Wednesday, January 26, 2011
White House officials on Wednesday attempted to quell criticism that President Obama dodged a national debate over guns in his State of the Union address and announced that the president would address the issue soon.But aides sidestepped questions about when Obama will talk about federal firearms policy or what he would say."I wouldn't rule out that at some point the president talks about the issues surrounding gun violence," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said aboard Air Force One on the way to an event with Obama in Wisconsin. "I don't have a timetable or, obviously, what he would say."As president, Obama has never delivered substantive remarks on gun policy, one of the most volatile and divisive domestic issues, out of fear of roiling swing voters in rural areas, the Midwest and the South.But after 19 people were shot in Tucson on Jan. 8, gun-control groups and some lawmakers urged Obama to wade into the issue. Advocates for stricter gun laws expressed dismay that Obama avoided the topic in a national address delivered less than three weeks after the rampage.
Florida Democrats are already speaking with candidates who could run to replace freshman GOP Rep. David Rivera, in case the Miami-area lawmaker’s ethics problems balloon into a career-ending scandal.A Florida Democratic Party official didn’t share names of the possible recruits, but said Democrats were bracing for the possibility that Rivera might not serve out his first term in the House of Representatives.“Just like leaders in the Republican Party are reportedly making ‘contingency plans’ as Congressman Rivera’s many legal problems grow, Florida Democrats have begun reaching out to potential candidates should Rivera be indicted or resign in disgrace,” said party spokesman Eric Jotkoff, alluding to a POLITICO report that Republicans are preparing for trouble with Rivera.Rivera is under investigation for a series of financial irregularities, both personal and campaign-related, by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Election Commission.The former state lawmaker received $130,000 in loans – disclosed only after the November elections – from a company managed by his mother and godmother. That company, in turn, received more than $500,000 from a betting concern, Flagler Dog Track, that successfully pushed a referendum allowing slot machines in Miami-Dade County. Rivera backed the Flagler position on slot machines.The Miami Herald reported earlier this week that a veteran Rivera aide, Alina Garcia, had been subpoenaed in a criminal probe examining Rivera. Garcia denied that report on the record to the Herald.Rivera hasn’t given the slightest indication that he might abandon his office. But POLITICO reported on Tuesday that Republican “insiders already are drawing contingency plans for a replacement should the freshman lawmaker resign or be forced to step aside.”
Monday, January 24, 2011
Republican efforts to repeal or limit the reach of the new health-care law took a new direction last week when Arizona lawmakers approved a novel and controversial attempt to cut Medicaid for 280,000 of the state's poor.The bill, requested and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R), empowers her to make a formal request, most likely this week, for a federal waiver to avoid complying with provisions of the law that prohibit states from tightening their eligibility requirements for Medicaid.Twenty-nine Republican governors, including Brewer, have signed a letter calling on President Obama and congressional leaders to remove the provision from the law.But Arizona is the first state to, in effect, play chicken with the Obama administration by directly requesting a reprieve and daring Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to refuse.The move is widely regarded as a long shot. While a spokesman said the White House had no comment on Arizona's request, administration officials have shown scant interest when asked about the idea in the past.Still, Arizona's move reflects two pressing realities: Many states face large budget shortfalls because of continuing economic difficulties, and Republican governors point to Medicaid cuts as one of the most logical ways to balance those budgets."The effect of federal requirements [in the new law] is unconscionable," the Republican governors wrote in their letter earlier this month. "States are unable to afford the current Medicaid program, yet our hands are tied."
As record levels of federal spending bring us ever closer to a tipping point, the Obama administration blissfully continues business as usual. We have seen no real plan, no strong leadership, no apparent willingness to confront the growing danger on the horizon.I fear we are on course to repeat history.Before the financial crisis of 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson reassured Americans that he had the housing correction under control and had "confidence in our capital markets and in their resilience." Just a few months later, Paulson declared that our financial system was "on the verge of collapse" and that "we have not in our lifetime dealt with a financial crisis of this severity."For years, Washington officials played down the systemic risks behind the crisis while they pushed policies that hastened its arrival.Today, we are again rushing in the wrong direction.Last month, President Obama would agree to maintain current tax rates only if Congress would agree to increase federal deficit spending. We are headed toward a cliff, yet the president hits the accelerator.Meanwhile, others are moving in the opposite direction. England has a plan to cut its deficit by 86 percent in just four years. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a plan to close his state's funding gap without raising taxes. Even California's new liberal governor has put forward a plan to cut state spending by 9 percent.The Washington bubble has never been so thick.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
TALLAHASSEE - With newly elected Gov. Rick Scott's first session of the Florida Legislature about to start, Republican legislative leaders are casting doubt on his campaign promises for tax cuts.On Wednesday, in an appearance before the Tallahassee press corps, Scott insisted he intends to keep those promises, which included phasing out corporate income taxes and cutting school property taxes by nearly a fifth.But facing a gap of $3.5 billion or more to balance the state's budget, currently $70.4 billion, Republican state Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon indicated to the same gathering that they're skeptical at best that tax cuts are possible.Scott's response Wednesday: "I'm going to put out a budget that shows them how to do it."The views suggest a potential fracture in the seemingly monolithic Republican control of state government.Scott hinted he would go over the heads of the Legislature to the populace, if necessary to achieve his goal."I'm going to talk to people around the state and explain why I believe in it, and I believe that we will get those reductions," he said.
