Tag Archives: government

When government tries to do more and more, it actually does less, and does that badly…

“There’s not much sense in regarding the government as untrustworthy and inept, and then giving it more opportunities to screw up.”  – The Chicago Tribune  

“We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves.”  – NORM ‘n’ AL

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The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a great advance in fostering access to medical insurance. It would contain costs, guarantee coverage, simplify consumer shopping and make the entire system more rational. Now that it is being put into practice, however, it’s a giant, exasperating mess.

Just one example: In North Dakota, WDAY-TV reported that only 30 people have signed up for coverage on the new federally run exchange. But 35,000 people will lose their existing policies. That was not quite what was promised during the congressional debate.

Some of the fault lies with the Obama administration for promising more than it could deliver. But some of the fault lies with the American people, who sometimes demand more of their government than it can reasonably provide. The technical and management snafus with Obamacare may be fixed in time. The deeper problems in the effort won’t be so easy to solve.

In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. Today, the figure is just 19 percent. It may be no coincidence that the decline in confidence occurred at the same time Washington was steadily expanding its role in a wide variety of spheres, from health care to housing to education.

When the government tries to do more and more, it raises hopes that are hard to meet. It gets further from its essential responsibilities, like defending the nation from foreign threats, fostering a sound national economy and facilitating interstate transportation.

It also spends more and more. In 1964, federal outlays accounted for 18.5 percent of gross domestic product. Today, they take 22.7 percent. But it doesn’t tax accordingly. This year, government revenues are lower as a share of GDP than they were back then, before the creation of the Great Society.

Why the discrepancy? Americans like getting things from Washington more than they like paying for them. Our leaders accommodate that taste by running big deficits every year, leaving much of the cost to be borne by future taxpayers.

But often, what the citizenry gets from Washington falls well short of expectations. Obamacare is a good example. Its introduction may have been bungled in several ways, but making big changes in a sector that constitutes one-sixth of the entire economy is a mammoth task, with great potential for error and harm.

That’s an argument for leaving most matters to private markets, with Washington establishing sensible basic rules, along with subsidies to help the needy. It’s also an argument that any changes should be incremental, to minimize disruption.

This logic applies to all sorts of federal involvement. Activists often decry the failure of private markets. But the question in most cases is not whether private markets function ideally. It’s whether legislation and bureaucracy will yield a better outcome.

Clifford Winston, an economist at the liberal Brookings Institution in Washington, concludes that three decades of empirical evidence “suggest that the welfare cost of government failure may be considerably greater than that of market failure.” Good intentions are not enough.

In a nation of 50 states with vastly different political colorations and cultures, there is also a lot to be said for federalism. What suits the people of Massachusetts is bound to be a lot different from what Texans will embrace.

A single national policy means one or the other gets their way. Letting each state choose its own path allows each to satisfy its preferences. Not only that, but if mistakes are made, the harm is confined to a relatively small area — and other states can learn from the experience.

But the first step toward better federal policy is for Americans to realize the limits of what it can do and the costs it imposes when it goes beyond those limits. There’s not much sense in regarding the government as untrustworthy and inept, and then giving it more opportunities to screw up.

[A recent editorial in The Chicago Tribune]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

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How would you grade HEALTHCARE.GOV at this point in time?

I was challenged by people who commented on my last post to opine on the troubled rollout of the federal health insurance exchange HealthCare.gov, and I will oblige.

The best place to start is President Obama’s remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.

Shortly before the president’s appearance, White House officials let it be known that the “president will directly address the technical problems with HealthCare.gov – troubles he and his team find unacceptable.” But in that Rose Garden appearance, the president did not explain what the technical problems with HealthCare.gov were, though he did acknowledge their existence and stated “there is no excuse” for them.

He then promised that in a techno-surge he would recruit the best information technology talent in the country to come to the rescue and fix the problems. It made me wonder why the A-team, as the White House now calls it, was not enlisted in the first place.

President Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. How would he have graded a student’s performance on, say, a term paper or test that the professor viewed as “unacceptable,” especially when there was “no excuse” for the paper’s deficiencies?

One would hope that the grade would have been F, even under modern grade inflation. I certainly would affix that grade to such inexcusably deficient work.

But who exactly should be assigned the F for the troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov?

At the Rose Garden ceremony, President Obama noted, “There’s no sugar coating it, the Web site has been too slow, people are getting stuck during the application process, and I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am.”

That makes it sound as if the president was surprised and then angered by the poor performance of HealthCare.gov. Indeed, in a television interviewTuesday with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, appears to suggest as much, even though HealthCare.gov is reported to have crashed days before the start on Oct. 1 when only 100 people tried to register simultaneously.

As someone who has lectured on corporate governance and served on corporate boards, I find Secretary Sebelius’s statement astounding. Is this how the project was managed? They knew the Web site was not working and yet decided to go ahead with it anyway, without the president’s personal O.K. for so strategic and risky a decision?

Once elected, a president becomes chief executive of a giant federal enterprise. Anyone familiar with corporate management would have thought that for as ambitious and technically a complex project as the initial rollout of HealthCare.gov – so important to many uninsured Americans and so politically important to the White House – the chief executive would have remained in very close touch with the management team overseeing the project and thus would have been briefed daily or at least weekly on the progress of the project and especially on any problems with it.

Woe to the members of the management team in a corporation if problems with a project are hidden from the chief executive when they become known, exposing the chief executive to embarrassing public relations surprises. Heads would roll. The board, however, would assign the blame for such problems not primarily to the management team and instead to the chief executive himself or herself. He hired and supervised the team.

From that perspective, the blame for the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov goes to its entire management team, to be sure, but primarily to the chief executive on top of that project. In my view, not only the proverbial buck stops on the chief executive’s desk, but, for the management of this particular project, the grade of F goes there as well.

It is worth reminding readers, however, that grades on midterm papers or tests do not constitute the overall grade in a course. Students receiving an F on a midterm paper or test often end up with a respectable overall course grade, spurred on in part by that very failure.

Similarly, with enormous effort and, one hopes, constant future supervision by the chief executive, there is hope that the technical problems encountered so far can be fixed in time, with the celebrated A-team of software experts now on the scene.

Finally, it bears emphasizing that the ill-fated rollout of HealthCare.gov should not be taken as a commentary on the concept of health insurance exchanges in general, nor on the Affordable Care Act.

The idea to use means-tested public subsidies to assist low-income Americans to purchase competitively offered private health insurance sold through health-insurance exchanges has been popular among policy analysts and policy makers of both political parties since the 1970s. Any such exchange will have to have roughly the same kind of architecture and tasks as those required for HealthCare.gov, as is shown in the sketch below.

HEALTHCARE.GOV structure needed...

Particular versions of this general construct were built into the Clinton health plan in the 1990s and the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (Part D of Medicare). It was also part of the health reform plan proposed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, during the presidential campaign of 2008 and of the Patients’ Choice Act proposed by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, in 2009.

Indeed, it has been the foundation of every health reform proposal in the United States other than the single-payer Medicare for All idea since the 1970s. And it would be the core of the defined contribution plan now being proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, for the Medicare program.

Now, it may be argued that private electronic health insurance exchanges – for example, eHealthInsurance.com – have long been available to Americans in the market for individually purchased private health insurance, obviating the need for a new HealthCare.gov. That would imply an unfair comparison.

EHealthInsurance.com is a purely passive exchange that merely lists the policies and estimates of their premiums for sundry health insurers listing on the exchange. It does not grant subsidies toward the purchase of health insurance and establish eligibility for those subsidies, nor does it guarantee prices. It simply refers interested individuals to insurers to purchase policies, which are not community rated but actuarially priced. Such an exchange can be quite simple.

If one wants to couple means-tested federal or state government contributions toward private coverage – as the health-reform plans proposed by both parties do – then by necessity the insurance exchange must ping and interact with numerous other Web sites, each with its own software language of various vintages.

The sketch below illustrates that construct, but only for the most important linkages that must be pinged. HealthCare.gov probably has to ping still other sites. Such an exchange is incomparably more difficult to establish and prone to computer glitches than is, say, eHealthInsurance.com.

Alternative structure...

 

But several states did manage to establish on time such complex health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, with only minor rollout glitches of the sort one would expect. Somehow they managed.

With proper management and more energetic work earlier on, and untainted by the political desiderata reported to have affected the architecture of HealthCare.gov, that Web site’s management team should have been able to achieve the same success. It did not, hence the midterm grade F.

[by Uwe E. Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton. He wrote this piece for the New York Times]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

 

 

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Myths and misunderstandings about the government shutdown…

Back in the 1970s, the comedy group Firesign Theater used to perform a sketch featuring a New Age huckster named Happy Harry Cox who inveigled money from his followers by warning them that they labored under mass delusions that only he could correct. “Dogs flew spaceships!” he bellowed in his radio advertisements. “The Aztecs invented the vacation! Men and women are the same sex! Our forefathers took drugs … Yes! That’s right! Everything you know is wrong! Especially about the government shutdown!”

