White House

Senate reverses course, repeals ethanol subsidies

Just two days removed from a failed vote to repeal ethanol subsidies and protectionist tariffs for the rent-seeking ethanol industry, the Senate wound up passing the measure in a 73 to 27 vote:

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to eliminate billions of dollars in support for the U.S. ethanol industry, sending a strong message that the era of big taxpayer support for biofuels is ending.

The 73-27 vote may ultimately be symbolic since the White House has vowed not to repeal ethanol subsidies fully and the bill the repeal language is attached to is not expected to make it into law. But it underscores the growing desperation to find savings in a budget crisis that is forcing both sides of the aisle to consider sacrificing once-sacred government programs.
The increasingly hostile attitude toward federal ethanol support has added fuel to a steep fall this week in the price of corn, from which most U.S. ethanol is made.

The Senate vote shows the odds are diminishing that the 45-cent-a-gallon subsidy the government gives refiners and the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol — both targeted in Thursday’s vote — will be extended at current rates beyond their scheduled expiration at the end of this year.

Repeal was backed by fiscal conservatives like Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) and hardcore liberals like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chamber’s only professed socialist.

Obama to Congress: Libya is none of your concern

It looks like we’re headed towards a showdown as the Obama Administration has sent a report to Congress explaining that the legislative body has no authority over military operations in Libya because they contend that we’re really not at war:

In a 38-page report sent to lawmakers describing and defending the NATO-led operation, the White House said the mission was prying loose Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s grip on power.

In contending that the limited American role did not oblige the administration to ask for authorization under the War Powers Resolution, the report asserted that “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops.” Still, the White House acknowledged, the operation has cost the Pentagon $716 million in its first two months and will have cost $1.1 billion by September at the current scale of operations.
“We are acting lawfully,” said Harold H. Koh, the State Department legal adviser, who expanded on the administration’s reasoning in a joint interview with the White House counsel, Robert Bauer.

The two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces had not been in “hostilities” at least since early April, when NATO took over the responsibility for the no-fly zone and the United States shifted to primarily a supporting role — providing refueling and surveillance to allied warplanes, although remotely piloted drones operated by the United States periodically fire missiles, too.

30% of employers expected to drop coverage

A survey released Monday shows that 30% of employers who currently offer health insurance to their employees are expected to drop that coverage as ObamaCare provisions start in 2014.  Wasn’t ObamaCare supposed to help people get insurance?  I guess the Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again.

From MarketWatch:

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — Once provisions of the Affordable Care Act start to kick in during 2014, at least three of every 10 employers will probably stop offering health coverage, a survey released Monday shows.

While only 7% of employees will be forced to switch to subsidized-exchange programs, at least 30% of companies say they will “definitely or probably” stop offering employer-sponsored coverage, according to the study published in McKinsey Quarterly.

The survey of 1,300 employers says those who are keenly aware of the health-reform measure probably are more likely to consider an alternative to employer-sponsored plans, with 50% to 60% in this group expected to make a change. It also found that for some, it makes more sense to switch.

“At least 30% of employers would gain economically from dropping coverage, even if they completely compensated employees for the change through other benefit offerings or higher salaries,” the study says.

It goes on to add: “Contrary to what employers assume, more than 85% of employees would remain at their jobs even if their employers stopped offering [employer-sponsored insurance], although about 60% would expect increased compensation.”

Of course, the White House took issue with the study:

Gun control “under the radar”?

Hot Air has a post where they quote President Obama as claiming that he’s working on gun control “under the radar”.  Obviously, for gun rights advocates, this is very alarming.  Could it have been a case of Obama telling former White House Press Secretary James Brady that he’s working on it just to appease him?  Or is it something else entirely?

Despite recent gains in gun rights via the Heller vs District of Columbia and McDonald vs Chicago decisions, those gains are at best temporary should advocates lose focus for even a moment.  But is the President looking at backdoor regulation?

From Hot Air:

Jack Minor caught this anecdote buried below the jump on a Washington Post Lifestyle profile of Steve Croley, first published six weeks ago.  Described as “the White House’s point man on gun regulation policy,” the Post includes this rather telling quote from President Obama on the issue of gun control from March:

On March 30, the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, Jim Brady, who sustained a debilitating head wound in the attack, and his wife, Sarah, came to Capitol Hill to push for a ban on the controversial “large magazines.” Brady, for whom the law requiring background checks on handgun purchasers is named, then met with White House press secretary Jay Carney. During the meeting, President Obama dropped in and, according to Sarah Brady, brought up the issue of gun control, “to fill us in that it was very much on his agenda,” she said.

House GOP to bring “clean” debt limit vote

House Republican leaders have scheduled a “clean vote” for next week on increasing the debt ceiling, though it seems that there isn’t enough support to pass it:

The GOP-led House plans to hold a vote next week on a “clean” increase to the debt limit that doesn’t include any spending cuts, in a bid to show President Obama and Democrats that such a measure cannot pass without conditions attached.
The plan by the GOP leadership team is to schedule the vote on the suspension calendar, normally reserved for non-controversial items such as naming post offices, and require a two-thirds vote of the House for passage. Most House bills usually require a simple majority to pass. This legislative route also means no amendments can be offered to bills.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has garnered the support of 114 other Democrats for a increasing the debt limit with no strings attached, but that would be far short of the votes needed to pass the GOP measure.

Many are scoffing at the idea of this vote, saying that it sends the wrong message to those investing in our debt and to Wall Street. Eh, not really. It does send a message to the White House that Congress cannot keep increasing the nation’s borrowing limit with our curbing our addiction to spending; as Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) noted in his most recent Texas Straight Talk:

When this is the problem…

When the problem is $125 billion in improper payments, $100 million is no answer.  However, that’s what President Obama is proposing with a new pilot program that will allegedly curb some of the $125 billion in payments sent to dead people, prisoners, and possibly cartoon characters.  What’s my source?  Why the White House’s Office of Management and Budget blog, that’s what.

From the blog post (emphasis mine)

As part of the President’s committment to crack down on improper payments he created the Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation, to help States and localities find ways to save taxpayer dollars and deliver benefits more efficiently and effectively.  The “Collaborative Forum,” a group of 200+ state and local administrators and other stakeholders involved in the benefit delivery process, has been working to generate ideas for innovative pilot projects to reduce errors, fraud, and waste.  As a result of their efforts, OMB is announcing four exciting new pilot projects focused on reducing improper payments.

These pilot investments could lead to at least $100 million in annual savings if the pilots are successfully scaled up and will provide hard data about how Federal agencies as well as States and localities can save money and significantly improve program integrity, service delivery and efficiency.

How many days has it been since Senate Democrats gave us a budget?

Despite not having produced a budget in over 750 days (more than two years), Senate Democrats have decided to continue to sit on their hands:

Democrats said they are close to agreement on a spending plan that would reduce borrowing by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, with about half the savings coming from higher taxes. That would offer a sharp contrast to the GOP budget, which relies entirely on deep cuts in spending.

But rather than subject a proposal for higher taxes to Republican attack, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said he would “defer” action “because of the high-level bipartisan leadership negotiations that are currently underway” involving lawmakers from both parties and Vice President Biden.

“If you go through a partisan markup, it hardens people’s positions and makes it more difficult to get a bipartisan agreement,” said Conrad, a member of the Senate’s Gang of Six, which has been trying to draft its own debt-reduction framework.

“After four months in the group of six, trying to reach a bipartisan agreement is as difficult as anything I’ve ever been involved in,” Conrad said. “I want to give every chance for a bipartisan agreement to succeed.”

The decision to delay action is, of course, political. Democrats want to continue to criticize the budget passed by House Republicans, even though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not try to convince his colleagues to support the proposal.

