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Published: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 14:25:12 -0400


Rand Paul and John McCain Might Have Killed the GOP's Obamacare Repeal Bill

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 14:19:00 -0400

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and John McCain, R-Ariz., will vote against the latest Republican-led effort to repeal parts of Obamacare, likely killing any slim chance that the proposal had of reaching the necessary 50 votes in the Senate. Paul told the Associated Press he plans to vote against the Graham-Cassidy bill because it does not do enough to repeal Obamacare's regulations and taxes. McCain, in a statement issued later Friday, said he would not vote for the bill because he disagreed with the procedural shortcuts Republicans were taking to get the bill to the floor without committee hearings and the opportunity for amendments. McCain, who cast the deciding vote against the Senate's so-called "skinny repeal" bill in July over similar concerns about Senate GOP leaders abandoning "regular order," said he would consider voting for the Graham-Cassidy bill "were it the product of extensive hearings, debate, and amendments" and only after getting a full CBO score of the bill, something that won't be available before the end of the month. "I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal," McCain said Friday. "We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do." I cannot in good conscience vote for Graham-Cassidy. A bill impacting so many lives deserves a bipartisan approach. — John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 22, 2017 By themselves, Paul and McCain would not be enough to sink the GOP health care bill. But at least two other Republican senators—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine—are widely believed to be "no" votes on the bill. Collins confirmed Friday to the Associated Press that she's leaning against the bill. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened Republicans—and Paul in particular—who were considering voting against the bill. He said those who refused to support the Graham-Cassidy bill in the Senate "will known as 'the Republican who saved Obamacare'" In the tweet, Trump specifically identified Paul, who has so far been the only Republican to go on the record as opposing Graham-Cassidy, though at least two other Republican senators—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine—are widely believed to be "no" votes on the bill. Murkowski and Collins, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., voted against the so-called "skinny repeal" bill in July. Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as "the Republican who saved ObamaCare." — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2017 Trump's threats have nothing to do with the policy of the bill, and the White House is only interested in a political win, Paul told the AP. Paul's assessment of the situation seems pretty accurate. Trump has never indicated much of an interest in the policy aspects of the health care debate that has raged on Capitol Hill since March, though he did quickly organize a Rose Garden press conference to celebrate the House's passage of an earlier Obamacare repeal bill. A lack of White House engagement was widely noted in the wake of the "skinny repeal" bill's embarrassing failure in July, but—aside from some bluster on Twitter—neither the president nor his top health officials have been particularly active in selling the Graham-Cassidy bill to potentially recalcitrant Republicans this week. Indeed, even Republicans in the Senate who said they would vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill appeared this week to be having a difficult time explaining the merits of it. A vote on the bill is scheduled for next week, but that timeline is dictated more by the ticking clock than by any broad agreement that Graham-Cassidy is a good bill. Republicans only have until September 30 to pass a health care bill using the reconciliation process. After that a major rewrite of Obamaca[...]

Want to Do Tax Reform Right? Here Are Four Ideas.

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Health care reform is front-and-center on Congress' agenda, but the clock is ticking. The Senate has until Sept. 30 to pass a bill with less than 60 votes. After that deadline—whether the Graham-Cassidy bill has passed or not—it's likely the discussion will shift toward the thing many GOP leaders (including President Donald Trump) have wanted to focus on all along. Tax reform. It's no secret Republicans are eager to reform our tax system and consider changes to corporate tax policy. Beyond that, though, details are still a little bit sketchy and plenty complicated. Earlier today, Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, outlined three principles for tax reform. Lower the corporate tax rate (Trump favors a new rate of 15 percent, down from the current 35 percent). Pass an actual budget. And, if necessary, pay for the tax changes with spending cuts. The final leg is the key to the whole thing, because it reveals the truth about tax reform or any other complex policy issue. It's all about Congress making actual trade-offs, rather than simply cutting taxes and adding to the federal deficit. This is a practical rather than theoretical argument. For tax reform to pass in the Senate via the reconciliation process and without Democratic votes which it is unlikely to get, the majority must conform to the Boyd Rule, requiring that it does not add to the federal deficit. How, then, do you make all those pieces fit together? The Tax Foundation has a few ideas. The D.C.-based think tank, which favors lower rates and a broader base for taxes, today released four potential blueprints, each with benefits and trade-offs, for Congress. Three of the four are revenue neutral. The fourth requires an estimated $70 billion in spending cuts to balance. "The goal here to show is that there are a lot of ways to successfully achieve tax reform," said Scott Drenkard, an economist for the Tax Foundation. "This won't be easy, and everyone is going to have to give up some special provisions that currently benefit them, but the end game is lasting economic growth and higher wage." Option A: Replace the federal corporate income tax with a 22.5 percent cash flow tax, and allow companies to expense the investments in full (as de Rugy explains, "companies generally aren't allowed to immediately deduct (expense) their investment costs when calculating taxable income and that this creates a bias against business investment"). The current seven individual tax brackets would be consolidated into three at rates of 12, 20.5, and 37 percent. The standard deduction would nearly double, from $6,350 ($12,700 married filing jointly) to $12,000 ($24,000 married filing jointly). Projected GDP growth: 7.1 percent. Trade-offs: It would eliminate all itemized deductions, except the home mortgage interest and the charitable contribution deductions. The home mortgage interest deduction would be capped at $500,000 of acquisition debt. Family and child benefits would be consolidated. The personal exemption would be replaced with a $500 non-refundable credit for non-child dependents. Option B: Cut the corporate income tax rate from the current 35 percent to 15 percent. Make bonus depreciation permanent and broaden the corporate tax base by eliminating nonstructural business tax expenditures. The current seven individual tax brackets would be consolidated into three at rates of 10, 25, and 38 percent. The standard deduction would be greatly increased, from $6,350 to $50,000 for single filers (from $100,000 married filing jointly; $75,000 heads of household). Projected GDP growth: 3.2 percent. Trade-offs: The personal exemption and all personal credits would be eliminated, including the current Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit (they would be replaced by new consolidated credits: a new work credit, a new child tax credit, and a new additional child tax credit). The plan would tax all capital income (capital gains, dividends, and interest) as ordinary income. Most itemized deductions would be eliminated, but[...]

