader energy or spending bill the president might sign. Hoeven mentioned the federal highway reauthorization bill as a potential vehicle. But Obama has been dismissive of Keystone XL in recent public comments. He has downplayed the jobs aspect, as the State Department said Keystone XL would create 35 permanent jobs, and echoed arguments by environmental groups that the oil sands it would transport are destined for export.”



Congress clears Keystone XL pipeline bill, setting up veto

“The Republican-controlled Congress has cleared a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. That sets up a confrontation with President Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto the measure. The House voted 270-152 on Wednesday to send the bill to the president. Neither chamber has enough votes to overcome a veto. The vote caps weeks of debate on a top priority for Congress after the GOP took control last month. Supporters are already planning on using other means to secure the pipeline’s approval. First proposed in 2008, the Keystone XL pipeline would connect Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. Republicans argued it was a jobs bill that would boost energy security. Democrats said it was a gift to the oil industry that would worsen global warming.”



House Energy chair: We’ll hold an override vote if Obama vetoes Keystone XL

“House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said that he envisions the House will vote to override President Obama’s expected veto of a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline. The House is set to vote on the Senate-passed bill Wednesday afternoon. It’s expected to clear the chamber and make it to the president’s desk, but well shy of the two-thirds support needed to surmount a veto. “If he vetoes it as we anticipate — I worked at the White House so I know that once a president says something it doesn’t change — yeah, we’ll have a vote,” the Michigan Republican told reporters. The White House has threatened to veto the bill that authorizes the 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline. The project has been under federal review for a cross-border permit for more than six years. The Senate, too, plans to attempt a veto override. The upper chamber would need four more Democrats to cross the aisle.”



Boehner: Obama siding with ‘extremists and anarchists’ on Keystone

“Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday accused President Obama of pandering to the radical left with his threat to veto the Keystone XL bill. “Instead of listening to people, the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday. “The president needs to listen to the American people and say, ‘Yes, let’s build a Keystone pipeline!’ ” The House is scheduled to vote today on a Senate bill that would approve construction of the pipeline, overruling the administration’s review of the project. GOP lawmakers are portraying the expected Keystone veto as an example of Obama obstructing a bipartisan, job-creating proposal with wide public support. “We build pipelines all around America every single day,” Boehner said. “Keystone has been reviewed and approved numerous times. Even the president’s own State Department will say that it creates 42,000 new jobs.” The figure from the State Department’s review of Keystone refers to the total jobs the pipeline would support, including temporary construction positions. The project would create 35 permanent positions. Earlier Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pleaded with Obama on the Senate floor to reconsider his veto threat and “sign this jobs and infrastructure bill.” He similarly accused Obama of listening to a select group instead of the overall voice of the American people. “Powerful special interests may be demanding that the president veto Keystone jobs, but we hope he won’t,” McConnell said.”



McConnell urges Obama to reconsider on Keystone

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged President Obama on Wednesday to alter course and sign the bill approving construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, after the House votes on it. The Kentucky Republican told Obama from the Senate floor to “sign this jobs and infrastructure bill” ahead of Wednesday’s vote in the House on legislation that would approve the Canada-to-Texas pipeline. The House will vote on the Senate bill passed last month, which includes amendments on climate change and energy efficiency. “The Keystone jobs bill is just common sense,” McConnell said. “That’s why this bipartisan legislation already passed the Senate with support from both parties. That’s why labor unions support it.” McConnell pressed Obama to change his mind and not follow through on his veto threat.”



Alaska senators introduce bill to curb land protections

“Alaska’s Senate delegation introduced a bill that would strip President Obama of his power to unilaterally protect land as national monuments. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, said they want to protect Alaska and other states from land and water protections that could hamper economic activitiy. “It is clear that this White House is more concerned with securing its environmental legacy than protecting the economic well-being of Alaskans,” Murkowski, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a Tuesday statement. “My legislation is designed to make sure economic activity like fishing and responsible resource development is not put at risk — and family incomes damaged — by a stroke of the president’s pen.” The bill comes just two weeks after Obama directed his administration to immediately manage Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness, the most restrictive federal land protection. ANWR sits atop the most promising untapped oil reserve in Alaska.”



DOE proposes stricter efficiency standards for gas furnaces

“The Department of Energy (DOE) wants to update efficiency standards for residential natural gas-powered furnace for the first time in more than 20 years. Under the new regulations, newly built furnaces would have to reach a 92 percent fuel utilization efficiency rate.  The proposed rule, unveiled Tuesday, would be similar to standards released last week for commercial furnaces. The residential rule would result in net savings of up to $16.1 billion for consumers, DOE estimated. Natural gas is, by far, the most commonly used fuel for residential heating in the United States. About 40 percent of energy delivered to residential buildings is used for heat, according to the Energy Information Administration.”



