Posts tagged with: senate

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care ActArchbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, are asking the Catholic faithful and others to reach out to their senators in response to a piece of legislation known as “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014” (S. 2578.) Lori is the chairman for the United State’s Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and O’Malley serves as chair for the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

According to the letter on the USCCB website, the legislation is an attempt to reduce religious freedom, and puts health coverage above one of America’s most cherished freedoms. The bishops list several concerns:

    • This new legislation “appears to override  ‘any other provision of Federal law’ that protects religious freedom or rights of conscience regarding health coverage mandates.”
    • This bill would “rollback” not only federally-protected conscience clauses regarding artificial birth control “but to any ‘specific health care item or service’ that is mandated by any federal law or regulation.” In the future, if the executive branch decides to add late-term abortions (for example) to mandated health care coverage, employers would have no recourse.
    • This bill applies to all employers, not simply for-profit employers.
    • The bill would extend its reach past employees, to their dependents. For instance, a teen girl may wish to have an abortion over her parent’s objection, and the parent’s health care package would have to pay for it. The daughter would be federally-entitled to the abortion coverage.
    • The bishops believe this type of legislation will lead to employers dropping health care coverage for employees all together.

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    GOP-Civil-WarThere’s a fascinating profile of Jim DeMint, the new president of the Heritage Foundation, in BusinessWeek, which makes a good pairing for this NYT piece that focuses on the GOP’s “civil war” between establishment Republicans and Tea Partiers.

    But one of the comments that really stuck out to me concerning DeMint’s move from the Senate to a think tank was his realization about what it would take to change the political culture in Washington. As Joshua Green writes, DeMint had previously worked to get a new brand of GOP legislator elected to Congress, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. But later “DeMint gave up trying to purify the party from within.”
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    Blog author: jballor
    posted by on Thursday, February 16, 2012

    In this week’s Acton Commentary I conclude, “The American people do not need politicians to tell them what happiness is and how it should be pursued.”

    I admit that I didn’t have this quote in mind (or I would have used it!), but Art Carden (follow him here and read him here) notes the following from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

    What is the species of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

    And following up on the folly of political-driven homeownership for all, Reuters (HT: Drudge) reports that the “New American Dream is renting to get rich.”

    The payoff? “So while home ownership may sound glamorous, you need a lot of money to make it work, without much guarantee of positive returns in a post-bubble era.”

    Blog author: hunter.baker
    posted by on Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    I was listening to news radio and heard an update in which the senate majority leader Harry Reid gave his interpretation of events on the debt ceiling negotiation. The part that really got my attention was where he insisted that further committee work would go after those “millionaires and billionaires.”

    I wondered, “What is he really saying?” Let’s begin with millionaires and billionaires. Is Reid charging them with having committed some evil? If a person had made a lot of money by force or fraud, then I would agree that disapproval and punishment might be merited. Can we confidently say that rich people, as a class, have committed evils which make them suitable subjects of a public official’s desire to punish?

    Why is he so angry? Why does he make these people sound like bad people? Is it the fact that they have quite a bit of money? I suspect he does, too. Indeed, it has been noted that Reid has become a somewhat wealthy man while holding office. Does he impute ill motives or actions to himself by virtue of his possession of resources well above the average?

    What if we do think that having a lot of wealth is a sign of moral weakness? Perhaps we believe that having much more money than is needed to live (even live comfortably) represents a bad choice. Even if we think that, does that mean we invest the government with the moral right to appropriate that wealth as needed so as to operate without hard debates about limits on spending? Maybe our only right is the right to have our own opinion of how wealthy people should spend their money.

    I think Harry Reid needs to think more about why he’s so morally exercised. Follow the conclusions of that anger and maybe we’ll get down to basic principles. Once we get there we can have a legitimate discussion.

    Blog author: lglinzak
    posted by on Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Political news changes quickly, and now reports are coming out of Washington DC that Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been leading the way in killing the ethanol subsidy and tariff, has struck a deal with Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Thune, two stalwarts for protecting ethanol. While the rumored deal does not indicate the repeal of the blending mandate it is a step in the right direction.

    However, while we wait on Congress and the President for action, the Brazilian ethanol industry is eying the U.S. ethanol market. Repealing the tariff will allow Brazil to expand its ethanol industry. Many questions need to be answered before ethanol is imported into the U.S. from Brazil.

    In a previous post I posed concerns about whether ethanol can meet both U.S. and Brazilian demands. Furthermore, what are the environmental consequences of ethanol? Reports are showing deforestation in the rainforest. Finally, what will happen to food prices?

    It is unfortunate that there are even more questions that need to be answered.