Graham-Cassidy Promises States More Flexibility; Leaves Washington Fully in Charge of Americans' Health Care

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 11:02:00 -0400

On the same day that 10 governors—a mix of Republicans and Democrats—announced their opposition to a new health care bill being positioned for a vote in the U.S. Senate, one governor's statement of support stood out. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said the Graham-Cassidy health care bill is "the best path forward to repeal and replace Obamacare," in a Facebook post Monday, and called for "Congress and the Administration to give states more flexibility and more options moving forward." The extent to which the Graham-Cassidy bill—so named because its chief architects are Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.—increases flexibility for states is a subject of some importance, and much debate, as the Senate mulls the proposal. Along with other changes to the Affordable Care Act, the bill would abolish Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and would instead block grant more than $1.1 trillion in federal health care spending to the states between 2020 and 2026. It would also allow states to waive Obamacare rules prohibiting charging different insurance rates to women and to people with pre-existing conditions, for example, and rules requiring coverage of certain benefits on the individual market. The bill would grant states significant new flexibility to determine how Obamacare dollars are spent. That might seem like a welcome sign that, as Ducey put it, Congress and the White House are interested in giving states more flexibility when it comes to health care policy. "This bill—while imperfect—gives states a real opportunity to re-imagine their healthcare systems," says Naomi Lopez Bauman, director of health care policy for the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, a free market think tank. "If a state can figure out a way to use the subsidies to provide a direct benefit across the market, they can do it." That flexibility might only go so far. While Bauman sees the proposal as a flawed-but-potentially-positive step towards greater state-level control of health care policy, other analysts warn that state control over health care might be counter-productive if the goal is reducing the role of government in health care decisions. Any movement towards federalism in the Graham-Cassidy bill would come only with the expressed permission of the federal government, could be rescinded at any time, and may not even survive next week's expected Senate debate on the bill. Already, there are movements to limit what states can do with those block grants. "If you give a big chunk of money to California, they're going to go set up a single-payer system run by the state and then come back and say 'we don't have enough money, we need more,'" Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told the Washington Examiner on Monday. He's proposed adding language to the Graham-Cassidy bill explicitly forbidding states from using the new block grants towards the establishment of a state-run single-payer system. On one hand, Kennedy is right to be worried about the cost of single-payer plans set up by California or New York. "Given the renewed enthusiasm on the left for the abolition of private health insurance through single-payer systems, there can be little doubt that this is the direction that blue states will take under Graham-Cassidy," predicts Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, a free market think tank. Those systems are likely to be far more expensive than what would be covered by the Graham-Cassidy block grants—and, once established, could be used as an argument for increasing federal funding to the states. Allowing states to experiment with health care policy could help policymakers discover what works and what doesn't. A single-payer plan in Vermont collapsed because the state could not pay for it, and efforts in New York, California, or elsewhere are likely to meet the same ends. "Some states will get it right; others won't," says Lopez Bauman. "But it is far preferable to have fifty laboratories of democracy than to have top-down, Washingto[...]

Congress Does Not Want Its War Power

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:01:00 -0400

The short-lived CBS series Brain Dead, now available on Netflix, is a science-fiction satire about an invasion of Washington, D.C., by extraterrestrial bugs that crawl into people's ears and hijack their minds as part of a plot to conquer the world. But the most implausible aspect of the story is a dramatic Senate committee vote on whether to authorize military action in Syria. In the real world, of course, no such vote is necessary, because the president does whatever he wants with the armed forces he controls while Congress abdicates its constitutional responsibility to decide when the country should go to war. Last week 61 senators showed they are happy with that situation by tabling an amendment that would have forced a debate about endless, metastasizing wars that cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives without making Americans any safer. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would have repealed the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and the 2002 resolution approving the war in Iraq. The repeal would have taken effect in six months, giving Congress time to consider the justification for continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the various other countries supposedly covered by those resolutions. "The war in Afghanistan has gone on 16 years now," Paul said before the vote on his amendment. "We have people who will be fighting in the war…in the next year or so who were not yet born on 9/11. We have long since killed the people who perpetrated 9/11." For years Donald Trump opposed what has become America's longest war, calling it "a total and complete disaster" that has "wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure." After becoming president, he changed his mind, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to remain in a country where by his own account "we don't know what we are doing." But as far as 61 senators are concerned, there is nothing to debate here. Barack Obama said the 2001 AUMF should be repealed because it was dangerously obsolete. He nevertheless claimed it authorized military action against ISIS, which did not exist when the resolution was passed. Obama belatedly sought congressional permission for that war while insisting he did not need it. But as far as 61 senators are concerned, there is nothing to debate here. Paul notes that Congress never approved U.S. intervention in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, or Somalia. As a presidential candidate, Trump criticized such ham-handed meddling in foreign civil wars. As president, not so much. But as far as 61 senators are concerned, there is nothing to debate here. Obama opposed the war in Iraq. So did Trump, although not until after it started. Even Hillary Clinton, who as a senator voted for the war, eventually conceded it was a mistake. "For years now," Paul noted last week, "some senators and candidates have lamented that they voted for the Iraq war." But as far as 61 senators are concerned, there is nothing to debate here. Those 61 senators include every Republican aside from Paul, Mike Lee (Utah), and Dean Heller (Nev.), who opposed tabling Paul's amendment, and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who did not vote. Opponents of the amendment also included 13 Democrats, several of whom have publicly questioned Trump's fitness for office. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) thinks Trump is a "buffoon." Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) says Trump is attacking "basic institutions of government…in unprecedented ways." Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who last year remarked that Trump "doesn't seem to know what's happening outside of Trump Tower," recently worried that he "tries to make national security policy or foreign policy through tweeting." In July a hot mic caught Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) calling Trump "crazy." These senators view the president as ill-informed and reckless, if not mentally unbalanced. That they are nevertheless OK with granting him a blank check to use the world's most powerful[...]

How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Having now endured a more than two-year orgy of adoration for the Broadway hip-hop musical, Hamilton, the public surely deserves a historical corrective. Historian Brion McClanahan's latest work on the Revolutionary period, How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America, is being released Monday. Ron Paul, the Libertarian and Republican candidate for president and longtime U.S. Representative from Texas, has written the foreword, which he graciously shared in advance with Reason. The central government has always been the greatest threat to liberty in America, but most Americans don't understand how modern America became the warfare state. How did the president acquire so much unconstitutional power? How did the federal judiciary become, at times, the most powerful branch of government? How were the states reduced to mere corporations of the general government? Why is every issue, from abortion to bathrooms to crime to education, a "national" problem? The people have very little input into public policy. They vote, they rally, they attend "town hall" meetings, but it does very little to stop the avalanche of federal laws, regulations, and rules that affect every aspect of American life. We have a federal leviathan that can't be tamed, and Americans are angry about it. They want answers. Certainly, the Framers of the Constitution did not design our system this way. They intended the checks and balances between the three branches of government and also between the states and the central government to limit the potential for abuse, but somewhere along the way that changed. Who or what changed the system? It wasn't Barack Obama or George W. Bush. It wasn't even Franklin Roosevelt, his cousin Teddy, or Woodrow Wilson. They certainly helped, but as Brion McClanahan argues in the following pages, the architects of our nationalist nightmare were none other than Alexander Hamilton and a trio of Supreme Court justices: John Marshall, Joseph Story, and Hugo Black. Identifying the source of the problem is essential for correcting it. Hamilton has become one of the more popular figures in America for the Left and the Right, so accusing him of making a mess of the United States is certainly shocking. But it is also accurate. Hamilton's constitutional machinations created the outline for literally every unconstitutional federal act, from executive and judicial overreach to the nationalization of every political issue in the country. He lied to the American public about his true intentions before the Constitution was ratified and then used sly doublespeak to persuade others that so-called "implied powers" were part of the plan from the beginning. We would not have abusive unilateral executive authority in foreign and domestic policy, dangerous central banking, and impotent state governments without Hamilton's guidance. Hamilton is the architect of big government in America. Marshall, Story, and Black certainly acted as co-conspirators. Marshall's landmark decisions could have been written by Hamilton. His reading of the Constitution was at odds with how the document was explained to the state ratifying conventions in 1788. Marshall's interpretation would have led the people to reject the document. His belief in federal judicial supremacy and unchecked national authority has been the keystone to every subsequent outrageous federal ruling, from Roe v. Wade to NIFB v. Sebelius. Marshall is the reason the Supreme Court now takes center stage in every political debate in America, but he did not accomplish this alone. Marshall's protégé and right hand man Joseph Story codified Marshall's vision for federal judicial supremacy as a popular legal scholar and law professor. Even today, law students across the country are taught Story's version of federal power. Story's message is simple: the federal government is supreme (even if it isn't), the state governments are subservient to the central authority, and the federal court system is the f[...]

Sanders' Medicare for All Delusion

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Bernie Sanders has a health care plan he calls Medicare for all. He's underselling it. His proposal really should be called Medicare for all and a pony. It's everything you could want and then some. Medicare is a giant government program that pays for health care for seniors and the disabled. Its costs are mushrooming. Over the next 10 years, outlays are expected to grow by nearly a third as a share of the economy; over the next 30 years, those costs are expected to double. Revenues, however, will lag. The Medicare trust fund is on pace to run out of money by 2029. It's not clear that we as a country can afford Medicare as it currently exists. Merely preserving it without significant cuts would eventually require a tax increase that working people would resent. But instead of looking for ways to economize, the Vermont senator wants to expand the program in a way that the term "vast" barely begins to capture. His majestic vision goes beyond merely including the entire U.S. population in Medicare—which would increase the number of recipients by sixfold in just four years. Sanders wants to add coverage for dental, vision and hearing needs, which the program now excludes. And he promises "no more copays, no more deductibles and no more fighting with insurance companies when they fail to pay for charges." He's talking about a huge change. As a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation noted, "Medicare has relatively high cost-sharing requirements for covered benefits and, unlike typical large employer plans, traditional Medicare does not limit beneficiaries' annual out-of-pocket spending." In 2010, it found, the average recipient paid $2,746 for deductibles, coinsurance and the like (not counting premiums). Under Sanders' proposal, the government would pay all those expenses—not for 55 million people but for 325 million. Actually, it would pay all those expenses plus a lot of new ones, because relieving patients of any financial obligation would induce more people to get more care. If you reduce the price of a good to zero, the demand for it will rise—usually by a lot. American advocates of single-payer health insurance love the Canadian system. But Sanders apparently finds it wanting. His plan would provide even more benefits than Canada's. Democrats recently saved their Obamacare from the certain death it faced a few months earlier. The Affordable Care Act, once unpopular, gained broad support because Americans came to see it for what it is: an incremental and fiscally restrained method of expanding the number of people with decent coverage with minimal disruption. The failed Republican effort to repeal and replace it holds useful lessons. One is the importance of caution. Americans distrust any ambitious change in the realm of medical care. They fear being deprived of something they have and value, and they stand ready to punish the culprits. Another is the danger of overpromising. Republicans in Congress led us to believe they could deliver lower premiums with no individual mandate and without reducing the number of people covered. When it became clear they couldn't deliver, public opinion rebelled. Slogans are easy, but when it comes to health insurance, substance is hard—very hard. Democrats have an understandable attraction to a single-payer health care system. It's conceptually simple; it's universal; and it builds on a program that is popular with those it covers. But all this is a siren call that would lead them straight to the rocks. Americans might love what Sanders offers in the way of more benefits for more people. What they would hate is paying for it. One notable shortcoming of the plan he unveiled is that it has no price tag. Would you like a fabulous meal? Of course. Would you order it without knowing what it costs? No. The upshot of the ACA's survival is that Democrats are free to take credit for its benefits while blaming President Donald Trump and Congress for its sh[...]

The Libertarian Party's Paid Membership Numbers Take a Dive

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 12:45:00 -0400

The Libertarian Party (L.P.) had many successes during and after Gary Johnson's 2016 run for president. Most prominent was Johnson's record-busting 4.46 million votes. Revenue to the national party last year hit an over-a-decade high of around $2.5 million. And registered voters for the L.P. hit an all-time high of over half a million. Dues-paying active members of the national party rose 66 percent over the course of 2016. That figure has, however, dived enormously so far in 2017. At the end of January 2017 the party hit its highest membership number of this decade, 18,908. That number dropped 24 percent to 14,321 as of the end of August (That number is still substantially larger than any other year-end figure for this decade.) Seeing dues-paying member totals fall a year after huge waves of new members were attracted by the Johnson campaign was predictable, says national L.P. executive director Wes Benedict in a phone interview this week. Benedict specifically predicted a 4,000-5,000 member drop by this time in an April report to the Libertarian National Committee. The actual year-to-date numbers proved him right. Only 300 new paying members joined the party in August while over 2,000 failed to renew their membership. However, the trend line of monthly renewals has been on a slight upswing over the past year. So many new people joined last year that the numbers renewing and the numbers failing to renew have both increased lately. The years after presidential elections have often (but not always) seen a dive in those paying the (now) $25 yearly for official dues-paying membership. For example, from end of 1992 to end of 1993, dues-paying member numbers dropped 16 percent, and 2000 to 2001 saw the same percentage drop. More recently, end of 2008 to end of 2009 saw a 10 percent drop, and 2012 to 2013, a two percent drop. But post-presidential election year declines in paid membership have not been a universal rule; from end of 1988 to end of 1989 that figure grew 25 percent, and from end of 1996 to end of 1997 it grew by six percent. And most of the past yearly drops are smaller in percentage terms than this year's so far (though the last quarter could see an upswing again). Benedict points out that the membership rise last year was substantially higher than usual, giving the L.P. a larger number of converts who they might fail to get renewed. Total 2017 revenue will come in at about $1.7 million (with what's already come in by August beating the past decade's average for odd-numbered electoral off-years by around 22 percent); this means money strictly from the $25 yearly dues-paying member fees is likely going to be less than a third of total income for 2017. "August revenue is strong for this year compared to other post-election years," he says. The inability to retain people attracted by the Johnson campaign bothers many party members. Mark Rutherford of Indiana, a candidate for national chair of the party in 2016, worries the national party "doesn't deliver perceived value" to enough activists. It's possible that the national party messaging is turning people off, he says. Some pronouncements from the party's national office may come across as "our preaching that we are morally superior to you voters and, guess what? That doesn't win votes," and makes it seem as if the L.P. would "prefer to have a party of just 500 morally superior persons," he says. Rutherford is, however, encouraged by moves like the recent hiring of a full-time press secretary for the first time in years. He thinks the national party needs to build up a more detailed and personal relationship with the national press, something he feels he's been successful with in Indiana during his many years in the past as the state L.P.'s chair. State Party over National Party While not thrilled by the drop in dues-paying national members, state officers stress the attention should focus on state an[...]

