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White House, GOP near two-year budget deal

FROM:  THEHILL.COM

By Alexander Bolton – 10/26/15 12:35 PM EDT

Senior White House officials and congressional leaders are nearing a deal to raise the debt limit and set the budget for the next two years, say sources familiar with the talks.

The agreement is not yet final as negotiators still need to settle a dispute over controversial policy riders, but congressional leaders hope to announce something Monday evening, according to a Senate source. The deal would cover the 2016 and 2017 budget years.

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White House budget director Shaun Donovan and legislative affairs director Katie Beirne Fallon are hammering out the package with staff representing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Legislation to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government are central to the deal, but the talks are also said to include legislation to fund highway and infrastructure construction and to renew the Export-Import Bank for one year.

“Hopefully we’re able to announce something this evening,” said a Senate source, who added the length of the agreement has yet to be finalized.

Boehner, who is set to leave Congress at the end of the week, said after he resigned the Speakership that he hoped to clear the decks for his successor.

The Treasury Department has set a Nov. 3 deadline for raising the nation’s $18.1 trillion debt limit.

Lawmakers also face a Dec. 11 deadline to fund the government.

Members have been battling over how to fund the government and provide relief from a separate 2011 budget deal that introduced budget ceilings known as the sequester. Many Republicans have pushed to end the sequester for the Defense Department, while President Obama and Democrats want relief from the sequester for both defense and non-defense spending.

Highway funding must be renewed by the end of the week. The House and Senate have been battling to complete work on a bill that would provide six years of funding.

Authority for the Export Import Bank expired this summer. Suppoters in the House have backed a discharge petition to force a vote on renewing the bank, which is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups but opposed by many conservatives.

Senate Majoirty Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has opposed a vote on a stand-alone Ex-Im reauthorization, but it could be possible to renew the bank as part of a broader measure.

The deal is also likely to prevent the double-digit premium hikes that would hit 8 million Medicare enrollees in 2016.
Averting the 52-percent premium increases has been a personal priority for Pelosi (D-Calif.), and could help win Democratic support for the package.

She began talks on the topic with Boehner in mid-September. Staving off the increases is expected to cost about $7.5 billion, and Democratic aides have said Pelosi’s office was quietly negotiating with Boehner on the offsets.

House GOP appropriators said they are also hearing rumblings of the two-year budget deal. Top House Republicans were expected to discuss a possible spending package at their weekly leadership meeting Monday afternoon.

Poll: NRA more popular than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

obama nra.jpg

From:  FoxNews.com

A new poll shows The National Rifle Association is more popular than the Democratic party’s two most prominent members, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

According to the Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Americans surveyed said they have a favorable view of the gun rights group, while 35 percent said they have an unfavorable view.

“In a year plagued with mass shootings, including a recent tragedy at a community college in Oregon, there has been a national debate as to whether the NRA, with its ardent support for gun rights, is somehow complicit in these shootings,” Gallup points out.

“Gallup’s survey shows that, even after shootings nationwide, Americans overall still have a favorable opinion of the NRA, as they typically have, suggesting that the public may not be specifically blaming the organization for the crimes of those who commit mass shootings.”

Compare this to recent approval ratings for the president and former secretary of state, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, and recently announced that she would support tougher gun laws once in office.

According to a Gallup Poll between Oct.19-21, just under 50 percent approve of Obama’s job performance, while 45 percent disapprove. Meanwhile, in a NBC/Wall Street Journal survey of Americans taken Oct. 15-18, 39 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of Clinton, compared to 48 percent with an unfavorable view.

 Still, no one beats Congress for the worst ratings. According to the latest Associated Press/GFK poll taken from Oct. 15-19, only 16 percent of Americans 18 years and older approve of the legislative branch’s job performance, compared to 83 percent who disapprove.

Billions in Obamacare exchange money remains unaccounted for…

By:  Jazz Shaw, HotAir.com

Sixteen states (plus the District of Columbia) collected more than $5B to set up Obamacare exchanges after the Affordable Care Act kicked into action. But years later, much of that money was never directed toward the IT development costs for the exchanges or – in some cases – for any specified cost. And yet almost none of it has been returned. So what happened to all that sweet federal cash? That’s the question Fox News is asking today.

About $4.6 billion was given to these 17 recipients, including California, New York, Washington state and Kentucky.

But the GAO report found that so far, just $1.4 billion of that has been spent on IT projects, and a total of $3 billion has been “spent or drawn down,” though not all the spending is detailed.

That, then, leaves at least $1.6 billion unaccounted for. Yet only three states returned any portion of the money – a total of just over $1 million was given back.

“[T]he specific amount spent on marketplace-related projects was uncertain, as only a selected number of states reported to GAO that they tracked or estimated this information,” the report said.

Even though states were supposed to set up their marketplaces by the end of last year, they are not yet legally required to return unused funds.

They highlight a recent American Spectator report which identifies the missing funds which disappeared into the states’ coffers but offers few clues as to where all the money is now.

David Catron highlighted the monetary discrepancy and raised the question of whether Democratic officials improperly diverted or spent more than $3 billion in taxpayer grant money.

