The GOP quandary: How far right without falling over the edge?

“…Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is at or near the top of most early polls among Republicans, likes to boast how he stuck to conservative principles to win statewide office three times in a centrist state. “To win the center, you don’t have to go to the center, you have to lead,” he said last week during a Tea Party Patriots telephone town hall. Tea party loyalists are still somewhat wary of Walker, though, because of past positions on immigration and government support for ethanol, a big issue in Iowa, site of the nation’s first caucus…”




Employees working fewer hours due to Obamacare: survey

“Some U.S. workers are ringing in the fifth anniversary of Obamacare by working fewer hours, according to a new survey. A new survey by the Society of Human Resource Management released Tuesday found about 14 percent of businesses have reduced part-time hours and another 6 percent plan to do so. Employers are reducing hours to avoid Obamacare’s employer mandate, which requires companies to provide health insurance to all workers that work 30 or more hours a week. In addition, 5 percent of companies already reduced or plan to reduce the total number of employees. The remainder of those surveyed chose not to reduce employee hours. The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed 743 human resources professionals from a variety of companies. This year the law’s employer mandate went into effect for organizations with 100 or more full-time employees, requiring those companies to provide health insurance for 70 percent of their employees. That figure goes up to 95 percent in 2016 and all employees beyond that date. The small business part of the mandate, which affects business with 50-99 full-time employees, goes into effect in 2016. A common criticism with the law is that companies will have to layoff workers or reduce full-time employees to part-time to avoid having to pay for health insurance. If any business violates the mandate, they must pay a fee calculated by the number of employees who don’t have insurance. The Internal Revenue Service has said that a company could pay an excise tax of $100 a day per applicable employee…”



Voters Still Strongly Oppose IRS’ Obamacare Duties

“The head of the Internal Revenue Service acknowledged recently that his agency has fielded less than half of taxpayer telephone calls this year because of its new responsibilities policing Obamacare. But voters still strongly believe the IRS should concentrate on tax collection instead. Just 20% of Likely U.S. Voters think policing public compliance with the new national health care law is a good use of IRS resources. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 68% disagree and believe the IRS should remain focused on collecting taxes. Thirteen percent (13%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.) These attitudes are unchanged from a year ago. In April 2013, 26% said policing compliance with the health care law was a good use of IRS resources, but 58% disagreed. Thirty percent (30%) of voters think the IRS does a good or excellent job collecting taxes in America, given the complexity of the tax code and the size of the country. That’s also unchanged from last year but down from 39% in 2013. Twenty-seven percent (27%) rate the agency’s performance as poor, up from 20% two years ago. Eighteen percent (18%) believe most Americans cheat on their taxes, but 49% disagree. A sizable 33%, however, are not sure. These findings have changed little over the past couple years…”



Low-income people loved Obamacare, but the rest of us…

“The carrots worked pretty well for Obamacare this year. The stick? Not so much. People with higher incomes in 2015 were much less likely to enroll in Obamacare plans than lower-income earners—even when they were offered financial assistance to help pay for their health plans, according to an analysis released Wednesday. And the differences in uptake of Obamacare were dramatic between income groups, with a sharp falloff as people’s annual earnings increased and the amount of subsidies available decreased, the analysis by the Avalere Health consultancy found.Those pronounced drops were particularly striking because they occurred even between groups who are eligible for the most generous kind of Obamacare private plan assistance. A whopping 76 percent of Obamacare-eligible individuals who earned between $11,770 and $17,655 annually actually signed up for a plan this year on the federally run insurance exchange HealthCare.gov, which serves 37 states, Avalere found. That income group represents the low end for qualifying for Obamacare subsidies, and as a rule those people would receive the largest amount of financial aid. But there were steep declines in the next two income groups, even though those people receive not only help paying their monthly premiums, but as with the lower earners remain eligible for financial assistance to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses. Just 41 percent of eligible people earning between 151 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level bought HealthCare.gov plans. And just 30 percent of eligible people in the next income group, earning up to 250 percent of the poverty level, bought such a plan. Only 16 percent of eligible people who earned between $35,427 and $47,080—the high-end Obamacare subsidy recipients—bought a HealthCare.gov plan. And when the subsidies weren’t available, because a person earned more than $47,080, the participation was far lower. Just 2 percent of eligible people above that income enrolled in a HealthCare.gov plan, the Avalere analysis found…”



Pataki: ObamaCare is ‘worst law’ of my lifetime

“Former Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.) marked ObamaCare’s fifth anniversary Wednesday by declaring it the “worst law” of his lifetime. “I can’t say ‘ever,’ but in my lifetime I don’t think there’s been as big a law that’s had as negative an impact,” Pataki, who is considering a run for the White House, said on Newsmax TV’s “MidPoint.” “It is wrong, it should be repealed, it’s unconstitutional,” he continued. “But most important, we have got to pass an alternative and get this out of the way.” Pataki argued that ObamaCare’s implementation in 2010 was an unconstitutional overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system that disturbed coverage for millions of Americans, all while driving up healthcare costs nationwide.

“The tragedy is that this didn’t have to be done,” Pataki told host Ed Berliner. “It has changed healthcare for every single American.”



Marking ObamaCare milestone, Obama to launch alternative-payment push

“President Obama will announce the start of a new initiative Wednesday to promote a major ObamaCare goal in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of the law. The administration is launching the Healthcare Payment Learning and Action Network, an information-sharing forum to urge more healthcare providers to use alternative payments models instead of a traditional fee-for-service payment under Medicare. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services set a goal to tie half of Medicare payments to alternative systems by 2018, a move the White House says will provide better care at a cheaper cost. Obama will kick off the first meeting of the network during a speech at the White House on Wednesday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. The network will hold meetings for state governments, healthcare providers and consumer groups to share “best practices” in working toward that goal, a White House official said. More than 2,800 participants have already registered, according to the administration. Groups participating are asked to set “organization-specific goals for alternative payment models” and report on progress toward achieving those benchmarks, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement. The network will be overseen by an outside contractor, and organizations will not receive funding from the administration for participating in meetings.”



Obama: Obamacare was Republicans’ plan

“President Obama slammed Republicans Wednesday for continuing to war against his signature healthcare law five years in. “It’s working, despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund and defame this law,” Obama said in a speech commemorating the Affordable Care Act’s anniversary of passage. “We’ve made our share of mistakes since we passed this law, but we also know beyond a shred of doubt the law has worked,” he said. “Deficits have been slashed, lives have been saved.” It’s been half a decade since Democrats in Congress passed the healthcare law and it remains arguably the most controversial piece of legislation passed during Obama’s tenure. Democrats spent this week touting its provisions extending coverage to millions of Americans, while Republicans aired their many ongoing complaints about the law. There’s one thing members of both parties agree on: Major reforms are still needed in how healthcare is delivered and paid for. Obama focused on that common ground in the first part of his speech, announcing a network of healthcare providers, payers, advocates and localities his administration is trying to bring together to share ideas on how to improve the quality and cost of care. More than 2,800 organizations — including seven of the country’s 10 biggest insurers — have signed on to the network so far, officials said. But he also addressed the continuing disputes over the law that Republicans have focused on for years. He reminded Republicans that some of the ideas behind the Affordable Care Act — most notably its individual mandate to buy coverage — were once supported by some conservatives, although its Medicaid expansion and some other big parts of the law stem more from liberal thought. “The Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it,” he said…”



Obama to announce next steps after Obamacare

“President Obama will mark his healthcare law’s fifth birthday partly by talking about what it hasn’t accomplished. In a speech Wednesday commemorating his signature domestic achievement, the president will also talk about what he’d like to see happen next with health reform, White House officials said. That involves improving quality in the U.S. healthcare system so that doctors are encouraged to spend more time with their patients, focus on preventing diseases in the first place, coordinate with their patients’ other caregivers and cut down on unnecessary tests and procedures. Towards that end, Obama will announce a network of consumer groups, hospitals, doctors, employers and insurers the administration is dubbing the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network. Officials said Tuesday that more than 2,800 groups are “interested” in joining the network, which will involve the groups making specific commitments that promote healthcare quality, like incentivizing doctors to spend more time with patients or improving communication between specialists and primary care doctors. Those healthcare goals are broadly supported by Republicans, too, although they say the first step toward improving U.S. healthcare would be repealing the Affordable Care Act and starting over. Democrats passed the healthcare law in 2010 without gaining any GOP votes. The network is intended to be the administration’s next step in moving toward improving care quality, after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in January it intends to award 30 percent of Medicare payments through new, innovative ways by the end of next year. “There’s more work to do to ensure every American receives the highest quality of care when they need it,” said White House deputy chief of staff Kristie Canegallo. The American Cancer Society, the American Hospital Association and the AARP are some groups that have already signed on, officials said. So has the National Partnership for Women and Families, the group said Wednesday. “During this week when we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act … it is fitting that we also focus on the ways we are changing our healthcare system to ensure that it delivers value-based, quality care to patients and families,” said the group’s president Debra Ness.”



Obama to mark health law’s anniversary with new initiative on patient care

GOP plots budget moves to scrap law

“President Obama on Wednesday will mark his signature health law’s fifth-anniversary week by launching a doctor-patient network tasked with finding ways to put the quality — and not quantity — of care first, all while reducing costs. Mr. Obama, alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, is slated to extol the Affordable Care Act’s progress so far while tasking the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network with doing more. The White House says its patient-care reforms averted 150,000 re-admissions in 2012-2013 and prevented 50,000 patients deaths while saving about $12 billion in 2010-2013. The administration also wants to tie 30 percent of Medicare payments to the quality of care by 2016 and 50 percent by 2018, mainly through models such as Accountable Care Organizations, which see financial bonuses or penalties based on their performance. While the administration marches on, lawmakers on Capitol Hill will debate budget plans that call for Obamacare’s repeal. Republican-led budget resolutions in both chambers would scrap the 2010 law entirely, although they appear to retain its tax revenue…”



Obama touts, GOP attacks 5-year-old health care law

“President Obama’s health care law is 5 years old, and so is the political debate surrounding it. Obama again praised the law Wednesday for insuring more people, reducing costs and saving lives, while Republicans continued to cite rising insurance prices and canceled policies for many. “In a lot of ways, it’s working better than many of us, including me, anticipated,” Obama said during an event at the White House. The president unveiled a new initiative called the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network, a group of public and private organizations that will look to “share best practices” on how to reduce costs by eliminating unnecessary treatments, tests, paperwork and hospital visits. The White House said that more than 2,800 health care providers and consumer groups have agreed to participate. Since signing the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Obama said that more than 16 million previously uninsured people have been able to get coverage. He said the law has slowed the rate of growth in health care costs and ended discrimination against women and people with pre-existing conditions. “Coverage is up,” Obama said. “Cost growth is at a historic low. Deficits have been slashed. Lives have been saved.” The actual fifth-year anniversary of the law was Monday. Congressional Republicans and other critics say Obamacare has increased costs for many and created an array of bureaucratic problems. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama is misleading people about the law. He cited rising premiums and deductibles and said that employers are cutting wages and hours to avoid falling under the requirements of the law. “Every week, new stories pour in from Ohio families, seniors and small businesses struggling to deal with canceled plans and losing access to doctors,” Boehner said. Health care has been at the center of the last two national elections, with mixed results. Obama won re-election in 2012, despite criticism of the Affordable Care Act by opponent Mitt Romney and other Republicans….”



