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The official blog of the National Center for Public Policy Research, covering news, current events and public policy from a conservative, free-market and pro-Constitution perspective.

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Thursday
Jul242014

ObamaCare: How's That 'Honor System' Working Out For You?

In July of last year, the Dept. of Health and Human Service admitted that it wouldn’t have the capabilities to check an applicant’s income eligibility for the premium subsidies on the ObamaCare exchanges. Instead, HHS decided it would “accept the applicant’s attestation [regarding eligibility] without further verification.” Or, as Avik Roy put it, “Not qualified for Obamacare’s subsidies? Just lie—govt. to use ‘Honor System.’”

Since then we’ve learned that there are at least 2.1 million “discrepancies” in the ObamaCare exchanges.  “About 1.2 million have discrepancies related to income; 505,000 have issues with immigration data and 461,000 have conflicts related to citizenship information,” according to the Associated Press.  It could easily be worse since “the 2 million figure reflects only consumers who signed up through the federally administered HealthCare.gov website and call centers. The government signed up about 5.4 million people, while state-run websites signed up another 2.6 million.”

And yesterday we learned that getting illegal subsidies out of the ObamaCare exchanges is almost as difficult as stealing candy from a baby.  Here’s what the Government Accountability Office reported:

For 12 applicant scenarios, GAO tested “front-end” controls for verifying an applicant’s identity or citizenship/immigration status. Marketplace applications require attestations that information provided is neither false nor untrue. In its applications, GAO also stated income at a level to qualify for income-based subsidies to offset premium costs and reduce cost sharing. For 11 of these 12 applications, which were made by phone and online using fictitious identities, GAO obtained subsidized coverage. For one application, the marketplace denied coverage because GAO’s fictitious applicant did not provide a Social Security number as part of the test. [Italics added].

There are two lessons here.  First, when the Obama Administration says that ObamaCare exchanges are working, we should be a bit skeptical.  But most people already know that lesson by now; this just reinforces that.

The second is that if you tell people that they’re on the “honor system,” a lot more of them are going to cheat than if you tell them that someone will be looking over their shoulder.  Most people learn that at some point in grade school or high school when the teacher has to leave the class briefly during a test.  

Perhaps the folks running HHS didn’t think that lesson applied anymore since their boss had “fundamentally transformed” the nation?
Wednesday
Jul232014

Project 21's Chelsi Henry on the Death of Eric Garner

Many people know that the actor James Garner died last weekend.  It was all over Facebook.

Fewer, however, know about the death of Eric Garner.  His funeral is today.  He died last week after having a heart attack most likely induced by a chokehold administered by a New York City police officer.  Garner was suspected of trying to sell untaxed cigarettes, but the hold put on Garner by the officer was an action that the police are supposed to no longer be allowed to use.

The cop who held Garner in the likely deadly chokehold was removed from street duty, the FBI is allegedly monitoring the investigation and NYPD officials say they are reviewing training procedures, but the situation seems still a long way from being resolved.

Chelsi Henry, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network says that the force used against Garner was an offense to all Americans in general and the Garner family in particular:

America is the country that is supposed to embrace the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.”  America is the country that purports to be a place of new beginnings and second chances.

The death of Eric Garner has left me without many words to express my deepest disappointment and hurt.  The appalling actions of law enforcement in the video were contradictory to these values, contained unnecessary brutality and conveyed to me a disrespect for all Americans.

I long for the day when America truly becomes the place of second chances for all.  I long for the day when a person’s past actions will not be the definition of their future.

Last week, Eric Garner lost his life.  He leaves behind a wife and children who will never again have their dad at the dinner table, graduations, proms or athletic games.  Where is the freedom and equality that we preach in this case?

I hope for a thorough investigation and justice for Mr. Garner’s family and all Americans who, like him, thought he lived in the country of second chances.  I hope that fear will no longer be the feeling people feel when they see a police officer.

Wednesday
Jul232014

4th Circuit Agrees: No Evidence Of Congressional Intent.  But...

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in King vs. Burwell in effect agrees with the D.C. Circuit Court about the evidence of Congressional intent regarding whether premium subsidies should be available on federal exchanges (p. 29):

…we cannot discern whether Congress intended one way or another to make the tax credits available on HHS-facilitated Exchanges.  

However, the Fourth Circuit upheld the use of subsidies on the federal exchanges by claiming that the InternalRevenue Service had made a decision that was consistent with the broad policy goals of ObamaCare.  Basically, one goal of ObamaCare is expanding insurance coverage, and offering subsidies to people who purchase insurance through federal exchanges is consistent with that goal.  The Circuit Court takes it even further by arguing that because of the features of ObamaCare like community rating and guaranteed issue, insurance would be unaffordable without the subsidies. (No kidding!)

Deferring to a regulatory agency is sometimes known as “Chevron deference” after the case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.  As David Kemp explains it, if “the statute is ambiguous, then the court asks whether the agency’s interpretation of the ambiguous provision is based on a permissible construction of the statute. A permissible construction is one that is not ‘arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute.’ In other words, it is a very low threshold of deference.”

Yet, courts can’t give deference if the statute is unambiguous.  Section 36B of ObamaCare states that premium subsidies go to people “enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”  That’s not ambiguous.

The Fourth Circuit tries to make it ambiguous by pointing to other parts of the law that suggest premiums would be allowable for on all exchanges.  I’m not convinced by that, but it is likely the argument that the Supreme Court will use if it overturns the D.C. Circuit Courts opinion.

UPDATE:  Also read this great piece by Sean Davis on “drafting error.”  No, sorry, it’s not about football.

UPDATE II: Also see Phil Klein’s article, “Seven potential effects of the D.C. Circuit Court’s Obamacare ruling.”

Tuesday
Jul222014

Halbig vs. Burwell: As D.C. Circuit Correctly Noted, There Was No Evidence Of Congressional Intent

In Halbig vs. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals got it right.  People who get their insurance through a federal exchange under ObamaCare are not eligible for premium subsidies.  (For some background on the case, go here.)

Arguably the most important part of the ruling concerned whether the Internal Revenue Service had interpreted ObamaCare correctly when it allowed people on federal exchanges to receive subsidies (p. 17):

The problem confronting the IRS Rule is that subsidies also turn on a third attribute of Exchanges: who established them. Under section 36B [of ObamaCare], subsidies are available only for plans “enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ObamaCare].”  Of the three elements of that provision—(1) an Exchange (2) established by the State (3) under section 1311—federal Exchanges satisfy only two: they are Exchanges established under section 1311. Nothing in section 1321 deems federally-established Exchanges to be “Exchange[s] established by the State.” 

