Monday, February 10, 2014

Current Events - February 10, 2014

Congress this week seeks elusive debt ceiling deal

By Susan Ferrechio

The House and Senate this week will vote on the future of military retirement pay, whether to delay new financial reform regulations, and legislation aimed at boosting small business stock trading. But lawmakers will also be working intensely behind the scenes to strike a deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling before a Feb. 27 deadline.
The Senate, meanwhile, will take up a measure aimed at restoring a planned one percent cost-of-living reduction to military pensions with a test vote scheduled for Monday. The bill includes no offset for the $6 billion cost, so it is unlikely to win enough Republicans to clear a 60-vote hurdle.
The House schedule is more uncertain.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told lawmakers that the chamber may consider a bill this week to lift the $17.2 trillion debt ceiling, but no vote is scheduled yet.
And there won’t be much time.
The House is only in session from Monday until Wednesday, because Democratic lawmakers are leaving town midweek for their annual issues retreat.
With the week-long President's Day recess beginning on the following Monday, Feb. 17, the House is not scheduled to return to session until Feb. 25. That's just two days before a Feb. 27 debt ceiling deadline set by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who warned lawmakers in recent letter that he's running out of “extraordinary measures” to shuffle around money and will soon be unable to fully fund the federal government.
...While House Republicans debate the debt ceiling behind closed doors, they’ll vote on a series of bills under special House rules that limit debate, exclude amendments and require two-thirds votes for passage:
— The Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act would delay implementation or set aside final regulations developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and would require the agency to consider a new rule’s impact on financial institutions.
— The Small Cap Liquidity Reform Act would create a pilot program for small businesses to loosen trading rules in order to spur trading activity in their company stock.
— A bill to give the airline pilots union a say in any new tests or regulation for sleep disorders among pilots and air traffic controllers.
— The National Integrated Drought Information System Act, which would authorize $13.5 million annually through 2018 for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to maintain a system providing early warnings of droughts.
— A resolution regarding Ukraine would call on the government in Kiev to respect protesters who support ties with the European Union and would call on the U.S. to employ targeted sanctions if the government uses violence against the protesters. The Senate passed similar language last month.

White House week ahead: Obama hosts Francois Hollande, meets the press

By Brian Hughes 
President Obama this week will host French President Francois Hollande for a state visit at the White House, a trip meant to highlight a “transformed” alliance between the two nations but one that is being overshadowed by Hollande's personal problems back home.
On Monday, the two leaders will travel to Monticello, the Virginia residence of former President Thomas Jefferson. And the duo penned an op-ed Monday, touting their cooperation on issues ranging from Iran's nuclear ambitions to ending the civil war in Syria.
...The president and first lady Michelle Obama will hold an arrival ceremony for Hollande Tuesday, to be followed by a bilateral meeting and joint press conference -- it marks the president's first extended press conference since delivering his State of the Union address. The official state dinner with Hollande will take place Tuesday evening.
...The president on Friday will travel to Cambridge, Md., to speak at a conference for House Democrats. Last week, Obama held separate meetings with House and Senate Democrats, part of a ramped-up effort by the White House to leave an imprint on November's midterm elections.
Later Friday, Obama will head to Sunnylands, Calif. for a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

The Do-Nothing Senate

It’s where House initiatives get smothered.

By Rep Doug Lamborn

When anyone says it’s a “do-nothing Congress,” they are only half right. It’s actually a do-nothing Senate.
In this Congress, the House has passed and sent over to the Senate 253 bills. In stark contrast, the Senate has sent to the House 63 bills. The Senate produces only one quarter of what the House does.
I am not saying that passing bills is in and of itself an unalloyed good. (See the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.) But if you want to determine who is doing the actual work of legislating, counting bills is where you start.
The U.S. Senate has become a productivity graveyard. President Obama signed only 16 Senate bills into law in 2013. Since summer, while House Republicans have allowed minority Democrats to offer 71 recorded amendments, Senate Democrats have allowed Republicans only four.
Senate Democrats seem concerned only with protecting themselves from taking votes that might anger their liberal donors or their voters. They do this by closing off debate, eliminating amendments, changing Senate rules meant to protect the minority, and writing their bills in secret, shutting out Republican voices and input.
This broken and dysfunctional Democratic Senate has created numerous disasters for the American people, and not just Obamacare. They also passed the trillion-dollar so-called Stimulus Act, refused for four years to pass a budget, and allowed the president to balloon the national debt in five short years, from $10 trillion to $17 trillion.

