There are certainly some things to like about the budget proposal rolled out yesterday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). The “Path to Prosperity” attempts to return Medicare to solvency, for example, and repeal Obamacare.
Ryan claims that the budget “cuts $5.1 trillion in government spending,” a line that has been repeated in media reports on the proposal. But this is a budgetary trick. The House Budget Committee may slash projected federal outlays, but Nicole Kaeding of the Cato Institute explains that the proposal would actually increase spending by $1.2 trillion:
How can spending both be “slashed” and increased by $1.5 trillion? It’s because of the bizarre way that Washington discusses spending, which is known as baseline budgeting.
In Washington, all spending proposals are compared to the CBO’s baseline projections. The CBO releases these projections a couple times a year, which are based on their estimates of current federal law. Every proposal is then compared to this baseline. Inside-Washington discussions of spending cuts or increases are relative to CBO’s figures.
But this is a very different way of thinking about budgeting than used by families, who don’t assume that their income will go up automatically every year. Families prioritize, and they cut back when they need to make the books balance. Sadly, few proposals in Congress make tough trade-offs and cut actual levels of spending.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) is not your ordinary Republican. While most of his colleagues are interested in preserving the status quo, he has focused his efforts on transparency in government and protecting individual liberty.
Amash, 33, posts an explanation of every single vote he casts on his Facebook page, a practice he started when he served as a state legislator in Michigan. He has been one of the most consistent fiscal conservatives in the House of Representatives and has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the National Security Agency.
The libertarian-leaning Michigan Republican’s principled stands have often rattled the political establishment, which he wears as a badge of honor. In fact, his constituents in Michigan’s Third Congressional District have responded positively to his independence and willingness to speak out against House Republican leaders when they’re not backing up their rhetoric with bold action.
But Amash’s principled stands have motivated the establishment to recruit a primary challenger to run against him. His popularity both inside and outside in the district, however, has served him well.
The “Rebel Alliance,” what Amash calls his supporters, has stood strong behind him. He hauled in impressive $518,776 in the fourth quarter of 2013, of which $497,968 came from individual contributors. He raised $42,412.99 in a one-day money bomb event last week.
Through his nonprofit group, America Next, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has proposed The Freedom and Empowerment Plan, a comprehensive replacement for Obamacare that focuses state-level solutions to reduce healthcare costs.
“Repealing all of Obamacare is a good and necessary step — but not one sufficient by itself to achieve the real health reform America needs,” Jindal writes in the 26-page document outlining the plan. “The President was right about one thing: American health care did need reform. But Obamacare did not ‘reform’ American health care, so much as it took a dysfunctional system and made it dramatically worse.”
Some of the features of the plan are similar to other proposals. The Freedom and Empowerment Plan, for example, would reform the medical malpractice system. It would also make health insurance coverage more portable, expand access to health savings accounts (HSA), and allow Americans to purchase coverage across state lines.
The most notable part of the plan is that it would guarantee access to health insurance for Americans with preexisting conditions, pushing the idea of a “new $100 billion innovation pool.” In order to receive the funding for the high-risk pools, states will have to “guarantee access for individuals with pre-existing conditions.”
The Republican Study Committee pushed a similar approach to preexisting conditions. The American Health Care Reform act pledges $25 billion over 10 years to off-set costs as well as capping premiums at 200% of average premiums.
While President Barack Obama and his supporters were trumpeting the 7.1 million Obamacare “enrollment” mark, an almost meaningless given that up to 20% of purported enrollees haven’t paid, health insurance companies were, once again, warning of potentially shocking premium increases for 2015:
[I]nsurers have already said that the first group of new enrollees under Obamacare, as the law is widely known, represent a higher rate of older and costlier members than hoped. To keep their health plans from losing money in the coming years, many expect monthly premium rates to rise by double-digit percentages in some parts of the country.
That could set the stage for a public outcry ahead of congressional elections this year, giving ammunition to Republicans and creating new friction with the White House that could endure into the 2016 presidential election.
“I do think that it’s likely premium rate shocks are coming. I think they begin to make themselves at least partially known in 2015 and fully known in 2016,” said Chet Burrell, chief executive officer of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. “That will be different in different parts of the country. I don’t think it will be uniformly the same.”
The rate increases will be determined on a state-by-state basis, and the percentages of young and healthy people who selected plans in some states were better than others.
A leading critic of the NSA bulk data collection program says the votes exist in the House of Representatives to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, a sweeping measure that would end bulk data collection and protect Americans’ privacy rights.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) told The Hill last week that he would offer an amendment to address the NSA bulk meta collection programs if the White House and House Intelligence Committee proposal fall short. Now that he’s had time to review them, the Michigan Republican believes the dueling measures don’t stop bulk data collection at all.
“The proposals from the White House and the Intelligence Committee don’t really make much of a difference. They don’t actually stop bulk collection,” Amash said in an interview on Wednesday. “They transfer where the data is held, but the government can still access it in basically the same way.”
Amash supports the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced in October by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). This measure would not only end the bulk data collection program, it would also close loopholes the NSA could use to access Americans’ personal records.