OK, he didn’t really say the part about the government shutdown. But he should have. Because, really, practically everything the chattering classes have told you on the subject is nonsense. Let’s look at some the myths:

The government is shut down.

No it isn’t. The troops are still fighting in Afghanistan. The NSA is still reading your email. The staff at the U.S. embassy in Caracas is still putting its fingers in its ears and waggling them at the Venezuelan government. The Postal Service is still running your magazines through shredders. By most estimates, 85 or so percent of the government is still functioning. Whether that’s a good thing is, of course, debatable.

This kind of thing never used to happen.

Actually, it used to happen all the time. What’s unusual is the quiet stretch since the last shutdown, when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton were facing off in 1995. Before that, there 18 shutdowns in 19 years as various Congresses and presidents squabbled over raising the national debt limit. My personal favorite is the one in 1982, when Congress didn’t feel like working late to pass a spending bill the night before the new fiscal year started. The Republicans were all going to a barbecue at the White House, while the Democrats had a $1,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner to attend.

Well, it wouldn’t happen if not for all these crazy ideologues who’ve been elected the last few years. In the old days, Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill would have just had a drink after work and settled everything.

More likely they would have broken some bottles over one another’s heads. The federal government shut down seven times while Reagan was president and O’Neill speaker of the House. No wonder, the way they talked about each other. O’Neill called Reagan “an absolute and total disgrace” and added that it was “sinful that this man is president of the United States.” Reagan, in his diary, wrote that budget negotiations with the speaker were an ordeal because “Tip O’Neill doesn’t have the facts of what was in the budget. Besides he doesn’t listen.”

Maybe arguments over spending are inevitable. But it’s just plain wrong to hold laws on other subjects hostage to debt-ceiling negotiations, the way the Republicans are doing with Obamacare.

Over the years, government shutdowns have been triggered by attempts to change the laws on, among other things, abortion, civil rights, welfare, oil-drilling and which government agency’s economic forecast should be used for budget planning. And even if you think debt-ceiling fights should be restricted just to spending issues, the fact is that virtually everything Congress or the president does can be turned into a spending issue, because it all requires funding.

That’s just partisan sophistry that would make the Founding Fathers turn over in their graves.

Wrong: The Founding Fathers not only foresaw but approved of this tactic. That’s why the Constitution puts the president in charge of running the government but reserves to Congress the ability to rein him in through the power of the purse string.

James Madison, one of the principal authors of the Constitution, was quite explicit: “This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

Are you saying you’re smarter than President Obama? Because he thinks it’s wrong to play politics with the debt ceiling.

No, he doesn’t. “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure,” he sternly said of the attempt to raise the ceiling. “It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills.” Oops, my bad. That was Sen. Obama, back in 2006, when the president who wanted to increase the debt was named Bush. I guess everything he knew was wrong, too.

[by Glenn Garvin, writing for The Miami Herald. This piece was reprinted in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

 

 

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Another exciting episode about US Department of Endless Bureaucratic Transactions (US DEBT)…

Endless self-centered bungling...what a great system!

 

 

New episode...CLICK HERE!                                   CLICK ABOVE for this exciting episode…

 

 

This week on “The Government,” Will and his coworkers come face-to-face with an Inspector General, and he isn’t happy about how the Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction (DEBT) has failed to rein in irresponsible spending. From lavish conferences to botched uniform designs, bureaucrats haven’t exactly been good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Below are the real-life examples of wasteful spending that the Inspector General finds so egregious.

  • IRS Spent $11K On A “Happiness Expert” To Lead A 90 Minute Workshop. “The IRS hired 15 speakers to present at the conference in Anaheim, Calif., including $11,430 for positive psychology guru Shawn Achor — referred to as a ‘happiness expert’ by the sources — to lead a 90-minute workshop” (Kelly O’Donnell and Andrew Rafferty, “2010 IRS Conference Featured ‘Happiness Expert,’ $17K Art Session,” CNBC, 6/4/13)
  • IRS Credit Cards Used For Wine, Romance Novels, Diet Pills And Pornography. (Stephen Ohlemacher,”IRS Credit Cards Used For Wine, Pornography,” The Associated Press, 6/25/13)
  • IRS Spent $119 On Nerf Footballs That Were Never Used. “The Internal Revenue Service lacks sufficient oversight of agency credit cards issued to employees, leading to purchases such as $119 in Nerf footballs sitting unused in a filing cabinet, according to an audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.” (Richard Rubin, “Audit Finds $119 of Unused Nerf Footballs in IRS Cabinet, Bloomberg, 6/25/13)
  • The U.S. Army Wasted $5 Billion In Camouflage Development. (Eloise Lee and Robert Johnson, “After Wasting $5 Billion Dollars, The Army Is Eyeing These New Camouflage Patterns,” Business Insider, 9/25/12)
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NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
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The US debt ceiling cash crunch: Millions will not get paid…

Coming US cash crunch...

