News Briefing for Wednesday, March 25

eyeglasses and newspaper blue background


How many will have to pay back Obamacare subsidies?

“More Americans will owe the government money for their Obamacare subsidy than won’t, says a new analysis. A big upcoming Tax Day question is how many Americans with government-subsidized health insurance will find that they collected more in subsidies than they’re qualified for and have to pay some of it back — and how many will find themselves in the opposite position, with the government owing them money. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that half of all subsidy-eligible households will be in the first boat, owing the government an average payment of $794. That situation comes about if a taxpayer earns more than they originally guessed, thus qualifying for a lower subsidy level. Meanwhile, 45 percent will be in the opposite situation, finding that they qualified for more in subsidies than they collected. Their average refund will be $773, Kaiser estimates. The subsidies are provided through President Obama’s healthcare law to help low and mid-income Americans buy health insurance. Taxpayers can minimize the discrepancy by promptly reporting any income changes to the online marketplace where they bought their health plan. Still, many subsidy recipients are likely to find their income fluctuated throughout the year, especially if they work in an hourly job. “An unanticipated repayment — which may require tax households to actually write a check to the IRS or get a lower-than-expected tax refund — may be difficult for these households to handle financially, even though it would only happen if their income is higher,” the Kaiser analysis says…”


Half Of Obamacare Customers To End Up Owing IRS Hundreds Back For Subsidies

“Half the Obamacare customers who received premium subsidies will end up owing the IRS big come tax season — almost $800 on average, according to a new study. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 50 percent of Americans who purchased taxpayer-subsidized health insurance on an Obamacare exchange will have to repay the federal government. Because the Obamacare subsidy system requires customers to estimate their income for the upcoming year, those who end up earning more than expected will end up getting more subsidies than appropriate. That will leave them owing $794 to the IRS on average, according to KFF. Another 45 percent are expected to have overestimated their income and should get extra money back from the government, for an average refund of $773. Those who make a set annual income may have an easy time estimating their upcoming income when applying for Obamacare coverage, but the process is more difficult for hourly workers who aren’t sure exactly what they’ll make by the end of the year. Because the subsidies are only offered to those with relatively low incomes, even owing the IRS several hundred dollars could hit these individuals and families hard. And KFF notes that it could be a complete surprise, as in the first year of Obamacare, some people were unaware they were even receiving subsidies…”


Half of people with ObamaCare subsidies will owe on their taxes

“Half of all households that received ObamaCare tax credits last year will likely owe money to the federal government, a new study found. Nearly all families that received tax credits will either owe money or receive extra money because their tax filings had changed after they calculated their ObamaCare subsidies, according to a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only 4 percent of households received the correct subsidy, according to the report, which uses data from the national Survey of Income and Program Participation. Out of those who will have to repay, the average amount owed is $794, the study found. Out of the 45 percent of people receiving money back, the average refund is $773. Some households will be paying back the majority of their tax credit. Middle-income households — with income between 300 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level – will repay about 65 percent of their tax credit. Between 4.5 million and 7.5 million households received tax credits in 2014. This year’s tax season marks the first time that people will have to account for their ObamaCare subsidies or pay penalties for lacking coverage. Under ObamaCare’s first year, people buying insurance received subsidies in advance based on their tax returns from 2012, which was the most recent year available. People with the middle-level incomes were more likely to owe money — and to owe more. There are some limits for how much money an individual or family would have to repay if their tax credits were too large. For example, families making less than 300 percent of the poverty level will not pay back more than $1,500. Anyone with an income greater than 400 percent of the poverty level has no cap on repayment…”


Report: Tax time means overhaul subsidy repayments for many


Nasty tax surprise for Obamacare customers


Why Obamacare Has Made Tax Filing an Even Bigger Headache This Year


Why Getting a Raise Could Be a Negative for Some Obamacare Users This Tax Season

“What Obamacare gives, it can take away – at least if you got a pay increase over the last year. About half of subscribers who received federal subsidies to buy private insurance plans will owe an average of $794 in repayments, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released Tuesday. The repayments come if a subsidy recipient’s actual income was higher than their projected income. “If you are low-income, having to pay any increase on taxes is a hardship on people,” Cynthia Cox, Kaiser Family Foundation associate director and lead author of the study told TheBlaze. “Even if your income goes up over the year, some people don’t realize they are receiving subsidies and would be surprised they have to pay back so much.”…”


Happy Anniversary Obamacare Taxes, Many Happy Returns

“On the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Sylia M. Burwell, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, waxed eloquently. She showcased a story about one American, who counts the ACA as a lifesaver. It is a useful reminder, as are a few of the statistics the Secretary lauds.But five years ago this week, most of the stories are of a less hopeful kind, and one that offers grim cost-benefit trade-offs. Most people who are asked believe Obamacare at five years old is a disappointment. For all the enormous costs, which are getting worse, polls suggest that 52.5% oppose the law, while only 42% approve of it. As Grace-Marie Turner put it, our health sector has been thrown into turmoil, millions of people have lost their private health plans, $1 trillion in new and higher taxes have been imposed on individuals and businesses, and the uninsured rate dropped a net of 1.5%. Truly, for many Americans, opposition to Obamacare has become personal. But on this five year anniversary, we do have many taxes to celebrate! How many Obamacare taxes are there? It all depends on how you count. First, let’s note the obvious. This has been a bad tax season opener, with new and widespread fears about tax fraud and identity theft. Tax filing season arrived with a bang, and now the FBI is investigating fraudulent tax returns filed through TurboTax. Some taxpayers claim their federal refunds are in jeopardy. Taxpayers interviewed about fraudulent tax filings said their IRS data was compromised and returns were filed in their names. Some speculate the fraudulent returns were based on leaks of their 2013 tax return data. In past years, it seemed stressful to collect W-2s and 1099s, and discover you are missing a Form 1099 or K-1. This year makes the usual stresses seem like the good old days. Still, part of the stress this year is Obamacare, its new taxes and new forms. Yet for most of the approximately 85% of Americans who have health insurance and who make less than $250,000 a year, you can relax. Most of the new taxes are unlikely to hurt you or impact your pocketbook. Even so, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, which is one reason the IRS has a 21-page Publication 5187 on the Health Care Law: What’s New for Individuals and Families. If you’d rather be entertained, there’s always President Obama’s Buzzfeed video. And let’s look at 3 new forms, including the 1095-A Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, the Form 8962 Premium Tax Credit, and Form 8965 Health Coverage Exemptions. Forms 1095-A and 8962 are for people who bought health coverage through the Marketplace. Form 8965 is for those who got a Marketplace coverage exemption or plan to claim an exemption…”


Obamacare, at 5, still a problem child

“…Well, the president’s health care law marks its fifth anniversary this week. And most Americans are not, in fact, looking back and saying the law enacted in 2010 – with not one Republican vote in either the House or Senate – was a monumental achievement. Indeed, in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this month, a 44-34 plurality of respondents thought Obamacare a “bad idea.” And a 62-22 percent majority said that what they had seen, read or heard in recent weeks about the Affordable Care Act had made them “less confident” about the law. Some suggest the public’s misgivings about Obamacare are almost entirely attributable to GOP opposition to the law. In a statement Monday, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted that “Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or undermine this critical law.” The law is a godsend, she argued. “More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance.” Also, “health care spending is growing at its slowest rate in 50 years.” And eight in 10 consumers “can now find a coverage plan for $100 or less per month after tax credits.” But here are a few inconvenient truths about Obamacare that Rep. Schultz neglected to mention: Deductibles, co-payments and drug payments under the average Obamacare “silver” plan – the most popular – are $3,453, according to a CNNMoney analysis, compared with $1,217 under employer-provided health insurance. Taxpayer subsidies may defray the cost for some of the 16 million Americans who have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. However, Jackson Hewitt, the nation’s second-largest tax preparation service, said that more than half its clients who received such subsidies will have to pay back all or some of the money. That’s why most Americans are in no mood this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the president’s namesake law. And we can’t say we blame them…”


Pavlich: America isn’t better with ObamaCare

“It’s been five years since the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, was passed and signed into law. This week, the White House is touting the legislation as a huge success and claiming the country is better off.  “FACT: We’ve seen the largest drop in the uninsured rate in decades since the ACA became law. #BetterWithObamacare,” the official White House Twitter feed sent out Sunday.  “More than 16 million Americans have gained health coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act. #BetterWithObamacare,” another tweet said. First, it’s important to analyze this White House white lie. While more Americans do in fact have health insurance in the wake of ObamaCare, the administration fails to point out that citizens are required by law to do so or pay a fine. This wasn’t the case in decades past. Times — and the law — have changed. The government criminalized the decision not to purchase healthcare, and the IRS has been tapped with enforcing the requirement. More people have health insurance because they’ve been forced into the system, not because they want insurance or because they have easier access.  Second, let’s review how ObamaCare was passed in 2010. It happened in the middle of the night through a change in Senate rules and without a single Republican vote. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is now infamous for saying, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”  She also wasn’t shy about the tactics used to get the legislation through Congress. “We will go through the gate and if the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get healthcare reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit,” Pelosi said in January 2010.  Although ObamaCare is still highly controversial, as Pelosi once admitted, its negative impact is clearer. For example, having health insurance is not the same thing as having access to medical care or affordable coverage. The costs of health insurance premiums and deductibles have significantly increased, leaving families in even more dire financial situations. According to research from the Manhattan Institute, health insurance premiums for people living in a number of states across the country have gone up by more than 100 percent.  Overall, costs to the taxpayer have been enormous, with $2 billion spent on, which didn’t work properly for a year, and an estimated $2 trillion in addition to enforce ObamaCare over the next 10 years. Data from a Government Accountability Office report released in 2013 has been cited showing ObamaCare adds $6.2 trillion to the long-term U.S. deficit, a far cry from liberal claims that deficits would be reduced as a result of the law. Further, and most detrimental, is the mass retirement of doctors. According to a 2013 study from Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 62 percent of physicians will retire early with 55 percent limiting their work hours due to new rules and regulations. Not to mention the millions of people who lost their doctors and coverage because of ObamaCare, despite the president repeatedly promising that would never happen…”


Obamacare Is Really Expensive for Small Businesses. Surprise!

Lousy news for growing the economy, creating jobs, and overall increasing prosperity

“Complying with the health care law is costing small businesses thousands of dollars that they didn’t have to spend before the new regulations went into effect,” reports AP business writer Joyce M. Rosenberg. This should be a surprise to exactly nobody. In general, government mandates have poor track record of making people’s lives less expensive and complicated. Specifically, businesses around the country have reported over the past year that Obamacare raised their healthcare costs and they anticipated more hikes to come. Hiring—especially of full-time employees—has taken a hit as a result. Writes Rosenberg: “The Affordable Care Act, which as of next Jan. 1 applies to all companies with 50 or more workers, requires owners to track staffers’ hours, absences and how much they spend on health insurance. Many small businesses don’t have the human resources departments or computer systems that large companies have, making it harder to handle the paperwork. On average, complying with the law costs small businesses more than $15,000 a year, according to a survey released a year ago by the National Small Business Association. Last summer, Federal Reserve Banks around the country surveyed businesses in their regions. In the service sector, about 82 percent of businesses told the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas that the Affordable Care Act raised costs for them in 2014; 91 percent expected increased costs in 2015.”…”


Dem senators warn Obamacare rule ‘particularly harmful and disruptive’

“Six Democratic senators and one independent have asked the Department of Health and Human Services to a delay a new rule that would likely force small businesses to pay more for employee health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The senators warn that if the administration goes ahead with the change it would be “particularly harmful and disruptive” to small businesses. Starting in 2016, the Obamacare change will require businesses that employ between 51-100 people to purchase insurance in what the government defines as the “small group market,” rather than the market for large group plans. The senators warn that the change will inflate health care costs for those businesses. “[T]hey could experience higher premiums, less flexibility, and new barriers to coverage. We therefore encourage you to delay the effective date in the definition change for two years so the market can more smoothly transition to the new rules,” the senators wrote in the March 12 letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. The letter was signed by Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Joe Machin (W. Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.). Maine’s Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also signed it. A spokeswoman for HHS confirmed the department received the letter but had no further comment. A staffer for one the senators said they had still not received a response from the administration. In the letter, the senators note that the administration has delayed implementing other aspects of the healthcare law. They argue their requested delay is warranted because the administration hasn’t yet implemented certain programs designed to help small businesses comply with the law….”