Democrats take aim at GOP repeal Obamacare ‘gimmick’

“Republicans are determined to pass budgets this week that are balanced and repeal Obamacare. Democrats are just as eager to undermine the GOP’s claims that their budgets balance by calling them “gimmicks.” The biggest gimmick, according to Democrats, is that Republicans would repeal Obamacare but maintain the roughly $1 trillion in revenue that comes from Affordable Care Act taxes. “While claiming to ‘repeal Obamacare’ and stripping away health coverage from millions, the Republican budgets retain the ACA’s savings, claiming they will replace the revenues through unspecified tax reforms,” the White House said in a report on the GOP House and Senate budgets Tuesday. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the number-three Democrat in the Senate, pointed out in an email to reporters that the Republican budgets rely on revenue generated by the law. “Fuzzy math, sleight of hand, and arithmetic acrobatics can disguise but not change the fact that the Republican budgets would devastate programs that the middle class relies upon,” Schumer said. The Obamacare repeal provision is not the only feature of the GOP budgets that Democrats have criticized as an accounting trick, but it is the most consequential one. The health care law included a litany of tax increases, including a 3.8 percent surtax on investment income for high earners, a payroll tax hike for high earners, taxes on people who do not buy health insurance, an excise tax on medical devices, and taxes on indoor tanning. Although Republicans have endlessly criticized those individual taxes as job-killers, they maintain that it is legitimate to raise the same amount of revenue through tax reform. “Our budget repeals every bit of Obamacare including the job-destroying tax hikes. At the same time we call for fundamental tax reform that would raise the same level of revenue as the current tax code but in a fairer, simpler fashion,” said William Allison, a spokesman for House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia. It’s a criticism the GOP has heard in previous budget battles and one that Price anticipated during the roll-out of the budget, and the Democrats have kept up their attacks on the Obamacare “gimmick” in both the Price budget and the Senate version introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming last week…”



Obama mocks GOP on fifth anniversary of Affordable Care Act

“President Obama delivered a staunch defense of the Affordable Care Act on the week of its fifth anniversary Wednesday as he continues his bid to frame the health care law as a success in the face of legal and political challenges from Republicans. “It’s working despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defame and defund it,” Obama said during an event at the White House announcing a new network to help implement the law. “We’ve been promised a lot the past five years that didn’t turn out to bet the case: death panels, doom, a serious alternative from Republicans in Congress.” Obama also appeared to endorse a budding bipartisan agreement between House leaders that would permanently change a funding formula for payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients, replacing a system that was created in the 1990s but was regularly “fixed” because Congress did not want to cut payments to doctors with elderly patients. Some Senate Democrats have expressed concerns with elements of the plan. “As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system,” Obama said. “I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill, which would be really exciting. I love it when Congress passes bipartisan bills I can sign. It’s always very encouraging.” More than 16 million people who were previously uninsured now have medical coverage under the law, which is generally viewed as the president’s signature legislative achievement. But the law, passed by Congress in 2010, is facing a Supreme Court ruling this spring that could wipe out subsidies for millions of them. The administration has not announced a backup if the court rules portions of the law unconstitutional. “Kicking millions off insurance will somehow make us more free?” Obama asked incredulously. Republicans, meanwhile, have continued their political assault, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has been one of the loudest critics and announced this week he will run for the GOP nomination for the White House in 2016. Cruz said this week that although he remains committed to repealing the law, he and his family would sign up for coverage on the federal exchanges because his wife will take a leave from her job at Goldman Sachs when she helps his campaign….”



Obama pokes fun at GOP critics of healthcare reform



Five years in, Obama taunts GOP over Obamacare’s success

“President Obama declared victory on the five-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, saying the law has lived up to its promises, and he poked at Republicans for the doom and gloom predictions he says have failed to live up to the hype. “The bottom line is this for the American people: the Affordable Care Act, this law, is saving money for families and for businesses. This law is also saving lives,” the president said. “It’s working, despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund and defame this law…it’s not the fiscal disaster critics warned about for five years.” Mr. Obama spoke at the kickoff meeting of the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network, a group that brings the public and private sector together to continue making improvements to the health care system that build upon the law. The president ticked off a list of statistics he says prove the law’s success: a reduction in hospital admission rates and preventable patient deaths, insurance for 16 million Americans who did not have it before and a slowdown in the growth of healthcare spending. But for the president, one of the biggest successes has been Republicans’ failure to undo the law despite dozens of attempts to challenge it in both Congress and the courts. He did not let those challenges go unnoticed. “We have been promised a lot of things these last five years that didn’t turn out to be the case: death panels, doom, a serious alternative from Republicans in Congress,” he said. Mr. Obama says there are two reasons they can’t find an alternative. First, “The Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it – based on conservative market based principles developed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans in congress and deployed by a guy named Mitt Romney in Massachusetts to great effect,” he said. And, if they want to take credit for the law, he added, “[T]hey can. I’m happy to share credit.” The second reason, Mr. Obama said, is because health reform is so challenging…”



Obama On Obamacare Anniversary: ‘We’ve Made Our Share Of Mistakes’ [VIDEO]

“During a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama noted that “we’ve made our share of mistakes” when it came to the law. “[H]ealth reform is really hard,” Obama said, “and the people here who are in the trenches know that. Good people from both parties have tried and failed to get it done for 100 years, because every public policy has some trade-offs, especially when it affects one-sixth of the American economy and applies to the very personal needs of every individual American.” “And we’ve made our share of mistakes since we passed this law,” he admitted. “But we also know beyond a shred of a doubt that the policy has worked. Coverage is up. Cost growth is at a historic low. Deficits have been slashed.  Lives have been saved.”



Obama rebukes GOP for lack of healthcare plan

“Five years after the passage of his signature healthcare law, President Obama took a jab at the Republican Party for still lacking its own plan to replace it. “We have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case,” Obama said at a White House event marking the healthcare law’s progress. “Death panels. Doom. A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress.” Obama’s scolding of the GOP’s healthcare politics came just minutes after he endorsed a Medicare deal that has been led by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — who is also a sworn foe of ObamaCare. He also joked that ObamaCare could not have happened without the help of Republicans. He said his law was influenced by healthcare reform plans from “a guy named Mitt Romney” and the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation. “The Affordable Care Act was their plan before I adopted it,” Obama said. “If they want to take credit for this law, they can. I’m happy to share it.” Obama has consistently chided congressional Republicans for voting more than 50 times to repeal pieces of his healthcare law without offering a full replacement plan. Republicans argue that they have introduced several frameworks for healthcare reform. The GOP push for an ObamaCare “plan B” has intensified in the wake of a Supreme Court case that threatens to gut the healthcare law this spring. A half-dozen plans are now underway from senior Republicans including House Ways and Means Committee Chairmen Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). At the White House gathering to mark the law’s fifth anniversary, Obama said it is working “without a shred of a doubt.” “It’s working despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund and defame this law,” Obama said, rattling off numbers that show the country’s declining uninsured rate and the declining costs of the country’s healthcare overall. He also warned the “folks who are basing their entire political agenda on repealing the law” to get a new strategy — an unstated reference to the Tea Party and 2016 candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “You’ve got to explain why kicking millions of people off their insurance is somehow going to make us more free,” he said. “Or why forcing millions of families to pay millions of dollars more is somehow going to make us more secure.”



Obamacare: Not as Bad as It Could Have Been, But Still Awful

Health care is worse off, and Americans are less free.

“The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, celebrates its fifth anniversary this week hanging by the slender thread of a Supreme Court decision, due sometime in June. The anniversary passed with surprisingly little fanfare for such a controversial law. There were few celebrations by supporters or protests by opponents. This may well reflect simple weariness with the issue. The law remains remarkably unpopular. The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows 52.5 percent opposed and 42 percent in favor. But much of the public appears to have settled for resigned grumpiness. After all, the worst news — canceled policies, the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov — is mostly in the past. Other expected problems have not come to pass just yet. On the other hand, supporters can point to little evidence of success beyond a modest increase in coverage and the fact that things haven’t been as bad as they might have been. Clearly there has been some increase in insurance coverage as a result of the ACA. If you give something away, essentially for free, some people will take you up on the offer. The most recent Gallup survey shows the uninsured rate fell from 17.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 12.9 percent in the same quarter of 2014. Some of that is likely due to the economic recovery. If people are able to go back to work, they can get coverage through their jobs. The ACA did help, however. The most recent estimates suggest that roughly 11.7 million people have selected plans through the exchanges, and roughly 10 million will eventually have paid enrollment if attrition levels are similar to last year. Surveys suggest that more than half of exchange enrollees were not previously insured, but others were. These people clearly benefited from the availability of subsidized insurance. Through February, 9.25 million more people enrolled in Medicaid in expansion states compared with prior average enrollment. Since studies show that Medicaid provides few if any benefits over being uninsured, it remains an open question whether these people are really better off. Still, if expanded coverage is the sole standard by which Obamacare is to be judged, there have been some gains. Of course, there are also signs that future gains will be harder to come by. States running their own exchanges had slower enrollment growth in the second year than those with federal exchanges, in part because federal states had catch-up growth after the HealthCare.gov fiasco. The slower growth could make it close to impossible to meet the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection for 2016, when exchange enrollment would have to more than double to meet the 21 million target. That would take something of a minor miracle. Of course there is another side of the coin. Millions of Americans lost coverage that they were perfectly happy with. According to a survey by the Associated Press, at least 4.7 million people lost coverage during the ACA’s first year. This did not encapsulate every state because some states did not keep track, so it is likely the actual number exceeded 5 million. And, it continues. Another 1 million to 2 million lost their plans in the second year. Most did eventually find other coverage, but often with different physician networks or at higher cost. The disruption they suffered should not be minimized. In the “things could be worse” category, premiums do not appear to have risen as fast as ACA opponents predicted. On the other hand, they are still a far cry from the $2,500 in annual premium savings that President Obama promised us. A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that enrollment-weighted premiums in the individual health-insurance market increased by 24.4 percent more on average across all states than they would have had they simply followed state-level seasonally adjusted trends. That was probably a one-time hit, but premiums are expected to continue to rise, albeit more slowly. In the exchanges’ second year, premiums were estimated to average a 2 to 5 percent increase….”



Obama endorses Medicare deal

“President Obama signaled Wednesday he’s prepared to sign a bipartisan deal on Medicare that is emerging in Congress. “I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill,” the president said during a speech at the White House. “I love when Congress passes bipartisan bills that I can sign, it’s very encouraging,” he joked to applause. The emerging “doc fix” deal would repeal a Medicare rule known as the sustainable growth rate, which triggers automatic cuts in payments to doctors. The package would also extend for two years federal funding under ObamaCare for community health centers and a children’s healthcare program. The House is expected to vote Thursday on the package, which is likely to gain broad bipartisan support. The deal has been in the works for months, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) taking a leading role. While House leaders have praised the package, their counterparts in the Senate have yet to endorse it. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was non-committal Tuesday when asked about the legislation. “I personally am going to wait until we see it having passed the House before we start speculating what we need to do with it, if anything,” Reid told reporters….”



Obama says he’s ready to sign Medicare doctor payment fix

“President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he’s ready to sign good bipartisan legislation to fix Medicare’s doctor payment problem, without endorsing any specific legislation. Without a fix, doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees, the consequence of a 1990s budget law that Congress has repeatedly waived. The House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill with rare support from both top leaders in the House that would permanently fix the problem. Obama backed the idea of a fix at a White House event marking this week’s five-year anniversary of his signing the Affordable Care Act, while stopping short of backing the House compromise. “As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system. I have my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill,” he said. The House bills calls for a period of basically stable reimbursements, followed by gradually shifting a larger share of doctors’ pay so that it’s keyed to quality, rather than quantity, of service. The Medicare fix is packaged with an extension of children’s health insurance, funding for community health centers and dozens of other provisions. The outlook in the Senate is unclear…”



Obama says he’s ready to sign Medicare doctor payment fix

“President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he’s ready to sign good bipartisan legislation to fix Medicare’s doctor payment problem, without endorsing any specific legislation. Without a fix, doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees, the consequence of a 1990s budget law that Congress has repeatedly waived. The House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill with rare support from both top leaders in the House that would permanently fix the problem. Obama backed the idea of a fix at a White House event marking this week’s five-year anniversary of his signing the Affordable Care Act, while stopping short of backing the House compromise. “As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system. I have my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill,” he said. Asked later if that means Obama would sign the House bill, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration doesn’t have a position on it. But Earnest said the White House puts “a lot of stock” into Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s position in support of the legislation. Republican House Speaker John Boehner also is behind the bill, in an unusual show of bipartisanship on health care amid the battles over President Barack Obama’s overhaul. “If something bipartisan emerges from the House, that would be good news,” Earnest said…”



Obama ‘Ready to Sign’ Bipartisan Doc Fix (Updated)



Congressional Budget Office: Medicare doc bill cost $214B

“The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the bipartisan House deal protecting doctors from steep cuts in Medicare fees would cost $214 billion over the coming decade. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, the budget office says $141 billion of those costs would come from increasing federal deficits. The rest would be paid for with added costs for Medicare beneficiaries, mostly higher premiums for the highest-earning recipients, and payment cuts to nursing homes and other providers. Republicans have been saying some of the agreement’s provisions would produce large savings beginning a decade from now. The budget office says it is hard to make such a projection. It says the measure could yield savings or added costs in the second decade after enactment, with the middle ground being small savings….”