Why not even Congress can sue the administration over unconstitutional executive actions

By Elizabeth Price Foley

What happens if a president refuses to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” as required by Article II of the Constitution? The Framers assumed that neither Congress nor the courts would tolerate such usurpation. In Federalist No. 48, James Madison said power was “so divided and balanced among several bodies … that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.” Madison’s confidence assumes a wayward president could be reversed by the courts, reigned in by Congress or — as a last resort — impeached. But what if none of these checks and balances works? Americans may soon find out.
First, courts have limited ability to check a president’s failure to execute. The primary obstacle is “standing,” a doctrine that requires a plaintiff to have a concrete, personal injury in order to sue. Citizens can’t file generic lawsuits to enforce the Constitution; they must prove that the government has harmed them in a personal, palpable way.
When a president delays or exempts people from a law — so-called benevolent suspensions — who has standing to sue him? Generally, no one. Benevolent suspensions of law don’t, by definition, create a sufficiently concrete injury for standing. That’s why, when President Obama delayed various provisions of Obamacare — the employer mandate, the annual out-of-pocket caps, the prohibition on the sale of “substandard” policies — his actions cannot be challenged in court.
Similarly, when the president decided not to deport certain young people, not to prosecute most marijuana users, and rewrote the work requirement of welfare reform, courts cannot rule on these acts’ constitutionality because no individual has suffered the personal harm required for standing. Sure, the Constitution and its separation of powers are tremendously harmed. But the Supreme Court has made clear such generalized societal harms won’t suffice.
Congress probably can’t sue the president, either. The Supreme Court has severely restricted so-called “congressional standing,” creating a presumption against allowing members of Congress to sue the president merely because he fails to faithfully execute its laws.
If courts can’t be counted on to check the president, couldn’t Congress just enact another law reversing him, or even impeach him? In today’s hyper-partisan climate, the answer appears to be no.
Even if the House passed a bill undoing presidential action — for example, a bill that declared, “We don’t want individuals brought into this country illegally to be exempt from deportation, and we really, really mean it this time” — the Democrat-controlled Senate wouldn’t likely allow a vote on the measure. House Republicans passed a spending measure this fall to keep the government operating. But because the bill included a one-year delay in Obamacare — something the president threatened to veto — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to even bring the bill to the floor.
Indeed, why should Congress even bother to legislate in the current environment? If it somehow miraculously passed something the president opposed, it would be promptly vetoed, and getting two-thirds of both Houses of Congress to overrule his veto — particularly in the Senate — is as likely as a snowstorm in Miami.
Even when a congressional majority agrees with the president and passes a law the president signs, there’s little confidence he will faithfully execute the law as written. Why pass comprehensive immigration reform, for example, if it includes tight border security or deportation measures with which the president disagrees and may ignore? As Congressman Paul Ryan put it, ”Here’s the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don’t trust the president to enforce the law.” The president’s failure to faithfully execute has made Congress grind to a halt and with it, democracy itself.
If the president’s actions are so bad, why not just impeach him? Presidential impeachment has occurred only three times. Reconstruction President Andrew Johnson narrowly escaped conviction after the House impeached him for firing the Secretary of War in contravention of the Tenure of Office Act. Richard Nixon resigned after being impeached for obstructing an investigation into the Watergate break-in, and using the IRS and other executive agencies to target political opponents. Bill Clinton was impeached for abusing the judicial process and executive power to cover up his extramarital relationships. The Democrat-controlled Senate acquitted him.
The one thing all three attempts at presidential impeachment share is this: An assertion that the president was failing to faithfully execute the laws. Each situation involved — to a greater or lesser degree — a president intent on ignoring or manipulating the law for his own political or personal advantage.
Has President Obama committed similarly serious acts? Some Americans believe his unilateral changes to various laws and use of the IRS to target tea party and conservative groups are just as serious as Clinton’s, Nixon’s, or Johnson’s transgressions. But even assuming this is true and the House passed articles of impeachment, would two-thirds of Harry Reid’s Senate convict the first African-American president? The question seems to answer itself.
Sadly, in the Washington of 2014, partisanship trumps constitutional principles. While President Obama’s pattern of failing to execute laws is serious, the ability of courts and Congress to stop him is shockingly limited. The Framers relied on the other branches of government to jealously guard Congress’s prerogative to make laws and the president’s duty to faithfully execute those laws. Unfortunately, the Framers may have been wrong

Accenture, hired to help fix, has had a series of stumbles

 By Jerry Markon & Alice Crites
 Accenture, the contractor urgently tapped to help fix the federal health-insurance Web site, is a favorite of corporate America but has a record that includes troubled projects and allegations of ethical lapses, a review of the consulting giant’s history shows.