 

The meaning of section 36B was always plain:  Only people who enrolled through state exchanges were eligible for premium subsidies.  The remaining issue for the Circuit Court was whether this was an oversight by Congress and that Congress intended for subsidies to be avaialbe on both state and federal exchanges.

That it was an oversight is something I wouldn’t argue.  The problem for the Circuit Court is that it could find no evidence that Congress intended for subsidies to go to both federal and state exchanges (p. 34):

For the court to depart from the [ObamaCare’s] plain meaning, which favors appellants, “there must be evidence that Congress meant something other than what it literally said,” from which the court can conclude that applying the statute literally would be “‘demonstrably at odds with the intentions of [the ACA’s] drafters.’”As Chief Justice Marshall wrote, “it is incumbent on those who oppose” a statute’s plain meaning “to shew an intent varying from that which the words import.”Nothing the government or its amici cite demonstrates what that precise intent was. And “[i]n the absence of such evidence, the court cannot ignore the text by assuming that if the statute seems odd to us, i.e., the statute is not as we would have predicted beforehand that Congress would write it, it could be the product only of oversight, imprecision, or drafting error.”

 

I don’t doubt for a second that if one queried every Democrat who voted for the law on whether the premium subsidies should be available on both state and federal exchanges, every one of them would say, “Yes!”  The problem is there is no evidence that any of them said any such thing, probably because none of them were ever asked the question.  Indeed, it was a then-reporter at Investor’s Business Daily who was the first (as far as I know) to point out publicly that ObamaCare stated that subsidies were only available on state exchanges—and that was on September 7, 2011, nearly a year and a half after ObamaCare was signed into law.

Courts can (or are supposed to) only consider actual evidence, not evidence that might have existed if some other condition had been met.  Since the Circuit Court could find no evidence of Congressional intent on this issue, it had to rely on the language of the statute.

A couple of points.  Commentators calling this “conservative judicial activism” or just a “grammar error” are being disingenuous.  They claim that Congress intended subsidies to be available on federal exchanges, but they aren’t pointing to any evidence.  They merely say that at the time no one in Congress ever said that the subsidies wouldn’t apply to both.  But Courts can’t accept that as evidence of intent either.

Next, is this the end of ObamaCare?  Well, first this case has to go to the Supreme Court and who knows what will happen there?  Another 5-4 decision in which Chief Justice Roberts sides with the four liberal Justices isn’t out of the question.

But even if the Supreme Court agrees with the D.C. Circuit Court, it’s probably not the end of ObamaCare.  As Callie Gable over at National Review notes, states could simply pass laws saying they are using HealthCare.gov as a state exchange.  

Finally, the 4th Circuit also ruled on this case today and ruled opposite of the D.C. Circuit.  I’ll comment on that case tomorrow.

Tuesday
Jul222014

Lies, Damned Lies, And ObamaCare Statistics

With apologies to Mark Twain, there are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are ObamaCare statistics. Case in point is a column written by Vicki Simons touting the supposed positive effects of ObamaCare:

The positive results of ACA:

— 20 million more American have access to health care than before ACA was passed.

— 8 million people have signed up for health coverage through the state and federal marketplaces; 32,000 in New Mexico.

— 4.8 million more have signed up for Medicaid coverage; 103,00 total in New Mexico. As of March 31, 2014, there were 642,489 residents enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP).

— 3 million now have coverage by staying on their parents’ plan; 26,000 in New Mexico.

Not a single one of those is accurate.

1. The statement that “20 million more American have access to health care than before ACA was passed” is easily the most misleading.  It’s intent is to leave the impression that ObamaCare has reduced the uninsured by 20 million.  It came from this study by the increasingly disingenuous Commonwealth Fund.  Here is how they came up with 20 million:

 

The notion that 20 million people have coverage now that didn’t have it before Obamacare is belied by the fact that not everyone who purchased insurance on the exchanges or directly from an insurer was previously uninsured.  At best, 20 million people have access to new types of coverage.  But, clearly, that’s not a reduction of the uninsured.

2. Regarding the claim that 8 million people have signed up for coverage on the exchanges, as Reason’s Peter Suderman pointed out the other day, “That statistic, however, leaves out an important detail: how many of those 8 million have actually enrolled.”  That number will decline as insurers drop people who have not paid their premiums.  That could be as high as 15 percent, which means enrollment would be about 6.8 million.  Nor does it include people who will leave the exchange for Medicaid or for employer-based insurance.  The U.C. Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education estimated that by the end of the year about 42 percent of enrollees in the California exchange will leave for just those reasons.  Presumably, that will happen in other states as well.

3. As for 4.8 million now have Medicaid coverage, Sean Trende exposed the problem with Medicaid numbers back in January.  At the time, he examined November enrollment numbers and wrote, “of the November enrollees, 55 percent are in states where the Obamacare expansion of coverage didn’t occur and the ACA is therefore very unlikely to be directly responsible for their coverage. If we look at the October numbers, a little less than half (49.82 percent) were in states that didn’t expand coverage. Therefore, in total, of the 3.9 million individuals newly covered by Medicaid in October or November, only about 1.9 million are from states that expanded Medicaid.”

Nor do such numbers distinguish between people who are signed up for Medicaid because of the expansion—that is, they would not have previously qualified for Medicaid because their income was too high—and those who have signed up and would have been eligible even without the expansion.  One can argue that the former are covered because of ObamaCare, but not the latter.  But the latter are undoubtedly included in Ms. Simons numbers, thereby rendering them bogus.

4. I examined the claim 3 million young people gained coverage under their parent’s plan a while back and found it to be deceptive.  It included not only young people on private insurance but also those on public coverage (such as Medicaid) and hadn’t been updated in over 21 months.  Fixing those problems showed that the number was, at best, 2.2 million.  Furthermore, using different data from the Census Bureau showed that at most 258,000 young people had received coverage via their parents plan.  But Ms. Simons didn’t have to take my word for it. She could have done a bit of Google searching and found that PolitiFact rated the claim as only “half true.”

Back in April, I noted that the “Administration has shown itself to be utterly shameless in hawking bogus statistics.”  Apparently, so are its supporters.