AARP opposes Medicare bill which reduces its profits

“A major player in health insurance is resisting a bipartisan Medicare bill that would hurt the company’s bottom line. That’s to be expected. Here’s the odd part: The insurance giant is AARP. AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is most famous for its $16-a-year membership card that gets you discounts everywhere from the movie theater to the pharmacy. In Washington, AARP is known as the powerful seniors lobby — the organization has reported just under $200 million in lobbying expenses over the past 10 years. But as AARP flexes its muscle on the current Medicare bill, it’s worth recounting AARP’s less public but more lucrative side: its insurance business. AARP officials insist that their lobbying agenda is solely in the interest of seniors, and not at all tied to its insurance business. Indeed, they point to past legislative fights where AARP opposed policies that could have helped its insurance business…”



Obama’s backing gives Medicare deal a boost



Obama backs Medicare deal, pressuring Senate




The president finally arrived eight minutes after being introduced, but did not offer an explanation or apology to the crowd

“Today at 10:30 AM ET, President Obama was scheduled to speak at the White House’s “Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network Kickoff Meeting.” His introducer, seemingly sensing the president was tardy, gamely tried stretching out his remarks. Then, at around 10:35, apparently receiving word the president was ready to go, the audience was encouraged to applaud for the next speaker, “the president of the United States!” Then an awkward silence fell over the crowd as the president failed to show. Spectators could be seen putting down their cameras, losing hope. Finally, nine minutes later, the president arrived. No explanation or apology was offered…”



Off ramp for Obamacare is what the doctor ordered

“Earlier this week, the Affordable Care Act turned 5, and it has not been an easy road. Americans have been saddled with countless delays of key portions of the law, skyrocketing health care costs, complicated tax procedures, and don’t get me started on the Website. In half a decade, one of the only successes Obamacare ever had was uniting the country against it. According to recent polls, approval for the law is as low as 37 percent. It’s no surprise that most Democrats that voted for the law stayed away from talking about the ACA on its birthday. As the country turns away from President Obama’s signature legislation, the U.S. Supreme Court may be doing the same. Oral arguments were heard in early March in the case of King v. Burwell. This case will determine if the president’s administration overstepped its authority in providing taxpayer-funded subsidies to individuals that signed up for health insurance using the federal exchange. A grand total of 37 states could be in jeopardy of losing the Obamacare subsidies they shouldn’t have had in the first place. A clear reading of the law shows states that didn’t setup their own exchange never should have qualified for the subsidies. The ACA plainly states that individuals can qualify for subsidies if they purchase insurance through an exchange “established by the state.” Individuals in states like Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Utah, Wisconsin and many others could face some dramatic hikes in health care costs – estimated at 256 percent – if the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies in states with the federal exchange….”



Obamacare Exemptions: How To Avoid A Penalty



House Officials Not Impressed With Vitter’s Obamacare Probe

“As part of his ongoing investigation into congressional enrollment in Obamacare, Sen. David Vitter is taking on the House of Representatives, asking Speaker John A. Boehner to push House officials to comply with his inquiry. But neither the speaker’s office nor other House officers seem likely to do so. “I am writing to advise you of my efforts and also to request any assistance that you or your office can offer in obtaining the cooperation of the House of Representatives in this important investigation,” the Louisiana Republican wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Boehner. On Wednesday, the Speaker’s office indicated it will defer to House Chief Administrative Officer Ed Cassidy on this matter — and Cassidy has already argued the House does not have to provide information to the Senate committee. Vitter’s office did not return multiple requests for comment Wednesday. In February, Vitter used his position as chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee to launch an investigation into congressional health care enrollment in the District of Columbia’s small-business exchange. Vitter argued that Congress should not be allowed to enroll in the exchange because it is not a small business. He requested information from House and Senate officials regarding Congress’ small-business exchange applications. A recent taxpayer lawsuit led by the watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained the congressional applications through the Freedom of Information Act. In the applications, the House and Senate claimed to have fewer than 50 employees and were also classified as “state/local government.” Vitter sought to uncover which congressional employees filled out the applications and whether offices were directed to “falsify” them. In response to Vitter’s request, Cassidy wrote in a letter to Vitter on Feb. 19 that the Senate committee does not have jurisdiction over House internal operations. But that did not satisfy Vitter, who sent an email and another letter to Cassidy requesting the House cooperate with his investigation. When he did not receive the information, he decided to take the issue straight to Boehner. “Despite three separate requests, as of yet officials of the House of Representatives have not cooperated at all in this investigation,” Vitter explained to Boehner. “Their refusal gives the impression that they may be attempting to hide information from the American public about how the House of Representatives successfully bypassed the law to qualify for taxpayer funded benefits.” However, since the speaker’s office indicated Wednesday it is deferring to the CAO, it is unlikely the House will provide Vitter with any information, given that Cassidy previously argued the House is not under Vitter’s jurisdiction…”



Jindal health care budget has gaps, cuts, unsure financing

“Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hospital privatization deals that provide care for uninsured patients are precariously balanced in next year’s budget recommendations, with one-third of their financing reliant on tax changes uncertain to win passage from state lawmakers. The House Appropriations Committee was told Wednesday that the governor’s $9.5 billion health care spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 relies on $407 million from Jindal’s proposal to shrink spending on certain tax breaks. Most of that uncertain money, $332 million, is plugged into payments for Jindal’s contracts that turned over the LSU-run hospitals and clinics to private managers. If those dollars don’t show up, hospital payments would be cut from more than $1.1 billion to $815 million under the governor’s budget. “If that (money) is not seen, do you foresee a possibility of any of these partnerships coming back to the table, backing out, being revised?” Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, asked Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert. Kliebert replied: “Certainly, I would see the possibility of the partners coming back and some requesting to be out of the contract, out of their agreement, or they would have to significantly reduce services.” Already, the private operators of the state-owned hospitals and clinics say they need $142 million more than Jindal’s budget provides – even with the money from the tax break scale-backs. Nearly $88 million of that request would pay for the hospital in New Orleans, which will shift services from an interim facility to a larger, new hospital this summer…”



Cruz eyes insurance via Obamacare, a law he vows to scrap

“GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz could soon be buying his family’s health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act he has vowed to dismantle. Cruz, whose Senate filibuster against the law he derides as “Obamacare” led to a partial government shutdown in 2013, is looking for health insurance because his wife, Heidi Cruz, took an unpaid leave from her job in the Houston office of Goldman Sachs as Cruz announced his presidential bid. That meant the family would soon lose access to health insurance through Mrs. Cruz’s job, triggering a need for the Cruz family to find a new policy. The first-term senator from Texas said he is looking at options available on a health insurance exchange, or a clearinghouse of policies available to Americans who don’t receive coverage through their employers. Obama’s health care law created the exchange system. Under an amendment to the law crafted by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the government can only offer members of Congress and their staff health care insurance that’s sold through an exchange. “We will presumably go on the exchange and sign up for health care, and we’re in the process of transitioning over to do that,” Cruz said in an interview with The Des Moines Register…”



Ha Ha, Ted Cruz Has To Comply With A Law He Wants To Repeal, Ha Ha Ha

““Surely Senate Democrats can provide better evidence that a law #works than the fact that people with large public profiles comply with it.” So says Jim Antle. Check out his must-read piece about the long-term thinkers who are crowing about Ted Cruz complying with Obamacare, “even though” he wants to repeal it. I don’t have anything to add to Antle’s take, except for the barrage of tweets I’ve already fired off at these geniuses. So here you go:…”



Media freakout over Ted Cruz buying ObamaCare insurance reaches day two



Ted Cruz’s spokesman: Obamacare decision still in the works

“Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the first major Republican candidate to jump into the 2016 presidential race, raised some eyebrows by telling news outlets in recent days that he had plans to sign up for health insurance through Obamacare — a law he’s repeatedly vowed to scrap. “We’ll be getting new health insurance and we’ll presumably do it through my job with the Senate, and so we’ll be on the federal exchange with millions of others on the federal exchange,” he said Tuesday on CNN. Mr. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is taking unpaid leave from her job at Goldman Sachs, leaving the family without health care coverage. A Cruz spokesman told The Associated Press on Tuesday, however, that Mr. Cruz and his family had not yet settled on an option or the financial implications of the choice. “Let’s let them make a decision on what coverage they’ll get before we start speculating on every variable,” spokesman Rick Tyler said…”



Now Ted Cruz says he’s probably signing up for Obamacare, and he’s definitely still trying to kill it.

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will continue to make repealing Obamacare a central part of his presidential campaign, he said Wednesday — even though he’s still likely going to enroll in the program. Cruz and his family have been on his wife Heidi’s health insurance plan for the past few years. Heidi Cruz took a unpaid leave of absence from Goldman Sachs to help her husband run for president — a leave that doesn’t include benefits. “As a consequence, we’re  like a lot of other people who are transitioning between jobs looking for health care and we are transitioning over. We will in all likelihood get health care through my employer,” Cruz said on the Mike Gallagher Show Wednesday morning. As a member of Congress, that means the Affordable Care Act. Cruz said he and his family will likely go on the exchange, but that he will not accept a 75 percent employer contribution to his health care costs that is he is eligible for as a member of Congress. Cruz slammed the administration’s decision to continue the congressional employer contribution, saying that Obama “illegally ignored the law and granted an exemption for Congress.” Cruz said he will buy insurance for himself and his family with his own money. “I’m going to purchase health insurance with my own funds for my family like millions of Americans, and one of the real challenges is Obamacare has so decimated the individual market there are very few options for someone looking for health insurance,” he said. And despite having to get coverage for his family through the law, Cruz said he still plans to repeal it if he is elected president. “It is my intention to campaign every day on repealing Obamacare, and in 2017 if we win this race I hope and expect to sign legislation repealing every word of Obamacare,” he said…”



Media make fun of Ted Cruz Obamacare experience



Cruz: Media Playing “Gotcha Games” With My Possible Obamacare Enrollment



Fournier: Cruz Signing Up For Obamacare “Not A Big Story;” Supporters Are Spinning This Into His Favor



White House welcomes Ted Cruz to Obamacare

“The White House said Wednesday that Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a big opponent of Obamacare, will learn to enjoy the benefits of the program. “If those reports are true, then what he will find is the same thing that millions of Americans across the country have found, which is that there are good, quality, affordable health care plans that are available because of the Affordable Care Act,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. Mr. Cruz, who announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination this week, said he will probably shop for health insurance on an exchange because his wife, Heidi, is taking a leave of absence from her job while he campaigns for 2016. Members of Congress without insurance are required to sign up through health care exchanges created by Obamacare. Asked by a reporter to comment on the irony, Mr. Earnest didn’t take the bait. “I have noticed that a number of other people have pointed out the irony,” he said. “I’m seeking to merely point out the common experience that it seems that the Cruz family may be sharing in.”…”





Appeals court sets April 17 date for hearing on Obama immigration action

“A court hearing has been set for April 17 on whether a temporary hold on President Barack Obama’s immigration executive action should be lifted, a federal appeals court announced Tuesday. Obama’s executive actions, which would permit as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally to remain here, were put on hold by a preliminary injunction issued last month by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas. The injunction was issued at the request of a coalition of 26 states, led by Texas that filed a lawsuit to overturn Obama’s immigration plan. The states argue Obama’s action was unconstitutional. The Justice Department earlier this month filed an emergency motion with the 5th Circuit, asking it to lift Hanen’s preliminary injunction, arguing the order interferes with the Homeland Security Department’s ability to protect the country and “secure our borders.” The states say they will suffer irreversible economic harm if the injunction is lifted. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said each side will have an hour to make their arguments about the injunction during the April hearing. The scheduling of the hearing was part of a court order that granted a request by the Justice Department to expedite its appeal of Hanen’s Feb. 16 ruling. The Justice Department had asked Hanen to lift the injunction while the case was appealed to the 5th Circuit. But Hanen put that request on hold until he heard from federal prosecutors about allegations that the U.S. government had misled him about the implementation of part of the immigration plan. During a court hearing last week, a Justice Department attorney apologized to Hanen for any confusion about how more than 108,000 people received three-year reprieves from deportation before the judge made a decision on the injunction. Hanen has yet to decide if he will issue sanctions against the Justice Department if he decides that the U.S. government had begun implementing an expansion of a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children…”



Immigration Reform 2015: Federal Appeals Court To Hold Oral Arguments On Injunction Blocking Obama Executive Orders

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said Tuesday it will hold a two-hour oral argument session in New Orleans next month to determine if it should place a stay on U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen’s injunction against President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Hanen approved the injunction request last month by the 26 states that allege Obama’s actions were unconstitutional. The oral arguments, which will take place in New Orleans on April 17, will determine if the injunction will be temporarily blocked while the federal government appeals Hanen’s decision, according to Politico. In addition, the Court of Appeals approved the federal government’s request to expedite a merits appeal process related to the states’ lawsuit against the Obama administration and set a schedule through May. “The rule of law is at the very heart of our case against President Obama’s lawless immigration action,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement. “We are a nation of laws, and we are proud to lead a bipartisan coalition of 26 states fighting this administration’s unilateral and unconstitutional use of executive power. We will vigorously oppose the president’s illegal amnesty plan in court.” The 5th Circuit stressed its order was not an attempt to weigh in on Hanen’s current dispute with Justice Department attorneys who may have misled him on when the federal government would enact certain aspects of Obama’s plan to shield some 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation. “Nothing in this order is intended to affect or constitute a comment on any ongoing proceedings in the district court,” the order said. Hanen presided over a federal hearing last week in Brownsville, Texas, during which he said he would consider sanctions against the Justice Department if he finds sufficient evidence that officials lied to him about Obama’s program. Justice Department attorney Kathleen Hartnett allegedly told Hanen that the expansion of a program to provide more than 100,000 illegal immigrants with protection from deportation and a three-year window of deferred action would not be implemented before the injunction took effect. But when Hanen issued the injunction on Feb. 16, the immigrants had already received the protection….”



