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In our Liberty Update this week, we highlight two panoramic measures of the Obama Administration’s failed presidency: the long-term plummet in U.S. economic freedom compared to the rest of the world, and the fact that more Americans today than in January 2009 consider the U.S. a nation in decline. That wasn’t supposed to happen under Obama’s magical leadership.
Today, the Commerce Department released a more particularized measure of the Obama Administration’s failure:
The U.S. home ownership rate fell to its lowest level in 20 years at the end of 2014 – a level last seen when national leaders embarked on a broad push to expand home ownership in the mid-1990s. Estimates published Thursday show that, after adjusting for seasonal factors, 63.9% of U.S. households owned their homes in the fourth quarter, a rate last recorded in 1994, according to the Commerce Department. Home ownership hasn’t fallen below that level since 1988. The rate stood at 65.1% at the end of 2013.”
Accordingly, ownership isn’t just down since the government-inflated housing bubble burst almost ten years ago, or even since the recession officially ended all the way back in June 2009. It’s down over the past year, despite the supposed Obama economic recovery. Home ownership obviously rose too high during the bubble, as the result of government-imposed mandates and too easy credit, but the fact that it declined since even last January 1 offers a reminder of the sluggishness of the economy under Obama.
In an interview with CFIF, Marita Noon, Executive Director for Energy Makes America Great and Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy, discusses how Congress should reject any increase to the federal gas tax and how it can fund our nation’s highways without raising taxes on consumers.
Listen to the interview here.
CGI Federal was the primary contractor responsible for building Healthcare.gov – the federal ObamaCare website that glitched its way into bureaucratic infamy.
In the aftermath, CGI was fired by the Department of Health and Human Services and a number of states holding similar contracts.
But like a vampire rising from the dead, CGI Federal is back in the ObamaCare game, and just in time for tax season!
That’s right, a Republican-led House subcommittee discovered that the IRS has hired CGI Federal to a $4.46 million contract. Recall that, under ObamaCare, the IRS must administer a complex income-reporting system to verify which taxpayers received too generous a subsidy.
This news was too much for the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which opined that, “Perhaps CGI is still able to obtain federal business because no one has ever been punished for the worst government technology failures since the Challenger explosion. The political class would prefer to forget, but a new audit from HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson probes what he delicately calls ObamaCare’s ‘inadequacies in contract planning and procurement.’”
“According to the report,” the Journal continues, “HHS rarely obeyed the laws that govern outside hiring, such as competitive bidding and due diligence of past performance. The 33 contractors that contributed to the $800 million website reported to multiple managers and no one at HHS devised an ‘acquisition strategy’ – also required by statute – to integrate the various pieces.”
So if you are confused, frustrated or inappropriately fined by the IRS this tax season, rest assured that CGI Federal is somehow probably responsible – and making millions.
Add another bullet point to ObamaCare’s litany of broken promises.
The U.S. Treasury announced this week that on Tax Day this year, “Some 3 million to 6 million Americans will have to pay an ObamaCare tax penalty for not having health insurance last year,” reports CNN Money.
Since the penalty is the greater of $95 or 1 percent of income, the bill could bigger than expected.
To calculate possible amounts, go here.
Though it’s been awhile, some may recall that in 2008 a certain presidential candidate attacked Hillary Clinton for being open to garnishing workers’ wages if they failed to buy health insurance under her reform proposal. True to form, Barack Obama promised no such penalty if he was elected president.
Now we know the truth.
There are many ways to skin a cat, the saying goes, and there may be more than one way to frame the Supreme Court striking down the IRS’ lawless extension of ObamaCare subsidies to an estimated 5 to 6 million Americans.
If the Court invalidates the subsidies for people living in states without a state-run ObamaCare exchange – as a plain reading of the law requires – then the consequences will have a ripple effect.
“For instance,” columnist Philip Klein explains, “ObamaCare’s fines against employers that do not offer health insurance coverage are triggered when a worker claims government subsidies to purchase insurance on an exchange – but in states where workers can no longer legally receive those subsidies, then there are no fines. The employer mandate, thus, is effectively dead in those states.”
“Additionally,” says Klein, “the individual mandate exempts those who can’t find health insurance options for less than 8 percent of their income – thus, if the subsidies are eliminated, more people will be able to claim this exemption.”