EXCLUSIVE: Democratic Senators Beg For Another Obamacare Delay


Feds Claim Obamacare Launch Is Hindering Government Transparency

“A heavy workload caused by the Affordable Care Act, government technology limits and staff shortages are causing unusually long delays in filling public records requests, federal health officials say. The waits in some cases could stretch out a decade or more. The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to records requests in 20 working days, though providing documents often takes much longer. The FBI, for instance, recently reported that complex requests could average more than two years to fill. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has a backlog of some 3,000 FOIA requests and says it may need 10 years or more to dig out from under some large cases. The Justice Department disclosed the bottleneck in court papers filed Friday in a FOIA lawsuit brought by the Center for Public Integrity against the Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency of CMS. The suit, filed in May 2014, seeks a broad array of records as part of the Center’s ongoing investigation into overcharges by private Medicare Advantage insurance plans for the elderly. The center filed suit after failing to receive any records as a result of its initial FOIA request in 2013. In its court filing, the Justice Department argued that CMS resources “have been placed under unusual strain” in the past year due to demands of launching Obamacare….”


Markey seeks repeal of medical device tax

“Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) rolled out legislation Tuesday to eliminate ObamaCare’s medical device tax, and replace the lost revenue by raising taxes on oil-and-gas companies. The medical device industry has been pushing hard to repeal the 2.3 percent excise tax on devices. That idea has bipartisan support, from practically every Republican to Democrats like Markey whose home states have large medical device industries. “Medical device companies in Massachusetts and across the country are at the forefront of a biomedical revolution that is supporting economic growth and developing life-saving technologies,” Markey said in a statement. “It’s time to end 19th century tax breaks for highly-profitable oil and gas companies that need no assistance and invest in 21st century innovation and companies that create jobs and save lives.” Still, supporters have plenty of obstacles to hurdle before the medical device tax is repealed. Democrats who have sounded open to the idea, like Markey, want to replace the revenue to ensure that President Obama’s signature healthcare law remains fully funded. Other top Democrats, like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), have shown no interest in repealing the tax, saying that the device industry will get plenty of help due to the increase in insured people because of ObamaCare. Republicans, meanwhile, want to just get rid of the tax, as part of their efforts to unravel ObamaCare…”


House unveils ‘doc fix’ bill

“House leaders introduced legislation Tuesday to permanently replace a flawed and outdated Medicare payment formula that continually threatens to deeply cut payments to doctors. The legislation would also reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program until the fall of 2016. If Congress doesn’t take action, funding for that program will expire on March 31, and doctor payments from Medicare would increase by more than 20 percent. The bill would rely on wealthy seniors paying more to help offset the projected cost of the measure. It has been a year since bipartisan lawmakers released the framework for the permanent fix, and with another short-term patch set to expire next week then House Republican and Democratic leaders are pushing to get legislation through. “We can see the light at the end of the [sustainable growth rate] tunnel — finally. Our bipartisan product begins the task of strengthening Medicare over the long term,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. The bill includes several other Medicare reforms, including extending payments for ambulatory services and extending a payment adjustment rate offering certain low-volume hospitals with additional funding associated with the higher cost of operating a hospital with a low volume of patients. The House is expected to consider the legislation later this week. The Senate has largely been waiting to see what the House comes up with. While both parties appear united on passing a permanent doc fix, several hurdles remain. Several conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation have come out against proposed legislation, wary of how the House plans to pay for the permanent fix without adding to the deficit. The legislation is expected to cost $210 billion over the next decade, and the Medicare savings will only amount to $70 billion….”


CDC: 11M fewer uninsured since passage of Obama’s law

“The number of uninsured U.S. residents fell by more than 11 million since President Barack Obama signed the health care overhaul five years ago, according to a pair of reports Tuesday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although that still would leave about 37 million people uninsured, it’s the lowest level measured in more than 15 years. The most dramatic change took place in comparing 2013 with the first nine months of 2014. As the health care law’s major coverage expansion was taking effect, the number of uninsured people fell by 7.6 million over that time. That’s “much bigger than can possibly be explained by the economy,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “The vast majority has to be due to the Affordable Care Act.” Monday was the law’s fifth anniversary, and supporters and detractors again clashed over its impact. Obama says the law in many ways is “working even better than anticipated.” House Speaker John Boehner says it amounts to a “legacy of broken promises.” The health care law offers subsidized private coverage to people who don’t have access to it on the job, as well as an expanded version of Medicaid geared to low-income adults, in states accepting it…”


Reid: No comment yet on ‘doc fix’ deal


Health Law Credits Boosted Coverage in 2014, GAO Says


Journalists and Justices

Lobbying the High Court to save Obamacare

“King v. Burwell, on which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 4, is the most politically important case on the High Court’s docket this term. If the King petitioners win a decision in their favor, it could explode the massive 2010 federal health care overhaul known as Obamacare, by removing subsidies for Obamacare-compliant health-insurance policies in most states. And for that reason, King v. Burwell has generated a lobbying blitz in the liberal media of seemingly unprecedented proportions. It began even before the King petitioners asked the Supreme Court last July 31 to review a ruling against them by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is unlikely to stop until the justices issue their own decision, probably at the end of June. Some of the press output touches on the actual issues of statutory interpretation and federalism that the King case raises. But the bulk of the lobbying, in newspapers, magazine articles, websites, and blogs, has consisted of belittling the petitioners, ridiculing the legal theories that their lawyers have put forth, impugning the motives of conservative and libertarian activists involved in the litigation, engaging in argumenta ad misericordiam designed to make the High Court feel sorry for the 8 million people who might not be able to afford Obamacare-mandated health insurance should the King petitioners prevail, and appealing to the amour-propre of various of the nine Supreme Court justices…”


Did Kennedy tip his hand in Obamacare case? And more on politics today


Watch How Ted Cruz Responds When He’s Asked on CBS If He Would ‘Take’ Away Health Care From 16 Million People as President

“Appearing on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, was asked by CBS News corresponded Vladimir Duthiers if he would “take” away the health care of 16 millions of Americans ensured under Obamacare if elected president. He seemingly came prepared to field such a question. “Well, you know, those numbers don’t tell the whole picture,” Cruz responded. “For one thing, the bulk of those numbers are coming from expanded Medicaid. And Medicaid is a program where a lot of people who are on Medicaid are not getting health care. Medicaid is a system that is already overburdened and more and more people are just getting waiting lists and not actually getting health care.” He continued: “Beyond that, remember six million people had their health insurance canceled because of Obamacare. You are not doing someone a favor is you cancel the health insurance they like, and then force them to buy new health insurance at higher premiums that covers less.” The Texas senator also said Obamacare is the “single largest job killer” in the United States…”


Cruz: The anti-Obamacare candidate?

“Sen. Ted Cruz could hardly have picked a more fitting time and place to announce his presidential candidacy. The Texas Republican skyrocketed onto the national scene in 2012 vowing to repeal the healthcare law. He propelled forward an Obamacare-fueled government shutdown in his first year in Congress. He has aided GOP gains in Congress by keeping the anti-Obamacare message front and center. And he once vowed to speak against Obamacare from the Senate floor “until I am no longer able to stand.” Now Cruz is running for president — and he made it official on Obamacare’s fifth anniversary at a school that sued over the law the day it passed. “Five years ago today the president signed Obamacare into law,” Cruz told students Monday morning at Liberty University in Virginia. “Within hours, Liberty University went to court filing a lawsuit to stop that failed law.” He was referring to Liberty’s challenge of the law’s individual mandate and requirement for employers to provide workers with insurance. That lawsuit was eventually tossed, but the Supreme Court has ruled on a separate challenge of the birth control requirement. Cruz isn’t the only presidency-seeking Republican to oppose the 2010 health care law. In fact, it’s a position all the GOP candidates are almost certain to share. In April last year, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal unveiled a a free-market alternative plan that would fully repeal Obamacare — and he has vocally criticized Republicans in Congress for not going far enough in their own proposals to replace the law. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who currently leads the field of potential candidates, has rejected the law’s offer of Medicaid expansion and even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who’s viewed as the most moderate of the bunch, recently called the health care law “a monstrosity.”…”


Ted Cruz to sign up for government health care

“Ted Cruz, one of the loudest critics of Obamacare, will soon be using it for health insurance coverage. “We will presumably go on the exchange and sign up for health care, and we’re in the process of transitioning over to do that,” Cruz, a Republican candidate for president, told The Des Moines Register Tuesday. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is going on an unpaid leave of up absence from her job at Goldman Sachs to join Cruz full time on the campaign trail, Cruz told the Register. Bloomberg was first to report that Heidi Cruz has taken the leave, which means Cruz will no longer be covered under his wife’s health insurance plan. Cruz confirmed that to the Register. The exchanges became law under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They’re an online marketplace where small businesses, people who carry their own coverage, and the uninsured can buy health insurance. The public marketplace is the only place where moderate-income Americans can obtain policies that qualify for Obamacare subsidies. (Poor people can get Medicaid, which is separate.)…”


Obamacare Has a New Customer: Ted Cruz

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of the chief opponents of Obamacare in Congress, will sign up for health insurance under Obamacare while he runs for president. According to the Des Moines Register, Cruz’s wife Heidi will leave her job at Goldman Sachs to campaign with her husband. That report said the family had used her Goldman Sachs health plan, but in light of her plans to go on an unpaid leave of absence, the Cruz family will now rely on Obamacare…”


Cruz signing up for ObamaCare


Now Ted Cruz Has To Sign Up For Obamacare


It’s silly to attack Ted Cruz for ‘going on Obamacare’


VA to change 40-mile rule for Veterans Choice program

“The Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday announced plans to relax the agency’s rule on how far patients must live from the nearest VA medical center before the government pays for treatment at a closer private facility. Under the original guidelines, veterans had to reside at least 40 miles in a straight shot, or as the crow flies, from the nearest VA clinic. The new guideline will instead measure the distance in driving miles, as calculated by commercial mapping services such as Google Maps and Mapquest. The revision comes after widespread complaints that the department’s eligibility requirements were too strict and kept thousands of former troops from qualifying for Veterans Choice, a program that allows former troops to obtain health care from private providers if they live far from a VA medical center or waited more than 30 days for treatment….”


Philadelphia VA office investigated over disability claims

“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an investigation into allegations of widespread mismanagement of disability claims at its Philadelphia office as it braces for a report from its inspector general. The high-level administrative investigation board review began this week at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Regional Office, aimed at determining whether problems represent isolated or broader issues, according to an email from Philadelphia director Diana Rubens to agency staff on Tuesday and obtained by The Associated Press. The internal review is expected to be completed by June, the department said when asked to comment on Tuesday. It comes as the VA’s acting inspector general plans to release a report early next month on its months-long investigation into the Philadelphia regional office, where numerous whistleblowers have complained of routine mishandling and manipulation of dates to make old claims look new amid a rapidly growing backlog. In a draft of the report, the IG makes 35 recommendations including having a leadership review so officials and employees are held accountable and fully comply with agency practices, according to excerpts given to the AP…”




Obama: Giving Immigrants Work Permits Is Vital for National Security

The president ignores the immigration laws in order to “improve border security.”

“Believe it or not, President Obama says his executive action on immigration isn’t actually about immigration — it’s about enhancing national security. In order to help Homeland Security agents quickly distinguish dangerous immigrants from those who pose no threat, the president had to grant, he claims, quasi-legal status to 5 million immigrants. Once the immigrants sign up, his argument goes, they will undergo background checks and receive a biometric ID, making it a lot easier for DHS agents to identify them. Oh, and by the way, because halting millions of deportations was not reason enough to coax immigrants to “come out of the shadows,” the president will approve virtually every single applicant for work authorization, Social Security benefits, and even the earned income-tax credit, as an “incentive” to sign up. It’s all part of keeping our nation secure. Remarkably, this is exactly how President Obama legally justifies his DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) program.   This Rube Goldbergesque contortion of logic, premised on a “complete abdication” of the law, is the best defense the Justice Department can muster for why this policy should go into effect immediately. If you believe that this was the real reason behind DAPA — and not a scheme to implement an immigration policy that Congress expressly rejected — then I have a bridge to sell you. While Congress generally has broad latitude in choosing the means to accomplish legitimate policy goals, the executive, when acting unilaterally to disregard the law, should not receive such deference. This national-security smokescreen should be rejected by the courts. In February, Judge Andrew Hanen, in Brownsville, Texas, put DAPA on hold, finding that the Obama administration failed to solicit comments from the public before implementing the policy, as the law requires. After nearly a month of dithering, last week the Justice Department finally filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. In its brief, the government argues that Judge Hanen’s ruling “undermines the Secretary’s authority to enforce the Nation’s immigration laws” and prevents DHS from “marshalling its resources to protect border security, public safety and national security, while also addressing humanitarian interests.” The government argues that the appellate court should allow the administration to implement DAPA immediately — otherwise, our national security will be in jeopardy. This position is entirely false, as a matter of law and logic. Absolutely nothing in Judge Hanen’s ruling prevents DHS from protecting border and national security…”



“Deportations have declined significantly in the first five months of this fiscal year compared to years past, according to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The rate of deportations from October to March was down 43 percent from what it was three years before, as the Obama administration has altered its enforcement priorities to target illegal immigrants who it says have committed serious crimes. The ICE data, obtained by the Sun Sentinel, shows a steep decline in overall deportations from the past three years compared to the most recent five months with a massive drop in the rate. In FY 2012 nationwide 409,849 people were deported from the U.S. at a rate of 1,213 a day. In FY 2013 that number dropped slightly to 368,644 people at a rate per day of 1,010. By FY 2014, 315,943 people were deported at a rate of 866. Compare the past three fiscal years to the first five months of this fiscal year and the picture is one of diminished enforcement. From October 1 to March 7 nationwide 101,201 people were deported at a rate of 640 a day. The news comes as Judicial Watch released internal DHS documents revealing that as of April 26, 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had released 165,900 convicted criminal aliens convicted of serious crime such as homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, and aggravated assault…”


Feds Release Swarm Of Convicted Criminal Illegals In US

“The Department of Homeland Security has released close to 166,000 convicted criminal illegal aliens in to the United States as of April 2014. The frightening details from the 76 pages of Homeland Security documents released Monday show that many of the illegals set free by the agency were convicted of violent crimes like homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping and aggravated assault, according to a report released by Judicial Watch. The documents became available through a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the DHS after the agency originally failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the website. “It’s appalling that we’ve had to sue in federal court to get key information about the Obama administration’s release of 165,950 convicted criminal aliens,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in the report. “These documents show the Obama administration is lying when it says that its ‘enforcement priorities’ include deporting illegal aliens who have committed heinous crimes.” In addition to the nearly 166,000 criminal illegal aliens released by the DHS, the agency ordered more than 700,000 non-criminal illegal aliens to self-deport themselves from the country. After their release there is nothing to stop the illegal aliens from moving freely about the United States, which is exactly what they did, according to the Judicial Watch report. The documents also detailed difficulties Immigration and Customs Enforcement has enforcing immigration laws when some cities are uncooperative with federal agents and local policies interfere with the federal laws to provide “sanctuary” for the illegal alien criminals…”



“Nearly 166,000 convicted criminal illegal aliens were released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as of April, 2014. This is the analysis of 76 pages of DHS documents obtained by Judicial Watch via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The criminal illegal aliens include rapists, murderers and kidnappers. A report from Judicial Watch on Monday revealed the startling details of criminal illegal aliens who have been set free to roam around the United States after being convicted of crimes. Many of the criminals released are violent offenders who have committed homicides, sexual assaults, kidnappings and aggravated assaults. The information comes from a list of 76 documents that Judicial Watch obtained from a lawsuit they filed against the DHS in July, 2014. The lawsuit was filed after the DHS failed to respond in a timely manner to the FOIA request. The documents also revealed difficulties Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials with some cities who are uncooperative with federal agents. One example cited was an illegal alien who was in jail in Montgomery County, Maryland. The illegal alien was in jail on charges of rape. “ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] officers were also denied access to interview the alien at police station last Friday due to Montgomery County prohibitions against immigration enforcement,” a May, 2014 email stated. In addition to the 165,950 criminal illegal aliens who were ordered to leave the country, 706,950 non-criminal illegal immigrants were also ordered to leave the country. After being released, these 872,900 illegal aliens were free to move about the country but did not self-deport as ordered by the courts, according to Judicial Watch….”


Gutierrez: ‘Only Person Who Can Deport’ 11 Million Illegal Aliens Is ‘Barack Obama’

“Speaking at a press conference held by the National Hispanic Construction Association (NHCA) on Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said that President Barack Obama is the “only person” who can deport the estimated 11 million people who are in the United States illegally. Citing the lawsuit filed by the state of Texas challenging Obama’s executive action to protect millions of illegal aliens from deportation, Gutierrez said it’s the president who can enforce – or not enforce – immigration laws. “Because our immigrant community has to understand one thing – maybe the Republicans went to court and a judge put in an injunction against us giving them a work permit and a Social Security card, but the only person who can deport them from the United States is Barack Obama,” Gutierrez said. “The president of the United States and the executive branch of the government are the only people who can say ‘You gotta go.’”…”



“U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) isn’t letting a judge’s orders keep him from a cross-country tour that landed in Los Angeles this weekend, counseling illegal aliens on how to apply for Obama’s executive actions on immigration–DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability)–and to stay in the country with newly minted legal status. At the first event, Gutierrez joined a sparse but lively crowd at the University of Southern California (USC), complete with copious amounts of materials regarding DAPA, DACA and AB60, California’s illegal alien driver license program. U.S. Rep Karen Bass (D-CA) of the 37th congressional district partnered with Gutierrez for the “Immigration Town Hall”; however, Bass appeared solely in a video message, saying she was called away on short notice to represent President Obama at Namibia’s Presidential inauguration. In initial comments from the facilitator of the forum, courts were blamed for holding up Obama’s executive action, referring to a recent decision by Texas Judge Andrew Hanen to stay implementation of the effective executive amnesty while the constitutionality of the order’s implementation is determined. An estimated 4.5 million foreign nationals currently illegally present in the U.S. could receive legal status under the DAPA and DACA programs. Though the program was primarily conducted in Spanish, it was pointed out that not only Mexican or Latino persons illegally present are eligible to receive legal status. The reception for Gutierrez was mixed, as protesters showed up with their own questions for the amnesty-advocating Representative. Tension filled the room as dueling chants came from separate factions, with immigration enforcement activists calling out “USA” and DAPA and DACA inquirers chanting “Si, se puede.”…”


2 Indiana colleges, network partner undocumented students

“Two Indiana colleges are among 14 that will partner with a charter school network to provide students who are illegal immigrants with easier access to higher education. The Noble Network of Charter Schools says Holy Cross College in South Bend, Wabash College in Crawfordsville and 12 other schools will provide those students in a scholarship program with enough financial aid for them to avoid direct payments to the schools. Noble Network of Charter Schools Superintendent and CEO Michael Milkie says illegal immigrant students across the country often miss out on college educations because they’re ineligible for financial aid. The agreement will be available to Noble Network seniors who have qualified for a temporary federal relief from deportation and are accepted to one of the four-year colleges in the partnership…”


Harry Reid, Senior DHS Official Implicated in Scheme to Approve Visas for Non-Qualified Foreigners

“The number two official at the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday was accused of creating an appearance of “favoritism and special access” in decisions on whether to grant visas to certain foreigners — including in one case pushed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his staff — according to a report released by the DHS Office of Inspector General. The OIG report said Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas took extraordinary steps in three cases to help these non-citizens win green cards, under a program that gives people access to these cards if they invest $500,000 in the United States. That program hands out so-called EB-5 visas, but it has been under scrutiny for the last several months for possible abuse. Specifically, reports surfaced that the program was being used to get visas to foreigners who were not qualified, but couldn’t get visas any other way. Today’s OIG report confirmed some of those suspicions. It said that when Mayorkas was the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, he went too far by intervening in decisions to grant visas in three specific cases that otherwise would have gone the other way. “In three matters pending before USCIS, Mr. Mayorkas, now deputy secretary of DHS, communicated with stakeholders on substantive issues outside of the normal adjudicatory process, and intervened with the career USCIS staff in ways that benefited the stakeholders,” the report said. “Mr. Mayorkas’ conduct led many USCIS employees to reasonably believe that specific individuals or groups were being given special access or consideration in the EB-5 program.” The report stressed that these actions were confirmed by “an extraordinary number of DHS employees.” One of those cases involved an investor in a Las Vegas hotel and casino in Reid’s home state of Nevada. “At the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Mr. Mayorkas intervened to allow expedited review of investor petitions involved in funding a Las Vegas hotel and casino, notwithstanding the career staff’s original decision not to do so,” OIG said. “The career staff noted that the purported urgency was of the applicant’s own making and that the decision to expedite fell outside EB-5 program guidelines.” “Nevertheless, Mr. Mayorkas pressured staff to expedite the review,” it added. “He also took the extraordinary step of requiring staff to brief Senator Reid’s staff on a weekly basis for several months.”…”


