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March 25th, 2015 at 5:45 pm
Fifth Circuit Grants Fast-Track Appeal of Obama’s Amnesty Order

Mark your calendars because today the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Obama administration’s plea to grant a fast-track appeal of a lower court decision blocking a controversial amnesty program for illegal immigrants.

The next stop on the constitutional carousel occurs April 17, when lawyers from the Texas Attorney General’s office representing 26 states square off against counterparts from the federal government. At issue will be whether to overturn a district court order halting implementation of an executive action granting work permits and deportation waivers to an estimated five million people in the United States without authorization.

Granting the fast-track petition doesn’t necessarily mean that the Fifth Circuit – widely considered the most conservative jurisdiction of the federal judiciary – will side with the Obama administration. More likely, it’s a courtesy gesture to the executive branch acknowledging that a resolution to this dispute is needed sooner rather than later. Even still, a final decision could take months to appear and both sides have indicated they will litigate all the way to the Supreme Court to vindicate their position.

In the end, what today’s announcement probably means is that the Supreme Court will hear an appeal next fall instead of the following spring. Just in time for presidential primary season.

March 23rd, 2015 at 7:34 pm
Ted Cruz Jumps into the 2016 Presidential Race

Not one to wait his turn, today U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) became the first person to announce he is running for the presidency.

The first-term senator declared his ambition during a speech at Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university and the symbolic epicenter for the conservative grassroots Cruz is trying to represent.

In the Age of Obama, Cruz’s red meat speech seems almost like a throwback to the days when conservatives were unabashed in their support for the three-legged stool of the movement’s issues: social, economic, and national security.

If you’re looking for a candidate to double-down on first principles, Cruz might be the one.

Though his pre-announcement polling numbers haven’t been stellar, Cruz will be working hard to move the needle higher now that he is officially in the race to replace Barack Obama.

Welcome to the job interview, Senator. We look forward to hearing more from you.

March 19th, 2015 at 6:11 pm
AEI Scholar: House GOP Budget Needs Work

James Pethokoukis of AEI argues that the new House GOP budget puts too much emphasis on cutting the deficit and not enough on increasing economic growth.

“Indeed, the entire thrust of the budget seems to be that the federal debt is America’s biggest problem,” he writes. “But where’s the evidence? Low interest rates are hardly signaling investor alarm. And not only is the federal debt issued in U.S. dollars, our currency is the world’s reserve. The U.S. is not Greece. The big economic danger here isn’t a debt-driven financial crisis. It’s chronic slow growth from having to sharply raise taxes if we don’t restructure entitlements in a way that promotes saving and work.”

Of course, House budget writers do intend to reform entitlement spending drivers like Medicare and Medicaid – and eventually, one hopes, Social Security. So from at least this standpoint Pethokoukis and the House Budget Committee seem to be in agreement that structural fixes are needed to get entitlement spending on a sustainable trajectory.

What seems to divide them, however, is the motivation for doing so. For the budget drafters it may be containing and reducing an exploding deficit. For Pethokoukis and others, it’s kick-starting the economy to generate more wealth up-and-down the income ladder.

One of these two motivations will ultimately decide what conservative entitlement reform looks like. It will be interesting to see which prevails in the run-up to 2016.

March 19th, 2015 at 5:18 pm
Large Numbers of Americans Not Prepared for ObamaCare Penalty

If you didn’t have health insurance last year, could afford it (according to ObamaCare), and don’t have a waiver from the individual or employer mandate, you will be getting a notice from the IRS this year that you owe Uncle Sam some money.

Apparently, this will be a surprise to a lot of people.

“A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday found that while slightly more than half of respondents were aware the penalty kicks in this year, one in five think it goes into effect next year, roughly one in six say they don’t know when it goes into effect, and one in 10 believe it was rolled out last year,” reports the Washington Examiner.

Look for ObamaCare’s unpopularity to increase even more after Tax Day.

March 18th, 2015 at 7:44 pm
Prosecutorial Discretion Needed at the Interior Dept.

President Barack Obama has rooted most of his amnesty program on the idea that he and his bureaucrats can exercise immense amounts of prosecutorial discretion in refusing to deport millions of illegal immigrants. While this iteration of prosecutorial discretion is absurd, a more conventional application is badly needed at the Interior Department.

Recently, Interior lost a high-profile legal battle over whether a Native American pastor in Texas could legally possess eagle feathers. The feathers were given to Pastor Robert Soto as a gift for giving spiritual counsel to a dying woman in his tribe. They were confiscated in the middle of a subsequent religious ceremony by undercover federal agents in a sting operation called “Operation Powwow.”

You read that right.

At issue is a federal law that prohibits the possession of feathers from more than 800 different kinds of birds, including eagles. It doesn’t matter how the feathers are obtained. In Soto’s case, the feathers were picked up off the ground after the eagle molted. If the law were to be applied in every case like it was in Soto’s the results would be laughable.

“…any child who goes to a park and picks up a feather is in violation of federal law if he picks up a common goose or a duck feather and takes it home,” writes Kristina Arriaga of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “However, one does not see covert agents sneaking around neighborhoods in an “Operation Park Patrol” to investigate children collecting feathers, playing with them, or using them in school projects.”

At least not yet.

Memo to the federal bureaucracy: This is an example of the need for prosecutorial discretion. Refusing to police the border or take action against those who cross it illegally is not.

March 17th, 2015 at 1:40 pm
New House Budget Solidifies Ryan’s Legacy

New House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) is picking up right where his predecessor Paul Ryan (R-WI) left off.

Today, Price introduced his first federal budget proposal which borrows heavily from Ryan’s plans, “including a plan that would transform Medicare into a voucher-like ‘premium support’ program for seniors joining Medicare in 2024 or later,” reports Fox News. “They would receive a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the private market.”

Price would also keep Ryan’s idea to convert Medicaid and food stamps into federal block grants that states can spend with more freedom than they do now.

Though this budget stands little chance of passing because Republicans in Congress don’t have the votes to overcome a certain veto by President Barack Obama, retaining the core of Ryan’s reform package sends an important signal that these budget proposals are now the fundamental elements of any conservative spending reduction agenda. Every GOP presidential aspirant will have to weigh in on whether they support this approach and what, if any, changes they would make.

This is deliberative democracy at its best.

March 13th, 2015 at 6:30 pm
Obama’s Legacy: Pieces of Iraq Now Part of ‘Greater Iran’

It’s gotten so bad in Iraq that Iranian-backed militias are fighting ISIS soldiers for control of large swaths of territory. And while these two factions redraw the map of the Middle East, American military advisors and the Iraqi army have been rendered largely irrelevant.

That prompted Richard Haas, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, to give this grim analysis: “I think [Iran] will win this battle, but… I think we have to understand, Baghdad and the south are now part of Greater Iran. This is what it is… ‘Iraq’ is over. Rest in peace. The era where you had an intact Iraq and an intact Syria is over. So what you’re looking at is an Iraq where part of it is an extension of Iran…”

Maybe this is why President Barack Obama is so repulsed by Senator Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran: It threatens our dependence on a known sponsor of terror.

March 13th, 2015 at 4:46 pm
Carly Fiorina for VP?

Carly Fiorina may not eventually win the GOP presidential nomination, but that shouldn’t necessarily be the end of her involvement in the 2016 election.

Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO and one-time U.S. Senate candidate in California, is making the rounds ahead of a potential announcement that she is running for president.

Though she’s low in the polls, Fiorina is making a name for herself as Hillary Clinton’s best critic.

“The Democrats and Hillary Clinton have made gender an issue with their ridiculous ‘war on women,’” the New York Times quotes Fiorina as saying. “I think if Hillary Clinton faces a woman opponent, she will get a hitch in her swing.”

What better way to deflate the liberal meme that Republicans hate women than by nominating a conservative female to the party’s standard bearer? Fiorina is proudly pro-free market and pro-life, making her someone to watch as the GOP field takes shape.

By establishing her abilities as an able Clinton critic, Fiorina may be positioning herself to show the eventual nominee that she can go toe-to-toe with Hillary and effectively neutralize any war-on-women attacks.

Keep an eye on Fiorina. If Hillary is the Democrats’ nominee, we may see a lot more of Carly.

March 12th, 2015 at 7:20 pm
ATF Halts Ammo Ban, For Now

After announcing plans to confiscate certain kinds of ammunition through a new and textually dubious regulation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is reconsidering. Indefinitely.

“Thank you for your interest in ATF’s proposed framework for determining whether certain projectiles are ‘primarily intended for sporting purposes’ within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C). The informal comment period will close on Monday, March 15, 2015. ATF has already received more than 80,000 comments, which will be made publicly available as soon as possible,” reads a statement from the bureau’s website.

“Although ATF endeavored to create a proposal that reflected a good faith interpretation of the law and balanced the interests of law enforcement, industry, and sportsmen,” the statement continues, “the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study. Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework. After the close of the comment period, ATF will process the comments received, further evaluate the issues raised therein, and provide additional open and transparent process (for example, through additional proposals and opportunities for comment) before proceeding with any framework.”

Though I’m glad to see a federal agency rethinking a bad policy change for the stated reason that the “vast majority” of 80,000 comments oppose the move, I suspect the real reason for the sudden about-face is because ammunition confiscation through regulation is an issue that will make it virtually impossible for Democrats to get elected in swing districts.

Whatever the reason, it’s great to see some level of responsiveness from a federal bureaucracy that ostensibly exists to serve the public.

March 12th, 2015 at 3:53 pm
Tom Cotton’s Letter Echoes Jesse Helms’ Defense of the Constitution

If the Obama administration thinks U.S. Senator Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) letter is a threat to their negotiations with Iran, they should consider the actions of the late Jesse Helms.

Helms (R-NC) was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the latter part of the Clinton presidency and made no bones about attempts to circumvent Congress so the White House could claim a big foreign policy headline.

In an op-ed published the day Clinton was to engage in talks with Vladimir Putin about reducing missile defense capabilities, Helms declared, “After dragging his feet on missile defense for nearly eight years, Mr. Clinton now fervently hopes that he will be permitted, in his final months in office, to tie the hands of the next President.”

Helms would have none of it. “Well I, for one, have a message for the President: Not on my watch. Let’s be clear, to avoid any misunderstandings: Any modified ABM treaty negotiated by this administration will be dead-on-arrival at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee… The Russian government should not be under any illusions whatsoever that any commitments made by this lame-duck Administration, will be binding on the next administration.”

And with that, the talks dissolved.

In this context, Cotton’s letter is tame by comparison. Which isn’t to say that it lacks verve and importance. Cotton and the forty-six other Senators who educated the Iranian leadership on the limitations of Obama’s go-it-alone strategy are guarding against the misimpression that Obama’s dealmaking lasts any longer than his hold on office.

What Helms and Cotton have in common is a clear-eyed view of constitutional procedure, and the difference it makes when shunted aside. If Obama wants a legacy pact with Iran, he can’t do it on the cheap. Congress – and specifically the Senate – needs to be consulted, the sooner the better.

March 10th, 2015 at 5:33 pm
Lessons from Britain in Repealing ObamaCare

Daniel Hannan, a British conservative serving in the European Parliament, warns Americans about the danger of propping up ObamaCare long enough for it to get entrenched in everyday life.

“ObamaCare isn’t a precise copy of the British health system. But there is one parallel on which its exponents are relying, namely the conflation of their healthcare model with the people who work in it,” writes Hannan. “The chairman of the body in charge of overseeing care quality in Britain recently put his finger on the problem: ‘The NHS became too powerful to criticize. When things were going wrong, people didn’t say anything. If you criticized the NHS – the attitude was how dare you?’”

Something similar seems to be happening now. Some states are getting ready to install ObamaCare exchanges if the Supreme Court strikes down the IRS subsidies as unlawfully distributed to people using the federal Healthcare.gov website.

Others are suggesting the creation of an “off-ramp” from ObamaCare that would keep the subsidies flowing until the 2016 presidential election, but would also extend the health law’s life span.

These kinds of half-measures do nothing to help move health reform in a more sustainable, market-oriented direction. All they do is put a bipartisan face on ObamaCare, albeit in an altered form.

Part of what makes repealing ObamaCare a realistic option is the steadfast resistance from state and federal Republicans in implementing it. If even a significant minority of GOP leaders start to go along with saving ObamaCare – in whatever form – then the United States runs the risk that Hannan in Britain knows all too well.

Socialized medicine will be here to stay.

March 10th, 2015 at 2:49 pm
States Should Resist Push to Start Exchanges, Save ObamaCare

If the U.S. Supreme Court (correctly) interprets the health care law as disallowing insurance subsidies for citizens using the federal Healthcare.gov website, some states are preparing to fast-track the process for creating their own ObamaCare exchanges.

That process won’t be easy.

“The first step would be enactment of a law authorizing a state agency, nonprofit or public-private entity to run the exchange. Next, the state would have to build or acquire a website to enroll residents, take over contracts with insurance carriers, develop a consumer assistance program and create a bureaucracy to operate the exchange,” says a summary published by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Nor will it be cheap. States that opted to build their own exchanges had almost three years to get them up-and-running, and there were still a number of expensive failures. Trying to accelerate the process into a matter of months will only invite more wasted taxpayer money.

States that refused to sink money into an ObamaCare exchange were right to resist adding another layer to their health care bureaucracies. Citizens don’t need another government program with costly administrators. We need a simplified system of health care delivery that frees up more money for treatment and prevention.