    Like the corn based ethanol in the U.S., Brazil’s sugar based ethanol is a false market created by the government. Brazil doesn’t subsidize ethanol; instead it resorts to high taxes. Brazilian gasoline taxes are at 53 percent while the tax placed on ethanol is much lower making ethanol cheaper than gasoline. The question is how long can an industry last and actually be sustainable when it is propped up by the government and is a false market?

    It is also important to note that the Brazilian ethanol industry needs a large sum of new investment, about $80 billion worth in the next ten years, to meet global demand. In an industry that is heavily dependent on the government one must wonder, who will pay for these new investments?

    Another potential hazard of relying on ethanol is crop shortages. Such crop shortages may occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is out of our control: the weather. What happens when fuel relies on crops, and there is actually a shortage in the harvest? How much of the crop goes to fuel and how much goes to the food supply? Both are important. Food nourishes, however, fuel gets people to their jobs where they earn a salary which they use to purchase food. Brazil may be forced to answer these questions this year as sugarcane production is currently down 25 percent as compared to last year. The lack of production is due to bad weather and aging plants.

    However, because of the lack of production sugar prices are on the rise as they saw a 14 percent surge in June. While some are sounding the alarm, other analysts are remaining calm, such as Eli Mamoun Amrouk of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization:

    El Mamoun Amrouk, sugar analyst at the Rome-based FAO, said: “It’s difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen to the sugar price because the market’s so volatile and so any new information can have a big effect on price. The speculation is still there, exacerbating the trend and changes in the dollar also play a part.

    “But the signs are that production is growing significantly and, especially in India and Thailand, the prospects are very positive, so we should see the price start coming down in the summer,” he said.

    Whether sugar prices do come down or not, we still face a critical question. If we continue to pursue an energy plan based on biofuels, what happens when we do face a shortage in crop production? The world will be faced with not just rising food prices but also with rising fuel prices. How do people in developed countries, who already have a difficult time affording food, feed themselves when the food supply is actually going into the fuel supply?

    This week’s reappointment vote for Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has created some strange bedfellows in Washington. A muddled middle of Republicans and Democrats supports the Keynesian’s reappointment, but the real odd couples are among the opposition. For different if overlapping reasons, free market proponents and far-left figures such as democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont are both convinced that Bernanke has done much to hurt our economy, particularly those in the bottom half of our economy.

    Desmond Lachman of The Enterprise Blog observes:

    Throughout 2006, when the worst of the sub-prime lending was taking place, Bernanke was conspicuously silent in sounding the alarm about the dangers of the U.S. housing bubble. Similarly, he was painfully slow in recognizing how severe the fallout from the bursting of the housing bubble would be….

    If there is one more item that should sink Bernanke’s bid for a second term it has to be his recent statement that the Federal Reserve’s extraordinarily low interest rate policy between 2001 and 2004 contributed little to the creation of the largest U.S. housing market bubble on record. The Senate would do well to ask itself whether the economy’s interests would be best served by again choosing a Fed chairman who seems to have learned so very little from the Federal Reserve’s past monumental mistakes.

    A sign that Bernanke’s reappointment really may be doomed: John McCain, whom many would characterize as a member of the muddled middle, also has come out against Bernanke. Political calculations may lead others to follow. For instance, if the new senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, wants to reinforce his strong crossover appeal, opposition to Bernanke offers an uncommon opportunity: Both working class Democrats and limited government conservatives reject Bernanke’s vision of Uncle Sam playing wet nurse to Wall Street.

    As I wrote recently, our economy would be best served by a Fed Chairman who will let the market of lenders and borrowers guide interest rates, and who understands that unproductive companies should be allowed to go bankrupt. What’s useful in those companies doesn’t disappear in a bankruptcy. The valuable assets are purchased and put to better use by more productive companies. And when interest rates are allowed to float upward to reflect the scarcity of current savings, people will be more careful what they borrow for, while others will be enticed to save more, attracted by the higher interest rates paid for bonds. This, in turn, will boost available capital for longer-term business ventures aimed at enhancing our productivity.

    Consider the short depression of 1920. A decade before the Great Depression, World War I had just ended and a flood of American soldiers returned home in search of work. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve, having roughly doubled the money supply during the war, now put the brakes on the easy money by moving interest rates closer to where they might sit if simply left to market forces. The government also largely refrained from bailing out failed businesses or trying to juice the economy with big stimulus packages.

    All of this is the opposite of what the Keynesians recommend in an economic slowdown. It’s the opposite of the Keynesian strategy pursued by both FDR and Hoover during the Great Depression. And it’s the opposite of what Chairman Bernanke has sought to do.

    So how did the depression of 1920 play out? The readjustment to a peacetime economy was severe. Production fell by some 20%. Unemployment shot past 11%. But then the depression quickly reversed itself.

