Posts tagged with: congress

Last week was a busy one, news-wise, and this may have slipped by you. Suddenly, 4.5 million people in the 5 U.S. territories (American Somoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are now exempt from Obamacare. Just like that.

What’s the story? Obamacare costs too darn much, and insurance providers were fleeing the U.S. territories, leaving many without insurance or at least affordable insurance. These territories have spent the last two years begging to get out from under this law, only to be told the Department of Health and Human Services

has no legal authority to exclude the territories” from ObamaCare. HHS said the law adopted an explicit definition of “state” that includes the territories for the purpose of the mandates and the public-health programs, and another explicit definition that excludes the territories for the purpose of the subsidies. Thus there is “no statutory authority . . . to selectively exempt the territories from certain provisions, unless specified by law.”

Laws, let us remember, are made by Congress. Unless they’re not. For instance, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said they’d reviewed the situation and

the territories will now be governed by the “state” definition that excludes the territories for both the subsidies and now the mandates too. But the old definition will still apply for the public-health spending, so the territories will get their selective exemption after all.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, there seems to be some elasticity in the White House’s definition of “state.” And, may I add, some elasticity in the democratic process, the Constitution and rule of law. Perhaps a review via Schoolhouse Rock will help.

29taxes.2-500In an attempt to trap Jesus, some Pharisees and Herodians asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” In response, Jesus said,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees and Herodians “marveled” at Jesus answer, but had they asked an agent of the Roman IRS they likely would have been given a similar answer.

Governments have always had to contend with citizens who make what are considered “frivolous tax arguments” to avoid complying with tax laws. Such arguments rarely work (it’s usually not effective to try to present a creative interpretation of tax law to the people who interpret tax laws) but people keep trying.

The IRS has an entire list of responses to the most common frivolous tax arguments. Here are four of my favorites:
(more…)

fdr cartoonSheila D. Collins is wistful for the days of the Great Depression. Sure, times were tough, but at least people were more sensitive and caring. And our government was much better at taking care of people. Not like now when people are losing government hand-outs left and right. No, the days of the Great Depression were good.

There was a time in our history when the poor and unemployed experienced a more compassionate government. During the Great Depression the federal government not only provided safety nets in the form of relief, food aid, public housing, mortgage assistance, unemployment insurance, and farm aid, but more significantly, it undertook a series of job-creation programs that gave back to millions of unemployed workers and their families precisely what the Depression had taken from them—the opportunity to support themselves with dignity.

Now, it’s a harsh, cruel world. Collins calls our era one of “cruel indifference.”

What? Where? Huh? (more…)

College-Fund-by-Tax-CreditsSenator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a potential 2016 presidential candidate, recently argued that Congress should hike taxes on families and small businesses making more than $1 million, then use the tax revenue to let debt-ridden students refinance their college loans.

As a progressive redistribution scheme it’s rather ingenious: It allows the government to take money from private individuals and businesses and give it to other businesses (i.e., college and universities), all while giving the impression of helping another group of private individuals (i.e., students who take indebt themselves by taking out college loans). Warren’s proposal is an brilliant blend of cronyism, special interest pandering, and “soak the rich” class envy – which is why it has a high likelihood of becoming law.

But if we look past the proposal we discovers something else that is fueling the student loan debt “crisis.” Whenever a nanny state solution like this is proposed, we should ask why the government is needed to serve as a governess. In this case, it appears the government is being asked to be a surrogate parent because of the failings of actual parents.

According to a study by sociologists at Rice University, college students whose parents are not married to each other face significantly heavier financial burdens for the simple reason that married parents, relative to other parents, contribute significantly more to their children’s college education:
(more…)

federal-budget

What is the President’s budget?

Technically, it’s only a budget request—a proposal telling Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions, like agriculture, defense, education, etc.

Why does the President submit a budget to Congress?

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the President of the United States submit to Congress, on or before the first Monday in February of each year, a detailed budget request for the coming federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

If it’s due the first Monday in February, why are we just now hearing about it?

President Obama turned in his budget late—again. This will be Obama’s fifth late budget submission in five years, making him the first President to present three consecutive late budgets. According to the House Budget Committee, “All presidents from Harding to Reagan’s first term met the statutory budget submission deadline in every year.” Reagan and Clinton both missed their deadlines once in eight years.

What is the function of the President’s budget request?

The President’s annual budget request serves three functions:
(more…)

Blog author: ehilton
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
By

constitutionIn today’s Wall Street Journal, Senator Ted Cruz (R.- Texas) discusses the presidency of Barack Obama, on the heels of the president’s State of the Union address last night. Cruz takes the current president to task on a simple theme: the rule of law.