In other words, if a lack of ObamaCare subsidies make individual health insurance unaffordable, then the individual and employer mandates are null and void.
An ObamaCare without mandates weakens the law substantially, and makes it far more likely for Republicans to change. If the Supreme Court delivers a decision that brings it about, the GOP should be in a good position to enact a more workable alternative.
Last week the Associated Press revealed that the Obama administration is allowing e-commerce companies to collect private information from people using Healthcare.gov – the government website connecting citizens in 34 states to ObamaCare-compliant insurance plans.
The data points retrieved include ZIP code, age, income, pregnancy status and tobacco use.
Now, the website has reduced the amount of information it is sending, but privacy advocates say more needs to be done.
A tech expert with the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the Obama administration’s website should not allow third-party tracking services to capture the information received from visitors who enable the “do not track” feature on their browsers.
Better yet, the government should get out of the business of sharing sensitive information it mandates citizens to divulge.
On the even of today’s confirmation hearing for President Obama’s Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch , the Center for Individual Freedom (“CFIF”) yesterday joined with a coalition of other prominent national organizations on a letter urging Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to ask serious questions about the position of Ms. Lynch as it relates to “Operation Choke Point.”
Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the U.S. Department of Justice has used the controversial program to intimidate, target and even shut down legitimate businesses (like gun shops and payday lenders) disliked by the Obama Administration. Operation Choke Point, together with the IRS targeting scandal, serves as a prime example of how an unaccountable federal government can be abused to target out-of-favor legal businesses and individuals, and political enemies.
The letter, which was organized by Taxpayers Protection Alliance, reads in part:
“The confirmation process is an important tool for the Senate in gauging where potential appointees stand on some of the most important issues they will be facing. … Ms. Lynch, like most Presidential nominees, has kept mostly quiet on some of the major issues she will be answering questions about once her confirmation process begins and that includes her views on Operation Choke Point.
“We hope that you will take this opportunity during the confirmation process to pose serious questions to Ms. Lynch about her views on Operation Choke Point and whether or not she will put an end to this harmful and destructive DOJ program and what her views are when it comes to the power of the federal government to use regulations to interfere with institutions and industries an administration may not like.”
To read the letter in its entirety, click here.
Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill are busy strategizing for ways to minimize the political fallout if the Supreme Court invalidates health insurance subsidies for millions of people currently receiving them under ObamaCare.
The case, King v. Burwell, challenges the IRS’ decision to make insurance premium subsidies available to citizens of 34 states that do not have a state-run ObamaCare exchange. The policy is in direct conflict with ObamaCare’s text, providing the justices with a clear opportunity to hold the Obama administration to the letter of the law.
The Hill is reporting that Republican members of the House and Senate are discussing ways to be ready when and if an estimated 5 to 6 million Americans suddenly can’t afford to purchase mandated health insurance.
So far, no details have emerged regarding specifics. There is a lot to consider since any change in the law will require President Barack Obama’s signature. A complicating factor may be this president’s willingness to let the media portray Republicans and the Court as heartless conservatives, even though all that’s being asked for is the Obama administration to implement its own law as written.
Nothing new here.
On the flip side, it’s encouraging to hear that Republicans in Congress are trying to get in front of a potentially damaging issue by coalescing around an alternative they can sell to the public.
Hopefully this is the start of a welcome trend.
Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.
View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.
In an interview with CFIF, Patrick Hedger, Policy Director at American Encore, discusses how President Obama’s community college plan is just another unworkable scheme, how ObamaCare will affect your tax returns, and more.
Listen to the interview here.
Join CFIF Corporate Counsel and Senior Vice President Renee Giachino today from 4:00 p.m. CST to 6:00 p.m. CST (that’s 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST) on Northwest Florida’s 1330 AM WEBY, as she hosts her radio show, “Your Turn: Meeting Nonsense with Commonsense.” Today’s guest lineup includes:
4:00 CDT/5:00 pm EDT: Ambassador Francis Rooney, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See: Pope Francis’ “Soft Power” Diplomacy;
4:15 CDT/5:15 pm EDT: Marita Noon, Executive Director of Energy Makes America Great: Proposed Gas Tax Increase;
4:30 CDT/5:30 pm EDT: Caitlin Poling, Director of Government Relations at the Foreign Policy Initiative: Boko Haram: Africa’s Isis?;
5:00 CST/6:00 pm EDT: Sally Pipes, President, CEO and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute: Resolutions for a Do-Something Congress; and
5:30 CDT/6:30 pm EDT: Tim Lee, CFIF’s Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs: Prospective 2016 Presidential Candidates.
