Today in Liberty: Obama ‘extremely troubled’ by VA report, economy contracted in 1Q, Snowden speaks about NSA power

“Every once in a while, somebody has to get the bureaucracy by the neck and shake it loose and say ‘stop doing what you’re doing.’” — Ronald Reagan

— VA inspector general’s report finds serious problems nationwide: The lede in Politico’s story on the VA inspector general’s report is just devastating to the Obama administration. “At least 1,700 veterans waiting for health care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs medical facility were not included on the facility’s wait list, and patients there waited an average of 115 days for their first appointments,” Jeremy Herb writes. “The IG’s preliminary review was critical of the VA’s practices. It found that 226 veterans in Phoenix waited an average of 115 days for their first appointment, with 84 percent waiting more than the department’s 14-day goal. The Phoenix facility had reported those 226 veterans waited an average of 24 days, and only 43 percent waited more than two weeks.” The IG’s report, however, didn’t blame the wait times on the deaths of 40 veterans. But it’s not limited to the Phoenix hospital, according to the report, it’s “systemic problem nationwide.” Still, President Obama, who is “extremely troubled” by the report, remains undecided on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s future. He has, however, placed Shinseki on “probation,” because when there is a problem in government this big — possibly, if not likely resulting in the in the deaths of dozens of veterans — this White House grounds the official. Did President Obama also take back Shinseki’s allowance? Anyway, Senate Democrats are beginning to react. Sens. Mark Udall (D-CO), John Walsh (D-MT), and Kay Hagan (D-NC) called for Shinseki’s resignation yesterday.

— GDP contracted in 1Q of 2014: The Wall Street Journal reports via Twitter that the economy contracted by 1 percent in the first quarter of 2014. “Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, contracted at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.0% in the first three months of the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday,” the paper explains. “It was the first time economic output contracted since the first quarter of 2011, when it declined at a 1.3% pace.” Previous reports had pegged GDP growth an anemic 0.1 percent. For those wondering, a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of contraction.

— In case you missed it: Here is NBC’s interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. We’re not saying that we trust the guy implicitly, though we do respect what he did, but some of the things Snowden said make us want to live in the woods, completely disconnected from any technology. Snowden, for example, said that the NSA can “own [a] phone the minute it connects to their network” and that a simple Google search that a user does can tell intelligence agencies everything they need to know. “You probably speak English. You are probably an American. You are interested in this sport. They might know what your habits are” Snowden told NBC’s Brian Williams. “Where were you in the world when you checked the score? Do you check it when you travel? Do you check it when you’re at home? They could tell your pattern of life. Where are you doing these activities? When do you wake up? When do you go to sleep? What other phones are around you? Are you with someone who’s not your wife? Are you someplace that you shouldn’t be?”

— Democrats break with Obama on war powers: Democrats from both chambers want to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has been expanded to make virtually any country in the world a potential battlefield. “A growing number of Democrats say it is time to scrap a law passed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that two administrations have used to justify military actions around the world,” The Hill notes. “They say a new resolution more narrowly tailored to Obama’s vision for fighting terrorists that would limit the administration’s powers needs to be adopted.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) offered an amendment last week to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to sunset the 2001 AUMF after one-year, but it was defeated on the floor in a 191 to 233 vote.

— RSC to pressure GOP leadership on Obamacare alternative: Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-LA) will push Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders to hold a vote on American Health Care Reform Act, a conservative healthcare reform proposal introduced back in September. “The American people can’t afford to wait any longer for Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare,” said Scalise, according to Politico. “The time is now to bring an Obamacare replacement bill to the House floor that lowers costs and puts patients back in charge of their health care decisions.” While Republican leaders promised to hold a vote on an alternative this year, they’ve since been very quiet on the issue, choosing to stay focused on the mid-term election.

— Hi, France, meet the Laffer curve: Francois Hollande’s big tax increases haven’t worked out the way he hoped. “The French government faces a 14bn-euro black hole in its public finances after overestimating tax income for the last financial year,” BBC reports. “The Court of Auditors said receipts from [the income tax, VAT, and corporate tax hikes] amounted to an extra 16bn euros in 2013. That was a little more than half the government’s forecast of 30bn euros of extra tax income.” France’s unemployment rate is 10.2 percent and economic growth has been weak or nonexistent.

— Bipartisan push to force DOJ to respect medical marijuana laws: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will reportedly offer an amendment to the Commerce, Science and Justice (CJS) appropriations bill this morning to prohibit the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws, according to a press release from Americans for Safe Access. The amendment is cosponsored by Sam Farr (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Paul Broun (R-GA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Barbara Lee (D-CA). Rohrbacher offered the amendment in May 2012. It was defeated on a 163 to 262 vote. You can listen to Rohrabacher talk about the issue here and read the full text of his amendment below.

— Employers face fines from the IRS if they push workers into Obamacare: This is a story from the weekend that slipped past us. The imperial IRS has quietly pushed through a rule that imposes a hefty fine on employers that push workers into the Obamacare exchanges. “Many employers had thought they could shift health costs to the government by sending their employees to a health insurance exchange with a tax-free contribution of cash to help pay premiums, but the Obama administration has squelched the idea in a new ruling,” The New York Times reports. “Such arrangements do not satisfy the health care law, the administration said, and employers may be subject to a tax penalty of $100 a day — or $36,500 a year — for each employee who goes into the individual marketplace.” This relates to the employer mandate, a provision that has been delayed by the Obama administration until 2016.

— How Rand Paul spent his spring break: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), an ophthalmologist by trade, spent part of his spring recess from Washington performing free eye surgeries for uninsured patients.

— Statists gonna state: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking to enact a new gun control law that would require firearms dealers to record every transaction on video, because background checks and receipts aren’t good enough, apparently. “The shops would have to install exterior lighting, surveillance cameras, and alarm systems, and provide secure storage of guns and ammunition. Police would have to approve a store’s security plan before it could open,” CBS Chicago explains. “Cameras would have to record all sales of guns, and shops would not be allowed to sell more than one handgun per month to a single customer.”

— #PANIC #DOOM #OBLITERATED: We’re going to do a story on the panicky emails we get every day — sometimes three or four times a day — from Democrat-affiliated groups, including the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, urging supporters to donate money because they’re being outspent by (gasp!) the Koch brothers or Karl Rove, but Andrew Stiles beat us to it.

— Health insurance mandates are another example of cronyism: This issue has received more attention in recent years because of the health insurance mandates imposed by the Obama administration. While those who push mandates claim they’re essential to healthcare, it’s more likely that they’re essential to padding some politically connected interest’s bottomline. Douglas Webber and James Bailey of the Mercatus Center have a new working paper out that dives into the political roots of health insurance mandates. “We find that states with more doctors per capita pass more mandates, and that political contributions by insurance companies reduce the number of mandates passed. States where the Democratic party has more political power do not pass more mandates once other factors are controlled for,” Webber and Bailey explain (PDF). “Our results strongly suggest that health insurance mandates are driven more by interest groups than by ideology. In particular, they appear to be driven by health care providers more than by patients.”

Other items we’re reading this morning:

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