March 5th, 2015 at 5:32 pm
Geraghty: Clinton Email Scandal Opened Door to Foreign Spies

Jim Geraghty of National Review writes in his “Morning Jolt” newsletter (subscription required) today that the scandal involving Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account to send and receive all of her official digital correspondence as Secretary of State is a real problem, not just another iteration of ‘gotcha politics.’

Among the many problems associated with Clinton’s use of a private account as her official email address – including, but not limited to, systematic evasion of federal record-keeping rules, thwarting of public FOIA requests, and irretrievably deleting potentially damaging messages – Geraghty points out a potentially even bigger concern.

“We don’t know if foreign intelligence services ever cracked the (apparently flawed) code and got to read Hillary’s private emails,” Geraghty writes. “We do know that we would be fools to assume they hadn’t. This prospect makes a lot of Obama’s first-term foreign policy look a little different in retrospect. Was there any particular time when a foreign power seemed one step ahead of our policies? Did Moscow, Beijing, or other foreign capitals seem to know what we were thinking in our negotiations before we began? Any of our spies get burned, or sources of intelligence dry up? Was Hillary Clinton’s email effectively a leak all along?”

Though we may never know for sure, “if foreign spies were reading the email of the Secretary of State for four years, it represents nothing less than a catastrophe, and one that is entirely the fault of Hillary Clinton herself.”

It’s also an epic failure of responsibility that should severely undercut Clinton’s claim that she has the judgment to be Commander-in-Chief.

March 5th, 2015 at 4:58 pm
Congress Would Rather Write Letters than Pass Laws

Reuters is reporting that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and a bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week urging him to send weapons to the Ukrainian government in order to send a message to Russia.

“In the face of Russian aggression, the lack of clarity on our overall strategy thus far has done little to reassure our friends and allies in the region who, understandably, feel vulnerable. This needs to change,” wrote the lawmakers.

But here’s the irony. According to Reuters, “The House and U.S. Senate voted unanimously late last year for a bill authorizing Obama to provide weapons to Kiev but he has yet to decide whether to send any.”

That is, Congress voted to give Obama the discretion whether or not to send weapons to Ukraine. Now, some members are upset that he won’t enact their preferred strategy.

Just like immigration policy, Congress has the ability to limit the president’s options by passing laws that spell out exactly what he can and cannot do. Unlike immigration – where Obama’s amnesty programs are deliberately in conflict with federal law – in the case of Ukraine the president appears to be clearly within his power not to act.

It’s a sad commentary when leading members of Congress are reduced to relying on third-party lawsuits and strongly-worded letters instead of their inherent, constitutional power to create the laws of the land.

No wonder this president ignores them.

March 4th, 2015 at 12:49 pm
GOP Congress Caves on Obama Amnesty

After weeks of failing to pass a bill blocking implementation of President Barack Obama’s unilateral amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, Republican leaders in Congress called it quits.

A so-called “clean” bill – one without the amnesty prohibition – passed the House of Representatives 257 – 167 yesterday, with all of the no votes coming from Republicans. The bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate quickly.

Though much of the blame is being focused on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), it seems the media is conveniently forgetting that new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) let a presidential attack on constitutional separation-of-powers supersede a Senate debating procedure known as the filibuster. If the roles were reversed it is inconceivable that Harry Reid would let a procedural rule he controls thwart his sense of constitutional propriety.

By elevating a Senate tradition above Congress’ constitutional duty to make the laws, McConnell has effectively neutered his 54 member majority since it lacks the 60 votes it needs to actually govern.

Welcome to the Republican Senate. Its work product looks an awful lot like its Democratic predecessor.

February 26th, 2015 at 8:23 pm
Treasury Dept. Approves $3 Billion Transfer to Insurance Companies that Congress Denied

A letter from House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) demands an explanation from the Treasury Department on why it allowed $3 billion in payments to ObamaCare insurance companies that Congress never approved.

In a well-documented piece, Philip Klein gives a disturbing summary of the Obama administration deliberately refusing to follow the law.

“At issue are payments to insurers known as cost-sharing subsidies,” writes Klein. “These payments come about because President Obama’s healthcare law forces insurers to limit out-of-pocket costs for certain low income individuals by capping consumer expenses, such as deductibles and co-payments, in insurance plans. In exchange for capping these charges, insurers are supposed to receive compensation.”

Here’s the rub.

“What’s tricky is that Congress never authorized any money to make such payments to insurers in its annual appropriations, but the Department of Health and Human Services, with the cooperation of the U.S. Treasury, made them anyway,” says Klein.

