News Briefing for Wednesday, June 3


Patriot Act Renewal: Senate Overwhelmingly Votes To Proceed

“…Conservative groups are arguing against McConnell’s amendments, and that could augur trouble in the House. So far, the USA Freedom Act has enjoyed unusual support from both tea party groups and the American Civil Liberties Union. “We support passage of the USA Freedom Act as passed by the House, and see no need whatsoever for these amendments which are obviously designed to weaken the bill,” Tea Party Patriots CEO Jenny Beth Martin said in a statement. “Simply put, if it is amended in the manner that the Majority Leader desires, we will be forced to consider withdrawing our support for the bill altogether.”…”


Insurers see ObamaCare hikes in 2016 (continuation of yesterday’s articles)

“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 nonprofit group 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. This year’s filing season will be the first time insurers can fully review claims data before deciding what to charge, so the proposed hikes offer new clues about ObamaCare’s success in bringing a diverse group of people onto insurance rolls. Read more here. LONGER WAIT FOR FULL KING V. BURWELL PLAN: House Republicans will hold off on releasing legislative language for their King v. Burwell plan until after the court’s ruling, a top aide said Monday. “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,” said Brendan Buck, spokesperson for Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan – who is one of three GOP chairmen leading the House’s effort – told reporters in March that he planned to have a bill ready and priced by the decision. Now it looks like those details won’t be public until after the ruling. 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.” Read more here…”

Obamacare sticker shock: Big rate hikes proposed for 2016

Hold onto your wallets … many insurers want to substantially hike rates on Obamacare policies for 2016.

“Many are proposing double-digit premium increases for individual policies, with some companies looking to boost rates more than 60%, according to a list posted Monday by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In Florida, for instance, United Healthcare (UNH) wants to raise the rates of plans sold on the Obamacare exchange by an average of 18%. Individual policies available outside the exchange through United Healthcare or through a broker would go up by 31%, on average, with hikes as high as 60% for certain plans in certain locations. In Texas, insurer Scott & White is looking for a 32% increase for exchange-based plans, while Humana (HUM) is asking for an average 30% boost for its exclusive provider organization policies, which generally cover only in-network services. Insurers say they want to hike rates because enrollees are going to the doctor, getting lab work and filling prescriptions more than they had originally anticipated. “We’ve seen a great pent-up demand for services,” said Aaron Billger, spokesman for Highmark, a Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee offering plans in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. Enrollees in Obamacare exchange plans use more healthcare than those in job-based policies, he noted. Insurers submitted their proposed rate hikes for individual policies sold both on and off Obamacare exchanges for review by state officials. The government’s list includes insurers that requested increases of 10% or more. Insurers can opt to offer plans on the exchanges, directly or via both methods, but policies with similar coverage must be priced the same…”

Obamacare: 2016 sticker shock

“Health insurers are proposing to raise Obamacare rates more than in the past — some by more than 70 percent — now that they are finally equipped with all the information they need to price those plans. Plans wanting to raise rates by at least 10 percent next year posted the proposed increase online Monday, as required by the 2010 healthcare law. Insurers are allowed to raise rates each year, but they must publish significant increases ahead of time. Insurers have sold plans in the law’s new insurance marketplaces for two years in a row. But the difference in 2016 is that for the first time, they have a full year of claims data from enrollees that tells them how high or low to set the price tag. “This is the first time that insurers have access to a full year of claims under the [Affordable Care Act] in order to project premiums,” Kaiser Family Foundation analysts Larry Levitt, Gary Claxton and Cynthia Cox wrote in a blog post Monday…”

Health insurers seek big premium hikes for ObamaCare plans in 2016

Insurers seek hefty rate hikes ahead of Obamacare’s third year

“Insurers are planning double-digit rate hikes ahead of Obamacare’s third year, eliciting a told-you-so outcry from the law’s opponents who said the health law is to blame for boosting the price of care and forcing those costs onto consumers. A major insurer in New Mexico is seeking a 50-percent rate increase for 2016, one in Tennessee wants to raise its premiums for a mid-level silver plan by 36 percent, and proposed hikes in Illinois range from about 13 percent to well above 30 percent in some cases, according to data published this week. The figures, posted on the federal website, offer a glimpse at how insurers are responding to the 2010 overhaul, now that they’ve had more time to evaluate the type of risk they’re taking on under Affordable Care Act…”


Some rates could see ‘enormous’ increases

“Health insurers across the United States say would-be patients and clients should expect rate increases in the next year – and that some of those price hikes could be huge. “The trend is a little bit higher this year than last year,” said Gary Claxton, the director of the healthcare marketplace system at Kaiser Family Foundation, the Hill reported. Cheryl Fish-Parcham, the director of the private insurance program at Families USA puts it in blunter tones: Some of those rate increases could be “enormous,” she said. The lowest-tiered Obamacare plans are already on the rise, and experts say by 2016, prices across the board for all health packages are likely to hike. Regulators will be reviewing the rate hikes, though. “These specific rates will be subject to vigorous rate review and revision,” said Andy Slavitt, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ acting administrator, the Hill reported. But among some of the increases: Tennessee’s largest insurer seeks a 36 percent hike; New Mexico’s biggest companies want 50 percent hikes; and Maryland’s largest provider is calling for a 30 percent rise. States have the authority to challenge price hikes deemed “unreasonable,” the Hill reported…”


Premera, Moda seek insurance rate hikes

“A health insurance is asking state regulators for a second large rate increase for its Affordable Care Act plans. Alaska Public Radio Network reports ( Premera Alaska is seeking a 39 percent hike for 2016 from regulators. Last year’s increase was 37 percent. Premera has about 8,000 members of its heath care act plans in Alaska. It says a small number had complex medical problems and filed millions of dollars in claims last year. Many Premera members will qualify for subsidies which would reduce the impact of any increase. Another insurer, Moda Health, is seeking an increase of about 22 percent. The state will decide by Aug. 25…”

Some Florida health insurers request big 2016 rate hikes

“Nearly a dozen health insurers are proposing double-digit rate hikes for 2016 Florida plans sold on the health insurance exchanges created under President Barack Obama’s law. According to preliminary rate data released Monday by the federal government, one of Aetna’s plans requested a 21 percent hike, while plans for United and Coventry were looking for increases of 18 percent. United requested a 31 percent bump in one of its plans sold off the exchange. But the state’s largest health insurer, Florida Blue, has not requested a rate hike of more than 10 percent. State health officials are set to release the final figures in early August, but the early numbers are pointing to bigger premium increases than in 2015. Insurers cited higher-than-expected care costs and rising expense of prescription drugs as the reason for the spikes…”

In the Face of Double-Digit Insurance Increases, White House Says Its ‘Mantra’ Has Been to Reduce Growth in Costs

“With major insurance companies proposing premium hikes — some by nearly a third — next year, the White House nevertheless said its “mantra” has been to slow the rate of health cost increases. “What we saw prior to the Affordable Care Act going into effect is that insurance companies would regularly impose double-digit rate increases with impunity,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told TheBlaze Tuesday. “They would do it in secret or you would get a bill in the mail knowing this is what you would be subjected to. But now insurance companies have to publicly put people on notice that they are preparing a double-digit increase, see that those rate increases are reviewed by state regulators.” Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is looking at a 29 percent rate hike, while Highmark Health Insurance Co. in Pennsylvania wants a 30 percent increase, the Wall Street Journal reported…”

Obamacare: Billions In New Administrative Costs


“It’s been an unmitigated disaster … and the latest evidence of its adverse impact is the escalation of administrative costs. According to data (.pdf here) released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)’ actuarial office, Obamacare will be responsible for $273.6 billion in new administrative costs from 2014-2022.  Of that total, $172.2 billion will go to increased private insurance overhead. The rest – $101.4 billion – is new government overhead, including Medicaid administration (which has soared from 5.1 to 9.2 percent of total outlays over the past three-and-a-half decades). “The $273.6 billion in added insurance overhead under (Obamacare) averages out to $1,375 per newly insured person per year, or 22.5 percent of the total federal government expenditures for the program,” a report from David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler at Health Affairs concluded. Ouch … Before we start patting Himmelstein and Woolhandler on the back for exposing all this new overhead, though, it’s worth noting the pair is pushing for a “universal single payer system” – or a system in which the government subsidizes all health care costs…”

Most Obamacare enrollees paid for their plans

“Of this year’s Obamacare enrollees, about 1.5 million haven’t yet paid for their plans, the Obama administration announced Tuesday. Of the 11.7 million Americans who bought health coverage through the new online insurance marketplaces, about 10.2 million had paid as of the end of March, officials said. The vast majority of those, about 85 percent, received federal subsidies to help them afford their plans. “The health insurance marketplaces are working,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. “We’ve seen a historic reduction in the uninsured and consumers are finding the coverage they need at a price they can afford.” The enrollment update also shows many Americans stand to lose insurance subsidies should the Supreme Court uphold the King v. Burwell challenge this month. The case alleges that the healthcare law’s text doesn’t allow the subsidies to be awarded in states relying on instead of operating their own marketplaces…”

HHS: 10 million have paid Obamacare premiums

6.4 stand to lose subsidies under Supreme Court decision

10.2M paid for ObamaCare plans in 2015

“The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it is officially on track to meet its self-stated target of 9.1 million healthcare customers in 2015. Newly released figures show 10.2 million paid for ObamaCare plans in 2015. That’s a drop-off from the 11.7 million people who enrolled over the last year, with more than 1 million people dropped from their plans because they didn’t pay their first month’s premium. The enrollment tally is good news for ObamaCare, though the figures remain in flux with a major Supreme Court decision to be handed down later this month. A total of 6.4 million stand to lose their subsidies if the court rules against the Obama administration in King v. Burwell, according to the new data. The data also showed that many of the states that are most reliant on subsidies are the ones that stand to lose them. All 10 of the states with the highest rate of consumers receiving tax credits are on the federal exchange. In Mississippi, Florida and North Carolina about 94 percent of people are receiving subsidies. Read more here…”

ObamaCare sign-ups officially beat 2015 goal

“A total of 10.2 million people bought ObamaCare during the most recent sign-up period, federal officials announced Tuesday. The Obama administration is now officially on track to meet its self-stated 2015 target of 9.1 million customers, the second year in a row that it has achieved a revised enrollment goal. The figure is a drop-off from the 11.7 million people who signed up for coverage during this year’s sign-up period, though that tally had been expected to fall after some people did not make premium payments. “The Health Insurance Marketplaces are working,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell said in a statement. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans now rely on the health and financial security that comes from affordable coverage through the Marketplaces.”…”