Federal Appeals Court to Hear Arguments on Immigration Ruling

Texas federal judge blocked Obama’s immigration actions

“A federal appellate court Tuesday agreed to hear an expedited appeal of a ruling by a federal judge in Texas that blocked President Barack Obama’s immigration actions. Granting the Obama administration’s request for an expedited appeal, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing on April 17 to consider the administration’s challenge to a ruling last month that temporarily blocked it from implementing a sweeping…”



Christie supporting lawsuit challenging Obama immigration reform

“Gov. Chris Christie is supporting Texas and other states suing the federal government over President Obama’s amnesty program for unauthorized immigrants. Christie this week joined governors in three states – Texas, Louisiana and South Dakota – in a court brief opposing the federal government’s request to implement executive orders, according to court documents. The lawsuit stems from court proceedings initiated by 26 states after Obama announced wide-reaching executive actions on immigration in November. New Jersey and the governor did not join the lawsuit. Rather, the governor opted to weigh in with the court arguing Obama’s policies should not take effect. Christie has been critical of Obama’s immigration policies, but had yet to publicly take a position on the lawsuit that Texas officials are spearheading. The news of Christie joining the lawsuit took some within New Jersey good-government groups by surprise, including Ari Rosmarin, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “When the lawsuit was first filed the state took no action,” Rosmarin said. “Now, to see Christie enter himself as governor on to this brief with the likes of governors of Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota is really shocking and shameful,” he said. “These are not New Jersey values.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration filed an amici curiae brief, or a friend of the court brief, earlier this week with the U.S. Court of Appeals. The filing — which Christie and the governors of Louisiana and South Dakota also signed onto — opposes the U.S. Department of Justice’s request to implement programs that would give some unauthorized immigrants the ability to work and obtain a driver’s license. A Christie spokesman didn’t immediately respond for comment on the brief. The filing argues the governors’ states would be victim to “irreparable injuries” if the federal governments motion to implement the programs – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents – is approved. “The question presented is whether the president can unilaterally legalize the presence of millions of people and unilaterally give them myriad legal benefits, including work permits, Medicare, Social Security and tax credits,” the filing reads…”



Christie joins legal fight against Obama immigration reform



Chris Christie attacks Obama over deportation amnesty



Did you know Obama just took new executive action on immigration?

“This week President Obama took unilateral executive action — again — to change the nation’s immigration laws. Almost no one noticed. Obama intends to make it easier to bring more foreign guest workers to the United States — likely at significant cost to workers already here — by loosening the rules governing something known as the L-1B visa program. Under the program, a multinational company with offices in the United States can move workers from abroad to live and work in the U.S. for as long as five years in what is known as an intra-company transfer. There are almost no rules concerning what those workers can be paid, so there is no barrier to a company firing American employees and bringing in workers from foreign facilities to replace them at much lower pay. Companies who transfer workers to the U.S. through an L-1B visa have to show that those workers bring some sort of “specialized knowledge” to the job — that is, they have particular knowledge that would be hard, if not impossible, to find elsewhere in the United States. Obama plans to broaden the definition of “specialized knowledge” so much that it could conceivably used to cover just about any foreign worker a company wants to bring here…”



IG: Turns Out Homeland Security Is a Favor Factory, Too

“The Washington Post reveals that the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General figured out . . . what most cynics figured out a long time ago: Not long before he became governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe received special treatment on behalf of his electric-car company from a top official at the Department of Homeland Security, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general. McAuliffe was among several politically powerful individuals from both parties, including Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), seeking special visas for foreign investors through a program administered by the department. But intervention on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company by Alejandro Mayorkas, now the department’s No. 2 official, “was unprecedented,” according to the report. The long-anticipated report found no evidence of law-breaking. But members of the department’s staff perceived Mayorkas’s actions as “politically motivated,” and the report concluded that he had “created an appearance of favoritism and special access.” This was a big deal, covered extensively on Campaign Spot . . . two years ago: The Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating to see whether officials gave special treatment to GreenTech because of McAuliffe’s political connections. McAuliffe was central to GreenTech’s effort to get DHS to reverse decisions on visas: When Department of Homeland Security officials balked at certain visa requests, McAuliffe and [GreenTech business partner Anthony] Rodham tried to go over their heads to keep the endeavor — called Project Mastiff — going. In a December 2010 letter, McAuliffe complained to then–Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that her underlings ‘halted Project Mastiff in its tracks.’ According to Senator Chuck Grassley, a senior career employee at DHS wrote in response to a question from the press office about whether Greentech had received special treatment: We absolutely gave special treatment to Green Tech at the directive of D1. D1 was working directly with the R[egional] C[enter]’s atty. . . . Additionally, I would call a wholesale rewrite of the AAO’s decision by the front office special treatment. “D1″ is an apparent reference to Alejandro Mayorkas, director of DHS’s Citizenship and Immigration Services. Back in July 2013, I wrote, “wonder if the investigation will be resolved before November of this year.” Hey, just 20 months, a year and a half into McAuliffe’s term as governor. The Post notes: Mayorkas’s handling of the EB-5 program was questioned publicly in 2013, when he was under consideration for the No. 2 spot at the Department of Homeland Security. Half a dozen whistleblowers had complained to the inspector general and to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) in 2012 and 2013 about favoritism in the granting of the visas. After contentious hearings, Mayorkas was confirmed in December 2013…”



Report criticizes official who helped Dems with visa program

“When influential Democrats with stakes in different investment groups needed help securing visas as part of a complicated foreign investor program, they sought out a fellow Democrat who just happened to be in charge of the immigration agency overseeing their applications. Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the time, took up their causes, according to a report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general. Investigators say Mayorkas improperly intervened in three cases involving prominent Democrats, including a company run by the youngest brother of likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the report released Tuesday, investigators said Mayorkas helped efforts to secure the visas in ways that created the appearance of favoritism and special access. That, in turn, caused resentment among career government employees, managers and lawyers. The agency’s inspector general, John Roth, said he could not suggest a motive for Mayorkas, a longtime Democrat who served on President Barack Obama’s transition team after his 2008 election and was U.S. attorney in California under President Bill Clinton. Roth did not accuse Mayorkas of violating any laws and acknowledged that Mayorkas sometimes declined to become involved in cases because he said he did not think it would be appropriate. Mayorkas said in a statement that he disagreed with the inspector general’s findings but that “I will certainly learn from it and from this process.” He added: “There was erroneous decision-making and insufficient security vetting of cases. I could not and did not turn my back on my responsibility to address those grave problems. I made improving the program a priority and I did so in a hands-on manner.” The U.S. government’s investor-visa program, known as EB-5, allows foreigners to obtain visas to live permanently in the U.S. with their spouse and children if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for American citizens. Approved investors can become legal permanent residents after two years and later can become U.S. citizens….”



Lawmakers to Question Top Officials about Controversial Visa Program for Wealthy Foreigners

“Republicans in Congress voiced strong objections Tuesday in response to a scathing Homeland Security investigation that found a senior official appeared to give special treatment to politically-connected applicants when he ran a little-known federal program that offers visas to those who invest $500,000 in a job-creating business. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the committee chairman, said he viewed the findings of the Homeland Security Inspector General “extremely concerning” and said he will hold hearings Thursday to determine if further investigation is needed. “These allegations appear to be at odds with [the immigration agency’s] expressed mission to ‘administer the nation’s immigration system fairly, honestly and correctly,'” McCaul said. The Inspector General’s investigation focused on the leadership of Alejandro Mayorkas, who served as director of the immigration program known as EB-5, an obscure but increasingly popular method for obtaining highly-sought-after American Green Cards. The program caters to wealthy foreigners, requiring them to invest $500,000 or sometimes $1 million in a qualifying U.S. project that promises to create jobs. In late 2013, Mayorkas was promoted by President Obama to Deputy Secretary of the department over objections from Republicans who had already begun to hear rumblings of problems with his handling of the immigration program. The IG report came on the heels of an ABC News investigation that revealed that a number of visa recipients were approved despite objections from career officials, who found instances where foreign applicants accused of fraud, money laundering, even involvement in child pornography, had received permission to move to the U.S. The ABC News investigation also found evidence that spies and even possible terrorists had attempted to exploit the visa program to enter the country. The Inspector General’s report focused on allegations that Mayorkas had exerting improper influence on behalf of politically connected EB-5 applicants. “The juxtaposition of Mr. Mayorkas’ communication with external stakeholders on specific matters outside the normal procedures, coupled with favorable action that deviated from the regulatory scheme designed to ensure fairness and evenhandedness in adjudicating benefits, created an appearance of favoritism and special access,” the report found…”



White House calls embattled Mayorkas ‘effective leader’

“The White House Wednesday defended the actions of a top administration official who caved to political pressure to approve immigration applications from wealthy foreigners. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas hasn’t been disciplined because he is an exemplary leader who is needed to carry out reforms of the visa program that an independent investigator found he had abused. “Mr. Mayorkas is still at the Department of Homeland Security because he is a decorated public servant and an effective leader of that organization,” Mr. Earnest said. Inspector General John Roth said Tuesday that Mr. Mayorkas meddled in three cases, creating “an appearance of favoritism and special access.” Those cases involved major Democrats — former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, Sen. Harry Reid, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Anthony Rodham, brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — who made personal appeals for better treatment. In each instance, Mr. Mayorkas complied, often immediately after speaking with one of the well-connected Democrats. Mr. Earnest said people in both parties have asked Mr. Mayorkas for “assistance” in trying to make the EB-5 visa program work better. “Certainly we would expect the department to do that under the leadership of Mr. Mayorkas,” Mr. Earnest said…”



WH Defends ‘Decorated Public Servant’ Who Gave Favoritism, Special Visas To Hillary’s Brother [VIDEO]

“The White House defended Alejandro Mayorkas, former director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, one day after a damaging Inspector General report emerged showing he gave favored projects to Democratic officials. During Wednesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest called Mayorkas a “decorated public servant,” even though the IG report released Tuesday showed the DHS official gave special treatment to the likes of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Tony Rodham, the brother of Hillary Clinton. “Mr. Mayorkas is still at the Department of Homeland Security because he is a decorated public servant and an effective leader of that organization,” Earnest said when asked why Mayorkas remained at the department. “[W]e certainly value the kind of contribution that he has made to the effect of management at the department and he has played an important role in implementing needed reforms in that department.” Fox News’ Ed Henry pushed back against Earnest’s statement, asking the spokesman again why Mayorkas continues to retain his job after he “was going around the normal channels” and “career officials” to make sure Clinton’s brother and other Democratic officials were taken care of. “To be clear, Ed, the Inspector General, who, as you point out, did take a close and independent look at this, did not suggest that these individuals weren’t deserving of a visa,” Earnest said. “What he suggested is merely that the process didn’t work very well. And frankly, that’s exactly the problem that…”



