Archive for December, 2013
December 30th, 2013 at 7:44 pm
Up Next: ObamaCare Dictator?

Since President Barack Obama refuses to replace any of his political appointees responsible for the epic bureaucratic failure that is, liberal supporters of health care reform are trying to turn the crisis into a potential power grab.

“Advocates have been quietly pushing the idea of a CEO who would set marketplace rules, coordinate with insurers and state regulators on the health plans offered for sale, supervise enrollment campaigns and oversee technology,” says a Reuters report.

The move would consolidate responsibility in the hands of one person that reports directly to the White House.

In other words, it would create a “ Czar,” or, to use the title preferred by FDR when naming such deputies, a dictator.

Since no such position exists in the text of Obamacare, its creation would amount to a unilateral executive action by the President. Unlike the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the proposed dictator would not be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. If created, the position would be immune from virtually any oversight from Congress.

Moreover, erecting a CEO within the confines of the White House would be a fundamental rejection of the intended operating structure of Obamacare by the very President who signed it into law.

These reasons, plus others, may explain why the White House is said not to be entertaining such a drastic break with the health law’s basic architecture. Even they fear the likely blowback from a move that further centralizes political control of the health insurance industry.

Still, the fact that Obama’s most liberal supporters are pushing this idea – including Ezekiel Emanuel and wonks at the Center for American Progress – shows that the tendency on the Left is to interpret any problem in implementation as stemming from a lack of power. The endpoint for them is a single-payer system run exclusively by the feds.

Even if this proposal goes nowhere, its currency among the liberal elite shows us where this train is heading. Better to dismantle it before it passes the point of no return.

December 27th, 2013 at 5:37 pm
Holiday Reading Recommendation: “Days of Fire”
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If you were fortunate enough to receive a gift card for a book-seller this Christmas (economists would remind us, after all, that gift cards are one of the few economically efficient Christmas gifts), allow me to make a recommendation: Peter Baker’s recent book, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House.

If you’re like me, you may have an appetite for behind-the-scenes D.C. storytelling, but always wind up reading such volumes with skepticism; who knows, after all, who’s interpretation of events to give credence to, or what personal or professional agendas drive the final text (Bob Woodward, for instance, is famous for tilting his narratives in favor of the people who proved to be his best sources)?

As our regular readers may know, I served in the Bush Administration, working as one of the president’s speechwriters in the second term. Given the knowledge that experience imparted, I can tell you that Days of Fire is far and away the most judicious and even-handed account of the Bush Administration I’m aware of (my friend, Matthew Hennessey at City Journal, gives a good summation of why here).

Days of Fire never succumbs to either of the twin pathologies of presidential chronicles: hagiography or axe-grinding. Instead, it gives you just the facts, albeit in an addictive, page-turning fashion (there are lots of little anecdotes that only enhance the readability). You get a good sense of the various ideological positions of the key players in the Bush Administration, as well as the personality traits that shaped them and the Administration.

Baker does an exquisite job of presenting the material and allowing you to make your own judgments. While I wasn’t around for many of the events in the book, the ones I was present for are represented with dispassionate accuracy. All those that preceded my time are also described in the same terms on which I was made to understand them during my White House tenure.

This is a necessary reading whether you’re a Bush fan or a Bush critic (ditto Cheney). This is one of the few books that portrays either man in three dimensions and it will give you a great sense of how truly complicated, taxing, inspiring, and frustrating a presidency can be. Highly recommended.

December 27th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
NSA Program Upheld in NY After Losing in DC

Earlier today a federal judge in New York ruled that the National Security Agency’s warrantless phone record collections are constitutional.

Because the decision conflicts with a previous ruling from the District of Columbia, today’s ruling makes it much more likely that the United States Supreme Court will eventually weigh in.

As always, the outcome will depend heavily on which frame the Court adopts.

In the D.C. case, Judge Richard Leon emphasized the extent to which the NSA’s program violated fundamental norms of privacy, and pronounced it unconstitutional. “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval,” wrote Leon.