The USA FREEDOM Act has broad, bipartisan support — a rarity in Washington these days — but it’s currently stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, though Amash notes that it has “a lot of support” from its members.
Pay no attention to that report finding that just one-third of Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured. One of the biggest arguments for the law doesn’t matter anymore, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
In a press conference at the White House yesterday, a reporter asked Pelosi if success of the law is measured by the number of uninsured people who signed up. “No,” she replied. “The measure is two-fold.”
“The message is how many people have access to healthcare — or quality, affordable healthcare than who didn’t,” she said. “The real reason to do the Affordable Care Act, which could not be avoided, was the cost of healthcare in our country was unsustainable.”
North Carolina election officials are looking into voter fraud after a crosscheck of registration databases found that 35,570 voters who cast ballots in 2012 may have also voted in other states in the same election year:
State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach said North Carolina’s check found 765 registered North Carolina voters who appear to match registered voters in other states on their first names, last names, dates of birth and the final four digits of their Social Security numbers. Those voters appear to have voted in North Carolina in 2012 and also voted in another state in 2012.
The crosscheck also found 35,570 voters in North Carolina who voted in 2012 whose first names, last names and dates of birth match those of voters who voted in other states in 2012, but whose Social Security numbers were not matched.
“A lot of states don’t provide last four SSN, or they don’t have that information,” Strach explained.
Additionally, the analysis found 155,692 registered North Carolina voters whose first and last names, dates of birth and final four Social Security number digits match voters registered in other states but who most recently registered or voted elsewhere.
The crosscheck is limited to the 28 states that participated in the Interstate Crosscheck program, so it’s quite possible that there more instances of double-voting in North Carolina that are going unnoticed.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been making headlines with his comments on the Senate floor. Calling citizens liars, acting on behalf of the Koch brothers was round one, followed by a denial that he’d ever said that.
While generally despicable, this sort of commentary from Reid is not uncommon. Some might explain it away by pointing out that he’s getting old, and has been in Washington for too long. This sort of situation definitely makes a case for term limits, however that’s a debate for another time.
No, perhaps it is time to revisit a time-honored portion of the Constitution that Senators and Representatives have enjoyed — arguably has kept quite a few, like Reid, from facing legal issues over statements they have made.
Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution protects them from facing legal action for statements that they make on the floor of either house. While it’s idealistic to think that the Framers intended this to prevent problems arising from unintentionally erroneous statements, that probably wasn’t the case. Even then, politics was a blood sport, so they wanted the freedom to beat each other verbally without any restrictions against lying about each other — or the public.
Reid, if one does not buy senility or insanity as an excuse, has been trying to elevate this practice of fibbing on the floor to an art form. His latest target was fellow member Tom Coburn, and Reid definitely is reaching for new depths with this one. Coburn is a medical doctor and is battling cancer.
There is some good news and bad news for Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) in the latest SurveyUSA poll out of North Carolina. Her approval rating has rebounded slightly, but she trails each of her potential Republican challengers.
The good news for Hagan is that SurveyUSA shows her approval rating on the rebound, though slightly. The poll, conducted from March 27-31, finds that 38% of North Carolina voters approve of her job performance, up from 34% in mid-March.
Hagan’s numbers improved across party lines with the biggest jump coming from independent voters, though she’s still underwater among this bloc (35/49). Her negatives, however, are still high. Fifty percent (50%) disapprove of her job performance, a slight drop from the 54% recorded in the previous poll.
The bad news for Hagan is that she trails each of her Republican challengers among likely voters, though most of her potential opponents are within the poll’s 2.6% margin of error.
State House Speaker Thom Tillis, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, leads Hagan by a razor-thin, 1-point margin (46/45). Greg Brannon (47/45), Heather Grant (46/44), and Ted Alexander (46/44) each lead the Democrat by 2 points. Mark Harris holds a 4-point lead over Hagan (46/44), the largest among her Republican challengers.
The mid-March poll didn’t pair Hagan against her Republican challengers.
Tillis still holds a lead among Republican primary voters, though his support dropped since the last poll, from 28% to 23%. Brannon takes 15%, the same as the previous poll.
Facing questions from reporters on Monday about Obamacare enrollments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the administration’s inability to come up with the number of paid premiums. But there was one particular part of his comments that stood out.
“We are talking about private insurance. This is not a government program,” Carney told reporters. “The contract that you sign if you get health insurance through Healthcare.gov or through a state marketplace is a private contract between you and an insurance company.”
PolitiFact named statements that Obamacare is “a government takeover of healthcare” as its “Lie of the Year” for 2010. The fact checker, however, only examined the statement through the most basic lens.
“‘Government takeover’ conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees,” Bill Adair and Angie Drobnic Holan wrote in December 2010. “But the law Congress passed, parts of which have already gone into effect, relies largely on the free market.”
It’s true that the Obamacare relies on private insurance companies participation in the state and federal exchanges. It’s also true that enrollees are entering into private contracts with insurers for coverage. But that doesn’t mean that Obamacare isn’t a government program.
Individual mandate: In a true free market, individuals decide for themselves if a product or service best suites their needs. Taking the politically convenient loopholes out of the equation, the individual mandate exists to coerce Americans into purchasing health plans.