federal government

NSA update: Government fights transparency, House plans vote to codify domestic spying

Americans have been inundated with stories about the Obamacare meltdown, there has been some news about the NSA and domestic surveillance programs in the last few days, and none of it is good.

TechDirt reported on Tuesday that Justice Department is fighting a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order to release the government’s secret interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Section 215 of the 2001 anti-terrorism law has been used to justify domestic spying programs employed by the NSA, despite a clear limitation on whom the government can collect information. At some point since its passage, however, the government came up with its own interpretation that says something entirely different.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who sponsored the law, contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision only allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.

“The phone records of innocent Americans do not relate to terrorism, whatsoever; and they are not reasonably likely to lead to information that relates to terrorism,” said Sensenbrenner in a speech last month at the Cato Institute. “Put simply, the phone calls we make to our friends, our families, and business associates are private and have nothing to do with terrorism or the government’s efforts to stop it.”

Oregon hasn’t enrolled anyone through Obamacare exchange

Cover Oregon

More than a month after the launch of its Obamacare exchange, Cover Oregon has yet to enroll anyone into a government-approved health plan, despite receiving $59 million from the federal government to assist with implementation of the law:

Despite grand ambitions, an early start, millions of dollars from the federal government and a tech-savvy population, Oregon’s online enrollment system still isn’t ready more than a month after it was supposed to go live. The state has resorted to hiring or reassigning 400 people to process insurance applications by hand.

“We’re all surprised and frustrated that we’re in the position that we’re in now,” said Jesse O’Brien, a health care advocate at the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, which lobbied for the exchange.

The state has received about 18,000 paper applications, at 19 pages each, and is scrambling to manually file and clear them. State officials have not been able to say when they expect the online system to launch, nor have they established a deadline to submit paper applications in order for coverage to begin Jan. 1. Meanwhile, the exchange’s board is demanding answers from the executive director about when the website will work and how his team will get people enrolled on time.

Poll: 56% of Americans say healthcare isn’t a government responsibility

The number of Americans who don’t believe that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone hasn’t health insurance coverage is on the rise, according to a new poll from Gallup.

The poll found that just 42% of Americans believe that the federal government should take responsibility to ensure health coverage, down from 50% just two years ago. In 2006, 69% believed it was a government responsibility.

A majority of Americans, 56%, said that the federal government doesn’t have a responsibility to ensure health coverage. That’s up 10 points from 2011 and a substantial shift in opinion since 2000.

The poll comes amid a disastrous rollout of Obamacare, which has further soured public opinion toward the law. Gallup also noted, separately, that 53% of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s job performance. Just 41% approve.

Gallup notes that 86% of Republicans, 55% of independents, and 30% of Democrats oppose a federal government role in ensuring health insurance coverage. As you can see below, the shift really began in 2009 when the debate over healthcare reform began in Washington.

Coalition calls on states to stop supporting NSA spying programs

Organizations from varied political backgrounds have come together to launch a campaign that would tackle the NSA spying problem locally. The coalition led by the Tenth Amendment Center believes that the plan they have outlined and hope to get state legislators to support would ensure that the federal government’s efforts to collect phone, e-mail and other private digital data would be undermined.

The website OffNow.org was launched to give the public easy access to what the Tenth Amendment Center wishes to accomplish and how activists believe they can make it work.

According to the coalition, the piece of legislation they have written to be used as a model, the 4th Amendment Protection Act, would keep state and local governments from being required to help the National Security Agency to implement spying programs within their districts.

Local agencies would not be required to assist the NSA with the delivery of natural resources the facilities that run these programs require to function properly.

The idea came about when reports concerning Utah’s NSA data collection center using up to 1.7 million gallons of water per day made the news. While the state of Utah is the second driest state in the United States, it still provides a great amount of water to a facility run by the federal government to collect phone and Internet data, but does it have to?

Rand Paul: Obama, Democrats “have rejected every compromise”

 Re-Open the Federal Government

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave an impassioned plea on Wednesday to his Democratic colleagues to approve measures passed by the House of Representatives to reopen parts of the federal government affected by the government shutdown.

Paul, a likely candidate for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016, countered arguments that Republicans are unwilling to negotiate to end the government shutdown and slammed the “farce” of closing federal memorials and monuments.

“We’ve offered request after request to reopen the government. We’ve offered to negotiate. From the other side, we hear, we will not negotiate. We will not compromise. And we will not reopen the government,” said Paul from the Senate floor. “We have offered 13 different compromises today to reopen the government. We are willing to open the government, and they say, oh, you must agree to everything or we will open nothing. We will not compromise, and we say to them, why don’t we open the parts of government that we agree to?”

Fox News poll: Blame for shutdown spread equally, ObamaCare still unpopular

Though his approval rating is still underwater, President Barack Obama has seen his numbers jump slightly since early last month, according to a wide-ranging poll released on Friday by Fox News. But ObamaCare remains unpopular and blame for the government shutdown is spread around evenly.