However in New York, Judge William Pauley took a more sympathetic view of the government’s argument. To him the program “significantly increases the NSA’s capability to detect the faintest patterns left behind by individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations. Armed with all the metadata, NSA can draw connections it might otherwise never be able to find.”

Though my inclination is to side with Judge Leon’s disapproval, I’m withholding judgment while Congress deliberates. As Judge Pauley correctly notes, “The question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds that it is. But the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide.”

It’s a debate we can’t afford to take lightly.

December 26th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
Obamacare’s Christmas Hangover

As Americans awake from the annual Christmas spending spree, a new set of bills is coming due in January – Obamacare-related taxes and fees.

The New York Post offers a summary:

·    A 2 percent levy on every health plan, which is expected to net about $8 billion for the government in 2014 and increase to $14.3 billion in 2018

·    A $2 fee per policy that goes into a new medical research trust called the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute

·    Insurers pay a 3.5 percent user fee to sell medical plans on the website, which is passed onto consumers

·    A 2.3 percent medical device tax that will inflate the cost of items such as pacemakers, stents and prosthetic limbs

·    An added 0.9 percent Medicare surtax on top of the existing 1.45 percent Medicare payroll tax for families making over $200,000 and individuals making more than $250,000 annually

·    The same groups will also pay an extra 3.8 percent Medicare tax on unearned income, such as investment dividends, rental income and capital gains

The government Grinches even swiped the income tax deduction for medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of a person’s annual income. In 2014 it will jump to 10 percent.

‘Tis the season for a heavier tax burden.

December 25th, 2013 at 9:30 am
Video: 2013’s Naughty and Nice List
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In this week’s Freedom Minute, Renee Giachino presents CFIF’s nominations for this year’s naughty and nice lists.

December 24th, 2013 at 2:02 pm
Extended Obamacare Deadline Explained

If you’re fretting over whether to interrupt Christmas Eve activities to sign up for an Obamacare insurance plan, fear not.

“Today’s the deadline to sign up for health insurance on if you want that insurance to start by January 1st. But that’s it,” explains Ezra Klein. “If you don’t sign up today and instead sign up on Friday, or next Tuesday, your insurance will kick in a bit after January 1st. There’s no difference in premiums. There’s no difference in plans. There are no penalties.”

I bolded the last sentence to draw attention to an important piece of information often missed in the reporting about the January 1st start date. As Klein says, “The [individual] mandate only kicks in when people have a coverage gap of longer than three consecutive months during the year. That means that buying insurance any time before the end of March [i.e. the end of the open enrollment period on the exchanges] is good enough to avoid the penalty.”

The upshot: Maybe by March the federal government will have fixed all the problems with Obamacare. Maybe. For now, enjoy the Christmas season.

December 23rd, 2013 at 1:39 pm
Obamacare Enrollment Deadline Extended Again

With the Obama administration fearing a surge of users trying to enroll in an Obamacare exchange insurance plan ahead of the midnight deadline today, government officials and IT contractors extended the cutoff over the weekend without bothering to issue a public notice.

The new deadline is midnight of Christmas Eve.

For those trying to lock-in coverage by January 1st – and thus avoid an IRS penalty – the extension is good news. But for the insurance industry, it’s another unwelcome, unaccountable administrative fiat.

“The extension, said the sources, cannot be overridden by insurance companies if they object to it,” reports National Review Online. “It is the latest of several last-minute, ad hoc rule changes issued by the administration, including last week’s announcement that individuals whose insurance plans were [canceled] may receive an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.”

Until Obamacare is repealed and the federal government is divested of its power to dictate – and change – so many important terms at its whim, volatility in the health insurance market looks like it’s here to stay.

December 23rd, 2013 at 9:11 am
Ramirez Cartoon: Trust?
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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.