Report: Homeland Security official used improper influence

“The No. 2 official at the Homeland Security Department improperly intervened on behalf of foreign investors in three cases involving the U.S. government soliciting investments in exchange for American visas, the agency’s inspector general said Tuesday. Investigators said he helped secure the visas, and created the appearance of favoritism and special access. The investigation could not suggest a motive for the official’s involvement. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said there were lessons to be learned in the inspector general’s investigation but described the official, Alejandro Mayorkas, in a statement as “exceptionally conscientious, honest and patriotic.” Mayorkas at the time was head of the department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. Mayorkas told investigators that his unusual involvement was intended to improve the government’s process or prevent mistakes. “He is often impatient with our sluggish government bureaucracy, can at times be very hands-on in resolving issues and problems that are brought to his personal attention, and is always mindful that we are public servants,” Johnson said. “Ali works hard to do the right thing, and never acts, in my observation, for reasons of personal advancement or aggrandizement.” The inspector general, John Roth, said Mayorkas involved himself in the three cases outside the normal process and in ways that benefited the foreign investors, but could not say why. Roth said that in each case, the government would have rejected the investors’ proposals except for Mayorkas’ involvement. He said Mayorkas caused resentment among agency career employees, managers and lawyers…”


Top DHS official shows ‘favoritism’ to wealthy, Dem-connected immigrants: report

“The No. 2 official at the Homeland Security Department meddled in three high-profile immigration cases, giving special treatment to applications from wealthy and well-connected immigrants after calls from major Democrats despite the objections of career employees, the department’s inspector general concluded in a report Tuesday. Alejandro Mayorkas, who was elevated from head of the department’s legal immigration agency to be deputy secretary while the investigation was ongoing, also angered many of his colleagues by getting involved in the cases, and “created an appearance of favoritism and special access” for the wealthy immigrants, the inspector general concluded. Inspector General John Roth said the cases involved major Democrats: former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Sen. Harry Reid, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Anthony Rodham, brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In each case, pressure from those individuals helped earn favorable treatment, Mr. Roth said. The damning 99-page report also found problems with Homeland Security’s records-retention, reminiscent of the questions surrounding the IRS, the EPA and now the State Department and Mrs. Clinton’s email practices. Investigators said it was striking how many whistleblowers came forward to complain about Mr. Mayorkas’s behavior — and how worried they were about maintaining their anonymity, fearing retribution…”


Report: DHS showed favoritism to Democrat-linked immigrants


Inspector General: Top DHS Official Showed Favoritism to Hillary Clinton’s Brother

“A senior Department of Homeland Security official “created an appearance of favoritism and special access” by intervening on behalf of a company run by Hillary Clinton’s brother, a finding that contradicts the official’s testimony during his Senate confirmation hearing. The issue pertained to the EB-5 program, which provides visas to immigrants who invest in the United States. “In three matters pending before USCIS, Mr. Mayorkas, now Deputy Secretary of DHS, communicated with stakeholders on substantive issues outside of the normal adjudicatory process, and intervened with the career USCIS staff in ways that benefited the stakeholders,” the DHS inspector general reports. “Regardless of Mr. Mayorkas’ motives, his intervention in these matters created significant resentment in USCIS. This resentment was not isolated to career staff adjudicating within the EB-5 program, but extended to senior managers and attorneys responsible for the broader USCIS mission and programs.” The report “specifically focused on allegations of special treatment afforded to a Las Vegas casino project championed by Sen. Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, and an electric car enterprise led by Terry McAuliffe, who is now Virginia governor, and involving Anthony Rodham, the brother of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” according to ABC. The inspector general notes that “an extraordinary number of DHS employees” blew the whistle on Mayorkas. “It is also quite unusual that a significant percentage of the witnesses we interviewed would talk to us only after being assured that their identities would remain confidential.” Senate Democrats confirmed Mayorkas to the second-highest post in DHS despite the allegations, which were being investigated when he testified before a Senate subcommittee panel ahead of his confirmation. “I have never ever in my career exercised undue influence to influence the outcome of a case,” Mayorkas said under questioning from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in 2013. “I have never based my decisions on who brings the case, but rather on the facts and the law. I have taken in my life oaths of office and each and every day, morning day and night, I have lived by those oaths.”…”


Cruz Hits Jeb Over Amnesty: Politicians Don’t Succeed ‘When They Treat Voters’ Like ‘Children’ [AUDIO]

“Ted Cruz’s campaign is a little more than 24 hours old and he is already taking on Jeb Bush. In an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Tuesday morning, Cruz hit Bush and other potential 2016 candidates over their support immigration reform and amnesty, as well as Common Core, in the past. After Ingraham told him that Jeb claims to have “the grown up plan” on immigration, Cruz said he hasn’t seen much success amongst politicians “when they treat voters like children,” adding that’s the strategy of President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

INGRAHAM: Do you take Jeb at his word that he’s not about the federal standards? I mean, if you’re going to beat Jeb, you’ve gotta hit Jeb. I mean, the idea that you’re going to beat Jeb Bush and you’re not going to go at Jeb Bush or you’re going to just dance around Jeb Bush — If I’m giving you advice, that’s not going to work. You have to take him on. I mean, big time.

CRUZ: You know, Laura, if my time in Washington has demonstrated anything, it’s that I’m not afraid to take other people on. But I also think at this stage in the race, Jeb is not a declared candidate, and I have a lot of faith that the — in the primary voters that they can detect when a politician is telling the truth and when a politician is blowing smoke. Records are powerful things. It’s interesting watching all the politicians now who are saying they oppose Common Core when they have long records of  supporting it. It’s interesting watching all the politicians who say they oppose amnesty when they have records supporting the Gang of 8 and supporting amnesty.

INGRHAM: Well, Jeb says he has the grown up plan, Senator.

CRUZ: I will say this, I haven’t found — I haven’t seen a whole lot of politicians have success when they treat the voters as children, and I don’t think — that’s a strategy we’ve seen Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton follow, and I think we’re far better off respecting the voters and indeed, I think the key to turning this country around is energizing and mobilizing an army of courageous conservatives all over this country.





Spending Caps Are Fraying in the Face of Republicans’ New Budget Reality

“Budget maneuvers congressional Republicans are undertaking suggest the statutory discretionary spending caps, which some lawmakers consider a major party accomplishment, may not survive a GOP-controlled Congress. The budget actions in both chambers show lawmakers straining against the limits on defense spending and choosing to push more money to the Pentagon, even if that conflicts with deficit-reduction goals. That choice may put lawmakers on a path toward another budget deal similar to one they struck in 2013, and could give President Barack Obama leverage as he tries to get an agreement to push up domestic spending. The latest arrow aimed at the spending limits came when the House Rules Committee revived Monday a rarely used “Queen of the Hill” procedure, allowing the top vote-getter among several budgets to be the one the chamber finally adopts. The procedure allows Republicans to adopt a substitute fiscal 2016 budget resolution, which sidesteps the $523 billion defense cap by bumping up war funding without any offsets. GOP leaders feared the fiscal 2016 budget resolution adopted by the House Budget Committee last week would not get enough Republican votes to pass, even though it added $36 billion to the $58 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations account sought by Obama. The emergency war funding is outside the constraints of the discretionary caps set in the Budget Control Act, which expire after 2021.

The substitute, offered by House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., as an alternative to the plan he wrote and the Budget Committee adopted, ups the increase to $38 billion for a total of $96 billion and does not require any of it to be offset. The first Price budget would require any war spending above $73.5 billion to be offset. “There are significant differences of opinion as to how we ought to as a conference address the need for more defense spending and this accommodates that,” Price said. Deficit hawks, however, are not impressed with lawmakers’ resolve. Ed Lorenzen, senior adviser to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said opposition to offsetting higher defense spending suggests a lack of will to reduce the deficit — even though both GOP plans envision a balanced budget…”


GOP moves ahead on budget plans; eyes Obamacare repeal bill

“House and Senate Republicans steamed ahead Tuesday toward likely approval of balanced budget outlines, essential early steps along a path to send President Barack Obama legislation to wipe out his five-year-old health care law and eliminate deficits within a decade. Obama is all but certain to veto the legislation if and when it reaches his desk, but Republican rebels and establishment-minded conservatives alike in the House paid that little mind. “I campaigned … with my heart and soul to get rid of Obamacare and it’s the one shot that we’ve got to get something on his desk,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, an Arizonan who occasionally clashes with his leadership. At a news conference, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the third-ranking GOP leader in the House, cited two reasons for the rank and file to approve the budget, saying it would “get our economy moving again, and also set the stage for a repeal of Obamacare.” Democrats criticized the plans in both houses without letup, particular the repeal of the health care law and the billions of dollars in recommended cuts to social programs at the heart of the GOP deficit-reduction program. Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the Senate Republicans’ budget protects the super-rich at the same time it “takes health care away from 16.4 million Americans … wreaks havoc on Medicare … makes drastic cuts to Medicaid … and guts nutrition assistance for those in need.”…”


GOP chairman bungles ObamaCare math

“In an apparent miscalculation, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) claimed Tuesday that ObamaCare will cost $5 million per person. Precisely how Sessions arrived at that calculation during House floor debate on the budget is unclear. Sessions cited an overall estimate from House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) that ObamaCare will cost $108 billion, though he acknowledged it was not exact. “One of the questions I asked him yesterday was, Mr. Price, how much does the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare, cost the taxpayer in the budget? He said, you know, I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you. By the end of the hearing he said, what he could figure, $108 billion. $108 billion. Now, I had not checked this out. And in fairness to Tom Price, he’s allowed to go and double check everything. That was a cursory view,” Sessions said. Sessions then suggested that one could calculate the cost of ObamaCare per person by dividing $108 billion by 12 million, an estimate of the number of people receiving insurance through the healthcare law. He cited the 12 million figure from Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “If that’s true, and if I accept the figures that the gentlewoman, the ranking member of the committee, said of the number of people who are on ObamaCare, Affordable Care Act, about 12 [million]. If you just do simple multiplication, 12 million into $108 billion, we’re talking literally every single recipient would be costing this government more than $5 million per person for their insurance. It’s staggering,” Sessions said. “If it really is true that everybody that is on this Affordable Care Act, that the true cost, cost to the taxpayer, is over $5 million for each person, then shame on us. For not knowing, asking, and understanding,” Sessions added.  However, $108 billion divided by 12 million is only $9,000. Sessions was not reading from notes as he spoke on the floor.  Politifact recently debunked a claim from Fox News host and analyst Stuart Varney that ObamaCare will cost $50,000 per enrollee. Experts told Politifact that estimating the cost per person cannot be derived simply by dividing the overall cost from an average number of newly insured people…”


Portman seeks to bolster spending for ‘medically complex’ children

“Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has introduced an amendment to the Republican budget that would boost Medicaid funding for “medically complex” children.  The Ohio Republican’s amendment would create a deficit neutral fund that would focus on increasing integrated and coordinated care for children on Medicaid who have multiple, serious, rare or chronic illnesses. “This amendment would correct that fragmented system,” Portman said. “I’ve talked to the parents. … They tell me they are deeply grateful for the coordination.”  Portman, who is up for reelection in 2016, suggested that coordinated care could help reduce costs.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Budget Committee, said, while Portman’s amendment “touches upon a serious issue,” it’s a bigger problem that the Republican budget would repeal ObamaCare and cut Medicaid. “The amendment that Sen. Portman is offering deals with only one, tiny and small part of what the Republican budget is doing,” Sanders said. “What the Republican budget is doing is decimating healthcare in the United States of America.” Sanders, who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016, introduced an amendment that would shield Medicaid from budget cuts. “Let’s not sit around and say, ‘Well, we’re making progress in one area, but we don’t care about the millions of people who have been thrown off Medicaid,’ ” Sanders said. The Vermont senator urged his colleagues to support Portman’s amendment but said they should “also vote for my amendment….”


GOP blocks Sanders’ proposal to close tax loophole

“The Senate voted Tuesday to reject a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont that would have created millions of infrastructure jobs and closed an “absurd” tax loophole to pay for the plan. Fifty-two lawmakers opposed the proposal during votes on amendments to a GOP fiscal 2016 budget proposal. Forty-five supported it in the party-line vote. The tax loopholes targeted by Sanders’ amendment let corporations and wealthy Americans shift jobs and profits overseas, often to offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands. Nearly $100 million is lost annually to offshore tax dodging, according to the U.S. Treasury. Sanders, an independent and and top-ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee, said Democrats and Republicans agree the country needs infrastructure improvements but disagree about how to pay for it. “Our Republican friends are not particularly interested in investments in America,” Sanders, who is considering a presidential run, said on the Senate floor. “Their idea of dealing with the deficit is to cut, cut, cut.” Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming said the accusation that Republicans don’t care about infrastructure makes him “upset.” He voted against Sanders’ amendment, saying infrastructure improvements are needed but it would be wrong to prescribe how to pay for them when a different committee has jurisdiction over the issue. “That’s not right,” he said on the Senate floor. “That’s not the way we do legislation around here.”…”


Defense hawks sound off on budget plan

“Republican security hawks griped Tuesday about a new plan to have floor votes decide whether the House budget has more robust defense spending, saying the GOP leadership keeps changing its strategy. Dozens of GOP defense hawks have said that they would oppose any budget that falls short on security spending. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders have tried to address their problems, but defense hawks say they’re frustrated that leadership has repeatedly pushed off getting a solution firmly into place. “I don’t like it,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). “I like what we had last week when we left here on Thursday.” When the House left town last week, Republicans were expected to add an amendment that would increase the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund for their fiscal 2016 budget to $96 billion, and require no offsets. Defense hawks had expected that change to be put into place when the Budget Committee marked up Chairman Tom Price’s (R-Ga.) budget last week. But despite interventions from both Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), several fiscal hawks on the Budget Committee declined to endorse the proposal, and the budget passed out of the panel without the change to appease defense hawks…”


The House’s Defense Budget Is a Statement of American Weakness

Now more than ever, we need a policy of strength based on America’s first principles. “Madeleine Albright said last year, “to put it mildly, the world is a mess.” She was right. The cataclysmic events of the last 18 months – Russian aggression, the rise of the Islamic State and the spread of terrorism, China’s continued military buildup and intimidation of its neighbors, the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, and North Korea’s ongoing provocations — led many of us to hope that the new Congress would make a major move where defense spending is concerned. Unfortunately, the budget resolutions making their way through both Houses show that Congress has not yet confronted the reality of the risk that is accumulating or of America’s growing weakness.    I will focus my observations on the House budget resolution approved last week by committee; the Senate budget is just as bad. The House resolution fails, in congressional parlance, to “raise the caps” on defense spending. That means it leaves in place the infamous sequester that is rapidly turning what was the best fighting force in history into a force at high risk of not being able to carry out its missions. Even the day-to-day readiness of the military has been compromised by the defense cuts of the last four years. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testified recently that readiness would not be restored until 2020 for the Army, Navy, and Marines; the readiness of the Air Force, which was particularly hard hit, will not recover until 2023. No one in the congressional leadership disputes this; in fact, they concede it in principle, because they are selling their budget in part on the grounds that it includes extra money for defense. Unfortunately, the extra funding is, like the president’s budget, hopelessly inadequate. And unlike the president’s budget, it is stuffed into the account for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). OCO funding is one-time money that’s supposed to be used to pay for continuing operations abroad. It can’t be used to stop the disastrous ongoing reduction in force structure — as an example, the Army is headed down to pre–World War II levels — or to support the multi-year procurement programs which are desperately needed to recapitalize the inventory of the services. The Department can’t plan for the future without a stable and sufficient funding line. It’s a bitter irony that those who call the loudest for reform of the Department’s acquisition practices are proposing to fund the Pentagon in a way that makes efficient planning and spending impossible. There is no mystery about what ought to be done. Last year, a National Defense Panel (NDP) was created by statute to review the plans of the Department of Defense. It was co-chaired by former secretary of defense Bill Perry and former CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid. (I was a member of the panel.) To no one’s surprise, it concluded unanimously, and in the strongest terms, that the cuts of the last four years — imposed on a force that was already stressed by years of fighting and had already used up the capital built up during the Reagan years — were a disaster for American security. As I said at the time, the panel’s report was a “stunning rebuke” of America’s defense policy and, by implication, the leaders responsible for it…”


Dems clash with GOP on health spending in budgets

“House Democrats called a major GOP effort to privatize Medicare a non-starter, just as both parties are set to consider the Republican’s budget proposal later this week. The full-throated defense, outlined in the Democrats’ own budget proposal Monday, could complicate the House GOP’s efforts to pass its own budget. House Democrats’ budget eliminates sequester spending caps, avoids steep spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and preserves Obamacare, which the GOP aims to replace. “This budget doesn’t cut any Medicare benefits,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., ranking member of the House Budget Committee, on a call with reporters Monday. Instead, the budget aims to spend Medicare dollars more efficiently, turning to parts of President Obama’s budget for ideas. For instance, one idea outlined in the House budget is to enable Medicare to negotiate for lower prices on pharmaceuticals, an idea first floated in the president’s budget proposal….”


House begins budget debate

“The House completed its first phase of consideration of the budget for the next fiscal year on Tuesday ahead of an uncertain final outcome this week. Members debated the budget for three hours Tuesday afternoon. Another hour of debate remains for Wednesday, along with two hours and 40 minutes’ worth of amendments. The House will consider a total of six, or possibly seven, budget alternatives. Three will come from groups within the House minority: the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and House Democrats.

In addition, the House will vote on the original GOP budget resolution reported out of the Budget Committee last week and a modified version with enhanced funding for defense. GOP leaders are wagering that the alternative measure with extra funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), a Pentagon reserve fund, will win the most votes. The conservative Republican Study Committee will also offer a budget that balances in five years and cut $7.1 trillion over the next decade. Lastly, a House Republican may mockingly offer President Obama’s budget. The House rejected it last year by a vote of 2-413. In the event two budget alternatives receive the same number of alternative votes, the last one to receive a vote will be adopted. During floor debate on Tuesday, defense hawk Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) implored colleagues to vote against the original budget authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and support the modified version. “We can’t pass multiple budgets. We have to have one agenda coming out of this House,” Turner said. Democrats questioned the use of an obscure rule, known as “Queen-of-the-Hill,” that injects unpredictability into the process by allowing whichever budget alternative accrues the most votes to win. “The contortions that the Republican Party has to go through, in order to meet the basic standard of trying to govern the country, it’s mind-blowing,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).  Last votes on the House GOP budget are expected late Wednesday afternoon….”


Progressive Caucus budget raises taxes to record highs

“The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposal would raise federal tax revenues to record highs, yet still fails to balance over the next decade, unlike the House and Senate Republican budget proposals. Under the Progressive Caucus proposal, tax revenue would rise to 21.5 percent of GDP, compared to the record-high 20.5 percent of GDP collected in 1944, at the height of American involvement in World War II. Tax revenue would rise by $6.6 trillion relative to current law over a decade, some of which would be raised through higher economic growth. Changes to the individual income tax code would amount to a $1.4 trillion tax hike over a decade, according to analysis by the liberal Economic Policy Institute. The budget proposal would raise individual income taxes on those earning over $200,000 a year ($250,000 for joint filers), with the 33 percent tax bracket rising to 36 and the 35 percent tax bracket rising to 39.6 percent. It would raise taxes even further on incomes over $1 million, taxed at 45 percent, and over $1 billion, taxed at 49 percent, with other tax brackets for incomes above $10 million, $20 million and $100 million. Capital gains and dividends would also be treated as ordinary income, meaning they would be taxed at higher levels…”


Obama budget defeated 98-1 in Senate vote

“President Obama’s budget suffered its latest ignominious defeat when the Senate rejected it on a 98-1 vote Tuesday evening, capping off the first votes of the budget season. Democrats objected, saying the plan wasn’t really Mr. Obama’s, but Republicans said it had all the same numbers as the president’s blueprint and so the vote counts as a rejection of his fiscal year 2016 plan. “This is the president’s proposed budget,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who forced the vote by offering the amendment, complete with the tax hikes, spending increases and deficit targets Mr. Obama had projected in the document he sent to Congress last month. Rejecting presidential budgets has become standard in recent years. The Senate defeated Mr. Obama’s fiscal year 2011 plan by a 97-0 vote, and his 2012 plan by a 99-0 vote. Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and Democrats’ point-man on the budget, said the plan Mr. Cornyn offered didn’t include a minimum-wage increase or some of Mr. Obama’s other policy prescriptions, so it wasn’t a legitimate representation of his budget. “It is not what President Obama presented to the American people,” said Mr. Sanders said…”


Senate Ditches Obama Budget; Plan Earns Only 1 ‘Yes’

“Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., joined the very short list of members of Congress who have cast “yes” votes on President Barack Obama’s budget proposals Wednesday evening, when the Senate rejected a budget alternative based on the $4 trillion blueprint unveiled by Obama in February. Ninety-eight senators voted against the motion to take it up, following a pattern set in recent years by Republicans trying to force Democrats to go on the record voting against the White House spending plan. This year, the vote designed to embarrass Obama was offered by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas., who noted the president’s budget does not have a great track record on Capitol Hill. Cornyn said Obama’s previous budget proposals have received 1,023 “no” votes from Congress. In April 2014, a GOP-offered Obama budget proposal earned only two affirmative votes when House Democrats Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and former Rep. James P. Moran of Virginia voted “yes.” “I will vote no — that’s probably no surprise to anyone. But I think everyone in this chamber deserves the opportunity to express themselves by voting on the president’s proposed budget,” Cornyn said when he offered the motion on the floor. Democrats, who are trying to focus the budget battle on “meat and potato” policy issues, dismissed the vote as a political stunt that does not truly represent the administration’s priorities. Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he was “not quite sure what is in Senator Cornyn’s proposal, but it certainly is not what is in” Obama’s budget. The ranking member of the Budget Committee complained that the president’s most important policy proposals were not included in the language of the amendment, such as providing two years of free community and an increase to the minimum wage…”


Conservative group gives alternative House budget top marks

“Conservative group FreedomWorks is giving an alternative House conservative budget top marks, compared to other GOP blueprints, according to the group’s 2015 scorecard, first obtained by The Hill. The group gives a budget prepared by the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) an “A-,” but gives the House GOP budget a “B-“ and the Senate GOP budget a “C.” The RSC’s budget balances the fastest — in about five years. To make that happen, the plan calls for $7.1 trillion in cuts over a decade. FreedomWorks said the RSC budget’s provisions for Medicare and Medicaid pass their test, but its plan for Social Security fails. Its Medicare and Medicaid proposals are similar to those offered by the House GOP budget. The plans would transform Medicare into a premium-support model and convert Medicaid into a system in which the federal government would offer block grants to states. The House GOP budget’s “B-“ is the same grade the group gave the GOP budget last year prepared by then-Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). His successor, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga), produced the latest blueprint. Price’s plan would balance in nine years by cutting $5.5 trillion over a decade. FreedomWorks says proposals in the House GOP’s budget for Medicare and Medicaid pass their test, but the Social Security plan does not. The budget doesn’t touch the retirement and disability program, but calls for the formation of a bipartisan commission to study its problems and propose a legislative overhaul. The Senate GOP blueprint from Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) only receives an average grade, and the worst grade of all three Republican plans. It would balance in 10 years and cut $5.1 trillion. Its Medicaid proposal resembles the others, but it honors President Obama’s request to find $430 billion in cuts for Medicare. FreedomWorks says that Medicare plan fails its test, as does the Social Security proposal. President Obama received the worst grade from FreedomWorks — an “F” — because it doesn’t balance. The House plans to vote on Price’s budget Wednesday, but two versions of it. One floor vote would be on the current version, which boosts defense spending by raising the Pentagon’s war fund to $94 billion next year. This would require $20 billion in offsets. The other vote would be on Price’s budget, but with an amendment increasing that war fund to $96 billion without offsets. That’s the amount Senate Republicans are seeking in their budget. The House will also vote on the RSC budget, and blueprints from the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the House Democratic Caucus. The budget that receives the most votes will be considered the final adopted version…”