Health care enrollments by state

States secretly met to talk ObamaCare contingency plans

“More than a dozen states quietly met last month to discuss contingency plans for the looming Supreme Court case involving billions of dollars in ObamaCare subsidies. The meeting was coordinated and funded by a state health policy group called the Milbank Memorial Fund at the request of several states that would be directly impacted by a ruling in King v. Burwell, its president said. Conversations focused on states that have established their own exchanges with the help of the federal government, such as Idaho and Maryland. “A few states called up and said, we’d like to learn what the different options are,” Chris Koller, the president of Milbank Memorial Fund, said Tuesday. Koller said he can’t confirm which states participated, but added, “What I can say is that they were learning from four ‘faculty’ states about different options for state-based exchanges.” A total of 37 states have their subsidies at stake in the King v. Burwell case, and many have been anxiously trying to create a backup plan in case they have to leave the federal exchange, Officials from “16 or 17 states” attended the meeting early last month, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the meeting. Most Republican state leaders – who have backed the court case – have avoided talking about how they would respond to a decision against the Obama administration. Behind the scenes, however, some are anxiously contacting states that run their own exchanges…”

State officials huddle to talk Obamacare contingency plans

“Officials from more than a dozen states quietly met in Chicago last month to talk about the possibility that the Supreme Court could undercut their states’ respective health insurance marketplaces, the Wall Street Journal reports. The officials mostly represented states that rely on the federal government to run their Obamacare marketplaces, or “exchanges.” If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case, consumers in those states could lose access to federal subsidies. That would leave millions of Americans, concentrated largely in GOP-led states like Texas and Florida, without the financial support that puts the “affordable” in the Affordable Care Act…”

House panel votes to repeal Obamacare’s medical device tax

“A powerful House committee approved a bill Tuesday to repeal Obamacare’s medical device tax, a provision that’s been criticized by members of both parties as a misguided way to pay for the health overhaul. The Ways and Means Committee voted 25-14 to repeal the 2.3-percent excise on sales of pacemakers, artificial joints and other devices, with Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin the lone Democrat to support the bill. “It’s an iron law of economics that when you tax something, you get less of it,” Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said in a prepared statement. “So we’ve really got our wires crossed here. We want more medical devices. What we want less of is this bureaucratic meddling.” Democrats on the panel cried foul, saying the GOP failed to come up with the $26 billion needed to replace the revenue that will be lost over the decade by scrapping the tax. “Is there going to be a pay-for?” the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, said. “I think the answer is probably no.” The committee also voted 31-8 to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel created by Obamacare and tasked with keeping Medicare costs in check…”

House panel votes to repeal health law’s medical device tax

“A Republican-run House committee has voted to repeal a 2.3 percent tax on many medical devices that helps pay for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The Ways and Means Committee’s mostly party-line 25-14 vote came with Republicans complaining that the levy costs jobs and stifles innovation. Democrats say those claims are exaggerations and opposed the bill as a GOP attempt to whittle away at the health care law. Democrats also complained that Republicans have not offered any savings to cover the measure’s $24.4 billion, 10-year cost. Seven Democrats joined Republicans in approving a separate bill repealing another part of the health law: an independent panel that is supposed to propose ways to reduce Medicare spending. Supporters of that bill say the board has too much power…”

House committee votes to repeal Obamacare’s medical device tax

Panel votes to repeal ObamaCare tax

Bill to repeal device tax advances in House

“A key House panel advanced a bill to repeal a medical device tax used to help pay for Obamacare after a scalding debate on whether the tax will kill innovation. The House Ways and Means Committee advanced the bill Tuesday by a vote of 25-14 to the full House. The 2.3 percent tax on device sales has been controversial ever since it was included in the Affordable Care Act. Repeal has bipartisan support in Congress as Democrats from states with biotech industries have called for it to be struck down. However, the main sticking point has been how to recoup the revenue from the tax, which would generate $20 billion until 2019. That issue spilled over into the committee’s debate on whether to advance the bill, as it currently doesn’t have another way to raise the revenue. “Is there going to be a pay-for?” said the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Sandy Levin, D- Mich., to his Republican colleagues. “Will you commit now to providing a pay-for [on] this bill when it comes to the floor? I think the answer is probably no.”…”

McSally to introduce bill aimed at Affordable Care Act

“U.S. Rep. Martha McSally said Saturday that she will introduce a bill in the next two weeks to repeal a portion of the Affordable Care Act that could costs seniors thousands of dollars by raising the threshold for medical reimbursement deductions. Starting Jan. 1, 2017, those age 65 and over would only be able to deduct medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of their adjusted gross income. Currently, that figure is 7.5 percent, and McSally’s bill would keep it there. “We’ve been working over the past few months to get some strong co-sponsorship … and working with other advocacy groups and the appropriate committees to make sure that by the time we introduce this thing it’s actually going to have momentum behind it,” McSally told a crowd at La Posada. “We feel pretty good about this one, and it’s coming up soon.” Introducing a bill is follow-through on a promise McSally made last year to the Green Valley Council while locked in a tight race with Ron Barber for the District 2 congressional seat. McSally wrote in a letter dated Sept. 10 that it would be necessary to line up co-sponsorship and other support, and called the increased threshold “essentially a tax on seniors.” That amount was raised to 10 percent in 2013 for those under 65. McSally’s announcement to an overflow crowd of about 175 at La Posada was welcome news to Green Valley resident Loren Thorson…”

Obamacare, states and insurers make gender reassignment surgery more accessible

“Caitlyn Jenner’s “Vanity Fair” cover has created a rare, possibly even enlightening moment in American culture. The cover image went viral in minutes, garnered Jenner more than 2 million Twitter followers in 24 hours and — along with transgender activists like actress Laverne Cox, who recently appeared on the cover of “Time” magazine, and writer Janet Mock — will help promote more understanding and, in an ideal world, less discrimination against the transgender community. On Monday, hours after Jenner’s cover photo appeared online, President Barack Obama tweeted: “It takes courage to share your story.” The former Olympic champion known as Bruce Jenner, who appeared in the E! television series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and will chronicle his own journey on that channel, has had facial and breast surgery, although it’s not clear whether she has had or will have full gender reassignment surgery. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a professional association dedicated to promoting respect, research and advocacy for transgender health, advises people undergoing a gender transition to live for a year as their new gender before choosing full reassignment surgery. The good news: It’s never been easier for transgender people to access gender reassignment surgery — if they have insurance and live in the right state. More than two dozen major insurance carriers provide plans without blanket exclusions for transgender-related health care, either through fully-insured plans or as a third party administrator of self-insured plans, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit group that works for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights. They include Aetna AET, -1.91%  , at least eight Blue Cross state programs, Cigna CI, -1.63%  , UnitedHealth UNH, -1.76%   and Emblem Health…”

State Senate OKs health coverage for many immigrants here illegally

“The state Senate on Tuesday approved a hotly debated measure that would allow many immigrants in the state illegally to sign up for special healthcare programs that would offer the same benefits as Medi-Cal. The action comes just days after lawmakers significantly scaled back the plan, which originally would have offered state-subsidized Medi-Cal to people in the country without authorization. State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said his proposal provides “what we can realistically achieve now” for the estimated 2 million people in the state illegally…”

Judge Demands More Details On Obamacare Spending

A federal judge is seeking more facts about a key issue in the House GOP’s lawsuit.

“A federal judge is demanding that the Obama administration and House Republicans turn over more information about the Affordable Care Act subsidies at the heart of the GOP’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the administration. U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer hinted during oral arguments last week that the facts around the cost-sharing subsidies would be crucial to her decision about whether or not to dismiss the lawsuit, as the administration has urged her to do. House Republicans are suing over the administration’s payment of the subsidies without, they say, Congress appropriating the necessary funding. At issue is whether the House even has standing to sue the administration over the payments, which totaled $4 billion in fiscal year 2014. Part of the chamber’s argument that it does rests on the claim that it affirmatively voted to deny the Health and Human Services Department’s request for subsidy money in 2014. The House says in its complaint that the administration had asked for the money in its 2014 budget request, Congress then never voted to appropriate the subsidy funding, but HHS is paying the subsidies anyway. The chamber alleges that this is an unconstitutional use of executive power. Collyer ordered both parties on Monday to submit more details about the subsidy appropriations process, including a timeline, further indicating how central she considers the issue to be to the standing question. The information must be submitted by June 15….”

The other challenge to Obamacare

“The Supreme Court isn’t the only federal court considering a challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Just down the street from the high court, District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in the District of Columbia is considering another challenge brought by House Republicans. In the case, House Speaker John Boehner sets forth two claims: that the money for payments to insurance companies was not properly approved by Congress, and that the Obama administration attempted to rewrite sections of the landmark health care law concerning the employer mandate without permission from Congress…”

6.4 Million Could Lose Obamacare Subsidies Under Supreme Court Ruling

That’s how many people are receiving financial help on the federal health exchange.

“About 6.4 million people would lose their financial help under Obamacare if the Supreme Court rules against the Obama administration this month, according to new data from the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS said Tuesday that 10.2 million Americans nationwide have paid their premiums as of March 31 to start the coverage they signed up for in 2015, which means 1.5 million had enrolled in coverage but had not paid for it. Of those 10.2 million, 8.7 million receive tax credits to help pay for their coverage—and of those, 6.4 million enrolled through the federal site. It’s the last group whose subsidies are at risk because of the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court is considering whether to invalidate tax credits for people who signed up on the federal exchange because the law’s opponents have argued that the ACA prohibits them. It is expected to rule later this month. With those stakes, congressional Republicans have been trying to figure out a plan to restore subsidies temporarily if the Court rules as they hope it does, with some additional changes to the law that they support. They would then presumably work to pass a full Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill, perhaps waiting until a new president is sworn in. There are a half dozen proposals being floated on Capitol Hill, but so far, the GOP hasn’t settled on a strategy. During a meeting with House Republicans Tuesday, GOP Sen. John Barrasso, a doctor, again stressed the need to have a plan ready in time for the Court’s decision…”

Florida, Texas hit hardest if Obamacare subsidies struck down

Rick Perry: Congress Should Repeal Obamacare, But Let the States Replace It

“Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said Tuesday that Congress should repeal Obamacare but not try to replace it—that it should leave that task to states. “The fact is that the alternatives lie in the states,” the potential Republican presidential candidate said at an economic summit hosted in Orlando by Florida Governor Rick Scott. “You cannot have one-size-fits-all.” Perry’s remarks represent a break from many members of his party who want to eliminate the law but insist that Congress cannot return to the status quo of the days before the passage of the Affordable Care Act….”