Listen live on the Internet here. Call in to share your comments or ask questions of today’s guests at (850) 623-1330.
Amid Barack Obama’s latest campaign to increase taxes, Gallup offers some welcome news this morning. Specifically, Americans’ satisfaction with the amount we pay in federal taxes has now fallen to a 12-year low:
Americans’ satisfaction with the amount that Americans pay in federal income taxes roughly ties the lowest percentage Gallup has seen in the past 12 years… According to the January 5-8 poll, 63% of Americans this year are dissatisfied with the amount Americans pay in taxes. In a follow-up question, most of this group – equivalent to 46% of all Americans – say they would like to see Americans pay less in taxes. Hardly any – 4% – would prefer that they pay more. An additional 13% are dissatisfied with what Americans pay in taxes, but aren’t specific about how it should change. The 46% who currently want taxes decreased is notably higher than what Gallup has found since 2012.”
Moreover, the latest survey confirms Obama’s trademark reverse-Midas touch, as his desire to raise taxes appears to have only backfired:
Six years into Barack Obama’s presidency, public satisfaction with taxes is at a low ebb, and nearly half of all Americans are dissatisfied and would like to see the amount people pay decreased.”
Accordingly, conservatives and libertarians continue to win the war of ideas in this regard. It’s now a matter of the new Congress internalizing public opinion, and putting a quick halt to Obama’s scheme.
Senik: Obama’s 2015 State of the Union: All You Need To Know
Ellis: GOP To Use Congressional Review Act To Challenge Obama
Lee: Rand Paul Announces Judicial Policy That Should Alarm Conservatives and Libertarians
Video: Get Congress Out of Your Gas Tank
Podcast: Free Community College: Who Pays for It?
Jester’s Courtroom: “Lovin’ with that Body” Lands Rick Springfield in Court
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In this week’s Freedom Minute, CFIF’s Renee Giachino pushes back against calls by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to use lower prices at the pump as an excuse to raise the federal gas tax.
Think rationing health care spending has an effect of which patients doctors see?
A new study released by the New England Journal of Medicine found that Medicaid beneficiaries enjoyed a 7.7 percent bump in the number of appointments doctors scheduled with them when government reimbursement rates increased.
Unfortunately for the poor who use Medicaid, once ObamaCare’s temporary subsidy phased out, states didn’t have the extra money to continue the higher reimbursements to doctors.
And so, it’s likely that doctors will respond to the new (lower) price signal and cut back on the number of Medicaid patients they schedule.
From a policy perspective this study confirms that doctors respond to economic incentives, and that if we as a society are going to help the poorest of the poor get adequate health care Congress and the president need to start prioritizing federal spending so that there’s more money available to help those who need it.
If the folks in Washington, D.C. are looking for a place to start trimming, former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) “Wastebook 2014” is a good place to start.
As Republicans turn to the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rein in the Obama administration’s executive overreach, they should scrutinize a recent trend to shirk the CRA’s reporting requirements.
In my column this week I explain how the CRA works – a federal agency proposes a rule and Congress gets about 60 days to kill it (so long as the president agrees). Even if the president vetoes Congress’ disapproval, the process helps define each party’s stance on the proper role of regulation.
Importantly, the CRA imposes a reporting requirement on federal agencies to inform Congress about final rule proposals. It turns out, however, that the CRA doesn’t create an oversight process to ensure compliance.
Enter the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ watchdog over the administrative state.
“Shortly after the CRA was enacted, GAO voluntarily developed a database of submitted rules, began checking the Federal Register to ensure that all covered rules were being submitted, and periodically notified the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about missing rules,” says a 2014 report from the Administrative Conference of the United States.
“However, in November 2011, GAO decided to reduce its checks of the Federal Register, and to stop notifying OMB about missing rules.”
As a consequence, GAO lost track of whether federal agencies were complying with the CRA. Between 2012 and 2014, “[m]ost of the 43 missing major and significant rules also did not appear to have been received by both houses of Congress – thereby preventing a Member of Congress from introducing a resolution of disapproval under the CRA.”
