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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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Friday
Mar062015

A Lefty Admits That ObamaCare Has Made Us More Dependent on Government

If you are a conservative or libertarian and are in a particularly generous mood, send a thank you note to Bloomberg’s Joshua Green.  He recent piece entitled “Is Washington Ready for the Death of Obamacare?” gives us a preview of the strategy the political left will use should the plaintiff’s prevail in King v. Burwell and the subsidies to federal exchanges be shut off.

But it does more than that.  For a while now, many on the political right have warned that ObamaCare is making us more dependent on government.  Green inadvertently confirms it.

Here are Green’s warnings:

-If the plaintiffs prevail, millions of people in 34 states who bought insurance on federal exchanges would suddenly lose the subsidies that make it affordable. Consequently, most would lose their coverage. A Rand study pegged the number at 9.6 million people, with premiums soaring 47 percent for those still able to afford them. 

-The result would not just leave millions uncovered but also risk destroying the individual health-care markets in states that don’t act. According to a brief filed by a consortium of hospital trade groups, “A market without subsidies will trigger a premium ‘death spiral’ in those states: With subsidies gone and premiums pushed higher, younger and healthier patients will likely drop coverage. Those that remain, paying the higher rates, are likely to be sicker and use more health-care resources. That, in turn, will push rates for everyone in those states even higher, which will cause more to drop coverage, and so on.”

-On the business front, the effects would be no less significant…Entire segments of the health system redesigned their business models to take advantage of the ACA’s incentives. Hospitals, for instance, were given a trade-off: They stopped receiving government payments to offset the cost of treating the uninsured, cuts that amount to $269 billion over a decade. In return, they were promised millions of new patients insured through federal subsidies. 

-The ACA also opened up a flood of investments in digital health ventures. A recent study by StartUp Health, a New York incubator, found that $14.5 billion has been invested since the law was signed, including $6.5 billion last year. “If Congress is unwilling to take action, it would clearly make it less attractive to invest in things related to the coverage expansion,” says Bob Kocher, a partner specializing in health-care IT at the venture capital firm Venrock. “It slows the rate of change in the health-care ecosystem in a way that’s bad for everybody and hurts companies going after these new patients, who are going to suffer.”

Ed Haislmaier at Heritage disputes most of these claims, but the larger point is that, based on Green’s article, conservatives and libertarians were absolutely right. Policyholders, insurers, hospitals and investors in digital health care are now dependent on government, much more so than they were prior to ObamaCare.

Of course, that may be what the left wanted all along.  After all,the more people who are dependent on the government spigot, the harder it is to ever turn it off.  Of course, few of them will ever admit that.  Heck, they only barely acknowledge the government dependence has grown under ObamaCare.

Friday
Mar062015

Hard Truths Overshadow Happiness about Unemployment Figures — “About Those Jobs Numbers” for February 2015

There’s no denying that the American economy is in a state of flux.  Where is President Barack Obama going to take our economy?  It doesn’t seem to be in the right direction by any stretch of the imagination.

Employers are obviously nervous.  Hiring is a not the simple process it once was.  People who want and need jobs are despondent and actually giving up looking for employment.  Plans are delayed and hopes are dashed as the Obama era grinds along.

There are plenty of things to be nervous about.

For one, the U.S. Supreme Court this week heard arguments in the case of King v. Burwell — a challenge to ObamaCare that could halt the federal subsidies propping up the state health care exchanges.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested her fellow jurists could send ObamaCare, the policy Americans couldn’t examine in detail until it was enacted, into a “death spiral” if it turns out that ObamaCare was as poorly-crafted as the plaintiffs allege.  And the Obama Administration allegedly has no Plan B in the event the justice do rule against them.  Not smart.

Furthermore, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama is “very interested” in taking an executive action that would raise taxes on businesses.  This could be hard on businesses already feeling a pinch in the Obama economy.

And then there is the capitulation in Congress that will allow President Obama’s executive action on immigration to become further established and harder to dismantle.  Millions of new applicants for legal work status could join the estimated 7.4 million foreigners — almost a million of them are thought to have come to America illegally – receiving work permits from the government since 2009.  They are now competing with a large contingent of unemployed American citizens for the few available jobs.

Jobless numbers just released by the government offer little encouragement when one looks at the big picture.

As he does every first Friday of the month when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics issues its newest data on American unemployment, Project 21 member Derryck Green provides an in-depth analysis of the nation’s employment situation and the general state of the economy under Barack Obama’s stewardship.

This month, with the official jobless rate falling to 5.5 percent (but the overall figure being twice that percentage!), Derryck is once again feeling pessimistic:

There’s been a revision to the gross domestic product (GDP).

The federal Bureau of Economic Advisors (BEA) just released a second revised estimate of the fourth-quarter GDP for 2014.  According to their report, the nation’s GDP was revised downward from 2.6 percent to 2.2 percent.

America’s economic growth was redefined downward.  What was once a source of great pride for President Obama and his supporters is diminished.  This fact, by the way, received to no real media attention.

Chances are that this number will be revised further downward when the BEA releases a third estimate at the end of this month, when they will also announce the overall rate for which the economy grew in 2014.

Private sector estimates regarding job creation coming from payroll processor ADP doesn’t create optimism.  Their report, released before the federal government’s estimates, noted job creation was once again below expectations in February.  Last month, ADP predicted that 212,000 private sector jobs were created, well below the 220,000 that were expected.

According to the latest federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report, only 295,000 jobs were created last month — an increase of 38,000 from last month. 

The BLS announced the national unemployment rate fell in February to 5.5 percent.  The alternative U-6 number — a more accurate accounting of the nation’s unemployment rate because it includes the unemployed, underemployed and discouraged job seekers — was twice that at 11 percent.

Despite the drop in the official unemployment rate, the workforce participation rate fell again.  It was at 62.8 percent in February, and that rate has been stuck between 62.7 percent and 62.9 percent since April 2014.  That alone should offset any cheering over the official unemployment rate dropping.