Congress to Trump: Reform Surveillance Authorities or Lose Them

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 12:15:00 -0400

Federal surveillance authority reforms may be coming, whether the President Donald Trump's administration and the intelligence community likes it or not. To be clear, they do not, despite the Trump's vocal complaining that he was snooped on during the election campaign. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows for unwarranted secret surveillance of foreign targets outside of American soil, is set to expire this year. It's a tool for keeping an eye out for terrorist plots as well as foreign espionage. But Section 702 gets messy because sometimes communications and information originating from American citizens gets scooped up in this surveillance. That's what happened to members of Trump's staff during and after his election. When communications from Americans gets caught up in the surveillance, there are procedures to "minimize" both access and exposure of the individuals' identities. But there are also procedures for unmasking and revealing this information, so domestic federal agencies like the FBI are frequently able to access this data and use it for crime-fighting other than foreign terrorism. All of this is happening secretly, without traditional warrants, conflicting with the Fourth Amendment. Reformers want changes to Section 702 before renewal to better protect the rights of American citizens. According to Charlie Savage at The New York Times, the reformers may be winning. A bipartisan group of senators is looking to add some limits to Section 702's authorities: The lawmakers — including the Republican representatives Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the current and former committee chairmen, and Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat — have privately agreed to support extending the law, the FISA Amendments Act, through 2023, according to congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations. It is set to expire at the end of December. As part of an extension, they also have agreed to push for restrictions on surveillance. Among them is a requirement that F.B.I. agents obtain warrants before searching the program's repository of intercepted messages for information about American criminal suspects. And they want to ban a disputed form of internet surveillance in which the agency collected emails that were about a foreign target of surveillance but neither to nor from that person; the N.S.A. voluntarily ceased that form of surveillance this year but wants to retain the flexibility to turn it back on again. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said they want Section 702 renewed permanently, without changes. Neither cares about the Fourth Amendment implications. But Goodlatte says the White House does not have the votes in the House of Representatives to get what it wants. And because of the sunset provision, the administration does not have a lot of leverage. All the reformers and the opponents of Section 702 have to do to win is refuse to pass new legislation. The House Freedom Caucus warned back in June they did not support a blanket renewal of Section 702. In that sense, what's happening to Section 702 seems similar to what happened with Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Edward Snowden revealed the abuse of this section and the authorization of the mass collection of metadata about the communications of millions of Americans here within the United States. When it came time for Section 215's renewal, however, Congress didn't have the votes. It expired and was replaced by the USA Freedom Act, which still allows for access to collected metadata from phone communications, but includes stricter search guidelines. So the Trump administration may have to go along with these reforms or risk losing Section 702 entirely. That might well be the best potential ou[...]

Yes, Licensing Boards Are Cartels

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 09:05:00 -0400

Licensing boards are perhaps the most powerful labor institution in American history. The best estimates available suggest that roughly 30 percent of American workers are now required to get a license from one of those quasi-government agencies before they can enter the workforce. That's about the same percentage of the workforce that was a member of a union in the 1950s, the decade when union membership peaked before falling off to about half that percentage today. There's no debate about whether the federal government has a role to play in regulating the activities of labor unions, of course. Should Congress do something about licensing boards? "I think federal interest in this is really important," says Rebecca Allensworth, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University. The "dirty secret behind licensing boards," Allensworth told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon, is that very little of what they do resembles government activity. While growing to become the largest labor institution in American history, they have too often become a self-serving institutions that act like cartels instead of protectors of public health and safety. In research she published last year, Allensworth looked at all 1,790 state occupational licensing boards operating in America. Of those, she found that 1,515 (85 percent) of them were required by state statute to be comprised of a majority of currently licensed professionals in the same field. "These boards are formed, by law, as cartels," Allensworth said Tuesday. State legislatures have increasingly outsourced professional regulation to licensing boards, and in theory that's not necessarily a bad idea. Professionals working in a given field are likely to have more expertise about what rules might be needed. But in exchange for expertise, states have created the potential for professional self-dealing. And that's not just theoretical. It's very real. In North Carolina, for example, a board comprised by a majority of actively practicing dentists decided in 2012 to send cease-and-desist letters to kiosks offering teeth whitening services. The practice of whitening teeth, the board declared, could only be done by licensed dentists. In that instance, the Federal Trade Commission intervened. The whole case wound up in the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2015 that licensing boards controlled by a majority of "active market participants" could not make deliberately anticompetitive rules, unless those boards were "actively supervised" by some other element of state government. Some states have responded to the Supreme Court ruling by changing how their boards operate, but the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC case created more questions than answers. That's why Congress is now getting involved. In July, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), along with three Republican senators, introduced the Restoring Board Immunity Act to clarify how state licensing boards need to be structured in order to avoid potentially expensive lawsuits challenging boards' anticompetitive rules. "You want them to be public entities, but virtually no states prohibit them from self-dealing," Issa said Tuesday during the hearing on the bill. Lawmakers would have recuse themselves from voting on legislation that affects their own businesses, but there is no such requirement for members of licensing boards, he pointed out. In the end, licensing issues will be settled at the state level. Issa's bill is merely intended to steer states towards potential solutions to the problems created by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. Among other things, states would have to pass legislation requiring lawmakers to conduct comprehensive reviews of their licensing boards every five years. Those would include a cost/benefit analysis and an assessment of any new licensing rules created since the last review. There are [...]

