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Markets Are Not the Problem. ObamaCare's Subsidy Mechanism Is the Problem

After NCPPR sent out a Data Release on the ObamaCare exchanges last Thursday, I received this email about my criticism of the drop in subsidies from one of our readers:

You […] note (correctly) that… “Many of them may see their subsidy amount drop because of the way the subsidy is calculated. It is based on the second-lowest cost silver plan, and that plan will likely be cheaper on most exchanges this year. That could mean hefty premium hikes for people who don’t change their plans.

I don’t understand the leap you’ve made here.  First and foremost, you are a proponent of markets, and you presumably like it when markets work well.  Second, this particular market is producing lower prices for comparable benefits.  Third, you are bemoaning the fact that the subsidy is predicated on that lower price. Fourth, you put a negative spin on things like this:

An analysis by the Colorado state government found that lower-cost silver plans could reduce subsidies to the point that exchange consumers could see their premiums rise by an average of 77 percent if they keep their current plans.

I believe in markets too.  And your facts are consistent with a successful market, not a failing one. 

Unfortunately, the Data Release could be read as though I’m criticizing markets. I’m not. What I’m attacking is the subsidy mechanism.  I think that’s clear in the piece “14 Ways ObamaCare Is Still a Big Mess.” I’ve posted the relevant section from that below.  Unforunately, it wasn’t as clear in the Data Release, so let me address that now.

In short, the subsidies on the exchanges drop whenever the price of the second-lowest cost silver plan drops. People who have subsidies but don’t change plans will likely see their premiums increase.  They can try switching to a cheaper plan, but that entails the difficulty of finding a plan that is accepted by one’s doctor and so forth.

The subsidy mechanism is something of a Catch-22.  When premiums increase, subsidies will also increase. That’s great if you’ve got a subsidy, but if you are one of the 17 percent of people on the exchanges who don’t qualify for one, it’s not so good.  And for the taxpayers, it’s not so good either.

The reader is correct that new companies joining the exchanges and offering lower-cost plans is how markets work.  Indeed, the exchanges will need more of that if they are to have any chance of succeeding.  Frankly, I think the fact that relatively few new companies entered the exchanges this year (on average, less than two per state) is an indication this is a market that, in the long-run, won’t work.  But that is an argument for another day (stay tuned).

In sum, I’m ciriticizing the subsidy mechanism, not markets.

From “14 Ways ObamaCare Is Still a Big Mess”:

Exchange Subsidy Roller Coaster: While the left hailed the new insurance companies entering the exchanges and the lower premium costs that would result, they forgot to mention that exchange subsidies could also decline. Since 83 percent of exchange consumers have subsidies, a lot of people could be in for hefty premium increases as their subsidies begin to decrease.

The subsidy is a formula based on the second lowest-cost silver plan on an exchange minus the amount of money the individual is required by law to put toward the insurance premiums, known as the “applicable percentage.” Let’s say that the second lowest-cost silver plan last year was $200 per month while an enrollee’s applicable percentage was $150 per month. The enrollee’s subsidy was $200 - $150 = $50 per month. This year, however, if a new company enters the exchange offering lower cost insurance, and the second lowest-cost silver plan becomes $175 per month. The enrollee’s subsidy is now $175 - $150 = $25 a month. If the enrollee keeps the same plan (ObamaCare automatically re-enrolls individuals in the plans they had in 2014), he would pay $300 more per year for it.

This is far from hypothetical. A preliminary analysis by the state of Colorado found that the new lower-cost silver plans could cause exchange consumers to see the premiums rise by an average of 77 percent next year if they keep their current plans.


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Senator Cruz: Internet Tax Would Force Small Internet Retailers to Deal with 9,600+ Tax Jurisdictions

Looks like the Senate may make a run at imposing Internet taxes on us during the lame duck session. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) explains in this quick 45 second video:

Senator Cruz has an op-ed with more details in the Washington Post.

P.S. The Internet tax is not the only government threat to the Internet we face right now. President Obama just called for passage of Net Neutrality. Check out our video here to see what happened when we asked liberals who support Net Neutrality if they can tell us what it is.


Ridenour Op-Ed against U.S. Troops in Ebola Hot Zone Published in 56 Papers and Counting

Despite the fact that Ebola no longer dominates the news as it once did, the National Center’s David Ridenour has a new commentary out there meant to make sure people don’t forget the United States still has a lot to lose.

Obama ordered our brave troops into the “hot zone” in Africa.  It’s a dubious mission that could ultimately cause more harm than good — a mission David said “has a ready-shoot-aim quality to it.”

President Barack Obama is using American troops to combat Ebola to show the world he cares enough to send our very best.  But our soldiers aren’t Hallmark greeting cards.

David's argument against sending American military forces to Africa was distributed by McClatchy, one of the nation’s premier news services.  So far, David’s work is known to have appeared in at least 56 different newspapers across the country and even around the world — including the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Omaha World-Herald, Salt Lake City Deseret News, Fresno Bee, Gulf Today (United Arab Emirates) and Canada Free Press.

It’s even been published in Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the American military!

In his commentary, David listed four reasons why the American military should not be deployed to Africa to fight Ebola:

  • “Our military is already overextended.”  Pentagon estimates suggest American forces are already strained while facing still more planned reductions.
  • “Military intervention in West Africa risks a quagmire.”  Things are likely to get worse in Ebola-afflicted Africa, and that would likely mean an escalation in the American presence there.
  • “The Centers for Disease Control isn’t ready.”  Health care workers were found to be unprepared for the few cases of Ebola that already hit American soil, and the problem could soon be amplified by thousands of troops cycling in and out of the infected region.
  • “Militarization of humanitarian aid risks involvement in internal disputes.”  Ebola-afflicted African countries already had unstable leadership before the outbreak, and an American presence could be seen as taking sides with those governments in their internal disputes.