Sunday
Jul202014

Correcting the Record on Yet Another Idiotic Article [Mis]Covering Our Work

JournalismFictionMediaW

Believers in the human-caused catastrophic global warming theory (or CGAW, but called "climate change" by many) would do better without supporters who have the research skills of walnuts.

There ought to be a limit to the idiocy we all have to put up with so certain people can feel morally superior.

I'm reminded of this (again!) by an article by a Laura Kissel (a woman who calls people who do not believe in CAGW "deniers" -- as in holocaust deniers) in "Main Street" (which is part of "The Street Network," and therefore big enough to employ editors for accuracy) on June 20.

It's full of nonsense that has been addressed often by many, so I will limit my criticism to what she said about our work:

And back in March, shareholders of Apple voted down a resolution by the National Center for Public Policy Research — a proponent of climate skepticism — that would have forced the corporate behemoth to disclose the money it has invested in tackling climate change.

Um, no.

Our resolution said:

Shareholders of Apple Inc. (“Apple”) urge the board of directors (the “board”) to authorize the preparation of a report, updated annually, disclosing:

1) Apple’s membership in any trade association or organization that educates members about sustainability practices, assists members in the development of sustainability practices, encourages members to engage in sustainability practices or requires members to undertake sustainability actions.

2. Payments made by Apple to trade associations or organizations of which Apple is a member that meet any of the definitions set forth in #1, above.

3. Registration with, membership in or subscription to any independent sustainability rating processes, registries and/or organizations to which Apple makes payments that rate Apple products for sustainability purposes and intentionally make results of such evaluations, in whole or in part, available to the public.

4. The amount of payments made by Apple to entities that meet any of the definitions set forth in #3, above.

The report, excluding proprietary information and information related to legal compliance, shall be presented to the Audit and Finance Committee of the board or other relevant oversight committees of the board and posted on Apple’s website.

To those who are willing to read it, it's clear our proposal asked Apple to make public its payments to trade associations and organizations (aka, BUSINESS groups) and sustainability registries.

On the matter of sustainability registries, as we wrote in March, here's why we cared:

In 2012, Apple withdrew from the industry-funded Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) sustainability registry when many believed the then-new line of MacBooks would not meet EPEAT's standards. Days later, Apple rejoined EPEAT, and somehow earned EPEAT's top "gold" certification for its new laptop. How was Apple able to earn this approval? Would a smaller company have been treated the same? Minus the transparency we sought with our shareholder proposal, who knows?

Laura Kissel is complaining because we are wondering about the size of Apple's payments to an environmental registry that mysteriously (to us, at least) seemingly changed its mind about its "green" ranking of one of Apple's core products -- for the better.

Does Laura Kissel know how Apple got a top ranking? Does she even care about "dark money" (a propaganda phrase of no precise definition put forth by left-wing groups opposed to free speech) if it isn't being spent by people who are publicly skeptical of CAGW? Apparently not -- she opposes Apple telling its own board and shareholders about its payments to outside business groups and to registries that people rely upon for, one hopes, objective environmental ratings of popular consumer goods.

I'll close with how I closed a post about this in March, since it's obvious it hasn't sufficiently been read:

...Last year, we flew a member of our board of directors to the Apple shareholder meeting to ask Tim Cook a question about trade association "sustainability" activities that officially are about being green but which in practice threaten competitiveness and give big businesses an unfair edge over smaller companies. Tim Cook only took five questions (one about bathrooms!) and ignored ours. So we issued a press release. Did anyone care? Mostly, not.

Silver Apple Logo White

So for the 2014 shareholder meeting, we submitted a shareholder proposal calling for reasonable transparency for these trade association activities, and we asked Tim Cook a question (which wasn't easy; after calling on our representative Cook tried to pick someone else immediately after recognizing him, but our guy got his question out fast) to find out where Apple really stands. There are many calm and professional ways Cook could have answered our question, but he instead choose to lose his temper, pretend we objected to things like the development of accessibility tools for the blind (we don't object and never mentioned the subject), and duck much of what we asked.

Why is that? In our view, it isn't because Apple is too green. It is because it is brilliant at greenwashing. Tim Cook got a question that -- had he answered it -- could have illustrated the difference between Apple's green reputation and Real World Apple.

Tim Cook didn't like that question, so he scolded us and played the green card, and got out of giving a straight answer.

And based on the amount of email we've gotten since Friday with the words "F--k you" in them, a lot of you fell for it.

We suggest that you ask yourselves: Why did Apple's management oppose our shareholder resolution [resolution #9 at the link], which called for transparency in its relationships with trade associations and sustainability registries such as EPEAT?

Up your game, Laura.

Sunday
Jul202014

NAACP, ACLU Sue Again to Make it Legal to Abort Babies Because of Race, Sex

Having been thrown out of one court already, the NAACP is once again suing to make it legal to abort babies in the state of Arizona solely on the basis of the race or sex of the unborn.

Previously, in 2013, the NAACP and other groups sued for the overturn of “The Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” a law passed in 2011 making it a felony for a doctor to knowingly perform an abortion if it is known that the mother is being coerced into the procedure because of the race or the sex of the unborn baby.  They said the law was prejudiced against minorities (even though the law was all-encompassing and did not single out any racial group in its enforcement) and thus restricted access to abortion.

The federal district court judge in this case ruled that they lacked legal standing and dismissed the case.

Now, the Arizona chapter of the NAACP and the National Asian-Pacific American Women’s Forum, with the representation of the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing in the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  They are now claiming that the law is rooted in racial stereotypes.  Once again, the law contains no racial specifications.

The law generally applies to doctors who would knowingly perform an abortion on someone pressured into the act because someone else was not happy with the race or gender of the unborn baby.  While that alone smacks of racist intent, add to it the fact that it is reported that none of the plaintiffs or their lawyers can point to proof that the law has had a disparate impact or that minorities are already at risk of prosecution.

Derryck Green, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, commented on the previous lawsuit and the absurdity of the NAACP’s crusade against protecting the unborn from the hate crime of an abortion based solely on sex or race.  He is now commenting on this newest lawsuit, which could eventually see this argument before the U.S. Supreme Court:

It’s as if the NAACP hasn’t done enough to dishonor its legacy and completely ruin its reputation as a civil rights organization.

Grasping for political relevancy, the so-called civil rights group’s Arizona chapter, with the help of the ACLU, is suing the state of Arizona once again in an attempt to achieve greater access to race and sex-based abortion.