Practical nightmares. Legal disputes. Ethical dilemmas every which way till Sunday.

That’s what the Treasury Department will face — possibly as early as mid-October — if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling in the next couple of weeks.

Barring an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit, Treasury won’t have enough cash on hand plus revenue to pay all the country’s bills in full and on time.

Some Republicans say that in that situation Treasury should prioritize who gets paid first.

Their proposal: Pay bondholders and Social Security recipients first. Some GOP lawmakers add active-duty military to the list. If Treasury doesn’t have enough money on hand to pay any of those three things on a given day, some proposals would give Treasury limited authority to borrow just enough to make up the difference.

Treasury, by contrast, has repeatedly rejected such proposals.

“Any plan to prioritize some payments over others is simply default by another name,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

One thing is certain: Failure to raise the debt ceiling on time will cause a cash crunch — and a cascade of problems.

Related: How will a government shutdown affect you?

Automated payment systems would have to be overhauled: The Treasury pays millions of bills every day. It pays interest to bond investors from one computer system and makes all other payments from another.

So technically it may be possible to at least prioritize interest payments since they’re processed separately. But it would be much harder to prioritize everything else.

“Treasury’s systems are not designed to allow picking and choosing. Payments are automatically made as they come due,” former Congressional Budget Director Donald Marron told Congress last week.

Indeed, analysts at the Bipartisan Policy Center think a massive reprogramming of Treasury’s payment operations may be impossible.

Late payments would pile up: Even if it could reprogram its systems to allow for prioritization, Treasury still won’t have enough cash on hand.

Between Oct. 18 and Nov. 15, Treasury is likely to run about $106 billion short of what’s owed, according to a Bipartisan Policy Center analysis. Translation: It wouldn’t be able to make a third of all payments due.

Related: Never-ending charade of debt ceiling fights

So Treasury will have two main options, both awful: It could either pay some bills in full and delay others; or it could delay all payments due on a given day until it has enough money on hand to pay them all.

Senior Treasury officials indicated in an inspector general’s report that the second option would be the most likely and least harmful of the two. But it’s hardly painless.

Depending on how long the debt ceiling standoff lasts, delays could quickly grow from a day or two to several weeks.

“Either approach would damage the economy. Federal employees, contractors, program beneficiaries, businesses and state and local governments would find themselves suddenly short of expected cash, causing a ripple effect through the economy,” said Marron, who is now director of economic policy initiatives at the Urban Institute.

Deciding who gets paid and who gets stiffed is a perilous game: Who deserves to be paid more? Senior citizens, disabled veterans, families who rely on food stamps or small business owners whose federal contracts provide a large chunk of revenue?

Every bill and benefit that Treasury pays represents a legal obligation that the United States has incurred.

Favoring some over others could create a minefield of lawsuits, penalties and other assorted messes.

It would also mean Treasury would be subject to accusations of politically choosing winners over losers.

To say nothing of the fact that paying some but not all of what the federal government owes would harm the economy and likely upend markets.

“If the confidence in the reliability of [U.S.] payments were cast into doubt, then the consequences for the budget, for the U.S. economy, for the U.S. and global financial systems could be large and lasting and very damaging,” Douglas Elmendorf, the current CBO director, told Congress Thursday.

It would also do great damage to America’s reputation. It will be very hard to justify to anyone why the world’s largest economy and richest country is willfully choosing not to pay what it owes.

“As every other nation understands, if you need to borrow you can only hurt yourself by scaring your creditors,” Marron said.

Even worse, he added, “[it] contributes to the perception that the United States does not know how to govern itself.”

[from CNN Money, New York]

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normal@usa1usa.com
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New bill in US House seeks to protect religious freedom for those who affirm traditional marriage…

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) is sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would guarantee that no person or group could lose their tax exempt status for affirming traditional marriage, or opposing the redefinition of marriage.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act has, at the time of this publication, 75 co-sponsors. Most of them are Republican, but at least two Democrats, Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), are also co-sponsoring the bill.

If enacted, no individual or institution could lose tax-exempt status for believing or advocating that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. Many religious institutions in the United States are non-profits and have a tax-exempt status under the U.S. tax code.