Additionally, the unemployment rate for blacks increased slightly to 10.4 percent.  For black teens, their unemployment rate increased into the 30s again to 30 percent.  The unemployment rate for women and Latinos was 4.9 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively.

Despite these disappointing numbers, it’s likely that the mainstream media will try to put a happy face on things.  Expect breathless reports of these modest gains and assurances from pundits that the economy is getting stronger.

But the coverage of this relatively good-sounding jobless report will likely ignore some hard truths.

Among those hard truths:

  • Staples and Office Depot have agreed to merge, potentially costing thousands of employees their jobs;
  • RadioShack filed for bankruptcy protection and plans to liquidate its stores.  Part of the plan is to close its headquarters and potentially lay off more than a thousand workers;
  • Target plans to lay off several thousand workers as part of a $2 billion cost-cutting plan;
  • Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline authorization passed by Congress and effectively killed the jobs that go along with it;
  • According to Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a private company reporting on economic matters, U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut 50,579 jobs last month.  That’s five percent fewer than the 53,041 in January, but still up 21 percent from a year ago.  They also report job layoffs in the first two months of this year were up almost 20 percent from the same time last year;
  • The number of people filing for jobless benefits rose last week to 320,000 — above the 295,000 filers projected and the highest since May 2014.  ZeroHedge reported that, “non-seasonally-adjusted claims surged 29,361 to 310,000 making 2015 the worst start to the year for claims since 2009;
  • U.S. factory orders were down for the sixth straight month, something not seen since the recession of 2008;
  • The U.S. student loan program could need a $500 billion bailout because of the sharp increase in borrowing.  This is no surprise when one considers the poor economy is forcing the more than 30 percent of Millennials who cannot find a job are still living with their parents.  Of course, since the bad economy forces people to live with their family or other roommates rather than living on their own, we understand why the U.S. homeownership rate is at a 20-year low.

To read a really unnerving assessment of the actual conditions of the economy, there’s a particularly scary analysis of the economy posted on Zero Hedge that really puts one on edge.

But worry ye not.  Obama has just the plan to put us on the road to prosperity.  According to his Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Obama is “very interested” in raising taxes through executive action.

Of course this would probably be unconstitutional — but when has that prevented him before?

Thursday
Mar052015

King v. Burwell--Will Kennedy Swing Left?

After yesterday’s hearing of King v. Burwell, it appears that Justice Anthony Kennedy is the swing vote.  Kennedy worried that if the plaintiffs are correct, that subsidies can only flow to exchanges established by a state, then it puts states in the position of being coerced by the federal government:

Let me say that from the standpoint of the dynamics of Federalism, it does seem to me that there is something very powerful to the point that if your [the plaintiffs’] argument is accepted, the States are being told either create your own Exchange, or we’ll send your insurance market into a death spiral. We’ll have people pay mandated taxes which will not get any credit on on the subsidies…It seems to me that under your argument, perhaps you will prevail in the plain words of the statute, there’s a serious constitutional problem if we adopt your argument.

Kennedy later said, “It may well be that you’re correct as to these words, and there’s nothing we can do.”  In other words, the plaintiffs are right that ObamaCare says subsidies can only flow to state-based exchanges, but the Court won’t do anything about it since agreeing with that interpretation creates a situation where the federal government is coercing the states.

Two points on that, one light-hearted, the other serious.

First, Phil Kerpen of American Commitment referred me to his tweet from 2014 in which he predicted this (at the time, the case was still called Halbig):

After seeing that, I asked Phil if I give him $1,000 in late January of next year, would he pick the Super Bowl winner for me?

On a serious note, Kennedy’s argument doesn’t hold much water since the federal government is already sending state insurance markets on a march toward the death spiral.  The subsidies have not been attractive enough to entice sufficient young people to sign up for coverage on the exchanges, something that I predicted back in 2013.  Thus far, insurance premiums haven’t sky-rocketed, but that’s largely due to the “risk corridors” which cover most of the losses insurers incur on the exchanges (few losses, no reason to raise premiums much.)  However, Republicans Congress stopped the first year of the risk corridors in the recent Cromnibus bill.  Now that insurers won’t be receiving risk corridor payments for the first year of the exchanges, expect to see some double-digit premium increases for 2016. Then the death spiral begins.

Avik Roy examines Kennedy’s death spiral argument in some more detail and also argues that Kennedy is not likely to swing to the left in this case.  Well worth the read.

Here’s another reason why Kennedy might not side with the left.  If a phrase in a law is vague as is, arguably, the part of ObamaCare that says subsidies may only go to the states, then the Court often defers to the regulatory agency’s interpretation of the phrase, something known as “Chevron Deference.”  Here’s what Kennedy said about that:

Well, if it’s if it’s ambiguous, then we think about Chevron. But it seems to me a drastic step for us to say that the Department of Internal Revenue and its director can make this call one way or the other when there are, what, billions of dollars of subsidies involved here? Hundreds of millions?

….And it…seems to me our cases say that if the Internal Revenue Service is going to allow deductions using these, that it has to be very, very clear.

Kennedy appears to be saying that the phrase needs to be very clear before the I.R.S. can hand out billions of tax dollars.

Last point: Predicting which way the Court will go in a close case like this is fraught with peril.  At the hearing for NFIB v. Sebelius, the Court seemed very likely to strike down the individual mandate.  And we know how that turned out.

Wednesday
Mar042015

King v. Burwell: End of ObamaCare?

Today the Supreme Court is hearing King v. Burwell, a case that has the potential to unravel ObamaCare.  If the plaintiffs win, then about 6 million people in federal exchanges would lose their premium subsidies.  That would give Congress an opportunity to re-open ObamaCare entirely. Wikipedia actually gives a nice summary of King v. Burwell, and Scotusblog is doing an excellent job of reporting on the oral arguments.

