End the NSA dragnet (Op-ed)



Obamacare’s Double-Digit Rate Hikes For 2016 Disclosed

“After two years of relatively stable premiums across the country, rates will jump in 2016 by double-digit percentages for individual policy purchasers on public exchanges under the Affordable Care Act in practically every state, according to the first glimpse of proposed costs for next year released by the Obama administration. The rate increases aren’t a huge surprise as health insurers across the country in recent weeks have been disclosing price increases in drips and drabs as they submit them to state and federal regulators. Here’s a link to the rate increases insurers have requested in your state for just those plans asking for increases of 10 percent or more. It’s likely, though, that the “requested” rate increases will change as health plans negotiate with the Obama administration as well as insurance commissioners in states where the plans do business.  Final rates for 2016 will be disclosed by Nov. 1 and include all plans and not just those at the higher end of price increases in this initial report. The rates increases disclosed today also don’t mean that all purchasers of health care on the public exchanges will face these exact percentages of 10 percent or more. Consumers can get lower premiums if they opt for higher deductibles or if they pick a different plan. Some insurers have said rivals priced their policies too low in 2014 and 2015 and are now making up the difference. “The rate review process kicks off an important set of steps designed to provide consumers and others the opportunity to weigh in on proposed rate increases of 10 percent or more,” said Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said.  ”These specific rates will be subject to vigorous rate review and revision and the final rates consumers will see this Fall will reflect the breadth of choice and competition in the Marketplace.”…”


Blue Cross seeks 26 percent rate increase for Affordable Care Act customers under 65

“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. is requesting a near doubling of the rate increase for individual customers under age 65 with coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

The state’s largest health insurer made public Monday its proposal to the N.C. Insurance Department for an average rate increase of 25.7 percent for 2016. The request also requires federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) approval. The rates were filed May 15.

By comparison, Blue Cross was granted a 13.5 percent increase for 2015. The ACA was projected to not only provide more individuals with coverage, but also over time lower health-care costs.

Blue Cross said one reason for its rate increase is consumers with an ACA plan “continue to use a great deal of expensive health care – and that drives rates higher.” The insurer cited that emergency department usage among ACA-linked customers increased in 2014 and has followed a similar pattern through March 31, Blue Cross’ chief actuary Patrick Getzen said. That level of care can be among the most expensive for consumers to use. Blue Cross said it is already clear the customer pool for 2015 will be sicker and cost more to serve than the initial 2014 pool participants. “Based on what we see from this year’s enrollment, we’re not optimistic that will change in 2016,” Getzen said. Based on statements by CMS on Monday, Blue Cross’ odds of being approved for the sharp hike may be slimmer than the insurer projects…”


Insurers seek sizable rate increases on Affordable Care Act health plans

“Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has asked state regulators for a 25.7 percent average rate increase on individual insurance plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act for 2016. The request, which still needs to be approved by the North Carolina Department of Insurance, doesn’t include employer-sponsored health plans or to any existing coverage grandfathered in under the federal health care law. Two other insurers, Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas and United Healthcare, also offer plans through the HealthCare.gov marketplace to North Carolina residents. Coventry, which is merging with Aetna, has asked for an average 18 percent increase, while United submitted a request for an average 12.5 percent increase. Blue Cross Vice President and Chief Actuary Patrick Getzen said more than 325,000 people statewide enrolled in the insurer’s plans offered on the HealthCare.gov marketplace for 2015. Although the demographics are similar to those who enrolled in 2014, he said, the current group of clients has more chronic health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Those conditions drove more consumption of costly medical services, such as hospital admissions, MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds and specialty prescriptions, Getzen said. Enrollees also are visiting hospital emergency rooms more than expected – the health care law was designed to provide coverage to more people so they wouldn’t resort to an ER visit for routine care. Higher premiums would help offset the growing cost of medical services, he said, noting the Blue Cross could revise its request in the next month or so and seek an even larger increase. The company based its current request on 2014 data and wants to collect more information on 2015 costs before deciding on amending its filings with state regulators…”


Insurers eye ObamaCare hikes

“Health insurers across the country are eyeing slightly steeper cost increases in 2016, a year that will be an important test for how well ObamaCare is working. The costs of the lowest-tiered individual plans appear to be ticking up, according to multiple experts who have reviewed the proposed rates. The increases vary wildly among plans and among states, but experts say people are still unlikely to face the kind of doomsday scenario critics predicted would occur under the healthcare law. “The trend is a little bit higher this year than last year,” said Gary Claxton, director of the healthcare marketplace program for the Kaiser Family Foundation. And as in past years, some of those rate increases have been “enormous,” said Cheryl Fish-Parcham, who directs the private insurance program at the nonprofit Families USA. Under ObamaCare, all proposed rate hikes above 10 percent were required to be posted online by Monday. Now begins a six-month back-and-forth between insurance companies and regulators as the government tries to reduce rates before locking them in this November. “These specific rates will be subject to vigorous rate review and revision,” said Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The proposed 2016 rates will offer the most accurate portrait so far about the health of the marketplaces. Claxton, who reviewed several states’ data, said many of the increases are around 15 to 20 percent, though there are large disparities across regions. Tennessee’s biggest insurer has proposed an increase of 36 percent for some plans, while one of New Mexico’s biggest carriers is looking at a 50 percent increase. The most popular carrier in Maryland has called for a 30 percent hike. But in his analyses of numerous other filings, Claxton said he didn’t see rate increases in the double digits…”


Steep increases in some Obamacare premiums expected in Illinois in 2016

“Health insurance premiums could be going up by more than 30 percent next year for some people in Illinois who buy individual plans, a hefty increase that insurers say is driven by the costs of members’ medical bills. On Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services posted a list of proposed rate increases above 10 percent on thehealthcare.gov website. The largest average rate increases in the state were proposed for certain types of plans offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, Coventry Health Care and Assurant Health. Humana and downstate insurer Health Alliance also requested increases averaging above the 10 percent threshold for some plans. Last year, one of the most popular plans in Illinois increased by an average of just 2.6 percent. The plans are sold through the online marketplace established under the federal Affordable Care Act but are also available directly from the insurers. “Medical costs are going up and we are changing our rates to reflect this increase,” Coventry said in its rate filing. “Medical costs go up mainly for two reasons — providers raise their prices and members get more medical care.” The proposed rates still need to be reviewed by the Illinois Department of Insurance, which under the federal health law has authority to request changes and to bar health plans from being sold on the marketplace. Policyholders may file complaints over proposed rates with the department…”


Will these big Obamacare rates get approved?

“There are some eye-popping proposed Obamacare rate increases for next year. But whether they turn out to be the norm or the exception won’t be known until October. The federal agency in charge of Obamacare revealed on Monday afternoon details of many of the Obamacare insurance plans requesting premium rate hikes of 10 percent or more for 2016. The data, which can be accessed at RateReview.HealthCare.gov. includes exactly how much more an insurer wants to charge next year, and the justification for that increase. But information about lesser price increases being proposed, or even proposed price decreases, were not released. That makes it impossible, for the moment, to determine just how much insurers want to raise their premiums overall in the United States for 2016. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the proposed hikes of 10 percent or more in 37 states using the federal HealthCare.gov insurance platform, as well as several other states using their own Obamacare insurance exchanges. Two of the biggest states, California and New York, do not have proposed rates onRateReview.HealthCare.gov yet. Both plans sold on government-run Obamacare exchanges and ones sold off those exchange are included on RateReview.HealthCare.gov…”


Some Michigan insurers seeking hefty price hikes

None of the planned price changes would be in effect until January 2016, and that’s only after consumers have another opportunity to shop around and change plans starting Oct. 1.

“Several health insurers in Michigan are seeking double-digit rate hikes for plans they sell to individuals, as industry representatives cite pricey drugs and pent-up demand for health care among the newly insured. Insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is requesting permission for an average 11.3% jump in rates and 9.7 % jump in its Blue Care Network plans. Those plans cover 310,000 individuals in the state. Last year, the state approved a 9.7% hike, on average, for Blue Cross marketplace plans, according to the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services, which released a table comparing requested price changes earlier today. The requests are for plans sold on and off the state exchange, also known as the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace, a centerpiece of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or federal health reform called Obamacare by some. None of the planned price changes would be in effect until January 2016, and that’s only after consumers have another opportunity to shop around and change plans starting Nov. 1. Still unclear: the final price tag for consumers. The actual price of plans purchased on the exchange is based largely on government subsidies that shrink the cost for most consumers who make 400% of the federal poverty level or less. That means, for example, that a family of four with an income of up to $95,400 is now likely eligible for some financial assistance. The lower their income, the bigger the tax-funded subsidy. Additionally, some insurers this year alerted Michigan regulators that they want to drop prices, including Molina (a reduction of 8.5%) and Meridian (12.6%). The rate requests also do no address price rearranging within plans – how out-of-pocket costs such as copayments or deductibles will vary. And the percentages represent average changes across an insurer’s plans. Some insurers offer dozens of plans. This much is clear: Taxpayers in general would be impacted, too, as tax-funded premium subsidies swell to help cover rising rates for middle-income consumers. Last year, 88% of Of Michiganders who purchased a health insurance plan via the online exchange — heathcare.gov — qualified for subsidies to lower their premium cost, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services…”


The Obamacare Fiasco in Oregon

Cost overruns, software failures, missed deadlines, incompetence, cronyism — but those commercials sure were zany . . .

“There have been numerous disasters along the way as the federal government and the states have struggled to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), but none come close to Oregon’s sorry effort for the millions of dollars lost, the raw political opportunism, and the melodramatic plot twists. Now from the Insult-to-Injury Department comes word that it all could have been avoided. Earlier this month, five years after President Barack Obama signed ACA, The Hill published a series of articles about how Obamacare is working around the country. It reported that many of the 13 states that established their own stand-alone health-care marketplace exchanges are looking for ways to mitigate the damage and get something up and running before federal funding dries up. Hawaii is on the verge of shutting its marketplace down, joining Nevada and Oregon, which have also closed their doors because of lack of funds. The story of Oregon’s health-care portal, however, is different. It is a story of waste, fraud, and potentially criminal abuse, and Congress has finally gotten around to writing its own chapter in the sordid tale. Almost before the ink was dry on Obamacare, Oregon set out to establish a model exchange. On June 17, 2011, Governor John A. Kitzhaber signed a law creating the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange Corporation, a public body performing government functions with government authority. A year later, it was renamed Cover Oregon. Cover Oregon received more than $300 million in federal grants to get started, including $226.4 million to establish a 50-operator call center and IT interfaces with the exchange website and to perform multimedia outreach. That outreach would include a broad range of marketing materials, using print, radio, and television, the grant said. “Communications materials will be translated into three or four languages, with a goal being to use more visual images and fewer words.”…”