In explaining his reasons for the bill, Labrador cited the words of President Barack Obama, from when Obama announced he changed his position on same-sex marriage.

“Regardless of your ideology, we can all agree about the importance of religious liberty in America,” Labrador said Thursday. “Our bill will protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. As President Obama said, ‘Americans hold a wide range of views’ on marriage and ‘maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom’ is ‘vital.’ We agree.”

Due to recent events, there has been growing concern among religious freedom advocates along with the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples in some states. Those who provide wedding services, for instance, have been denied the right to decline working at same-sex weddings, and some religious groups have been denied the right to prefer families with both a husband and a wife for adoption services.

There have also been growing concerns about the abuse of federal power within the Internal Revenue Service, the agency responsible for granting tax-exempt status. In a scandal still under investigation, the IRS reportedly targeted Tea Party, pro-life and conservative religious groups for additional scrutiny and harassment.

Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, mentioned the IRS scandal as one reason for his support of the bill.

“I commend Congressman Raúl Labrador for bringing forth this bill and leading on this important issue. As we’ve seen with the IRS scandals, nonprofit organizations and those who support them may be targeted and punished for their beliefs and principles,” Scalise said. “Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage may embolden those in government who want to impose their views of marriage on faith-based organizations. We need this strong legislation to protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Raúl’s bill does exactly that, ensuring respect and tolerance for those who affirm traditional marriage.”

The bill also has the support of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Organization for Marriage, Heritage Action, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Concerned Women for America.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions regarding same-sex marriage. In one of those, Windsor vs. United States, the Court struck down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law. David Christensen, vice president of government affairs for FRC, argued that the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act is consistent with the Windsor decision.

“This bill affirms that a person’s religious belief in the importance of natural marriage should be treated with tolerance and respect by the federal government,” he said. “The Windsor Court’s ruling urges respect for federalism and the sovereignty of state decisions on marriage law, including laws that define marriage between a man and a woman. This bill merely states that the federal government cannot target or harm a person for their religious views in support of natural marriage.”

[by Napp Nazworth, writing for The Christian Post]

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Financial planning the ‘Washington Way’… or, ‘Do as we say, not as we do’…

Do you believe in irony?

The government provides debt counseling before you take out a federal student loan, to ensure that poor college students are educated on debt management and don’t end up drowning in student loans for the rest of their lives.

Washington could learn a lot...

However, Washington seems to live by the motto, “do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to its own spending habits. Take the below quiz to see if you can match Washington’s debt counseling advice with its own actions.

“Managing your spending is key to minimizing debt.” Has Washington managed its spending recently?

Yes: In the last year, Washington has tightened its belt and is running a budget surplus for the first time in 5 years.

No: The United States has run a budget deficit for seven out of the last ten months, and currently has an overall budget deficit of $608 billion.

“The first step to managing spending is to borrow less.” Has Washington followed this advice?

Yes: Washington has drastically reduced its spending since the recession began in December 2007, helping to lower the national debt and balance the budget.

No: In 2013 alone, the federal government borrowed one-fifth of every dollar spent.

When applying for a federal student loan, you’re asked “whether your budget is realistic.” Is Washington’s budget realistic?

Yes: Washington essentially lives within its means, only spending what it takes in.

No: Washington spent much of the last four years without a budget, and in 2013 alone, the Government Accountability Office identified billions in wasteful and duplicative government spending.

You can “only borrow up to the school’s cost of attendance.” Washington has a debt limit as well, but does it adhere to this limit on borrowing?

Yes: Washington has a debt ceiling, and stops borrowing before it hits that number.

No: Washington has a debt ceiling, but in the last 10 years, it’s raised the debt ceiling 12 times in order to continue borrowing and spending.
(The correct answer to each question above is NO.  However, if you missed any of these questions and answered with a YES, you are obviously qualified immediately for a well-paying government job. )
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‘Obama’s grandiose claims for presidential power are inversely proportional to his shriveling presidency’…

Barack Obama’s increasingly grandiose claims for presidential power are inversely proportional to his shriveling presidency. Desperation fuels arrogance as, barely 200 days into the 1,462 days of his second term, his pantry of excuses for failure is bare, his domestic agenda is nonexistent and his foreign policy of empty rhetorical deadlines and redlines is floundering. And at last week’s news conference he offered inconvenience as a justification for illegality.