Over the past two years, as U.S. unemployment remained near double-digit levels and the economy shed jobs in the wake of the financial crisis, over a million foreign-born arrivals to America found work, many illegally.Those are among the findings of a review of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau data conducted exclusively for Reuters by researchers at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.Often young and unskilled or semi-skilled, immigrants have taken jobs Americans could do in areas like construction, willing to work for less wages. Others land jobs that unemployed Americans turn up their noses at or lack the skills to do.With a national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, domestic job creation is at the top of President Barack Obama's agenda and such findings could add to calls to tighten up on illegal immigration. But much of it is Hispanic and the growing Latino vote is a key base for Obama's Democratic Party.Many of the new arrivals, according to employers, brought with them skills required of the building trade and found work in sectors such as construction, where jobless rates are high."Employers have chosen to use new immigrants over native-born workers and have continued to displace large numbers of blue-collar workers and young adults without college degrees," said Andrew Sum, the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies."One of the advantages of hiring, particularly young, undocumented immigrants, is the fact that employers do not have to pay health benefits or basic payroll taxes," said Sum.
Moving aggressively to make good on election promises to slash the federal budget, the House GOP today unveiled an eye-popping plan to eliminate $2.5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years. Gone would be Amtrak subsidies, fat checks to the Legal Services Corporation and National Endowment for the Arts, and some $900 million to run President Obama's healthcare reform program.What's more, the "Spending Reduction Act of 2011" proposed by members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, chaired by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, would reduce current spending for non-defense, non-homeland security and non-veterans programs to 2008 levels, eliminate federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, cut the federal workforce by 15 percent through attrition, and cut some $80 billion by blocking implementation of Obamacare.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The primary economic challenge today is that our government spends too much money it doesn't have, and it is involved in too many things it cannot do well and shouldn't do at all. This burden is manifested by a $1.3 trillion annual deficit and a $14 trillion national debt. The more pernicious effects of this fiscal drag are unseen: a debased dollar, massive (and hidden) unfunded liabilities, and a crushing burden on would-be job creators.Milton Friedman correctly argued in 1999 that the "real cost of government — the total tax burden — equals what government spends plus the cost to the public of complying with government mandates and regulations and of calculating, paying, and taking measures to avoid taxes." He added, "Anything that reduces that real cost — lower government spending, elimination of costly regulations on individuals or businesses, simplification of explicit taxes — is a tax reform."Since 2007, Congress has been on an unprecedented spending binge. That means a first and obvious budget-cutting step would be to return discretionary spending to the baseline before things got so out of control. If Congress returned to the baseline before the supposedly "temporary" stimulus bill of 2009, $177 billion per year would be saved, according to calculations by FreedomWorks based on figures from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). If spending went back to the 2007 baseline, the beginning of the first Pelosi Congress, $374 billion would be saved. Over 10 years, that is $748 billion and $1.56 trillion in savings, respectively.Repealing ObamaCare is another obvious source of reduced spending. The absurd claim that this government takeover of health care produces budget savings is based on budget gimmickry — such as assumed Medicare cuts that, according to estimates by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, would put 15% of our hospitals out of business, and thus will never happen. The claim also ignores the historically explosive growth in other similar programs. Medicare grew nine-fold larger than was projected during its first 25 years. In its first 10 years alone, the program experienced a 700% cost overrun.But let's for the moment accept CBO's numbers on ObamaCare spending. They still mean that repealing the health-insurance exchanges and the premium subsidies, including the expansion of Medicaid, saves $898 billion over 10 years. Repealing the individual mandate alone — and thus reducing rather than eliminating these premium subsidies and Medicaid outlays — would cut $252 billion.Still more savings can be realized by eliminating taxpayer-funded bailouts. We need to cut the cord between taxpayer wallets and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said last March of Fannie and Freddie, "Taxpayers have already contributed more than $127 billion to the bailout and they are on the hook for hundreds of billions more." The CBO estimates that the cost to taxpayers could rise to $389 billion. Others estimate it will take around $1 trillion. Fannie and Freddie need to be broken up and returned to the private sector now.