After their first lawsuit against the law – one that claimed it restricted access to abortions – failed, the ACLU is now making a claim on behalf of the NAACP chapter and National Asian-Pacific American Women’s Forum that black and Asian women in Arizona “must endure the humiliation of living under a government that views them as a threat to American values simply by virtue of alleged character flaws possessed by persons of their race.”

In other words, black and Asian women who might be the subject of a race or sex-based abortion shouldn’t have to be associated with the stigma of intentionally having an abortion based on race or gender.  Instead, they should be free to kill their preborn babies without impunity and perhaps under duress.

Fools, the whole lot.

Again, “The Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” the Arizona law in question that has yet to see a prosecution, makes any and all abortions based on the race or sex of the mother or preborn child illegal.  It also criminalizes anyone who knowingly performs an abortion that is the result of race or gender.  Lastly, it criminalizes anyone who engages in physical or verbal coercion that leads to a race or sex-based abortion.

So, in reality the person getting the abortion is not even at risk of prosecution.  And this fact, and the lack of any such use of this law to enact a sweeping ban on minorities seeking abortions, should show how precise the law is tailored.  But the ACLU, NAACP and NAPAWF still say that minorities are being persecuted.  Not by those who wish to see the unborn killed because of race or sex but by those who want to prevent such unnecessary and hateful murders to be committed.

It would seem the NAACP is still not content with the disproportionately high numbers of abortion in the black community.  It would seem to want more, and its Arizona state chapter will apparently sue repeatedly to make it happen.

Imagine if a white person or predominately white so-called civil rights organization endeavored to sue a state in an attempt to rescind a law that prohibited race and sex-based abortions because they wanted to increase the numbers of black babies aborted.  It would rightly be called racist, and one can believe that the NAACP would waste no time letting America know about such racist intentions, which they would likely say is a reflection of a greater racist America.

Yet the NAACP is itself engaged in this very same practice.  In my opinion, it clearly indicates their reprehensible hypocrisy.  The NAACP is actively supporting a position – through word and deed – that would increase abortion in the black community.  Doing so effectively undermines the association’s shrinking credibility when it comes to being an advocate against racism.

Who should take seriously any organization that protests and demonstrates against racism while, at the same time, advocates a form of racism itself?

Since racism as a comprehensive obstacle to black advancement has been overcome, the NAACP no longer has moral or cultural relevancy.  It should therefore drop the pretense of being a civil rights organization.  In this case, the group obviously refuses to believe civil rights extend to those in the womb.

NAACP leaders should admit what it has become and what any Americans already know – it’s a political advocacy group that seeks to advance progressive political causes.

Friday
Jul182014

Holder’s “Racial Animus” Remark “a Dog Whistle in Itself”

Responding to allegations made by Attorney General Eric Holder that there is “racial animus” among critics of him and President Obama, Project 21 member Christopher Arps said “that’s a dog whistle in itself” — making reference to how the left tries to find code words and so-called “dog whistle racism” on the part of opponents of the Obama Administration’s policies and practices to gain support.

Instead, as Christopher explained on the 7/16/14 edition of the “Rick Amato Show” on the One America Network, “the wheels are falling off this administration” when it comes to issues such as the economy and immigration.  Holder and the President’s supporters, he explained, “play the race card to deflect some of the blame.”  This is getting extremely hard as the border crisis and the jobless recovery are causing even Obama’s most-loyal support among black Americans to decline.

Playing the race card in this manner is an obvious strategic tactic on the part of the White House at a time when Christopher says a “Tea Party-like groundswell” is needed to deal with the lack of transparency within the Obama Administration.

Speaking about the IRS scandal and the plague of crashed computers among accused Obama Administration staffers, Christopher said: “You got a better chance of marrying Beyonce and winning the lottery the same day.  This case is clearly starting to scream out that it needs a special prosecutor.  This administration is basically investigating itself and the administration’s credibility is really at a low point at this point.”

Friday
Jul182014

Liberals Doing Obama a Disservice on Illegal Immigration

Saying that his liberal supporters are doing his a disservice in their defense of the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, National Center Free Enterprise Project director Justin Danhof said it’s “tough to say we didn’t foresee a porous border… we’ve had a porous border for years.”  And, in rushing to the border to support illegal aliens and push for their amnesty, they contradict the President’s new efforts to dissuade the masses of children moving from their homes in Latin America to the United States.

On the 6/27/14 edition of the “Rick Amato Show” on the One America Network, Justin criticized House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for going to the border to demonize those who want stronger border security and deportation of those who enter the United States illegally.  He suggested Pelosi go beyond the border and into Mexico to see the misery wrought by the Obama Administration’s policies and the false hopes it has put into the minds of Latin American families.  Justin said: “Not all the children make it, so maybe Nancy Pelosi should go visit the FBI and see what happens to children sold into the sex trade.  She should visit the shallow graves of the children who don’t even make it to the border.”

Host Rick Amato later pointed out to the panel that “if [Pelosi] really was showing integrity on this issue, I believe she would do what Justin Danhof indicated.”

Friday
Jul182014

VA's Problem: "Bureaucrats Will Take Care of Bureaucrats"

Discussing the Department of Veterans Affairs crisis, National Center policy analyst David Hogberg said the simple diagnosis of veterans’ health care ills is that “bureaucrats will take care of bureaucrats.”

On the 7/10/14 edition of the “Rick Amato Show” on the One America Network, David pointed out that the government-run and taxpayer-funded Veterans Health Administration system simply does not have the incentives to promote quality in a manner that is expected of private health care systems or any other private institution.  He said the “customers… the veterans… do not actually control the funding,” and that there is no pressure on staff because there is no real competition.

Asked about an excuse for VA facilities being overrun due to unexpected demographic shifts in veteran populations to southern retirement communities, David said his research and reports by the government do not bear out this excuse — “the data does not support it.”  He said there have been equal numbers of poorly-functioning VA centers found in the north and Sun Belt regions.

Thursday
Jul172014

E-Cigarettes "Biggest Boon to Public Health"

Jeff Stier, director of the National Center’s Risk Analysis Division, points out that e-cigarettes are a “huge threat” to the traditional tobacco industry and “good news for public health.”

On “Real Money with Ali Velshi” on the Al Jazeera America network on 7/15/14, Jeff calls e-cigarettes the “biggest boon to public health.”  He said they are more successful in weaning smokers off tobacco than any government-imposed warning, tax or regulation.

Unfortunately, Jeff added, “I think the public health community hasn’t really figured that out yet.”  Noting that all of the e-cigarette users he knows are using them as a means of quitting altogether, he wondered why anti-tobacco activists and their supporters would be so adamantly opposed to something that is achieving their goal in a more effective manner.

Wednesday
Jul162014

The VA Scandal: Longman's Other Bad Idea

Phillip Longman’s book Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours contributed to the current VA scandal by creating a sense of complacency among those in the Congress and the Obama Administration who were charged with overseeing the VA.  Unfortunately the notion that the VA was the crown jewel of the U.S. health care system wasn’t the only bad idea to come out of that book.

The Obama Administration’s attempt to impose electronic health records on the health care system and the resulting mess also found its origins in Longman’s book.  Longman championed the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) as a wonderful tool for coordinating patient care and used the last portion of his book to advocate for adoption of VistA by the entire medical community.  

Longman’s story of the development of the VistA system was a description of a “bottom up” process.  In Best Care Anywhere Longman recounts the efforts of various programmers and physicians in the VA to develop the VistA system.  While the VA bureaucracy was constantly trying to stymie their efforts, they “had one crucial advantage,” according to Longman.  ”[T]hey were creating software either for their own use or for their colleagues.” VistA would prove useful for the VA because it was being created and tested by VA personell.  It was a process of trial and error that involved the people who would be using the product on a regular basis.  

So, when later in the book Longman proposes that the entire U.S. health system should adopt VistA, what approach does he suggest?  Why “top down,” of course!

Longman suggested that the government in effect say to the private sector: “If you expect to get paid by Medicare or Medicaid, you’ll have to join the VistA Health system.  This requires installing VistA software and using it to demonstrate that your are meeting certain VA performance standard.”

While Obama Administration did not take that exact approach, it didgo the top down route.  In 2009 Congress passed and the President signed the HITECH Act as part of the stimulus program.  It budgeted $30 billion to encourage health care providers to adopt electronic health records (EHRs).  They would continue receiving the money as long as they met the federal government’s standards for “meaningful use.”  The results have been predictable.

According to a Government Accountability Office report, while take up of EHRs among hospitals and physicians increased from 2011 to 2012, there was a high drop-out rate from 2011:

Specifically, within the 36 states that had completed their determinations of which providers would receive incentive payments for the 2012 Medicaid EHR program year, 61 percent of professionals and 36 percent of hospitals that participated in the Medicaid EHR program in 2011 did not continue in 2012. Sixteen percent of professionals and 10 percent of hospitals participating in the Medicare EHR program in 2011 did not continue to participate in 2012. 

The reason, as John Graham explained, is that in 2011, most providers were only in Stage 1 of meaniful use. Stage 2 and Stage 3 were going to be much harder to meet, and providers that couldn’t meet them simply dropped out.

By 2014, “only four hospitals and 50 physicians have achieved the federal government’s goals for ‘meaningful use’” for EHRs.

One side effect appeared to be the EHRs were increasing costs.  Physicians using EHRs were more likely to order more diagnostic tests.

Thousands of different hospitals and millions of physicians and nurses are going to have different needs and preferences when it comes to using EHRs.  One set of standards imposed by Washington is going to hamstring the ability of hospitals and medical personnel to find the EHR system that works best for them.  They end up trying to meet standards imposed from above instead of engaging in a trial and error process to determine which system best meets their and their patients needs.  

Those concepts are clearly lost on intellectuals like Longman, who believe in centralized solutions even when evidence to the contrary is in one’s own book.

Monday
Jul142014

The VA Scandal: Bizarre Excuses

When an intellectual’s worldview is smashing to bits against the hard facts of reality, expect a lot of excuse making, some of it bizarre.

As I’ve pointed out here, Phillip Longman’s book Best Care Anywhere: Why The VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours was in part responsible for the Veteran Administration’s wait time crisis.  As you can imagine, he’s been scrambling a bit since the scandal burst onto the scene.

In a post on June 5, he went so far as to lay the blame at the feet of the American people.  After reiterating his dismissal of the wait-times scandal as largely limited to Sun Belt areas (wrong), he then changes the subject:

“Now let’s consider another, more serious, and often conflated wait time issue surrounding the VA—one that also been bringing forth all kinds of claims and accusations that are in desperate need of being put into context. I’m talking about the huge backlog of vets caught in the often protracted process of just trying to establish their eligibility for VA care.

“This issue is confusing to most people, including many in the military, because they assume that vets are legally entitled to VA care, just like most seniors are entitled to Medicare or Social Security. But VA care is not an entitlement. Rather, reflecting the public’s deeply conflicted and often changing views about veterans, access to VA care is limited to vets who can establish that are ‘deserving’ according to convoluted, arcane, and often impossible-to-prove sets of ever evolving metrics and standards.”

This, of course, has nothing to do with the wait times scandal.  As the VA’s audit fact sheet noted: “Nationwide, there are roughly 57,436 Veterans who are waiting to be scheduled for care and another 63,869 who over the past ten years have enrolled in our healthcare system and have not been seen for an appointment.” (Italics added). So, whatever hurdles veterans must go through to get care (and I’m not dismissing them—there is a claims backlog of about 270,000), the veterans suffering from wait times apparently surmounted those hurdles.

After going relating a horror story of a vet struggling with establishing his eligibility for the VA and noting, Longman writes this whopper:

“It wasn’t always so. As I describe in my book, the Clinton Administration opened the doors to the VA in 1996 to anyone with an honorable discharge, and many folks who got in then remain grandfathered. But the Bush Administration slammed that door shut again in 2003, and while it has reopened a bit under Obama, we are still spending enormous resources enforcing policies designed to exclude most vets from VA care.

“If you don’t think most vets deserve any better, then fine. You are hardly alone. But don’t imagine that the VA’s bureaucracy should be blamed for carrying out laws and policies that reflect your views.”

But the bureaucracy clearly isn’t carrying out the policy if it has such a huge backlog.  The takeaway from this isn’t that the American people are at fault, but that the VA is just as inefficient at establishing eligibility as it is getting veterans timely appointments for medical care.  After all, what is the VA’s incentive to find more efficient methods for establishing eligibility?  Certainly not the threat that if veterans are upset with it, they’ll take there money elsewhere.

Finally, let’s not kid ourselves that the open policies of the Clinton Administration didn’t have problems of their own.  For example, consider the case of Larry Porter who was supposedly in the Navy and needed mental health benefits due to psychological trauma he suffered there.  From 1999-2006 he received $134,000 in VA disability benefits. But his story turned out to be false, and he served a three-year jail sentence for fraud.

Apparently “VA fakers” was a widespread problem.

Diminishing the wait time scandal, changing the subject, and then saying it’s not the fault of the bureaucracy but the American people—the things intellectuals resort to when their theories don’t work out in a very public way.

Monday
Jul142014

Holder’s Perception of “Racial Animus” Rebutted

Don’t be shocked, but Attorney General Eric Holder is playing the race card again.

On the 7/13/14 edition of the ABC News program “This Week,” Holder said he and President Barack Obama are being criticized those who hold a “racial animus” toward them.

Holder stated: “You know, people talking about taking their country back… There’s a certain racial component to this for some people.  I don’t think this is the thing that is the main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”

Admitting that his being the first black Attorney General for the first popularly-elected (and re-elected) black president helps show “[w]e’ve made lots of progress,” he nonetheless sought to qualify his judgment with the assertion that “there’s still more we have to travel along this road so we get to the place that is consistent with our founding ideals.”

Coming from an Attorney General who advised his state-level colleagues to consider not enforcing laws they disagree with, it’s rich to bring up our nation’s founding ideals.

Later, Holder also kept up his attack on commonsense polling place protections such as voter ID, saying those who want to protect against ghost voting that steals the law-abiding votes of others are really trying make it “more difficult” for blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, the poor and young people — people he called “groups that are not supportive of those in power” — from “hav[ing] access to the ballot.”

Members of the Project 21 black leadership network, people who are vocal proponents of voter ID protections and critics of the constant use of racial politics by the Obama Administration and its supporters to fend of all means of legitimate complaints about White House policies and practices, are speaking out about Holder’s inappropriate comments.

For example, Project 21 member Chelsi Henry, an attorney, said:

The Attorney General continues to insult African-Americans and increase the racial divide in America by saying that voter ID laws are infringing on minority rights.

It is simple — you should need an ID to vote regardless of your race, socioeconomic level, education, gender or religion.  Everyone should need an ID to vote.

The Attorney General and President could be better leaders by helping ensure that all Americans, especially minorities, receive an ID.  They should stop the outrageous cry of racism and politics when it is their actions that continue to cripple the advancement of African-Americans.

Project 21 Darryn “Dutch” Martin, a former member of the American diplomatic corps, added:

The animus shown toward Attorney General Holder and President Obama has nothing to do with racial animus and everything to do with their poor performance at their respective jobs.

Although he is correct about the progress our country has made over the years — given the state of our union under the Obama Administration, I would say that said progress has come to a screeching halt at the very least.

Stacy Washington, a Project 21 member and talk radio host, said:

Attorney General Holder’s specious comments alleging racial animus as the basis for the opposition to the policies advanced by himself and the President are a crystalline example of narcissism.  

Holder simply cannot believe that he or President Obama are ever wrong about anything!

Instead of touting legal wins in his job as chief law enforcement officer of the United States, Holder deflects to playing the race card against Americans who simply want him and the President to do their jobs: execute the laws of this land faithfully within the constraints of the Constitution.

Project 21 member Christopher Arps, the founder of the Move-On-Up.org black conservative social networking web site, was less taken aback than his colleagues.  He remarked:

This is an administration that is dropping in the polls, has literally a scandal a week and has never taken responsibility for anything in the six years they’ve been in office.

Desperate times requires desperate measures, so the Attorney General using the race card should really surprise no one.

Sunday
Jul132014

Crisis on the Border: Where are Zuckerberg, Trumka and Bloomberg Now?

Facebook and immigrationShare this meme on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere if you agree.

Victor Davis Hanson is hitting some of the same points I made last weekend, specifically, the moral obligation of wealthy amnesty-advocates to help the kids who are crossing our southern border.

I spoke of Big Business, specifically, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, and Big Labor, specifically, the AFL-CIO.

Hanson also addressed Zuckerberg, but added Michael Bloomberg, and other rich amnesty-advocates generally:

"...the CEOs of Silicon Valley and Wall Street who want cheap labor from south of the border assume that their own offspring’s private academies will not be affected by thousands of undocumented immigrants, that their own neighborhoods will remain non-integrated, and that their own medical services and specialists’ waiting rooms will not be made available to the poor arrivals.

Have immigration-reform advocates such as Mark Zuckerberg or Michael Bloomberg offered one of their mansions as a temporary shelter for needy Central American immigrants? Couldn’t Yale or Stanford welcome homeless immigrants into their now under-occupied summertime dorms? Why aren’t elite academies such as Sidwell Friends or the Menlo School offering their gymnasia as places of refuge for tens of thousands of school-age Central Americans?

AFL-CIO on immigrationShare this meme on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere if you agree.

Hanson concluded,

What a strange, selfish, and callous alliance of rich corporate grandees, cynical left-wing politicians, and ethnic chauvinists who have conspired to erode U.S. law for their own narrow interests, all the while smearing those who object as xenophobes, racists, and nativists.

How did such immoral special interests hijack U.S. immigration law and arbitrarily decide for 300 million Americans who earns entry into America, under what conditions, and from where?"

There's a lot more in Hanson's piece, which is worth reading.

In the meantime, last I heard, the Facebook campus still had 11 restaurants capable of feeding kids and plenty of yard room for pitching tents, and the AFL-CIO has an apparently empty campus in Silver Spring, MD with dorms, dining facilities, a 72,000 square foot conference center and nearly 47 acres of additional space for tents.

I wonder how many cots could fit in a 72,000 square foot conference center...

Thursday
Jul102014

How Selfish Can a Labor Union Be? AFSCME Drops Partnership with United Negro College Fund for Accepting Donation from Conservatives

Black college studentAFSCME is protesting a donation to a black students' scholarship charity by people who believe in limited government.

It turns out, VERY selfish.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, also known as AFSCME, has dropped a student work scholarship partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) because the UNCF accepted a $25 million donation from Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation and a UNCF leader spoke at an event organized by the Kochs.

AFSCME does not like the Kochs because they believe in a more limited government than the one we currently have, which could mean fewer public labor union members, which means less money for the union.

Even given AFSCME's long history of an unseemly desire for money, I'm bewildered that one of the leading unions thinks attacking support for education for young black men and women is an appropriate activity -- or even one that is in the union's self-interest. Labor unions generally have a very racist and sexist history, and actions like this bring that sordid history back into everyone's memory.