Obamacare’s ‘Accountable Care’ Experiment Is All Hype, No Substance

“Good news about Obamacare keeps coming out of the White House. In May, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the law’s “Pioneer Accountable Care Organizations” have saved Medicare $385 million. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell proudly proclaimed that this “innovative payment model”has produced “substantial savings,” so she’s now calling for its expansion. That would be a good idea — if Burwell weren’t selling snake oil. There’s nothing innovative about the “Accountable Care” model. It has, at best, generated negligible savings. And it has set the stage for outright rationing of senior medical care. An Accountable Care Organization — or “ACO” — is a network of doctors and hospitals that coordinates medical services for a specific patient population. Obamacare installed ACOs in Medicare in an attempt to slow down the program’s out-of-control spending. Under this arrangement, the government sets certain benchmarks for spending and quality that ACO administrators have to meet. If administrators are able to generate savings beyond what’s mandated, they get to keep the extra money. ACOs that don’t meet or beat the benchmarks have to give money back to the government — or pay a penalty. In theory, this provides ACOs with a direct financial incentive to reduce waste. The ACOs may well have generated some savings, but probably not $385 million. The researchers behind it — all of whom, by the way, were affiliated with the federal government and had clear biases toward proving the program’s success — made some highly unusual statistical assumptions. Indeed, a new study from two Harvard professors rejected the administration’s methodology and found that the ACOs saved Medicare, at most, $42 million a year. That’s a pittance given the multi-billion dollar Medicare budget. It’s certainly not nearly enough to save the program from looming insolvency. And it lines up with earlier government estimations, in which health officials reported net ACO cost reductions of $33 million in 2012 and $41 million in 2013. Even if the ACO model did in fact generate non-paltry savings in Medicare, it would be folly to try to scale it up. In the Obamacare case, the administration hand-picked the providers that could participate in the ACOs to maximize the chance of success. And even then, 13 of the original 32 organizations dropped out as a result of the program’s punishing complexity and costly regulations. Most providers refused to join in the first place. Organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic — hospitals that President Obama has touted as excellent models of integrated care — declined to participate. What’s more, those same Harvard professors found that the biggest savings came from ACOs that started with the highest costs. In other words, they were the low-hanging fruit. There’s little reason to believe similarly sized savings can get squeezed out over the long term. Most important, ACOs set the stage for medical rationing — starting with seniors on Medicare. This model operates under centralized bureaucracy. Once the glaring inefficiencies have been rung out, the only cost-savings option left for ACO administrators will be tightly controlling access to needed medical services…”


The Affordable Care Act is a horror story for young Americans

“It’s becoming harder and harder for young people to access affordable health care. A recent op-ed authored by Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer of the Manhattan Institute tells the story of Tommy Groves, a young professional who is one of the five million Americans who lost health coverage because their plans did not meet the requirements set in the Affordable Care Act. Tommy, who was required to find new insurance, decided to visit his online ACA exchange to try to find coverage. Unfortunately for him, the website was malfunctioning so badly that it could not verify his identity, and after hours on the phone with the help center, he was told to send in a paper application. Eventually, after many more hours on the phone over the course of several weeks, Tommy was informed that the paper application he had sent in had been lost. He was directed to a place where he could sign up in person, only to find out that paper applications were no longer being accepted…”


Phil Kerpen: Lawmakers Engaged in ‘Fraud’ to Skirt Obamacare

“Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, tells Newsmax that members of Congress have “basically committed fraud” by claiming to be a small business in order to continue to provide healthcare for themselves with taxpayer dollars.  “They filed false documents to get around the requirement in the Obamacare law that they lose their previous insurance coverage and go into the exchanges like everyone else,” Kerpen told John Bachman on “Newsmax Now” on Newsmax TV Monday. “That was something the American people had demanded.” “When it actually came time for it to happen, members of Congress of both parties didn’t want to do it. They didn’t want to lose taxpayer funding for their premiums for themselves and their staff,” he said…”


PPACA three R’s programs: Insurers cry out

“Health insurers have had trouble with getting the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to help them prepare to participate in the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) risk-management programs. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has included a glimpse of insurers’ concerns about “three R’s” program implementation in a summary of results of interviews with representatives from 12 insurers. The GAO conducted the investigation at the request of Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Drafters of PPACA created the three R’s programs in an effort to protect health insurers from some of the effects of new PPACA underwriting rules on claim risk, and to give insurers the confidence to keep premiums as low as possible….”


Week ahead: Panel takes on ObamaCare calorie count rules

“The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing Thursday on legislation challenging new menu labeling requirements from the Food and Drug Administration. A controversial provision under ObamaCare requires restaurants and businesses that sell “restaurant-like food” — including grocery stores and movie theaters — to list the number of calories in foods they sell. To address what critics say is a costly and burdensome regulation, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) introduced legislation in April to exempt most non-restaurant businesses from having to comply with the rule, which is set to take effect Dec. 1. Under the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015, the new labeling requirements would only apply to companies that make more than 50 percent of their revenue from selling prepared foods. The lawmakers say the bill aims to provide clarity and flexibility for small businesses. Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade will meet Tuesday to get an update on the Takata airbag ruptures and recalls. Also on the safety front, on Tuesday the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the recent Amtrak accident in Philadelphia. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to discuss alleged regulatory overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency and the impacts it might have on American competitiveness. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and the Public Works will hold a hearing on the EPA’s ozone standards…”


House to take fresh aim at Obamacare’s medical device tax

“House lawmakers are gearing up to take fresh aim at the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices. The House Ways and Means Committee will consider a bill Tuesday to repeal the 2.3% excise tax on sales of devices including pacemakers and stents. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Minnesota Republican. Read about Paulsen’s bill. A repeal of the tax has passed the House three times previously, according to Paulsen’s office: once as a stand-alone bill and twice as part of other bills. The Senate passed a nonbinding repeal of the tax in 2013. The tax raises money for President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. Repeal would reduce revenues by $26.5 billion from next year through 2025, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Paulsen’s bill doesn’t include a way to make up the lost revenue. Analysts have said a repeal of the tax faces better odds with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress following last year’s midterm elections. They also note the legislation has bipartisan support, with Democrats including Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota backing it. Minnesota is home to the headquarters of device-maker St. Jude Medical Inc. STJ, +0.87%   “This one has got a lot of support among Democrats,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center in Washington. He said the legislation has a “pretty good chance” of passing Congress. Yet it is uncertain if Obama would sign such a bill if it reaches his desk. The White House threatened to veto the House-passed repeal of the tax in 2012. But as the Associated Press writes, Obama late last year was opaque when asked about a potential veto. “Let me take a look comprehensively at the ideas that they present,” he said…”


GOP plots Obamacare repeal votes

“House Republicans are planning Obamacare repeal votes in the final few days before the Supreme Court announces a decision that could radically alter the law. The House will vote the third week of June to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices, and its provision allowing for a board of appointees to cut Medicare doctor payments if the program’s spending grows too fast, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced in a memo to members. The medical device tax has long topped lists of Obamacare provisions that have bipartisan opposition. And while Medicare costs haven’t yet grown fast enough to even trigger the formation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, this controversial board remains a political sticking point for the GOP. “Beyond Obamacare’s added costs, reduced choice and access to Medicare Advantage plans for seniors, the law’s 15 person Independent Payment Advisory Board acts as a de facto rationing body through arbitrary cuts to providers that can effectively stop access to care in order to control costs,” McCarthy wrote….”


GOP hits another roadblock on Obamacare repeal

After winning both chambers of Congress, they thought they could get a repeal bill to the president’s desk. It’s turning out to be more complicated than that.

“The GOP’s months-long debate over when and how to send a repeal of Obamacare to the president’s desk now appears to have an answer. They can’t do it all at once. Repealing the law “root and branch” is probably out of the question, the chamber’s parliamentarian is hinting, because some parts of Obamacare don’t affect the federal budget. That’s a must in order to use the obscure procedure known in Senate parlance as reconciliation, which allows lawmakers to avoid the 60-vote filibuster hurdle and pass bills on a simple majority vote. That’s not the GOP’s only problem. Under those rules any Obamacare repeal has to reduce — not increase — the deficit. So Republicans will have to pick and choose which parts of the Affordable Care Act they most want to ditch. Obama will, of course, veto any bill that significantly damages his signature domestic policy achievement. But the entire process has the makings of a difficult political exercise that will reveal something about the GOP’s priorities when it comes to the reviled law, forcing the party to go beyond the pile-on repeal rhetoric and say specifically what it would do and how it would pay for it. Republicans could try to get rid of the mandates and taxes, but then they’d have to plug a trillion-dollar hole. Cut the Medicaid expansion to the states? Sounds simple enough, but then they could put themselves at odds with governors. They’ll also have to decide if they want to scrap federal Obamacare subsidies, currently on the hot seat across the street at the Supreme Court, which this month will rule whether they’re constitutional. Gutting them would yield almost a trillion dollars in savings, which could then be used to repeal other parts of the law. But moderates also may experience a political backlash for slashing health care tax credits for poor and middle-class families. Extending or replacing the subsidies, though, could further limit their repeal options and alienate conservatives at the same time…”


Week ahead: Conservatives to unveil ObamaCare replacement

“Another Republican ObamaCare replacement plan is coming out as a Supreme Court decision looms. On Tuesday, the conservative Republican Study Committee will be announcing its ObamaCare replacement plan, the American Health Care Reform Act. A previous version of the bill was released by the RSC in 2013. It repealed ObamaCare and included tax breaks to help people afford insurance, as well as funding for state high-risk pools aimed at people with pre-existing conditions. The new version of the plan arrives ahead of a coming decision in King v. Burwell, which could invalidate ObamaCare subsidies that help 7.5 million people afford health insurance. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), one of the leaders of the RSC, told The Hill last month he is worried House leaders need to include more members in their planning. “I haven’t punched the panic button yet, but time is short and this is not something that we can discuss in a one-hour caucus and get buy-in on it,” he said. “Boom, June will be on us.” RSC leaders say that they want their plan to help shape the Republican response to the court ruling. The House’s response is being crafted by three committee chairmen, Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and John Kline (R-Minn.). One central question is whether the ObamaCare subsidies will be maintained temporarily, an issue that has split Republicans. In a lower-profile ObamaCare issue, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday will hold a hearing to consider a bill to reform menu-labeling rules under the health law. The bill has bipartisan support from Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.). It would exempt companies that make less than half their revenue from prepared foods from having to display calorie counts. Menu labeling could be online-only for pizza places and other businesses where people tend to order over the phone. The Energy and Commerce Committee will also look at improper payments under Medicaid. The oversight subcommittee points to the program’s 6.7 percent payment error rate, or about $17.5 billion in 2014. “Subcommittee members will discuss the integrity of the Medicaid program as part of the committee’s ongoing effort to ensure the program is able to deliver on its core promise of providing for the most vulnerable,” the committee said in a statement.”