“It’s hard to know with any degree of certainty where the money went,” he told FoxNews.com. “So all we know with any confidence is how much was awarded, how much went to IT and what the difference is.”

Catron pointed out that 85 percent of federal funds went to Democrat-controlled states, and that only three states returned any money to CMS while the remaining 13 states and D.C. have yet to return any funds.

There’s a real puzzler for you, eh? 85% of the money went to states with Democrat controlled governments and they either didn’t use it for the intended purpose or it just disappeared. Shocking, I know. But how often do you see federal dollars going anywhere with the recipients turning around and saying, oh, that’s okay. We didn’t need that much. Take the rest back. That’s not how the system works, and frankly I’m not sure if Uncle Sam would know what to do with the cash if anyone actually gave it back. The operation of virtually every department in the federal government is based on a principle of asking for as much money as they can get and then spending every last dime of it before the end of the fiscal year so they can justify asking for more the following year. That was the founding premise of Jim Geraghty’s book, The Weed Agency and it’s even more true in real life than it appears in parody.

But don’t worry. I’m sure all those states will come up with receipts for where the money went or return the balance any day now. Yes we can, baby.

September 2015 Education Reporter from Eagle Form

Eagle Forum

September 2015 Education Reporter

China’s Reminbi not a Threat

For the past 70 years, the U.S. dollar has dominated the international monetary system. Despite a decade of weak economic growth and a growing mountain of national debt, the U.S. Dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency has not been diminished. However, many feared that the Chinese reminbi (RMB) threatened this coveted position and the economic advantages it affords.

China is now the world’s largest trading nation, and more corporations, particularly in Asia, are beginning to invoice their business in RMB. China is pushing for international monetary system reforms in order to promote using the RMB for international transactions. Back in Beijing, newly minted financial institutions are being created as platforms for expanding the use of the RMB.

  • China’s share of world exports rose from 3.9 percent in 2000 to 12.4 percent in 2014, surpassing the U.S. as the world’s leading trading partner.
  • In December 2014, the RMB surpassed the Canadian and Australian dollars to become the world’s fifth-most-used currency for trade settlement.
  • In 2009 China has signed currency-swap agreements with various south-east Asian and Middle Eastern nations as a means of by-passing the U.S. dollar as a currency of exchange.
  • According to Deutsche Bank, in 2013, 17 percent of China’s trade was settled in RMB, up from almost nothing in 2009.

The rise of the reminbi and the struggles of the U.S. economy should have jeopardized the dollar’s reserve currency status. But it appears the opposite is true. Foreign investors have sharply increased their holdings of U.S. financial assets. The U.S. dollar is used in 87 percent of all foreign exchange transactions in foreign exchange markets that exceed $5 trillion per day. The strength of the dollar in trying times appears to be a function of the “size, depth, and openness of America’s financial markets.

Drug-Industry Rule Would Raise Medicare Costs

The pharmaceutical industry is seeking a law change that could cost the federal health care system approximately $1.3 billion over a decade by delaying the release of generic medications.

Under the current InterPartes Review system (IPR), which started in September 2012, judges working for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office evaluate patent challenges more rapidly than it would take traditional court proceedings. The purpose of this measure was to combat nonoperating companies that profit by accusing companies of patent infringement, also known as patent trolls.

Pharmaceutical trade groups such as PhRMA or the Biotechnology Industry Organization, are requesting Congress to exempt drug patents from being challenged through this process because generic drug makers are taking advantage of it.

Many lawmakers as well as consumer advocates and health insurers oppose this move because it would increase spending in drugs and would delay the launch of certain generic products.

On the other hand, drug developers claim:

  • The IPR is being used to circumvent an established system for settling patent disputes between generic and brand-name drug companies.
  • New drugs won’t be developed if the funds required to support research are not available.
  • IPR challenges have created uncertainty as drug makers evaluate whichexperimental drugs to invest in.

IPR challenges are usually solved in 15 to 18 months versus 30 months in the conventional system. Opponents of the exemption argue that pharmaceutical companies only want to delay the availability of generics and believe the exemption would be really bad for consumers and for the health system. Yet, the impact on the industry is not clear because most drug patent cases are still very lengthy.

Source:  Joseph Walker, “Drug-Industry Rule Would Raise Medicare Costs”.

Who’s Afriad of the EPA?

On June 2, 2014, the Obama Administration unveiled its key climate change initiative, the Clean Power Plan, targeting CO2 emissions from U.S. electrical power plants. In its proposal, the Administration took the unusual step of claiming Chevrondeference — preemptively asking federal courts to defer how the plan will be interpreted entirely to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Chevron deference, named for a seminal 1984 Supreme Court ruling, is an oft-used administration principle of law claiming that federal courts should defer to reasonable agency construction of the statutes they are charged with administering. Fundamentally, the principle is an extension of Congress’ lawmaking powers whereby agencies are delegated authority by Congress to interpret congressional mandates.