Explaining his decision to unilaterally rewrite the Affordable Care Act, he said: “I didn’t simply choose to” ignore the statutory requirement for beginning in 2014 the employer mandate to provide employees with health care. No, “this was in consultation with businesses.” He continued:

“In a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law … it looks like there may be some better ways to do this, let’s make a technical change to the law. That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do. But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to Obamacare. We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so.”

Serving as props in the scripted charade of White House news conferences, journalists did not ask the pertinent question: “Where does the Constitution confer upon presidents the ‘executive authority’ to ignore the separation of powers by revising laws?” The question could have elicited an Obama rarity: Brevity. Because there is no such authority.

Obama’s explanation began with an irrelevancy: He consulted with businesses before disregarding his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” That duty does not lapse when a president decides Washington’s “political environment” is not “normal.”

When was it “normal”? The 1850s? The 1950s? Washington has been the nation’s capital for 213 years; Obama has been here less than nine years. Even if he understood “normal” political environments here, the Constitution is not suspended when a president decides the “environment” is abnormal.

Neither does the Constitution confer on presidents the power to rewrite laws if they decide the change is a “tweak” not involving the law’s “essence.” Anyway, the employer mandate is essential to the ACA.

Twenty-three days before his news conference, the House voted 264-161, with 35 Democrats in the majority, for the rule of law — for, that is, the Authority for Mandate Delay Act. It would have done lawfully what Obama did by ukase. He threatened to veto this use of legislation to alter a law. The White House called it “unnecessary,” presumably because he has an uncircumscribed “executive authority” to alter laws.

In a 1977 interview with Richard Nixon, David Frost asked: “So, what in a sense you’re saying is that there are certain situations … where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation … and do something illegal?”

Nixon: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Frost: “By definition.”

Nixon: “Exactly, exactly.”

Nixon’s claim, although constitutionally grotesque, was less so than the claim implicit in Obama’s actions regarding the ACA. Nixon’s claim was confined to matters of national security or (he said to Frost) “a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude.” Obama’s audacity is more spacious; it encompasses a right to disregard any portion of any law pertaining to any subject at any time when the political “environment” is difficult.

Obama should be embarrassed that, by ignoring the legal requirement concerning the employer mandate, he has validated critics who say the ACA cannot be implemented as written. What does not embarrass him is his complicity in effectively rewriting the ACA for the financial advantage of self-dealing members of Congress and their staffs.

The ACA says members of Congress (annual salaries: $174,000) and their staffs (thousands making more than $100,000) must participate in the law’s insurance exchanges. It does not say that when this change goes into effect, the current federal subsidy for this affluent cohort — up to 75 percent of the premium’s cost, perhaps $10,000 for families — should be unchanged.

When Congress awakened to what it enacted, it panicked: This could cause a flight of talent, making Congress less wonderful. So Obama directed the Office of Personnel Management, which has no power to do this, to authorize for the political class special subsidies unavailable for less privileged and less affluent citizens.

If the president does it, it’s legal? “Exactly, exactly.”

[by George Will, writing for The Washington Post]

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Obama ‘never out of words, just out of ideas’… or, Platitudes cannot make Policies…

The president may be out of ideas, but he is never out of words. He has been sharing voluminous amounts of them with audiences over the last two weeks on his latest speaking tour on the economy.

And for good reason.

“If once a week I’m not talking about jobs, the economy and the middle class, then all manner of distraction fills the void,” Barack Obama told the New York Times in a July 24 interview.

He was probably referring to all the “phony scandals,” and things like that.

The president is great when it comes to platitudes. At Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., Obama laid out the “cornerstones” of what it means to be middle class in America: a good job, a good education, a home of one’s own, a secure retirement and affordable health care. He’s less adept at outlining the policies needed to achieve those goals. That’s when Obama is at a loss for words and inconsistent in his explanations. A few examples will suffice.

— No. 1. Because Obama speaks with such authority, it often takes several repetitions before I realize that what he’s saying is total nonsense. For example, he wants to spend $50 billion on infrastructure to create jobs. But the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, would “create about 50 full- time jobs,” he said at a speech last week at an Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The State Department did say that the project’s effect on permanent job creation would be negligible. In the interim, however, the pipeline would create, directly or indirectly, as many as 42,000 jobs. That includes subcontractors, suppliers of materials and equipment, and hospitality services (food, clothing, lodging) in addition to 3,900 construction jobs. The same kind of jobs the White House used to promote its $831 billion fiscal stimulus in 2009, explaining that one person’s spending is another person’s income.

What’s the difference between the job-creating potential of Obama’s proposed infrastructure investment and that of the pipeline? One is public, the other is private. If that’s the distinction, he needs to explain it or drop the fiction that hiring to rebuild roads and bridges has a different impact on employment, wages and spending than hiring to build a pipeline.

