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April 23rd, 2015 at 3:19 pm
Obama Admin Also Pressuring Kansas, Tennessee to Expand Medicaid or Lose Funds

First Florida, then Texas, and now Kansas and Tennessee have been told by the Obama administration that unless they expand Medicaid under the rules laid out in ObamaCare the federal government will withhold payments from local hospitals.

Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott is so angry at the move he’s promised to sue the Obama administration for violating a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the feds from conditioning Medicaid funding on ObamaCare expansion.

Yet this is precisely what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is doing. According to Kaiser Health News, CMS “confirmed Tuesday that it gave officials in [Kansas and Tennessee] the same message that had been delivered to Texas and Florida about the risk to funding for so-called ‘uncompensated care pools’ – Medicaid money that helps pay the cost of care for the uninsured.”

“Medicaid expansion would reduce uncompensated care in the state, and therefore have an impact on the [Low-Income Pool], which is why the state’s expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June,” a CMS official warned.

The reason states have resisted expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare is that it transforms a program currently helping discrete populations – e.g. pregnant women, the disabled, elderly, blind, and children from needy families – into a universal, taxpayer-funded health insurance program for every person earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That change translates into large amounts of new spending that will eventually lead to increased state taxes.

By making a state’s refusal to expand Medicaid a factor in deciding whether Medicaid dollars will continue to flow, the Obama administration is directly flouting a prohibition handed down by a 7-2 Supreme Court majority (liberal Justices Kagan and Breyer sided with their five more conservative colleagues). If the Supreme Court wants to ensure that its rulings will be taken seriously, it should fast-track Florida’s lawsuit and let the Obama administration know it must follow the law.

April 22nd, 2015 at 5:57 pm
What Will Republicans Do If Supreme Court Strikes Down ObamaCare Subsidies?

Sometime in June, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to publish its opinion deciding whether the Obama administration acted outside the law in extending federal subsidies to citizens in states without a local ObamaCare exchange.

If the Court’s ruling adheres to the rule of law, the subsidies will be disallowed. Predictably, this is making some Republicans nervous that Americans getting the ObamaCare the Democrats passed will blame the GOP.

And so, there are a growing number of proposals to overrule the Court, at least until 2017 when (hopefully) a Republican president will be in office.

The latest plan in this line of thinking was unveiled Tuesday by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI). “Johnson’s plan would allow people to keep their ObamaCare plans and their subsidies until August 2017,” reports The Hill. “The bill would also repeal ObamaCare’s mandates for individuals and employers to provide insurance…”

Of the proposals currently available, Johnson’s is the only one that makes no change to ObamaCare as it currently is. All it does is ensure the program lasts until about eight months into the next president’s first year in office.

The question is: What’s the point? If Johnson’s bill were to become law, it would put large numbers of Republicans on record as saying that despite the plain meaning of the statute, ObamaCare’s subsidy scheme is simply too important to be governed by normal legal rules. If that’s true, then why not make things easier and introduce a bill that just amends the disputed section and grant subsidies to everyone?

If Senator Johnson and other Republicans are fearful of voter backlash, then he and others should propose specific policy alternatives. Overruling the Supreme Court for making the correct legal decision is not justified by political calculations of what might happen at the ballot box.

Voters deserve statesmen, not politicians that hedge their bets. If Senator Johnson wants to be reelected next year, he needs to earn the privilege by either embracing ObamaCare for the long-term or putting forward a specific alternative.

April 21st, 2015 at 6:48 pm
What It Takes to Prove Global Warming Exists

Lost amid the charge of “inconvenient truths” and “hockey stick” graphs is a clear notion of what it would take to prove that global warming is real, man-made and alterable.

Robert Tracinski has an answer.

“We don’t know whether current warming departs from natural variation, nor have scientists proven the underlying mechanisms by which humans could cause such an increase,” writes Tracinski at The Federalist. “But even if we did know these things, we would have to be able to forecast with reasonable accuracy how big the effect is going to be. A very small warming may not even be noticeable or may have mostly salutary effects, such as a slightly longer growing season, whereas the impact of a much larger warming is likely to cause greater disruption.”

And therein lies the trillion dollar question: If meteorologists can’t consistently predict the weather from day-to-day, how on earth can humanity justify spending vast amounts of money on temperature predictions that fluctuate from “global cooling” to “global warming” only to settle on “climate change”?

As Tracinski says, “Given the abysmal record of climate forecasting, we should tell the warmists to go back and make a new set of predictions, then come back to us in 20 or 30 years and tell us how these predictions panned out. Then we’ll talk.”

April 17th, 2015 at 1:32 pm
A Market-Based Solution to California’s Water Shortage

California’s water crisis – and Governor Jerry Brown’s draconian response to it – could go a long way toward uniting middle class and elite urbanites in a revolt against political favoritism run amuck.

As Shikha Dalmia explains, “The best — and most sustainable — solution to California’s water woes would be full-bore markets in which prices can rise and fall with supply and demand. Under such a system, depleting water reserves would have led to price increases long ago, producing an automatic incentive to conserve. More importantly, this would have clearly signaled growing scarcity, spurring new technologies for affordable water generation. All of this would have allowed consumers and businesses to make small adjustments over time without letting the shortage reach a crisis point.”

“Moving overnight to a system of market-based water pricing is probably not doable,” she continues. “But if California has to make emergency cuts, it would make sense to impose the biggest cuts on the biggest users — which means the deepest cuts for fish-rescuing environmentalists, followed by water-hogging farmers, followed by residential users. Instead, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is doing the exact opposite.”

The constituencies being hit the hardest by Brown’s mandatory water usage reduction order are rich enclaves like Beverley Hills and Newport Beach, and middle class urban residents who already pay the highest rates for water, but use the least when compared to other groups.

Those outside California may not remember that what ultimately led to Governor Gray Davis’ successful recall was his support for tripling the annual vehicle license fee. Californians will put up with a lot from politicians, but making it exorbitantly expensive to enjoy basic comforts like driving and water consumption could be just the disruption it takes to break the liberal stranglehold on state government and implement the kind of market-based reforms Dalmia is promoting.

We’ll see if Governor Moonbeam gets the hint, or sacrifices millions of people’s well-being for the sake of his beloved environmental movement. If he indulges the latter, there could be an opportunity for another California taxpayers’ revolt like the one that put a stop to annual property tax spikes in the 1970s.

April 16th, 2015 at 6:57 pm
California’s Water Wars Heat Up

A fight is brewing in California between state regulators and local water suppliers over how to cope with mandatory water usage reductions ordered by Governor Jerry Brown.

California’s State Water Resources Control Board received more than 200 letters from cities, counties, and water districts balking at the proposed regulatory structure for monitoring compliance.

Criticisms include:

  • Monthly water usage rates are “meaningless” because varying temperatures and rainfall fluctuate dramatically during the year
  • Lack of credit given to water agencies that have already reduced their usage rates through local conservation programs or locally financed desalinization projects
  • Farmers outside the Central Valley – the state’s agricultural hub – being treated the same as urban districts which do not get an exemption
  • Failure to subject public school and college campuses to the same water use restrictions imposed on cities, since the former often are able to “override local building and zoning codes”

Everyone in California is feeling the pinch of decades’ worth of neglected improvements to water storage capacity.

Thanks to ‘green’ environmentalism, much of California may soon be brown.

H/T: L.A. Times

April 10th, 2015 at 2:57 pm
Beware ObamaCare as Tax Day Approaches

Nearly every American that received an ObamaCare subsidy to help pay for health insurance last year got the wrong amount.

“Only 4 percent of the people who signed up for ObamaCare got the correct subsidy, so a whopping 96 percent will see their tax bill adjusted, some up and others down,” writes Betsy McCaughey. “Who would design a system that’s right only 4 percent of the time?”

The main reason for the discrepancy is that a person must estimate – i.e. guess – their entire taxable income for the next year in order to find out how much of a subsidy they qualify for under ObamaCare during enrollment season. A raise or switch to a higher paying job could be zeroed out because the government gets to “clawback” the difference. Losing a job means a fatter refund.

You can see which direction ObamaCare’s incentives point to, which provides a partial answer to McCaughey’s rhetorical question – people who penalize moving up the income ladder.

April 9th, 2015 at 8:27 pm
Eradicating Marijuana Plants Would Save 63 Billion Gallons of Water in California

In 2006, the last time the Drug Enforcement Agency counted the number of outdoor marijuana plants in California, there were roughly 17.5 million.

Since then the number has likely increased significantly due to lack of enforcement by the Obama administration and the effective decriminalization of marijuana use by lax police departments.

Even so, as Ethan Epstein explains, if we take the 2006 figure as a baseline and add to it the fact that a marijuana plant soaks up about six gallons of water per day during its 150-day growing season, California could have saved 63 billion gallons of water since the start of the drought four years ago.

Imagine the savings if California officials got serious about curtailing illegal marijuana growing today.

If Governor Jerry Brown wants to find ways to reduce unnecessary water consumption he should start by uprooting the millions of illegally grown marijuana plants. Had the plants not been siphoning off a precious natural resource over the course of the drought, California could have saved 15 percent of the total Brown wants to recoup through rationing.

In other words, cut off the crooks before knee-capping the law-abiding.

April 9th, 2015 at 6:22 pm
Get the Government Out of Your… Toilet?

California Governor Jerry Brown’s new water rationing edict is giving state regulators the cover they need to impose all kinds of nanny state restrictions on law-abiding citizens.