Rep. McCarthy: No Obamacare Bill Until After Supreme Court Ruling

“House Republicans likely won’t introduce their response to a possible Supreme Court ruling striking down part of the Affordable Care Act until after the court’s decision, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said Monday. Some Republicans had hoped to unveil a GOP plan ahead of the high court’s ruling, expected later this month, on whether people can continue to receive subsidized insurance coverage in as many as 37 states where residents use the federal HealthCare.gov website to obtain insurance because their states didn’t create exchanges. But Republicans have divided over whether to extend temporarily the health law’s tax credits if the court voids them in most of the country. Mr. McCarthy told reporters Monday that Republicans would be prepared regardless of what the court decides, but that they would not unveil a proposal before a ruling. “Don’t expect us to pre-determine the Supreme Court. We have to first see what their decision is and what we have to solve,” Mr. McCarthy said. Republicans still might release outlines of their response, but not a formal bill, an aide said. Waiting to unveil details of their plan could spare Republicans public scrutiny if the court sides with the Obama administration and upholds the current law. Even if the court does rule against the White House, postponing the release of the GOP response gives Republican leaders more time to try to build a consensus among their ranks. Many Senate Republicans support extending tax credit for up to 18 months, but some conservatives in the House have balked at any reauthorization of the credits for the law often called “Obamacare.” Still, some Republicans had wanted to demonstrate to the Supreme Court that they were ready to propose a legislative solution in order to make sure the justices don’t rule to uphold the subsidies out of fear over the consequences were they to be struck down…”


House GOP to release full ObamaCare backup plan after court ruling

“House GOP leaders are offering a glimpse into how they plan to respond to this month’s highly anticipated decision on ObamaCare. The trio of House leaders plans to outline specific policy proposals sometime before the court’s ruling, but will hold off on releasing legislative language until afterwards, according to a spokesman for Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “We’ll have a plan that will be public before the ruling, but given that we don’t know exactly what they’ll say, we’ll have to wait for the ruling to have text to align with the situation,” spokesperson Brendan Buck said Monday. Ryan is one of three GOP chairman charged by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy with creating a fallback plan if the high court strikes down ObamaCare subsidies in King v. Burwell. Ryan told reporters in March that he planned to have a bill ready — and priced by the Congressional Budget Office — by the decision. Now it looks like those details won’t be public until after the ruling. The group has already described some of their ideas in a Wall Street Journal op-ed just before the case’s oral arguments in March. Buck declined to say whether the bill would be fully scored by the time of the decision, but said work with the Congressional Budget Office “has been ongoing for months.” He also declined to say whether the budget office was scoring multiple potential plans…”


WH Says New Healthcare Bill Unlikely If Obamacare Subsidies Fall

“White House press secretary Josh Earnest asserts that the Obama administration doesn’t believe any new healthcare legislation will pass Congress if the Supreme Court rules unfavorably on Obamacare in the King v. Burwell case. Earnest’s disclosure came in response to a question from Newsmax regarding Sen. Bill Cassidy’s recent unveiling of his Patient Freedom Act at the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute. Billing his legislation as “something that achieves the aims of the Affordable Care Act without the cost and the mandates,” the Louisiana Republican, himself a physician, spelled out the high points of the bill: ending all mandates, ensuring portability (keeping one’s healthcare plan after moving or changing jobs), funding going directly to patients, and keeping such popular Obamacare features as permitting young people to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26…”


White House: ‘No easy fix’ for ObamaCare court ruling

“The Obama administration is casting doubt on Congress’s ability to pass an ObamaCare ‘fix’ if the Supreme Court decides later this month to gut the healthcare law’s subsidies. With less than a month before the ruling, White House spokesman Josh Earnest is warning that Republicans will not be able to prevent the “significant turmoil” that he said would result from a court ruling against the administration. “There’s no easy fix to doing that, particularly when you consider how difficult it has been for common-sense pieces of legislation to move through the Congress,” he said at a briefing Friday. “With something as controversial as health care, it’s hard to imagine any sort of legislative fix passing through that legislative body,” Earnest said. The court’s ruling on King v. Burwell could come as early as next week, though it is widely expected to be handed down in late June. The high stakes case, which was argued before the Supreme Court in March, threatens to eliminate billions of dollars of ObamaCare subsidies for people in at least 34 states. As many as 8 million people could lose their subsidies. The Obama administration has warned of a marketplace meltdown if the subsidies are struck down, but has repeatedly said that it is not preparing a fallback plan for that scenario. The response has angered Republicans in Congress, some of whom have accused the administration of secretly preparing a plan but refusing to discuss it, hoping to influence the court with the idea that there is no alternative to the present situation. Earnest’s comments also suggest that the White House has little confidence in the plan that Democrats in Congress are expected to pursue if the GOP-backed case prevails. Democrats will try to pass a one-page bill to tweak the law’s text to eliminate the ambiguities that brought the case to court initially. Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans have each commissioned working groups to draft their own response plans. When asked if the Obama administration is in contact with any members of Congress who have proposed alternative plans, Earnest declined to answer…”


Juan Williams: Supreme Court risks healthcare chaos

“This Congress, your honor?” That snappy one-liner got a rare laugh from the packed crowd at the Supreme Court back in March. Justice Antonin Scalia had asked Solicitor General Donald Verilli if there was any chance Congress could put aside politics and fix four words of ambiguous language in ObamaCare before the court had to rule in King v. Burwell. The case is a challenge to federal subsidies in the healthcare law — and those four contested words are at its root. The case will be decided in the next few weeks. The laughter was telling. No one trusts the current Congress to make a simple correction. It is also true that few Americans trust the Supreme Court to make an impartial ruling. An AP-GFK poll conducted last month found 48 percent of Americans think the court’s ruling will not be based on an “objective interpretation of law.” Only ten percent of Americans told the pollsters they are highly confident that the justices will stick to a constitutional review instead of offering personal opinions. The biggest surprise was that 60 percent of opponents to the law said they had no confidence in the conservative majority on the court to reach a fair, objective decision. There is also the question of why the court agreed to hear a late, weak challenge to the law. The whole case rests on what the four key words — “established by the state” — mean. The plaintiffs, partisans with an open antagonism toward the law, say it means subsidies can only be offered in states that have set up their own ObamaCare exchanges, not in places where the state has declined to do so and the federal government has stepped in instead. The Obama administration and even Republicans involved in writing the law counter that the phrasing was a minor oversight in a bill of more than 900 pages. The real intent, backers of the law say, was for subsidies to be offered regardless of which entity was administering the exchanges. They assert that this interpretation is clearly evident in the “text, structure and history” of the law. The idea that the dispute is worthy of Supreme Court deliberation is puzzling. Doug Elmendorf, who ran the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, was intimately involved in reviewing the law as it was being formulated to gauge its cost. The idea of subsidies being confined to state exchanges “did not arise” he told the New York Times. Former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who was in office when the law was being debated and voted upon, told the same newspaper that the distinction at the heart of the court challenge “was never part of our conversation at any point. Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies?” Robert Pear, the Times reporter, wrote that interviews with “more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans,” found “none” who agreed that the law was intended to keep subsidies away from people in states that did not set up a health insurance exchange. A Republican lawyer who worked for the Senate GOP described the whole situation as a mere “drafting error.”…”


Obamacare Lawlessness Headed to High Court

“In Obama’s America, even when you play by the regime’s rules, you still lose, financially and legally. Just ask Kawa Orthodontics, which invested time and resources in complying with the Obamacare employer mandate, a central component of President Obama’s signature legislative “achievement.”  The law declares that businesses with 50 or more employees are considered “large employers” who must provide “affordable, minimum essential” health insurance coverage to employees and their dependents. Large employers additionally have annual reporting obligations under the PPACA.  In 2013, preparing for the employer mandate soon to go into effect, Florida business Kawa Orthodontics put up its own money to comply. However, because the administration decided to ignore the law and delay implementation of the mandate, Kawa, and who knows how many other businesses, lost some, if not all, of the value of the time and money that could have been used for other, productive purposes…”


5 Supreme Court Cases to Watch in June

The High Court prepares to rule on Obamacare, gay marriage, death penalty drugs, and more.

“The Supreme Court’s 2014-2015 term will soon reach its finale. By the end of June, when the justices depart for their summer break, the Court is expected to issue a series of blockbuster decisions, including rulings on gay marriage, death penalty drugs, and Obamacare. Here are five cases to watch as another momentous SCOTUS term reaches its peak… King v. Burwell – The question before the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell is whether the Obama administration illegally implemented the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) when the IRS allowed tax credits to issue to certain persons who bought health insurance on federally established health care exchanges. According to the text of the ACA, such tax credits should only issue in connection with purchases made via an “Exchange established by the State.” According to the Obama administration, however, the phrase “established by the State” is actually a “term of art” that encompasses exchanges established by both the states and by the federal government. The legal challengers, by contrast, maintain that the statutory text is clear and that the health care law means what it says. Depending on how the Court sees it, the long-term survival of Obamacare could be at risk.”


Obamacare unravel could be lose-lose: Experts

“Conservatives will find themselves in a tough spot if a Supreme Court challenge to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law results in the loss of subsidies for millions of Americans, two doctors told CNBC on Monday. Any day now, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether language in the Affordable Health Care Act prevents the government from issuing subsidies to people who purchased health care on federal exchanges. The challenge being mounted in King v. Burwell threatens the subsidies issued in 34 states that did not establish state-run exchanges and are instead served by HealthCare.gov. GOP lawmakers have put forward a number of measures that would extend benefits that subsidize the cost of coverage for Americans who purchased plans on federally administered health care exchanges. Such an extension would create a solution through the 2016 presidential election, but a ruling against subsidies could create disruptions in important spots on the electoral map. “We’re going to have millions of people who would not get health coverage, especially in key states like Florida and Wisconsin where there are big battle ground races to be had,” Dr. Kavita Patel, a practicing physician at John Hopkins Medicine, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”…”


​One procedure that cost Medicare $6.6 billion

“Joint replacement was the most common hospital procedure that Medicare paid for in 2013, accounting for nearly 450,000 inpatient admissions and $6.6 billion in payments. Among physicians, cancer specialists received the largest payments from Medicare, but much of their reimbursements went to cover the cost of the very expensive drugs to treat their patients. Those were among thousands of details in a vast trove of Medicare billing data for 2013 released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services. Medicare turns 50 next month, and in the age of big data the more than $600 billion that taxpayers spend annually on the program is getting closer scrutiny than ever. Medicare covers 55 million people, a number that keeps growing as baby boomers reach age 65 and sign up. A recent trend of moderating medical spending has not dispelled concerns about the program’s long-term financial stability. Monday’s data marked the third year the government has released details on hospital spending, and the second year for physician reimbursements. Here are some of the pieces of a vast health care jigsaw puzzle:…”



Supreme Court denies Arizona’s bid to deny bail to undocumented immigrants

“The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an Arizona county’s attempt to reinstate a state law that denies bail to people in the country illegally who are charged with certain crimes. The justices left in place a lower-court ruling that struck down the law that Arizona voters approved in 2006. The law denied bail to immigrants who are in the country illegally and have been charged with a range of felonies that include shoplifting, aggravated identity theft, sexual assault and murder. As a result, immigrants spent months in jail and often simply pleaded guilty and were turned over to federal immigration authorities for deportation. Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said they would have heard the case. It takes the votes of four justices to hear an appeal. Thomas, in an opinion for himself and Scalia, said the court’s action could give lower courts “free rein to strike down state laws on the basis of dubious constitutional analysis.” He said it is “disheartening” that another justice wouldn’t also want to review the lower court ruling….”