Obama Guides More Foreign Workers Into US Job Market

“President Barack Obama implemented his announced plan to help more foreign workers get temporary jobs in the U.S. Tuesday, issuing new guidance that will expand the L-1B visa program. The memo, combined with Obama’s announcement Monday that “hundreds of thousands” of guest workers and their employers could benefit, will put pressure on immigration officials to accept more L-1B visa petitions. These visas allow foreign companies to send employees with “specialized knowledge” to the states for up to seven years, which is supposed to incentivize them to make broader investments in the U.S. economy. But businesses have figured out how to abuse the program, and are using it to replace American workers with dramatically cheaper foreign labor. The new guidelines, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, further loosen already broad requirements foreign workers and their employers must meet to qualify for the visa. And immigration officials can dole out as many visas as they deem appropriate, because no official cap is in place. “This will lead to more offshoring of American jobs,” Ron Hira, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology who is an expert in offshore outsourcing and industrial policy, told The Daily Caller News Foundation…”



How Democrats’ coziness with business hurts workers

“The Republicans have a real opportunity to connect with voters and win big in 2016. But to do so, they’ll have to get over their traditional love for Big Business. Will they be smart enough to do that? The prospects don’t look especially bright. But the fact is that many big businesses are unpopular with the public, aligned with the Democrats, and wide open for attack. And after eight years of the Obama administration’s naked cronyism and support of Wall Street even as the middle class has suffered, the opportunities are there. One of the most appealing targets would be the tech industry’s wage-suppressing hiring habits. Not only have tech giants like Apple and Google engaged in what a federal court called an “overarching conspiracy” to prevent wage competition, but Silicon Valley firms also abuse H-1B visas to bring in immigrant competition at lower wages, a practice that’s now spreading to other industries. (In Los Angeles, Southern California Edison is firing workers and replacing them with immigrants now). How can the GOP take advantage? First, a much stricter prevailing wage law for H-1B visas, with big damages against violators designed to make plaintiffs’ attorneys zero in on this area. You can import foreign help if you want, but you have to pay those Indian or Chinese software engineers the prevailing wage for American software engineers in Silicon Valley, rather than paying the pittance most companies pay now. (In one case, a Silicon Valley firm was paying $1.21 an hour.) There has been a lot of cheating on H-1B visas, and this should help. The tech companies’ excuse for hiring immigrants is that they can’t find enough qualified Americans, not that they just want to pay sweatshop wages, though that excuse is bogus. Companies also draw out the H-1B application process to keep workers under their thumbs and away from competitors, something called “handcuffing.” Maybe shortening the fuse on the application process there would be a good idea, too, or – again – creating damages that trial lawyers can exploit. (Most GOP types reflexively hate trial lawyers, but, like Kurt Schlichter, I think it’s better to have them working for you than against you). For more fun, make CEO’s and HR heads personally responsible for violations, a la Sarbanes-Oxley….”



Hispanic activists organizing In support of tougher immigration laws

“Pedro Rivera is 53 years old, Hispanic, and a retired military man. He’s also part of a growing number of Hispanic Texans pushing for stronger immigration enforcement, including the passage of SB 185, which would stop cities from implementing policies banning local cops from asking immigration-related questions. “I’m an American citizen and I believe in the rule of law,” Rivera said. “And being Hispanic, I should not be granted special privilege in avoiding the law. We need officers to have all the tools available to them to keep us safe. That includes asking the question, when you’re being detained for a crime or being arrested for an offense, ‘ are you here illegally? Are you a US citizen?’” Rivera is working with Maria Espinoza, director of the Remembrance Project. Espinoza’s Houston-based organization works with families of Americans killed by people in the United States illegally. “This is a new initiative,” Espinoza said, of an effort to recruit Hispanic conservatives to speak out in support of SB 185. Espinoza’s new group, which isn’t exclusive to people of Hispanic origin, traveled to Austin last week and asked lawmakers to stop Texas cities, like Houston , from adopting their own immigration related policies. It’s not a new fight. The Texas Senate actually passed a similar measure in 2011. It prompted protests, then stalled before becoming state law. Espinoza says a lot has changed in four years. “We have more Latinos who are behind this issue and also law enforcement,” she said. “We have (four) sheriffs who testified with us to remove sanctuary city policies.“ But many more, including Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, testified in opposition of SB 185. Cesar Espinosa is an immigrant rights activist in Houston. “We don’t think it’s a good idea for the state,” Espinosa said. “ We don’t think it’s a good idea for the city. If people are afraid to come forward (and report crimes as) victims of crimes or witnesses of crimes because of their legal status, we’re all going to be in trouble.” Critics also say passage of the bill would promote racial profiling….”



Pro-Amnesty Democrat Shouted Off Stage by American Patriots at USC

“Pro-amnesty Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez was shouted off a stage recently by American patriots.

The far left Democrat was speaking at USC at an event that was held in Spanish – headphones were offered to English speaking attendees. But the patriotic crowd took over the theater and started chanting U-S-A until Gutierrez was forced to leave the stage. Via News Alert:…”



Latinos say deportation a top concern

Survey underscores personal nature of immigration debate

“When a $415 million casino-hotel needed its immigration visa applications sped through for foreign investors in order to keep the business deal alive, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid leaned on the director of the agency overseeing the visa program to make it happen, according to a Homeland Security inspector general’s report released Wednesday. A report released Wednesday said SLS Las Vegas received special treatment when the director expedited the petitions after agency staff turned down the request. The SLS Las Vegas request was among a few mentioned in the report and investigated by the agency watchdog after staff complained that U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas was playing favorites with politically-connected projects. Well before the hip casino-hotel debuted last year, its owners were in need of funding and found some of it from foreigners willing to invest at least $500,000 each with the promise of a U.S. visa in return as part of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EB-5 program. The overall financial deal, though, was contingent on a portion of hundreds of those investors getting their visa petitions approved within a few months. Agency staff told SLS Las Vegas that the petitions couldn’t be sped up ahead of others because the deadline was of the developer’s own design. But according to the report, Reid’s office soon contacted staff and eventually Mayorkas to urge the petitions be expedited. Mayorkas did, despite staff concerns that it wasn’t warranted and would set a bad precedent if others knew they could cut in line…”



Chuck Schumer: Tea Party Members ‘Hate Immigrants’



Scott Walker scheduled to tour U.S.-Mexico border Friday

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is planning to tour the U.S.-Mexico border with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Friday, the Texas Tribune reported. Mr. Walker, who is laying the groundwork for a possible White House run, acknowledged recently that his view on immigration has changed, saying he opposes amnesty. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another potential White House contender in 2016, famously invited President Obama to tour the border with him last year. Texas and other states have sued to stop Mr. Obama’s executive actions on immigration announced last year in a case that is currently on appeal after a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction last month. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who on Monday entered the presidential race, has also been an outspoken opponent of Mr. Obama and his handling of the immigration issue…”





House rejects conservative budget in a 132-294 vote

“The House rejected a far more conservative version of the GOP budget on Wednesday in a 132-294 vote. The Republican Study Committee’s budget would balance in five years and cut $7.1 trillion in spending over the next decade. A total of 112 Republicans voted against the measure, along with all of the chamber’s Democrats. The budget vision put forward by the RSC would cut spending far more sharply than the official House GOP budget, which would trim spending by $5.5 trillion in the same time frame and balance in nine years. “We in Congress have an obligation to the American people to live within our means and to be trustworthy stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said RSC Chairman Bill Flores (R-Texas). While Democrats argued the RSC budget would be more extreme, they said it had one redeeming quality: it accounted for defense spending. The House GOP budget increases defense spending by boosting a war account known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account. That fund isn’t subject to budgetary ceilings under a 2011 law, unlike the base defense budget. The RSC alternative would allocate a base budget of $570 billion for defense, which is more than the House GOP’s $523 billion. It would further provide nearly $51 billion for the Pentagon’s war fund. “This is the committee-adopted budget on steroids,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.). “While I am opposed to this budget, I have to commend the Republican Study Committee for putting it on the table here in a very transparent manner.” In past years, Democrats voted “present” on the RSC budget to cause scrambling among Republicans to make sure it didn’t actually pass. But Democrats opted to simply vote “no” this year. Meanwhile, the RSC budget would only provide $975 billion for discretionary government spending, which is lower than the top-line cap of $1.018 trillion established by sequestration. A key provision of the RSC budget would repeal the 2010 healthcare reform law through a budget process tool known as reconciliation. It would also allow people to buy insurance across state lines…”



House rejects Democratic budget alternatives

“The House rejected three budget alternatives on Wednesday offered by separate groups of Democrats. House Democrats, as well as the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), each delivered blueprints that raise taxes and eliminate sequestration to contrast with the GOP budget. None of the Democratic budgets would ever balance. The official House Democratic budget, authored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, would end sequestration cuts, raise the Pentagon’s base budget cap to $561 billion and fund President Obama’s $478 billion surface transportation plan. It would further raise taxes, primarily on wealthy Americans, by $1.9 trillion and increase spending by over $6.3 trillion over the next decade. But it was defeated by a vote of 160-264. “This is a budget that supports working families in America and invests in our future, not one that squeezes those families and disinvests in America,” Van Hollen said. But Republicans criticized the budget for never proposing how to eliminate the deficit within a specified timeframe. The House GOP budget would cut spending by $5.5 trillion over a decade and balance within nine years. “You’d think that with all of those taxes and all of that spending that you’d get to balance,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.). “Their budget never, ever, ever, ever balances.” Meanwhile, the CPC budget, rejected 96-330, would go further on liberal priorities than the official House Democratic budget. The CPC’s budget would increase taxes, primarily on the wealthy and through a carbon tax, by $7 trillion over the next ten years and cut defense spending by $529 billion. It would also implement a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws. “Make no mistake: The people’s budget does what the House Republican budget does not. It works for American families.  Not special interests, defense contactors or the one percent,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)…”



House passes $3.8 trillion budget

“House Republicans approved Wednesday a $3.8 trillion budget for the upcoming fiscal year following an unusual effort by party leaders to pump up Pentagon funding to ensure passage. Seeking to balance competing demands from deficit and defense hawks, GOP leaders employed a rarely used parliamentary tactic, known as the “queen of the Hill” rule, that allowed the House to vote on more than one budget and advance the one that received the most votes. The House voted 105-319 against the initial blueprint authored by House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., and then voted 219-208 to advance a mirror budget that included an additional $2 billion — on top of a planned $36 billion increase — for the account that has been used to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the alternative blueprint scoring the most votes, the House then approved its budget resolution 228-199…”



House passes $3.8 trillion spending plan

“The House on Wednesday approved a $3.8 trillion spending plan for fiscal 2016 that balances the budget in a decade, reforms Medicare and Medicaid, and eliminates Obamacare. The resolution passed by a vote of 228 to 199, and over the objections of some conservatives who opposed additional defense money because it would increase funding for a special defense spending account that does not require reductions elsewhere in the budget. Lawmakers passed the budget after hours of debate on a half-dozen spending plans, three from Democrats and three from Republicans. “A budget is a vision of the future and Republicans are making our vision very clear,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said. The GOP gave their rank and file the choice of voting for a budget blueprint that did not boost defense spending. But that measure had little chance of passing because 77 defense-minded Republicans, citing the threat of terrorism at home and abroad, pledged to vote against it…”



House Republicans Unite to Pass Budget

“House Republicans pulled together just enough support to pass a budget Wednesday evening, a victory for an embattled leadership team that has struggled to win over its full conference on tough votes. The budget passed 228-199, with 17 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the measure that cuts domestic spending, ramps up military spending, repeals Obamacare and balances within a decade. Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip, called the vote “a very unifying experience” for the House GOP. The vote came after a full afternoon of debate over the budget and several alternative proposals – one from the Progressive Caucus, one from the Congressional Black Caucus, one from the conservative Republican Study Committee and one from the Democrats. In an interesting move, the House considered two budgets from Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price. The first was the budget that passed out of the committee last week – a proposal that cuts spending, turns Medicare into a voucher system, repeals Obamacare and represents a number of other GOP priorities. The second is nearly identical but increases defense spending, a provision added to placate defense hawks who refused to support a budget without it. In a “Queen of the Hill” vote format, all six budget proposals received a vote on the House floor, and the proposal with the highest vote total moved forward. Not surprisingly, the Democratic proposals didn’t go very far. The original GOP budget failed with 105 Republicans in support and 139 Republicans and all Democrats opposed. Immediately after that vote, they considered the proposal that upped military funding, which narrowly passed 219-208, with 26 Republicans against it.  “We worked hard for weeks to bring fiscal and defense hawks together,” Scalise said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get done, and the fact that we were able to get that done in this budget … proves that you can actually set priorities for strong natural defense while maintaining budget caps that are in place to get to a balanced budget.” Democrats, who spent the past two weeks criticizing the GOP budget and released a nearly polar-opposite proposal earlier this week, again lambasted Republicans. “While making everyday life harder on working Americans, the Republican budget disinvests in the future of our nation by making deep cuts to education, infrastructure, and scientific research – it is a deeply pessimistic view of America,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said in a statement. “The families we all represent deserve and demand better.” The budget’s passage in the House, however, is far from the end of the process. On Thursday, the Senate will take part in a so-called “vote-o-rama,” in which the upper chamber considers several dozen amendments to the budget proposal, many of them aimed at making political statements or forcing opponents into tough votes…”



House Republicans adopt budget without war funding offsets

“Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to adopt a budget option favored by party leaders that slashes domestic spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years while adding $38 billion in off-budget war funding without any offsetting savings. The plan, narrowly approved by a 219-208 vote, was the only one of six alternatives considered on Wednesday that achieved a majority in the Republican-controlled chamber. A vote on final passage of the House’s fiscal 2016 budget resolution is expected shortly.”