December 22nd, 2013 at 12:16 pm
Podcast: The Latest IRS Targeting
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In an interview with CFIF, Bradley A. Smith, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission and Founder and Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, discusses the latest IRS power grab – proposed IRS rules that, if approved, will severely limit the free speech rights of 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organizations.

Listen to the interview here.

December 20th, 2013 at 12:02 pm
Individual Mandate Starts to Crumble

Late yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that anyone whose individual insurance policy was cancelled due to Obamacare and now has to pay for a more expensive plan is exempt from the individual mandate until 2015.

You read that right. The individual mandate – the keystone of Obamacare’s coverage and funding structure – no longer applies to an estimated 5 million Americans.

This is HUGE. By granting this carve-out, the Obama administration has voluntarily weakened the mechanism that is supposed to guarantee insurance companies selling plans through an Obamacare exchange sufficient numbers of people to fill out their risk pools.

Now, suddenly, these companies are facing the very real possibility that millions of people will choose to hold off buying insurance until they get sick. The new exemption changes a consumer’s calculation. Prior to yesterday, all the emphasis was on signing up by the December 23rd deadline to avoid a 2014 tax penalty.

Now, for up to 5 million people, the decision point to buy insurance occurs when they get sick. Thus, insurance companies won’t get to spread the risk of illness by banking premium payments from healthy people. Many more people buying insurance going forward will need costly care the moment they sign up.

In other words, this move destroys the nature of insurance.

It’s also indefensible as a matter of justice to require the uninsured to comply with the mandate.

“Put more simply, Republicans will immediately begin calling for the uninsured to get this same exemption. What will the Obama administration say in response? Why are people whose plans were cancelled more deserving of help than people who couldn’t afford a plan in the first place?” asks Ezra Klein.

As I said in my column this week, Obamacare’s failures are completely that fault of its supporters. Republicans shouldn’t help fix something that is so broken. 2014 should be the year the GOP unites around a viable alternative to replace this monstrosity after it is repealed.

December 20th, 2013 at 10:45 am
Liberty Update
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Center For Individual Freedom - Liberty Update

This week’s edition of the Liberty Update, CFIF’s weekly e-newsletter, is out. Below is a summary of its contents:

Lee:  Gallup:  Obama Has Driven Americans’ Fear of Government to Record High
Senik:  Obama’s Inequality Canard
Ellis:  ObamaCare is Broken. Republicans Shouldn’t Fix It.
Hillyer:  How to Win the Next Budgetary Fight

Video:  2013’s Naughty and Nice List
Podcast:  The Latest IRS Targeting – Interview w/Former FEC Chairman Brad Smith
Jester’s Courtroom:  Christmas “Grinch” Gets 70 Years

Editorial Cartoons:  Latest Cartoons of Michael Ramirez
Quiz:  Question of the Week
Notable Quotes:  Quotes of the Week

If you are not already signed up to receive CFIF’s Liberty Update by e-mail, sign up here.

December 19th, 2013 at 7:58 pm
Life of Julia & Pajama Boy Ends in Debt

The arrival of Obamacare’s ‘Pajama Boy’ ad campaign coincides with an awful truth the supporters of Big Government don’t want the young and trendy to hear.

If you haven’t yet seen the ad yet Rich Lowry has a picture and an explanation of where it fits in the Obama universe: “But it’s hard not to see Pajama Boy as an expression of the Obama vision, just like his forbear Julia, the Internet cartoon from the 2012 campaign. Pajama Boy is Julia’s little brother. She progressed through life without any significant family or community connections. He is the picture of perpetual adolescence. Neither is a symbol of self-reliant, responsible adulthood.

“And so both are ideal consumers of government. Julia needed the help of Obama-supported programs at every juncture of her life, and Pajama Boy is going to get his health insurance through Obamacare.”

They are also the cohort most likely to pay the bills for all this consumption.