Justices block law denying bail to undocumented immigrants

“The Supreme Court sounded the final death knell Monday for an Arizona constitutional amendment that denied bail to all undocumented immigrants charged with serious felonies. The justices refused to reconsider a federal appeals court ruling that held the measure, passed in 2006, was unconstitutional because it did not provide for case-by-case determinations. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, the court’s three most conservative members, would have agreed to hear the case. “Our indifference to cases such as this one will only embolden the lower courts to reject state laws on questionable constitutional grounds,” Thomas wrote…”


Another Arizona immigration law dismantled by the courts

“The U.S. Supreme Court landed the final blow against an Arizona law that denied bail to immigrants who are in the country illegally and are charged with certain felonies, marking the latest in a series of state immigration policies that have since been thrown out by the courts. The nation’s highest court on Monday rejected a bid from metro Phoenix’s top prosecutor and sheriff to reinstate the 2006 law after a lower appeals court concluded late last year that it violated civil rights by imposing punishment before trial. While a small number of Arizona’s immigration laws have been upheld, the courts have slowly dismantled most of the other statutes that sought to draw local police into immigration enforcement. “At this point, we can say that was a failed experiment,” said Cecillia Wang, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who led the challenge of the law. “Like the rest of the country, Arizona should move on from that failed experiment.” Voters overwhelmingly approved the no-bail law as the state’s politicians were feeling pressure to take action on illegal immigration. It automatically denied bail to immigrants charged with a range of felonies that included shoplifting, aggravated identity theft, sexual assault and murder. The number of immigrants who were denied bond hearings as a result of the law was unknown, but that number is believed to be over 1,000. Immigrants started to get bail hearings late last year after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the law…”


FBI closes EB-5 investigation; no criminal charges brought

“The FBI announced Monday it has closed its investigation into South Dakota’s investment-for-visa program and the state’s U.S. Attorney would not pursue any prosecution. The program to recruit investment dollars from wealthy immigrants in exchange for easier entry into the U.S. came under scrutiny after the death of a former state official and allegations of financial misconduct. The program and surrounding scandal were frequent talking points during South Dakota’s U.S. Senate race last year, with former Gov. and now U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds routinely criticized by his opponents for his management of the program as governor. Some questions and answers about what Monday’s news means: REMIND ME WHAT EB-5 IS AGAIN? It’s a state-run federal program that allows states to recruit wealthy immigrant investors for projects in exchange for green cards. Investors approved for the federal program can become legal permanent residents after two years and can later be eligible to become citizens. South Dakota was one of the states that led the way in EB-5 financing under Joop Bollen and former Governor’s Office of Economic Development secretary Richard Benda. But the program came under fire after Benda committed suicide in 2013 as state officials prepared felony theft charges against him…”


Newark Immigration 2015: Municipal IDs For Undocumented Immigrants Granted In New Jersey City



“After her showdown with Jorge Ramos on his home turf, Ann Coulter is now challenging Facebook board member Marc Andreessen to an immigration debate. Coulter, the author of Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole, has consistently been unafraid to bring up inconvenient truths about illegal immigration that the politically-correct media willfully ignore or hide. Andreessen, the tech investor and advocate of open borders, recently implied that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)80% was “clinically insane” for standing up for American workers and daring to suggest that an immigration policy that favors plutocrats may not serve the national interest. Coulter told Breitbart News that “it’s hard to know what point of Andreessen’s argument I’m supposed to dispute inasmuch his argument is: ‘anyone who disagrees with me on importing cheap labor is clinically insane.’” “But if we’re all insane, it ought to be child’s play to debate us,” Coulter said in issuing her challenge. “So how about it, Marc? You pick the audience — I just want C-SPAN there.” Andreessen, an early investor in Facebook, picked a fight with Sessions last year after the Alabama Senator called out Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg on the Senate floor for spending millions to push amnesty legislation and massive increases in H-1b guest-worker permits at a time when there is a proven surplus–not a shortage–of American high-tech workers. Andreessen, as Breitbart News noted, even called the Alabama Senator an “odious hack” and implied that Sessions was “clinically insane” for suggesting that Facebook hire more American workers, like those recently laid off by technology giants such as Microsoft. Andreessen has not backed down an inch from his views, recently declaring that illegal immigration is the best thing that is happening to America, especially if the nation’s birth rates continue to drop. “It’s the best thing that can possibly be happening to us, and I find it ironic; nobody wants to talk about that,” Andreessen recently said of illegal immigration….”


Watch: What Jeb Bush Just Said About Immigration May Sink His Ship Before It Sets Sail

“During his final broadcast as host of CBS’ Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer pressed likely Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush on his willingness to embrace positions to the left of many candidates already vying for the party’s nomination. Bush defended his views, suggesting the primary process would be more effective if all candidates expressed their true intentions instead of pandering to the GOP’s conservative base. “I think people are so disaffected and … so cynical about politicians and politics,” he said, “they don’t want to hear someone say, well ‘I’m for this’ and immediately shift back to another position for the general election.” Bush then brought up one issue for which he has already received serious flak from conservatives. “I have views that are different than some in our party,” he said, “and that’s what we’ll sort out if I’m a candidate. I’m not going to back down on views on immigration, for example.” Schieffer asked Bush if he still supports a pathway toward legal status for millions of illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S…”






Martin O’Malley is targeting Latino voters



US consumer spending flat in April as income, savings rise

“U.S. consumers held back from spending more in April, deciding instead to channel income gains into savings. Consumer spending was flat in April — the weakest performance in three months — after a revised 0.5 percent increase in March, the Commerce Department reported Monday. The March advance had been the biggest gain since last August. Personal income rose a healthy 0.4 percent. The unchanged reading for consumer spending in April had been expected given weakness previously reported in retail sales and auto sales for the month. Economists, however, forecast that spending will rebound in coming months. Solid gains in employment and incomes should translate into more confident consumers who are willing to spend more. With income growing and spending flat, the personal saving rate jumped to 5.6 percent of after-tax incomes — the second highest level since December 2012. Economists believe consumers will start spending the savings they have accumulated from the big drop in gas prices. While the cost of filing up the tank has risen a bit in recent weeks, prices are still nearly $1 below the levels of a year ago. Consumer spending is closely watched because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. “The April income and spending figures are another reminder that even though their incomes are rising at a healthy pace, households are still reluctant to boost spending more freely,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients. He said he still believed the overall economy would grow between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in the current April-June quarter. The overall economy shrank in first three month of the year, with the gross domestic product contracting at an annual rate of 0.7 percent…”


Consumer Spending Stalled in April as Americans Saved More

“Consumer purchases unexpectedly stalled in April as Americans used income gains to shore up savings, raising the risk the biggest part of the economy may take time to gain momentum after a slow start to the year. The unchanged reading in purchases followed a 0.5 percent gain the prior month that was larger than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed Monday in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 79 economists called for a 0.2 percent rise. Earnings increased 0.4 percent, more than projected, and the saving rate climbed. Consumers, who’ve been using the money freed up by low gasoline costs to pay down debt or rebuild their balance sheets, would be more inclined to shop as wages accelerate. Sustained improvement in household spending, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy, is needed to ensure growth rebounds as Federal Reserve officials project. “Consumer spending remains a bit restrained,” said Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit and among the top forecasters of spending in the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It suggests a weak start to the quarter and puts growth estimates at risk. I still think things will improve. We’re going to gain some momentum. All the fundamentals are in place for it.”…”


Factories Meet New Hurdle in U.S. Consumer Spending Slowdown

“After weathering a slump in exports and oil exploration, American manufacturers confront a new hurdle: a hesitant consumer. While the Institute for Supply Management’s factory index climbed in May from an almost two-year low, another release from the Commerce Department showed little change in April personal spending, getting the second quarter off to a slow start.

Households remain intent on rebuilding finances six years into the economic expansion even as the job market strengthens, which means manufacturing will take time to rebound from the strong dollar and plunge in oil prices. Another report showing a burst of construction activity in April indicates residential and commercial builders can look forward to better times ahead.

“Manufacturing is starting to rev up a little bit again,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York. Still, “it’s hard to see manufacturing improving if consumer spending is really as weak as the April numbers imply.” The ISM’s gauge of factories improved to 52.8 last month from 51.5 in April as orders increased at the fastest pace in five months, the Tempe, Arizona-based group said Monday. Readings above 50 indicate expansion and the May figure exceeded the Bloomberg survey median forecast of 52…”


Midwest economy: May state-by-state glance

“The Institute for Supply Management, formerly the Purchasing Management Association, began formally surveying its membership in 1931 to gauge business conditions. The Creighton Economic Forecasting Group uses the same methodology as the national survey to consult supply managers and business leaders. Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss oversees the report. The overall index ranges between 0 and 100. Growth neutral is 50, and a figure greater than 50 indicates an expanding economy over the next three to six months. Here are the state-by-state results for May:…”


Fed official: Weak economy is not just the weather

“A Federal Reserve official painted a negative picture of the U.S. economy Monday, arguing that recent disappointing readings of economic output cannot be excused because of the unusually harsh winter weather in parts of the country. The economic statistics were “also weak before the storms and have been weaker than expected ever since,” said Federal Reserve Bank of Boston president Eric Rosengren in text for a speech in Hartford. Rosengren made the case that the forecasts offered by the Federal Reserve have been overly optimistic, and that the central bank should continue to keep interest rates low until the data, not just official forecasts, improve. Over the past two years, Rosengren noted, U.S. gross domestic product has grown at 2.3 percent, adjusted for inflation, below the 3 percent rate that is normal for when the Fed begins raising rates. First-quarter gross domestic product growth came in at a negative 0.7 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department reported Friday…”


As Obama’s Economy Falls, White House Excuses Boom

“Economy: They must be getting pretty desperate in the White House economic shop these days. When the revised GDP numbers showed a first-quarter decline of 0.7%, they started blaming the estimates themselves. On the list of excuses for President Obama’s ongoing failure to produce decent economic growth, we hadn’t heard this one: A “seasonal adjustment” problem at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles the GDP estimates. White House chief economist Jason Furman says that, despite its seasonal adjustments, the BEA might not be accurately accounting for the effect of winter weather on growth. But as the chart below shows, there’s not much of a difference over the long term between economic growth from January through March and growth for the same year as a whole. Some years it’s higher, some lower.