VA Whistleblower Reports Intimidation After Revealing Billions In Illegal Healthcare Spending

“Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics at the Department of Veterans Affairs broke the silence on billions spent illegally to purchase non-VA health care Monday. Like other whistleblowers, Frye has suffered retaliation. According to Frye’s testimony, as recently as last Friday, deputy secretary Sloan Gibson decided to take his disclosure personally during a meeting. “His demeanor and actions in both an open and one-on-one meeting were clearly meant to intimidate me, and to cast a chill over me and others who might be tempted to report violations in the future,” Frye told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Frye has a history of whistleblowing and continues to bring to light illegal practices. In May, he exposed the illicit use of purchase cards to spend billions of dollars in violation of federal law…”

VA admits it has no contracts in place for billions of dollars spent on veterans’ medical care


U.S. Firms, Workers Try to Beat H-1B Visa Lottery System

Some firms fill out multiple applications, according to immigration attorneys, while some individuals accept offers from several employers, each of whom files petition

“Companies eager to hire foreign talent, mostly in the tech sector, and workers hoping for jobs in the U.S. have found ways to game a government lottery used to distribute a limited number of visas each year. Immigration lawyers involved in the process say they have helped companies file multiple H-1B skilled-worker visa applications for the same person. Some workers, meanwhile, are accepting offers from multiple employers, each of whom files a petition on their behalf, the lawyers say. Such practices, which aren’t illegal, likely have occurred in the past without public notice but appear to be proliferating as the economy rebounds and competition for the coveted visas intensifies, immigration lawyers say. Smaller businesses say such moves disadvantage them because they can’t afford to match them. Lawyers charge $2,000 to $4,000 to prepare each petition. It isn’t known how many of the record 233,000 applications filed in April for the 85,000 H-1B slots this year were duplicates. Some attorneys who prepare applications believe it could be thousands…”

New regs for Wednesday: Efficiency, air pollution, immigration

“…Immigration: The Department of Justice (DOJ) is expanding the number of immigration board members who hear appeals to deportation cases. After hiring more immigration judges last year to chip away at the backlog of cases, the DOJ is anticipating more appeals from people who are set to  be deported. So it is hiring two more board members to hear those appeals. The interim rule goes into effect immediately, but the public will have 60 days to comment…”

Obama’s New Mexico Ambassador Nominee: We Need Immigration Reform, Gun Control to Fight Drug Cartels

“President Obama nominated Roberta Jacobson to become the next Ambassador to Mexico on Monday, elevating the career civil servant to an extremely important post. But Jacobson doesn’t just focus primarily on issues surrounding Latin America. She’s also an advocate for gun control, having previously linked gun rights in the U.S. to drug cartels in Mexico. In a 2013 interview with the Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper of Jacobson’s alma mater, she spoke about the challenges of combating Mexican drug cartels: “[T]here are two domestic issues, which, if moved, will make a huge difference in our foreign policy… One, obviously, is comprehensive immigration reform. If that gets passed, which I’m very optimistic about and I know the president is for this year, that’s going to be enormous, very positive.”

Jacobson continued, insisting that the flow of firearms from the U.S. is fueling violence in Central America: “But the second [domestic issue] is if we can do anything on gun control, which we have not been able to do or even really debate in years. And Mexico, like Central America and the Caribbean, has been very critical of the flow of illicit guns to their countries.”…”

Illegal immigrant crisis: French police have caught 18,170 trying to enter UK this year

“The figure is double that for the whole of last year, with most of the migrants found stowed on lorries boarding ferries and Channel Tunnel trains…”

New Jersey man gets 30 months in cash-for-visas scheme

“A man who admitted running an eight-year illegal scheme to get natives of India into the United States has been sentenced to prison. A federal judge in Newark gave Sandipkumar Patel a 30-month sentence Tuesday. Prosecutors say the 42-year-old Edison resident was paid thousands of dollars by the Indian immigrants to lie on visa applications that he would provide jobs for them in technical positions at various New Jersey companies. They say Patel issued payroll checks and forced the immigrants to pay the proceeds back to him. Patel also overstated his payroll expenses on federal tax returns and under-reported his tax obligation by more than $400,000. Patel pleaded guilty to conspiracy and filing a false federal tax return. He’s required to pay back the IRS more than $400,000…”

‘Restricted’ NC driving permit for immigrants still intact


“The immigration-reduction group NumbersUSA is grading the potential 2016 presidential field based on each candidate’s immigration views and the current results paint a picture of a field relatively weak on the group’s top issue. In a chart available at the organization’s website titled “Worker-Protection Immigration Grade Cards,” NumbersUSA breaks down each candidate’s immigration views and offers a letter grade based on the idea that a tighter labor market yields better results for the American worker. The 20 candidates NumbersUSA grades do not fare well under the tough criteria the group applies. Indeed, only two candidates are able to get better than a C grade: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with an “A” and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with a “B-.” Among the rest of the field, three get an “F-,“ two get an “F,” two get a “D-,“ five get a “D+,” four get a “C-,” and two get a “C.”…”

Most GOP Champions Are Immigration Sellouts

“The following is an excerpt from Ann Coulter’s new book, Adios, America, out June 1. The practiced liars in the Republican party know damn well Americans do not want more immigration, but the leadership won’t give it up. To please well-heeled donors, elected Republicans compulsively push for amnesty, in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, and welfare payments to illegals. And the media cover for them: Don’t worry, we won’t write about what you’re doing with immigration! And if we do, it will only be to talk about your moral courage, Marco. Only when they need actual voters do Republicans suddenly start saying: “Complete the dang fence!” (2008 McCain campaign). VOTER GUIDE – Now ask yourself if you had any idea where the following presidential candidates stood on immigration and tell me if immigration activists are doing their job….”

Immigration Reform News 2015: Rick Scott Criticizes President Obama on Immigration As GOP Competes for Latino Vote

“The Republican Party has started its push to gain some Latino voters ahead of next year’s presidential elections. Though the candidates continue tossing their hats into the ring, the party has begun to push back on immigration and one candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, has the record to back the party’s new focus. On Monday, Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, went on Univision, one of the nation’s largest Spanish-language channels, to attack the Obama administration’s work on immigration reform, continuing to reform the GOP’s image concerning immigration reform. “I think President Obama has failed us,” Gov. Scott told Univision’s Enrique Acevedo. “We know we need comprehensive immigration reform; we need more secure borders. He has not moved the ball. In six and a half years, all that he has done is being questioned in the courts.”…”


Report: 3,554 regs in 2014, Obama’s more costly to economy than Bush’s

“President Obama last year made good on his promise to use a pen and phone to impose his agenda, issuing some 3,554 rules and regulations, even governing the energy efficiency of ice and vending machines, according to a new analysis. The Competitiveness Enterprise Institute on Tuesday issued its review of the administration’s “Spring Agenda” list of regulations and found that they hid a couple of hundred. They also found that Obama in six years has issued more “economically significant” rules than Bush did in eight years…”

Fed’s Brainard Says US Economic Slowdown May Be More Than Temporary

“It may be impossible for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates until the rest of the world economy improves, Fed board member Lael Brainard said on Tuesday, in the most direct acknowledgement yet of how weak global markets could handcuff the U.S. central bank. Brainard, who is hyper-attentive to the impacts of globalization given her prior role as head of international affairs at the U.S. Treasury, sketched out a world in which a strong dollar, weak overseas demand, and even Chinese wage rates were holding back the U.S. recovery and potentially slowing the Fed’s progress towards more normal monetary policy. Absent convincing evidence otherwise, Brainard said the dismal performance of first-quarter U.S. gross domestic product may signal a more permanent slowdown, and that the Fed needed to enter a phase of “watchful waiting” before raising rates. Her remarks further weighed against the already slim chance of a rate hike at the June policy-setting meeting, and could mark an even more indefinite hold on a decision that had seemed locked in for this fall…”

Fed official: Can’t ignore recent weak economic statistics

“Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard on Tuesday cited ongoing economic sluggishness and recent weak economic data in a speech that seemed to bolster the case for delaying an interest rate hike. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Brainard said that it would be “difficult, based on the data available today, to dismiss the possibility of a more significant drag on the economy” from the strength of the dollar and declining oil prices. Brainard laid out several reasons “not to ignore” recent disappointing economic statistics, especially the revised gross domestic product report for the first quarter that found the U.S. economy shrinking at a 0.7 percent annual rate. In particular, she noted that there are no signs yet of a “significant bounceback” in the second quarter. Such a snapback would be expected if the first-quarter weakness were due mostly to some of the transitory factors some economists have blamed, including unusually harsh weather, West Coast port labor strikes, or problems with the official seasonal adjustments for the gross domestic product statistics…”

Economy will rebound from poor first quarter: Bank economists

“The U.S. economy is likely to rebound from its dismal first-quarter performance, economists for top banks projected Tuesday. After shrinking at a 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted clip in the first quarter, gross domestic product will grow at a 2.3 percent rate in the second, 16 economists with large banks estimated. Total inflation-adjusted growth for 2015 will come in at 1.8 percent, they projected, a figure that reflects the contraction in the winter. The projection comes from the Economic Advisory Committee of the American Bankers Association, a trade group for banks. The committee includes chief economists for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan Chase, Comerica Bank and others. Speaking at a press conference at the American Bankers Association in Washington, the committee’s chairman, Ethan Harris, expressed optimism that the weak first quarter would prove to be a temporary soft patch and for job creation to hold up throughout the rest of the year…”