“The current $17 trillion aggregate debt is largely a result of out-of-control entitlement obligations that skyrocketed over the last 20 years and largely were paid out to those over the age of 30,” writes Victor Davis Hanson.

Too bad Julia and Pajama Boy never mention that those under 30 will be the ones paying the bills for decades to come.

December 19th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
Podcast – The Senate Filibuster Rules Change: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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In an interview with CFIF, Carrie Severino, Chief Counsel and Policy Director of the Judicial Crisis Network, discusses the Senate filibuster rules change and judicial nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Listen to the interview here.

December 19th, 2013 at 1:28 pm
Baucus Beijing Appointment Shows White House Running Scared in 2014
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Word leaked out yesterday that the White House is planning on nominating veteran Montana Senator Max Baucus (a Democrat) to become the new U.S. Ambassador to China. This continues this Administration’s long pattern of using the ambassadorial post in Beijing to take care of domestic political concerns rather than to strengthen our hand in international affairs.

Recall that Obama’s first appointment to the post was Jon Huntsman, then the Republican Governor of Utah. The Administration’s political hacks crowed at the time that this was a bit of Machiavellian genius, having sent Obama’s foremost potential rival for the 2012 presidential election halfway around the world. There were only two problems with that theory: (1) The Republican primary electorate had no real interest in Huntsman (Team Obama should have realized that anyone they saw as an appealing Republican would be a non-starter in a GOP election) and (2) Huntsman proved this fact by resigning the post a few years in and returning stateside to run against the president anyway. He was then subsequently replaced by Secretary of Commerce (and former Washington Governor) Gary Locke, whose primary qualification seemed to be his Chinese ancestry.

My first reaction to the Baucus appointment was precisely the one that NBC’s First Read highlights this morning:

Ever since Baucus said he wasn’t running for re-election — and after former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) took a pass on running — Montana has become a clear pick-up opportunity for Republicans, giving them a do-able shot at netting the six seats needed to win back the Senate next year.

But yesterday’s news means that the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, gets to appoint a replacement for Baucus, and most observers believe the replacement pick will be Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D), who is already running for Baucus’ seat.

Putting someone like Walsh in the Senate would boost his name ID, give him the benefits of incumbency (staff, official duties), and potentially clear the Democratic primary (although it seems like fellow candidate John Bohlinger is someone who isn’t easily persuaded to get out of a race).

At a minimum, Walsh — as an appointed senator — basically moves this race from Lean Republican to Toss Up.

This is a time-honored tradition of political gamesmanship, but one that I’m not sure will be adequate next year. In a normal election cycle, such humble benefits may be a difference-maker. In this one — which Republicans would be wise to make a national referendum on ObamaCare —it may not be enough to get it done. True, Montana often elects Democrats (though it consistently votes Republican in presidential races), but it’s a fundamentally conservative state. If there’s any year they’re going to look at Democrats with a jaundiced eye, it will be 2014. Republicans, of course, still need a viable candidate, but this is going to be tough sledding for the left.

This appointment shows us two things: (1) The Obama Administration is far too careless in making its foreign policy appointments and (2) they’re already scared to death of what the 2014 midterm elections will look like. The first is regrettable. The second may represent some rare interaction between this administration and reality.

December 19th, 2013 at 1:22 pm
Trey Gowdy on Benghazi

… and on the press’ dereliction of duty. This is what more vulgar people would use a word starting with the letter after “E”, and then then word “awesome,” to describe. 


December 18th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
HHS Threatening to Expel Insurers That Don’t Give Away Free Health Care

New regulations by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) say that the price of not complying with government demands to lose money will result in being kicked off Obamacare exchanges next year, reports Avik Roy.

“We are considering factoring into the [qualified health plan] renewal process, as part of the determination regarding whether making a health plan available… how [insurers] ensure continuity of care during transitions,” HHS warns.

‘Continuity of care’ refers directly to the massive disruptions in health insurance coverage meted out by Obamacare. With only a fraction of enrollees likely to have paid their premium in time to be covered by January 1, many people who think they are covered won’t be.