Even though David was supposed to be part of a debate, it seemed that James Jay Carafano of The Heritage Foundation — meant to provide an opposing viewpoint — was more in agreement that David with concerns about the mission and the safety of American forces than not.

For example, Carafano wrote that “[h]elping West Africa deal with Ebola is a humanitarian mission — not a national security deployment.”  He also wondered, “[I]s the president simply throwing some troops at the problem so he can say he’s done something?”

And both specifically agreed that a travel ban placed on infected areas, something Obama has opposed, would be a better step to take before sending in the troops.

As David pointed out:

Our soldiers are being placed at enormous risk all because the president is unwilling — to borrow his own words from another crisis — to “plug the damn hole.”


You Silly Conservatives! You Just Don't Know How Good ObamaCare Really Is!

A few weeks ago the usually over-confident Ezra Klein wrote, ““In conservative media, ObamaCare is a disaster. In the real world, it’s working.”  He complained that most conservatives probably don’t know this, since right-leaning websites “run multiple articles every day on the problems and nothing on the broader trends.”

Well, my latest National Policy Analysis examines 14 “broader trends” that show ObamaCare is a still a disaster. (It’s cross-posted at The Federalist. It’s worth visiting there just for the picture!)  Here’s a sampling:

Premium Increases: Although President Obama promised that a family of four would save $2,500 in premium costs thanks to Obamacare, almost the exact opposite has proven true. The Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the average employer-based family policy that cost $13,770 in 2010 cost $16,834 in 2014, an increase of more than $3,000….

Medical Device Tax: Investment in the medical device industry tanked in 2012 after the medical device tax took effect. It has only recently begun to recover. Medical device makers such as Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Stryker, Abbott Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson, and Smith & Nephew all announced layoffs during the last two years. Perhaps that’s why revenues from the medical device tax have come in under estimates. The tax was supposed to yield about $1.2 billion in revenue in the first six months of 2013, according to the Internal Revenue Service. A report from the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, however, found that it had taken in about $913 million.

Interestingly, most of the 14 ways ObamaCare is still a mess do not appear on Klein’s website Vox.  Apparently, a person can get an even more biased view of ObamaCare if he pays attention only to liberal websites.


We Are Sending E-Cigs to President Obama. The Washington Times Reports. 

The Washington Times’ Cheryl K. Chumley reported today,

President Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation summit in China raised some eyebrows Tuesday morning, at least among members of the attending press pool and an observant Chinese blogger — for chewing gum at inappropriate times.

Mentioned in the middle of the press pool report, right after the reference that Mr. Obama “took his seat” and chatted with Marvin Nicholson — who “made him smile” — was this line: “[He] leaned back in his chair for the opening remarks. He was chewing his Nicorette, it seemed, but mostly hiding it.”

Before the president’s trip, I had been preparing a cover letter to send along with a sample of e-cigarettes that the Risk Analysis Division of the National Center for Public Policy Research will send to President Obama. As a longtime smoker, and while his Food and Drug Administration is preparing rules to regulate e-cigarettes, also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems, or ENDS, as well as cigars, and other tobacco products, we think it is essential that the president, who appears to still use nicotine, understands the range of less harmful products available to him and countless smokers in the U.S., China, and around the world.

As the director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,   

Right now the overwhelming majority of people seeking nicotine are getting it from the deadliest and most toxic delivery system, and that’s the conventional cigarette. But if there is a continuum of risk and there are less harmful ways to get nicotine, and FDA is in the business of regulating virtually all of those products, then I think there’s an extraordinary public health opportunity for the agency to embrace some of these principles and to figure out how to incorporate it into regulatory policies.

So I shared or plan with the Ms. Chumley of The Washington Times, who promptly reported on our plan, 

 Who says politics is boring? A D.C. conservative think tank with a stake in the feds’ push to regulate e-cigarettes has stumbled on a creative way to get its message out, thanks to President Obama’s gum-chewing gaffe in China.

“We’re getting together a variety of e-cigarettes to send Obama, to give him some choices,” said Jeff Stiersenior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, in a brief telephone call.

His announcement comes on the heels of Mr. Obama’s widely reported gum-chewing incidents at the Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation summit in China, which drew fire from several native observers who found his actions uncouth. One, for example, wrote of seeing Obama “stepping out of his carchewing gum like an idler,” USA Today reported.

But Mr. Stier’s group thinks it’s found a way to defuse the public relations tensions — with a humorous mailing that nonetheless carries a message.

Had Obama taken along a couple of e-cigs with him, he wouldn’t have felt the need to chomp on nicotine gum, thus he wouldn’t have offended his Chinese hosts in the process.

“Had he been vaping, he could have satisfied his nicotine craving … without offending,” he said. “The NCPPR is sending a variety or e-cigarettes to the president, when he returns from China.”

The organization has been pushing for the Food and Drug Administration to back off regulations of e-cigarettes, saying an over-regulated approach will actually prevent tobacco smokers from quitting and using the vapor product as a substitute.