House Rules Committee Blocks Amendment Protecting Medical Marijuana

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 12:50:00 -0400

Yesterday the House Rules Committee blocked a floor vote on an amendment barring the Justice Department from interfering with state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. The amendment, which was first enacted in 2014 and has been renewed twice since then, could still be included in the final spending bill, since it has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be worked out by a bicameral conference committee. "By blocking our amendment, Committee leadership is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them," said the amendment's current sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). "This decision goes against the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly oppose federal interference with state marijuana laws. These critical protections are supported by a majority of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. There's no question: If a vote were allowed, our amendment would pass on the House floor, as it has several times before." Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged Congress to block the Rohrabacher-Bluemnauer amendment last May, arguing that "it would be unwise to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." Exactly what medical marijuana had to do with any of that was unclear, but the Justice Department generally opposes limits on its prosecutorial discretion, and Sessions' anti-pot prejudices are well-known. In a Washington Post op-ed piece this week, Rohrabacher rebutted Sessions' clumsy attempt to blame medical marijuana for recent increases in opioid use and opioid-related deaths. To the contrary, he said, marijuana is a safer alternative to opioids. "The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight," he wrote, "even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they've contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?" Unlike Sessions, Donald Trump has repeatedly said he supports medical marijuana and thinks states should be free to allow it. So even if the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is not renewed for the next fiscal year, it is not clear that Sessions will try to shut down state-licensed medical marijuana suppliers. The amendment does not cover state-legal marijuana merchants serving the recreational market, who nevertheless have escaped prosecution so far, even though they are openly committing federal felonies every day. A cannabis crackdown would not be popular. In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, 61 percent of registered voters said marijuana should be legal for recreational use, while a whopping 94 percent said medical use should be allowed. Seventy-five percent opposed enforcement of the federal ban in states that have legalized marijuana for either purpose. "When an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose federal interference in state medical marijuana programs, it is unconscionable not to let their representatives vote on whether to continue this policy," said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Unless Congress chooses the Senate budget version, millions of seriously ill patients and the legitimate businesses that provide them with safe access to their medicine will be at risk of prosecution. This vote is a slap in the face of patients, their families, their elected representatives, and the 10th Amendment."[...]

Libertarianism Isn't a 'Gateway Drug' to the Alt-Right

Sun, 03 Sep 2017 00:01:00 -0400

How ridiculous it is for Matt Lewis of The Daily Beast to write, "It seems observably true that libertarianism is disproportionately a gateway drug to the alt-right." To say the libertarian movement is a "gateway drug" is to say more than that some prominent members of the alt-right once called themselves libertarians. It's also to say that alt-rightism provides a purer form of what those members had found in libertarianism (aka original liberalism, or simply liberalism). A good measure of ignorance of liberalism is required to entertain this thought. Libertarianism is a more formal version of (classical) liberalism, the social philosophy that blossomed in the 18th century but had roots in previous ages. The liberal worldview was self-consciously universal, applicable to all people everywhere because all human beings had the same basic requirements for flourishing. Religion and culture mattered only because they might explain variations in the ways free people pursued the good life. But the basics were expected to be more or less the same because people are people, that is, "created" equal. Liberalism has recognized the importance of respect for property to the quest for the good life. This is not difficult to fathom. How can one flourish in an environment in which one's possessions are subject to confiscation by the state or freelance marauders? This point is reinforced when one remembers that plans can extend over many months and years. Who would delay consumption a long period without reasonable certainty of being able to enjoy the fruits of one's labor and forbearance? So, yes, private property is central to liberalism. But liberals have historically seen property as an institution engendering not exclusion, but inclusion. Free trade and the widest possible division of labor have been just as dear to liberals as property rights—the connection is obvious. You see this clearly in Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises. Mises in particular located the source of wider social living in the perceived potential for gains from trade and toleration. Liberals have seen the division of labor and free trade as indispensable to human flourishing, but those things cannot exist securely without mutual respect for every person's title to their own stuff. As an institution, property was of a piece with cosmopolitanism and exchange of all kinds. That's why a "pure" race or culture is as chimerical as a "pure" language. Sure, property also authorizes owners to exclude from its use those they wish to exclude for whatever reason. But that hardly seems to have been the focus of liberals. Rather, property was about ever-greater opportunities for interaction—race, culture, and national borders notwithstanding. The exclusionary side of property could explain why some individuals flirted with libertarianism before going on to circles of racial and religious bigotry. Perhaps those individuals were attracted to the exclusionary features of property but then got turned off when they saw the overriding lure of inclusion that property and trade present. So they moved on. Another explanation is that some people are attracted to a "fringe" movement not because of anything particular to it but because like the idea of being a big fish in a small pond. If for some reason one pond doesn't suit, they may jump to another "fringier" pond. No matter how hard one might try, it is impossible to twist libertarianism into something it is not. Property can be used to advance bigotry, but so can a printing press or a website. No one thinks this negative potential taints the ideas of free trade and free speech, which predominantly foster increased contact across former divides. Likewise, the wish of some to use property in the cause of bigotry does not detract from the institution's monumental con[...]

