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.

Proposed NSA reforms close one loophole while leaving others open

President Barack Obama rolled out a proposal earlier this week that would end the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk phone metadata collection program. The House Intelligence Committee has a proposal of its own purports to achieve the same end.

The proposal pushed by the White House has been received with cautious optimism from civil libertarians, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). They like what they’ve heard, but have explained that the devil is in the details.

Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have pointed out that there’s already a proposal in Congress, the USA FREEDOM Act, that would end bulk data collection. Privacy advocates, however, have panned the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, which is backed by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

In Wednesday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, discussed and dissected both President Obama and the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, finding them to be welcome news. But he also pointed out that both measures still leave open the possibility of access to Americans’ personal information.

401(k) Plans Teeter on the Fiscal Cliff

Among the many tax “loopholes” on the chopping block in the fiscal cliff negotiations are the 401(k) contribution limits.  Liberals like to refer to tax deductions, deferrals, and exemptions as “spending through the tax code,” or “tax expenditures.”  Of course, there are certain tax subsidies and credits that might best be described as spending (e.g., subsidized coverage on the Obamacare exchanges).

But conservatives and libertarians recognize that private property rights are at the foundation of individual liberty, and that any just government must be dedicated to protecting the individual’s right to the fruits of his labor.  Treating a legitimate tax deduction as government spending presumes that the government has a right to those fruits by default - that we are privileged to retain any such fruits, and the government spends its funds in permitting it.  This confiscatory mindset is foreign to our founding and inconsistent with our nature.

The proposed changes to 401(k) contribution limits are a good example of the threats to economic liberty we face as the revenue hawks continue to scour the tax code for backhanded tax increases.

What is a 401(k) Plan?

The traditional 401(k) plan is a method of tax deferral.  You contribute with pre-tax dollars, the account grows tax-free, and you pay ordinary income tax on the distributions when you retire.  If your employer offers a Roth option, you can contribute with after-tax dollars, and both the gains and distributions will be tax-free.  In 2012, employees can elect to contribute up to $17,000, and the total employer/employee combined contribution limit is $50,000.

What’s Being Proposed?

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Term Limits

Since I missed out on the earmarks debate between Jason and Doug this week (I agree with Doug, btw), I figured now would be a good time to “stir the pot” with regard to a subject that seems to be gaining ground among many in the more “conservative” political circles.

The meme among many involved in politics is that because we limit the number of terms for the Presidency, most Governorships, and many municipal officials, we should also limit the terms of those serving in Congress.  The arguments are full of logic and seem to make a LOT of sense, and I think the idea is palatable for most Americans.  The idea that a Senator would only serve two terms or that a Congressman would serve four or six or eight terms, depending on which proposal you read or hear about.  My opposition lies, as do many things I find myself in the minority about, in the details.

Facts That Demand Tax Reform

Happy Tax Day! Well, not really. Let’s not kid ourselves — we all dread April 15th. What is usually a lovely spring day has turned into a huge inconvenience as we all rush to get our taxes filed to keep the Internal Revenue Service off our backs.

The tax code is complicated. Americans spend 6.6 billion hours each year filing out tax forms and $163 billion in compliance costs. Unfortunately, the tax code has been made more complicated by politicians and bureaucrats who meddle with it on a daily basis. That’s not an exaggeration either. According to recent report from Bloomberg, the tax code has been altered 4,680 times since 2001 — more than once a day:

It started as 30 words. One hundred years later, it’s almost 4 million.

The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which created the federal income tax, and the millions of words in the tax code today provide symbolic data points marking the evolution of a simple concept into a convoluted reality.

The statistics on the burden imposed by the byzantine tax code get wide circulation every year at this time:
Americans spend more than 6.1 billion hours and $168 billion complying with the tax code;

Most Americans hire a professional (60 percent) or use tax- preparation software (30 percent);

The tax code has had 4,680 changes since 2001, more than one a day.

Washington’s Disdain for Wealth Creators Is a Big Part of the Problem

Written by Daniel Ikenson, director of the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Like too many other long-reigning fixtures on Capitol Hill, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of the challenge to the authority he presumes to hold over America’s job and wealth creators. Or maybe he does, and frustration over that fact explains why he besmirches companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard.

Levin presided over a Senate hearing last week devoted to examining the “loopholes and gimmicks” used by these multinational companies to avoid paying taxes – and to branding them dirty tax scofflaws. Well here’s a news flash for the senator: incentives matter.

The byzantine U.S. tax code, which Senator Levin – over his 33-year tenure in the U.S. Senate (one-third of a century!) – no doubt had a hand or two in shaping, includes the highest corporate income tax rate among all of the world’s industrialized countries and the unusual requirement that profits earned abroad by U.S. multinationals are subject to U.S. taxation upon repatriation. No other major economy does that. Who in their right minds would not expect those incentives to encourage moving production off shore and keeping profits there?

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