House approves GOP budget

“House Republicans adopted a 2016 budget in a 228-199 vote on Wednesday that represents a major victory for GOP leaders after a rocky start to their year. The budget would increase defense spending next year by boosting the Pentagon’s war fund to $96 billion, well above President Obama’s $58 billion request. The provision won over dozens of defense hawks, including members of the Armed Services Committee who have called for more robust resources for the Pentagon. Only 17 Republicans voted against the budget, a slight bump from the 12 who voted against last year’s budget. Every House Democrat present voted against it…”



GOP-controlled House passes budget to erase deficits

“Normally quarrelsome House Republicans came together Wednesday night and passed a boldly conservative budget that relies on nearly $5 trillion in cuts to eliminate deficits over the next decade, calls for repealing the health care law and envisions transformations of the tax code and Medicare. Final passage, 228-199, came shortly after Republicans bumped up recommended defense spending to levels proposed by President Barack Obama. Much of the budget’s savings would come from Medicaid, food stamps and welfare, programs that aid the low-income, although details were sketchy. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee, called the plan a “balanced budget for a stronger America” — and one that would “get this economy rolling again.” Democrats rebutted that the GOP numbers didn’t add up and called their policies wrong-headed. “People who are running in place today are not going to be moving forward under the Republican budget, they’re going to be falling back,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland…”



GOP House bill would balance budget, cut Obamacare

Democrats decry cutting Obamacare

“House Republicans came together Wednesday to pass a budget that balances within a decade, cutting spending by over $5 trillion, repealing Obamacare and turning Medicare into a voucherlike system along the way. GOP leaders had to make last-minute changes to boost defense spending in order to keep enough Republicans on board, but ultimately passed the nonbinding plan with room to spare on a 228-199 vote. The Senate is expected to pass its budget late Thursday or early Friday, and both chambers will then work on a compromise that sets the table for Congress to pass spending bills and other legislation to carry out the blueprint, such as the Obamacare repeal and an overhaul of the tax code. “We hear the people of this nation crying out, crying out for leadership here in Washington,” said House Budget Chairman Tom Price, Georgia Republican. “This balanced budget for a stronger America will result in a government that is more efficient and more effective and more accountable, one that frees up the American spirit.” Democrats, though, accused Republicans of “trickle-down economics,” saying the spending cuts will leave the poor and middle class with fewer government services. “This approach is not a blueprint for growth and opportunity for America’s businesses and workers,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said. “It is, rather sadly, a recipe for economic and fiscal disaster in the years to come.”



How Boehner got a much-needed win on the budget



Obama Budget DOA in Senate, 98 to 1 Vote (continuation from yesterday’s article)

“Senate Democrats aren’t running away from President Obama, but you could call it a brisk walk. Supporters of a bill that would force the administration to submit any Iran nuclear deal to a congressional vote say they almost have Democrats on board to override a veto. As for President Obama’s proposed federal budget, it looks as if almost no Democrat wants to be in the same room with it. Last night, the Senate voted 98 to 1 to reject a budget plan that had exactly the same tax and spending numbers as the blueprint the president proposed last month. The Obama plan still projects enormous federal deficits at the end of its ten-year budget window. “This is the president’s proposed budget,” GOP Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told the chamber as he presented it for a vote. Democrats responded that the GOP was pulling a political stunt and that what was voted on didn’t fully reflect Obama priorities such as a minimum-wage increase. “It is not what President Obama presented to the American people,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. But the GOP was nonetheless able to score some points with the 98 to 1 rejection. (Delaware Democrat Tom Carper was the sole supporter.) Republicans were able to point out that in and 2011 and 2012, the Senate had also rejected Obama’s budget numbers — both times without a single supporter voting for them…”



House panel approves repeal of death tax

“A House panel on Wednesday moved to repeal the estate tax, lowering taxes by $270 billion over 10 years. The House Ways and Means Committee voted 22-10 Wednesday afternoon to send a bill repealing the tax to the House floor. “People work hard and pay taxes all their lives. They’ve earned the right to leave something for their kids — often a family business — without being penalized for it,” Chairman Paul Ryan said at the committee Wednesday, claiming that the tax hits the “little guy.” Democrats, including President Obama, have criticized Republicans for moving the bill this week, saying that repealing the so-called death tax would help only a few rich earners while the GOP budget under consideration on the House floor would cut government aid to others. Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the panel, drew attention Wednesday morning from an analysis finding that the repeal would cut taxes for fewer than 5,500 households. “This amounts to a massive tax cut for a tiny number of the wealthiest households,” Levin said…”



House passes bill to incentivize donations to families of slain police officers

“The House passed legislation by voice vote on Wednesday to authorize a charitable tax deduction for contributions toward the families of two New York City police detectives who were murdered last December. Two New York Police Department detectives, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot and killed while on duty in Brooklyn by a man apparently trying to avenge the recent deaths of young black men due to aggressive force from police. Protesters had been gathering in New York City to express disappointment with a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Under the bill, taxpayers who make contributions to the families of Liu and Ramos between Jan. 1 and April 15 of this year can claim tax deductions for 2014. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the tax incentive would help the families of Ramos and Liu. Ramos had a wife and two teenage sons, while Liu had just gotten married a month before his death. “On December 20 of 2014, unspeakable tragedy struck the Bedford-Stuyvesant community that I represent,” Jeffries said. “In the aftermath, we cannot forget the families left behind when these two brave heroes were killed tragically in the line of duty.”



Michelle Obama travel expense update: Your tax dollars at work

“Just a quick update, as you organize to file your income taxes, on the Obama family’s lavish travel expenses that your money is underwriting. Financing might be a better word. Barack and Michelle Obama have traveled more than any other first couple — doing Spain, Africa, China, South America, among other distant spots. Often they’re accompanied by friends and Michelle Obama’s Mom, Marian Robinson, who’s been living in the White House at taxpayer expense since her son-in-law’s inauguration. And in some cases, Mrs. Robinson’s friends tag along.

By one accounting, as of last July the Obamas had spent more than $44.4 million in taxpayer money on travel for 31 international trips lasting 119 days. For comparison, at the same point in his presidency Ronald Reagan had made 14 trips lasting 73 days. You may recall Michele Obama’s controversial trip with friends to Spain’s luxury Costa del Sol in 2010 at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate was 9.5% on the way to 9.8%. And President Obama’s $1 trillion economic stimulus package had yet to kick in. Of course, it’s still yet to kick in. According to numbers gathered by Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates government corruption, that trip cost Americans at least $468,000. Turns out, by Obama administration standards that was a bargain tour. Mrs. Obama’s latest foreign junket this month was to Japan and Cambodia, allegedly to promote an Agency for International Development program to encourage education for girls. On a one-day, side-trip to visit two shrines in Kyoto, including one honoring a god of rice, Michelle Obama’s party incurred almost $79,000 in expenses just for rental cars, Judicial Watch reports. That’s a lot of tuition for girls! Or boys…”



National Park Service delayed $11 billion in maintenance last year because of budget challenges

“The National Park Service is increasingly neglecting its trails, roads and visitor centers because of recent budget constraints, according to a report from the agency this week. The park service said it delayed an estimated $11.5 billion worth of needed maintenance projects last year due to funding shortages, with the total growing nearly 2 percent compared to 2013. The backlog has reached its highest point since President Obama took office, expanding nearly 13 percent during that time. Rising construction costs have heightened the agency’s budget challenges, with upkeep growing more expensive as park facilities fall further into disrepair, according to the report. (Here’s a list of deferred projects by state and by park)…”



Federal worker tax delinquency reaches highest point in past decade

“Federal employees have fallen further behind on their taxes, with their combined overdue debt to the government rising last year to its highest level in a decade. Civilian federal personnel owed more than $1.14 billion in back taxes in 2014, according to Internal Revenue Service data that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released this week. Despite the higher dollar amount, fewer federal employees were tax delinquent last year compared with 2013. The number dropped 2 percent to 113,800 workers, representing a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the U.S. government’s 2 million-strong civilian workforce. “It is disconcerting that federal civilian employees owe more than one billion dollars in back taxes,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “These employees are not exempt from their civic responsibility to fulfill tax obligations and those who refuse to pay what they owe should be held accountable.”…”



The Next Welfare Reform: Food Stamps

Republicans need to start a national conversation about a program that grew nearly 69% between 2008 and 2013.

“When Congress passed welfare reform in 1996, the food-stamp program was spared. Nearly two decades later, its work requirements remain weak, and incentives to promote the purchase of healthy foods are nonexistent. House and Senate Republicans released spending proposals last week that aim to address these problems, which have been costly, and not merely in budgetary terms. Officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the food-stamp program has become the country’s fastest-growing means-tested social-welfare program. Only Medicaid is more expensive. Between 2000 and 2013, SNAP caseloads grew to 47.6 million from 17.2 million, and spending grew to $80 billion from $20.6 billion, according to the Agriculture Department. SNAP participation fell slightly last year, to 46.5 million individuals, as the economy improved, but that still leaves a population the size of Spain’s living in the U.S. on food stamps. Yes, the Great Recession played a role in this alarming trend, which began under George W. Bush, but not a big one. Between 2008 and 2013, SNAP recipients grew nearly 69%. By contrast, the poverty rate increased just 16.5% during the same period. The unprecedented jump in food-stamp use over the past six years has mostly been driven by manufactured demand. The Obama administration has attempted to turn SNAP into a middle-class entitlement by easing eligibility rules and recruiting new food-stamp recipients…”



Obama to discuss new payday lending rules

“President Obama plans to discuss new rules for payday lenders during his trip to Alabama on Thursday. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., told the Birmingham News that there is an “urgent need for stronger consumer protections and increased transparency” in the payday loan business. “The economy is slowly recovering, and many of my constituents rely on payday loans to help make ends meet,” Sewell said. “I recognize the need for emergency credit, but we must also ensure that these products help consumers, rather than trap them to a perpetual cycle of debt.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is expected to announce the new rules Thursday before Obama’s speech at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham. This is Obama’s second visit to Alabama this month. On March 7, the president spoke in Selma for the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” attack on voting rights marchers in 1965…”



Obama, consumer board to announce new regulations on payday lending



Bill Banning Feds From Watching Porn On Taxpayer Dime Advances

“A bill banning federal employees from viewing or downloading porn on government devices advanced out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Wednesday. “There is absolutely no excuse for federal employees to be viewing or downloading pornographic materials on the taxpayers’ dime,” Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement announcing the progress. “To ignore this issue would not only condone an abuse of taxpayers’ dollars, but also embrace an unhealthy workplace,” he added. ”Today’s action should send a clear message that it is time for zero tolerance of this kind of behavior.” Meadows cited a number of reports of federal employees watching a lot of porn at work as evidence the current policies in place discouraging that behavior be put into law. An Environmental Protection Agency employee has not been fired, although an Inspector General report last year revealed he was watching porn for two to six hours per day on his government-issued office computer since 2010. Also last year, a Treasury Department employee blamed a lack of work for the discovery that he had viewed 13,000 images of porn in six weeks, reported The Washington Times. Another bored General Services Administration employee reportedly spent two hours a day watching porn…”