— No. 2. Another Obama favorite is his contention that the way to “grow the economy” is from “the middle class out.” What exactly does that mean?

“Obama is saying we need an economy where people are paid enough to buy things,” said Robert Litan, director of research at Bloomberg Government, which is part of Bloomberg LP. “It’s Henry Ford economics: Ford made cars, and he paid his workers enough so they could afford to buy them.”

He also paid his workers enough to prevent them from quitting. The idea behind what economists call “efficiency wages” is to pay employees enough to keep them happy, encourage them to work hard, and save the company the expense of hiring and training replacements.

“Obama would like all employers to pay efficiency wages, but he doesn’t have an executive order to do that,” Litan said.

If Obama really wants to “grow the economy,” to borrow that horrific phrase, he needs to understand the dynamic. It’s individuals with ideas — entrepreneurship and innovation — that raise our standard of living. And not just that of the innovators themselves, who get rich off their creative genius. All of us benefit. Productivity growth comes from new technologies — everything from the steam engine to electricity to the telephone to digitalized bits of information — that allow us to produce more with less, reducing costs and raising real incomes.

Obama may not understand how economies prosper — and he could never admit it if he did not — but the path of wealth creation is top down, not inside out. It’s not about class; it’s how an economy works.

— No. 3. Aware that his speeches sound like retreads, Obama has found a new rallying cry for his middle-class advocacy campaign: the claim that concentrated wealth inflates bubbles and destabilizes the economy.

Is he suggesting that the top 1 percent were responsible for the lax lending standards and subprime loans that were at the root of the financial crisis?

No, and though he may not be aware of it, there is support in academia for the notion that income inequality contributed to the bubble. Too bad he latched onto something that fit his worldview without digging deeper to get a firm grasp of the subject.

Raghuram Rajan, the newly appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of India, made the case in his 2010 book, “Fault Lines,” that lower- and middle-income households reacted to stagnant real incomes by taking on more debt. What people couldn’t afford, they bought on credit. The policy response, misguided in Rajan’s view, was to encourage lower lending standards and promote affordable housing. Yet just last week, Obama suggested eliminating “red tape” to make housing more affordable. It would be nice to think he learned something from the economic mess of his first term and its continuation in his second.

In all of his speeches during the last two weeks, Obama pointed out that the deficit is falling at the fastest pace in 60 years. It’s a big applause line. It’s also shortsighted. Today’s shrinking deficit ignores the relentless rise in debt as a share of the economy. Unless the federal government finds a way to raise revenue and/or cut spending over the next decade, there will be steep cuts to the social safety net, programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

If Obama is really concerned about middle class families, he should start looking out for their future.

[by Caroline Baum, in her column for Bloomberg View]

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In other news, polls are now showing Obama’s approval ratings are near all-time lows.

Facing a series of scandals involving everything from the IRS to the NSA – in addition to the growing unpopularity of his signature healthcare law — President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings are at near record lows, sinking to levels last seen more than a year and a half ago.

Gallup’s daily tracking survey
on Saturday showed the president at 41 percent approval, a 7-point drop from just a day earlier. His disapproval rating was at 50 percent on Saturday. His approval rating rose 1 percent on Sunday to 42 percent.

Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls put Obama’s approval at 43.6 percent and his disapproval at 51.1.

On the economy, the numbers get worse. RCP’s average of polls shows 42.2 percent approve of Obama’s job performance while 53 percent disapprove. On foreign policy, the president garnered 44 percent approval, 47.6 percent disapproval.

The president had an RCP-averaged approval rating of 54 percent as recently as December, but it has slipped steadily since then with a temporary bump in late April. His highest ever approval in the RCP was 65.5 less than a month after his inauguration.

Gallup’s lowest approval rating for Obama was in late December 2011. At that time his approval rating was 38 percent.

The impending implementation of Obamacare and a slew of scandals that the president has recently began calling “phony” may be behind his recent slide in the polls.

On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said members of Obama’s own party are distancing themselves from his healthcare law as they head into 2014.

“If this was such a great idea, then all of these senators who are vulnerable in 2014 would have voted for it, and they didn’t,” Priebus said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The media have focused on Republican divisions over tactics, but the GOP has “total unanimity” on getting rid of Obamacare, Priebus said. It’s the Democrats, he said, who are fighting each other over whether to keep Obamacare in place.

Some Republicans from the tea party wing are calling for defunding Obamacare in the 2014 fiscal year budget. Most party leaders say that will force a government shutdown, and the public will blame Republicans.