Gregory Conley, research fellow at the Heartland Institute applauded both President Obama and our gift to him, noting,

President Obama is a great example of harm reduction in action. Once a daily smoker, he is now living a smoke-free life thanks to long-term nicotine use. We are hopeful that the National Center’s care package will cause President Obama and his staff to carefully examine the negative impact that the FDA’s proposed regulation of e-cigarettes would have on public health.

We are going to send a select variety of products including flavors, open systems, closed systems, cigalikes, products from independent companies, from “Big Tobacco”, made in the USA, and even products from… well, China. 


Watch What Happens When We Ask Liberals to Define "Net Neutrality"

Net neutrality is very important to liberals. So important, many of them have no idea what it is.


Big Ideas Paid Off Big in Midterms — Did Obama Get the Message? (About Those Jobs Numbers for October)

There was a modest improvement in the official unemployment numbers this morning.  But, as Project 21 member Derryck Green points out in his monthly “About Those Jobs Numbers” analysis of America’s jobless situation and the economy in general, there’s not a lot to celebrate.

This month, Derryck wonders if President Obama got the message from an electorate that is seemingly over his unwillingness to engage on the economy:

Is it the dawning of a new era in Washington?


After the results of the midterm elections, many are optimistic — some probably overly optimistic.  Is President Obama willing to put aside his petulance, ego and his steadfast unwillingness to compromise?  Is he willing to set aside his ideologically driven at-the-expense-of-everything-else mentality to work with a rejuvenated Congress on policies that will reinvigorate the economy?

Who can know right now?  But, if history is any predictor of the future, it’s probably best to hope for the best and plan for business as usual.  

And business as usual — at least, in part — means spinning the monthly jobs report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics to mislead Americans into believing the economy is doing much better than it actually is.   From the tone on Tuesday, American voters understand the economy isn’t what Obama claims it to be.

As usual, expect the President to point to the falling official unemployment number — down this month a mere tenth-of-a-point to 5.8 percent — as further proof that the economy is turning around.  What he will never directly address is exactly why these numbers are falling and why most Americans are still rightly concerned about the lack of robust economic recovery.  In reality, a potential reason the official jobs number looks so decent is because — as has been the case too long already in the sluggish Obama economy — too many eligible workers continue to find themselves despondent, hopeless and isolated from the workforce.

That’s why, at 11.5 percent, nearly twice the official rate, the U-6 measure for those unemployed, underemployed and voluntarily removed from the job market still provide an alarming measure of the job crisis Obama is seemingly ignoring.

And, while overall black unemployment fell slightly from 11 percent to 10.9 percent, black teen unemployment rocketed up from 30.5 percent to 32.6 percent.

In October, 9 million remained unemployed.  There are 770,000 able-bodied people who are not in the workforce.  This all brings the labor force participation rate to 62.8 percent, rising only slightly from last month and continuing its historic lows.

For all the talk Obama has done about creating over 10 million jobs, it’s nowhere near enough jobs to both keep up with population growth as well as re-employ disaffected workers.

Speaking of jobs, prior to the BLS report, ADP’s National Employment Report estimates claimed private businesses added 230,000 jobs in October, an increase of 5,000 jobs from September’s revised number of 225,000 jobs.

However, when the BLS did release the official results, and whose estimates include government hiring, it was reported that only 214,000 jobs were created.  It’s not enough, and hasn’t been enough.

By the way, the employed foreign-born segment of the population — those residing in the United States, but were born elsewhere (including legal and illegal immigrants, refugees and temporary workers) hit a record high of 25 million, according to the BLS.

In addition to this inefficient level of job creation and the lack of real jobs for Americans, the U.S. Census Report shows 48 million Americans are currently living in poverty.

Increased poverty, sustained dependence on welfare, anemic job creation and the lack of a palpable sense of economic recovery is unacceptable.  This is most likely why Americans voted the way they did earlier this week and why President Obama should be listening now.  Something evidenced by the midterm election results was that the American people want serious and sincere economic policies to increase the pace of job creation while simultaneously overcoming the income stagnation and apathy so prevalent in America under Obama’s leadership. 

It seems that Americans have had enough of the campaign wedge issues such as increasing the minimum wage and the inequality rhetoric of class warfare that is so often the go-to strategy for Obama and his supporters.  Appealing to the emotionalism of jealousy and envy rather than offering practical solutions to what feels like perpetual economic stagnation not the mark of a leader who is engaged or who understands and empathizes with those who have had a rough time during the course of his presidency.

Voters in several states— including Wisconsin, Maryland and the President’s adopted home state of Illinois — all said in either pre-election or post-election exit polls that the economy was the primary concern.  He almost lost the Millennial vote that he enjoyed such strong support from in the past.  People in general no longer accept Obama’s empty rhetoric and policy half-measures.  Americans want less grandstanding and more direct action leading to positive results.

The voters seem to want people who will consider the big ideas and take the chances to improve our society.

For example, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was re-elected this week, in part, due to his signing right-to-work legislation that reduced the coercive influence of employee unions on employees making it more cost effective to hire employees.

Victorious gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan argued, among other things, that tax cuts would spur Maryland’s economy.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continues to reduce the negative economic impact of public employee unions and has taken his state from a multi billion-dollar deficit to an economic surplus while creating thousands of jobs, resulting in his re-election.  Bruce Rauner campaigned on tax cuts and pension reform in Illinois, and he is now the new governor-elect.

These are just a few of the economic policies that Americans found appealing, and the apparent desire to see more of them.

Obama admitted this week that the “American people sent a message,” and that he heard those who voted and he also heard those who didn’t vote.