At the University of Michigan, students and faculty members are protesting the school’s use of Accenture to help cut costs, citing a report by a committee of alumni and graduate students that said the firm has “a disturbing pattern of problematic past performance.” In North Carolina, glitches in an Accenture-configured computer system contributed to massive backlogs for food-stamp recipients, leading the Obama administration last month to threaten to withdraw the state’s food-stamp funding.
Federal officials have also on occasion criticized the company’s integrity. The U.S. Postal Service Inspector General’s Office wrote in June that Accenture had “demonstrated an absence of business ethics” and said that the agency should consider terminating the firm’s more than $200 million in contracts. The office cited in part a 2011 settlement with the Justice Department in which Accenture paid $63 million to resolve alle­gations of what the government called “kickbacks” and “bid-
rigging” in numerous federal contracts. The company denied wrongdoing in the case.

...“Past performance was a key criteria when evaluating Accenture’s potential to serve as the new contractor,’’ said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision making.
But during the past decade, nearly 30 Accenture projects in the United States and abroad have encountered problems, including technical malfunctions and cost overruns, according to interviews, media accounts, government audits and other records.

Townhall Follies

By Howard Hyde

Citizens' townhall meetings with members of Congress can be painful.
A college professor asks, what are you going to do so that our students can pay off their loans? Another citizen asks whether the budget will be increased for this or that social program. A third asks for unemployment benefits to be extended, again. The officeholder is compelled to promise ever-increasing benefits, goodies for all, increased spending with no considerations of cost, competing demands, prioritization, trade-offs or the constitutional appropriateness of the expenditures.
Where do the constituents making these earnest pleas think the money for all of this comes from? It comes from themselves -- from the rest of the people there in the junior high school auditorium. To say that the money comes from "Washington" is to be deluded by the Big Lie. Washington DC, the federal government, has nothing except what it takes from the states and the counties and cities and the citizens, taxpaying or otherwise. For any district to ask for more money is either to ask for its own money back less Washington's commission or to ask for other districts to run a deficit for the former's benefit, also less middleman fees. Should Mississippi support the San Fernando Valley? Should Beverly Hills underwrite Anchorage? Why shouldn't Denver subsidize Appalachia and Bel Air, if their respective representatives demand it?
Set aside for a moment the immorality of politicians and their supporters constantly jockeying for advantage at each other's expense (for this is truly a zero-sum game). Money extracted from other districts and dispensed by political favoritism does not create wealth. Senator Robert Byrd, the once member of the Ku Klux Klan of West Virginia, was a master at bringing home the political bacon. Nevertheless, West Virginia remained poor over all. Other states and districts with less adept politicians have nevertheless thrived without being beneficiaries of a political gravy train. What counts in order for a district, a state, or a nation to prosper is individual initiative, hard work and the creative destruction of capitalist enterprise operating under liberty, private property rights, rule of law, low taxes, and light regulation.
What if a congressman/woman or candidate were to say to his or her constituents, No! I'm not going to try to rob the pork from a richer or poorer district. There is no moral justification for robbing the poor, and if the great wealth of some other district is so attractive, then do what they do! Instead, I'm going to fight to see to it that our money doesn't leave our district in the first place. Because even if we could get back 100% of our share of the pie, that 'share' will end up being much less than what we had paid out because of Washington 'public servants' extracting their piece of the action.
We have capable experts in business, technology, medicine, charity, and administration right here. We don't need Washington 'experts' to do it for us or tell us what to do. We don't need bureaucrats usurping power over our own job creators and demoralizing our people with dependency. We don't need them crowding out our churches and synagogues that deliver charity and aid to the less fortunate on a personal and voluntary basis, replacing them with armies of salaried and pensioned functionaries in whose interest it is to increase the number of their 'clients' to the highest possible volume.
No. What is needed is to take responsibility for ourselves and to demand our own lives, liberty, and property back; to reduce the federal government's jackboot print on our lives and economy; to cut federal tax rates to low, flat levels, and to lighten regulation to the point of simply preventing and punishing murder, assault, robbery, theft, fraud, rape, persecution, and conspiracy; and even then only to the degree that states and counties are unable to do so for themselves. To go back to the model where the largest line item in the federal budget is the Defense Department, because that is the most important of the few and constitutionally enumerated responsibilities of the federal government which the states may not take on independently; keeping our citizens safe from foreign aggression.
The answer to this 'what if' of course is that any congressman or candidate who refuses to play Santa Claus and promise unlimited candy for all if only the 'rich' would pay their 'fair share' would be routed in the next election, unless a plurality of the voters are private-sector property and/or business-owning, responsible, and intelligent working adults and parents. The current administration and its supporters are not only rapidly extinguishing this category of Americans through their policies, decrees and executive orders, but celebrating their own success in doing so.
Now if you will excuse me, my teeth hurt. What is my congressman going to do about it?
By William Bigelow
According to the Daily Breeze, the superintendent of the Centinela Valley High School District in Los Angeles, Jose Fernandez, is making an insanely inflated amount of money because of perks he had negotiated in his contract. Fernandez made more than $663,000 in total compensation last year. His base pay amounted to $271, 000 in the 2013 calendar year while his ancillary benefits amounted to almost $400,000.  That’s not all; the school district gave Fernandez a $910,000 loan at 2% interest to help him buy an expensive house.