According to Jacob Fischler of BuzzFeed, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, who is very, very leftist, wrote that accepting funds to help educate young black students from the limited-government Kochs is a "profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement."

I suppose he thinks the civil rights movement was about keeping people stupid. Good way to keep them in unions?

Unitednegrocollegefund logoIn response, as reported by Sean Sullivan in the Washington Post, UNCF President and CEO Michael Lomaz said, "UNCF has over 100,000 donors with a wide range of views, but they all have one thing in common: They believe in helping young students of color realize their dreams of a college education. For over 70 years we have never had a litmus test and we have asked all Americans to support our cause."

Conservatives don't have cooties, as far as he's concerned. And he's right, we don't. He's also right to stick to his educational mission no matter whose nose gets out of joint.

AFSCME has 1.5 million members, most of whom are public employees (are employed by the taxpayers). I suggest that some of those 1.5 million members might want to start asking some questions about where their dues are going and why their leadership doesn't like black institutions of higher learning.

And the taxpayers ought to be asking a few questions, too - like why we allow our government agencies to negotiate with disgraceful unions like this one.

One of the Kochs donated $100 million to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History recently. Will AFSCME do us all a favor and refuse to organize federal government employees in protest? Nope, because that would cost them a lot of money. But protest black kids getting help with their education, now that's something AFSCME is willing to do.

By the way, once upon a time, one of the students who received a scholarship from the United Negro College Fund was a young man by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. Eat the UNCF's dust, AFSCME!

Thursday
Jul102014

Health Care Odds & Ends: Death Spiral Edition

The evidence is slowly building up that the ObamaCare exchange are heading for a death spiral.  Below is more evidence of that people on the exchanges are sicker than average and, in one state, of people dropping out of the exchange.  Also, this post ends with a discussion of why the heavy enrollment in silver plans may mean something other than the exchanges are attracting sick people.

1. Survey shows people on the exchanges are in poorer health.  A recently released survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation examined the health status of people in exchange plans and non-exchange plans:

 

Those in fair or poor health comprise 20 percent of those in exchange plans while they are no more than 9 percent in other plans.  This strongly suggests that those with the most health problems are joining the exchange. That is the first step in a death spiral.

2. Colorado’s estimate of exchange dropouts increases. Back in April officials at the Colorado exchange predicted that about 13 percent of enrollees in their exchange would drop their insurance or never pay their premium.  They recently increased that estimate to 24 percent.  ”According to the revised estimates, Connect for Health expects 35,800 of its 152,200 individuals covered with exchange policies this fiscal year to drop coverage.” More here.

We don’t have any data on the health status of those who are leaving, but if a person really needed insurance—that is, they had considerable medical problems—what are the chances he or she would drop out?  The smart money is on most of the dropouts being people whose health is good enough that they can afford to dump their plans. Thus, those left in the Colorado exchange pool will likely be much sicker than average.

Also, remember when insurers were saying only 10 to 20 percent of enrollees were not paying their premiums? Wonder what they’d say today?  Also, if this is going on in Colorado, what’s going on in the rest of the exchanges? Maybe the Obama Administration will release another enrollment report in a month or so to let us know. Hold your breath!

3. Silver plans: death spiral alert or just good deal?  About two weeks ago the Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report on premiums and premium subsidies on the exchanges.  At the time I argued that the inordinate number of people who signed up for silver plans and the fact that the highest average subsidy was among the silver plans suggested that a lot of sick people were signing up for the exchange.  My reasoning was that people get a cost-sharing subsidy to help pay for deductibles and co-pays if they make 250 percent of federal poverty level or less and choose a silver plan.  People choosing such plans are likely anticipating high medical costs in the future.

Well, some colleagues of mine have pointed out another explanation for the enrollment in silver plans.  Look at Table 2 of the report and focus on the column “Average Premium After Tax Credit.” 

 

You’ll notice that the premium for silver is only $1 higher than the bronze plan.  Thus, it appears that the tax credits may have made silver plans look like a very good bargain compared to bronze plans.  And if one also qualifies for the cost-sharing subsidy, the silver plan becomes a good bargain even for someone in good health. Even a very healthy person would think that getting a cost-sharing subsidy is a good deal if he only has to pay a few dollars more than he would for a bronze plan. 

So, based on the HHS report we don’t know if people are choosing the silver plan because they have a lot of health expenses or because the premiums subsidies make those plans a good deal.  Of course, it could be some of both.  But, at this point, one can’t say either way.  

Let’s hope that the next KFF survey breaks down health status on the exchange by plan type. That would give us a better idea if, indeed, sicker people are signing up for silver plans.

Tuesday
Jul082014

Three Reasons Americans Aren't Buying the Left-Wing's Excuses for Obama's Constitutional Violations

ConstitutionTelePrompTerBlueT ShirtWLefties including MSNBC's Ed Schultz, PBS NewsHour, the Washington Post's Wonkblog and PostPartisan columns, Newsweek and others have ludicrously been trying to defend all of Obama's unconstitutional actions by saying Obama has issued fewer executive orders than Bush.

This is a red herring, because the number of executive orders President Obama has signed is irrelevant.

This is what is relevant:

  • Obama is using authority he doesn't have to impose "laws" Congress never passed;

  • Obama is failing to use authority he does have to enforce laws Congress has passed, as is his duty as the head of the executive branch.

The man is doing his job backward.

Here are three reasons why the American public won't buy the left-wing excuse that the number of executive orders issued is the key issue here:

ONE: Many executive orders are no big deal and no one objects to them, regardless of who is in office. In February, for example, Obama issued an executive order changing the name of the "National Security Staff" to "National Security Council Staff." No one cares how many meaningless executive orders Obama or Bush issued.

TWO: Obama doesn't need to issue an executive order to seize power he doesn't have or to fail to enforce the laws he swore an oath to uphold. A few examples:

  • Obama's unconstitutional appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, struck down 9-0 last month as a separation of powers violation by the Supreme Court in NLRB v. Noel Canning. Even Obama's two appointees to the high court couldn't stomach that one.

  • Or Obama's many changes to ObamaCare. The President delayed the exchanges for small businesses, delayed the employer mandate, delayed the individual mandate (after shutting down the government to fight such a delay), exempted unions from some ObamaCare taxes, delayed the ObamaCare sign-up deadline and much more, all without issuing executive orders and all to change a law he fought for in the first place.