Government’s Revolting Attempt at the Free Market

Few things in life confound me more than the propensity of the political left to put unbridled faith in the government’s ability to make wise decisions for us all, while simultaneously treating purveyors of goods and services on the free market as if they were shady characters lurking in some beer bottle strewn, garbage littered back alley, just waiting to take advantage of the unsuspecting traveler lost and wandering into the wrong side of town.

In the free market, those who provide goods and services must do so (theoretically, at least…pretending big business and big government don’t collude to rig the market to the advantage of those willing to pay) by providing those goods or services with a level of quality superior to those of their competitors at a given price point. And because businesses are subject to the profit motive, they must constantly work to become more efficient and innovative than their competitors. If they fail to do so, they lose market share, which means they lose money, which means they go out of business. Many companies that were once king of the hill have fallen by the wayside, victims to more innovative upstarts. Remember Eastern Airlines, Atari video games, American Motor Company, Rich’s, Datsun, Woolworth’s, KB Toys and Enron? All were once major players in their markets, and all are now nowhere to be found.

The process of “creative destruction”, by which the existing economic order is constantly churned by the very nature of free market dynamics, is what drives the rapid advances in technology and efficiency. Oddly enough, the concept of creative destruction finds its roots in Marxist economic theory, tracing back to Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto and later Das Kapital. Of course, Marx saw the concept as negative, preferring the economy to be managed by a powerful central government directing the lives of its citizens by force.

Obama on vacation

Some on the right are writhing in agony at the thought of President Obama taking another golf vacation.  They feel with the economy still in shambles, unemployment still somewhere just on the other side of the stratosphere, and a host of other problems facing the nation, the President has better things to be focusing on.  Personally, I’m totally cool with his trip.  In fact, I want him to spend as much time as possible playing golf.  The more time he spends golfing, the less time he’s spending taking this country down the path to despotism.

Yeah, one can say that he’s taking us on no such journey, and I don’t think he’s doing it intentionally.  It doesn’t really matter if he means to do it.  However, I still maintain that’s the path we’re on and I damn sure don’t like it.

However, the Right’s preoccupation with Obama’s activities fails to miss a key point: They say they want him working on these problems, while saying he can’t fix the problems.  Seriously, make up your mind.  Obama playing golf and shaking hands is actually the one thing I feel comfortable with him doing.  OK, so I’m not crazy about taxpayer dollars paying for it, but if it keeps him busy, I can live with it.

When he gets back, he’ll probably try to do all kinds of socialistic things, but not now.  For the moment, he’s off on another adventure that doesn’t involve politics.  Let’s hope he stays there for a while.

White House wants “adult conversation”, just not with you

President Obama wants to have an “adult conversation” about budget cuts.  He’s also said he wanted the most transparent government in history.  So Jagadeesh Gokhale and David Schoenbrod of the Cato Institute decided to take the President at his word.  They wanted data so they could take part in the so-called “adult conversation”.

Unfortunately, here’s what happened:

To acquire the information necessary for an “adult conversation” on the budget, we formally requested that OMB Director Jack Lew release the projections. The response was a letter stating that the information was “not available to the general public.”

One excuse was that OMB’s long-term projections were not fully “vetted.” Another was that the information “could lead to unintended misrepresentations of the administration’s proposals.”

Well, isn’t that transparent?

I understand concerns about information being used to misrepresent intentions.  Unfortunately, you’re not going to stop that by simply not letting the information get out.  Instead, you create an environment where suspicion begins to take hold, where people make up their own data points – either through educated methods or just systematic wild assed guessing – and use them to misrepresent the proposals.

Open government, something that President Obama promised and that I sincerely prayed he would deliver, can not function without debate over the issues.  That is one reason why freedom of speech is so important to a free society.  However, we must also have accountability with regard to what the government is doing and thinking.  Free speech isn’t particularly effective when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

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