Democratic trio set to sell Obama administration’s trade agenda

“A new trade effort got a boost on Tuesday with the addition of a Democratic power trio to sell the Obama administration’s trade agenda on Capitol Hill.  Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire, and former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk have joined the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs (PCAJ), a new effort launched by Democrats and progressives to push for free trade. “Gov. Patrick’s support is a major lift for pro-trade progressives,” a Democratic aide told The Hill. “He’s a credible messenger with the rank-and-file progressive audiences that the president and his allies in Congress need to win over to pass TPA.” Patrick said the United States must embrace global trade to see more robust economic growth “I’d rather have the president and this administration work out the rules for doing so through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) than leaving it to administrations, at home or abroad, less sensitive to worker rights and environmental stewardship,” Patrick said…”


Feds Drop Taxpayer Coin To Study ‘Hate And Harassment’ Speech By Video Gamers

“This week the government has a new topic of interest in the world of technology: what Americans talk about when online gaming. The federal government has also spent taxpayer money studying video games for gay men, hookup apps and buying kids PDA’s to help them stop smoking weed. In the latest slew of taxpayer-funded grants, the federal government allocated $29,403 to study “toxic rhetoric” between online video gamers, Elizabeth Harrington at The Washington Free Beacon reports. The project is titled, “Notoriously Toxic: Understanding the Language and Costs of Hate and Harassment in Online Games.” The government money will go to the Georgia State University Research Foundation so it can study online communications players normally use to coordinate strategy in online games, usually through headsets worn during gameplay…”


Federal workers owe more than $3.5 billion in unpaid taxes

“Federal workers and retirees owed more than $3.5 billion in unpaid taxes last year, a $200 million increase over the previous year, the IRS said Tuesday. Almost 305,000 federal workers and retirees owed back taxes as of Sept. 30. That’s down from 318,000 the year before. The delinquency rate was 3.1 percent for the 9.8 million workers and retirees included in the data. That’s down from 3.3 percent the previous year. The IRS compiles data each year on unpaid taxes by federal workers. The data does not include workers who have enrolled in installment agreements to pay their back taxes. Among executive departments, workers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development had the highest delinquency rate, at 4.7 percent. Workers at the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, had the lowest delinquency rate, at 1.2 percent. Tax compliance at the IRS is generally better than at other federal agencies in part because the IRS cannot share information about tax delinquents with other departments. A 1998 law calls for removing IRS employees who are found to have intentionally committed certain acts of misconduct, including willful failure to pay federal taxes. Compared to the general public, federal workers are more likely to pay their federal taxes. The IRS does not yet have data on the general public for 2014. But in previous years, the delinquency rate for the general public was between 8 percent and 9 percent — much higher than the rate for federal employees, the IRS said. In Congress, House employees had a higher delinquency rate than Senate workers. About 5 percent of House employees owed back taxes, compared to just 3.5 percent of Senate workers. Among active duty military, just 1.4 percent owed back taxes, the IRS said…”


IRS Says Federal Workers Owe $1.1 Billion in Back Taxes


More than 100,000 feds owe back taxes

“Federal employees owed more in delinquent taxes last year than any year in the past decade, costing the Internal Revenue Service $1.4 billion in 2014. The 113,805 civilian government employees who declined to pay all of their taxes last year would be ineligible to work for federal agencies under a House bill introduced last week that would hold officials accountable for evading taxes. Four in 100 federal employees owed the IRS last year, according to the tax agency’s annual delinquency report released Tuesday. Among cabinet-level agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs had the highest rate of tax delinquency, with 15,476 of its employees evading all or part of their taxes in 2014. VA staff collectively owed nearly $162 million in back taxes, the report said…”


Feds launch audit of state highway spending

“The Department of Transportation is launching an audit of state highway spending. Officials with the agency’s inspector general (IG) said the review is intended to make sure federal funding that is allocated to states is being properly used. The IG noted that the Federal Highway Administration’s State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) provides more than $37 billion annually for road and bridge construction. “The objective of this audit is to assess FHWA policies, procedures, and guidance for ensuring that STIPs receive comprehensive, consistent reviews and meet federal requirements, including coordination with the Federal Transit Administration.” The audit comes as lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of the current transportation funding measure, which is scheduled to expire in May. The looming transportation funding has been a source of consternation in Washington, and transportation advocates have said states are already beginning to cancel construction projects in light of the rapidly approaching deadline. Lawmakers in both parties say they want to prevent an interruption in transportation funding to states, but have yet to reach consensus on how to pay for an extension of the spending. The 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of federal transportation funding since the 1930s but it has not been increased since 1993. Revenue has also been sapped in recent years by improvements in auto fuel efficiency.  The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings $34 billion annually at its current rate.  Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the $16 billion gap…”


Consumer prices edge up in February after slight deflation in January

“Consumer prices edged up in February, an early indication that U.S. inflation may be picking up after falling oil prices pushed it into negative territory over the past few months. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday that its Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent in February, adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, right in line with investors’ expectations. Over the 12 months ending in February, there was no change in prices. The year ending in January had seen slight deflation of -0.1 percent. February’s uptick in inflation came as energy prices rose slightly for the first time in months. Gasoline rose 2.4 percent, after falling by roughly a third over the course of the year. Core inflation, a less-volatile gauge of inflation that strips out energy and food prices, was up more than expected on an annual basis at 1.7 percent, up from 1.6 percent the month before. Prices decline during the early months of 2015 amid falling energy prices and a strengthening dollar. The price of a barrel of Brent Crude oil has roughly fallen in half, from as high as $110 last summer to $55 in recent days. Investors and U.S. officials have attributed the steep drop in energy prices to slowing growth overseas, including Europe and China….”


Obama works overtime to raise the cost of doing business

“Among the topics President Obama discussed with the Huffington Post in his recent interview was an obscure federal rule about overtime in private workplaces. Under the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act, hourly, non-supervisory workers must be paid time-and-a-half for hours worked above 40 hours per week. This rule applies to all workers who make under $23,000 per year, and to higher-paid workers who do not perform professional or managerial duties. Obama promised last year to raise this threshold, asserting that companies often get around the overtime rules by designating workers as managers even where the label doesn’t seem to apply. “What we’ve seen is, increasingly, companies skirting basic overtime laws, calling somebody a manager when they’re stocking groceries and getting paid $30,000 a year,” Obama told Sam Stein in an interview posted on Saturday. “Those folks are being cheated.” According to various media reports, Obama could choose to set the bar for “manager” at $42,000 per year, or even as high as $57,000, which would affect the status of 6 million managerial workers or more. The problem with this change really has nothing to do with any specific dollar amount. The question is why such rules still exist at all, especially at the federal level. For one thing, not all honest-to-goodness managers can or should be paid $60,000 just so that employers can afford to give them the flexibility to stay a bit longer when problems arise at work. But even in the occasional cases where the label is misapplied, it is not so much a conspiracy of employers to reduce wages as it is an attempt to circumvent a set of dumb, totally inflexible federal rules on work hours that make it illegal in many circumstances for workers even to trade shifts. These rules make it very hard for employers to operate a workplace or accommodate individual employees’ needs without incurring massive increased labor costs…”


Cruz wants to scrap IRS, but that’s easier said than done

“Promising to abolish the Internal Revenue Service is a good talking point for political candidates who are looking to fire up the Republicans’ most conservative voters. It’s also unlikely to ever happen, no matter how easy folks such as Sen. Ted Cruz like to make it sound. The Texas Republican is pledging to scrap the tax-collecting agency as he runs for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. He joins potential contenders and the Republican National Committee itself in the decidedly longshot push to dismantle the unquestionably unpopular IRS. “Imagine abolishing the IRS,” Cruz told college students during his campaign launch Monday. Compared with America’s history of fighting communism, wars and economic calamities, he said, “abolishing the IRS ain’t all that tough.”




Teacher: The disturbing things I’ve learned about our new Common Core tests

“Emily Talmage is an elementary school teacher in Lewiston, Maine who did some research on the new Common Core tests that her students are taking this spring. In Maine, students are taking the Maine Educational Assessments in math and English Language Arts, developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of the two multi-state consortia given a total of some $360 million in federal funds to develop new exams that align with the Core standards. In this post, Talmage reports on what she found. By Emily Talmage – As a teacher of 20 vibrant, curious, and, yes, often challenging fourth graders at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine, I constantly search for ways to improve my students’ learning experiences and to understand what will best help them succeed.  So, like many teachers around the state, as I began hearing about the new Smarter Balanced Tests (or MEA) that we are required to give our students this spring, I wanted to know how it would help me with the daily task of getting twenty learners to grow their hearts and minds in meaningful ways. Here is a brief summary of what I have discovered. First, no matter what my students and I do, statistics have already shown that my students will more than likely fall below proficient on this test.  In the field test given a year ago, 91 percent of English Language Learners and nearly 80 percent of low-income students did not meet proficient.  My class is comprised of 40 percent English language learners and nearly 100 percent are low-income.  Because new state legislation (required by the federal government if we are to keep valuable sources of funding) has already passed that will link my students results to my professional evaluation, this does not bode well for me or for my colleagues.  School “grades” are suspended for one year because we do not yet have baseline data for these tests, but it does not take a statistician to predict that schools like mine, with high levels of poverty and English language learners, will not look particularly good to the public once results are released in 2016….”