    Many companies had gone broke, but their useful assets were sold to well-run companies. During the early phase of the contraction, goods and savings were tight, but the higher interest rates signaled to people, “Hey, if you want to borrow money, you’d better have a good, productive use for the money because you’re going to have pay a premium for it” — not because of a bunch of mean old capitalists but because there wasn’t a lot of savings to loan out right then. People got the message. Money got loaned to the most productive enterprises, and before long, the economy was humming again. The unemployment rate dropped below 7% in 1922, and below 3% in 1923. The government allowed the free market to readjust itself, and it quickly did.

    This is the strategy recommended by the Austrian school of economics (which incidentally has more adherents in the United States than in Austria). The Austrian school is the polar opposite of the Keynesian school. The Austrian school predicted the Great Depression when others were preaching permanent prosperity. And it predicted our current recession when Bernanke the Keynesian was saying everything was right as rain.

    All of this should give the Senate pause.

    Blog author: jspalink
    posted by on Friday, September 29, 2006

    Many people that I know go out and vote to elect Congress members, U.S. senators, and all sorts of local officials. But I don’t know of that many people who are able or willing to go out and see what their elected officials are actually doing.

    I recently discovered a website — a project of The Washington Post — that helps you keep track of just that, although only on the Federal level. The “Votes Database” lets you follow what’s going through Congress, and how everyone is voting. It lets you see what the party vote was, and also how individual elected officials voted.

    For those who don’t like visiting websites every day, you can get RSS feeds for each member of Congress and monitor their work from your favorite RSS reader. This is a great way to get a little bit more proactive about knowing what’s happening in the government.

    Blog author: jballor
    posted by on Monday, May 1, 2006

    You may have heard about the debate in Washington that erupted late last week, as Senate Democrats and Republicans sought ways to respond to rising gas prices. According to Marketplace’s Hillary Wikai, the majority Republicans settled on “a $100 gas-tax rebate to be paid for by drilling in Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.”

    Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow proposed “a $500 rebate but pay for it by cutting the tax breaks for oil companies.” She said, “We should instead put that money back in the pockets of the people paying the high gas prices.” But one other Democratic plan was to stop taking that money from the people in the first place, at least temporarily.

    The NYT reports that “Democrats were pushing for a 60-day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon, and the Senate Republican leadership settled on the rebate.” The short-term nature of the proposed solutions lead many to suspect that any of the proposed moves are simply pandering to the voters in an important election year.

    Indeed, Congress has good reason to distract us from the reality of the situation. As Benjamin Zycher comments (text here), “Oil industry earnings per gallon were about 19 cents in 2005, and have increased to about 23 cents more recently. Federal and state taxes per gallon of gasoline average 46 cents. And so by all means, yes: Let’s have a debate about who is profiteering from the gasoline market.”

    Of the two options, clearly suspension of the tax is preferable to filtering money through the government bureaucracy and letting it trickle back to taxpayers. But why make it temporary? If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely? States could do the same, by the way.

    Here are some of the reasons that even the 60-day relief plan was tanked, given by Congressional staffers:

    Those leaders and Finance Committee aides said many Republicans opposed the Democratic plan because they feared that oil companies, which pay the gas tax, would not pass savings on to the public, or that the laws of supply and demand would push the price up again.

    There was also the probable opposition of House Republicans, who have been reluctant to jeopardize the flow of the gas tax revenue to the highway trust fund that underwrites road and bridge projects.

    “Our folks thought it might amount to nothing for consumers,” said one aide who was granted anonymity to discuss internal leadership deliberations.

    The first excuse is really just quite lame. If increasing demand raises the prices further, they would still be lower than they would be if the 18.4 cent tax were still in place. The second paragraph really tells the tale. If Americans are addicted to oil, maybe politicians are addicted to taxes.

    Instead of being worried that the move might “amount to nothing for consumers,” the politicians are clearly more worried that any move to cut taxes would “amount to nothing” in terms of spendable tax revenue.

    Placing limits on the levels of government taxation of gasoline would be a much more substantial and effective move than attempts to set price controls, as advocated in an online petition introduced by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

    According to MichiganGasPrices.com, Michigan gets nearly 20 cents (19.875) in tax revenue per gallon of gasoline sold, and this figure does not include the additional 6% sales tax that is tacked on.

    Government leaders should never forget that they are entirely dependent on the productivity and labor of the nation’s citizens for their budgets. Their task is to responsibly and faithfully administer those funds, acting as stewards on behalf of the tax-payers. Attempts to point the blame for rising gas prices solely on oil companies, without acknowledging the basic role of rising demand and high levels of government taxation, is irresponsible and disingenuous.