Obama threatens to veto GOP spending bill for transportation, housing

“President Obama is threatening to veto a $55 billion Republican funding bill for the departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.  The White House said Tuesday that Obama would reject the measure, which is known as THUD, on the grounds that it underfunds federal transportation and housing programs, and includes a number of policy riders involving travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, and truck driver scheduling.  “The bill freezes or cuts critical investment in transportation that creates jobs, helps to grow the economy, and improves America’s roads, bridges, transit infrastructure, and aviation systems, benefiting towns and cities across the United States, as well as investments in ending homelessness, strengthening communities, and providing rental housing assistance for poor and vulnerable families,” the White House said in a policy statement. The GOP measure, which was approved by the House Appropriations Committee in May, provides $55.3 billion in funding the departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. The bill provides $1.5 billion more than the current 2015 spending level, but $9.7 billion less than President Obama’s request. Democrats have attacked Republicans for attaching a number of nonbudgetary issues to the bill, such as placing restrictions on the Obama administration’s efforts to begin normalizing the nation’s relations with Cuba. Policy riders are typically a source of friction between the parties in the appropriations process. Truck safety groups have accused GOP lawmakers of using the appropriations process to undo a series of trucking regulations they say makes U.S. roads safer, including limits on the length and weight of trucks. Trucking companies have opposed these limits for years. The White House said Tuesday it also has objections to the measure’s provisions that are related to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “At a time when only one in four families who are eligible for housing assistance actually receives it, the bill would set back efforts to end homelessness and shortchange housing support for very low-income households, including families with children, the elderly, and the disabled,” the policy statement said…”

White House cites ‘budget gimmicks’ as committee OKs defense bill

“The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a fiscal 2016 spending bill for the Pentagon that contains a controversial plan to use war funding to cover operations and maintenance costs. The panel approved the bill on a bipartisan voice vote in spite of a White House warning that $37 billion in regular spending for operations and maintenance was inappropriately shifted into the overseas contingency operations account. The shift was engineered by committee leaders to replace automatic defense budget cuts required by a 2011 law, after they were unable to find a political formula to repeal the requirement. The war funding account does not fall under sequester-related spending caps, but the base budget does. On Monday, Office of Management and Budget head Shaun Donovan decried “budget gimmicks” in a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., citing the transfer of base budget funds into the war spending account in order to get around budget caps…”

White House slams Senate spending bill over clean energy funding

“The White House budget director slammed the $35.4 billion Senate spending bill covering the Energy Department, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies Tuesday because it slashes funding for several clean energy programs. Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan said the proposed cuts in the fiscal 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations bill would handicap development of clean energy technology needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that most scientists say drive manmade climate change. “Any strategy that dials down investment in climate solutions and climate preparedness simply dials up the likely future toll on our budget and economy from the impacts of climate change. Yet the bill adopts precisely that strategy,” Donovan wrote in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss….”

Obama budget chief criticizes Senate energy spending bill

House panel uses war funds to skirt budget limits

$51B spending bill attracts veto threat

“The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a $51.4 billion bill that would fund the Justice and Commerce departments as well as science agencies for fiscal 2016. “The President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto H.R. 2578 and any other legislation that implements the current Republican budget framework, which blocks the investments needed for our economy to compete in the future,” the White House said. The measure, according to the veto threat, “drastically underfunds critical investments in research and development.” For example, the bill includes $50 million for a new Community Policing Initiative requested by President Obama. Of that amount, $15 million would be intended for body cameras. That’s much less than the $50 million the White House requested from Congress for body cameras for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. At the Commerce Department, the Census Bureau’s proposed funding level would increase taxpayers’ cost for the 2020 Decennial Census by billions of dollars, the White House said. Science and space agencies like NASA would also receive insufficient funding levels, the veto threat said. Funding for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program would be cut, the White House said. That program is meant to help end U.S. reliance on Russia for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station. The White House also criticized controversial policy riders in the bill that would prohibit funding for the transfer of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison to the United States. The administration also slammed provisions that would stop efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking and some that would limit the export of goods to Cuba. On Tuesday, the House will begin to consider the bill, but final passage might not happen for a few days. The House is expected to consider the bill funding transportation and housing programs next, which the administration has also threatened to veto…”

John McCain: Holding defense bill hostage isn’t solution to sequestration

“Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that even though the defense policy bill before the Senate isn’t an ideal solution since it doesn’t solve sequestration, it’s a better option than holding up the bill that touches all corners over the Defense Department to force an agreement to lift spending caps. The Senate’s Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, known as the NDAA in legislative speak, would give the Defense Department $612 billion, the budget level requested by the president. But it does so by adding extra money to a fund for overseas operations rather than lifting across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, which has been an unpopular plan among many Democrats. President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that provides relief for the Defense Department but not other domestic programs, and some Democrats have promised to hold the bill up in Congress because of this. Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, said that solving sequestration is his “highest priority” as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and that using the war chest to fully fund the department is “not my preference.” But he said it is better than stalling the bill that covers everything from overseas operations to service member pay and benefits to encourage a compromise or underfunding the department. “I refuse to ask the brave young Americans in our military to defend this nation with insufficient resources that would place their lives in unnecessary danger,” Mr. McCain said at the American Action Forum. “Holding the NDAA hostage to force that solution would be a deliberate and cynical failure to meet our constitutional duty to provide for the common defense.” He said he expected the bill to be on the Senate floor this week so a conference to reach a compromise with House negotiators could begin over the summer…”

McCain To Obama: Quit Threatening To Hold The Defense Budget Hostage

Obama offers to stump for Dems who back him on trade

“President Obama has told Democrats he will campaign for any of them in the next election if their decision to support Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, leads to a primary challenge, White House spokesman Josh Earnest pledged Tuesday. “If the president must make that case in a Democratic primary situation, he has made clear he will stand with them,” Earnest told reporters. “We haven’t seen that that kind of support has been necessary yet.” Members know they “can go out and vote their conscience” because the president has made this personal commitment to them, Earnest said. The White House offer to Democrats is an attempt to lure more of Obama’s Democrats into supporting TPA, which so far has the public support of just 14 Democrats. Failure to get more Democrats could sink Obama’s hopes of obtaining TPA, which would let him and the next president negotiate trade agreements that can’t be amended by Congress…”

Obama woos Dems on fast-track

“The White House is aggressively courting House Democrats on fast-track trade legislation ahead of a contentious summer vote. The effort is expected to be similar to a White House push in the Senate that included personal calls from President Obama, last-minute talks off the Senate floor, briefings by Cabinet officials and perks from the Oval Office. “The president is personally extremely committed to getting this done and to making his case on the merits of new trade agreements directly to members of Congress and to the American people,” said one White House official, who predicted Obama would make his case to lawmakers “both publicly and privately.” But even with the president’s wooing, fast-track just cleared procedural hurdles in the Senate. It faces more daunting prospects in the House — something the administration has acknowledged. It would settle for a “slim, bipartisan majority,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last week. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday said he hoped to schedule a vote: “It’s my intent to get that done this month.” The end of July might be the deadline for Obama’s top legislative priority. When lawmakers return to Washington after the August recess, the presidential election will have heated up, and it could be impossible politically to navigate the trade debate. As few as 14 House Democrats are backing Obama’s call for fast-track, which would make it easier for the White House to conclude negotiations on the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal by preventing Congress from amending it. Obama could need as many as two dozen Democratic votes given opposition from many Republicans, who are generally supportive of free trade but have reservations about giving the president more power. Democrats face enormous pressure to oppose Obama from labor unions and other liberal groups that have vowed to punish Democrats who back fast-track. The White House is targeting two groups of lawmakers — centrist New Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus — to pick up votes. The president has met with members of both coalitions this year to address their concerns about trade…”

AARP staying out of fast-track debate

“The AARP has serious concerns about a pending trade pact sought by the Obama administration, but the political heavyweight is not joining the liberal effort to kill “fast-track” legislation that many believe will play a decisive role in the deal’s fate. With the House heading toward an intensely competitive vote on trade legislation, the AARP, which represents millions of retired Americans — and is one of the nation’s most potent voting blocs — is not looking to pick a fight over legislation granting President Obama trade promotion authority (TPA), seen by many as critical to the final agreement. The group has been vocal about its worries that the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could lead to higher prescription drug prices, a major concern for its members. The AARP says it has been airing its qualms about the deal since 2013, and has signed on to letters and participated in press conferences on the matter. But by focusing the bulk of its efforts on the actual trade terms, as opposed to the legislation necessary to get that deal finalized, the group is steering clear of one of the most contentious fights of this Congress. “We have focused on educating members on these issues from the consumer perspective instead of engaging in the overall fast-track debate,” said Greg Phillips, an AARP spokesman. “While we have some concerns with the trade objective provisions related to IP [intellectual property] standards and prescription drug reimbursement in the TPA, AARP has been focused on prescription drug access issues with the TPP.” The hands-off approach runs counter to that of many other groups that have gripes about the trade pact. Labor unions are throwing everything they have against the deal, launching ad campaigns in the home districts of Democratic lawmakers who support the fast-track legislation, as well as openly discussing primary challenges to Democrats who vote in favor of the legislation. Over the weekend, the AFL-CIO posted a Craigslist ad in the Sacramento home district of Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), a TPA supporter. The wanted ad was seeking a “Congressman w/Backbone” with a start date of January 2017. “This is as important to us as the issues surrounding Social Security and Medicare,” said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, which represents retired union members and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. “We are dedicating a lot of resources.”…”

Ryan: ‘We feel pretty good’ about trade bill

“Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed confidence Tuesday that the House will pass fast-track legislation this month giving President Obama the power to complete his ambitious trade agenda. Ryan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said trade promotion authority (TPA) will pass through the House in June, despite strong opposition from liberal Democrats and mounting dissent from conservative Republicans. “The Senate just passed it two weeks ago with a good, strong vote and I think we will also have a good bipartisan vote here in the House because we know if you don’t have trade promotion authority, then you don’t get any trade agreements,” he said on Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.” “And if you don’t get trade agreements, then you’re losing as a country,” he said. Ahead of Congress’s Memorial Day recess, the Senate passed the measure 62-37. Ryan has waged a sweeping campaign within his own party to get enough Republicans on board to counter a lack of support from the president’s own party on fast-track authority. So far, only 14 Democrats publicly support fast-track, according to The Hill’s Whip List, though some reports have that number at 17. Republicans have repeatedly called on Democrats to produce more votes toward the 217 needed for passage. There are more than two dozen House Democrats who say they remain undecided about the issue, according The Hill’s count. Still, if Republicans lose upwards of four dozen votes, they won’t have enough to pass the bill. But Ryan is convinced his numbers are growing. “We’re building, we’re on good pace, we’re basically hitting our schedule as we had intended, and so we feel pretty good where we are,” he said…”