  • The D.C. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction for judicial review of the Clean Power Plan, applies the doctrine of constitutional avoidance in instances where the agency’s interpretation of its mandate would raise constitutional difficulties.
  • The Supreme Court ruled in King v. Burwell, that the presumption should be against Chevron in instances when the agency’s interpretation of its mandate would expand agency control over issues of “deep economic and political significance.”
  • The EPA’s Clean Power Plan contravenes every principle undergirding Chevron deference. For starters, the agency enjoys no delegation of congressional authority to remake the retail electricity market, nor does the rule enjoy any semblance of electoral accountability. Also, the agency lacks expertise in overseeing the nation’s electric grid.

The EPA’s track record does not suggest that it can be trusted to take a reasonably transcribed interpretation of any congressional mandate to regulate emissions from any sector of private life or industry. The agency’s expansive interpretation of the Clean Air Act, for instance, should give federal judges pause when considering whether or not to grant Chevron deference to a repeat offender.

Source: William Yeatman, “EPA’s Clean Power Plan Overreach.”

Military Brass Oppose Iran Deal

Written by:  Gary Bauer, Campaign for Working Familes

Two weeks ago, Big Media and the left made a big deal over the fact that three dozen retired admirals and generals signed a joint letter supporting the president’s nuclear deal with Iran. Yesterday, more than five times that number sent a letter to Congress urging opposition to the deal.

One hundred and ninety retired admirals and generals told congressional leaders that removing sanctions on Iran threatened Middle East peace. They warned that far from cutting off all pathways to a bomb, the deal “allows all the infrastructure the Iranians need for a nuclear bomb.” They wrote that the agreement, with its secret side deals, was “unverifiable.”

They are right on all counts.

In addition, Dennis Ross and Gen. David Petraeus, both of whom served in the Obama Administration, wrote a joint op-ed in the Washington Post this week. According to Ross and Petraeus, the deal allows Iran to expand its nuclear program, adding that it treats Iran “like Japan or the Netherlands — but Iran is not Japan or the Netherlands when it comes to its behavior.”

They state that “deterrence is the key” to making sure the Iranians do not attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, deterrence doesn’t seem to be in the president’s vocabulary. Every time he insists that our only options are this terrible deal or war, he makes it clear that the military option is off the table.

But Ross and Petraeus have a solution:

“While some may question whether we would act militarily if the Iranians were to dash to a bomb, no one questions whether the Israelis would do so. . . . Providing the Israelis the MOP [bunker busting 30,000-pound massive ordnance penetrator bombs] and the means to carry it would surely enhance deterrence.”

Grad-School Loan Binge Fans Debt Worries

August 21, 2015

A growing number of Americans owe more than $100,000 in student debt and are having difficulty paying it back. Most are paying less than the interest on their balance taking advantage of a federal income-based repayment program, says Josh Mitchell in the Wall Street Journal.

Student debt has doubled since the recession to $1.19 trillion and is likely to become a topic for debate in the 2016 presidential race.

Post graduate students, who account to 14% of students in higher education, are responsible for 40% of this debt. Some federal programs have made it easy for students to borrow huge sums of money and eventually have those debts forgiven.

These Federal programs have had unintended consequences:

  • Graduate schools have been able to keep raising tuition.
  • High-earning graduates who can afford to repay their loans have been subsidized without careful consideration.
  • The students’ ability to repay is not carefully assessed.
  • The amount of students who owe more than $100K has swelled to 1.82 million in 2015.

The current administration has stood behind this program claiming that graduate students have the highest earning potential and will most likely repay their loans. These programs are also designed to generate income for taxpayers. Nonetheless, there has been a rise in enrollment in debt forgiveness programs and an expansion in the less stringent repayment program will cost taxpayers $15.3 billion.

Many borrowers are planning to combine debt forgiveness programs with income-based repayment plans. Debt forgiveness was devised to encourage graduates to remain in public sector jobs instead of leaving for the higher-paying private sector. However, recent studies show that the programs are benefiting the people who need it the least.

Source: Josh Mitchell, “Grad-School Loan Binge Fans Debt Worries,” Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2015.

– Read online from NCPA HERE…

Only 20 to 40 Cents of Each Medicaid Dollar Benefits Recipients

August 21, 2015

Medicaid is jointly funded by state and federal governments. It grows regardless of the state of the economy and its main purpose is to help those without enough income to pay for their medical care, says senior fellow John R. Graham of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

However, a study conducted in 2008 in Oregon found out that:

  • Medicaid increased the use of health services and reduced the risk of large out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Nevertheless, it did not improve mortality of any physical health measure.
  • Of a figure of $1,576 only $465 was directly related to health care. The rest only freed up resources for other types of consumption.
  • The net cost to taxpayers was $1,374 per recipient.
  • The amount of government spending that was simply transferred to providers was $2,222.
  • Yet Medicaid spending keeps growing, and is much larger than other welfare programs.

The author concludes that Medicaid spending should be reduced and the funds converted to vouchers instead of being paid to providers directly, says Graham.

Source: John R. Graham, “Only 20 to 40 Cents of Each Medicaid Dollar Benefits Recipients” Providence Journal, August 16, 2015.

Read online from NCPA HERE.