Perez, Jarrett to take paid-leave show on the road starting April 1

“Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett will travel to several states this spring to promote paid-leave policies, showing the extent to which the Obama administration is working outside the Beltway to achieve its policy goals. The “Lead on Leave” road show — which starts April 1 in Seattle and will also feature assistant to the president Tina Tchen and other senior officials — reprises a strategy the administration has used to galvanize support for raising the minimum wage and expanding retirement benefits. “The president refuses for all success to be determined by how many laws get passed,” Perez said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding that he and others have studied how social-policy movements have made breakthroughs. “The history of civil rights and labor rights and women’s rights is about persistence. So much of what becomes law in Washington starts out as an experiment in different states.” While the president expanded parental leave for federal workers in January, a congressional proposal to annually grant Americans seven days of paid sick time stands little chance of making it through the GOP-controlled Congress. The United States is one of just a handful of countries that does not offer paid leave; congressional Republicans have introduced measures offering workplace flexibility and tax credits in some instances, but they have opposed mandating paid leave…”



Obama highlights benefits of trade on small businesses

“President Barack Obama met with mayors and owners of small businesses at the White House on Wednesday to highlight the benefits of trade on a broad swath of the economy. Participants included Mayors Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Florida, as well as nine small-business owners from across the country. The meeting was part of Obama’s push for trade policies that face opposition within the Democratic Party. Obama wants “fast track” authority from Congress to negotiate trade deals that Congress can only approve or reject, but not amend. One of those agreements, called the Trans Pacific Partnership, would ease trade barriers among 12 Pacific Rim nations. The Obama administration is also hoping to conclude a trade deal with Europe. Republicans mostly support the president’s trade plans, but a majority of Democrats fear trade deals could send jobs overseas. Labor unions and environmental groups are among the biggest opponents. “This is not just the Boeings and the General Electrics, but it’s also small businesses and medium-sized businesses directly benefiting,” Obama said of expanded commerce. “I want to make sure that that story gets told.”



Obama to discuss economy, consumer protection in Birmingham



Pension Reform Doesn’t Mean Higher Taxes

It’s a myth that closing a defined-benefit plan to new hires generates big ‘transition costs.’



Black business owners backing GOP estate tax repeal bid

“Republicans seeking to repeal the estate tax have rolled out the endorsements of black business advocates who argue the levy is especially painful for minority entrepreneurs. Harry Alford of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), separately argued in recent days that the estate tax is an especially bitter pill for minority business owners, many of whom only started getting successful in the last half-century or so. “Full repeal of the estate tax would allow African Americans to pass the full fruits of their business success to the next generation and thereby laying the foundation for a permanent minority ownership class that can contribute to the economic growth and development of the United States economy,” Johnson, whose worth has been estimated at more than half a billion dollars, wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee last week. Alford added in an op-ed for The Hill that black business owners are far more wary of the estate tax than entrepreneurs in general, making the case that what opponents dub the “death tax” puts pressure on minority-owned companies to sell at a discount price. “It’s a legacy-killer,” Alford added in an interview with The Hill. “People in those districts are the first to cry foul when businesses move away,” he said regarding lawmakers who propose expanding the estate tax. “They need to take Business 101.” After a heated debate, the Ways and Means Committee passed a measure repealing the estate tax Wednesday on a party-line vote, the tax-writing panel’s first such vote in roughly a decade. Chairman Paul Ryan’s office circulated Alford and Johnson’s comments hours before the committee considered the estate tax repeal measure. During the markup, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chief sponsor of the proposal, cited a study asserting that the estate tax could erase up to a quarter-trillion dollars’ worth of African-American wealth in the first half of the 21st century. “This tax doesn’t just hit the big guy. It hits the little guy — like the small business and the family farm,” Ryan (R-Wis.) said during Wednesday’s markup. Top Republicans in both chambers, along with their allies in the farming and business communities, have long pushed to roll back the estate tax. Rep. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is the only Democrat among the roughly 120 House members to back the current repeal proposal…”





Meet 5 Award-Winning Teachers Who Reject Common Core (good)

Last week’s Global Teacher Prize-winner isn’t the only one saying Common Core hurts teachers and children.

“1. Nancie Atwell, Global Teacher Prize Winner, 2015

Last weekend, Nancie Atwell won an inaugural global award that intends to be a “Nobel Prize for teachers.” It comes with $1 million, which Atwell promptly donated to her Maine independent school. CNN interviewed her upon the occasion, and Atwell let out a number of poignant remarks, including that guttersnipes like Kim Kardashian get constant media attention but teachers and others who perform substantive, socially beneficial work are largely ignored in what passes for our public conversation nowadays. At the end, however, is an honest observation that comes out as a genuine made-for-TV shocker. “New Day” anchor Alisyn Camerota asked Atwell, “What do you say to kids out there that are trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up and might be considering teaching?” “Um, honestly, right now I encourage them to look in the private sector,” Atwell replied. “Because public-school teachers are so constrained right now by the Common Core standards, and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them. It’s a movement that’s turned teachers into technicians, not reflective practitioners. And if you are a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.” (Hat tip Shane VanderHart)…”



What Does It Mean to “Repeal” Common Core?

“Also at the Washington Post, education writer Valerie Strauss takes aim at Senator Cruz (disclosure) for suggesting in his launch speech that he favors “repealing every word of Common Core.” Strauss writes, ”Cruz apparently thinks that the Common Core is embedded in a federal law that can be repealed. It isn’t.” That is the impression that Cruz left, but I’m sure–having checked with an aide–that what he has in mind is getting rid of all federal inducements for states to adopt or keep Common Core. The Obama administration used federal grants and regulatory waivers (the latter, oddly, unmentioned by Strauss) to encourage state participation. Cruz wants to end that. That appears to be the consensus position of Republicans. Jeb Bush, the most pro-Common Core of the presidential candidates, is saying much the same thing. The difference appears to be that Cruz seems to be recommending that the states ditch the Common Core standards, while Bush is recommending that they either keep them or draw up higher ones. Neither of them appears to want the federal government to stay involved in that decision.”



Maryland Senate expected to vote on allowing parents to opt out of Common Core tests

“A Maryland senator is proposing an amendment to the state’s fiscal 2016 budget that would allow parents to opt their children out of Common Core tests with impunity to the students and the schools — and the Senate is expected to vote on it as early as Thursday. Sen. Justin Ready, a Republican, is placing the amendment on the Senate floor, according to his chief of staff, Aaron Jones, to make it easier for parents to choose whether their children can take the PARCC Common Core test next year.  There is now no way for parents to opt out, and schools are deciding for themselves how to handle such requests, with some insisting that children take the tests and others allowing students to leave school with parents or sit somewhere in the school with no assigned schoolwork, Jones said. Maryland schools have been implementing the Common Core State Standards for several years, and the state is a member of the Partnership for the Assessment of the Readiness for College and Career, one of two multistate consortia created to design new assessments aligned to the Common Core with some $360 million in federal funds. Students have been taking the PARCC in Maryland, as well as in a number of other states, amid a growing protest movement across the country against high-stakes standardized testing. Thousands of parents are opting out their children from taking Common Core exams and a small but growing number of teachers, principals and superintendents are publicly protesting the exams as being detrimental to effective teaching and learning…”





Ways and Means passes IRS bills

“The House Ways and Means Committee cleared seven bills aimed at the IRS on Wednesday, including measures barring the use of private emails for official business and change the application process for tax-exempt organizations.  The measures brought former IRS official Lois Lerner back to the forefront, just short of two years after the agency acknowledged improperly scrutinizing Tea Party groups. But the seven bills, which Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) called noncontroversial, sailed through the tax-writing committee.  Still, Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WIs.) took a hard line in discussing the IRS measures. “The IRS works for the taxpayer, not the other way around. It’s their job to make doing your taxes as easy as possible,” Ryan said…”



Good news: IRS has less identity theft security than your average Etsy shop



Poll: America’s Fear Of Global Warming Drops To 1980s Levels

“Despite being bombarded with warnings from environmentalists and politicians, Americans still aren’t very worried about global warming. A new Gallup poll shows that Americans’ concern about warming has fallen to the same level it was in 1989. In fact, global warming ranked at the bottom of a list of Americans’ environmental concerns, with only 32 percent saying they worried about it a “great deal.” “Importantly, even as global warming has received greater attention as an environmental problem from politicians and the media in recent years, Americans’ worry about it is no higher now than when Gallup first asked about it in 1989,” writes Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones. So far in 2015, Americans are less worried about global warming than they were just last year when 34 percent said they worried about warming a “great deal.” Gallup’s poll comes after a CNN poll from January found that 57 percent of Americans don’t see global warming as a threat to their lives. “Americans express greater concern over more proximate threats — including pollution of drinking water, as well as pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs, and air pollution — than they do about longer-term threats such as global warming, the loss of rainforests, and plant and animal extinction,” Jones adds…”



Justices seem divided over EPA mercury limits

“A seemingly divided Supreme Court weighed the Obama administration’s first-ever regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and developmental problems in children. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge brought by industry groups and Republican-led states to the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to take action against coal- and oil-fired power plants that are responsible for half the nation’s output of mercury. Several conservative justices questioned whether EPA should have taken costs into account when it first decided to regulate hazardous air pollutants from power plants, or whether health risks are the only consideration under the Clean Air Act. The EPA did factor in costs at a later stage when it wrote standards that are expected to reduce the toxic emissions by 90 percent. Justice Antonin Scalia was critical of the agency’s reading of the provisions of the anti-air pollution law at issue in the case throughout 90 minutes of arguments. “It’s a silly way to read them,” Scalia said. The court’s four liberal justices appeared more comfortable with EPA’s position, leaving Justice Anthony Kennedy as the possible decisive vote. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said EPA followed the same process in deciding whether to regulate other sources of emissions, including from motor vehicles. The case is the latest in a string of attacks against the Obama administration’s actions to rein in pollution from coal-burning power plants that harms health and contributes to global warming. The administration is seeking to use the Clean Air Act for the first time to control mercury and carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants. But numerous states have already filed challenges to a proposed rule to curb the pollution linked to global warming from the nation’s coal-burning power plants. And Congress is working on a bill that would allow states to opt out of any rules clamping down on heat-trapping carbon dioxide. The legal and political challenges ahead could undermine U.S. efforts to inspire other countries to control their emissions, as they head into negotiations in Paris on a new international treaty later this year. The costs of installing and operating equipment to remove the pollutants before they are dispersed into the air are hefty — $9.6 billion a year, the EPA found…”



High court appears split over EPA air quality rule

“The Supreme Court appeared split Wednesday over a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever limits on mercury, arsenic and acid gases emitted by power plants, slated to take effect next month for some plants. The court is tasked with determining whether EPA unreasonably refused to consider costs in deciding whether it was appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electric power plants under the Clean Air Act. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with EPA, but twenty-three states and more than two dozen industry and labor groups argue that the agency unreasonably refused to consider costs before imposing the mercury regulations on coal- and oil-fired electricity generating units.  Chief Justice John Roberts said compared to the cost, the benefit “raises a red flag.” The EPA estimates the rule would cost $9.6 billion and produce between $37 billion and $90 billion in benefits, preventing up to 11,000 premature deaths annually. But challengers say the benefits of controlling the utility emissions of mercury, which ends up in fish that’s eaten, only amount to $4 million to $6 million annually and that the rest of the benefits come from the reduction of particle pollution, which is regulated by other EPA mandates. “The benefit from the mercury is what, $4 million?,” Roberts asked EPA’s attorney Donald Verrilli Jr. “Well…” Verrilli said…”



The EPA Faces Another Showdown Before The Supreme Court

“The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier today on another case questioning the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to curb pollutants from coal-based power plants. The Court will have to determine when the EPA must apply cost-benefit analysis to measures limiting emissions under the Clean Air Act, the 1963 law Congress enacted to combat air pollution. In its legal briefs, the EPA has argued “that costs are not relevant to the decision whether to regulate such emissions, but that costs should instead be taken into account when setting emission standards.” In other words, the agency wants to wait to determine the costs of its regulations until it has finalized its standards for each of the specific pollutants – such as mercury – it intends to regulate. Its adversaries in the case have argued that the EPA must make these calculations earlier in the process. The difference may sound superficial but any delay in the enactment of stricter regulations has served as a victory for the coal industry, which has used litigation to fend off or postpone tighter pollution control for decades. Just like the recent case involving the Affordable Care Act, the contentious issue in Michigan v. EPA revolves around the meaning of a brief statutory passage of a multi-hundred page law. In this case, it’s whether the term “appropriate and necessary” required the EPA to initially determine whether it should regulate the plants in the first place through a cost-benefit analysis…”



Justices appear split on EPA plan for cutting toxic energy-plant emissions



Senate Dems seek tougher oil train regs

“Four Senate Democrats are faulting the Obama administration’s focus on railcar design to make oil trains safer, saying the focus should be on the oil itself. The senators introduced a bill Wednesday that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to regulate the volatility of oil being transported by train. It would also require an immediate phase-out of old railcars for oil transportation and impose stricter design standards than DOT has proposed. “Our legislation requires that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulate the volatility of oil inside these tank cars,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters. “It ensures that oil volatility is monitored and regulated.” She blamed volatility and the gases in crude oil for several high-profile explosions that have followed oil train crashes and derailments…”






‘Obamanet’ Faces First Legal Challenges

“Just one month after the Federal Communications Commission voted to take regulatory control over the Internet, the telecom industry filed the first legal challenges to the ruling. According to US News, “Two separate lawsuits, filed on Monday by USTelecom and Alamo Broadband, have challenged the net neutrality rules recently passed by the Federal Communications Commission, which aim to protect competition online.” The lawsuits allege that the FCC exceeded its authority with its “arbitrary and capricious” decision to regulate the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, saying the new rules do not differ materially from previous efforts to implement net neutrality that were struck down by the courts. “We do not believe the Federal Communications Commission’s move to utility-style regulation invoking Title II authority is legally sustainable,” USTelecom president Walter McCormick said in a statement. Conversely, Robert Cooper, a partner at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, told US News that the lawsuits will “ultimately be unavailing and the FCC will prevail in court.” “USTelecom’s members and Alamo’s customers would be better served if the companies devoted their efforts and resources to providing the best broadband service they can, rather than litigating against the FCC,” he added. Jon Banks, senior vice president of USTelecom, disagreed with that assessment in a statement of his own, arguing that the rules would reverse “a decade of amazing innovation and investment under the FCC’s previous light-touch approach.”  USTelecom claims it filed its lawsuit “out of an abundance of caution,” because it is unclear whether the 10-day window for challenging an FCC order begins on the date that the order is issued—in which case the deadline would have been Monday—or on the date the rules are published in the Federal Register. In the event that the rules cannot be challenged until they are published, USTelecom and Alamo Broadband have indicated that they will re-file their suits…”



Google Had Unusually High-Level Access To The White House During Antitrust Probe

“Google had access to top-ranking White House staff far outside the norm in 2012, while the company was the subject of an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, White House visitor logs and emails obtained by the Wall Street Journal show. Those meetings included discussions between Google co-founder Larry Page, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, chief Google lobbyist Johanna Shelton, Google General Counsel Kent Walker and Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond. The collection of top-tier Google reps met with high-level White House staff including former interim chief of staff and White House counselor Pete Rouse, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. Many of the meetings occurred within days or hours of one another in November and December of 2011 and 2012, while the FTC was wrapping up an investigation into a swath of anticompetitive behavior by Google. The subsequent report concluded the company’s actions “resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation,” and “significant harm” to Google’s competitors. Despite the report’s recommendation that the FTC file a lawsuit against Google for the violations, which would have been the highest-profile since the one that broke up Microsoft in the ’90s, all five FTC commissioners eventually voted against the suit after Google agreed to some concessions…”



Google Makes Most of Close Ties to White House

Search giant averages a White House meeting a week during Obama administration



Menendez Won’t Say How He’ll Vote On Obama’s Attorney General Nominee

“New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez still has not indicated how he would vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, even as Justice Department prosecutors are preparing to bring corruption charges against Menendez. When questioned by reporters Tuesday, he said, “I’ll pass my judgment” if and when the confirmation vote reaches the Senate floor. Although Menendez signed a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring Lynch’s confirmation vote to the floor, Senate Republicans have stalled the Lynch nomination vote after Democrats reversed themselves and opposed a human trafficking bill with some abortion limitations. NorthJersey.com notes that a narrow confirmation where the deciding vote comes down to Menendez may place Lynch in a situation where she may have to recuse herself from the New Jersey Democrat’s case if she is confirmed by the Senate. According to a count by Politico, Lynch would need all 44 Democrats, two independents who caucus with them, four Republicans and Vice President Joe Biden as a tie-breaker vote to attain simple majority to confirm Lynch…”



De Blasio, US Mayors: Obama’s $80 Billion Transportation Proposal Not Enough

“The nation’s mayors aren’t satisfied with President Barack Obama’s $80 billion proposal to almost double highway spending, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio saying they would “push for the highest number attainable.” During a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Monday, mayors from some of America’s largest cities “announced plans to descend on Washington on May 11, along with business, labor, and religious leaders, to lobby for more funding,” the New York Daily News reports. The federal government currently spends about $50 billion a year on transportation, a figure Obama has proposed raising to $80 billion, but according to MassLive, “Congress has been unable to agree on a permanent way of paying for transportation” since 2008, when spending began to exceed revenues from gas and vehicle taxes. “The failure to invest in transportation, the failure to invest in infrastructure, is holding us back,” de Blasio asserted at a subsequent press conference, adding, “If we don’t do it, we should not be surprised that we keep falling behind.”…”



Watchdog says casino-hotel won green light with Reid’s help

“When a $415 million casino-hotel needed its immigration visa applications sped through for foreign investors in order to keep the business deal alive, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid leaned on the director of the agency overseeing the visa program to make it happen, according to a Homeland Security inspector general’s report released Wednesday. A report released Wednesday said SLS Las Vegas received special treatment when the director expedited the petitions after agency staff turned down the request. The SLS Las Vegas request was among a few mentioned in the report and investigated by the agency watchdog after staff complained that U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas was playing favorites with politically-connected projects. Well before the hip casino-hotel debuted last year, its owners were in need of funding and found some of it from foreigners willing to invest at least $500,000 each with the promise of a U.S. visa in return as part of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EB-5 program. The overall financial deal, though, was contingent on a portion of hundreds of those investors getting their visa petitions approved within a few months. Agency staff told SLS Las Vegas that the petitions couldn’t be sped up ahead of others because the deadline was of the developer’s own design. But according to the report, Reid’s office soon contacted staff and eventually Mayorkas to urge the petitions be expedited. Mayorkas did, despite staff concerns that it wasn’t warranted and would set a bad precedent if others knew they could cut in line…”



House moves against Obama White House’s secrecy habit

“The White House’s reluctance to open itself up to any scrutiny has been a major source of frustration for Republicans. It’s getting on the nerves of some Democrats, too, as evidenced by the fact that a bill to expand the Freedom of Information of Act has generated a rare show of bipartisan support. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is scheduled to mark up a bill Wednesday simply titled the “FOIA Act” that is intended to make it harder for agencies to resist requests to turn over documents to Congress or the public. “In a time with limitless technology, it should be easier than ever for Americans to have access to their government. The FOIA Act would place a presumption of openness in the FOIA statute and require agencies to justify withholdings of information by showing a specific harm that is foreseeable from disclosure. It would also speed up the process of requests and make information publicly available,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., a co-sponsor. The legislation’s chief sponsor is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who doggedly investigated President Obama’s administration on multiple fronts during his tenure as chairman of the Oversight Committee. “The bill would be a major step forward for government transparency, establishing a presumption of openness for releasing information — assuming requestors have a right to the information they request instead of demanding that they justify the basis for their request,” according to a statement from Issa’s office. Issa repeatedly clashed with Democrats, particularly Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the Oversight Committee’s top-ranking minority member. But Cummings is co-sponsoring this bill along with Quigley; Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.; and the District of Columbia’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton…”






Hillary Clinton is laughing at the press over her email scandal



Bill O’Reilly: Cruz Candidacy Makes American Democracy More “Vibrant”



Is Ted Cruz too conservative for Republican primary voters?



Preparing for 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton embracing Obama

“Rather than keeping him at arm’s length, Hillary Rodham Clinton is embracing President Barack Obama — sometimes even literally. Clinton had been expected to look for some ways to separate herself from the president to avoid the impression that having her in the White House would amount to a third Obama term. But as she prepares for another presidential campaign, Clinton has aligned herself with Obama far more often than not. On Monday, a few hours after meeting Obama at the White House, Clinton tweeted a list of accomplishments of the president’s health care law on its fifth anniversary. “Repeal those things? Embrace them!” she declared, posting an old photo of herself extending her arms to hug Obama at the White House. The tactics carry risk with an electorate that often seeks change after one party runs the White House for eight years. Republicans are already warning voters that Clinton would merely cement Obama’s most unpopular policies and continue in his vein. “She will have to break with Obama significantly and substantively if she wants to win,” said Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. “Obama is no Reagan, and America is ready for the end of his presidency, not the extension of it.” Clinton, who is expected to announce her campaign in April, hasn’t presented an overarching message of where she would take the country. For now, she’s talking about finding consensus and building on “what has worked in the past.”…”



Scandals force Hillary Clinton to delay 2016 bid announcement






Afghan President Thanks U.S. Military, Taxpayers

Ashraf Ghani addressed joint session of Congress on Wednesday



Afghan president says his nation won’t be ‘lazy Uncle Joe’

“Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday thanked Congress for the billions of American taxpayer dollars, but vowed his country will be self-reliant within this decade. “We’re not going to be the lazy uncle Joe,” he said. In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Ghani tried to repair U.S.-Afghan relations that had become strained under former President Hamid Karzai. Ghani, wearing a gray western suit, peppered his speech with anecdotes about the time he’s spent in America and touched on themes he hoped would convince lawmakers that he will be a reliable U.S. partner. He offered examples of how Afghanistan has made gains in health and education and voiced support for the youth and rights of women, including those who want to be president of the country. He admitted that decades of war have resulted in high levels of fraud and graft in Afghanistan. “We will eliminate corruption,” Ghani said, boldly predicting that within this decade his nation will no longer be reliant on U.S. and international aid. “I know American people are asking the same question as the Afghan people: Will we have the resources to provide a sustained basis for our operations? And the answer is within this decade, we will.”…”



O’Reilly: ‘Villains Take Advantage’ Of U.S. Because Of Our ‘Weak President’ [VIDEO]

“Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said during an appearance on “America’s Newsroom” that Russian leader Vladimir Putin and other “villains” were acting belligerent because the United States had a “weak president on foreign policy.”  “You’ve got Vladimir Putin pushing the envelope again,” said host Martha MacCallum. “He’s flying fighter jets over the Baltic Sea and NATO has to scramble to deal with that situation. “Now, shaking the finger at Copenhagen, Denmark, saying ‘Don’t you move your ships in there, we’ll come after you as well.’” “Putin will do what he wants,” O’Reilly said, “He’s bored, he will cause as much trouble as he can. He knows nothing will happen to him.” “This happens when you have a weak president on foreign policy,” he continued. “And let’s be honest, President Obama is a weak president on foreign policy. Putin will push him around, Iran will take advantage as much it can, that is the way it goes. History says it, history dictates; if you’re going to be weak overseas, villains take advantage of you.”…”






Iran isn’t providing needed access or information, nuclear watchdog says



State Won’t Promise to Tell Americans Iran Deal Details Before It’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’



Bowe Bergdahl, once missing U.S. soldier, charged with desertion



Five of the Most Dangerous Taliban Commanders in U.S. Custody Exchanged for American Captive

“The Obama administration announced today that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held by the Taliban for several years, has been freed from his captors. Reading the stories of his newfound freedom it is impossible not to feel joy for Bergdahl and his family. NBC News reports that Bergdahl held up a sign once he was on board an American helicopter that read, “SF?” The operators quickly confirmed that they were in fact U.S. Special Forces: “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time.” “On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal,” President Obama said in a statement. The president rightly noted: “Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.” Unfortunately, America is not the only party in this war that is committed to leaving no man behind. So are the Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked groups. But the president did not say who America exchanged for Bergdahl: five of the most dangerous Taliban commanders in U.S. custody…”