Students given wrong Common Core test to take

“Lots of things can go wrong when taking a test, but this isn’t usually one of them: In New Hampshire, many students took the wrong Common Core test this month. According to the Union Leader, school officials in Manchester, the largest city in the state, as well as in the towns of Barrington and Gorham, gave students a practice test instead of the full math and English Language Arts Common Core computer-administered assessments created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The mistake may also have happened elsewhere but schools in these three locales reported it to the state Education Department. The newspaper said  that the problem was related to a pull-down menu that showed possibilities for test versions but that was not properly marked. Students were directed to took an “interim” test — essentially a practice test — that was not marked as such. Since the trouble earlier this month, that labeling problem has been fixed, it said. Heather Gage, the state’s director of educational improvement, was quoted as saying that some 3,300 students took the interim test though an undetermined number may have been taking it on purpose. Many had to then take the correct version. Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas led a months-long effort to opt out the city schools from taking the Smarter Balanced exams and instead to pick a different test, but after state authorities threatened to withhold federal funds, the Manchester school board agreed to give the assessments…”



“More military parents are choosing homeschooling as an alternative to the in-school environment, even as Common Core supporters tout supposed significant benefits of the nationalized standards particularly for these on-the-move families. The official website of the Common Core standards cites a statement – apparently given prior to their publishing – by Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, commanding general, United States Army Accessions Command, in which he said: “The rigor of the proposed academic Common Core State Standards will be a benefit to military-dependent students everywhere.” In his full statement in support of the Common Core, Freakley said, “The development of these common standards will not only benefit the thousands of military dependent students whose frequent moves are often at odds with local standards, but this reform will also allow a national debate on realigning state K-12 education policies and practices, a benefit to all.” “National standards will raise the bar in education and, ultimately, serve our Nation by producing high school graduates fully prepared for higher education, the military, or the workforce,” Freakley added. In its statement about military families and the Common Core, Achieve Inc., one of the creators of the standards, noted, “Children of military families must move from school system to school system, often in states and districts not aligned to their previous instruction. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) provide an opportunity for consistent and high quality educational opportunities for the children of our men and women in uniform…” The Military Child Education Coalition – also supporters of the Common Core – add, “The new standards require a high level of student engagement as well as a focus on both content and a depth of understanding to apply the knowledge.”…”




Voters Feel No Rush to Make Lynch Next Attorney General

“Voters are in no bigger hurry than the Republican-led Senate to make Loretta Lynch the next U.S. attorney general. Just 33% of Likely U.S. Voters believe the Senate should confirm the federal prosecutor from Brooklyn, N.Y., to be the nation’s highest law enforcement officer. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 27% oppose Lynch’s confirmation as attorney general, but 40% remain undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)…”




Wickham: GOP spite bars Lynch approval

“”In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for. As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican,” H.L. Mencken, the acerbic columnist and social critic, once wrote. The man they called “the Sage of Baltimore” was talking about the Republican Party of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover — three men whose presidencies are best remembered for political scandal, a race-based opposition to immigration and financial ruin. But Mencken could have been talking about the current Republican majority in Congress. This group surely would have earned Mencken’s disdain for bad behavior of another sort: their circular firing squad opposition to Loretta Lynch. Senate Republicans have kept Lynch — President Obama’s nominee for attorney general — waiting for a confirmation vote longer than the combined time it took to confirm her seven predecessors. While doing so, they have retained in office Eric Holder, the attorney general whom congressional Republicans have branded an accessory to murder, a terrorist sympathizer and a supporter of voter fraud. Holder — who is none of those things — announced his resignation back in September. He said he’d stay on the job until his replacement is confirmed. Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 to approve Lynch’s nomination. The committee’s nine Democrats were joined by three Republicans in voting for Lynch. One of the GOP “yes” votes came from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has served on the Judiciary Committee for 38 years. “I supported advancing (her) nomination to the floor today because her record of service over several decades shows that she is well qualified to be attorney general,” Hatch said at the time. Hatch also rejected a letter from some House Republicans, charging that a vote for Lynch would constitute a vote in support of Obama’s controversial use of executive authority to order changes in federal immigration policies, as “ridiculous on its face.” While Hatch, too, thinks the president overstepped his authority, he doesn’t believe Lynch’s appointment should be held hostage to that political fight. In fact, Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush used executive orders to make similar immigration law changes during their stints in the White House. Unfortunately, Hatch’s voice of reason has been drowned out by the clamor of Republicans who are out to get Obama at any cost. While many of them have long wanted to get Holder out of the attorney general’s office, their animus for Obama has caused them to wage a fight that disguises their real target. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he won’t allow the full Senate to vote on Lynch’s nomination until Democrats stop filibustering a child sex-trafficking bill that contains a restriction on abortions…”


Lynch’s Republican Backers Holding Firm

“GOP supporters of President Barack Obama’s pick to be the next attorney general are sticking by her, meaning Loretta Lynch is still on track for confirmation — if she can ever get a vote. That’s even as announced Republican opposition to Lynch continues to mount as the nomination sits on the Senate calendar, effectively held hostage as part of the dispute between the parties about abortion-related language contained in a bill designed to combat human trafficking. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., became the latest Tuesday morning to join the list of lawmakers against confirming Lynch. “The Obama Administration has a record of overstepping its legal authority on immigration, in implementing the Affordable Care Act and in imposing anti-energy regulations. Despite her qualifications, I am not confident that Loretta Lynch will exercise the independence needed to stand up for the proper separation of powers, and I will not support her nomination,” Capito said in a statement. But Lynch’s small cadre of GOP backers have been unwavering, and she appears to already have the minimum votes needed to get through the chamber. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, a former Judiciary chairman, said he was not being pressured to flip his vote on the floor from the committee level. “The outside groups and others, inside and outside, know better than to pressure me on that because I said I’m going to support her and I am. I think she’s competent and has an excellent reputation,” Hatch told reporters. Hatch said while he hoped Lynch would be confirmed, he understood the frustration of GOP leadership over the Democratic-led filibuster of the trafficking bill, which has prompted Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to subject the Lynch nomination to a seemingly indefinite delay. “I just feel bad that she’s caught up in this — in this matter, but I don’t blame our side for … being upset that we can’t seem to pass a trafficking bill to help our young women and young men,” he said. “It’s just mind-boggling to me, and you know, thank Planned Parenthood and NARAL for that.” Abortion-rights supporters have blasted the language in the trafficking bill, which they view as an expansion of the Hyde Amendment restrictions through its application to a different bucket of money, namely the fines paid by those found guilty of certain criminal offenses related to trafficking. McConnell indicated Tuesday that the two issues were still very much tied together….”


Obama’s most at-risk legacy isn’t Obamacare. It’s climate change.

“We’ll start with the video below, which shows testimony from Bryan Koon, head of the emergency division for the state of Florida, before a committee of the state Senate. As you might have heard, former state employees told reporters that using the term “climate change” was forbidden in state government. And Koon’s squirming seems to back that charge up. Banning the use of “climate change” — which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he didn’t do — is a particularly weird sideshow to the hyperactive debate over climate-change politics. The main event is much more stubborn. With just over 20 months left in office, President Obama has been talking a bit about his legacy. In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, he articulated it like this: [W]e’re going to make sure that when I leave this office, that the country is more prosperous, more people have opportunity, kids have a better education, we’re more competitive, climate change is being taken more seriously than it was, and we are actually trying to do something about it. Those are going to be the measures by which I look back and say whether I’ve been successful as president. An impartial observer, by contrast, might narrow Obama’s legacy play to four things:

–Deal with Iran on nuclear proliferation

–Implementation of Obamacare

–Reforms to the criminal justice system

–Sealing international and domestic measures to combat climate change.

The only one of those four things that appears in both Obama’s and our, more objective, analysis is climate change. And if you look at how each of those four things stands to evolve under a possible Republican administration — perhaps coupled with a Republican Congress — climate change is perhaps the most vulnerable. That’s because it lacks many immediate beneficiaries (which makes rolling it back more difficult) and is dependent on a still-entrenched partisan interpretation of its importance.”


Greens: Obama caved on fracking

“Environmental groups say President Obama squandered the best opportunity he had to tighten regulations on the process of hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas. Congress exempted fracking from many environmental laws, and Interior Department regulations unveiled late last week were perhaps the last major chance environmentalists had to crack down on the controversial practice at the federal level. Instead, they say, the rule amounts to a gift to the oil and natural gas industry that allows drillers to continue some of their worst environmental practices. “We do think it’s a missed opportunity and continue to wonder why the Interior Department isn’t putting conservation as its top objective,” said Bill Snape, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It continues to give away favors to the oil and gas industry on our lands.”…”


Jindal blasts new FEMA rule on climate change


GOP amendment would let the states opt out of EPA climate rule

“Senate Republicans are proposing a budget amendment that would let states opt out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) controversial climate rule for power plants. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed the amendment Tuesday on behalf of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is up for reelection in 2016. Under the amendment, a state’s governor or legislature would be able to opt out of the rule’s requirements for a variety of reasons. In order to be exempt from the rule, a governor or legislature would have to cite one of the following reasons: the rule would hurt low-income or fixed-income households, risk electric reliability, impair investments in power plants, impair manufacturing or other sectors important to the state’s economy, decrease employment or reduce state or local government revenue. The emissions regulation, which the EPA plans to make final this fall, is a key piece of the Obama administration’s environmental agenda. The rule aims to cut power plants’ greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2030, but Republicans and businesses argue it will dramatically increase energy costs…”


FCC Hit With 2 Lawsuits Over Its Latest Net Neutrality Rules

“The USTelecom Association and Texas broadband provider Alamo Broadband argue in their legal filings that the FCC’s new net neutrality rules are illegal, unfair and should be blocked.

A telecom group and a Texas broadband provider are the first two organizations to file legal actions against the FCC to fight the latest net neutrality regulations that the agency adopted in February. US Telecom, a Washington-based telecommunications trade group, and Alamo Broadband, an Elmendorf, Texas-based broadband provider, filed individual legal actions on March 23 asking that courts turn aside the new FCC rules. When the FCC’s new net neutrality rules were adopted by the agency on Feb. 26, it was quickly rumored that it would only be a matter of time before the FCC was taken to court over the latest regulations, according to an earlier eWEEK report. It didn’t take long for that to happen—only about a month. In the US Telecom case, the company filed a protective petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia “as a precautionary move to preserve procedural rights in challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet order,” the company said in a statement. “The petition was filed in case there is a determination that parties must file for review within 10 days of the date of release or issuance of the FCC’s order, rather than within 10 days after Federal Register publication, which USTelecom believes is the better view,” the statement continued.”


Republicans put labor board in the hot seat

“The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is still reeling from last year’s defeat in the Supreme Court, the board chairman told lawmakers Tuesday. The Supreme Court last June overturned President Obama’s controversial recess appointments to the labor board and sent more than 100 cases back for reconsideration. NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce testified Tuesday that the labor board is still playing catch up on many of those cases. In fact, the board has 27 remaining cases to decide, a feat it hopes to accomplish this summer. “To that end, my colleagues and I share a commitment to resolving all of these cases within one year of the issuance of the Supreme Court decision,” Pearce said. Pearce was testifying at a House budget hearing for his agency when he updated lawmakers and the status of case backlog created the labor board is facing. But Republicans seemed more concerned about the NLRB’s on-going efforts to reform American labor standards. They attacked Pearce for decisions from the labor board that would speed up union elections, hold corporations responsible for the labor violations of their franchisees, and allow employees to form multiple unions within a single company. “Indeed, labor law continues to stir spirited debate, as we have seen play out hear in Congress,” Pearce admitted. Last week, Congress voted to roll back the NLRB’s controversial policy that would speed up union elections.  Republicans refer to it as the “ambush election” rule, because they say it would allow employees to vote on a union election in as little as two weeks after a petition is filed…”


Obama Names Former Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Reporter as Senior Adviser

“A former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter will join the White House staff as a senior adviser, replacing longtime Obama inner circle member Dan Pfeiffer. Shailagh Murray will serve as President Barack Obama’s new senior adviser, Politico reported. Pfeiffer departed the White House earlier this month. According to National Journal, Murray was a Capitol Hill correspondent for the Post up through the 2010 election. She joined the Obama administration as Vice President Joe Biden’s deputy chief of staff and communications director in 2011, following a number of former journalists — notably ex-press secretary Jay Carney — who have gone on to work in the administration. “For four years, I’ve relied on Shailagh Murray’s strategic advice and keen ability to cut through the Washington noise to focus on what matters to everyday Americans, and I’m proud to have her as a senior adviser,” Obama said in a statement to Politico…”


Obama taps former reporter as senior adviser

“President Obama has named Shailagh Murray, the communications director for Vice President Joe Biden and a former Washington reporter, as his newest senior adviser. “Important things happen in the fourth quarter, and I am grateful to have an extraordinary team in place to accomplish all we can over the next two years on behalf of the American people,” Obama said on Tuesday. “For four years, I’ve relied on Shailagh Murray’s strategic advice and keen ability to cut through the Washington noise to focus on what matters to everyday Americans, and I’m proud to have her as a senior adviser.” Murray will replace Dan Pfeiffer, who recently departed the White House after serving in the administration since its inception. Obama also Tuesday announced that he had appointed Jason Goldman, the former head of product at Twitter, as the first-ever chief digital officer at the White House. “Goldman brings new energy and coveted expertise as someone who’s helped shape the digital age,” the president said. “Our mission is to use every single tool available to ensure that all Americans can contribute to and benefit from our American resurgence.” The infusion of fresh blood at the White House comes after a string of departures, including Pfeiffer, former senior counselor John Podesta and communications director Jennifer Palmieri. The White House insisted Tuesday that the new hires would lead to real results in Obama’s final two years. “[Obama] needs the best team on the field,” said a senior White House official. “Today, we are adding two professionals who will augment the highly-talented team now in place, who have been crafting and executing the president’s priorities in this fourth quarter.” Murray has served as Biden’s communications director for the past four years. She has also been deputy chief of staff for the vice president since 2013….”