Foreign leaders showered President Barack Obama and his family with hundreds of thousands of dollars in art, jewelry, rare books and other presents during their first year in the White House.Saudi Arabia's king was the most generous gift-giver, according to documents released by the State Department on Tuesday.Saudi King Abdullah gave Obama, his wife and daughters nearly $190,000 in luxury baubles in 2009, including the single most valuable gift reported to have been given to U.S. officials that year: a ruby and diamond jewelry set, including earrings, a ring, a bracelet and necklace, for the first lady worth $132,000.But don't be looking for the first lady to be wearing the dazzling gems anytime soon. By law, most gifts to U.S. officials must be turned over to the government and the jewelry has already been sent to the National Archives.In addition to the ruby and diamond jewelry, the Saudi monarch presented Michelle Obama with a $14,200 pearl necklace. He gave the president a marble clock adorned with miniature gold palm trees and camels valued at $34,500. He sent first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama diamond earrings and necklaces worth more than $7,000.Senior White House officials were also recipients of King Abdullah's largesse, with top aides like national security adviser James Jones, David Axelrod, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarrett and spokesman Robert Gibbs receiving watches, cufflinks, pens, earrings and bracelets valued at between $5,000 and $9,000.
A study out Tuesday from the The Department of Health and Human Services finds that somewhere between 50 million and 129 million non-elderly Americans have a pre-existing condition. Simply put, that's the kind of condition insurance companies can use to deny coverage. This same study also found that 15-30 percent of people in good health are likely to develop such a condition within eight years. (To read more about the HHS study, click here.)What's my take? I don't buy this. First, the timing is just too good to be true. This study comes just a couple of days before a very serious vote on the new health care law in Congress.Second, I don't buy the numbers. A chronic medical condition is any kind of medical history that you report. Pre-existing medical conditions have been around for a long time. Especially diabetes, obesity, hypertension, even arthritis, these have all been around for a long, long time. But to say 129 million people have pre-existing conditions that may put them at risk of losing their health insurance is hot air, in my opinion.The fact is, we don't know where the HHS figures come from because we don't know what their sources are in regards to the129 million Americans who are said to have a pre-existing condition.Your medical records are federally protected so they can't be getting the figures from medical records. These figures likely come from a mix of statistical projections and some from Medicaid and Medicare numbers. But here's the truth, figures for a lot of chronic medical conditions are moveable targets.
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Six more states joined a lawsuit in Florida against President Obama's health care overhaul on Tuesday, meaning more than half of the country is challenging the law.The announcement was made as House members in Washington, led by Republicans, debated whether to repeal the law.The six additional states, all with Republican attorneys general, joined Florida and 19 others in the legal action, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said."It sends a strong message that more than half of the states consider the health care law unconstitutional and are willing to fight it in court," she said in a statement.The states claim the health care law is unconstitutional and violates people's rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties.
Join me for a Twitter Town Hall tomorrow night at 7 pm. Send Q's to @FLGovScott, use #flgov. I will answer as many Q's as I can. #sayfie
If you had any doubt about the importance of repealing the health reform law, a new chart from the Center for Health Transformation will give you 1,968 reasons to repeal the bill.The chart, titled "The New and Expanded Secretarial Powers in the Health Reform Law" reveals the ways in which the 2,700-page health reform law grants 1,968 powers to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.Control over the largest single sector of the American economy (about 18% of GDP, or one out of every five dollars in the entire economy) and a matter of life and death for every American, will be handed over to one appointed bureaucrat.Here are five outrageous examples the Center for Health Transformation found in the 1,968 grants of power:1. The Secretary determines “clinical concern”of drugs -- Section 3307 -- (ii) IDENTIFICATION OF DRUGS IN CERTAIN CATEGORIES AND CLASSES. (I) … the Secretary shall identify, as appropriate, categories and classes of drugs for which the Secretary determines are of clinical concern. (II) CRITERIA. The Secretary shall use criteria established by the Secretary in making any determination under subclause (I). (iii) IMPLEMENTATION. The Secretary shall establish the criteria … and any exceptions … through the promulgation of a regulation which includes a public notice and comment period.Meaning: The Secretary will decide what clinical drugs seniors can access.
The new chairman of the House subcommittee responsible for federal workers and the U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday that he plans to focus first on potential cuts to the federal payroll.Freshman Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), a former lawyer for Disney World, will serve as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on federal workers, the Postal Service and labor policy. The panel's chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), tapped Ross and another freshman, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), to lead the panel, placing two of Capitol Hill's newest faces at the center of emerging debates over proposed cutbacks in federal pay and benefits and an overhaul of the beleaguered USPS.Ross, 51, who represents Florida's 12th District, served in the state legislature before coming to Washington and once handled workers' compensation and entertainment contract issues for Disney World. Amash, 30, is the House's second-youngest member, and party leaders credit him with being among the first politicians to post detailed explanations of his votes on Facebook during his two years in the Michigan House.Though the full oversight committee is expected to spend the first few weeks of the new Congress holding hearings on corruption in Afghanistan, the release of classified diplomatic cables by WikiLeakds and the nation's recent economic downturn, Issa said he wants Ross to explore building "a 21st-century federal workforce that no longer grows itself at the expense of private-sector job creation, and gets more done with less." Preventing "a fiscal meltdown" at the USPS is also "one of the central priorities" of the new Congress, Issa said in a statement.