In addition to installing ‘smart meters’ on businesses and homes to monitor water usage and impose fines, the California Energy Commission is using Brown’s executive order to increase the use of low-flow appliances. Beginning in January 2016, all toilets and faucets sold in the state must conform to higher water efficiency standards.

“Wednesday’s vote also sets a 1.28 gallon maximum water flow for toilets, putting in place a limit included in a 2007 law but never formally translated into water-efficiency regulations,” reports the Sacramento Bee.

It’s hard to believe that a state so friendly to the environmental lobby as California would have failed to implement even more restrictions when it had the chance, unless doing so would be extremely burdensome and therefore unpopular. Now, however, they can simply claim an emergency and ignore the outcry.

April 6th, 2015 at 7:25 pm
Tax Filing Deadline Extended 6 Months for 800,000 ObamaCare Users

If you are one of the estimated 800,000 Americans who purchased an ObamaCare-compliant health insurance policy for the 2014 enrollment year through Healthcare.gov – the federal exchange portal – and received the wrong tax reporting form, you now have until October 15 to file your taxes.

The Treasury Department announcement came last Friday, less than two weeks before the traditional tax filing deadline.

Credit where it’s due – this is the right call by the Obama Administration since it was the government – not taxpayers – that fouled up the process by mailing error-laden reporting forms. The six month extension relieves the pressure on taxpayers and their accountants and hopefully gives the bureaucracy enough time to fix the problem.

Nevertheless, like all of the other unilateral delays and waivers granted under ObamaCare, this development is yet another indication that the federal government bit off more than it can chew and the number one casualty is the rule of law.

April 2nd, 2015 at 5:58 pm
ObamaCare’s Subsidy “Clawback” Feature Explained

Daniel Payne at The Federalist has a must-read article explaining the perverse and punitive feature of ObamaCare that allows the federal government to “clawback” subsidy amounts from eligible recipients.

“If you’re flat broke at the beginning of the year and accept tax credits from ObamaCare for several months, then find a high-paying job with health insurance halfway through the year and make enough money to put yourself over the subsidy threshold, you’ll owe back every penny of those subsidies you received come tax season, even though you had no money when you received them,” writes Payne.

ObamaCare’s critics have warned that the law would discourage people from getting better paying jobs for fear of losing their health insurance subsidy. In practice, it looks like the penalty on work could be even worse.

April 1st, 2015 at 6:01 pm
Reuters Runs Hit Job on Anti-ObamaCare GOP Governors

Today, Reuters ran the following headline claiming that Republican governors opposed to ObamaCare are really just a bunch of hypocrites: “Exclusive: Republican White House hopefuls attack Obamacare but take money”.

The evidence offered is a combined $352 million in federal grants that GOP governors Rick Perry (TX), Scott Walker (WI), Bobby Jindal (LA), and Chris Christie (NJ) applied for and won under the terms of ObamaCare. Lest any reader miss the theme of the article, the author writes, “Aides [to each governor] told Reuters they saw no contradiction in applying for these grants while criticizing the law as a whole.”

The aides – and by extension, the governors – are absolutely correct. According to the Reuters report, many of the grant programs predate the passage of ObamaCare, and the ones that originated with the controversial health care law are not connected to either the excessively expensive health insurance exchanges or the Medicaid expansion – the two policy devices loathed by fiscal conservatives. As a matter of policy then, there is nothing inconsistent about wanting to repeal a law to get rid of its bad elements while supporting parts that have no connection to them.

As if to walk back from its misleading headline, the Reuters piece says that “It’s not clear whether the Republican governors now considering running for the White House would protect these programs if they won the November 2016 presidential election.” Except that it is clear. So far, none of these governors have indicated that in repealing ObamaCare they would refuse to reinstate the non-controversial grant programs. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that these programs are safe.

Attention-grabbing headlines are necessary in the news business, but only if they’re true. The next time Reuters wants to ding GOP politicians for hypocrisy, it needs to bring much better evidence than this.

March 30th, 2015 at 7:23 pm
Supreme Court Declines Challenge to ObamaCare’s IPAB

The Obama administration got a rare piece of good news today when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding part of ObamaCare.

The case, Coons v. Lew, is an Arizona-based challenge to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), the 15-member group of experts empowered to reduce Medicare spending below a certain threshold.

In declining the plaintiffs’ appeal, the Supremes did not in any way indicate that this case is without merit. Rather, it may have been filed too early. Courts are typically loathe to strike down parts of laws that have yet to go into effect. IPAB won’t be making any decisions until 2019 at the earliest.

As usual, the issue is whether IPAB is constitutional. “Its decisions cannot be overridden by Congress without a super-majority and cannot be challenged in court,” explains a report in Politico. If that sounds like near monarchial power for an unelected bunch of experts, well, this is the Obama administration after all.

For now, IPAB is a dormant legal issue. Time will tell if it becomes a political rallying cry in next year’s presidential election.

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.