“In a Tuesday morning statement, WikiLeaks announced that it has launched a campaign to crowd fund a $100,000 reward for the missing chapters of “America’s most wanted secret,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Over the past two years, WikiLeaks has only been able to obtain just three of the 29 chapters of the highly controversial free trade agreement that has been negotiated by the Obama administration entirely in secret. The treaty is heralded as a free trade agreement by President Obama, but WikiLeaks says an estimated 80 percent of it does not pertain to trade at all. Of the 29 chapters, just 5 are believed to be associated with trade, while the others encompass topics such as freedom on the Internet and financial regulation. The remaining 26 chapters that the public currently does not have access to have only been made available to select negotiators and corporations that have been granted access behind closed doors. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the largest trade agreement of its kind in history: a multitrillion-dollar deal being negotiated among the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Australia and eight other countries that account for roughly 40 percent of the world’s GDP, according to the Office of United States Trade Representative. The treaty has drawn severe criticism from both Republicans and Democrats as the bill nears a vote in the House. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in the Tuesday morning release that “the transparency clock has run out on the TPP. No more secrecy. No more excuses. Let’s open the TPP once and for all.”…”

House GOP looks to block funds for US embassy in Cuba

“House Republicans have included language in a bill funding the State Department in fiscal 2016 that would block funding for the creation of a new U.S. embassy in Cuba. The provisions are an attempt to further undermine President Obama’s policy to normalize relations with the Communist nation. “The bill includes a prohibition on funds for an embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba, beyond what was in existence prior to the President’s December announcement proposing changes to the U.S.-Cuba policy,” according to a summary of the bill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Tuesday the GOP is using the appropriations process to establish its priorities, which includes Cuba. “I think we have been very clear with our challenges with what’s going on with Cuba and human rights, and we have a difference of opinion with the administration and we have a right to express it,” he said…”

Waning Support For Wind Energy Handouts On Capitol Hill

“Washington’s penchant for brinksmanship has certainly benefited the wind energy industry. Whenever Congress faces a serious deadline, lobbyists for the wind energy industry are able to convince their friends on Capitol Hill to extend their main handout, the controversial wind production tax credit (PTC), in a last-minute backdoor deal. Most recent was last December’s “CRomibus,” the trillion-dollar spending bill passed during lame duck session that averted federal government shutdown. Congress quietly included a 1-year retroactive extension into the package, at a cost of $13 billion over the next decade. The time before this was in early January 2013, when Congress approved a 1-year extension in the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” deal – another large “must-pass” bill, this one preventing an automatic, across-the-board income tax hike. Congress can and should stop this cycle. Extending handouts squanders billions in taxpayer dollars and restricts Americans’ access to affordable and reliable energy. It distorts price signals, allowing wind producers to pay the electricity grid to take their power and still turn a profit. It consistently fails to deliver on its promises in terms of long-term job creation, or turning wind energy into an economically viable industry that can stand on its own two feet without permanent taxpayer support. It’s no accident why special interests in the wind energy industry pursue these under-the-radar extensions — it’s because there’s waning support on Capitol Hill for wind subsidies. After over twenty years of extending these expensive taxpayer handouts, Congress is beginning to wake up to the problems of endlessly propping up wind energy using the tax code…”

A Path to Reforming Our Broken Sales Tax System | Commentary

Jeb Bush: Obama Living In ‘Alternative Universe’ On State Of Economy


Is Maryland’s Republican governor getting ready to ditch Common Core and PARCC?

“While running for governor of Maryland last year, Republican Larry Hogan said that school reforms in the state were a “train wreck.” Just after he took office in January, his administration said that he wanted to hit the “pause” button on the Common Core State Standards and the Core-aligned PARCC standardized test. And just last week, Hogan’s press secretary, Erin Montgomery, said Hogan’s administration is looking closely at the issue. “Governor Hogan has said that we need to examine the merits and shortcomings of Common Core, and carefully consider whether it’s the best option for our students,” Montgomery said in an e-mail. “His team is undertaking a comprehensive review of Common Core and the PARCC assessments at this time.” But don’t hold your breath for a change in the Core or PARCC any time soon in Maryland. According to an administration source, one key reason is that the state believes it would be too expensive to break a $60 million contract with Pearson, the world’s largest education company, to administer the PARCC exams in Maryland from 2014-2018. There are “significant” financial penalties for breaking the contract early, the source said, and Hogan does not at the moment want to do that…”


Watchdog: Lerner report by end of month

“A federal watchdog investigating the missing Lois Lerner emails said Tuesday he expects to give lawmakers a final report by the end of the month.  J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, said at a Senate Finance hearing that his office conducted almost 150 interviews as it sought to track down the former IRS official’s emails. Senior lawmakers have said they needed the inspector general’s report on the thousands of Lerner’s emails before finishing their investigation into the agency’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups. The IRS said last year that Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, leaving them unable to reproduce an untold number of her emails over more than a two-year span. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told George that he hoped to have the inspector general’s report by the middle of this month. George, while insisting his office would do his best, also stressed that he needed to be extra careful with an investigation this sensitive. He said the office still had to interview some people important to the case. “As you can imagine, with each interview, that leads to more information that needs to be tracked down,” George told Hatch. “Given the nature of this matter, we need to be as thorough as possible, and we’re endeavoring to do just that.” Lerner, who led the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, is the central figure in the Tea Party controversy. House Republicans voted last spring to hold Lerner, who retired from the IRS in 2013, in contempt of Congress. But the Justice Department declined to move on the contempt charge, and Republicans have complained loudly about the Obama administration’s own criminal investigation into the IRS. John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, told lawmakers last year that tapes backing up Lerner’s emails had been recycled. But George’s office told lawmakers in April that it had found roughly 6,400 emails either to or from Lerner between 2004 and 2013 that it didn’t think the IRS had given to Congress.  GOP lawmakers have said little so far about what was in those emails, though one Republican aide has said there appeared to be little new in the documents. Hatch told reporters Tuesday that he believed the Finance Committee would be able to quickly wrap up its own bipartisan investigation into the IRS once it got the inspector general’s report. “The entire delay has been we kept getting more and more emails, after they said that was it,” said Hatch, who had previously stated that he wanted to get his committee’s report out this month. “We’ve had to go through them all.”…”

Criminals who hacked 104,000 tax returns worked from Russia and ‘around the world,’ officials say

“The IRS and its watchdog said Tuesday that the thieves who stole the personal information of 104,000 taxpayers are operating a worldwide criminal syndicate that originates not just in Russia but in many other countries. “It’s beyond Russia,” J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing on the data breach. “The domain names originated in other nations, too. This is coming from several different countries that are syndicated around the world.”…”

IRS chief: Tax thieves not just in Russia

IRS investigating $39 million in ‘suspect’ tax refunds after data hack

“The criminals who hacked their way into 104,000 taxpayer accounts at the IRS last month may have fooled the agency into paying out up to $39 million in fraudulent tax refunds, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told a Senate committee Tuesday. Koskinen confirmed to the Senate Finance Committee that about 100,000 accounts were successfully breached last month through the “Get Transcript” application on the IRS site. Many of those accounts had already filed a tax return for 2014, but many others didn’t, and some of those accounts may have been used to file fake requests for tax refunds. “Of the approximately 100,000 successful attempts to access the Get Transcript application, only 13,000 possibly fraudulent returns were filed for the tax year 2014, for which the IRS issued refunds totaling $39 million,” he said. Koskinen said the IRS is currently investigating whether any of these refunds were improperly claimed by thieves who used public information to access those accounts. “We’re still determining how many of these returns were filed by actual taxpayers, and which were filed using stolen identities,” he said…”

IRS chief: Hackers seek fraudulent returns in 2016

“The IRS commissioner said Tuesday that criminals who swiped personal data from IRS computer systems might have been focusing more on filing fraudulent tax returns next year.  At a Senate hearing, John Koskinen, the IRS chief, offered new details about the 104,000 taxpayers who saw their personal information snapped up by what the agency and lawmakers believe was organized crime syndicates. In all, Koskinen said, that stolen information led to about 13,000 fraudulent returns this year, totaling about $39 million. Of the other roughly 90,000 taxpayers, more than a third had already filed their returns. Roughly 23,500 returns were stopped by IRS anti-fraud measures, and about 33,000 of the taxpayers appeared to have no obligation to file with the IRS. “We believe it is possible that some of the attempts to access tax transcripts were made with an eye toward using the information to file fraudulent tax returns next year,” Koskinen said. The IRS announced that information for the 104,000 taxpayers had been compromised last week, through an agency program that allows people to more quickly obtain tax returns and other data from previous years…”

IG: IRS failed to upgrade security ahead of cyberattack

“The IRS failed to implement dozens of security upgrades to its computer systems, some of which could have made it more difficult for hackers to use an IRS website to steal tax information from 104,000 taxpayers, a government investigator told Congress Tuesday. The agency’s inspector general couldn’t say whether the upgrades would have prevented the breach. But, he added, “I can say it would have been much more difficult had they implemented all of the recommendations that we made.” Each year, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration audits the IRS’s security systems and recommends improvements. As of March, 44 of those upgrades had not been completed, said the inspector general, J. Russell George. Ten of the recommendations were made more than three years ago. In addition, the Government Accountability Office issued a report in March that identified more than 50 weaknesses in the IRS’s computer security that had not been resolved. Until those weaknesses are fixed, “financial and taxpayer data will remain unnecessarily vulnerable to inappropriate and undetected use, modification or disclosure,” the GAO said. George testified Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee. He was joined by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who disputed George’s claims that the upgrades would have helped deter the breach…”

IRS failed to address computer security weaknesses, making attack on 104,000 taxpayers more likely, watchdog says

“A government watchdog told lawmakers Tuesday that the Internal Revenue Service has failed to put in place dozens of security upgrades to fight cyberattacks, improvements he said would have made it “much more difficult” for hackers to gain access to the personal information of 104,000 taxpayers in the spring. “It would have been much more difficult if they had implemented all of the recommendations we made,”  J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing on the data breach, which the IRS says was part of an elaborate scheme to claim fraudulent tax refunds. George and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen also said the thieves are operating a worldwide criminal syndicate that originates not just in Russia but in many other countries. “It’s beyond Russia,” George said, denying media reports last week that said authorities believed the hackers, who used information stolen from previous breaches to complete a complex authentication process and request tax returns and other filings, were located in Russia…”

IG: IRS failed to upgrade security ahead of cyberattack

“The IRS failed to implement dozens of security upgrades to its computer systems, some of which could have made it more difficult for hackers to use an IRS website to steal tax information from 104,000 taxpayers, a government investigator told Congress Tuesday. The agency’s inspector general couldn’t say whether the upgrades would have prevented the breach. But, he added, “I can say it would have been much more difficult had they implemented all of the recommendations that we made.” Each year, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration audits the IRS’s security systems and recommends improvements. As of March, 44 of those upgrades had not been completed, said the inspector general, J. Russell George. Ten of the recommendations were made more than three years ago. In addition, the Government Accountability Office issued a report in March that identified more than 50 weaknesses in the IRS’s computer security that had not been resolved. Until those weaknesses are fixed, “financial and taxpayer data will remain unnecessarily vulnerable to inappropriate and undetected use, modification or disclosure,” the GAO said…”