  • Obama freed Taliban prisoners without informing Congress, in violation of a law he signed.

THREE: The president and his allies have threatened to continue circumventing the law of the land. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), an Obama ally, has threatened that the president "will borrow the power that is needed to solve the problems of immigration," raising suspicions that the president is about to violate the Constitution again.

The Constitution has no "borrow power" provision, and in any case, with a 17.5 trillion dollar debt, Obama's done enough borrowing.

The American public is too smart to accept the left-wing claim that Obama can violate the Constitution and his oath of office anytime he pleases, just as long as he issues fewer executive orders overall than did George W. Bush.

The wonder isn't that the Speaker of the House is planning to sue; the sick wonder is that so many left-wing Americans don't give a darn about the Constitution. One wonders what sort of government it is that the left would prefer to live with.

Monday
Jul072014

Doug Chase Meet Brian Booy: Not So Great Moments In Socialized Medicine

Doug Chase, a Vietnam veteran, died of brain cancer almost two years ago.  According to ABCNews, his wife Suzanne, in 2012, “attempted to move his care in Boston to a nearby veteran’s hospital in Bedford. She said they waited for four months with no reply” before Doug passed away.

It’s sad that the moral to this story can’t be “better late than never”:

Just two weeks ago, Chase received a letter from the VA finally responding to her appointment request.

“The letter invited him to make an appointment with primary care at the VA, if he so desired. Then at the bottom they said they wanted a quick response,” Chase told ABC’s Boston affiliate WCVB.

Perhaps the Chases can commiserate with the family of Brian Booy.  Booy lived in Bristol and was “covered” under the British National Health Service.  In 2000, BBC News reported:

When [Booy] died of a heart attack in January 1999 he had been waiting for triple heart by-pass surgery for 18 months.

Days before the first anniversary of his death, his widow Pat received a letter from Bristol Royal Infirmary’s cardiac unit saying that her husband could have the operation this Friday.

The revelation comes days after the cardiac unit’s clinical director Dr Peter Wilde said 10 patients may have died because they had to wait too long for operations.

A socialized system of medicine in this country has similar problems to those in a socialized system in another country. Must be a coincidence.

Monday
Jul072014

The Three Stupidest News Reports About Changes in Congressional Travel Disclosure Reporting Requirements

Many people seemingly are confused about actions taken by the U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee in regard to travel disclosures, possibly due to ridiculously misleading news reports. Because mendacity and/or stupidity this accomplished deserves recognition, I've singled out the top three most stupid, defined as the three that will leave their readers the most grossly uninformed.

The third most stupid...

#3 Susie Madrak of the Crooks and Liars blog lived up to at least half her blog's name by writing on July 1, "Congress is so corrupted by money that at this point, I shouldn't even be surprised. After all, the Republicans are in charge of the House!," which ran under this misleading headline: "House Ethics Committee Now Hides Congressional Trip Disclosures: Sneaky! When the Republican-controlled committee takes such pains to hide it, they already know it's wrong."

Fact: The House Ethics Committee is not controlled by either party; its membership is 50-50, and travel information remained easily accessible to the public and the news media, including bloggers, under the change. 0-2 for Ms. Madrak.

The second most stupid...

#2 Daniel Wright, writing on FireDogLake July 2, said, "Congress seems intent on getting its public approval rating even lower and destroying what little trust it has left. ...those guardians of the republic have decided to remove the rule that requires publicly disclosing privately funded trips."

Fact: Except under the change, Members of Congress still had to disclose publicly-funded trips, and the information disclosed was promptly put on the Internet in a publicly-available, convenient, searchable form. 100% incorrect, Mr. Wright.

And the most stupid of all...

#1 John Aravosis, writing on Americablog July 1, "In a stunning reversal after three decades of public reporting, the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives will no longer require members of Congress to disclose lavish foreign trips paid for by special interests. For three decades, the House has publicly disclosed such travel. That rule has now changed under John Boehner..."

Completely false, which is ironic given this blog's motto, "A great nation deserves the truth."

Facts:

The House Ethics Committee, a bi-partisan body, approved a rule change that removed the requirement for travel disclosure on annual disclosure forms, deeming it duplicative, as Members of Congress and staff must report all such travel within 15 days of any trip, and those reports are promptly placed online by the House Clerk's office.

Here's how easy it is to read the reports.

Search for the House Clerk on Google and click where indicated:

HouseClerkGoogleSearch070614

Then click where indicated:

HouseClerkPublicDisclosurePage070614

Look on the left side of the page if you want to download the reports chronologically:

HouseClerkTravelFilingsByYear070614

Or look on the right side if you prefer to contact the office directly or search for specific Members of Congress, specific travel destinations, specific sponsors or specific travel dates:

HouseClerkVisitorSearchTravel070614

Easier than waiting for an annual report, wouldn't you say? And the data is hardly hidden. Bellyaching reporters complaining that the change "made it harder" for reporters to find travel disclosure data were essentially complaining about a URL change, and even then, what sort of reporter doesn't even know to check the House Clerk's website? Or to Google something like "House of Representatives travel disclosure information"?

I doubt many people are more in favor of travel disclosure reporting than I am. In both 2002 and 2003, a Member of Congress took a trip and falsely reported that this organization paid for it. We had no idea. In those days learning about Congressional travel required going to the Capitol and looking through paper forms, and who goes to the Capitol to see if a Member of Congress or two that one has never even met has put you down as a travel sponsor? The resulting legal fees were astronomical. What limited Congressional travel we’ve sponsored has all been properly disclosed, and even then, it was subject to gross misreporting (by journalists, yes, but not exclusively: the minority staff of the Senate Finance Committee, directed by Max Baucus (D-MT), told the IRS it should audit us to see if we were more properly classified as a travel agency than a think-tank because we’d sponsored two Congressional trips, one Member each, in our then-24-year history; the subsequent IRS audit, which cleared us, took four years). So I’m in the perhaps unusual position of supporting disclosure because the more of it there is, the more honest people will be protected from bad journalists and other miscreants.

But back to current events. Prompted, no doubt, by the hysterical and misleading reporting about what its rule change really was, the House Ethics Committee announced on July 3 that it was reversing the rule change. People who want to go to the House Clerk's office or website and get the information soon after each trip ends will still be able to do so -- but those reporters who want to wait for annual disclosures so they don't have to change a URL in their browser's bookmarks will still be able to do it the old way. Just a bit later than everybody else.