His actions, or lack thereof, from here on, will dictate if he’s able to work with Congress in addressing the country’s economic needs — or if he’s still going to be an ideological obstructionist who would rather play politics while the good part of the country continues to struggle.

It would seem that Obama does the latter at his peril.  It’s his last two years in office — time to build his legacy.  Right now, he’s on a track to go down in history as an unpopular president who was unwilling to compromise for the good of the republic and took us all down with him.


What Conservatives Should Demand From The GOP On Health Care In The Next Two Years

Conservatives should, as a matter of course, demand that Congressional Republicans get on with the business of repealing ObamaCare and replacing it with free market reforms in the next two years.  The question is, which strategy is best for achieving that long term?

There are two basic strategies to choose from—small ball and swinging for the fences. For now, small ball is the superior one and, hence, the one conservatives should support.  

Small ball means passing more targeted bills, such as repealing the individual mandate, repealing the employer mandate (or at least changing the definition of full-time to 40 hours a week), eliminating the medical device tax, rolling back Medicare Advantage cuts, eliminating the Independent Payment Advisory Board, and ending the insurance company bailout, a.k.a. the “risk corridor.” The President might sign one or two of those and if he doesn’t, then he vetoes a popular bill.  That will be useful down the road in that it pushes the media to ask, “Mrs. Clinton, would you veto that bill?”

Small ball also entails taking popular parts of replacement bills and passing them separately.  For example, a universal tax credit and letting people buy insurance out of state would be popular and probably find wide agreement among the Congressional GOP.  It also gives the GOP something to point to when the press asks, what would you replace ObamaCare with?  They can reply, these are our starting points.

Swinging for the fences means trying to achieve full repeal and replace by using a government shutdown.  With (1) Obama still wielding the veto pen, (2) the GOP not yet united around a replacement bill and (3) a singificant chunk of the public clamoring for some cooperation in D.C., the winds are blowing in right now, making swinging for the fences bad strategy.  

Passing a full repeal may be something worth doing in the next two years since it would reassure conservatives that the GOP is serious.  But doing it first out of the gate would be counterproductive.  It would give Democrats and the press the ammunition they need to say the GOP is not interested in working together. Instead, start with some small things, like the medical device tax, that President Obama may sign. That enables the GOP to grab the “we can work together” theme.

The worst part of swinging for the fences is a government shutdown.  I hate writing that, because it seems to me that the lesson of a government shut down should be that America gets on just fine without much government.  Alas, the liberal press always spin it as Republicans and conservatives being mean-spirited and intransigent, and unfortunately, a majority of the public buys into that spin.  In the end, shutdowns backfire by making it more difficult to advance conservative ideas.  Another one would make it that much harder to advance true health care reform.

Successfully executing small ball will mean that the GOP and conservatives can swing for the fences later on. However, that will mean applying constant pressure to the Congressional GOP.  Both Mitch McConnell’s election night speech and an op-ed he co-wrote with Speaker John Boehner in today’s Wall Street Journal suggest that they are serious about health care.  However, ObamaCare was a glaring omission from Boehner’s election night statement, suggesting that the GOP can go wishy-washy.  It’s up to those of us on the right to ensure that doesn’t happen. 


Insurance Cancellations Up To About 350,000. Thanks ObamaCare!

Last year when ObamaCare was causing millions of people to lose their health insurance, President Obama issued an executive order letting insurers maintain those plans for another year.  Some lucky people had plans with insurers who decided to extend them.

Their luck is now running out.

WRTV reported yesterday that 30,000 policyholders in Indiana’s individual market will lose their insurance (regardless of whether they like it) by the end of the year.  About two weeks ago, we found out that 22,000 policyholders in Colorado will also lose their insurance.  (It may be that not all of the Colorado cancellations are due to ObamaCare, but, really, what cause do you think is responsible for the bulk of them?)

Add those to the 250,000 policyholders in Virginia and 48,300 more across Kentucky, Alaska, Tennessee, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Maine who will lose their insurance, and the total rises to about 350,300—thus far.

And, just for good measure:


Life Expectancy Is Great Measure Of A Health Care System--If Your Aim Is To Criticize The U.S.

Chris Conover has a good post over at Forbes pointing out that life expectancy is a terrible measure of the effectiveness of a health care system:

Stanford professor Victor Fuchs recently pointed out something that might surprise many critics of the U.S. health care system. There is no positive relationship between per capita health spending and life expectancy. He demonstrates this with data from the two dozen OECD countries having the highest per capita health spending, as well as separate analyses of U.S. states (25 highest- and 25 lowest-income states).

The factors that impact life expectancy are many and overshadow the effect that a health care system has.  Conover notes that this was known at least as far back as 1979, when the then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare released its “Healthy People” report.  Here is a pie-chart of the causes of premature mortality from that report:


Unfortunately, this has never stopped left-wing groups like the Commonwealth Fund from producing reports such as “Despite Highest Health Spending, Americans’ Life Expectancy Continues To Fall Behind Other Countries’.” Conover notes that others, such as Steven Brill, Sarah Kliff and the Huffington Post, have used life expectancy in a similarly misleading fashion.

Back in 2006, I wrote a report for the National Center explaining why life expectancy was a poor measure of a health care system.  Hopefully, I will get a chance to update it some day.  Until then, read Conover’s piece for other reasons why life expectancy is a lousy measure.


Why The National Popular Vote Movement Is A Fool’s Errand—Part Two

 Note: This post was written by NCPPR’s research associate, Jonathan Hanen.

The National Popular Vote compact is a far-left proposal to fundamentally transform the federal election of the US President by replacing our current system of 50 separate state elections with what is in effect a single national election.  The NPV scheme would operate through an interstate compact that binds together the 270+ electoral votes of a dozen or so large states.  It would grant this bloc of electoral votes en masse to the winner of the nationwide popular vote in all 50 states plus DC, thus accumulating over half of the votes from among the 538 total votes cast in the Electoral College.  

Drawing from a Heritage Foundation legal memorandum and a Cato Institute policy analysis, I discussed in a previous post how the NPV would reduce presidential legitimacy and lessen the influence of the smaller states.  The same memorandum yields three reasons why the NPV would create insuperable difficulties for the electoral process itself.

1. The NPV would expand and complicate selective recounts to the county and precinct level.  The Electoral College system limit recounts to isolated states under one set of statewide rules.  Contrary to the views of the far-left, the Florida 2000 recount was an example of the Electoral College functioning properly to isolate the voting irregularities in one state from the rest of the federal election transpiring concurrently in the other 49 states of the Union.  But, with an NPV in place, candidates would have greater incentive to contest a large number of counties with close results in several of the compacting states, thus leading to a national recount that would bring the nation to a standstill.  Imagine the Florida 2000 recount taking place in 100 or more counties across a number of states with different standards and rules for evaluating contested ballots. 

2. The NPV would tend to increase the incidence of voter fraud because a single national election provides the maximum incentive to create fraudulent registrations and illegally harvest votes. Under the NPV scheme, an individual’s vote would no longer count only toward the apportionment of the electoral votes from his home state: the very same ballot would now have an influence on all the electoral votes apportioned by all the other states.  Thus, there would be every incentive for ballot harvesters to run up vote totals in all 50 states because, in essence, there would be a single national election conducted in 50 national precincts, instead of 50 separate state elections conducted in 50 federal election districts. 

Conversely, the current system of 50 separate state elections mitigates the incentive to cheat because an individual’s vote only counts toward the electoral votes granted by his home state.  At the same time, the federal district structure of the Electoral College allows election officials, poll watchers, and election lawyers to focus their efforts on the problem areas in the comparatively few swing states.  Under a purely national election scheme like the NPV, the resources of election officials and state attorneys general would be stretched to the breaking point at which they could no longer detect, contain, and punish voter fraud.

3. The NPV would generate a tsunami of electoral litigation at the county and precinct level.  If you think that current litigation and Justice Department lawsuits over the duly enacted voter verification and voter ID laws in the swing states of Texas and North Carolina is a problem, be glad these cases are conducted at the state level. The NPV would explode the number of lawsuits regarding provisional ballot counting and the eligibility rules for provisional voters at the most local levels of voting. Since votes in one compacting state would influence the Electoral College outcome in both the compacting states and the states coerced into the NPV, there would be a proliferation of lawsuits over differing rules in the compacting states regarding same day registration and the timelines for early and absentee voting.  Electoral chaos would ensue.

Ultimately, the NPV would introduce illegitimacy, unfairness, and instability into the process of electing the US President. The next post in this series will examine the Constitutional questions surrounding the NPV.


Why The National Popular Vote Movement Is A Fool’s Errand—Part One

 Note: This post was written by NCPPR’s research associate, Jonathan Hanen.

Last week, I wrote about the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact that seeks to reform the Presidential election by severely retrenching the current Electoral College system.  The NPV scheme would operate through an interstate compact among the 11 or 12 states needed to reach the 270+ electoral votes needed to win out of 538 total. The NPV would amass the electoral votes from the compacting states in one heap, and grant them to the candidate with the majority (or plurality) of votes in the aggregate popular vote of the whole country.

A legal memorandum written for the Heritage Foundation by their senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky lays out five reasons why the NPV is bad public policy.  Let’s look at the first two today.

1. The national popular vote would lead to decreased presidential legitimacy. Candidates would campaign in at most twenty to thirty large population centers with large media markets, e.g., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and so on.  Small and medium sized states that lack large cities would have no say in the election of the executive branch.  Under the current system, it is true that the candidates spend the majority of their time on the stump in seven to ten swing states.  But, the swing states in question vary from election to election, and the winner-take-all system imposes discipline and moderation in the candidates. In order to secure 270 electoral votes, the candidates need to be competitive in the bulk of the 50 separate state elections, and therefore must put together a platform that appeals to a wide swath of the electorate—conservative, moderate, and liberal—in all regions of the country. 

2.  Proponents of the NPV claim that the Electoral College shortchanges the smaller states because the bulk of the electoral votes are allocated to a dozen or so large and medium states.  But the math behind the NPV’s claim to increase the influence of smaller states does not add up.

In 2008, John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute, conducted a study that compared the influence of states in a national popular vote to their influence in the Electoral College. To make an apples-to-apples comparison, Samples first calculated the influence each state would have in a national popular vote like the NPV scheme by computing the ratio of each state’s eligible voters divided by the total number of eligible voters in the US based on 2000 Census data.  Samples then calculated the influence of each state in the Electoral College by computing the ratio of each state’s electoral votes divided by the total 538 electoral votes.  By subtracting the second ratio from the first, Samples arrived at the percentage gain or loss of influence in each state.


The result is that six large and moderate states would see double digit gains in influence from the NPV, while nineteen states would see losses of over 25% of their influence and twelve small states would lose over 33%.   Far from improving the influence of the small states in electing the President, the NPV would take from them and add their influence to some of the large and medium sized states.