Legislation in Congress Would Block Jeff Sessions’ Asset Forfeiture Bonanza

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 15:45:00 -0400

Several House Republicans are proposing amendments to a large funding bill moving through Congress to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent directive expanding the federal government's civil asset forfeiture program. Last month, Sessions announced he was rolling back Obama-era restrictions on when federal law enforcement could "adopt" civil asset forfeiture cases from local and state police. Conservative and liberal civil liberties groups say federal "adoptions" amount to a loophole allowing local police to avoid stricter state laws and higher standards of evidence when seizing private property. Nearly half of all states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform over the past several years in response to bipartisan pressure and media investigations that revealed asset forfeiture abuses and their disproportionate impact on poor and minority residents. Under typical civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property when they suspect it's connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is not convicted or even charged with a crime. The four amendments are proposed to be added to H.R. 3354, a massive piece of legislation consolidating eight other appropriations bills. Each aims in slightly different ways to stop the Justice Department from spending any funds to implement Sessions' order. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a vocal critic of asset forfeiture, introduced an amendment that would block the Justice Department from funding any of the activities prohibited by a 2015 directive from former attorney general Eric Holder limiting the program. "When the government takes people's property without due process, it's a violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments—and it's theft," Amash says in a statement to Reason. "I'm writing a bill to end civil asset forfeiture throughout the United States. In the meantime, my amendment will prevent state and local law enforcement from teaming up with the federal government to sidestep state laws that restrict these unconstitutional takings." Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) are asking for a change blocking the Justice Department from funding Sessions' directive. The department's forfeiture program existed prior to Sessions' order, so it's unclear what effects the amendments would have if passed. A fourth proposed amendment by Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) would simply block spending for any transfer from the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund to state or local police. The amendments were first noted by FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group that has opposed civil asset forfeiture. "Let's be clear. Congress has to pass comprehensive legislation to reform federal forfeiture laws, which have been abused and will continue to be abused under Attorney General Sessions' directive," FreedomWorks vice president of legislative affairs Jason Pye tells Reason. "But an amendment prohibiting the use of funds from being used to carry out adoptive seizures is something that FreedomWorks will wholeheartedly support. It will be a positive step forward to address the issue until a bill like the DUE PROCESS Act, FAIR Act or some other yet to be introduced legislation is passed." Another amendment by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) would redirect $10 million from the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund into the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program. The amendments head to the House Rules Committee, which will decide which amendments will be considered in floor votes on the bill. Those votes are expected to happen next week. With the passage of legislation a small miracle these days, legislators have taken to tacking amendments onto funding bills needed to keep the government running. These bills are necessary with Congress unable to pass annual budgets. The asset for[...]

What the Alt-Right Gets Wrong

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 13:54:00 -0400

Some news outlets have claimed that there's a troubling "pipeline" from libertarianism to the most revolting corners of the alt-right movement. Their evidence is that white supremacist Christopher Cantwell, the star of a Vice documentary about the racist, tiki torch-wielding Charlottesville mob, was once a figure in the libertarian Free State project, and alt-right icon and white nationalist Richard Spencer himself was once a Ron Paul supporter and self-identified as a libertarian. Anyone who claims to care about individual liberty should reject the overt racism in Charlottesville, the broadly defined alt-right and the watered down "alt-lite" variants represented by provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulous and YouTube personalities Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, as well as the right-wing nationalism pushed by recently fired White House strategist Steve Bannon. These expressions of right-wing populism are the antithesis of libertarianism, and they collapse under their own logic. The alt right claims to be the savior of Western Civilization, which apparently is on the brink of collapse because Muslims and Mexicans are invading our society. Members of the alt-right often point to the sizable influx of immigrants to Europe in the wake of destabilizing Middle Eastern wars. But America isn't Europe, which is one problem with this framing of "the West" as some sort of monolith. Here's a straighforward look at immigrants as a percentage of the U.S. population: Yes, there's an upswing since around the end of the Vietnam War, but, really, it's a return to the historical average. And what was going on in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as immigrants flooded in? The Second Industrial Revolution! Cars! Steel! Electricity! Telecommunication! And America's rise as a global economic superpower. Want to Make America Great Again? Maybe free-flowing immigration combined with with an open marketplace is the winning formula. But let's get back to those "Western values." America's founders based their ideas on Enlightenment values such as individual property rights and free trade, as articulated by philosophers like John Locke and Adam Smith. Whom did they build their ideas in opposition to? Mercantilists, protectionists, or what today we'd call "economic nationalists." Post Charlottesville, Trump's recently fired chief strategist Steve Bannon told a reporter that white ethno-nationalists are "losers" and "clowns," and then he made a case for closing the U.S. off to the rest of the world. President Trump is right when he claims that free trade isn't always a two-way street. But as Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman explained, "Any individual country, on average, benefits from free trade." Don't believe him? Recent polling finds that the majority of economists agree that free trade is a net benefit, and empirical studies show a correlation between fewer trade barriers and higher per capita GDP. One study compared countries that opened up trade and cut tariffs to ones that didn't, finding that citizens in the freer trade countries saw their incomes increase by an average of 20 percent more than in closed economies. Through international trade, middle-income consumers have seen their purchasing power grow by close to 30 percent, and low-income consumers benefit roughly twice as much. And Trump's fans can cheer when he pressures companies to locate their manufacturing plants in America, but these success stories unravel with closer scrutiny. Just like the progressive left, the alt-right wants to empower the federal government, just as long as the right people are in power doling out benefits to their favorite constituencies. This is why you'll hear alt-right leaders speaking favorably of singl[...]