IRS missed chances to stop cyberattack: Auditor

“The IRS ignored repeated warnings from its own inspector general that could have made it much harder for the cyberattackers who stole the private taxpayer information of 100,000 Americans earlier this year, the agency’s inspector general testified to Congress on Tuesday. J. Russell George, who has been the IRS’s watchdog for more than a decade, said the IRS has either failed or, in some cases, outright refused, to follow dozens of recommendations on keeping up security patches or step up monitoring of key computer servers, which he said may have hurt the agency’s ability to fight off this attack. “It would have been much more difficult had they implemented all of the recommendations we made,” Mr. George said. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen disputed that notion, saying the audit reports and recommendations were focused on IRS database security, not on the type of identity-authentication attack that was used in this case to access the full transcripts of 100,000 taxpayers. “Those reports and those recommendations did not deal with the authentication for this website,” Mr. Koskinen said. He said much of the solution is more money — though he also said they have not shied away from spending on cybersecurity, which has been his agency’s biggest challenge over the last few years…”

GOP chair hammers IRS on security design flaw

“Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) on Tuesday hammered IRS officials over a basic security design flaw that contributed to the digital theft of over 100,000 people’s tax returns. The IRS revealed last week that 104,000 taxpayers had their personal information nabbed by what the agency and lawmakers believe was an organized crime syndicate. The data pilfered via the “Get Transcript” application has led to at least $39 million in fraudulent returns. During a Senate hearing Tuesday afternoon, Johnson pressed IRS leaders over why the cyber crooks trying to illegally access accounts were able to repeatedly use the same email address. “It’s one of the design flaws,” acknowledged Terence Millholland, IRS chief technology officer, during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. “That’s a relatively significant flaw,” replied Johnson, who chairs the panel. “Each email has got to be a unique email.” Most online registration systems allow only one account to be tied to a particular email address. “That is a corrective item that needs to be done almost immediately,” Johnson told the officials. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen explained that part of the reason his agency hasn’t implemented the unique email feature is that the IRS can’t communicate directly with taxpayers. “We never send emails back and forth because we don’t have [the] security,” he said. Koskinen said that the ability to communicate via email would also bolster the agency’s two-factor authentication process, which has been criticized in the wake of the breach…”

Spying With Limits Advances In Senate Legislation

“The U.S. Senate is on course to pass legislation that would revive expired antiterrorism programs with new limits, though any changes would require another House vote before a final version can go to President Barack Obama. The Senate on Tuesday advanced, 83-14, the measure renewing spy programs that lapsed a day earlier. Senators plan to vote on amendments and perhaps on final passage later in the day. Any revisions would require the House to again take up the bill, and the surveillance programs wouldn’t be revived until the two chambers agree. The bill “proposes major changes to some of our nation’s most fundamental and necessary counterterrorism tools,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “We don’t want to find out that the system doesn’t work in a far more tragic way.”

The House-passed bill’s advancement in the Senate represents a victory for Obama that comes more than a week after Senate Republicans led by McConnell of Kentucky opposed the legislation. McConnell relented Sunday after other options failed, and he decided instead to try to amend the House measure. McConnell also was stymied by fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who blocked speedy action because he doesn’t think the bill does enough to limit spying. The events forced the programs to lapse Monday…”

Bill to limit domestic spy programs passes U.S. Congress

Bill ending NSA phone data collection heads to Obama

“BREAKING NEWS: The Senate ended more than a week of sharp debate, passing the USA Freedom Act. It will end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone records after a six-month transition period. The Senate remained on track to pass a significant remake of U.S. surveillance powers Tuesday, after an internal split among Republicans delayed consideration of the bill and caused the legal authority for key counterterrorism programs to temporarily expire. By a vote of 83 to 14, the measure cleared a crucial procedural hurdle, as senators acted to close debate on the USA Freedom Act, a House-passed bill that would end the National Security Agency’s practice of collecting troves of call data from telephone companies. It would instead mandate a six-month transition to a system in which the data would remain in private hands but could be searched on a case-by-case basis under a court order. In the run-up to the expiration of the program and others early Monday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected to efforts to quickly pass either the House bill or short-term extensions of current law, frustrating both the White House and his fellow Senate Republicans…”

Senate kills McConnell plans to beef up spy bill

“The Senate on Tuesday rejected a trio of amendments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would have moderated some of the House-passed reforms to key federal surveillance programs. The vote is a big defeat for McConnell, who opposed the USA Freedom Act as passed by the House and insisted on votes to amend that bill. But it’s a victory for supporters of the House bill who wanted the Senate to pass that bill as-is, without any changes. Defeating McConnell’s amendments will allow that to happen. The Senate moved immediately to a final vote on the House bill after the amendments were cleared. That vote means the bill supported by most members and the White House will clear Congress today, and could be signed into law by President Obama as early as tonight. The bill will revive an anti-terror surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency that lapsed Sunday at midnight. The USA Freedom Act reforms the program by eliminating the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone “meta-data.” Instead, telecommunications companies would store that data, although the government would still have access to it. One of McConnell’s key amendments would have extended a transition period to the new program from six months to a full year. But the Senate defeated that proposal in a 44-54 vote. McConnell also called up an amendment to strip out language aimed at letting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court hear arguments against warrants for surveillance activity. That proposal fell 42-56. McConnell then brought forward a substitute bill that was supported by him and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. That amendment would have required the Director of National Intelligence to certify the new program is ready to transition from having the NSA collect data to letting companies keep that data, but it was also voted down. The White House has called on the Senate for the last few days to pass the House bill, and quickly restore authorities that lapsed Sunday.”

Senate rejects changes to House NSA phone collection bill

“The Senate has rejected changes to a House-passed bill remaking a disputed post-Sept. 11 surveillance program. That clears the way for the Senate to pass the legislation and send it directly to President Barack Obama for his signature. The action Tuesday came two days after the Senate let the National Security Agency’s bulk phone collections program temporarily lapse. Once Obama signs the legislation, the program can be resumed, but it will have to undergo significant changes. In six months the government will no longer be able to collect phone records in bulk, and instead phone companies will hang onto the records and the government will be able to search them with a warrant…”

Senate bucks McConnell, passes House spy bill 67-32

“The Senate on Tuesday rejected attempts by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to moderate some of the House-passed reforms to federal surveillance programs, and then passed the House bill over McConnell’s objection. After missing the deadline for extending these surveillance authorities on Sunday, the Senate finally approved the House language in a 67-32 vote. McConnell and his Republican colleagues made up most of the “no” votes. The vote series is a big defeat for McConnell, who opposed the House’s USA Freedom Act and insisted on votes to amend that bill. But it’s a victory for supporters of the House bill who wanted the Senate to pass it without any changes. Just before the final vote, McConnell argued that the Senate was about to approve another plan, supported by President Obama, to weaken some of the tools the U.S. has used to fight terrorism and keep the country safe. McConnell spent several minutes lashing out at Obama for dismantling these tools….”

NSA phone program doomed as Senate passes USA Freedom Act

“The National Security Agency’s phone-snooping program is on its last legs after senators approved the USA Freedom Act Tuesday, rewriting the sweeping Patriot Act to ban bulk collection of Americans’ data and adding more transparency checks to the secret court that oversees intelligence gathering in the hopes of heading off future surprises. President Obama has vowed to sign the bill, and is likely to do so quickly, reimposing several Patriot Act powers that expired earlier this week after senators missed a deadline for renewing them. But the National Security Agency’s phone metadata program has just six months to wind down and expunge its databanks, leaving intelligence officials to try to scramble to set up a new program that will leave the information with the phone companies, and only query it when investigators believe they have a terrorism lead. Tuesday’s 67-32 Senate vote came after Republican leaders backed themselves into a corner. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who backs the NSA program and wanted to see the Patriot Act kept intact, had tried to use the schedule to force fellow senators into a take-it-or-leave-it choice. But he miscalculated the votes and the timing, sending the Senate over the deadline, undercutting his own leverage. “I’m proud to have done this,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who led a two-year fight to end the NSA’s snooping. The House already passed the bill on a 338-88 vote last month, showing a striking level of bipartisanship for the chamber and underscoring just how unpopular the NSA’s program has become in the two years since former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked the details of its existence…”

Senate approves USA Freedom Act

​Senate passes NSA reform bill, the USA Freedom Act

“In a victory for civil liberties advocates, the Senate on Tuesday passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform one of the National Security Agency’s more controversial surveillance programs. The bill, which passed by a vote of 67 to 32, has already cleared the House and now goes to President Obama for his signature. Before voting on final passage of the bill, the Senate rebuffed Senate Republican leaders’ attempts to restore more power to the NSA. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R–North Carolina, backed a set of amendments that both failed. McConnell expressed his dissatisfaction with the vote on the Senate floor…”


“The Senate voted 67-32 Tuesday afternoon to pass the House’s USA Freedom Act without any of the amendments offered by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)54%. The legislation will now go to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law Tuesday evening. The USA Freedom Act that was previously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would, in effect, stop the NSA’s bulk surveillance collection and reform the programs that lapsed when the Patriot Act expired at midnight Sunday, after GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)93%, filibustered the spy program for 11 hours. The first amendment that failed to pass was the McConnell-Burr amendment. According to the Guardian, this amendment would “Change the amicus on the Fisa court – the public-interests advocate who would argue, in part, about civil liberties concerns to the secret court that oversees many surveillance programs.” McConnell and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)51%

 wanted an amendment to the USA Freedom Act that extends the time for the government to transfer custody of phone records to private telecom companies from six months to 12 months. “McConnell has also filed amendments that would require the US intelligence chief to certify the implementation of the new phone-records regime, demand notification of changes made by telecom companies to the kinds of call records they generate and reduce transparency in the process by which the secret Fisa court reviews the government’s surveillance orders,” the Guardian reported. However, the Guardian correctly predicted it was unlikely that McConnell’s amendments would pass, as they lacked support from both Republicans and Democrats…”


“Sunday night, leading up to the expiration of the Patriot Act, U.S. Representative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)91% joined Host Matthew Boyle on Breitbart News’ Sunday radio program to discuss implications of the deadline passing and what to expect in the days ahead. Massie started out by detailing for the listening audience his three main takeaways from the Patriot Act’s expiration. One: the urgency to get something passed before the Patriot Act expired goes away “by definition” with the expiration of the Act. He says that “opens the debate back up.” Two, said Massie: Senator Paul’s (R-KY) objections will be overridden and Congress will pass the Freedom Act, which he called a “placebo.” He said approximately 88 members of the House have voted against the Freedom Act, calling it a “thin veneer of reform over re-authorization of the Patriot Act.” He said he, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)95%, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)92% have been arguing that the House should be able to amend the Act, not just the Senate. Third of all, Massie pointed to something that he said happened Sunday night. According to Massie, some of the Senators who previously voted against the Freedom Act did so because they do not want any reform. However, he said, they voted to push the Freedom Act through Sunday night. “When this program expires tonight, can we expect the NSA to shut down their mass collection of data?” asked Boyle. “We fall back to the Constitution,” Massie said, “Law enforcement can still collect data, they just need a warrant and probable cause as is prescribed in the Fourth Amendment,” which, Massie emphasized, is not a tough hurdle…”

Senate Passes Major NSA Reform Bill

The USA Freedom Act, which will restore but reform the expired Patriot Act’s spy authorities, earned final passage Tuesday and will be sent to the president.