Dems on FEC open to new regs on donors, Internet

“Claiming that thousands of public comments condemning “dark money” in politics can’t be ignored, the Democrat-chaired Federal Election Commission on Wednesday appeared ready to open the door to new regulations on donors, bloggers and others who use the Internet to influence policy and campaigns. During a broad FEC hearing to discuss a recent Supreme Court decision that eliminated some donor limits, proponents encouraged the agency to draw up new funding disclosure rules and require even third-party internet-based groups to reveal donors, a move that would extinguish a 2006 decision to keep the agency’s hands off the Internet. Noting the 32,000 public comments that came into the FEC in advance of the hearing, Democratic Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub said, “75 percent thought that we need to do more about money in politics, particularly in the area of disclosure. And I think that’s something that we can’t ignore.” But a former Republican FEC chairman said in his testimony that if the agency moves to regulate the Internet, including news voices like the Drudge Report as GOP commissioners have warned, many thousands more comments will flood in in opposition of regulation.”



Dems on FEC move to regulate Internet campaigns, blogs, Drudge

“In a surprise move late Friday, a key Democrat on the Federal Election Commission called for burdensome new rules on Internet-based campaigning, prompting the Republican chairman to warn that Democrats want to regulate online political sites and even news media like the Drudge Report. Democratic FEC Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel announced plans to begin the process to win regulations on Internet-based campaigns and videos, currently free from most of the FEC’s rules. “A reexamination of the commission’s approach to the internet and other emerging technologies is long over due,” she said. The power play followed a deadlocked 3-3 vote on whether an Ohio anti-President Obama Internet campaign featuring two videos violated FEC rules when it did not report its finances or offer a disclosure on the ads. The ads were placed for free on YouTube and were not paid advertising.”




“Washington DC–On April 2, 2014, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, issued a ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC that struck down limits to the amount of money an individual could contribute during a two year period to all federal candidates, parties, and political action committees combined. Monday Shaun McCutcheon, a one-time obscure electrical engineer from Alabama, made his way back to Washington DC to speak once again to the Federal Elections Commissions, this time on behalf of protecting freedom rights involving Internet-based political campaigns. McCutcheon said that he hopes he isn’t being “presumptuous  to say that most of you know who I am and what I stand for. You know that I am not a corporation, and I’m not a billionaire. I’m trying to implement positive change as one of the people.”


He explained that the ruling of the McCutcheon v. FEC was about “aggregate limits, aggregate spending limits, not limits per contribution,” which he asserted that he did not challenge. He insisted that striking down aggregate limits “speaks directly to our First Amendment rights. Our most fundamental rights, the right to make reasonable contributions to as many candidates as we, the people, choose.” The Vestavia Hills, Alabama native said that it is our constitutional right to participate in a democratic process as often and wherever we choose. “It has everything to do with the constitutional right of all citizens to support 10 candidates rather than nine, or 21 rather than 20,” he argued. McCutcheon remarked, “Happily, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed with me.”




“Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said that proposed Internet regulation “mimics Obamacare” both in process and substance, was “adopting a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority we don’t have,” and would lead to “billions of dollars in new taxes” on Wednesday’s “Mark Levin Show.” “I’ve got to tell you that I’ve heard from a lot of people who are amazed at how the entire process that this issue has progressed on, and the substance of it mimics Obamacare that Washington bureaucracy would keep this plan in the dark, wouldn’t release it until after it was voted on, and you have the FCC, or any federal agency essentially micromanaging the private sector” he stated. Pai declared that, “in [an] unprecedented fashion, right after the November elections the president announced, not just what he wanted the FCC to do, but the very legal foundation by which he wanted the FCC to it.” Pai also railed against the lack of transparency, arguing “a monumental shift in favor of government control of the Internet and the American public is not going to be able to see it until after the FCC votes on it.” He continued that, “nowhere does the agency identify any kind of systemic harm in the Internet economy, but nonetheless it invents one in order to regulate it, and so it’s this classic situation where we’re adopting a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority we don’t have.” He added that the regulations were “rate regulation of the kind we used to do for railroad monopolies in the 19th century and telephone monopolies in the early 20th century,” the “end result” of which would be “government control of virtually every aspect of the Internet.”  He also stated they would lead to “billions of dollars in new taxes” by re-classifying broadband services, which according to an estimate he read, would cost $11 billion in new taxes on Internet access, and the “FCC micromanaging what services plans you’re allowed to choose from.”