As proof, Klein cites a $4 billion funding request for the cost-sharing subsidies program in 2014 that was not fulfilled by Congress. It’s now 2015, the bills are coming due, and the Obama administration effectively said, “Never mind.”

Whether the domain is immigration or ObamaCare, the default setting for this administration seems to be that if it can’t get what it wants the legal way, it’s just as good to go around the law.

February 26th, 2015 at 1:44 pm
Boehner Stands Firm on Tying DHS Funding to Amnesty Ban

Kudos to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for declining the Senate GOP’s offer to cave to Democrats’ demand for a so-called “clean” funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

As I discuss in my column this week, some Senate Republican leaders are getting gun shy about following through with the party’s promise to condition funding for DHS on new legislative language that specifically prohibits immigration agencies from implementing President Barack Obama’s unilateral amnesty program. They warn that Republicans will be blamed for the shutdown that would start on Sunday when the DHS budget ends, if no new bill is passed. Better, they argue, to appropriate the money now and hope the federal judiciary holds Obama accountable in the future.

At a press conference today, Boehner reminded everyone that – at least publicly – “All Republicans agree that we need to fund the Department of Homeland Security and we want to stop the president’s actions in response to immigration.”

Ever the politician, Boehner “would not say whether he would back a Senate funding bill without provisions that would defund President Obama’s executive actions on immigration,” reports National Journal.

Still, it’s encouraging to hear the Speaker of the House sound resolute in defense of the rule of law when so much of the political class is aching to cut a deal.

February 24th, 2015 at 4:26 pm
Fed Regs May Level Playing Field between California & Texas

Texas has long been held up as the free market alternative to California’s regulation-heavy approach to public policy. Companies like Raytheon and Toyota have relocated because of the cheaper price of doing business, as have thousands of individuals.

But the competitive advantage that Texas enjoys over California could come to a screeching halt if the federal government imposes California-style regulations on the states.

The description of a March 12 event in Houston explains the threat.

“California’s tough environmental rules and planning represent the wave of the future to many planners and pundits, as well as to large parts of the federal government,” says the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. “The goal is to rein in ‘sprawl,’ based largely on questionable environmental and urban design considerations. California consciously seeks to impose a high-density, transit-focused future on the residents of the state.”

It continues, “But California’s policies do not just affect Californians. Many federal agencies, including the EPA and US Fish and Wildlife Service, have embraced the Golden State’s regulations on climate change, wetland and endangered species protections, as role models to be adopted nationally. As California-style regulations diffuse through the federal government, Texas business could soon be subject to many of the same programs and policies.”

This is a good reminder that vigilance at the federal level is necessary to protect economic freedom back home.

February 24th, 2015 at 2:26 pm
Is Obama’s Diva Status a Reason to Accelerate Amnesty Lawsuit?

Consider the following as an example of how much President Barack Obama and his administration think the rule of law should bend to suit their political calculations.

The Justice Department asked a federal court on Monday to reverse its decision to halt the president’s unilateral amnesty directive within 48 hours so that Obama could assure activists attending a town hall in Miami on Wednesday that deportation waivers and work permits would be in the mail.

The expedited timeline is being objected to by Texas and the 20+ other states suing to require the Obama administration to follow federal law and give advance notice and a comment period to the public, reports the LA Times.

Fairness suggests that if the Justice Department took a week to file its request to reverse, Texas and its fellow challengers should get at least as much time to defend their position.

The Justice Department’s self-serving request highlights the central problem driving this litigation – Obama is a diva whose political calculations trump the rule of law.

The federal courts should slap down that dangerous misconception, early and often.

February 23rd, 2015 at 6:36 pm
Gov. Abbott: 20,000 Crossed Texas Border Since January 1

It looks like the surge of illegal immigration across the southern border isn’t getting any better.

“Already this calendar year, since January 1, we have had more than 20,000 people come across the border, apprehended, unauthorized. And so we have an ongoing problem on the border that Congress must step up and solve,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said while appearing on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ on Sunday.

Abbott said that to stem the tide he is posting an additional 500 Texas Rangers near the border. The cost for the expanded presence will come from the state’s budget, even though responsibility for securing the border belongs to the federal government.

Abbott was on the show to discuss the Texas-led lawsuit he initiated challenging President Barack Obama’s unilateral amnesty program because it failed to follow federal law granting the public a notice and comment period before being implemented. Last week a federal district judge agreed with the challengers and granted a temporary injunction to halt Obama’s program.

Barely a month into office, Abbott is proving himself to be a conservative leader who knows how to get results in the courtroom and the court of public opinion.