It’s true that in recent years, growth in Q1 has tended to be subpar. But the problem isn’t a lack of proper seasonal adjustment; it’s that growth under Obama has been so tepid that even the slightest bump can knock it off stride. Just look at the numbers. Since the Obama recovery started in June 2009, there have been four quarters where GDP was either flat or negative (compared with only three where growth exceeded 4%). The overall growth in the 23 quarters of the Obama recovery has been 13.3%. That’s less than half the average 26.7% growth rate achieved at this point in the previous 10 recoveries since World War II. Looked at another way, had Obama’s recovery been merely average, GDP would be $1.9 trillion bigger today. That translates into $16,000 per household…”


Key Dem: Congress must lift spending caps

“The top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee is calling on Congress to pass a new budget deal to lift sequestration spending caps. “It is time to get serious. In order to pass appropriations bills that protect our security and invest in our nation, Congress must pass a new budget agreement that raises discretionary spending caps for both defense and non-defense priorities,” wrote Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) in a new op-ed for Roll Call. “Failing to recognize this reality only wastes time and taxpayer money, and increases the risk of another government shutdown,” she added. Lowey outlined cuts House Republicans have approved for Amtrak, which happened just after the deadly train derailment, and cuts to the Justice Department’s training programs and resources for law enforcement agencies. In addition to low funding levels, Lowey blasted policy riders that Republicans have tucked inside each of the bills. Some, for example, would undermine President Obama’s new policy to normalize relations with Cuba and relax gun restrictions. Lowey pointed out that this year’s appropriations process is following the same pattern it did in 2013, which ultimately resulted in a budget deal to lift spending ceilings that December. She said it is now only “a question of when” a deal would happen this year. “The House will soon reach the point where appropriations bills cannot pass. In any case, the Senate may pass nothing, and Obama threatens to veto bills that lock in insufficient funding for critical priorities,” she argued. “How long will Congress dither this year before getting real with an agreement to raise budget caps and allow appropriators to do their jobs? Five months? Six? More?”…”


GOP leader hopes to pass Obama trade bill in June

“House Republican leaders aren’t ready to take up the “Fast Track” trade bill passed last month in the Senate, but a vote could be scheduled in June, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday. “Nothing has been decided yet as we move forward,” McCarthy told a group of reporters on Monday. “It’s my intention we’ll get that done this month.” The House has struggled to find enough support to pass the trade promotion authority legislation, which would give President Obama expanded powers to secure international trade deals. The so-called TPA bill would let Obama negotiate trade agreements that can’t be amended by Congress, and can only be approved or rejected as is. Most House Democrats oppose the legislation, which they say would hurt jobs and damage the economy, particularly in manufacturing states. A faction of Republicans are also against the deal, and together they make up enough of an opposition front to keep the measure from passing…”


Dems in pressure cooker on trade

“House Democrats are in a pressure cooker ahead of a high-stakes vote on a vital piece of President Obama’s ambitious trade agenda. The White House, joining the powerful business lobby, is applying a full court press in an effort to rally lawmakers behind contentious fast-track legislation that would grant the administration new powers to seal enormous international trade deals that would rank atop Obama’s economic achievements. The effort is being countered by a lobbying blitz — and unveiled threats, by some accounts — from labor unions, environmentalists and other liberal groups warning of the detrimental effect such deals would have on a range of quality-of-life issues, not least the erosion of U.S. jobs. Squeezed in the middle are dozens of on-the-fence Democrats whose votes will likely prove crucial to the fate of the trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation that squeaked through the Senate last week and now heads to the lower chamber. GOP leaders want to move the bill quickly when Congress returns to Washington this week after a holiday recess, but lack enough party support to do so without Democratic votes. Rarely have the minority Democrats faced such a difficult choice. On one hand, they want to support their ally in the White House on the top economic priority of his second term. On the other, they feel burned by the false promises of trade deals past and have deep-seated concerns that Obama’s agenda — particularly a sweeping 12-nation accord with Pacific Rim nations that’s nearing finalization — would prove little different. “Just because the administration says it’s the most progressive trade deal in history doesn’t make it so,” said Bill Samuel, director of government affairs at the AFL-CIO. If the arguments haven’t changed, the lobbying intensity has. Obama this month staged a high-profile speech at Nike headquarters in Oregon to tout the economic benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has prowled the halls of the Capitol explaining the proposed deal’s nuances and urging support. And the president called dozens of House Democrats to the White House for a rare two-hour meeting in which he vowed to use all his political capital to defend supporting lawmakers from campaign attacks, left or right. They may need the help…”


Profiles in Courage: Lawmakers Who Support Fast-Track Will Vote Against It

“If the House votes against giving President Obama trade promotion authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it won’t be because too few members support it. It will be because a lot of members – Democrats and Republicans – who support it will vote against it. Democrats who support it will vote no because there is a groundswell of hostile and mostly ill-informed opposition on the left and they don’t want to walk into that buzz saw. Republicans who support it will vote no because they hate President Obama and can’t stomach the idea of giving him anything he wants, regardless of how they themselves feel about it. This is how your Congress works, folks. You should be proud. The last free-trade agreement the U.S. ratified was with South Korea in 2012. There was some opposition to it here, but not nearly as much as there is to the TPP. On the eve of the vote on the Korea agreement, some Democratic House members who supported it saw that there were enough votes to pass it even if they voted no. So, they did. They didn’t want to be horse-whipped by labor unions, the press and the Huffington Post. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., now retired, told the then-South Korean ambassador to the United States that he would vote for the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement. But he didn’t. Apparently, he saw how belligerently the unions in his union-heavy state were opposing it, so he lost his nerve and voted no. And he wasn’t even running for reelection. The Korea FTA tied the United States to one country. The TPP would tie it to 11, representing 40 percent of global GDP. So, the stakes are higher and the opposition more bellicose…”


The Export-Import Bank And The Art Of Picking Losers


Tea Party hits Clinton for support of Ex-Im

“Tea Party groups are attacking Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton for her support of the Export-Import Bank, as the Congress debates a proposal to extend the embattled institution before it’s charter expires on June 30.  Freedom Partners, a Tea Party group opposing the Bank’s reauthorization, began circulating video on Monday from a February 2010 hearing where Clinton testified before Congress that she wanted to “put the Ex-Im Bank on steroids.” Ex-Im offers government-backed loans and loan guarantees for U.S. companies to help finance international business.  “We can do even more through the Ex-Im Bank, and I’m going to try to encourage that approach,” Clinton said. “I’d like to put the Ex-Im Bank on steroids because I think it does so much good work for American companies and I want American businesses to know that.” Republicans are divided about whether to reauthorize the bank. Some conservatives — including top likely and declared GOP presidential candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — oppose the bank. They argue that the 80-year-old bank only finances projects for big businesses that have “crony” political connections inside the Beltway. During a campaign stop in New Hampshire last month, Clinton doubled down on her support of the bank, calling Republican opposition to it “embarrassing.” James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners, said, “corruption, cronyism and corporate welfare on steroids — that’s what the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank would mean if Hillary Clinton had her way.” “What would that look like ‘on steroids’ in a potential Clinton administration? We’re hopeful that Republicans in Congress will take that possibility off the table by allowing this bank to expire,” Davis said…”


Expanding the Lifeline Phone Subsidy — Here Comes Obamanet

“The Obama administration Thursday announced a plan to expand the troubled Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone service, to also include broadband coverage. Despite the enormous potential for even more waste, fraud, and abuse in a program already famous for such fiscal irresponsibility, the Democrat-controlled Federal Communications Commission is nonetheless likely to approve this proposal. I know from personal experience that this is a terrible idea. That’s because in 2013, I received three so-called Obamaphones myself — when I wasn’t even eligible for one. As I wrote for National Review, my income was high enough that I could have supported a family of eight and still remained ineligible; and even though eligible beneficiaries may receive only one phone, I received three “free” phones in the mail. Most incredibly, I got these phones without lying, truthfully answering every question Lifeline representatives asked me…”


New union-friendly rule from Obama targets small business

“Supporters of tougher regulations on businesses usually present them as necessary to curb abuses by large “fatcat” corporations. However, President Obama’s administration is pursuing a new labor rule that would largely ignore big business and instead target small and medium-sized companies. Under the federal “persuader” rule, businesses currently must disclose whenever they hire somebody to try to convince their employees they shouldn’t unionize — hence the rule’s name. Now the administration wants to expand the disclosure to include any time managers who receive legal advice on the subject. The persuader rule is part of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which was passed in 1959 to prohibit stealth anti-union campaigns by employers…”


Justice Department Studying ‘Far-Right’ Social Media Use

$585,719 study to combat violent extremism

“The Department of Justice is concentrating on “far-right” groups in a new study of social media usage aimed at combatting violent extremism. The Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) awarded Michigan State University $585,719 for the study, which was praised by Eric Holder, the former attorney general, earlier this year. “There is currently limited knowledge of the role of technology and computer mediated communications (CMCs), such as Facebook and Twitter, in the dissemination of messages that promote extremist agendas and radicalize individuals to violence,” according to the NIJ grant. “The proposed study will address this gap through a series of qualitative and quantitative analyses of posts from various forms of CMC used by members of both the far-right and Islamic extremist movements.” The study draws more upon right-wing forums than upon the corners of the web inhabited by Islamist extremists. “We will collect posts made in four active forums used by members of the far-right and three from the Islamic Extremist community, as well as posts made in Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, YouTube, and Pastebin accounts used by members of each movement,” the grant said. “The findings will be used to document both the prevalence and variation in the ideological content of posts from members of each movement,” the grant continued. “In addition, we will assess the value of these messages in the social status of the individual posting the message and the function of radical messages in the larger on-line identity of participants in extremist communities generally.”…”


The GOP Needs A 5 Percent Growth Target

“First-quarter real GDP actually declined by 0.7 percent, according to revisions out this week, creating much new talk about recession. But there is no recession. Trouble is, there continues to be virtually no recovery. The economy has expanded about 1.5 percent over the past two quarters, 2.4 percent at an annual rate over the past two years, and about 2.3 percent during this six-year, so-called recovery. That’s the real problem. Not a one-quarter snowstorm or inaccurate seasonal adjustments. Following the deepest recession since World War II, a normal recovery should have featured an outsized rebound. The Reagan years exemplified that model. But it hasn’t happened. Why? On the eve of the Republican primaries, here’s the big question: What must we do to restore America’s long-term economic-growth performance, which is roughly 3.4 percent per year? Answer: 5 percent growth for the next decade…”



Christie’s flip on Common Core, and the growing character issue | Moran

“Gov. Chris Christie’s latest love-note to the Republican base was so craven and phony that it’s tough to find a single person who believes it was sincere. And this was not a small matter, like his defense of pig torture with the veto of a ban on gestation crates. This time, he flipped on Common Core, the educational standards that New Jersey’s principals and teachers have been working hard to implement for the last five years. The governor on Thursday withdrew his support, saying Common Core is “not working” and leaving educators mystified about what the future holds. He sold them out. And this time, his political maneuvering could do tangible harm to the children of this state, especially those who are already at risk. So it’s time to discuss the character issue. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, is taking heat for his support of Common Core, but he’s sticking with it. So is Ohio Gov. John Kasich. They seem to have something Christie and the other Lilliputians in this race lack: Core convictions…”


