Jason Pye

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IA Senate: Bruce Braley’s gaffe wasn’t really a gaffe

Bruce Braley

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) is still dealing with the fallout from a video leaked last Tuesday, National Agriculture Day, by America Rising.

In the video, the Iowa Democrat told a group of Texas trial lawyers that they should help him in what could be a contentious race that decides control of the chamber this fall, but, in doing so, Braley came across like he looks down on farmers, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

“To put this in stark contrast, if you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice,” Braley told the group. “Someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years, in a visible and public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

“Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa, who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he said to snickers in the room. “Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Yes, the Obama administration is cooking the books to boost Obamacare

In a segment on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) dismissed the claim that 6 million people have enrolled into health plans and accused the Obama administration of “cooking the books” to boost Obamacare enrollment numbers.

This all goes back to the Obama administration being unable to produce the number of paid enrollments. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged this last month, pointing to “major insurers who have placed [the number of paid enrollments] at 80%, give or take.” This estimate was repeated on Sunday by insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski.

“Of course, the more than 6 million enrollment the administration recently announced overstates Obamacare’s success because this includes enrollments that were never completed since the person never paid the premium,” wrote Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates. “There are lots of reasons why a consumer might not complete the enrollment,” citing enrollment errors or second thoughts.

Today in Liberty: Neocons are gunning for Rand Paul, Big Labor protests Heritage Foundation

“I follow a set of principles. I follow the Constitution. And that’s what I base my votes on; limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty.” — Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)

— April Fools: Not to take away anybody’s fun, but be careful what you link to, retweet, and like on Facebook today. There’s a good chance that it’s a joke. Don’t be the guy with derp all over his face. That said, we’ve already seen one pretty funny fake news story this morning.

— Obama administration claims original enrollment target in sight: Officials are saying that the Obamacare enrollment could hit the 7 million target, the original projection made by the Congressional Budget Office and touted by the administration. “According to the report, the goal was ‘in sight’ after consumers flooded the federal website and phone system in the final hours of open enrollment,” The Hill notes. “Hitting seven million enrollments would be a major symbolic achievement for the White House after the opening months of the ObamaCare exchanges were plagued by technical glitches that prevented many consumers from completing an application.” We’ll have more on this later today, but the paid numbers matter more than sign-ups. So even if the administration hits the 7 million figure, immediately subtract 20%.

Senate Democrat: White House’s NSA reforms don’t go far enough

Ron Wyden

Though he believes the White House’s proposed NSA reforms are a good start, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) says that President Barack Obama could do more to protect Americans’ right to privacy and gain back their trust.

“This starts towards what Ben Franklin had in mind, which is making sure that we can have security without sacrificing our liberties,” Wyden told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. “Now, there’s certainly more to do. For example, I believe the president ought to make the transition right away to ending bulk phone record collection.”

The Obama administration asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to extend the controversial domestic surveillance program for another 90 days while Congress examines legislative options. Wyden said that President Obama should end the bulk data collection program “right now.”

Wyden, who has been among the strongest critics of the NSA bulk data collection program, also said that Congress has to fix the “backdoor search loophole in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (FISA).

“This allows the government to look at the emails of law-abiding Americans. That needs to be fixed,” Wyden noted. “I believe strongly that we ought to ban all dragnet surveillance on law-abiding Americans, not just phone records, but also medical records, purchases, and others.”

Taxpayers on the hook for $1.2 trillion in corporate welfare since 2000

When we think about welfare, most of us think about government programs aimed at reducing poverty. While we point out that the poverty rate has remained virtually unchanged since the “war on poverty” began in 1964, despite spending $12 trillion, we tend to ignore the money spent on corporate welfare.

Most Republicans turn a blind eye to corporate welfare, after all, they say, it’s “good for business.” But what’s good for business isn’t always good for taxpayers. Writing at National Review, Stephen Moore points us to a study showing that the federal government has doled out $1.2 trillion in corporate welfare over since 2000, a figure that doesn’t even scratch the surface given the pervasiveness of bailouts and subsidies for favored, politically-connected industries:

This week an Illinois-based watchdog group, Open the Books, issued a new report that scrupulously tallies up all federal grants, loans, direct payments, and insurance subsidies flowing to individuals and companies. It examined all accounts from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Transportation and found that corporate-welfare payments from the federal government to the Fortune 100 companies, from 2000 to 2012, amounted to $1.2 trillion. I recommend a visit to the website openthebooks.com, if you can stomach it.

Middle school student comes up with easy way to save taxpayers $400 million

Government Printing Office

Suvir Mirchandani, a Pennsylvania middle school student, has come up with an easy way for the federal and state governments to save taxpayers some $400 million dollars in printing costs — they just need to change their typeface font to Garamond:

First, he charted how often each character was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans. Then he measured how much ink was used for each letter, using a commercial tool called APFill® Ink Coverage Software.

Next he enlarged the letters, printed them and cut them out on cardstock paper to weigh them to verify his findings. He did three trials for each letter, graphing the ink usage for each font.

From this analysis, Suvir figured out that by using Garamond with its thinner strokes, his school district could reduce its ink consumption by 24%, and in turn save as much as $21,000 annually.
[…]
Using the General Services Administration’s estimated annual cost of ink — $467 million — Suvir concluded that if the federal government used Garamond exclusively it could save nearly 30% — or $136 million per year. An additional $234 million could be saved annually if state governments also jumped on board, he reported.

This kid is brilliant. But given the way the federal government as well as some state governments work, it’s probably too easy. Most bureaucrats see it as their responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars because, if they don’t, they fear their budget will be trimmed. The mindset is “the more money we spend, the more we can justify ourselves.”

Maryland to scrap $126 million Obamacare exchange website

The spectacular failures of Maryland’s $125 million Obamacare exchange system and website, much of which was paid for through grants from the Obama administration, has led state officials to scrap it and start over, according to a report the Washington Post:

Maryland officials are set to replace the state’s online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut’s insurance marketplace, according to two people familiar with the decision, an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125.5 million is broken beyond repair.

The board of the Maryland exchange plans to vote on the change Tuesday, the day after the end of the first enrollment period for the state’s residents under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
[…]
As of last Saturday, 49,293 Maryland residents had enrolled in a private plan through the exchange, far short of the state’s original goal of 150,000 enrollments and shy even of its revised estimate of 75,000 to 100,000.

Some of the hardware that Maryland bought for its system, such as servers, can be salvaged, but the software and coding that are the guts of its online marketplace will be replaced, said the individuals familiar with the decision.

Video: Ted Cruz seeks to fire up conservative base for 2014

 Stand for Principle!

As part of an end of the quarter fundraising drive, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has released a new video featuring pieces of his speech at this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

The video — which, as some have noted, looks and sounds much like a presidential campaign video — is full of red meat for conservatives. “Defend the Constitution — all of it. Defend the First Amendment, the right to free speech, the right to a free press,” Cruz says in the video with dramatic music in the background. “The right to freedom of religion and that means, among other things, not having the IRS asking citizens: ‘tell me the content of your prayers.’”

“We need to stand for the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms,” he says. “We need to stand for the Fourth and Fifth Amendment’s right to privacy for every American.”

Cruz goes onto touch on school choice and the need to audit the Federal Reserve. He talks about abolishing the IRS and the national debt and standing on principle, a segue into last year’s fight to defund Obamacare. He then borrows a line from President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

HealthCare.gov down for maintenance on final Obamacare sign-up day

Healthcare.gov down for maintenance

It’s the final day of the first quarter of the year, which, if you’re a politics nerd, means that your inbox is filled with last-minute fundraising pleas from politicians and candidates looking hoping to post strong numbers on their next FEC disclosures.

It’s also the deadline to enroll in a health plan on the state and federal Obamacare exchanges, and the Obama administration is making its final push to get people enrolled. In a little more than a week, this author has received five emails from “The HealthCare.gov Team” with reminders that the March 31 deadline is approaching.

March 20 (click to enlarge):

March 26:

March 28:

March 29:

The last email, sent yesterday, March 30, says, “YOU ONLY HAVE 1 DAY LEFT!” to enroll in a health plan on the exchange. “Don’t put this off any longer,” they wrote. “We don’t want you to miss this opportunity for quality, affordable health coverage through the Marketplace.”

Today in Liberty: North and South Korea trade fire, Obama’s NSA reforms face big hurdles

“I think the impressionable libertarian kids are going to save our nation. The impressionable libertarian kids are saying, wait a second, benevolence is fleeting, and when benevolence is gone, you’re at the mercy of an all-powerful government and it’s too late.”Igor Birman

— North and South Korea exchange fire: North Korea decided to test fire some artillery into the ocean because Kim Jong-un wanted some attention. That led to a response from South Korea, though neither side fired any artillery on land or military installations, according to the AP. “North Korea routinely test-fires artillery and missiles into the ocean but rarely discloses those plans in advance. The announcement was seen as an expression of Pyongyang’s frustration at making little progress in its recent push to win outside aid,” the AP reported this morning. “No shells from either side were fired at any land or military installations, but Kim called the North’s artillery firing a provocation aimed at testing Seoul’s security posture. There was no immediate comment from North Korea.”

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