In anticipation of this, NCPPR is releasing an excel file today showing how a dozen free-market health care reform plans (i.e., what we replace ObamaCare with after it is repealed) fare on various policy issues such as tax credits, Medicaid and pre-existing conditions.  The plans run the gamut, from Heritage and Cato, to Rep. Tom Price and the Republican Study Committee. The excel file is accompanied by a policy analysis that defines some terms in the spreadsheet that may be unfamiliar to readers.

No doubt the political left will continue to insist that the political right has no health care plan, but the excel file puts the lie to that claim.  There are plenty of policy options to choose from that would both help people who lose subsidies and move our health care system in a free-market direction.

In addition, the Heritage Foundation has outlined how Congress should respond if the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell succeed.

The big question, of course, is will they succeed?  Well, sorry to end this post on a discouraging note, but an early analysis of the oral arguments by Phil Klein at the Washington Examiner says that the plaintiffs and those favoring them “should be nervous.”

UPDATE: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has just released his health care plan today.  I will update the excel file as soon as I go through the plan’s details.

Tuesday
Mar032015

Republicans Usually Ask for Higher Spending During "Members' Day." This Year, Some Called for Cuts

I worked for the House of Representatives from 2007-2008.  While there, I attended the 2008 “Members’ Day” hearing at the House Budget Committee.

Members’ Day is when the Budget Committee gives representatives a chance to testify about their own priorities for the federal budget.  While the hearing usually lasts somewhere between four to six hours, in 2008 45 minutes was all I could stand.  I watched the rest back at the office.  (It can be viewed on Youtube here.) Without exception, the Democrats testified in favor of either protecting various federal programs from cuts or spending more on them.  But the few Republicans who also testified did largely the same.  Very dispiriting.

I tuned in via the internet to this year’s hearing expecting much the same. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see some Republicans, and even one Democrat, dash my low expectations!

The two best testimonies came from Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and David Schweikert (R-CA.)  Goodlatte testified about the need for a balanced budget amendment and an overhaul of the tax code.  Schweikert talked about administrative changes that the federal government could make to save money.  For example, he said if three federal employees working in three different agencies need to take a trip to Richmond, Va. on the same day, why do they each take a separate government vehicle?  He claimed “there’s an app for that” which allows agencies to coordinate such things.  Schweikert said the federal government is way behind the private sector on that (no kidding!)

Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL) disappointed by calling for the spending cap to be lifted on defense spending.  Not the worst thing in the world, but I’m the type of conservative who thinks budget savings need to be found in all areas.  However, Nugent recovered a bit when he did say that spending cuts were necessary, although he did not talk about specifics.

The biggest disappointment came from Rep. Mia Love (R-UT).  She argued against cuts in the Obama Administration’s budget for a water project in Utah.  Utah is experiencing a drought, she claimed, and Utah will pay 35 percent of the cost of the project.  Supposedly Utah will have to pay back the federal government the rest of the funding over time, although you can be sure it’s at a cushy interest rate that you have no hope of getting in the private sector. Not the worst thing in the world to defend from spending cuts, but since Love has been routinely touted as one of the big up-and-comers, her testimony was a let down.

The most promising start came from Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV).  He first called for “defunding overreaching agencies,” and he specifically mentioned the Legal Services Corporation.  (To learn more about why we should get rid of the LSG, go here and here.)  He next asked for the Environmental Protection Agency to back off ozone regulations that are threatening coal-fired power plants.

To use a basketball analogy, Mooney had just nailed two three-point shots with nothing but net.  His third attempt was eagerly awaited.

He then talked about the need to fund federal mine-closing services because such services are beneficial to the communities near a closed mine.

AIRBALL!!!

But then a Democrat member of the Budget Committee, Donald Norcross (D-NJ), made a save.  He questioned Mooney as to why closed mines were not the responsibility of the companies that owned them.  Mooney didn’t have a good response.  

There are two lessons we can take from last week’s Members’ Day hearing.  The first is how much progress the center-right has made in recent years.  Back in 2008, it was almost unthinkable that Republicans would argue for spending cuts during Members’ Day.  That some now do shows how much Tea Party organizations and other conservative and libertarian groups have made in pushing the GOP in the right direction on the issue of spending.

The second lesson is how far we have to go.  Only two Republicans espousing unadulterated conservative/libertarian positions on the budget is not enough.  We’ll know that we’re getting close to our destination when (1) a lot of GOP members testify during Members’ Day about the need for spending cuts and each one singles out a specific agency for elimination, and (2) a few Democrats do the same.

Monday
Mar022015

Project 21 Member Wins CPAC Blogger Award

Project 21’s Wayne DupreeCongratulations to Project 21 member Wayne Dupree, who was named “Blogger of the Year” at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this past weekend at the Gaylord National Resort in suburban Washington, D.C.

In addition to his work with the National Center’s black leadership network, Wayne created the NewsNinja website his own Internet radio network — We Are America Radio (WAAR) — to give additional voice to black conservatives “ready to step up in defense of their country and its future.”

Over the past year, Wayne’s work with Project 21 has included the prominent black public affairs web site EURWeb, the One America News Network and radio stations nationwide.

In the past, the CPAC Blogger of the Year Award was won by now-familiar media personalities such as Katie Pavlich and Mary Katharine Ham.  Other award recipients at the 2015 CPAC included the “Journalist of the Year” that was awarded to Jim Geraghty of National Review, the “Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award” to Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty and the “American Hero Award” that was posthumously given to former U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.

Wayne said of his honor:

I am very surprised, shocked, humbled and honored to receive this award.

When you get into this grassroots fight to help save the country from an agenda that has been set forth to destroy the very fabric it was built on, you never think of awards and presentations.  This year, I went to CPAC with the idea of interviewing as many frontline newsmakers as possible to see where they were on issues that plague our communities and neighborhoods.

I’ve been doing this for less than three years now.  To have come this far this fast with so many grassroots supporters is truly amazing.  I am happy to be recognized, but I will be happier if we are able to change the course of this country — with conservative values leading the way.

Wayne’s CPAC acceptance speech is featured below:

 

Saturday
Feb282015

Who Photobombed Col. Allen West?

Project 21's Bishop Council Nedd II was interviewing former U.S. Congressman Col. Allen West when a familiar face photobombed the interview. Click the picture to find out who...

Bishop Nedd West Trump CPAC 022815

Thursday
Feb262015

The Dashing Federal Budget

Yesterday the House Budget Committee held “Members’ Day.”  I’ll write more about that tomorrow, over the weekend, Monday, Tuesday.

For the time being, enjoy what happens when a committee staffer handling the computer forgets that even during an intermission the video camera is still running:

 UPDATE, 4:41pm:  As of right now, when you click on the Members’ Day link above, it will lead you to a video that will post the message, “Non-existent video.”  Not sure why the powers that be have taken down the hearing video.  Maybe they are trying to make it less dashing?

Thursday
Feb262015

Jeff Stier of the National Center and Niger Innis of Project 21 to Appear on Special CPAC Panel on Regulations and Freedom

StierCPACSpeech022615Poster

At CPAC today at 2:30 PM, Niger Innis of Project 21 and The TeaParty.Net and the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Jeff Stier will appear on a special Washington Times panel, “Regulatory Assaults on Your Freedom You May Not Know About.” They will be George Landrith of Frontiers of Freedom Institute. Washington Times Opinion Editor David Keene will moderate. CPAC attendees: The location is Camellia 3.

Thursday
Feb262015

Why We Don’t Believe Costco Chairman Jeffrey Brotman

CostcoLogoWHaving ruffled the feathers of the leadership of Costco, America's second largest retailer, last Friday, I plan to attend the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this Friday to respond to false claims made by Costco Chairman Jeffrey Brotman jointly to the National Center and the One American News Network regarding the National Center's Employee Conscience Protection Project.

Brotman's claims came in an email response to me as director of the National Center's Free Enterprise Project and to Rick Amato, a One American News Network host, after repeated pressure from the National Center asking Costco to implement policies to protect its 100,000 employees from potential discipline for their private political and civic actions and personal beliefs.

The National Center's request came following breaking news in April, when the CEO of Mozilla was forced from his job because he contributed $1,000 to a 2008 referendum defining marriage under California law. Colleagues at Mozilla held a different view and he lost his job.

Upon investigation, the National Center discovered that some corporations, such as Coca-Cola, had pledged to employees that they would not be fired or treated adversely at work because of personal, off-the-job legal political or civic activities, but most corporations had no such protections. Employees could be fired, demoted, denied promotions or raises because their supervisor disagreed with their politics or their views on policy issues, even if the issues in question had nothing to do with work.

The National Center began approaching CEOs of the latter companies to suggest they give their employees this protection and submitted shareholder proposals on the subject to nearly two dozen corporations.

Most of the corporations the National Center approached were very willing, and made formal changes to give their workforce freedom of conscience protections. These firms included, but are not limited to, General Electric, PepsiCo and Visa. But Costco not only refused to protect its workforce, but also fought back before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), winning the support of that Obama Administration agency and blocking the shareholder proposal (which sought only a non-binding recommendation from shareholders to management) from even being placed before Costco shareholders.

Costco is an outlier from our experience. Most corporations we approached understood the inherent value in a workforce that is free to engage the political arena as the workers see fit without the fear of on-the-job reprisal and many have amended their policies to reflect this belief. Costco has claimed that top management will protect its entire workforce from such potential discrimination, but its policies do not bear this out, and, so far, the company's management has spent considerable time and resources fighting any such policy change.

After I appeared on Rick Amato's s February 17 broadcast to highlight Costco's unwillingness to amend its corporate policies and Rick called on viewers let Costco know their views, Costco Chairman Jeffrey Brotman emailed Rick and I in an effort to refute the story.

In his email, Brotman claimed Costco already protects its workers from retaliation if they hold private political or civic views differing from those of their supervisors, and does so in the manner the National Center seeks. This is incorrect, or at the very least, Costco has repeatedly failed to provide evidence that it is correct.

In his email, Brotman wrote:

The suggestion that Costco "has retained the right to fire its employees for their private political actions" is simply false, and we disclaim any such right. Our Employee Agreement, which governs the rights and responsibilities of all our employees, contains a long list of protected characteristics, including "race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, age, pregnancy, disability, work-related injury, covered veteran status, political ideology, genetic information, marital status, or any other factor that the law protects from employment discrimination."

Brotman's email went on to claim that Costco employees are also barred from harassing others based on these protected characteristics.

What Brotman's email left out is more telling than what it included. He failed to mention that Costco's Employment Agreement bars employees from engaging in any 'unlawful' discrimination. That distinction is very important since 50 percent of Americans live in a jurisdiction in which political discrimination is perfectly legal. In those locations, an employer or supervisor can terminate someone simply for disagreeing with him politically and that employee would have no legal recourse. And this includes many locations that have Costco stores.

It means nothing to say that Costco will bar its employees from engaging in unlawful discrimination. It doesn't have the right to allow its employees to break the law. What we are doing through the Employee Conscience Protection Project is asking companies to go above and beyond what the law requires and to protect all of their workers no matter where they happen to be situated.

Furthermore, Brotman's email seems to make the claim that Costco has substantially implemented the National Center’s proposal. That simply isn't true. Costco's legal team had the opportunity to make this claim when it petitioned the SEC for the legal right to remove our resolution from its proxy statement. It chose not to do so. After reviewing the evidence from Brotman's email, which clearly shows Costco's policies do not match our employee protection request, it is clear why Costco’s legal team declined to advance this argument.

To read the full legal exchanges between the National Center and Costco regarding exclusion of the shareholder proposal in which the SEC determined that protecting workers from political discrimination is an interference with ordinary business operations, click here and here. To read a press release about my initial confrontation with Brotman at the 2015 annual meeting of Costco shareholders, click here.