“Rand Paul’s stand against the National Security Agency is finally winding down—and Mitch McConnell failed to convince his caucus to support him on a last-ditch effort to eke out even a small victory in a battle over government surveillance that has consumed Capitol Hill for the better part of two months. The Senate Tuesday passed comprehensive surveillance reform that will revive the lapsed spy provisions of the Patriot Act, easily earning final passage after weeks of high-stakes brinkmanship. The measure will now be sent to President Obama, who is expected to swiftly sign it into law…”

Congress sends NSA phone-records bill to president

“Congress approved sweeping changes Tuesday to surveillance laws enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, eliminating the National Security Agency’s disputed bulk phone-records collection program and replacing it with a more restrictive measure to keep the records in phone companies’ hands. Two days after Congress let the phone-records and several other anti-terror programs expire, the Senate’s 67-32 vote sent the legislation to President Barack Obama, who planned to sign it promptly. The legislation will revive most of the programs the Senate had allowed to lapse in a dizzying collision of presidential politics and national security policy. But the authorization will undergo major changes, the legacy of agency contractor Edward Snowden’s explosive revelations two years ago about domestic spying by the government. In an unusual shifting of alliances, the legislation passed with the support of Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but over the strong opposition of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell failed to persuade the Senate to extend the current law unchanged, and came up short in a last-ditch effort Tuesday to amend the House version, as nearly a dozen of his own Republicans abandoned him in a series of votes. “This is a step in the wrong direction,” a frustrated McConnell said on the Senate floor ahead of the Senate’s final vote to approve the House version, dubbed the USA Freedom Act. He said the legislation “does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens. And it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool form our warfighters at exactly the wrong time.” The legislation remakes the most controversial aspect of the USA Patriot Act — the once-secret bulk collection program that allows the National Security Agency to sweep up Americans’ phone records and comb through them for ties to international terrorists. Over six months the NSA would lose the power to collect and store those records, but the government still could gain court orders to obtain data connected to specific numbers from the phone companies, which typically store them for 18 months. It would also continue other post-9/11 surveillance provisions that lapsed Sunday night, and which are considered more effective than the phone-data collection program. These include the FBI’s authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations and to more easily eavesdrop on suspects who are discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance…”

Obama Signs Bill Reshaping NSA Surveillance Program

Congress turns away from post-9/11 law, retooling U.S. surveillance powers

NSA Debate Weighs Privacy vs. Security

“Do I trust the federal government? Hell no. President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice is happy to spend years investigating a foreign soccer organization for corruption and former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert for allegedly paying off a blackmailer — but not the alleged blackmailer — yet ignores big concerns. The feds have done next to nothing about the IRS targeting of conservative political groups, other than to defend IRS official Lois Lerner’s creative use of the Fifth Amendment when she refused to answer questions from House investigators. And when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked in 2013 whether the government was collecting data on millions of Americans, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said no. Shortly thereafter, Edward Snowden leaked information that showed Clapper had lied. The very fact that leaker Snowden had been given top security clearance made the intelligence community appear reckless and incompetent. Still, I am among the majority of Americans who support the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data. I want the government to have the tools it needs to prevent another major terrorist attack. If that means giving the government access to bulk phone records without listening to the calls, that’s a bargain I can accept. I also want the government to be able to monitor suspected “lone wolf” terrorists, as well as to listen in on suspicious calls — even if the suspect changes phones or devices. Those two powers, along with bulk data collection, expired Sunday after the Senate failed to pass a House reform measure to keep parts of the Patriot Act alive. “Tonight begins the process of ending bulk collection” by the government, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., proclaimed. Republican hawks accused Paul, a presidential candidate, of using the issue for fundraising. I think they’re wrong; they fail to appreciate Paul’s enthusiasm for the Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment. He dug in his heels on the issue even though a recent CNN poll shows that 73 percent of Republicans support government collection of bulk telephone records. He’s willing to risk a political loss for primacy of principle. President Obama did call on the Senate to end this “irresponsible lapse” by passing the House reform measure, but it’s hard to shake the suspicion this was a back-burner issue for the administration…”

Homeland Security Secretary Responds Forcefully After Details of Alarming TSA Report Are Leaked (UPDATED)

Obama climate rule nearly complete

“The Obama administration is conducting the final review of its controversial rule to limit carbon emissions from power plants. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said it is putting the regulation into the final review process after receiving the text on Monday from the Environmental Protection Agency. The OMB review, the last process before the plan can be made final, started nearly a year to the day since the EPA publicly released the proposed rule. The timing puts the rule on track for the August unveiling that the administration has been planning for. “Following President Obama’s call to issue carbon pollution guidelines for the power sector, EPA has submitted the final Clean Power Plan for existing power plants to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement. “The transmittal to OMB is the next step in the agency’s routine rulemaking process.” Sending the rule to the OMB also allows stakeholders to request meetings with the White House and EPA officials. Under an executive order, officials are obligated to meet with most groups that ask. The administration has not revealed what changes, if any, will be in the final rule when compared with the proposal released in June 2014. The rule has become the Obama administration’s most controversial environmental regulation and promises to become a main piece of the president’s legacy. As proposed under the Clean Air Act, the regulation aims to slash the power sector’s carbon output 30 percent by 2030, when compared with 2005 levels. It would set specific goals for each state and ask the states to write plans to comply within a year of the August release date. Officials are planning to unveil the climate rule at the same time as two other contentious power plant rules: limits on carbon emissions from newly built power plants and a proposed framework for how the EPA would force compliance upon states that do not write their own plans…”

Coal industry warns of ‘significant economic harm’ as power-plant rules enter final stage

“The coal industry marked the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s controversial emission rules with a stark warning of economic harm, as the rules head to the White House for final review. “Now that the rule is before the White House for final review, it is one step closer to inflicting significant economic harm on American families,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Sheehan’s group, which represents the coal industry, has been an outspoken critic of the EPA emission rules, known as the Clean Power Plan. The coal industry argues that the rules would force coal plants to close in favor of more expensive alternatives that would drive up electricity prices. The EPA emission rules were proposed on June 2, 2014. The agency sent the rules to the White House on Tuesday — the one-year anniversary of the proposal — where it will enter the final stage of pre-publication review by the Office of Management and Budget before becoming law…”

Trucking industry braces for new EPA rules for big rigs

“President Obama is expected to soon add emission rules for big-rig trucks to a growing list of regulations to combat the threat of climate change. The president directed the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new rules for heavy-duty trucks to make them more fuel efficient, while lowering their carbon dioxide emissions to lessen the effects of global warming. Trucking manufacturers will be looking to see if they are able to meet the standards without driving smaller trucking fleets out of business, according to industry representatives. The rules will not only regulate the truck and the engine, but are also expected to add new efficiency and emission regulations for trailers that large tractor-trailer trucks haul. One official says it will be a “big rule” that comprises so many components of large trucks that it could easily be broken down into several separate regulations…”

E.P.A. to Set New Limits on Airplane Emissions

“The Obama administration is set to announce that it will require new rules to cut emissions from airplanes, expanding a quest to tackle climate change that has included a string of significant regulations on cars, trucks and power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to report as early as Friday its conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes endanger human health because they significantly contribute to global warming, although people familiar with the agency’s plans said the announcement could slip into next week. That announcement, known in legal parlance as an endangerment finding, will prompt a requirement under the Clean Air Act for the agency to issue new regulations to reduce airplane emissions. The agency is expected to limit the rule to commercial aircraft, leaving out small craft and military planes…”

Obama administration sees daylight with Congress on Internet privatization

“Commerce Department officials think they’re making headway on Capitol Hill with the Obama administration’s plans to follow through with a Clinton-era directive to privatize certain Internet management functions, even as the House readies to again delay the move. Last March, the Commerce Department said it would finish the transition started in the late 1990s, and set this September as the deadline for proposals on how to do so. But Congress refused to fund the move, and required the administration to delay its plans to turn over stewardship of the Internet naming system to the “global multi-stakeholder community” by a year. Congress cited worries that the transfer might embolden authoritarian regimes to censure and take control of the Internet. In 1998, following a directive by President Clinton to privatize technical Internet functions “in a way that increases competition and facilitates international participation in its management,” the U.S. created the California-based nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to oversee the domain name system, which allocates global IP addresses. ICANN, through a contract with Commerce’s National Telecommunications Information Administration, acts as the world’s Internet Assigned Numbers Authority…”

‘Obama phone’ expansion takes heat at Senate hearing

“Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday turned a critical eye to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides phone service to low-income individuals. Less than a week ago, the FCC announced its intention to expand the Lifeline program, which opponents call “Obama phones,” to cover broadband service. But critics said Tuesday that the government should be wary of an expansion before there are more accountability measures in place.