Red Tape Comes to Charter Schooling

“It’s easier to open a business in Cambodia or Venezuela than a charter school in New York. Charter schools may be the nearest thing to a “safe” 21st-century school reform. Other contenders — such as school vouchers, teacher evaluation, school accountability, or the Common Core — have proven more contentious. Thus, it’s no great surprise that just about every would-be school reformer has climbed on the charter-school bandwagon . . . albeit, in their own fashion. Popularity can be a great blessing. It has helped usher in a wave of extraordinary charter-school growth, with more than 6,000 charters across the U.S. enrolling more than 2 million students. More than a million more students are on waiting lists. Popularity does have its downside, however. The peril of popularity is that when everyone likes charter schools, supporters will include well-meaning technocrats who think they can impose just the right kind of regulation and bureaucracy to make charter schooling work even better (despite the evidence of decades of mandated mediocrity). It’s important to understand that charter schools are “authorized” and then monitored by a state-approved authorizer. Depending on the state, authorizers can be local school boards, the state board of education, special state boards, universities, or any other entity approved by the legislature. The American Enterprise Institute recently issued a new study on the state of charter-school authorizing. It found that, across the country, well-meaning authorizers and legislators have larded up charter applications with onerous, pointless requirements that can make it inordinately difficult to launch new schools. Analyzing each element of the applications used by 40 major authorizers makes clear that nearly a quarter of the requirements were clearly excessive, and that more than half could be usefully trimmed…”


Martin O’Malley On Education: 7 Things The Presidential Candidate Wants You To Know



IRS Using 13-Yr. Old Microsoft Software

“IRS computers are still running the 13-year old Microsoft (MSFT) Windows XP operating software which Microsoft stopped supporting a year ago with security updates. Even the agency’s fraud-catching software is two decades old. The outdated software may have played a role in the breach the IRS announced last week in which thieves hacked into the agency’s online service and gained access to more than 100,000 taxpayer accounts. The criminals used personal data obtained from other sources, including Social Security numbers, street addresses and dates of birth to get into the IRS’ “Get Transcript” service. The service was subsequently shut down. The thieves gained access to tax returns and other tax information on file with the IRS. During an IRS budget hearing in April before the House Financial Services and General Government Committee, the chairman, Rep. Ander Crenshaw, questioned why the agency had been so slow to upgrade to Windows 7. “Now we find out that you’ve been struggling to come up with $30 million to finish migrating to Windows 7, even though Microsoft announced in 2008 that it would stop supporting Windows XP past 2014,” the Congressman said. “I know you probably wish you’d already done that.” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has said budget cuts have kept the service from upgrading, telling Congressional members that “we still have applications that were running when John F. Kennedy was president.”…”


This week: NSA reform bill tops agenda

“Senators are working toward passage of a bill to reform the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk metadata collection program, after agreeing to move forward with the legislation late Sunday. The USA Freedom Act overcame a series of procedural hurdles Sunday night, but senators weren’t able to prevent provisions of the Patriot Act from expiring, and the NSA’s program from shutting down, at midnight Sunday. Instead, they’re expected to vote on a handful of amendments this week, as well another procedural vote as soon as Tuesday, paving the way for final passage.  The USA Freedom Act passed the House in a resounding 338-88 vote last month. It would effectively prevent the NSA from collecting bulk metadata about the phone numbers people dial and when their calls are placed. Instead, the agency would have to ask private companies for a narrow set of records tied to a particular case.  Supporters of the bill, including the Obama administration and House Republicans, worked to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into dropping his opposition to the bill over the weeklong Memorial Day recess. That appeared to work with McConnell and other Republicans voting to move forward with the bill on Sunday…”


Paul blocks Senate from speeding up NSA vote

“Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday from moving up a procedural vote on the USA Freedom Act. McConnell tried to move up the House-backed bill from a Tuesday vote to Monday evening. Because the Republican leader was trying to circumvent Senate rules, he needed consent from every senator. But, Paul, who is running for president, objected, saying that he “would be happy” to allow the vote sooner, but only if he gets votes on his amendments. “I would be happy to agree to dispensing with the time and having a vote at the soonest possibility if we were allowed to accommodate amendments for those of us who object to the bill,” he told McConnell on the Senate floor. “But at this point I object.” The two Kentucky Republicans have been in a battle of wills over expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. McConnell originally wanted to get an extension of the legislation as is, but was repeatedly blocked. Paul opposes both a clean extension and the USA Freedom Act. He doubled down Sunday night on his pledge to use procedural tactics to drag out consideration of the reform bill. But he also declined to criticize McConnell’s handeling of the NSA fight when speaking with reporters, and the two were seen laughing together on the Senate floor shortly before Paul’s objection on Monday. McConnell, who dropped his opposition to the USA Freedom Act on Sunday, helping it get the 60 votes needed to move ahead, tried to pressure his colleagues into allowing for an earlier vote. “It’s time to get the job done,” he said. “Everyone has had ample opportunity to say their piece at this point. Now is the time for action.”…”


Rand Paul hails ‘big victory’ for privacy: Obama ‘will be rebuked’

“Sen. Rand Paul on Monday hailed a “big victory for privacy” in his fight against the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program after key provisions of the post-9/11 Patriot Act lapsed late Sunday. “Actually, I think we’re winning,” the Kentucky Republican said on Fox News when asked if the legislative fight was over for the moment. “The president will be rebuked and the president will no longer be able to illegally collect our records all the time, so I think it’s a big victory for privacy.” Amid Sunday’s floor battle over the expiring law, Mr. Paul had acknowledged that he could delay matters for only a few days. The Senate is now poised to take up a House-passed bill that does away with bulk collection by the NSA, but that legislation would also extend powers for the U.S. government to obtain wiretaps that follow terrorists from phone to phone and another provision that allows the targeting of “lone wolf” terrorists. Mr. Paul also defended his stand on the issue amid criticism from some within the GOP, saying that “nobody really questions my sincerity with my support and defense of the Fourth Amendment and the Bill of Rights.” “And those who do are just simply, you know, trying to make the debate into a tawdry debate and trying to use personal innuendo, which I think is really beneath all of us and we ought to have a better debate on the facts,” he said. Mr. Paul, a 2016 presidential contender, did allow that he might have engaged in a bit of “hyperbole” a day earlier when he suggested that some people secretly want a terrorist attack “so they can blame it on me.” “I think sometimes going after people’s motives and impugning people’s motives is a mistake and in the heat of battle I think sometimes hyperbole can get the better of all of us,” he said. “I think the general idea that people use fear, and I think they do use fear — they act as if we can’t collect any records. … I think we need to have an intelligent debate, and sometimes hyperbole gets the better of us, I think’s the best way to put it.”



“Late Sunday the National Security Agency (NSA) shut down its bulk data collection program as the PATRIOT Act expired thanks to Paul’s efforts. He tells Breitbart News exclusively that “we’re excited by the fact that the battle has been won.” “The president has been told in no uncertain terms—and by the end of the week this will be in writing—that he can no longer illegally collect all of Americans’ phone records and keep them in Utah,” Paul said. I think this is a big rebuke for the president. The courts told him it was illegal and he just kept doing it anyway. I think most Americans, particularly Republicans, don’t trust this president. This is the same president who went after Tea Party groups and went after religious liberty and religious groups. I don’t understand why some of the big government Republicans up here don’t get it because most Republicans I meet across the country don’t want this president to have access to all their phone records. Paul criticized—without naming names—GOP senators including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) 81% of Florida, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) 45% of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) 49% of South Carolina and other Republicans like Jeb Bush for failing to listen to voters about their concerns with the NSA program. “I think they get in a Washington echo chamber for so long and don’t get outside the beltway enough to listen to people in America,” Paul said of the Republicans who blindly support the program…”




GOP lawmaker: Civil liberties ‘restored’ as Patriot Act expires

“Rep. Thomas Massie, an ally of fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, said Monday that the midnight expiration of certain Patriot Act provisions was a “wonderful thing.”

Massie, along with Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), stayed in Washington last week — while other lawmakers were back in their districts for the Memorial Day recess — to make sure there was no passage of a short-term extension of the government surveillance. The two civil libertarians further accompanied Paul to the Senate’s Sunday session, which resulted in advancing the House-passed bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk data collection. But Paul prevented the Senate from sending the legislation to President Obama’s desk before the midnight deadline. Ultimately, however, the Senate is expected to pass the bill by midweek and renew the expired Patriot Act provisions…”



“The National Security Agency lost its authority at midnight to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk, after GOP Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)93% stood in the way of extending the fiercely contested program in an extraordinary Sunday Senate session. But that program and several other post-Sept. 11 counter-terror measures look likely to be revived in a matter of days. With no other options, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)54%, in an about-face, reluctantly embraced a House-passed bill that would extend the anti-terror provisions, while also remaking the bulk phone collections program. Although the lapse in the programs may be brief, intelligence officials warned that it could jeopardize Americans’ safety and amount to a win for terrorists. But civil liberties groups applauded as Paul, who is running for president, forced the expiration of the once-secret program made public by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which critics say is an unconstitutional intrusion into Americans’ privacy. The Senate voted 77-17 to move ahead on the House-passed bill, the USA Freedom Act, which only last weekend fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance in the Senate. For McConnell, it was a remarkable retreat after objecting ferociously that the House bill would make the bulk phone collections program dangerously unwieldy by requiring the government to search records maintained by phone companies. “It’s not ideal but, along with votes on some modest amendments that attempt to ensure the program can actually work as promised, it’s now the only realistic way forward,” McConnell said…”


Either way, no more NSA collection of US phone records

“However Congress resolves its impasse over government surveillance, this much is clear: The National Security Agency will ultimately be out of the business of collecting and storing Americans’ calling records. Aiming for passage Tuesday afternoon, the Senate on Monday prepared to make modest changes to a House bill that would end the collection while preserving other surveillance authorities. But while Congress debated, the law authorizing the collection expired at midnight Sunday. The NSA had stopped gathering the records from phone companies hours before the deadline. And other post-9/11 surveillance provisions considered more effective than the phone-call collection program also lapsed, leading intelligence officials to warn of critical gaps. The legislation now before the Senate, known as the USA Freedom Act, would reauthorize the surveillance but would phase out NSA phone records collection over time. It passed the House overwhelmingly and is backed by President Barack Obama. Sen. Rand Paul, who doesn’t believe it goes far enough in restricting the government, objected anew on Monday, but he can’t stop a vote to end debate scheduled for Tuesday morning. If the bill becomes law over the next few days, the NSA will resume gathering the phone records but only for a transition period of six months, in the House version, or a year in the Senate version. If the bill fails amid congressional politics, the collection cannot resume, period…”



“On Monday’s broadcast of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)100% pushed his alternative to the Patriotic Act, which just expired and its reauthorization has been hindered by the actions of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)93%, a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. According to Lee, his measure would reauthorize provisions of the Patriot Act but end the controversial practice of the collection of bulk telephone data. “It’s coming along,” he said. “It’s more effective because it protects the American people. It leaves in place these provisions of the Patriot Act. It would reauthorize them, but it would reform them. And most importantly it would end the collection of bulk telephone data by the NSA, meaning the NSA could no longer say, ‘Send us all your phone records. We want calling details on every call made in the United States.’ They’d have to connect a phone number they wanted to search to another telephone number that was in some way involved in acts of terrorism.” Lee acknowledged there has been no known abuses of the Patriot Act, but he said there was the possibility abuses could occur. “That’s my point — there hasn’t been abuse of this particular program. We’re not aware of abuse but it’s rife with the potential for abuse,” he said. “And just as you point out that we can’t point to any examples where it has been abused, it’s very difficult to point to specific terrorist acts that have been thwarted by this program because of its existence. It’s the perfect scenario in which we have some up with some kind of compromise — one that can continue to protect the American people go so in a way that also safeguards their privacy.”…”