These false assertions by Brotman raise some other interesting legal questions. Under the Sarbanes-Oxley financial reform law, executives who sign financial reports and internal controls must certify the validity of the content in those documents. Falsely certifying documents is punishable by fines and potential prison time. While it is unlikely that a federal prosecutor would deem Brotman's email to be actionable under Sarbanes-Oxley, it is worth noting that a false statement in such a correspondence seems to, at a minimum, violate the spirit of the law.

I also responded to Brotman's email on the February 20 broadcast of The Rick Amato Show.

Through corporate activism, the National Center's Employee Conscience Protection Project has successfully ushered in new protections for hundreds of thousands of American workers from potential political discrimination. And since it was announced earlier this month, the project has received significant media attention, including coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle, Politico, the Daily Caller and, obviously, The Rick Amato Show.

Wednesday
Feb252015

ObamaCare Taxes the Poor

This, apparently, is the new ObamaCare theme song:

From the press release for an H&R Block report:

So far in the 2015 tax season, H&R Block, the world’s largest consumer tax services provider, is seeing a majority (52 percent) who enrolled in insurance via the state or federal Marketplaces paying back a portion of the Advance Premium Tax Credit (APTC). The average amount paid back is $530, decreasing the tax refund on average by 17 percent, according to analysis almost six weeks into the 2015 tax season.

When people applied for insurance on the ObamaCare exchange in 2013, they had to give Healthcare.gov or the website of their state exchange their 2013 income to calculate their premium subsidy for 2014.  However, if their income increased at all in 2014, then they would be receiving a subsidy that was too high.  Come 2015, they would have to pay part of that subsidy back on their taxes.

The actual report doesn’t give a breakdown of what people owe by income, but it’s easy to take a rough guess at what income range this tax increase falls. Subsidies begin at 133 pecent of the federal poverty level (FPL) for a person in a state that has expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare, and 100 pecent FPL for those in states that have not.  The subsidies stop at 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), which in 2014 was about $46,700 for a single person and $95,400 for a family of four.  

However, just because an individual has an income at or below 400 percent FPL doesn’t mean that he or she will receive a subsidy.  Indeed, the closer one gets to 400 percent FPL, the less likely that he or she will receive a subsidy.  The reason why is a bit complicated, and I won’t go into it here.  For those interested, see this policy analysis by Sean Parnell and myself.  In short, it’s probably not many people near the top of the range who are paying this tax, since they probably didn’t qualify for subsidies in the first place.

The taxes are probably not falling on many people in the upper middle (250-350 percent FPL) of the range, since many of them don’t qualify for subsidies either. As this PDF file that I created back in 2013 shows, in most states subsidies stop for 30-and-40-year-olds at someplace in the $30,000 range, usually well before 350 percent of FPL is reached.  For 20-year-olds, the subsidies generally stop in the $20,000 range, almost always before 300 percent FPL is reached and often before 250 percent FPL is reached.  

A scan of the PDF file suggests that the many people who will to have to pay more taxes due to ObamaCare are probably near the 200 percent FPL range ($23,340 for a single person). That’s not wealthy, and not too much below that could be considered “poor.”  And, undoubtedly, some of those people who are poor are owing taxes on their ObamaCare subsidies.

In the liberal world, such taxation is panned as “regressive.”  Yet, so far, I can’t find a single liberal publication that has picked up on this and criticized it.  Can’t imagine why.

Tuesday
Feb242015

ObamaCare Exchanges: Goal-Post Shifting And Glitches

Just before the ObamaCare exchanges re-opened in November of last year, the Obama Administration predicted that about 9.1 million people would be enrolled in the exchanges through 2015. Last week the Administration announced that 11.4 million people had signed up via the exchanges, which makes it likely that the goal of 9.1 million enrolled will be reached.

“Signed up” and “enrolled” mean different things.  Someone who has signed up has not necessarily paid his first premium, while an enrolled individual has.  At the end of the first open enrollment period 8 million people had signed up, but by late 2014 only 6.7 million remained enrolled.

However, even if 9.1 million is reached, it misses the 12 million predicted by the Congressional Budget Office in January of this year.  That 12 million is a revision downward as this table shows: 

A few thoughts:  First, CBO’s enrollment predictions for 2014 and 2015 continued to decline.  CBO got it about right for 2014. Will it do similarly for 2015?

Well, and second, that depends.  Right now it seems unlikely that more than 10 million will be enrolled by the end of 2015.  Unless, of course, there is a sudden uptick due to the “special enrollment period” the Obama Administration announced Friday that will run from March 15 to April 30.

Third, notice how far CBO predictions have fallen for 2014 and, to a lesser extent, 2015.  That makes it somewhat fun to speculate how much predictions for 2016 and 2017 will drop.  If enrollment for 2015 ends at about 10 million, then it has increased only about 3.3 million over 2014.  But, if we take CBO at face value, it will increase another 11 million in 2016 to reach 21 million.  Fat chance!  Expect that 2016 number to come way, way down in the ensuing months.

****

Oops!  Don’t start doing your taxes just yet:

The administration sent the wrong tax information to 800,000 people who have enrolled in ObamaCare, officials announced Friday.

The information used to calculate subsidies was wrong on about 20 percent of tax forms, an error that could delay tax refunds for thousands of people. 

Administration officials stressed that the vast majority of HealthCare.gov customers received the correct forms, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the issue impacted “a very small fraction of people.”

One fifth is a small fraction?  One wonders if Earnest really believes the stuff he is shoveling.

Anyway, no need to worry.  The administration has recent experience with giving people more time to file their ObamaCare taxes.

Friday
Feb202015

King Obama Creates a Privileged ObamaCare Class

As I noted yesterday, Democrats have been beseeching the President for a special open enrollment period for the ObamaCare exchanges.  The reason is that a lot of people will learn of the individual mandate penalty for the first time when they go to pay taxes this year.  If they are uninsured, then the soonest they could enroll would be later this year, which would mean they’d pay the individual mandate tax again in 2016.