Sen. Thune: FCC ‘Discouraged’ Dems From Working With Republicans on Net Neutrality Legislation

“Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) says the Federal Communications Commission has “discouraged” Democrats on Capitol Hill from working with Republicans on net neutrality legislation – even as the legislation that Thune is proposing includes the same rules and restrictions as those contained in the FCC’s proposal. But when Thune was asked to name ways in which Democrats have been “discouraged” from working toward a legislative compromise, he said, “On that issue I would refer you to my staff.” Thune’s staff did not immediately respond to TheBlaze when asked the question later. “I still think that they have approached this in a very political way and if you look at the statements that are being made by the Republican members of the commission, this is going to be a very partisan vote and issue where it could be very bipartisan if they would have allowed a legislative process to go forward and us to work with Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Thune told TheBlaze in a phone interview Wednesday. Thune, who is also the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has introduced legislation in support of many of the same ideas on which the FCC is set to vote February 26 – and which he has continually referred to as a “power grab.” Pressed on how his plan is different from that of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal, Thune said, “There’s no new taxes or fees. There’s no rate regulation. There’s prohibition on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, which are the things they have said they are most concerned about.”



Americans Question How Neutral ‘Net Neutrality’ Really Is



Obama’s Net-Neutrality Nostalgia For When Things Were Rotten



The President, The Press, And The Decline Of American Trust



Fed faces more reform threats than just Rand Paul

“The Federal Reserve has more to fear than just Rand Paul. Members of the central bank, the White House and the private sector are speaking out this week against Paul’s legislation, which would subject the Fed’s monetary policy deliberations to a Government Accountability Office audit. But with resentment of the 2008 bailouts still strong, Paul’s bill is not the only legislation lawmakers are considering that would rein in the Fed and limit its discretion to conduct monetary and regulatory policy. And the threat is real: Only last month, President Obama signed into law a measure that requires at least one person on the seven-member Federal Reserve Board of Governors to have experience in community banking. That bill became law over Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s objections when it was attached to a larger piece of legislation relating to a terrorism insurance program that the White House considered a necessity. At least four legislative efforts could follow a similar path:…”



GOP faces tough decision on Lynch vote

“Senate Republicans face a tough vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch’s confirmation, which has fast become a litmus test on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Oppose Lynch, and they’ll be ignoring a sparkling performance at a Senate hearing last month that won good reviews from members of both parties, who agreed she was qualified to lead the Department of Justice.  The “no” votes will also feed into Democratic arguments that the GOP is needlessly blocking confirmation of the first black woman to be attorney general, something that will be used against the Republican Party in 2016, when it seeks to defend 24 Senate seats. If confirmed, Lynch would replace Eric Holder, the attorney general despised by most Republicans. The problem is immigration and Lynch’s comments that Obama’s executive actions shielding millions from deportation were probably legal. That’s raised the ire of two presumptive GOP presidential candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.), who are both loudly opposing her nomination — something that could make it difficult for many Republicans to back her. On Tuesday, several centrist Republicans sought to deflect questions about their votes. “I’m waiting until they’re done in the committee to decide on that,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who turned his back and walked away from a follow-up question on Lynch and immigration. “I’m in the process of making that consideration,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson. The Georgia Republican then interrupted a follow-up question to repeat what he had just said, adding only, “that’s all I can tell you right now.” “I have no comment on that,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said in response to a question about Lynch’s defense of Obama’s executive actions.All three Republicans are up for reelection in 2016. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is mulling a long-shot presidential bid himself, compared those using Lynch’s nomination as a proxy battle over immigration to famed former Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.). “Joe McCarthy said, if you don’t agree with me that that guy is a communist, then you’re a communist,” Graham said. “I don’t buy that kind of logic. I don’t support the executive order. This logic that they’re espousing basically goes like this: We’re not going to get a new attorney general until they agree with me that President Obama’s executive orders violate the law. We’re never going to get a nominee from this president that says that, so this is all about political posturing.” Few Republicans are publicly echoing Graham. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a centrist Republican seeking reelection in deep-blue Illinois, said he’s a “lean no” on Lynch’s nomination. “Generally I would think because Obama insists so heavily on very political attorney generals, that the nominees will tend to reflect his hard-left policies and do anything regardless of the law,” Kirk said. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a close friend of Graham’s who could face a primary challenger in 2016, voiced criticism of Lynch and wouldn’t say how he’ll vote. “I’m very concerned about her support for the president’s executive orders on immigration,” he told The Hill. “I’m adamantly opposed to the president’s actions, which were unconstitutional, and apparently she’s endorsed [the executive actions].”



Dems answer Obama’s call for paid sick leave

“Democratic lawmakers will introduce legislation Thursday that would allow workers to earn up to a week’s worth of paid sick days a year. The Healthy Families Act, which Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) will unveil on Thursday, would give workers up to seven days that can be used to care for family members or address personal medical needs. The renewed push comes after Obama signed an executive memorandum giving federal employees access to six weeks of paid parental leave by allowing new parents to advance their sick time and called on Congress to create a federal policy for paid parental and sick leave.

“Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave,” Obama said during his State of the Union address. “It’s the right thing to do.” But the president’s plan to expand sick leave largely depends on the GOP-controlled Congress, which is unlikely to support the legislation. Business groups have also voiced concern that the bill would give them less flexibility over their workers’ schedules.”



The Pence Paradox

The Indiana governor’s impressive executive record could well be a disadvantage heading into 2016.



Shock poll: Warren leads Clinton in Iowa, N.H.

“The poll of 400 conducted Jan. 30 to Feb. 5 put Warren ahead of Clinton in Iowa, 31 percent to 24 percent. In New Hampshire, her lead is 30 percent to 27 percent. The groups cautioned that the poll mostly shows that voters are extremely open to her candidacy rather than her being a Clinton killer. They hope to use the poll to encourage Warren to change her position and get into the race.”



Ari Fleischer: Obama Kosher Deli Comment ‘Reprehensible,’ He Makes ‘Excuses For The Terrorists’ [VIDEO]

“Reaction continued to pour in Wednesday after White House press secretary Josh Earnest was grilled by the W.H. press corps following President Barack Obama’s comment that the the kosher deli shooting in Paris was “random.” This time though, the critic was someone who sat in Earnest’s seat once upon a time. In an interview with NewsmaxTV’s Steve Malzberg, former W.H. press secretary Ari Fleischer, who served under George W. Bush, slammed Obama’s comments, calling them “reprehensible.” Fleischer added that while Obama’s remark “makes no sense,” the president feels a need to “minimize terrorism and to come up with excuses for terrorists.” “This is reprehensible, and I don’t understand the point the president was making other than to, once again, minimize terrorism,” Fleischer continued, “and to come up with excuses for the terrorists who do these things to make it not so bad. This was of course a targeting of people because they were Jewish. What else was it? They acknowledged it.” “It makes no sense. The only reason I can think he’s doing it is because he doesn’t want to do what George Bush did, which is ring a clarion bell against terrorism and say this has to be the fight of our day,” Fleischer said. “He wants to always come up with a way to minimize and explain and rationalize, that way he can go on to do other things.”



Report: White House had intel for seven weeks before launching rescue attempt for Kayla Mueller and other hostages



New details about failed efforts to rescue ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller






Obama calls on Congress for war against Islamic State

“President Obama on Wednesday asked Congress for approval to formally wage war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Obama’s three-page resolution attempts to appease Democrats wary of putting more ground troops in the Middle East and Republicans who insist the White House isn’t doing enough to counter violent extremism. Yet, the president faces an uphill battle to win over lawmakers in both camps. Obama’s proposal would limit the military authorization to three years and prohibit “enduring offensive combat operations,” an intentionally broad description. “My administration’s draft AUMF would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama insisted. “Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations.” Republican and Democratic lawmakers have urged Obama to seek formal approval from Congress for military strikes against the Islamic State launched months ago.”



Obama outlines ISIS war authorization request

“President Obama said the request to Congress balances the authority he needs to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria without putting the U.S. in danger of a prolonged ground war.”



Obama says U.S. should avoid another ground war in the Middle East



War Resolution ‘Intentionally Fuzzy’ On Expanding ISIS Fight, White House Says



ISIS Gains 20,000 Foreign Fighters, Obama Opens Door To War



Obama touts ‘balanced’ approach in ISIS war powers request



U.S. Evacuates Its Embassy in Yemen to Protect Staff from Iran-Backed Rebels



Obama on Track to Set a Dubious Record Regarding Foreign Policy

“President Barack Obama is on track to set a record for the number of big political donors, money-raisers and political allies nominated for ambassadorships, according to a diplomats union. The American Foreign Service Association said that after his first six years, Obama has filled or nominated 131 ambassadorial posts not to people with foreign service experience but to political allies. That’s just four fewer political allies than President George W. Bush nominated to ambassadorships in eight years and 14 more than President Bill Clinton nominated over his two terms, the Washington Post reported. It looks worse for Obama when the diplomat group calculates the percentage of ambassadors with zero prior diplomatic experience: More than one-third of Obama’s nominees, 34.8 percent, were either donors or otherwise lacked any foreign service experience. Percentages for his two immediate predecessors were about even —29.8 percent for Bush and 28.06 percent for Clinton, according to the diplomat group. The matter gained visibility when Noah Mamet, who bundled $500,000 for Obama, was nominated to be the ambassador to Argentina, a country he had never visited before. Colleen Bradley Bell, who bundled $800,000 for Obama, was nominated to be ambassador to Hungary. Both were confirmed by the Senate, but not without controversy. In a January 2009 news conference, Obama said: “And so, you know, my expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded. You know, are there going to be political appointees to ambassadorships? There probably will be some.”



Former officials: Obama needs to rethink Afghan withdrawal timetable