Since Congress can’t disapprove what it doesn’t know about, the Republicans that control the legislative branch should instruct GAO to ratchet up its oversight to ensure the Obama administration is CRA-compliant.
“Have you been researching a chronic illness like coronary artery blockage? Do you shop online for smoking-cessation aids? Are you investigating genetic markers for a certain type of breast cancer? Are you seeking help for financial problems, or for an addiction?”
Those are just some of the information items potentially being collected on Healthcare.gov – the federal government’s ObamaCare website used by millions of Americans to shop for health insurance.
A report by the Associated Press confirmed that “dozens” of third party vendors like Google, Twitter and Facebook are gleaning personal data points from Healthcare.gov users. These can be sold to internet advertisers to market products directly to consumers who’ve searched for similar items.
The hidden presence of these websites drew concern from two cyber security experts interviewed by the AP, in part because tracking firms can piece together a user’s identity through IP addresses and patterns of behavior.
Once upon a time there was concern that hackers would find a way to access a person’s health and financial records through a weakness in Healthcare.gov. As it turns out, all they need to do is pose as an e-commerce vendor.
Writing at The Federalist, my friend Andrew Carico gives some good advice to President Barack Obama ahead of the latter’s seventh State of the Union address tonight.
After recounting the descent of the event into a Woodrow Wilson-inspired laundry list of to-do items, Carico distinguishes a statesman from a leader, defining the former as “someone who understands constitutional principles, leads by way of those principles, and seeks to make those principles work in political life. He seeks to achieve stature in public office through toning down divisions and appealing to reason, not simply attempting to win the fight of the day by practicing the little arts of popularity.”
Carico’s description of the statesman sounds arguably like what some people thought they were getting when they voted for the orator who said, “there’s not a liberal America or a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”
It’s no coincidence that statesman-sounding Obama went from obscurity to the White House, while liberal demagogue Obama can’t crack a 50 percent approval rating.
For more of Carico’s excellent analysis, click here.
In a typically excellent commentary, AEI’s Michael Rosen suggests how Republicans can begin to correct their costly lag in attracting “votes and dollars from the high-tech industry,” and to “forge a technology policy rooted in free-market policy and updated to reflect and respond to 21st-century concerns.”
Mr. Rosen provides illustrations of the nature and depth of the problem, but also identifies recent progress made by various Republicans. Helpfully, he proceeds to identify three key components of a much-needed “technology manifesto”: (1) Address the needs and wants of the tech community without pandering to it; (2) Adhere to free-market values, but apply them intelligently to new technological challenges; and (3) Avoid soundbites – articulate sound explanations. He then cites AirBNB, Uber and other tech upstarts to apply his points.
Finally, Mr. Rosen smartly addresses the ongoing patent reform and patent “troll” debate that’s likely to reappear in the new Congress. Among other points, he highlights how litigation reform to curb trial lawyer abuses, as opposed to altering patents or intellectual property rights more generally, offers the primary corrective to the underlying problem:
Republican candidates must promote real innovation and reduce deadweight loss without succumbing to the temptation to demonize patent holders. The patent ‘troll’ reform debate contains multitudes, but the specific issue of attorney fees nicely encapsulates the tensions and the opportunities for GOP candidates… GOP candidates hoping to garner support in the tech community should resist their inclination to uproot centuries of American legal and intellectual property tradition simply to settle old scores, both in general and in the particular area of attorney fees. Rather than undo our longstanding ‘day in court’ practice by presumptively awarding fees to winning parties, as many Congressional Republicans seek to do, discerning free marketeers should push to modestly trim, not flip, the burden. This approach may not fully satisfy the rabidly anti-trial-lawyer conservative donor base, or, for that matter, large Silicon Valley companies pushing for significant changes to the patent system. But it will certainly find favor with small and large companies whose bottom lines – if not whose very existences – depend heavily on their IP assets. Such a nuanced position promotes innovation and comports with historical notions of American justice – two key themes Republicans looking to score points in the Valley must hammer home consistently.”
Excellent points with which CFIF has consistently agreed, apart from my need to assure him that at least this “anti-trial-lawyer conservative” tested negative for rabies.