Tomorrow, we will look at three reasons the NPV compact is fundamentally flawed in regard to electoral legitimacy and voter fraud.


What Obama Never Told You About ObamaCare Costs Could Hurt YOU Next Year

Pregnant Worried Calculator DFC borderWIn an opinion column that appeared in newspapers nationwide, Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute points out something about ObamaCare few realize:

Next year, some [people who bought health insurance on an ObamaCare exchange] will face real sticker shock because of bizarre complexities of the law. Those who signed up for ACA coverage in the first enrollment season can be automatically enrolled in the same plan next year, if they take no action.

But there’s a catch. More than 85 percent of them are receiving taxpayer subsidies, and the biggest subsidies are tied to a “benchmark” plan, which can change every year.

If people automatically re-enroll in the plan they choose for this year, it may not be the benchmark plan next year. As a result, these consumers will lose added subsidies. Milliman says they could face net premiums 30 percent to nearly 100 percent higher next year.

Here's how National Journal described the same problem:

If you like your Obamacare plan, you can keep it—but you might end up paying a whole lot more.

People who decide to stick with the coverage they've already gotten through Obamacare, rather than switching plans, are at risk for some of the biggest premium spikes anywhere in the system. And some people won't even know their costs went up until they get a bill from the IRS...

And here's how Sean Parnell of the Heartland Institute put it:

A significant problem looms for the Affordable Care Act when the next open enrollment period begins in November, according to many health care experts and media accounts. The administration announced on June 26 those currently enrolled would be automatically renewed in the same plan for 2015.

There is a growing concern this will cause many who received subsidies through the federal exchange to be hit with sharp rises in after-subsidy insurance premiums due to the way subsidies are calculated.

“Many who are auto-enrolled will end up paying more than they needed to for coverage because they will not realize that last year’s best choice won’t be this year’s best choice—either because has failed to educate them on this point or because they don’t have hours to squander on the Exchange trying to make price comparisons,” explained Christopher Conover, Ph.D., a research scholar at Duke University’s Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research...

Bottom line: If you bought health insurance on an ObamaCare exchange and are receiving a subsidy from the taxpayers, do not assume you can keep the same plan with the same or similar subsidies next year. Do your homework, or risk paying more -- possibly a lot more -- than you expect.


You'll Never Guess Who Just Spent Big Bucks to Help the Poor Get Good Lawyers

Shattered DreamsDownload a free PDF copy of this book and read the "Police Power" chapter to learn why civil asset forfeiture must be abolished

I wrote in July that the huge public employee labor union AFSCME decided to stop working with the United Negro College Fund because the UNCF accepted a $25 million contribution from Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation to fund college scholarships for black students.

AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, thought the black students should do without the scholarship money because... well, that was unclear. AFSCME hates -- and I do mean hates -- limited government advocates because smaller government means fewer government employees, which means more dollars for taxpayers and less for AFSCME.

That said, giving scholarships to black students doesn't make the government smaller, so why should AFSCME mind?

In that spirit, I wonder what AFSCME thinks of the just-announced Koch donation to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The grant, according to Carl Hulse in the New York Times, will help finance "a program to provide scholarships and training for public defenders. The grant will also pay for a review of indigent defense programs to see what works in providing legal representation to those who can’t afford it."

AFSCME seems to be keeping its mouth shut about this grant, but I looked in vain for any sort of praise from the left or from liberal bloggers, though there was praise from numerous quarters on the right.

Shattered DreamsDownload a free PDF copy of this book and read the "Civil Asset Forfeiture" chapter to learn even more about why civil asset forfeiture must be abolished

I can only assume the left doesn't care about poor people who need lawyers, which doesn't surprise me a bit.

For my part, I hope some of the grant is used to help defense lawyers fight civil asset forfeiture, as I assume it will, directly or indirectly. Civil asset forfeiture allows government to take the property of innocent people because someone else used it in a crime. This abusive process should not exist, yet few of our lawmakers (on the state or federal level) are working to stop it because government likes our money and our stuff, and not enough of us have kicked up a fuss.

I suspect most of us think the victims of these laws will always be someone else, but those sorts of assumptions are only true until they aren't.

The National Center for Public Policy Research has written several books shining a spotlight on a host of corrupt and dangerous government practices, and a slew of preposterous, ineffective, and costly regulations. A consistent theme in the books (see the chapters on police power and civil asset forfeiture) are stories of ordinary, honest people victimized by civil asset forfeiture. Several of the books are available free, in PDF form. If you aren't already aware of the gross behavior of our "public servants" in this arena, I invite you to download free copies. If you agree with me that civil asset forfeiture must be stopped, consider sharing a copy or two of these free books with friends.


Sharpton Sojourn to St. Louis to Push for Ferguson Indictment Lacks Reason, Promotes Tension

In the four days leading up to the mid-term elections (coincidentally, of course), MSNBC host Al Sharpton plans to move his political grandstanding to Ferguson, Missouri.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sharpton will go to Ferguson “to pressure St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch to file criminal charges [against Ferguson officer Darren Wilson] in Michael Brown’s shooting death” this past August 9.

Members of a grand jury, who have been examining the details of the shooting since late August, are expected to complete their work by mid-November.  Local officials are already worried about renewed violence if Wilson is not indicted, and recent leaks to the media that Brown’s wounds indicate he may have attacked Wilson and that he had drugs in his system don’t seem to bode well for prosecutors.

A four-day Sharpton visit surely cannot help keep tensions in Ferguson at a minimum.

Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper — a legal commentator previously interviewed over 50 times on the situation in Ferguson, including by hosts on 50,000-watt radio stations WHO-Des Moines, KOA-Denver and WBZ-Boston as well as the USA Radio Network, SiriusXM satellite radio and the Fox News Channel on television — had this to say about Sharpton’s upcoming sojourn to Fergson:

Sharpton can pretend that there is conclusive evidence that this was an unjustified shooting, but that’s not what the facts show.

Arguing that “the only gun at that scene was Wilson’s” is a non-sequitur.  Half of all officers killed in the United States are shot with their own gun.  The real issue is why is Michael Brown’s blood on Wilson’s firearm, and why was it in the patrol car?  A reasonable explanation is that Michael Brown was trying to assault the officer.

Sharpton’s alarmist rhetoric that fear of young black men is leading to frequent shootings is unfounded and unsupported.  He would better serve the nation if he went into urban communities and started a conversation about ending the gang-banger lifestyle and focusing on education instead.

The white-on-black shooting meme is a complete fabrication, and no one is helped by perpetuating the falsehood.


What Is The National Popular Vote Movement?

Note: This post was written by NCPPR’s research associate, Jonathan Hanen.

Much attention in the conservative press has been paid to the issue of voter ID and ballot integrity laws in various states and the Justice Department’s attempts to halt them. But the far-left’s forceful attempt to abolish the Electoral College without amending the US constitution has largely gone un-noticed.

Partisans of the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement believe they can legally enact a direct popular election of the president by establishing an interstate compact between the roughly eleven large states it would take to garner 270 of the 538 electoral votes needed to win.

If it were to be enacted, the NPV compact would render irrelevant the votes in the remaining states that have thus far refused to comply with the compact.  Thus far, the compact has only been ratified in the state legislatures of the Northeastern liberal strongholds of NY, NJ, MA, VT, RI, and MD, the left coast redoubts of CA and WA, plus IL, HI, and the District of Columbia.


Supporters of the NPV argue their case in two stages.  First, they contend that our present system of electoral federalism has failed to ensure the relative equality of states. They claim that the Electoral College and the winner-take-all system (except for ME and NB) unjustly privilege the few large states with a high concentration of electoral votes over the many small states. They point to the fact that presidential candidates only campaign in a handful of swing states after the primaries are over.

Second, they assert the claim that a Presidential election is illegitimate if the results of the popular vote do not coincide with the result of the Electoral College’s winner-take-all system.  For evidence, they cite not only the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election in which Bush won the electoral college but narrowly lost the popular vote, but also the 2004 and 2012 elections where 60,000 votes in Ohio and 200,000 votes in a handful of states would have reversed the outcomes.

The coming series of blog posts will examine why the NPV compact is not only impractical for representative democracy but also fails to safeguard federalism and the democratic principle. 


New York City Council Considers Pro-cigarette Legislation


I'll be visiting with members of the New York City Council today. They are now considering a bill to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York City. My arguments against the proposal are laid out in an op-ed I wrote for today's New York Post.

If they read it before we meet, the successful meetings will be very brief.

New York City was the first major city to ban vaping, the use of e-cigarettes, wherever cigarette smoking is banned. Cities around the country have followed suit.

As a result, smokers who are trying to quit are forced to take their e-cigarettes outside together with the smokers. Now the council may go further and ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

Councilman Costa Constantinides’ bill, introduced this month, would be a blow to smokers who want a less harmful alternative that actually tastes good.

Flavors are critically important because they make e-cigarettes attractive to smokers who are trying to quit. Smokers who’ve switched from smoking to vaping regularly report that they enjoy the various flavors of e-cigarettes, often more than the flavor of burning tobacco.

In fact, in a survey published last November in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, participants reported that e-cig flavors, including fruit flavors, were “very important” to them in their effort to quit or reduce smoking.

No, the ban wouldn’t immediately send folks back to smoking. They’d just buy their e-cigs online and outside of the city. So the initial impact would be to hurt legitimate businesses that are trying to offer their customers an appealing and less harmful alternative to cigarettes.

The real harm of the bill comes later, when other legislatures follow our example. I’ve testified against bans on public vaping at City Council meetings around the country.

Almost every time, the supporters cite the impressive fact that New York City passed a similar law. In fact, it’s probably their best argument. The same would happen if Constantinides’ poorly considered bill becomes law.

As is often the case, those calling for a ban to restrict the choices of adults tell us that their goal is to protect children.

“These flavors are direct marketing to children,” Constantinides said when introducing the bill. “They appeal to children, and we’re taking them out of that market.”

That’s absurd. Legislatures around the country, including the City Council, have already banned the sales of all e-cigs to minors. The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule does the same.

The council and the Health Department should get back to basics and make sure stores don’t sell e-cigarettes, flavored or not, to kids.

Perhaps while they are at it, they might be able to stop the greater threat, sales of actual cigarettes to kids. It’s all too common here, for all the Health Department’s aggression in other areas.

Flavor-ban proponents also argue that until all the science is in, it’s better to be safe than sorry. But that “precautionary principle” approach doesn’t apply so simply here.

The World Health Organization, the FDA and scientists at leading anti-smoking groups such as the Legacy Foundation have all recognized that while e-cigarettes have risks, they also have potential to help people reduce their harm dramatically by switching from smoking.

Specifically, the Legacy Foundation’s David Abrams lauds e-cigarettes as a “disruptive technology,” telling the Washingtonian, “I think we’re missing the biggest public-health opportunity in a century if we get [the regulations] wrong.”

