Jason Pye

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Vulnerable Senate Democrats pledge to allegiance to Harry Reid

With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, some have wondered if that could bring to an end Harry Reid’s (D-NV) leadership of the Democratic conference. Many of his colleagues are already expressing support, according to Politico, regardless of the outcome of the 2014 election.

Among  those openly backing Reid to serve again as the party’s leader are Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor — three of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year:

“Absolutely,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, a vulnerable Louisiana Democrat facing voters this fall, said when asked if she would back Reid as leader no matter the outcome of the November elections. “We all share in success, we all share in the failures; we’re a team. But Harry Reid has tremendous respect of members of our caucus. … I don’t believe that he would be challenged in our party for leadership until he’s ready to step aside.”
[…]
“Yeah,” Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, another Democrat facing a tough race, said when asked if he’d back Reid again. “It’s up to him on whether he wants to do it.”

“Harry Reid is our leader, and I certainly do support Harry,” said Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). “And I have a huge race going on right now, and I will be victorious. And I will be back next year. And we can talk all about that then.”

Other potentially vulnerable Senate Democrats weren’t so willing to express support for Reid. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) hedged on the question, telling Politico he’s worried about their own political survival, while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wouldn’t comment.

Georgia mayor blasts Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group

David Lockhart and Truett Cathy

Pictured: Mayor David Lockhart and Chick-fil-a founder Truett Cathy

Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is working to recruit new members after suffering nearly two-dozen losses in municipal elections across the country last year.

Among those who have received a membership solicitation is David Lockhart, mayor of Forest Park, a small Georgia city just south of Atlanta.

In the email solicitation, Cyrus Garrett, coalition coordinator for the anti-gun group, stated that its “members are united in their belief that support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people.”

Mayors Against Illegal Guns promised Lockhart “a national voice on this issue and others,” adding that it will also give him “an opportunity to meet and learn from other mayors and policymakers.”

Lockhart, who was elected last year, was unimpressed. The Forest Park mayor didn’t just decline the invitation, he ripped the anti-gun group and its founder.

“I do not support your efforts. I oppose efforts to require private sellers with minimal sales (non-dealers) to perform background checks,” Lockhart wrote to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “I am proud that gun shows are regularly conducted in Forest Park.”

Large employers hit with thousands in increased health insurance costs

In a press conference at the White House on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that “the real reason to do the Affordable Care Act, which could not be avoided, was the cost of healthcare in our country was unsustainable.”

“Unsustainable to individuals, to small businesses, to corporate America,” she said. “It was a competitive issue internationally.”

The premium hikes caused by Obamacare have been well-publicized. Recent data suggest that the law has increased cost of health insurance for individuals. These increases surpass the average of the previous eight years combined, a consequence of the law’s actuarial requirements, taxes and fees, as well as the mandated essential benefits.

Small businesses have also cited the higher health insurances costs as an impairment to growth. A survey of small businesses conducted last fall found that owners would drop coverage for employees and trim hours to avoid added costs. This is a fact that the Obama administration has recognized, which is why it has twice delayed enforcement of the employer mandate.

Today in Liberty: Jobs report slightly below expectations, House votes to restore 40-hour week

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” — H.L. Mencken

— March jobs report: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 192,000 jobs were added in March, below projections, and the unemployment rate remained steady at 6.7%. Economists predicted 200,000 jobs and a 6.6% unemployment rate. The labor participation rate, however, ticked up slightly from 63% to 63.2%. This measure of Americans working and actively seeking employment has not been above 64% since December 2011, nearly two years after President Obama took office.

— Restoring the 40-hour work week: The House of Representatives passed a measure yesterday to change Obamacare’s definition of a full-time worker from 30 hours a week to 40 hours. The law’s definition of a full-time worker has caused many businesses to trim hours of part-time employees, known as “29ers,” to escape mandates and penalties. The White House, however, has threatened to veto the legislation, meaning that it’s unlikely the Senate will consider it.

Coalition urges Congress to pass meaningful NSA reform

A coalition compromised of nearly 40 groups expressed support for ending the federal government’s bulk data collection program in a letter to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and congressional leaders from both parties.

But the groups urged the administration and congressional leaders to go further than the limited duel proposals circulated last week by the White House and House Intelligence Committee by getting behind the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361).

“We the undersigned are writing to express support for ending the government’s bulk collection of data about individuals,” the coalition letter states. “We strongly urge swift markup and passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R.3361), which would enact appropriate surveillance reforms without sacrificing national security.”

“This letter focuses on bulk collection,” the groups continue, “but overbroad NSA surveillance raises many more privacy and security issues that Congress and the Administration should address.”

The letter focuses on specific areas of reform. The coalition explains that bulk collection should be prohibited for all types of data, not just phone records. The White House proposal is limited to phone records, leaving loopholes for the federal government to collect other types of records and data.

“Legislation that focuses only on phone records,” the letter says, “may still allow for the bulk collection of, for example, Internet metadata, location information, financial records, library records, and numerous other records that may help ‘identify unknown relationships among individuals.’”

Ryan’s budget increases spending by $1.2 trillion

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.

Justin Amash: Young people have lost trust in government

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.

Jindal offers state-focused Obamacare alternative

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.

Insurers continue to warn of premium increases

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.

House NSA reformer: “There’s more than enough votes to pass the FREEDOM Act”

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.

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