But that’s if ordinary rules of insurance coverage apply. In order to avoid another PR disaster, HHS is demanding that insurance companies pay for services even if the claimant hasn’t paid her premium. Refusal to do so would disrupt continuity of care, and thus give HHS – according to its self-serving rule – reason to expel the insurance company from selling plans on an Obamacare exchange.

Roy says this latest move by HHS is lawless and unconstitutional. I agree. But the worst thing about it is that the insurance companies most vulnerable to this type of abuse probably won’t challenge the Obama administration in court, since doing so would likely get them kicked off the exchanges they have spent three years reorganizing their business model around.

This is gangster government.

December 18th, 2013 at 11:07 am
Ramirez Cartoon: Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing
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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.

December 17th, 2013 at 6:53 pm
GOP to Strike Back on Debt Limit?

If you’re disappointed by Paul Ryan’s budget deal to avoid another government shutdown, the House Budget Chairman has a message for you.

Wait till February.

That’s when the debt limit will be reached and, according to Ryan, when Republicans in Congress will try to extract some meaningful concessions from Democrats.

Of course, Ryan didn’t divulge any specifics about what kind of concessions would qualify, likely because he’s waiting for the results from a GOP confab in the New Year to settle on a strategy.

I’m skeptical. Ryan’s budget deal takes most of the obvious targets off the table until 2015 – that is, after the midterm elections – making it hard to see what leverage he and other Republicans in Congress can exert on Democrats and President Barack Obama to curb their spending habits.

If recent history is any guide, the most likely scenario is that Republicans continue to fracture over fiscal issues while the Democrats get an assist from the mainstream media in raising the debt limit.

The bitter pill for conservatives to swallow is that House Republicans have almost no ability to make substantive changes in law or policy unless and until the party regains control of the Senate. If the upper chamber flips next year then the silver lining to Ryan’s budget deal and the likely debt ceiling capitulation it’s that they might be the last time the GOP negotiates from a position of weakness.

December 16th, 2013 at 7:03 pm
Judge Casts Legal Doubt on NSA Spying

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the National Security Agency (NSA) today, reports Politico.

The 68-page ruling sets up the possibility that some or all of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance practices could be banned as violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unlawful searches and seizures.

Due to U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s tone, it sounds like he’s leaning toward striking the program down.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval,” Leon wrote.

Since Leon seems likely to convert his preliminary order into a permanent injunction, expect to see this case – and perhaps others – arrive on the Supreme Court’s docket soon. Along the way there will be no shortage of arguments about arcane legal precedents and policy disputes over national security.

All of these are important considerations, but – in my view – the most appropriate place for their deliberation is Congress, not the courts. Maybe what NSA is doing can be justified under the Constitution as a legitimate national security measure. Maybe not. Either way, ultimately it should be decided by the branch most responsive – and responsible – to the People.

December 16th, 2013 at 2:51 pm
RADIO SHOW LINEUP: CFIF’s Renee Giachino Hosts “Your Turn” on WEBY Radio 1330 AM
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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 Common Sense.”  Today’s guest lineup includes:

4:00 (CST)/5:00 pm (EST):  Bradley A. Smith, Chairman and Founder of the Center for Competitive Politics – Proposed IRS Rules on 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Groups;

4:30 (CST)/5:30 (EST):  Romina Boccia, Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Budgetary Affairs at The Heritage Foundation – Congressional Budget Deal;

5:00 (CST)/6:00 pm (EST):  Carrie Severino, Chief Counsel and Policy Director of the Judicial Crisis Network – DC Circuit Court Appointments and Filibuster; and

5:30 (CST)/6:30 pm (EST):  Jim Lacy, attorney, political communications expert and author – “Taxifornia: Liberals’ Laboratory to Bankrupt America.”

Listen live on the Internet here.   Call in to share your comments or ask questions of today’s guests at (850) 623-1330.