Dismissal Upheld by D.C. Appeals Court in Gary Johnson Lawsuit Regarding Presidential Debates

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 18:53:00 -0400

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, former Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and others challenging the practices of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) had a bad day today. Judge Janice Brown concluded in a decision today from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that an earlier decision from D.C. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer to dismiss their lawsuit was correctly decided. I reported on the oral arguments in the case of Johnson v. Commission on Presidential Debates before a three-judge panel of the Court that included Brown back in April. (Another judge on the panel, Cornelia Pillard, concurred with Brown.) Brown found wanting arguments that practices keeping third party candidates such as Johnson and Stein out of the debates violate their First Amendment rights and antitrust laws. They were challenging an agreement between the Romney and Obama campaigns giving the CPD sole power to host debates between them in 2012 as: an unlawful agreement to monopolize and restrain competition in violation of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act....The Complaint also alleges exclusion of Plaintiffs from the debates "because of hostility towards their political viewpoints" in violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech and association...They sought invalidation of the 15 per cent polled-support requirement [for candidates to appear in CPD hosted debates], injunctive relief dissolving the Commission and enjoining further collusion between the two major parties, and treble damages. Brown was neither convinced by this somewhat novel attempt to apply antitrust law to political markets, nor by the First Amendment argument. The Court ordering the CPD to allow certain people into the debates, or to admit people under certain criteria the CPD did not choose, would violate the CPD's own First Amendment rights, Brown reasoned. Further, when it comes to Johnson and his co-plaintiff's First Amendment complaint: the Complaint omits entirely any allegation of government action, focusing entirely on the actions of the nonprofit Defendants.... There may be First Amendment injuries we could invent for Plaintiffs, but those claims were not presented in the Complaint. As for those antitrust arguments, Brown is dismissive: antitrust standing requires a plaintiff to show an actual or threatened injury "of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent" that was caused by the defendant's alleged wrongdoing.....Plaintiffs, however, define their injuries as millions of dollars in free media, campaign donations, and federal matching funds—injuries to them as individual candidates in a political contest for votes. Square peg, meet round hole.... This conclusion—that an antitrust violation must involve injury to commercial competition—is supported by Plaintiffs' inability to define a commercial market in which they operate. Instead, they discuss the "presidential campaign market," "the electoral politics market," and the "presidential candidates market...." While these terms may capture what political scientists call a "political economy," the phrase is merely a term of art. Short of alleging Americans are engaged in a widespread practice of selling their votes—which the Complaint does not do—the "market" Plaintiffs identify is no more regulated by the antitrust laws than the "marketplace of ideas" or a "meet market." The injuries Plaintiffs claim are simply not those contemplated by the antitrust laws. Johnson lawyer Bruce Fein said in an email today that "We will be filling a motion for rehearing or rehearing en banc" from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Brown's decision. Among the problems with the decision, Fein wrote, was the judge "de[...]

Instead of Filling Vacancies, Congress Should Abolish the NLRB

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 11:30:00 -0400

The U.S. Senate voted earlier this month to confirm Marvin Kaplan's appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, filling one of two vacancies on the five-member panel charged with setting policy for union elections and for adjudicating conflicts between union workers and employers. Rather than fill the other vacancy on the highly politicized board—which operated with only three members during most of the Obama administration because Senate Republicans refused to confirm appointees—perhaps Congress should do away with the board altogether. Created in 1933 as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act, a Depression-era law that gave the president sweeping authority to institute wage and price controls, the NLRB existed to settle sometimes-violent disputes that erupted between unions and employers. It is well past time to recognize the fundamental flaws in the NLRB, which have led the board to become politicized and partisan, says says Trey Kovacs, a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. "The NLRB was created to be impartial government members that represented the public interest in labor disputes. That no longer happens," Kovacs says. "Democrats and Republicans basically appoint labor lawyers or employment lawyers who favor one side or the other, so it no longer represents the public interest." The NLRB is a quasi-judicial body, but hardly operates like one. Courts look to past rulings when making decisions. The NLRB is guided not by precedent, but by the whims of the board members. Outcomes tend to go in one direction or the other, depending on the ideology of the majority. "Case precedent flip-flops depending on which party is in power," says Kovacs. "So they don't really exercise any expertise, just their political will." With a 2-1 majority of Democratic appointees during the Obama administration, the board handed down a number of decisions favorable to labor unions. It allowed for the creation of so-called "micro unions" within workplaces. It dramatically shortened the length of time between when a union calls for an election and when that election is held, allowing for "ambush elections" in workplaces. The move was criticized by employers who complained they no longer had enough time to state their case against unionizing before an election. Appointing someone to the board has become as or more contentious than getting someone appointed to a federal court. Republicans issued an ultimatum to President Barack Obama in 2015 refusing to confirm additional members unless Obama nominated a candidate approved by the GOP. He declined. Had Hillary Clinton won the White House last year, it's easy to imagine a continued standoff. It's also easy to see some future Democratic-controlled Senate refusing to confirm appointees from a Republican administration. Indeed, the vote on August 2 to confirm Kaplan as the NLRB's fourth member was straight down party lines, and Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., took to the Senate floor to condemn what she saw as "a new anti-worker nominee." That degree of politicization leaves the NLRB gridlocked and unpredictable in the long term. Whether you favor business or labor, that's no way to make policy or settle disputes. Kovacs suggests labor law cases go directly to federal court, where judges are beholden to precedent and are unlikely to be appointed specifically because they favor one side or the other in worker-employer disputes. In a telling ruling issued the day before Kaplan's confirmation, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a NLRB decision in favor of eight union reps who had been arrested for who occupying an[...]