The Centinela Valley High School District only has three comprehensive high schools and a continuation school, but Fernandez accumulated more than twice what his peers made in neighboring districts. John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second-largest school system, grossed a little less than $390,000. LAUSD has roughly 650,000 students; Centinela Valley, 6,600.
...Fernandez was hired as interim superintendent in 2008 to fix the faltering school district. In late 2008, he was promoted to permanent status by a 3-2 vote, receiving a 19-month contract with a base salary of about $163,000. In 2009, his base pay was increased to $198,000, but the perks given border on the surreal:
  1. An annual raise of 9 percent.
  2. A 215 day work year; other superintendents of districts can work as many as 245.
  3. Extra pay for work beyond 215 days a year.
  4. Reimbursement for his buying “air time,” or up to 5 years of service to add to his service so he could increase his lifetime pension.
  5. The guarantee that he could only be fired if at least 4 of the board members agreed to do so.
  6. The option to cash out pay for vacation.
  7. The option to take a low-interest loan from his district in order to buy a home.
Fernandez used the loan option recently to buy a two-story, four-bedroom home in Ladera Heights, an upscale neighborhood. He can pay off the loan in 40 years.

Leisure studies prof rebukes Republicans for liking jobs, lauds Obama for unemployment

By Eric Owens A professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa has written a 1,278-word essay excoriating Republicans for criticizing both unemployment caused by Obamacare and unemployment generally.
Also, there is such a thing as a leisure studies major at taxpayer-supported American universities.
The essay by Benjamin Kline Hunnicut, entitled “Why Do Republicans Want Us to Work All the Time?” appears in Politico Magazine.
By William Bigelow
Funded by taxpayers, a Madison, Wisconsin, conference for all members of the educational system, including teachers, university faculty, students ranging from high school to college, and political activists intends to teach the attendees to “dismantle this system of white supremacy, white privilege and oppression.”
The White Privilege Conference, a four-day-long event which will take place in downtown Madison in March, is being co-sponsored by Madison Area Technical College and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which are both taxpayer-supported. Michael Rindo, spokesman for UW-Eau Claire, said the university is giving $2,000 for the event. The city of Madison said it is forking over $1,500.
...The White Privilege Conference has been held for fifteen years. Its founder, Eddie Moore Jr., said in 2011 on Minnesota’s MSR Online that “white supremacy, white privilege, racism and other forms of oppression are designed for your destruction – designed to kill you.” 
An anonymous teacher on the conference website said she will return to her classroom with what she learned and encourage her younger students to think about “how this is going to play itself out.”

Illinois Bill Would Force Schools to Teach the Greatness of Unions

By Warner Todd Huston
In January, a bill was introduced in the Illinois state legislature that would require schools to teach kids all about the marvels of unions.
Senate Bill 2682 was introduced by the 19th District's Michael E. Hastings, a south suburban Chicago state senator, and would require the "study of the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process" to be included in US history classes.
The new law would state that, "The teaching of history also shall include a study of the history of organized labor in America, the role of labor unions and their interaction with government in achieving the goals of a mixed free enterprise system, and the collective bargaining process."
The Illinois Policy Institute's Justin Hegy finds the conflict of interest to be a bit too much.
"Our students are presented with a government-run education system--managed by government workers who are themselves heavily unionized--which mandates a curriculum that glorifies the role of unions. Conflict of interest, anyone?" Hegy wrote.
Meanwhile, it is unions that have been driving the Land of Lincoln into bankruptcy with the overly generous retirement benefits that public employees routinely get in the state.

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