Washington State decided to extend its enrollment period to April 17.  Upon reading that I wrote, “Given President Obama’s penchant for extra-legal illegal executive orders, it would be no surprise if he did the same for federal exchanges in the very near future.”  

The very near future is today:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday morning announced it will implement a special enrollment period for individuals who learn, at the time they file their taxes, of the Affordable Care Act-mandated tax penalty for not having health insurance coverage.

The special enrollment period will allow people to sign up as soon as they get a taste of the financial penalty that comes with not enrolling. Americans who didn’t have insurance in 2014 may owe a fine of $95 or as much as 1 percent of their income. If they remain uncovered this year, the fine could rise to 2 percent of their income for the 2015 tax year. Income tax filings for 2014 are due April 15. The newly announced special enrollment period will run March 15 to April 30.

This was CMS’s reason excuse: “We recognize that this is the first tax filing season where consumers may have to pay a fee or claim an exemption for not having health insurance coverage,” says CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “Our priority is to make sure consumers understand the new requirement to enroll in health coverage and to provide those who were not aware or did not understand the requirement with an opportunity to enroll in affordable coverage this year.”

If you are, say, a first time tax filer in your 20s and you make a mistake that results in owing more to the Federal Government, does the I.R.S. give you a break on the penalties?  Sorry, too bad, because you were supposed to know the rules.

But if you are a potential ObamaCare enrollee, knowing the rules is not your responsibility. You get a third bite at the enrollment apple, and you don’t owe any penalties if you pay the individual mandate fine late.

Well, late ObamaCare enrollees, bask in the glow. His Royal Highness Field Marshal The Duke Of D.C. Barack Obama has declared you a privileged class!

Thursday
Feb192015

National Center's Stier Explains the Animal Extremist Agenda against Mankind

 

There’s been legislation introduced in Washington state that would make it a crime to have a dolphin or a whale “for performance or entertainment purposes” and breeding.  Doing so could land the offender in jail for six months and liable for a $100,000 fine, although it’s clear the true intent of the law is to demonize animal entertainment and educational venues such as SeaWorld.

A hearing on the bill was held earlier this month in Olympia.

Jeff Stier, the director of the National Center’s Risk Analysis Division, noted this bill under consideration in the Evergreen State is but one small aspect of a larger, national assault by radical environmentalists to destroy mankind’s stewardship of and interaction with the animal kingdom in particular and all of nature in general.

On the 2/12/15 edition of “The Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network, Jeff said, “this isn’t about SeaWorld or the orcas.  This is about the radical environmental view that we humans should not own animals for entertainment or other uses — they should be out in nature being happy.”

Succinctly describing the motivation of these extremists, Jeff pointed out:

[T]he radical animal activists don’t want humans to be in charge of nature.

Explaining the animal rights agenda in more detail, and the role that this individual piece of legslation plays in fulfilling that agenda, Jeff said:

Right now, the legislation in Washington state is limited.  What’s under consideration is limited to dolphins [and] whales/orcas.  But that’s not where the agenda is limited to.  This is a first step.

But these radical environmental groups, whether it’s PETA or the Humane Society, are on record on their view on this: they don’t want animals in capitivty.  First, it’s the whales.  Next it’s the zoo.  And, soon, it’s Fido…

[T]hey’ll start with something relatively small.  There are no aquariums or SeaWorlds in Washington state, so they can say, “Oh, this won’t really impact business in Washington State.”

What they want to do is get a foothold, and then start advancing it from there.  There’s no question about it — the agenda of these groups is a radical one.

Amato noted that “it’s an important story from that standpoint” in that these activists are establishing a precedent to go after bigger targets elsewhere at a later date.  He told Jeff, “I really appreciate the way you broke it down.”

Noting this oft-used strategy of the left, Amato added: “You have this radical agenda, and you chip away.  You chip away until you can have a greater impact.”

Thursday
Feb192015

Democrats Made Their Individual Mandate Bed; Now They Can Lie in It

If a public policy requires quite a few substantial exceptions and alterations to get it to work, that’s usually a clue that it wasn’t a good policy to begin with.

A case in point is ObamaCare’s individual mandate.  The Internal Revenue Service has already decided to waive late penalties for anyone who fails to pay their individual mandate tax on time.  Now Democrats want to give people subject to the individual mandate what amounts to a big do-over.

The individual mandate was supposed to push people to sign up for health insurance by fining them if they didn’t.  The problem, as far as Democrats are concerned, is that people who didn’t get insurance will face their first fine after the second enrollment period for the ObamaCare exchanges ends. (The final day was last Sunday, February 15.)  Assuming that many of the people who didn’t enroll during the first enrollment period in 2013 also didn’t enroll in the second one, they’ll have to pay the fine twice—one this year and once next year. In short, if the first mandate penalty pushes them to buy insurance, it will come too late to avoid another fine come tax-time in 2016.

According to the Washington Times:

[Democrats] say it’s unfair to expect health care consumers to have followed the law’s coverage mandate because their first round of Obamacare taxes aren’t due until April.

Democrats said Americans filling out their taxes will get their first big reminder about needing health care coverage if they have to pay a penalty for last year, which could goose them into signing up for this year — except the deadline for penalty-free enrollment in the federal exchange for 2015 expired Sunday. Those who aren’t covered this year will face an even bigger tax wallop next year.

“Without a special enrollment period, many people making a shared responsibility payment won’t have another opportunity to get health coverage this year,” Reps. Sander M. Levin of Michigan and Jim McDermott of Washington, the top Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

Apparently the Democrats’ pleas have gotten the attention of officials in Washington State who announced “that residents who face Obamacare’s tax penalty for lacking health insurance can qualify for a special enrollment period through April 17.” Given President Obama’s penchant for extra-legal illegal executive orders, it would be no surprise if he did the same for federal exchanges in the very near future.  

So, people who have to pay the individual mandate tax not only get a break on late penalties, some of them also get an extended enrollment period.  How, exactly, is that fair?  And while we are on the subject of fairness, how is it fair to grossly violate Americans’ liberty as ObamaCare’s individual mandate has? (And, no, claiming that people being uninsured puts a supposed burden on the rest of us doesn’t hold water.)