He adds, “We’ve got to thread this needle just right. We’ve got to both protect kids and non-users and use it as a way to make obsolete the much more lethal cigarette.”

The FDA has proposed rules to govern e-cigarettes, but hasn’t opted to ban flavors. Instead, the agency is looking into not only the science of e-cigs, but how products such as flavored cigarettes are being used.

It won’t have to look far: Vapers report that the appeal of flavors have made the much more lethal cigarette obsolete, at least to them.

Councilman Constantinides’ proposed ban would not only “thread this needle” the wrong way, it would stick smokers not in the finger, but in the lungs, by suggesting flavored cigarettes present a risk in the same category as smoking.

Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.


Nine "Diseases" CDC Considers More Important Than Ebola

The best way to determine the priorities of any government agency is to look at how its budget is spent. Unfortunately, a detailed budget from the Centers for Disease Control isn’t available, so we must use other methods to determine the CDC’s priorities.

Examining an agency’s press releases is another good method.  Press releases represent the face that those who run an agency want to put forward to the public, so if an agency puts out more press releases on, say, smoking rather than Ebola, it’s a pretty good bet that the folks who run the agency put more importance on tobacco-related illnesses.

So, my industrious research associate and I examined the CDC press releases from July 2009—shortly after current CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden took over—up to the end of July of this year when CDC first started paying attention to the current Ebola outbreak.

During that time, CDC issued 104 press releases on diseases that most people probably think the CDC should monitor, for instance communicable diseases like HIV and tuberculosis, and those passed on by insects like the Heartland Virus.  However, only one of those press releases dealt in any way with Ebola.

Here, then, are other types of “diseases” that received more press releases than Ebola: 

The first thing to notice about the table is that some of these aren’t even “diseases,” e.g., automobile accidents, smoking and breast feeding.  Others such as cancer and diabetes certainly qualify as a disease, but by and large, they are non-communicable, so it’s questionable whether the CDC should be tracking them.

The CDC should have been tracking and preparing for Ebola.  Since Frieden took over, there have been at least three outbreaks of Ebola in Africa, two in Uganda—one in May 2011 and the other in mid-to-late 2012—and the other in Congo in 2012.  With that much warning, why wasn’t the CDC preparing for a possible outbreak on American soil?

The table above suggests that under Frieden political crusades have become more important to the CDC.  Campaigns against smoking and obesity, or promoting breast feeding, no doubt please various parts of the political left.  By contrast, the CDC wouldn’t get as much political mileage from talking about all the things it’s doing to prevent an Ebola outbreak.

If the CDC’s press releases are any indication, politics has been a big priority for Frieden.  It appears CDC resources have been used for those purposes instead of protecting Americans against one of the deadliest viruses known to man. 


1. Press releases on cervical cancer were excluded from the above table since it can be spread by a virus. 

2. There were other such non-diseases that received one press release including climate changemedical billssexual violence and gay and lesbian health


In Three Segments, Watch a Black Legal Eagle Demolish Voter ID Critics

Against vociferous critics and a skeptical host, Project 21’s Horace Cooper soundly and succinctly justified the need for polling place protections against voter fraud and dispatched the various alarmist attacks on this commonsense safeguard to protect American democracy.

On Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story” program on 10/15/14, Horace – the co-chairman of the National Center’s black leadership network – rebutted allegations against ballot protections made by Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center and Ashley Spillane of Rock the Vote as well as host Ray Suarez, proving the real threat to civil rights is voter fraud and that simple protections such as requiring valid identification to vote are lawful and popular.

In pointing out to the host why ballot protection laws are necessary and defending them against allegations presented by Weiser they may intentionally discriminate on the basis of race, Horace explained that it is:

part of the legislatures’ responsibilities to see to it that the constitutional right they have to lay out the election rules are carried out in a way that brings confidence in the minds of the citizens in that community as well as the state legislature itself.  As it happens – when this is polled – blacks, whites, browns, the entire diaspora of America supports this between 60 and 70 percent… [People] say one of their biggest reasons for not participating is they don’t believe their vote will count, and this measure – when they’re told about it – encourages them to go in and participate because it means that their vote will be more meaningful.

When it was suggested that protections of voting are unnecessary because there are few proven cases of voter fraud, Horace noted that there are many well-respected and commonly accepted laws that also catch few offenders such as federal kidnapping, tax fraud and bank fraud and that courts are not the proper venue to deal with the issue of the validity of the policies.  He asked:

Is that really the standard we’re supposed to be living by – that if we only see a few of these things happen, we need to go ahead on and shove that out the door?… There are a lot of criticisms that I hear that are the kind that should be presented to a lawmaker, not the courts.  These are policy arguments, not legal questions.

Horace also noted that there appears to be a partisan interest fueling the campaign against voter ID laws.  While critics of ballot protections in general complain that they will suppress voting, Horace noted that there is not the same concern about the rural access (distance and numbers of polling stations) for the likely reason that rural voters are largely white and old and that gerrymandering was never an issue until more conservative state legislatures began using the tactic to break up liberal maps that augmented their power.  He said “it’s whose ox is getting gored and not a real, legitimate issue about protected rights.”

Horace added about such complaints:

It’s only when it serves this useful purpose to claim that poor, vulnerable groups are being targeted.  I’d love to hear about the states where blacks and Latinos actually voted in lower numbers after this occurred now that we’ve had six years since that decision [from the Supreme Court validating such protections] came down.