But Priebus noted that 30 Democrats voted against Obamcare. The true division is on Democratic side, he argued. He said it was “very obvious” the delay in the employer mandate is about getting Democrats elected.

A Fox News Poll conducted Aug. 3-5 on Obamacare saw 31 percent of respondents say “it’s going fine,” while 57-percent said, “it’s a joke.”

Obama also doesn’t fare any better when it comes to the debate over the recent intelligence leaks by NSA turncoat Edward Snowden.

When Fox News pollsters asked about the Justice Department looking at reporters’ records, for instance, 59 percent considered it a “serious situation.” The same percentage considered the IRS targeting of conservative groups to be “serious.”

Sixty-nine percent thought the NSA surveillance of Americans was not a “phony scandal,” while 78 percent didn’t think investigations into the changes in talking points on the Benghazi attack were phony.

On Sunday, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York criticized Obama for showing little leadership in the debate the surveillance program. The  opponents of the program have gotten their message out through the media, King said.

“Basically Obama’s been silent for the past two months,” said King. “He allowed the Edward Snowdens and others in the world to dominate the media.”

King, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said that Obama had an obligation as commander in chief to “aggressively and effectively defend his program and he really didn’t do it.”

Finally, despite Obama’s attempt to shift talk to the economy with a series of speeches in recent days, a Fox News poll found that 71 percent of voters say he isn’t saying anything new and would prefer to see him stay in Washington to work things out with Republicans.

A Pew Research Center
poll in mid-July found confidence in an improved economy is lagging. Four in 10 said it will take a long time for the economy to get back on its feet.

[by Greg Richter, writing for NEWSMAX]
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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

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Responsible government vs. unrestrained growth in US debt. You decide…

The headlines tell the story:

It’s a story of how bad it will be for Republicans if they push for even modest fiscal restraint and responsibility in Washington and require cuts in spending equal to any new hike in the debt limit.

The debate doesn’t focus on the merits of responsible government. It doesn’t touch on the unsustainable growing debt. It’s doesn’t address the constitutional restraints on the federal government under the Constitution. It doesn’t even hint at what is the morally right or wrong thing to do as government faces yet another debt limit exceeding an unfathomable $17 trillion around Oct. 1.

The arguments are all about how bad it will be for Republican political fortunes if the GOP House uses its clout simply to curtail out-of-control borrowing and spending.

And the arguments are being made by a cultural institution – the press – whose central role in a free society is, theoretically, to serve as a watchdog on government fraud, waste, abuse and corruption.

All of this has one purpose in mind – to get Republicans to stop thinking about how destructive Obamacare will be to the future of the increasingly delicate fabric of American society and to focus on their fears and anxiety about their own political futures.

But there comes a time in the lives of people when they face the choice between doing what is perceived to be politically expedient and doing what’s clearly right.

That’s the choice that will face every Republican member of Congress soon – especially those in the House, where they hold a majority.

You can see the hysteria in the statist media. They fear that the freight train moving at 90 mph toward socialist utopia and unlimited government might be temporarily slowed. Maybe they also fear that Republicans might actually rediscover their principles. Surely, however, no one believes the news media are looking out for the best interests of Republicans by trying to protect them from some fatal political mistake.

So let’s do what the media won’t do: Let’s look at the pros and cons of shutting down government temporarily to make it more accountable to the rule of law and the will of the people.

What’s so scary about that?

Would we prefer to live in a land in which there are no restraints on the power of government?

Isn’t that where we are headed when we suggest that no government spending and no government programs should ever be cut?

Aren’t we really saying that the federal government should no longer be limited by the constraints of the Constitution?

Isn’t all this mau-mauing by the media and the political establishment of both parties really about perpetuating the unsustainable business-as-usual approach?

Think about this. It’s really an amazing fact, when you consider it. There hasn’t been a budget adopted by the White House and Congress for five years. Washington spends about $2.5 trillion a year without any blueprint, no road map, no plan of any kind. It’s catch as catch can. But, somehow, to the media and the political establishment, this non-plan of borrowing and spending as the spirit moves is sacrosanct, inviolable, untouchable and unquestionable.

That’s what I see when I read the daily coverage of this impending “crisis.”

I’ll tell you what the real impending crisis is – bankruptcy and totalitarianism.

The current road leads only in those directions.

What’s worse for Republicans – facing criticism from the media and political establishment or the end of American liberty?

It’s time to choose.

[by Joseph Farah, writing for WND]

 

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

 

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