Finally, is it unfairness that really bothers Democrats here? Or, is the real problem that people who get to pay the individual mandate tax twice might show up at a voting booth in surly mood? In that case, tough. Those same Democrats had no problem with this system when they passed it into law. If they didn’t realize at the time that the individual mandate could create such problems, then they are foolhardy.  Let them suffer the consequences for it.

Wednesday
Feb182015

TV Host Mobilizes Viewers to Fight for National Center in Campaign for Political Freedom at Costco

FEP’s Justin DanhofLast week, National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof told One America News Network host Rick Amato about how Costco management is effectively creating an atmosphere that allows for the potential political persecution of its employees in the workplace.  Since then Amato’s outrage for the callousness of the retail giant has encouraged him to use his program as a tool to make a difference in this situation.

Amato began that effort on the 2/17/15 edition of “The Rick Amato Show” when he interviewed Justin again to talk about the Costco problem and ask his viewers to get involved by calling a Costco executive to complain about this threat to employee political freedom.

The National Center had asked Costco to amend its code of conduct to make sure employees at all of its stores cannot be discriminated against for their private political beliefs – a threat that exists for private sector employees in half of the United States.  Costco management fought the National Center’s shareholder proposal on the topic and won the ability to ignore it.  Furthermore, Costco Chairman Jeffrey Brotman rebuffed Justin at the company’s recent shareholder meeting, claiming the company had the situation under control and encouraged employee political participation.

Justin remains skeptical, and he told Amato:

I think that it’s a pretty strange response, considering the fact that Costco has about 195,000 employees.  I’m pretty sure that the chairman of the board can’t oversee every one of them on a daily basis to make sure that some supervisor in a Costco location isn’t taking an adverse action against them.

As Justin further explained, the threat of persecution can detract from participation in America’s political processes.  He noted:

[R]ight now in America, we have hecklers’ vetoes deciding who can be employed, where and how.  And we think that in a country where we have a tremendous amount of freedoms, where we have the freedom to select our government, to select our leaders – [it’s a shame] so few people partake in that.

That’s why we think that this project is important – for our employers to make it clear.  And we think it can have a domino effect and spread.  And hopefully your viewers can help with that.

Amato was incensed by Justin’s story, calling the behavior of Costco management “fascist.”  He instructed his national viewership to call Costco’s head of investor relations to let the company know how they felt about their fight against the National Center.  Amato declared:

I’m going to make a call to action to our viewers right now.

If you are as troubled as I am, as Justin Danhof is, at the actions of Costco executive management allowing themselves to fire any employee – primarily conservative and libertarian employees – who have political speech outside of work which Costco does not agree with.  If you want to call on this publicly-traded company to change their policy, we’re going to give out a phone number right now, on the screen… That is the direct line, direct phone number, directly to the executive vice president of investor relations for Costco, a gentleman by the name of Richard Galanti.

Sunday
Feb152015

Major Online Retailer Offers 10 Percent Off for Customers Typing "Liberty" at Checkout

The National Center's Free Enterprise Project fights liberalism in America's corporate boardrooms, and has found plenty of it to fight.

As a result, I may be more sensitive than most when a company appears to be signaling that it appreciates the key founding principles of our nation, but I was pleased to see this when shopping online this afternoon for new pants for one of our constantly-growing sons:

LLBean Liberty

Ten percent off all purchases through Monday, February 16 if you enter the word "liberty" at checkout!

Our Free Enterprise Project mostly works with publicly-held corporations, and has had little if any contact with L.L. Bean, which is privately owned by the Bean family. I don't even know the CEO's name.

What I do have, though, is a firm suspicion that at least some company executives appreciate one of our nation's key founding principles: Liberty.

I bought their pants.

Sunday
Feb152015

TV Host Amato Takes Up National Center Cause, to Announce Campaign Against Costco Tuesday Night

FEP’s Justin DanhofAfter his interview with the National Center’s Justin Danhof, nationally-seen television talk show host Rick Amato wants his viewers to help him take on retail giant Costco for actively fighting against the political freedoms of its employees.  Watch on this coming Tuesday to see Amato when he brings Justin back on his programs and announces what he wants his viewers to do.

Will it be a boycott?  Will it be a mass cancellation of existing membership?  Tune in to find out on 2/17/15 at 10:00PM eastern to find out and when he has Justin on again.  The “Rick Amato Show” can be seen on the One America News Network.  OANN is found on Verizon FiOS channel 116, AT&T U-Verse channel 208 and CenturyLink Prism channel 209 as well as many local cable providers.

Justin, the director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project, was on Amato’s 2/11/15 edition to discuss the FEP’s many shareholder proposals to protect private sector employees nationwide from being able to be fired at will for their political beliefs.  While political speech of private sector employees is protected in some states, the National Center has been seeking changes in corporate employee policies so, as Justin explained, “that no supervisor can come to you and say, ‘I don’t agree with your politics – you’re out of here.”

Justin further explained on the program:

A lot of folks just instinctively think, “Wait a minute, don’t I have First Amendment protections?  You’ve got to remind folks, of course, that the First Amendment protects you against the government.  It doesn’t protect you against private action.  And your employer, in this situation, is the private actor.

While many companies already accepted the National Center proposal and either amended or are in the process of amending their codes of conduct, the retail giant Costco fought the National Center to keep the proposal off the agenda at their recent shareholder meeting and were allowed to do so by the Obama Administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission.  Justin noted:

So the shareholders didn’t even get to vote at Costco on our proposal.  So I flew out to Washington State and I asked the chairman of the board, Jeffrey Brotman, why in the world would Costco fight to retain the right to fire its employees for their private political actions.

The answer I got was similar to something you’d hear from the Obama Administration.  It was essentially: We know better.  [Costco leaders] don’t want the shareholders, even though we’re a publicly-held company, to have any say in this matter whatsoever.  So Costco, as it stands, has retained the right to fire its employees for their private political actions.