Obama picks Biden aide as senior adviser


President Obama names two new aides to top White House posts


Obama shakes up staff, names first White House digital officer

“With less than two years to go before he leaves office, President Obama on Tuesday shook up his inner circle, appointing a new senior adviser and creating a new White House position focused on digital media and communications. Shailagh Murray, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter who for the past four years has served as Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s communications director, will become Mr. Obama’s next senior adviser. She’ll replace outgoing adviser Dan Pfeiffer. The president also is appointing Jason Goldman to be the first White House chief digital officer. Mr. Goldman is a Silicon Valley mainstay, having played integral roles at Twitter, Google and other household names in the technology realm. The administration says the moves are proof Mr. Obama is not content to fade into obscurity during his final two years in office. “Important things happen in the fourth quarter, and I am grateful to have an extraordinary team in place to accomplish all we can over the next two years on behalf of the American people,” the president said in a statement. “For four years, I’ve relied on Shailagh Murray’s strategic advice and keen ability to cut through the Washington noise to focus on what matters to everyday Americans, and I’m proud to have her as a senior advisor. She’s been an invaluable asset to Vice President Biden, but fortunately for him — and the country — she’ll still be down the hall. And as the first-ever chief digital officer at the White House, Jason Goldman brings new energy and coveted expertise as someone who’s helped shape the digital age.”..”


Obama names Twitter, Google alum first Chief Digital Officer


Obama stiff-arms Constitution: Admin lawyers fight ‘Redskins’ trademark

Justice Dept. says First Amendment doesn’t apply

“The Washington Redskins’ name is commercial speech and isn’t the kind of free expression protected by the First Amendment, the Obama administration told a federal court this week in defending a ruling that has stripped the football team of trademark protections. The team’s name itself is not at stake, but if the trademark is canceled the name becomes less valuable because the owners would struggle to enforce their trademark against anyone who wanted to use the name or Indian logo on their own merchandise. In a filing Monday, the Justice Department defended the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision last year to strip the team of protections. “Not only do trademarks function only minimally as a vehicle for expression, but trademark registration also involves the necessary participation of the government in approving that registration, which confers relaxed First Amendment review even when combined with the speech of a private party,” the Obama lawyers said. Trademark law says disparaging marks cannot be granted protections, and the government argues that the name has become disparaging over the last century. The trademark board, in its 2-1 ruling, also cited polling suggesting a significant percentage of Native Americans consider the name a slur…”


Obama Did Change Washington. For the Worse.


Americans Would Rather See These Fictional Five Presidents In The White House Than Obama

“David Palmer from “24” beat him. As did Jed Bartlet from “The West Wing.” Laura Roslin from “Battlestar Galactica” ranked above him, and so did “Scandal’s” Fitzgerald Grant, along with the menacing Frank Underwood, who murdered two people on “House of Cards.” All five of these TV characters are who Americans would rather see in the White House than Barack Obama. The best part is? They’re all fictional. In a new poll conducted by Reuters-Ipsos, those five fake presidents all had higher approval ratings than the real life President…” A lot higher…”


Could John Kasich be the GOP’s secret weapon in 2016? At least John Kasich thinks so

“It’s a frozen February evening in West Virginia, and John Kasich has gotten sidetracked yet again. For two full days, Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, has been wooing local legislators and jousting with the press as he tours Columbia, S.C., and Charleston, W.Va., in support of his longtime hobbyhorse: a federal balanced-budget amendment. He has also been telling everyone who asks, including a growing gaggle of national reporters (CNN’s Gloria Borger, Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel) that he is thinking about running for president in 2016. “I’m taking no options off the table in terms of my future,” Kasich, 62, declared yesterday in South Carolina — a pivotal early-primary state, and the first of many he plans to visit. (New Hampshire is next on March 24.) “I hope to do a significant amount of traveling.” But for now, at least, the traveling is over. It’s time to relax. Kasich and his entourage are about to leave the West Virginia Statehouse. Outside, the governor’s private plane is waiting to whisk him back to Ohio; an aide assures him that there is wine onboard. The only hitch, as anyone who has ever met John Kasich can confirm, is that John Kasich cannot relax. “Energy is what drives things,” he will tell me later. “Excitement! Progress! Innovation! Forward! Discover America! Find the Pacific Ocean! Climb the mountain! Chart the course! Change the world! Land on the moon! Go to Mars! I mean, that’s my job. My job is to say to people, ‘Go do it. Go! Go West, young man! But let me know where you are, OK? ’Cause I don’t want to have to send a bunch of people out to save you because you didn’t have a canoe to get across the Missouri River.’”…”


Cruz: We Haven’t Reached The Point Of No Return Yet, But We Are Close


Rand Paul touts better ‘winnability’ than Cruz

“Rand Paul and Ted Cruz were once supportive Senate colleagues — now, their rivalry has already begun. Cruz declared his run for the Republican presidential ticket on Monday. Paul, who like Cruz is considered part of the Tea Party, didn’t waste any time criticizing the Texas senator. “Right now, I’m the only one that beats Hillary Clinton in certain purple states,” the Kentucky senator said on Fox News Monday night. “There will be a lot of conservatives. Ted Cruz is a conservative, but it also goes to winnability. And people will have to make a decision: Which is the Republican that can not only excite the base but can also bring new people into the party without giving up principles?” Paul also said he was “glad” to see students attending Cruz’s presidential announcement Monday at Liberty University wearing “Stand With Rand” t-shirts in his support. Paul is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican ticket April 7. “I guess what makes us different is probably our approach to how we would make the party bigger,” Paul said, drawing a contrast between Cruz and him. “I’m a big believer that you should stand on principle … but I also think we should take those principles and try to bring in new people with them.” That means not doing what Cruz did: “throwing out red meat,” Paul said, but “actually throwing out something intellectually enticing to people who haven’t been listening to our message before.” According to a RealClearPolitics average of polls, Paul is fifth (8.4 points) compared to Cruz, who is eighth (4.6 points). Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are tied atop the poll with 16.6 points each…”


Hillary Clinton: 72 percent of Americans say she’ll run for president, only 42 percent want her to

“Will she, or won’t she? Three-fourths of Americans say Hillary Clinton will run for president, but only 42 percent want her to. So says a new poll that parses out the ever-complicated presidential landscape. Here are the numbers: 72 percent of Americans think Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016; 69 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats agree. 54 percent say Mrs. Clinton is liberal; 82 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of independents and 42 percent of Democrats agree. 53 percent overall think Mrs. Clinton “says what she thinks people want to hear”; 85 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 26 percent of Democrats agree. 49 percent overall say she has “qualifications to be president”; 14 percent of Republicans, 44 percent of independents and 81 percent of Democrats agree. 42 percent overall want Mrs. Clinton to run for president; 13 percent of Republicans, 39 percent of independents and 68 percent of Democrats agree…”


In the Senate, where Ted Cruz played rough, scarce praise for his presidential run

“For conservative activists, the first day of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign was a time to gush. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh called Cruz’s kickoff speech Monday “masterful” and “flat-out amazing.” Grass-roots pioneer Richard Viguerie called him a “top-tier movement conservative.” And the Tea Party Patriots hailed his entry, saying Cruz had “yielded to no one” in championing its values. Meanwhile, for Cruz’s Republican colleagues in the Senate, it was a time to equivocate. “I’m just holding off until I see what the field looks like,” said Daniel Coats (R-Ind.). “I’m going to support the nominee of the party,” said Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). “I just hope he spends a lot of time in Iowa, how’s that?” said Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)…”


Iowa seen as key to Ted Cruz’s presidential prospects

“Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign from Virginia on Monday with a message aimed straight at Iowa. Cruz, a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, became the first person from either major party to formally announce a presidential candidacy with his speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. In style and substance, the announcement from an arena at the world’s largest Christian university made clear that Cruz intends to court evangelical and small-government conservatives — elements of the GOP base with outsize influence in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses…”




In the pursuit of a legacy, Obama has made the world more dangerous

“As the president again prepares to extend the deadline for an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, though without calling it an extension, it’s time to take stock of what Barack Obama’s myopic pursuit of a legacy achievement in his second term has wrought. The president and his allies have said on any number of occasions that no deal with Iran is preferable to a bad deal, but the administration has given every indication that the opposite is true. The Obama administration is sacrificing its legitimacy at home and faith in America abroad for fleeting and personal gain. The negotiation process alone has resulted in the increasing isolation of the elected Israeli government and a chill in bilateral relations between Washington and Jerusalem. The Israel’s government’s opposition to the terms of a nuclear deal with Iran has caused a schism between these two historic allies that may not entirely heal after Obama leaves office in 2017. On Monday night, reports indicated that the Israeli-American relationship had deteriorated to a point that Israeli officials are now sharing intelligence that they gleaned from compromising the P5+1 talks with American lawmakers. Surely as a result of selective leaks from the White House, this operation was revealed in the political press alongside overwrought reaction quotes from unnamed officials close to the administration. “It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” an American official told The Wall Street Journal…”


Obama: U.S. Will Delay Afghan Withdrawal; “Our Transition Out Of A Combat Role Has Not Changed”


U.S. to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2015


Rubio: Obama Sent ‘Entire Political Machine’ After Bibi, ‘Business-like’ Relationship ‘Absurd’ [AUDIO]

“Count Marco Rubio as a non-believer of President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “business-like” relationship. In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday evening, Rubio said it is “absurd” for President Obama to say he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a “business-like” relationship. Obama made the claim Tuesday during a joint press conference with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. “I have a very business-like relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Obama said earlier on Tuesday. “I’ve met with him more than any other world leader. I talk to him all the time. He is representing his country’s interests the way he thinks he needs to, and I’m doing the same.” “So the issue is not a matter of relations between leaders. The issue is a very clear substantive challenge,” Obama said. We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations and for regional stability.”…”


Obama risks backlash in pursuit of Iran nuclear deal