“The Obama administration appears frustrated with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)93%

, after his obstructions in the Senate forced elements of the Patriot Act to expire. “On a matter as critical as our national security, individual Senators must put aside their partisan motivations and act swiftly,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement last night. “The American people deserve nothing less.” Paul and his supporters have painted his principled stance as a direct challenge to President Obama in support of the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration has resisted taking on Paul personally, but hinted that his principled stance is an attempt to draw attention to his presidential campaign. “At some point the political ambitions of individual members of the United States Senate are going to have to come second to the national security of the United States,” Earnest told reporters on Tuesday. Paul’s efforts on Sunday delayed passage of the USA Freedom Act before the midnight deadline of the Patriot Act provisions, allowing him to claim victory. But the Senate moved forward on the USA Freedom Act, a move welcomed by the White House as “an important—if late—step forward.” “We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible,” the White House said…”


White House urges Senate to approve NSA reform bill

“The White House on Monday urged the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill to reform the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program without changes, saying it’s critical for national security to act as quick as possible.  “Bottom line, we would like to see the Senate pass this bill as soon as possible,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who urged the Senate not to amend the legislation. The spokesman said senators have had 18 months to tinker with the legislation, but they have “blown through” their deadline.  Passing amendments “is a privilege and a right. For the good of the country, they should relinquish,” Earnest said. The reform bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, was approved by the House last month in a 338-88 vote. It would effectively end the NSA’s current records collection program, which gobbled up Americans’ phone data in bulk. It would force the agency to ask phone companies for a specific set of records related to an investigation.  The Senate advanced the NSA reform bill Sunday night, but not before provisions of the Patriot Act — including language authorizing the data collection — expired. If the upper chamber amends the bill, the House would have to vote on the measure again before it can be sent to Obama’s desk. Earnest singled out one amendment proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which would extend the transition of the metadata program from six months to a year, as “completely unnecessary.”…”


House GOP leader pressures Senate to pass NSA reform bill

“The No. 2 Republican in the House on Monday urged the Senate to quickly pass an extension of the Patriot Act and refused to say whether his chamber would consider amendments to the bill. “I hear a lot about things they want to do over in the Senate. I think the best thing for the Senate to do is to take up the House bill and send it to the president,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters at a news briefing. The Patriot Act expired at midnight Sunday, hours after the Senate voted to advance House-approved legislation reforming the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. The Senate is now expected to consider several amendments to the bill. Asked again if he would “rule out” considering those amendments, McCarthy replied: “I don’t know what the Senate could do. I just think knowing that we have just passed a deadline, the best option for the protection of this country is to pass our bill.” The House passed the NSA reform bill on an overwhelming, bipartisan 338-88 vote. It would end the agency’s current bulk data collection program, putting phone companies in charge of storing records rather than the government…”


Week ahead: House examines Obama’s energy infrastructure plan

“A House panel will hear from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on the Obama administration’s energy infrastructure plan with lawmakers returning after the Memorial Day recess. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power invited Moniz for a Tuesday hearing on the administration’s Quadrennial Energy Review, which calls for billions of dollars to build and fix pipelines, transmission lines and other infrastructure to move energy. The hearing is part of the committee’s ongoing effort toward writing a comprehensive energy reform package. Lawmakers hope that the administration’s energy review can help inform their package, which they’re calling the “Architecture of Abundance.” With wildfire season set to begin soon in the West, both chambers of Congress will hold a hearing on drought and wildfire conditions.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony Tuesday on the current drought conditions in the West, which is seeing its fourth consecutive year of drought. The next day, the House Natural Resources Committee’s subpanel on federal land will hold a hearing on a bill aimed at fixing the nation’s overgrown and fire-prone national forests. The bill follows hearings the panel had in April and May on the problems surrounding national forests and wildfires. Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Republicans in both chambers will continue their efforts to fight the Obama administration’s environmental agenda. The House Science Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a strong opponent of President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is bringing in representatives of business groups for a hearing titled “EPA Regulatory Overreach: Impacts on American Competitiveness.” In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee will hear testimony on the EPA’s proposal to reduce allowable ground-level ozone. The panel will also discuss a trio of Republican bills aimed at preventing the regulation or otherwise weakening it…”


Oil companies: Carbon tax to fight climate change

“A group of Europe’s largest oil companies on Monday announced a plan to fight global warming by charging fossil energy businesses a fee for emitting carbon dioxide. The companies include Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Eni, Total, the BG Group and Statoil, which announced their plan in an open letter to the United Nations published in Monday’s Financial Times newspaper. The companies acknowledge the challenge that adding the cost would pose for fossil energy industries, but say they are “confident that we can build on our trajectory of innovation to meet the challenges of the future.” They want the U.N. to help them develop a global strategy that would institute the carbon fee. The letter asks that U.N. policymakers and member states endorse a unified policy that would help businesses make key investment decisions. Advocates of setting a carbon price, or tax, believe it would be more efficient than using regulations to drive reductions…”


Obama’s Clean Power Plan: Let’s Listen to Experts, Learn From Experience | Commentary

“President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan has no shortage of critics, but it’s important to ask whether those criticisms are in good faith. Of course every policy should be carefully scrutinized, but we would be wise to base arguments on the facts provided by the experts. That way we can base our scrutiny on the real issues, instead of talking points. Every new policy proposal comes with a slate of questions. How will it work? Will it work at all? Who will it help? Who could it hurt? What problem is it fixing? What problems could it cause? It’s vital to address these questions in an open and honest manner, allowing policymakers a chance to fine-tune the rule as it is developing. To cut through the political posturing, it’s always helpful to look at what independent scholars have to say. In that spirit, Vanderbilt University’s law school and medical center brought together a number of experts to discuss the health, energy and economic benefits of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Beyond providing an evidence-based foundation for answering policy questions, this forum helps to prove that smart energy policies know no cultural or geographic bounds. Across the mid-South, academics, utilities, nonprofits and even churches are taking the threats of climate change seriously and ramping up clean energy efforts to protect us from the problems that we’ve already started to see. Across the country, traditional political boundaries have started to fall away as the United States moves to a clean-energy economy. Georgia’s tea party groups have started embracing solar and have formed a “Green Tea coalition.” In Texas, one town has banned fracking, while another is moving to 100 percent clean energy by 2017. It’s clear that across the South, climate change is recognized as a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed. And clean energy is becoming more prevalent, in part because it’s getting cheaper by the day. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s draft 2015 Integrated Resource Plan shows that reducing emissions won’t make electricity cost more, and incorporating clean energy into our power grid won’t cause blackouts.

While critics of the Clean Power Plan will paint scary pictures of rate hikes and blackouts, what’s happening in the real world, where we’re already incorporating clean energy into the grid with positive results, tells a different story. It’s not just the expert’s findings, but our experience that undermines the fearmongering of to the ideologues and spokesmen out to protect industry profit at all cost — even human lives. Make no mistake, there are lives at stake. A new peer-reviewed study found that if implemented, the Clean Power Plan will save 3,500 to 6,100 lives per year. So the answer to “Who might it help?” is pretty clear — thousands of Americans. And who might it hurt? Only those who stand to profit from the burning of fossil fuels that make people sick while causing climate change…”


Climate change: The only enemy Obama wants to obliterate


Dem bill backs broadband for low-income web users

“A group of Democratic lawmakers announced legislation on Monday to have the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) develop a program to provide broadband to underserved communities — less than a week after the agency’s chairman announced his intention to do just that. Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and ChrisMurphy (Conn.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (Calif.) are backing the bill, which orders the FCC to expand the Lifeline program to provide broadband to low-income people….”


WV teacher threatened with fine for violating Michelle O’s school snack rules

“Students and parents are rallying to the defense of a teacher who is accused of violating federal school snack rules. The Williamson PreK-8 teacher, who was not identified, would give her students “wrapped candy” as a reward for their hard work and good behavior. Because the practice was an alleged violation of the federal rules championed by first lady Michelle Obama, Mingo County Schools Director of Child Nutrition Kay Maynard “placed a call to officials at the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) to report the incident,” the Williamson Daily News reports. Maynard also spoke to Williamson PreK-8 principal Shannon Blackburn, telling him about the possibility of a monetary fine for the teacher. Michelle Obama cookie 337x244When news spread, parents and student mobilized, collecting pennies to pay the potential fine on the teacher’s behalf. Administrators at the WVDE decided the teacher’s violation was not a “deliberate attempt” to break Michelle Obama’s rules and said instead of fining the teacher, they required the department to “develop a corrective action plan to include training on child nutrition policies.” By participating in the National School Lunch Program, the school district must adhere to edicts handed down from Washington, D.C. Those rules state that food, such as “wrapped candy,” cannot be used as “a reward and it cannot be withheld as a punishment.” Administrators with Mingo County Schools claim the federal rules were developed “to help educators encourage students to make healthy decisions.”…”


Republicans seek to win over black voters once Obama’s gone

“Republicans believe they have an opportunity to nudge their support up among black voters in the 2016 presidential election with President Obama not on the ballot — and take a major stride toward winning the White House in the process.  But they also acknowledge that it won’t be an easy task. Republicans believe the 2016 Democratic nominee will not be able to produce the spike in black turnout nor the increase in already-overwhelming black support that Obama enjoyed in his two victories. Even a modest rise in black backing for the GOP could be critical in swing states, independent experts acknowledge. “There is not going to be any massive increase,” said David Bositis, a researcher specializing in voting behavior who worked for many years for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black-oriented think tank.  “But in many places it does not take a massive increase. You have states like Ohio and Florida where you only have to have a very modest switch to flip the state.” The last Republican presidential nominee to win 15 percent or more of black support was President Ford in 1976. And experts warn that major shifts in voting behavior are a long time coming. “People decades ago used to think that people would change their party identification relatively quickly. And now we understand that large-scale demographic shifts happen slowly over long periods of time,” said Andra Gillespie, an Emory University professor and an expert in black politics. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) has been by some distance the most willing GOP candidate in this cycle to reach out to black voters. Paul has traveled to Ferguson, Mo., to speak with black leaders in the wake of unrest following the shooting death of black 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer. He also has given high-profile speeches at Howard University, one of the nation’s leading historically black universities, and at a National Urban League conference. He quoted Malcolm X in the latter appearance — approvingly. Paul also has promoted reform of drug laws and criminal justice more generally, two areas in which black Americans point to long-standing racial disparities. Paul has asserted that his work can pay electoral dividends.  “If Republicans have a clue and do this and go out and ask every African-American for their vote, I think we can transform an election in one cycle,” the Kentuckian said in an interview with Politico last year, in which he also suggested that “fully a third of the African-American vote” is open to the GOP message. But even those who are supportive of Paul’s efforts believe that could be expecting far too much…”


Obama: Under My Presidency, U.S. ‘The Most Respected Country In The World’ [VIDEO]

“President Barack Obama said Monday that his administration has lifted the U.S. to become “the most respected country in the world.” Obama made the claim during a discussion with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Fellows at the White House. PRESIDENT OBAMA: People don’t remember, but when I came into office, the United States in world opinion ranked below China and just barley above Russia, and today once again, the United States is the most respected country on earth, and part of that I think is because of the work we did to reengage the world and say that we want to work with you as partners with mutual interests and mutual respect. It was on that basis we were able to end two wars while still focusing on the very real threat of terrorism and to try to work with our partners in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s the reason why we are moving in the direction of normalize relations with Cuba. The nuclear deal that we are trying to negotiate with Iran…”




New York Times Columnist Applauds Obama’s ‘Amazingly Scandal-Free’ Administration

“Recent comments made by New York Times conservative-leaning columnist David Brooks are likely to come as a shock to many on the right. Appearing on “PBS Newshour” Friday, Brooks applauded President Barack Obama and his staff for running an “amazingly scandal-free” administration — despite plenty of Republican criticism of how the administration has handled a number of incidents, including the botched gun operation known as Fast and Furious, the response to the Benghazi attacks, the admitted IRS targeting of conservative groups, NSA surveillance and the inadequate health care treatment of veterans at VA hospitals. “And I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him,” Brooks said. “He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.” The comment sparked a flurry of online debate from conservative pundits and organizations. “Despite 6 1/2 years of horrid governance and dozens of acknowledged scandals, several of which a few of the credible remaining outposts of liberal thought have actually agreed are scandals, David Brooks, the New York Times’s resident fake conservative, asserted on Friday’s PBS NewsHour, as if it’s an indisputable fact,” wrote Tom Blumer of the conservative Newsbusters.org. House Republican communications director Alyssa Farah took to Twitter to list some out…”


Obama: ‘Many of the Things Said About Me Are Terribly Unfair’


Lindsey Graham Is Running for President: ‘I’m Ready to Be Commander in Chief on Day One’

“South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham stayed heavy on his national security record while announcing his presidential campaign Monday. “I am more experienced on national security that any candidate in the race. That includes you, Hillary,” Graham said in front of a crowd in South Carolina. With the timing of his announcement, Graham may be most noted for who he isn’t: The hawkish senator and Air Force veteran is in many ways the antithesis of Kentucky’s libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, the GOP presidential candidate who held up passage of the USA Patriot Act and accused Republican hawks of being partly responsible for the emergence of the Islamic State. Graham made no mention about the Patriot Act debate, but seemed to make a veiled reference to Paul. “Those who believe we can disengage from the world at large and be safe by leading from behind, vote for someone else. I am not your man,” Graham said. “Those who believe the best way to defend ourselves is to lead the world and make history rather than be overwhelmed by it, I ask for your support.” He also asserted, “Barack Obama has made us less safe.” “Speeches alone won’t make us safe. If that were true, we’d be really safe. Superior power and resolve is the only way to be safe. I’m running for president of the United States because I’m ready to be commander-in chief on day one,” Graham told the crowd. He later added. ”Our allies feel the weakness of American leadership. Our adversaries are taking advantage of it.”…”


Graham enters 2016 presidential race, becoming 9th GOP candidate

“And then there were nine.  South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham added to the Republican Party’s logistical challenges as he formally launched his 2016 presidential campaign — becoming the ninth GOP primary candidate, with more than a half-dozen others still weighing a bid of their own. South Carolina’s senior senator made the announcement Monday in the small town of Central, where he grew up. The hawkish lawmaker made clear he will strive to make national security a centerpiece of his campaign, and the presidential race as a whole. “I’m running for president of the United States,” Graham said. “I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us — not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them.” Graham slammed President Obama’s policies for fighting terror, and said “radical Islam is running wild.” He said the biggest threat remains Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Graham said he has more experience on national security than any candidate in the race…”


Video: Lindsey Graham announces he’s running against Marco Rubio for president


Stressing National Security Experience, Lindsey Graham Announces Run For President

“South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday he will seek the White House in 2016, offering himself as a national security hawk in a crowded Republican primary. “I’ve got one simple message,” he said. “I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race. And that includes you, Hillary.” Making his announcement in his hometown of Central, S.C., Graham becomes the ninth Republican to formally enter the race. “I want to be president to protect our nation that we all love so much from all threats foreign and domestic,” Graham said. “So get ready. I know I’m ready.”…”


Lindsey Graham Jumps Into 2016 Presidential Race: ‘Ready to Be Commander-in-Chief on Day One’

“South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is “ready to be commander-in-chief on day one,” the Republican said, announcing his presidential bid from his hometown today. “I’m pretty sure no one here, including me, ever expected to hear me say, ‘I’m Lindsey Graham, and I’m running for president of the United States,'” he told a cheering crowd in Central, South Carolina. “I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race. That includes you, Hillary,” he said. “I know the players, I know our friends and I know our enemies alike — but most importantly, ladies and gentlemen, they know me.” Graham, a retired Air Force colonel, enters the race just as a fierce battle over national security rages in the Senate. The South Carolina senator – a noted defense hawk – stands in sharp contrast to fellow 2016 hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, who spent Sunday night railing against the anti-terror PATRIOT act and just last month declared that GOP hawks have contributed to the rise of ISIS. “The Obama Administration, and some of my colleagues in Congress, have substituted wishful thinking for sound national security strategy,” Graham, 59, said today. “I want to be president to defeat the enemies trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them.” “Simply put, radical Islam is running wild,” he said. “They are large, they are rich, they’re entrenched. As president I will make them small, poor and on the run.” Graham joins an already-crowded Republican field, with more candidates expected to declare later this month. One of his strongest allies is likely to be the GOP’s 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain, who once jokingly called Graham his “illegitimate son.”…”


Martin O’Malley: ‘Big banks on Wall Street’ shouldn’t choose president

“Early on in his presidential campaign, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is repeatedly hitting on a reported quote from a top Wall Street executive to suggest that neither former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton nor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would do enough to rein in big banks in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse. In an interview Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Mr. O’Malley called the presidency a “sacred trust.” “And I believe that we are best served by giving the choice of who our president should be to the people of the United States and not to the big banks on Wall Street,” he said. “I believe that when the CEO of Goldman Sachs says he’d be just fine with either Bush or Clinton, that should be a wake-up call for all of us,” he said, a reference to reports quoting Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein. “Because we still haven’t delivered on the promise of reining in excesses on Wall Street, and our entire economy [is] still vulnerable to that.” On Saturday, Mr. O’Malley officially joined Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Mrs. Clinton, the overwhelming front-runner for the Democratic nomination, was the first choice of 57 percent of likely Democratic Iowa caucus-goers in a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll. Mr. Sanders was next at 16 percent, followed by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 8 percent and Mr. O’Malley and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia at 2 percent…”


The Clintons’ go-to historical reference: The Roosevelts

“Hillary Clinton’s official campaign kickoff event on June 13 at Roosevelt Island in New York will not be the first time that the former secretary of state—or her husband, for that matter—has invoked the famous family in a political setting. The island, named after President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1971, was previously known as Welfare Island, among other names. Native Americans called it Minnahanonck; it was Varkens Eylandt to the Dutch. And it was Blackwell’s Island for more than two centuries before it was sold to the city. At a dinner last November, Clinton mentioned that she had recently watched the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelt family and saw how Theodore Roosevelt worked with “imbalances that were in the economy and in society.” “I do think there are parallels between the time in which he served and our own times,” she said. Sean Wilentz, a Princeton professor who supported Clinton in 2008 and has remained close to the candidate, is reportedly advising her on how she and her husband fit into recent progressive political history, according to The Huffington Post. Wilentz is one of the leading scholars on Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party’s populist branch…”


Hillary To Praise Franklin D. Roosevelt In First Major Campaign Speech




Clinton Foundation Meeting in Morocco Last Month Cost Taxpayers $21K

“Bill Clinton, no stranger to controversy, raised eyebrows again with a Clinton Global Initiative gathering last month, as ABC News put it, “at a five-star luxury hotel in Morocco [hosted] by one of the world’s most controversial mining companies, criticized for ‘serious human rights violations’ by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice.” And as is the case with every trip a former president takes (and President Clinton takes a lot of trips), the U.S. taxpayer is on the hook for security expenses. For the Morocco trip, the hotel costs alone for the Secret Service came to $21,165:…”



“A newly released GAI timeline reveals how Bill Clinton bagged $1.8 million for 10 speeches between Nov. 2008 and mid-2011 funded by one of the largest shareholders in the Keystone XL pipeline, TD Bank, which held a $1.6 billion investment in the deal…”




Sidney Blumenthal’s Long History Of Dirty Work For The Clintons

“The Obama White House hated Hillary Clinton’s adviser Sidney Blumenthal. But now they have to hear his name a whole lot more. Blumenthal helped cement to Clinton the debunked talking point that the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack was caused by spontaneous reaction to an obscure YouTube video called “Innocence of Muslims.” The White House adopted the line for Sunday talk show appearances. The false talking point added a major stain to President Obama’s legacy. How the Obama people must have gritted their teeth, knowing that one of their least favorite people contributed to their epic mistake. When Clinton became Secretary of State, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and senior adviser David Axelrod (both veterans of the Obama campaign) threatened to quit their jobs if Clinton officially hired Blumenthal at the State Department. Then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told Clinton that she could not hire Blumenthal…”


Obama: Military action won’t stop Iran’s nuclear program

“President Obama believes a military strike against Iran would do little to dismantle Tehran’s nuclear program.  A “verifiable, tough agreement” is the best way to block Teheran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Obama said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television network that will air Tuesday. “I can I think demonstrate, not based on any hope but on facts and evidence and analysis that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable tough agreement,” Obama said in the interview, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Monday.  “A military solution will not fix it, even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program, but it will not eliminate it,” the president added. Obama is seeking to allay concerns within Israel, a top United States ally in the Mideast, about his efforts to strike a nuclear pact with Iran.  His comments come one month before a deadline to reach a final agreement, which would place limits on Teheran’s nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief. The president was asked if he is concerned Israel may launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear sites without first warning the U.S. “I won’t speculate on that,” said Obama. “What I can say is to the Israeli people, I understand your concerns and I understand your fears.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most vehement critics of the agreement, saying it would leave much of Iran’s nuclear capacity in place and leave his country at risk of attack. Obama and Netanyahu’s relationship reached a nadir when the Israeli leader leveled those charges in a speech to Congress in March, without giving the White House prior warning about the address. During a meeting last weekend with GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), Netanyahu reiterated that he opposes a “bad deal that paves Iran’s path to the bomb, but also fills Iran’s coffers with tens of billions of dollars [through sanctions relief] to pursue its aggression throughout the Middle East and around Israel’s borders,” according to reports….”