The poll found that President Obama’s approval rating now stands at 45%, while 49% disapprove of his job performance. That’s up from 40/54 in September. Congress, on the other hand, saw its approval rating fall, from an already abysmal 17/75 last month to 13/81 in October.

President Obama’s approval ratings on key issues have increased slightly. He sees a 7-point jump on healthcare, from 38/58 in September to 45/51 in October. His approval rating on the economy didn’t see as high of a jump, but it did increase slightly from a tepid 37/60 last month to 40/56 this month.

The uptick in President Obama’s numbers can probably be attributed to the government shutdown. To this point, the White House has been more effective in their messaging to the American public than congressional Republicans, who face hurdle due to the media’s general deference to President Obama. It is important to note, however, that his approval ratings are still underwater across the board, and has been underwater since almost mid-July.

But when it comes to President Obama’s signature law, the Affordable Care Act (or “ObamaCare,” as we’ve come to know it), Americans’ still aren’t fans and would like to see changes.

CBS News: Just 18% of the government has actually shutdown

CBS News -- 18% of government is shutdown

Despite all the doom and gloom rhetoric, the “government shutdown” isn’t actually a government shutdown in the true sense of the term as the vast majority of federal spending is exempt from the budget battles raging in Congress.

“So how much of the government is shutting down? We were surprised when our research department came up with this. Turns out 82 percent of spending is exempt from the shutdown; that includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the debt,” noted Scott Pelley of the CBS Evening News. “The part subject to the shutdown is only 18%.”

No, President Obama, the federal government isn’t the economy

The speechwriters at the White House have dug deep into their rhetorical bag of tricks to help President Barack Obama get public sentiment on his side over funding for the federal government and the debt ceiling.

During a speech last week in Maryland, President Obama told those in attendance that not only were Republicans threatening a government shutdown, they were threatening a so-called “economic shutdown” as they tried negotiate changes or delays to ObamaCare for a debt ceiling increase.

“Some of the same Republicans who warned three years ago that this law would be “Armageddon” — that’s what they said — “Armageddon” — now they’re threatening steps that actually would badly hurt our entire economy — not because of the Affordable Care Act but because of what they’re threatening to do,” said President Obama last Thursday in Largo, Maryland.

“Some have threatened a government shutdown if they can’t shut down this law. Others have actually threatened an economic shutdown by refusing to pay America’s bills if they can’t delay the law,” he added. “That’s not going to happen as long as I’m President. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

There would be some short-term economic effects if the debt ceiling weren’t increased, but the economy wouldn’t shutdown. House Republicans did offer a fix for this, by the way. They’ve twice passed legislation (back in May and again in the Continuing Resolution) that would require the Treasury Department to prioritize debt spending in the event of fiscal turmoil. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats, who would rather use the debt ceiling as a political tool, wouldn’t take it up.

ObamaCare exchange prices set, cost of coverage soars

Americans planning on buying an individual health insurance policy on ObamaCare’s state exchanges when they open at the beginning of the month can expect to pay much more than what they would if the law hadn’t been enacted.

The Obama Administration released the rates yesterday for the state exchanges that will be run by the federal government (these are states that opted out per the 2012 Supreme Court decision on the law). While the media notes that the rates are lower than originally estimated, that may not quell concerns about affordability.

The Wall Street Journal provided an analysis of the 36 states where the federal government will oversee the exchanges. A quick glance shows that those who will purchase coverage may be in for rate shock.

For example, a 27-year-old non-smoker living in Birmingham, Alabama would have paid $80 per month ($960/year) for the lowest-cost plan before ObamaCare. But the lowest “bronze” plan available on the exchanges will cost that person $170 per month ($2,040/year). That’s 112% increase. The same person living in Delaware can expect to pay $203 per month ($2,436), which is nearly a 300% increase from the $51 pre-ObamaCare rate.

In Ohio, this person would see a 336% increase, from $47 per month ($564/year) before ObamaCare to $205 per month ($2,460/year) if they purchased the so-called “bronze” plan available on the state exchange.

Poll: 60% of Americans say the government has too much power

The number of Americans who believe the federal government is too powerful has reached a record high, according to a poll released earlier this week by Gallup, though the historical numbers reflect partisan divisions depending on which party controls the White House.

The Gallup poll, conducted between September 5-8, found that 60% of American adults believe that the federal government is too powerful, surpassing the previous high recorded in September 2012, while 32% say that the government has about the right amount of power, which is a record low.

Just 7% of Americans believe that the federal government has too little power.

An eye-popping 81% of Republicans believe that the federal government has too much power. And though only 38% of Democrats agree with that view, that number is up from 28% just last year. Sixty-five percent (65%) of independents believe the government has too much power.

The Obama Administration has come under criticism from both Republicans and Democrats concerned about the erosion of civil liberties through the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, which collects Americans’ phone and Internet metadata even if they’re not suspected of a crime. The Internal Revenue Service’s politically motivated targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups has been heavily criticized by Republicans.

But the historical patterns show that Republicans (Bush 2003-2009) and Democrats (2009 to present) are less likely to think the federal government has too much power when their party has control of the White House, as you can see in the chart below.

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