“Before again expanding the program, we need to consider what problems remain and how we can address them, since consumers are bearing the cost of funding the program with increasing phone bills,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on communications, which convened the hearing. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said that because of “the waste, fraud and abuse that’s already been identified,” she supports capping the program’s budget and requiring participants to provide a copay. Lawmakers also raised questions about how the program is perceived in their home states. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he heard many stories of people using their Lifeline service for “illicit” purposes and said his constituents were “sick and tired” of waste in the program. The program also has its supporters. A group of Democratic lawmakers has introduced a bill to support the FCC’s proposal…”

New York Times Lawyer: Obama Admin Made Us Wait YEARS To Get Public Information

“David McCraw, legal counsel to The New York Times newsroom, testified Tuesday that the Obama administration has a “culture of unresponsiveness” when it comes to fulfilling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and that the administration has made the Times wait years to get simple FOIA information. “Last year, I filed eight FOIA lawsuits on behalf of The Times,” McCraw testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Much of that litigation was driven not by actual disagreement about legal issues but in response to unacceptable delay by agencies. In other words, we find ourselves compelled to initiate litigation simply to prompt agencies to act upon a request.” McCraw called the process “wasteful and inefficient.” “We called more than 10 times and left messages. Almost all of those calls went unreturned,” McCraw said about one request that the Times filed to the Department of Justice for budgetary information. “Finally we filed a lawsuit out of frustration.”…”

From health care to economy, Obama muses about his legacy (+video)

Asked at the White House on Monday how he would want the world to remember him, the president replied grinning, ‘Fondly, I hope.’

“President Obama is not shy about defining his achievements and casting them in the most positive light, yet he is loath to talk about his “legacy.” But on Monday, Mr. Obama offered a rare glimpse at how he wants history to judge his presidency, letting the “L” word cross his lips as he touted the US economic recovery, his health care law, and his foreign policy. Obama’s personal assessment, offered during a question-and-answer session with young Southeast Asian leaders at the White House, came not only as Obama moves toward the final 20 months of his presidency, but also as his tenure is coming under increasing fire from the growing list of Republican presidential candidates…”

Rick Perry: ‘I would rescind any agreement’ Obama makes with Iran

“Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said one his first acts if elected president would be to rescind any negotiated agreement President Obama works out on Iran’s nuclear program and said Mr. Obama has not demonstrated sufficient leadership in departments like the embattled Veterans Administration. “I’m going to be a busy guy on day one,” Mr. Perry said Tuesday during a question-and-answer session at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s Economic Growth Forum in Orlando. “From the time my hand goes off the Bible until you come to the inaugural balls, there’s gonna be a lot of work being done.” “One of the first things I would do is obviously, I would rescind any agreement that this president will have made with Iran,” he said. Mr. Perry is currently running near the back of the pack in early polling on the 2016 GOP field, but has been laying the groundwork to move past his short-lived 2012 presidential campaign. He’s scheduled to announce his 2016 intentions on Thursday. “If it is a regulation that is a disincentive to work, they need to be done away with,” he said. “You need to bring men and women to office with you — you need to bring men and women who are committed to this concept that you can’t over-regulate, you cannot put regulations in place and change the rules in the middle of the game. “And it really starts at the top,” he continued. “We have a Veterans Administration today that is not serving the men and women that have put themselves in harm’s way. And I will suggest to you because the president of the United States does not get up every day and say, ‘What are you doing today to make sure that that agency is delivering the proper health care and the proper support to those individuals?’”….

Who is presidential candidate Lindsey Graham?

High stakes for Bush, Rubio in Florida presidential primary

“Some of the leading Republican presidential prospects faced off at an event Tuesday in battleground Florida, a state that could prove pivotal to the Florida heavyweights seeking the nomination, not to mention any rival who manages to win here instead. Jeb Bush, a former two-term Florida governor, and Florida’s junior Sen. Marco Rubio, were the home-state stars at a GOP economic gathering that drew a half dozen White House hopefuls — Rubio, tied up by Senate business, appeared by video. They are so heavily favored in the March 15 primary next year that some rivals are considering bypassing Florida’s race. But they showed up Tuesday. Rubio offered the audience an indirect but unmistakable barb at Bush, who was speaking later. “While our economy is transforming, our policies and our leaders are not,” Rubio said. “Our outdated leaders continue to cling to outdated ideas.” The 44-year-old Republican did not name Bush or Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton but the implication was clear in a 2016 campaign that features a sharp contrast between a group of younger political leaders and the two older figures whose families have dominated national politics for decades. Tuesday’s speaking program also featured former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. ChrisChristie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Despite their appearance, many campaigns are weighing whether to spend time and money in the state Bush and Rubio call home….”

Progressive Groups Finally Throw in the Towel on Elizabeth Warren Presidential Run

“Two leading progressive groups seem to be accepting that no does mean no when it comes to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) launching a presidential campaign. The Run Warren Run movement will suspend its effort next week, the organization announced Tuesday, after it delivers 365,000 signatures to the door of Warren’s Senate office imploring her to get into the 2016 presidential race. The effort, which has been going on for the last six months, has been run by and Democracy for America and has cost $1.25 million. The groups will suspend their activities on June 8, the day they deliver the signatures, and then rest their case. Warren, a favorite among progressive activists, was elected to the Senate in 2012 and has repeatedly said she would not run for president. Her profile has only risen as she became the figurehead leader among Democrats opposing President Barack Obama’s trade deal. “Even without her in the race, Elizabeth Warren and the Run Warren Run campaign she inspired have already transformed the 2016 presidential election by focusing every single Democratic candidate on combatting our country’s income inequality crisis,” Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain said in a statement. “We still think there’s plenty of time for Sen. Warren to change her mind, but now that we’ve shown that she has the support she would need to mount a winning a campaign, we’re excited to take the grassroots juggernaut we’ve built with our members and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Warren in the battles ahead,” Chamberlain continued. The groups say Run Warren Run opened field offices in Iowa and New Hampshire, recruited more than 60 state legislators in the effort, and held more than 400 events. It also gained support of progressive activists and groups such as Van Jones, and the New York Working Families Party…”


Bad news sinks in, Clinton poll numbers go down

“For politicians, there’s a complicated relationship between bad news and the polls. It works like this: Some sort of scandalous or negative story breaks in the media. The candidate tries to deal with it. In a day or two, a pollster asks the public about it, and there is little or no change in the candidate’s numbers. News accounts then report the scandalous or negative story has had no effect on the candidate. The problem is, the process takes a while. It takes time for stories to sink in with the public all across a very big country. And when the stories do finally sink in, the polls begin to show it. Two new surveys out Tuesday have some very bad news for Clinton on two questions that are important to voters. The first: Does the phrase “honest and trustworthy” apply to Hillary Clinton? The second: Does she care about people like you? The results of a new CNN poll are simply terrible for Clinton. Just 42 percent said “honest and trustworthy” applies to Clinton, while a whopping 57 percent said it does not apply. Just 47 percent said Clinton cares about people like them, while 52 percent said she does not…”

Hillary allows men at ‘women-only’ event amid weak turnout

“Hillary Clinton had trouble attracting high-powered women to a New York talk hosted by Silda Wall Spitzer two weeks before her campaign officially kicks off. Sources said that after ticket sales fizzled for an intimate, $2,700-per-person, “just for women” meeting on Monday, the event was thrown open to men at the 11th hour, and the deadline extended to buy tickets.

The “Conversation With Hillary Clinton” event at Midtown law firm Akin Gump was originally aiming to attract 125 women. An email invitation seen by Page Six said the event is “just for women.” But by Friday, “They’d only sold 50 tickets, so they threw it open to men,” a source said. “Ticket sales were supposed to close at 10 a.m. Sunday, but the hostesses were working the phones and pushed the deadline till Monday.” We hear about 90 attendees included former Bill Clinton aide Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and his husband, Randy Florke, Maurice Tempelsman, Jill Braufman (wife of hedge funder Daniel Nir), Jean Shafiroff and Susan Cole. The event began at noon, but Clinton arrived at 1 p.m. in “a royal blue jacket and black pants.” She then took pictures with donors and delivered a half-hour speech before leaving at about 2 p.m.

Silda introduced Clinton as a “tough, authentic leader,” which is probably more than she can say about her hard-charging ex Eliot. In a possible nod to her host, Clinton quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, quipping, “Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide.”

Topics included “clean energy,” mental health care for college kids, keeping but “revising” ObamaCare, Vladimir Putin, and America’s heroin and meth “epidemic.”…”

The Clinton Foundation Took Money from Saudi Propagandists

Polls reflect troubles for Clinton and Bush

“A pair of new polls reflect potential long-term challenges for the best-known presidential candidates in each party: Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush. A CNN/ORC poll shows that Clinton — dogged by questions about missing emails and big-money contributions to Bill Clinton’s foundation — has seen her numbers drop on such issues as trustworthiness. “A growing number of people say she is not honest and trustworthy (57%, up from 49% in March), less than half feel she cares about people like them (47%, down from 53% last July) and more now feel she does not inspire confidence (50%, up from 42% last March),” CNN reports. An ABC News/Washington Post survey shows similar problems for the Democratic front-runner. “She’s slipped underwater in personal favorability for the first time since her unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2008,” ABC reports. “She’s deeper in the hole for honesty and trustworthiness — down 5 points in just two months and 12 points in the last year.” That said, the polls show Clinton has a massive lead over Democratic primary opponents Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley and others. Clinton also leads potential Republican challengers, though those margins have shrunk in recent weeks. Whom the Republican nominee might be remains an intriguing question, as the well-funded, well-organized Bush also shows slippage in new polls. One big reason: his last name. CNN does report that “only about half of Americans say Jeb Bush is ‘a lot like his brother,’ ” former president George W. Bush. Their father, George H.W. Bush also served as president. “But most — 56% — say his connection to two former presidents would make them less likely to back him for the presidency,” CNN adds. “Just 27% say that connection would make them more likely to back the former Florida governor.”…”

Surprise: Iran’s supply of enriched uranium has grown 20% since last year despite Obama’s claim that it was “frozen”

““Western officials and experts cannot quite figure out why,” notes the Times, despite the fact that UN inspectors have had “almost daily access” to Iranian nuclear facilities. These are the same inspectors we’ll be relying on to detect whether Iran’s cheating once the final deal is in effect. If they can’t tell why a stash of nuclear fuel right under their noses is growing, what don’t they know about projects that Iran has worked harder to conceal? As a preface to the news, here’s a suddenly memorable quote from this year’s State of the Union: “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.” Over to you, NYT: With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been “frozen” during that period… The 2013 plan for capping the stockpile relied on Iran’s stated plan to build a “conversion plant” at its sprawling nuclear complex at Isfahan. The plant was intended to turn newly enriched uranium into oxide powder, the first step toward making reactor fuel rods. In other words, while the stockpile would not be reduced, it also should not have grown…”