And this should be very concerning for all Costco employees – particularly because the leadership of Costco, including the chairman, Jeffrey Brotman, is a well-known progressive.  The former CEO, you may recall, Jim Sinegal, spoke at the 2012 Democrat National Convention, where he echoed President Obama’s statements on “you didn’t build that.”  It came right out of the Democrat Party playbook.  And, so, if you a conservative worker at Costco, you have some cause for concern.

Sharron Angle, the 2010 candidate challenging incumbent senator Harry Reid (D-NV), who was in the studio with Amato, said she was not surprised by what Justin explained.  She said:

What happens with the law is this: If it isn’t against the law, people do it until it pushes somebody to do just what Justin has done.

This can’t be something you can do with impunity.  You have to go ahead and give people their civil rights.  And this is right up there with freedom of religion.

Angle and Amato immediately suggested making a plea to the millions of viewers of the network to consider making an economic decision to not do business with Costco because it will not protect all of its employees from potential political retribution for their beliefs.  In teasing what might be in store on the 17th, Amato said during this interview segment that he would like “to make life a little bit uncomfortable for the management at Costco for not being sensitive to the needs of their employees.  Let’s put it this way, sensitive it a nice word – for being fascist toward the needs of their employees.”

Thursday
Feb122015

Obama Displays His Ignorance While Getting on High Horse

President Obama continues to display how little he really knows.  After demonstrating his historical illiteracy last week by mouthing off about the Crusades, yesterday he upped the ignorance ante by attacking office supply company Staples.  

According to Obama, Staples is limiting the hours its employees work to avoid violating the ObamaCare employer mandate.  Staples denies this, saying it is a long-standing policy.  Here is Obama’s scolding:

It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers … but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

(Isn’t he doing this just after he lectured us to stay off our high horses? — the Wife.)

It would almost surely be news to Obama that Staples has been struggling as of late.  According to Forbes:

On a full-year basis, Staples reported $23.1 billion in 2013 revenue, a 5.2% drop over 2012 full-year revenue. Full-year operating income came in at $1.2 billion, resulting in earnings of $1.16 per share, a 17% decline over full-year 2012 earnings.

In an effort to stop the bleeding and achieve $500 million in cost savings by the end of 2015, Staples said that it plans to close 225  of its 1,846 stores in North America by the end of 2015.

How many more stores would Staples have to close and how many other employees would be out of a job if the company had to also pay for health insurance?  

Next, when Obama says, “when I hear large corporations that…,” I wonder if he’s heard about any other employers who have cut back employee hours due to the mandate?  Jed Graham of Investor’s Business Daily has kept track of employers who have announced they are reducing employee hours.  Here’s part of his list.  Notice anything?

Of the 450 employers that have publicly announced they are reducing employee hours in response to ObamaCare’e employer mandate, 364 of them are public employers. 

Wonder why Obama doesn’t criticize them? Maybe it’s ignorance?

Wednesday
Feb112015

ObamaCare: Patients Pay the Cost, Social Engineers Do Not

Aren’t social engineers great?  They get to test their ideas without having to pay the cost if those ideas fail. Indeed, to the extent that the ideas are tested on us, we are the ones who suffer any hardship as a result. Nice work if you can get it.  

From the New York Times:

But other problems may be related to the process by which the plans are created. Under the Affordable Care Act each state was asked to select a benchmark plan as its standard. It had to cover certain “essential health benefits” like maternity care and prescription drugs; it had to have a defined actuarial value depending on the level of plan. Silver plans, for example, had to cover 70 percent of charges, leaving consumers with 30 percent. But within those parameters, competing insurers had leeway to set premiums, co-payments and deductibles, and to create networks by negotiating with doctors and hospitals. Naturally, they created policies that met the core criteria while minimizing their financial risk.

Suddenly there were hundreds of new insurance products that had never been tested in real time. Their shortcomings are now playing out in various ways.

Back in September, NCPPR posted a study showing how ObamaCare regulations were resulting in insurance policies with inferior quality compared to what existed in the individual market prior to the ObamaCare exchanges.  We found that on the dimensions of out-of-pocket costs and provider networks, the exchange plans were inferior to the plans on the individual market.

Sadly, more and more consumers are finding that out.  The Times relates the story of New York resident Karen Pineman who broke her ankle playing tennis.  Her exchange plan resulted in nearly $1,800 in co-pay to have a a cast put on.  However, when she needed to see an orthopedist, the closest one in the network of her Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan was 14 miles away from her in Stamford, Connecticut:

When she called to protest, her insurer said that Stamford was 14 miles from her home and 15 was considered a reasonable travel distance. “It was ridiculous — didn’t they notice it was in another state?” said Ms. Pineman, 46, who was on crutches.

She instead paid $350 to see a nearby orthopedist and bought a boot on Amazon as he suggested. She has since forked over hundreds of dollars more for a physical therapist that insurance didn’t cover, even though that provider was in-network.

At one point, I might have taken a bit of Schadenfreude in the fact that Ms. Pineman voted for Obama and was a ObamaCare supporter.  Not anymore.  If people have a serious medical problem and ObamaCare makes it more difficult, as was the case with Ms. Pineman, it is sad, if not tragic, regardless of her politics.

Then there is the tale of Allison Chavez, who signed up for a policy on Covered California at about the same time she was starting treatment for breast cancer.  Here’s what happened next:

But in March, while in the middle of treatment, she was notified that several of her doctors and the hospital were leaving the plan’s network. She was forced to postpone a surgery as she scrambled to buy a new commercial policy that included her doctors. “I’ve been through hell and back, but I came out alive and kicking (just broke),” she wrote in an email.

One of the problems with government policy (and a good reason we should have limited government) is that the people paying the cost for those policies are seldom the ones imposing them.  In the case of ObamaCare, the patients pay the costs while the folks responsible for the policy get away largely unscathed.

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