Rule of law doesn’t simply mean that society has laws; dictatorships are often characterized by an abundance of laws. Rather, rule of law means that we are a nation ruled by laws, not men. That no one—and especially not the president—is above the law. For that reason, the U.S. Constitution imposes on every president the express duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

Yet rather than honor this duty, President Obama has openly defied it by repeatedly suspending, delaying and waiving portions of the laws he is charged to enforce.

(more…)

people's houseToday is day nine of the government shutdown and currently there is little optimism in Washington that an agreement will be reached to end the stalemate. While many are focusing on the unpopularity of ObamaCare, or as the White House claims, Republicans are using the budget to hold funding for the new health care law hostage; however there is an even more important factor that requires our attention: Lawmakers need to get control of our budget.

In The Washington Post, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is calling for bipartisan negotiations. Republican Congressman and former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan called for a grand bipartisan bargain in The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

In his op-ed, Cantor quotes James Madison on divided power in Federalist No. 48. In Federalist No. 58 Madison offers these thoughts,

The House of Representatives can not only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of Government. They, in a word, hold the purse; that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the People gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the Government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon, with which any Constitution can arm the immediate Representatives of the People, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

(more…)

US-government-shutdownWhy is there a potential government shutdown?

Under the Constitution, Congress must pass laws to spend money. If Congress can’t agree on a spending bill the government does not have the legal authority to spend money. Since the government runs on a fiscal year from October 1 to September 30, the spending authorization ends today. The Republican-controlled House passed a continuing resolution on September 20 that would have kept the government running until mid-December but would have cut funding to implement the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The Democratic-majority Senate rejected that plan and last week approved its own continuing resolution that included money for Obamacare.

The entire government doesn’t actually shut down during a government shutdown, does it?

No. Programs deemed “essential” — which includes, among other agencies and services, the military, air traffic control, food inspections, etc. — would continue as normal. “Non-essential” programs and services such as national parks and federal museums would be closed. Federal workers deemed non-essential will also be furloughed.

What about government benefit checks?
(more…)

According to James Madison, when lawmakers exempt themselves from the legislation they pass, “The people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty.” Over 1,200 organizations and companies have already secured ObamaCare waivers. However, currently making big headlines is a deal worked out by the President and Congress that exempts congressional members and staff from the full effect of the law. In actuality, lawmakers had to go back and secure the hefty subsidies for Congress and staff as that was set to end when the health insurance exchanges are implemented on January 1, 2014. The Wall Street Journal does a good job of covering the details of the exemption and stressing the point once again that Washington lawmakers voted on and passed a bill they didn’t bother to examine. The lack of oversight and vetting of the bill has led to the subverting of the legislative branch, as the executive branch has been rewriting portions of the law to make it even more favorable to Washington.

Arguing in favor of ratifying the U.S. Constitution in Federalist #57, James Madison made this argument:

I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty.

Those are weighty words by Madison, but now they point not to the optimism of a new country trying to secure a lasting liberty, but the kind of despotism that should be feared by the people.

Our changing culture and society has now largely pushed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s notable and resolute prayer over to the side of partisan politics. Today is of course the 69th anniversary of American, British, and Canadian forces landing at Normandy, a day Roosevelt declared in 1944 would preserve our way of life and “religion.”

But tributes and recognition of FDR’s prayer are often regulated to conservative blogs, news sources, and politicians now. There is even a bill that was passed by the House of Representatives during the 112th Congress to add the prayer to the WWII Memorial. It did not pass the U.S. Senate. The first House bill had 26 votes against the legislation. It is being reconsidered for this current 113th Congress, but seems to be languishing in committees in both legislative bodies.

It has been widely reported that the Obama administration rejects adding the prayer to the memorial.

The prayer strikes an outdated tone when compared to the cultural and religious worldview in much of our society today. Sure, some of those differences are striking for the reason of the seriousness and justness of the cause of the conflict, but it’s undeniable the firm and resolute worldview of FDR’s words are now considered controversial by many. FDR’s words ask for blessings and pay homage to the one true God and our beliefs and heritage in Western Civilization. His prayer begins with the words, “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Many conservative writers and thinkers praise FDR for the strength of his prayer. He reminded the listeners of who the enemy was and why, and what ultimate fate they would meet. He uses the word “righteous” to describe the efforts and cause of the Allied forces. The fact that his prayer now seems to be relegated to a more partisan sphere is a powerful reminder of the deeper divisions and clash of worldviews in this country.

Below is the full audio of the prayer FDR delivered 69 years ago today: