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Congress



All Reason.com articles with the "Congress" tag.



Published: Mon, 25 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2017 16:29:36 -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. https://t.co/2sDjhw6Era pic.twitter.com/30OWezQpLg — 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 forever...be 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[...]



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 outcome of all. ReasonTV's Zach Weissmuller recently detailed the many problems with[...]



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 federalism concerns about the RBI Act. Congress would be nudging states towards ce[...]



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."[...]



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 forfeiture amendments are similar to several that have been added to appropriations bills in recent years that b[...]



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 and refusing to leave a Portland, Oregon, grocery store in 2009. The NLRB saw it as "unfair labor practices." The NLRB's review of the case was "disingenuous" and car[...]



Hurricane Harvey and the National Flood Insurance Fiasco

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 16:59:00 -0400

(image) Texans, watch out. An aftershock is following behind the catastrophic flooding produced by Hurricane Harvey in coastal Texas: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is coming up for reauthorization.

The main lesson that the public and policymakers ought to learn from Harvey is: Don't build in flood plains, and especially don't rebuild in flood plains. Unfortunately, the flood insurance program teaches the exact opposite lesson, selling subsidized insurance whose premiums do not come close to covering the risks home and business owners in flood prone areas face.

As a result, the NFIP is currently $25 billion in debt.

Federally subsidized flood insurance represents a moral hazard, Kevin Starbuck, Assistant City Manager and former Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Amarillo, argues, because it encourages people to take on more risk because taxpayers bear the cost of those hazards.

Federal Emergency Management Agency data shows that from 1978 through 2015, 3.8 percent of flood insurance policyholders have filed repetitively for losses that account for a disproportionate 35.5 percent of flood loss claims and 30.5 percent of claim payments, Starbuck says. Most of these properties were grandfathered in before the NFIP issued its flood insurance rate maps. The NFIP is not permitted to refuse them insurance or charge them rates based on the actual risks they face.

Clearly, taxpayers should not be required to subsidize people who choose to build and live on flood plains. When Congress reauthorizes the NFIP, it should initiate a phase-in of charging grandfathered properties premiums commensurate with their risks. This will likely lower the market values of affected homes and businesses and thus send a strong signal to others to avoid building and living in such risky areas.

To avoid the problem of moral hazard, folks who choose to live in flood prone areas should bear the costs of the risks they face. After Hurricane Ike hit Galveston and Houston in 2008 causing $29 billion in damages, business and government leaders suggested building the "Ike Dike" along the coast to protect against future hurricane storm surges. One estimate puts the cost of building the dike's sand-covered dunes with hardened cores at $5 billion. Of course, proponents expected the federal government would pay for most of the dike's construction costs.

Congress is unlikely to unravel the flood insurance mess by the end of next month, but there are some lessons from recent weather disasters that lawmakers should take into account. If cities like Houston and Galveston need new and better coastal and flood defenses, then their citizens should pay for them.

If Texans living in flood prone areas refuse to tax themselves enough to protect themselves and their property that means that it doesn't make economic sense to live and work there. One proof of the adequacy of their coastal and flood defenses would be the willingness of private insurers to offer flood policies to residents. The same logic applies to all coastal counties. Ultimately, ending flood insurance subsidies will reduce property losses and put fewer lives at risk.




Why Trump's Wall Is Not Going to Happen

Sun, 27 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Donald Trump has served one-seventh of his constitutionally allotted term of office, and given his talent for self-destruction, there is no guarantee he will get to serve the remaining six-sevenths. But whether he does or not, one thing is a safe bet: When he leaves the White House, there will not be a wall running the length of our southern border. This may come as a shock to his more devoted followers. They cheered madly, and still cheer madly, at his promises to build a wall that Mexico will pay for. "Believe me, one way or the other, we're going to get that wall," he told a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday—even "if we have to close down our government." Between now and the end of September, Congress needs to pass legislation to raise the federal debt ceiling and extend funding to keep the government operating. Trump's threat is to veto any such bill unless it features money for the wall. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, however, said, "There is zero chance, no chance, we won't raise the debt ceiling." House Speaker Paul Ryan scoffs at the idea of a government shutdown. To get a bill with wall funds through the Senate would require 60 votes. Every Republican and eight Democrats would have to agree, and that is not going to happen. Both Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi have invited Trump to take a long walk off a short pier. They say they won't support the barrier under any circumstances. This response no doubt makes many Republicans secretly grateful, because they regard the proposal as what the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan referred to as "boob bait for Bubba"—a tough-sounding but dumb idea useful for appealing to a certain segment of the electorate that is not well-informed or discerning on matters of policy. Plenty of GOP members would rather put Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore than underwrite this addled project. The Department of Homeland Security says it would cost $22 billion—and a study by the Democratic staff of the Senate homeland security committee priced it at nearly $70 billion. In April, The Wall Street Journal reported, "Not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border said they support President Donald Trump's request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of his promised wall." That's one reason he's angry with Arizona's two Republican senators. Doubt has seeped out of Trump's Cabinet room. As secretary of homeland security, before becoming White House chief of staff, John Kelly admitted, "It's unlikely that we will build a wall or physical barrier from sea to shining sea." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also been equivocal. Trump faces some daunting obstacles in trying to get his way. One is that the wall is not very popular. A poll by Rasmussen Reports found that only 37 percent of likely voters support the idea. Another is that Trump is not very popular, with an approval rating matching that of the wall. Those numbers won't intimidate many members of Congress. Shutting down the government would be bad for GOP lawmakers, who recall the negative fallout when they did it in 2013. But it would be worse for Trump. If the president threatens a closure and it happens, he will be slathered in blame from head to toe. Let's not forget the comical absurdity at the center of this dispute: Voters were assured by Trump that the cost of his barricade would fall exclusively on our southern neighbor. But Mexico has declined the opportunity. In a January 27 phone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Trump pleaded: "I have to have Mexico pay for the wall. I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period." It didn't work. Pena Nieto said bluntly, "My position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying [...]



Anti-Interventionists in Congress Respond to Trump's Afghanistan Strategy

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 10:35:00 -0400

The small band of Republican anti-interventionists in Congress isn't enthusiastic about Donald Trump's new plan for Afghanistan. "There's nothing hasty about ending America's longest war," Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted last night. "@POTUS bowed to military-industrial establishment; doubled down on perpetual war." Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has warned about the role of the war on drugs in the war in Afghanistan, also expressed disappointment about Trump's decision to continue the conflict. "I had hoped the Afghanistan war would end soon, but now it's inevitable that babies born during the war will be deploying to the war in 2019," Massie tweeted. Democratic skeptics of military intervention also opposed Trump's latest move in the 16-year-old war. "I opposed President Obama's troop buildup in Afghanistan, and I oppose President Trump's," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Col.) tweeted. "Ongoing boondoggle costs American blood and money." Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) also questioned the wisdom of extending the war. "Endless war in Afghanistan to support a corrupt govt is not in America's national interest," McGovern tweeted. "It's time for us to finally end this war." In a local radio interview this morning, McGovern insisted Congress had a "constitutional duty to debate these wars." To that end, Reps. Walter Jones (R–N.C.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.) have introduced a resolution requiring a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) for continuing military operations in Afghanistan. "This critically important decision in Afghanistan should compel Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility," Garamendi tweeted last night. "Congress must fully debate our goals and set clear guidelines for our actions in Afghanistan." In the Senate, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) struck a critical note as well. "The mission in Afghanistan has lost its purpose and I think it is a terrible idea to send any more troops into that war," he said in a statement prior to the president's address. Paul also wants to repeal the 2001 AUMF against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks and their "associated forces." When the House passed the NDAA in July, Republican leaders stripped out an amendment that would have revoked the post-9/11 AUMF; the amendment had been sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the only member of Congress to vote against the original AUMF. Back then, Lee warned that the White House could use the legislation to wage endless war without the appropriate authorization of Congress. She was right, and only Congress can correct its mistake. The pro-war Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News last night he expected broad bipartisan support for Trump's Afghanistan strategy. He said he didn't think a vote was necessary on Trump's strategy but that he'd be "happy" to cast one.[...]



Canadians Can Eat Genetically Enhanced Salmon; Americans Can't

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 10:25:00 -0400

Our neighors to the north can now enjoy salmon genetically enhanced to grow faster and eat less feed. Thanks to absurd overregulation, Americans can't. The Atlantic salmon are enhanced using a Chinook salmon gene that enables them to grow much faster using less feed. Nature News reports that AquaBounty Technologies, which developed the fish, has now sold nearly five tons of it to customers in Canada. The company applied to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to get approval for its genetically enhanced salmon back in 1995; it took the agency til 2015 to rule that AquAdvantage salmon, as the product is known, "is as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered (GE) Atlantic salmon, and also as nutritious." Health Canada approved it for sale six months later. But you still can't buy it here in the U.S. The usual claque of anti-science activists are suing the FDA in an effort to block the company from marketing the fish. And Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, aiming to protect her state's salmon fishers from competition, has inserted a rider in the agriculture spending bill that bans the sale of enhanced salmon until the the FDA publishes its final labeling guidelines. Murkowski claims that Americans must be warned that AquAdvantage salmon are "frankenfish." As a general regulatory principle, genetically enhanced foods do not have to be labeled unless they are nutritionally different than their conventional versions. Canada sensibly does not require special labels on AquAdvantage salmon. AquaBounty is currently raising its sterile triploid salmon in an onshore facility in Panama. In June the company announced that it will expand a Prince Edward Island production facility and has acquired a fish farm in Indiana, where it plans to begin raising its enhanced fish for the U.S. market. Aquabounty sold its fish at wholesale for $5.30 per pound in Canada. In comparison, Tradex Foods reports that the current price on fresh atlantic salmon (farmed) in Miami for trimmed fillets is $4.25-$4.30 per pound. In any case, Alaskan fishers should rest easy. The Aquabounty facility in Indiana would produce about 1,200 tons of Atlantic salmon annually. Americans annually consume about 180,000 tons of Atlantic salmon, of which 170,000 tons are imported. Only 2,000 tons of Atlantic salmon are wild-caught. Most of the 105,000 tons of Pacific salmon is wild and is caught in domestic waters. Congress has tied the FDA's hands with respect to the AquAdvantage salmon, but the agency could do a great deal of good by withdrawing the scientifically ridiculous draft regulations meant to govern genomically improved livestock, which the Obama administration issued on its way out of the door in January. Personally, I dislike the flavor of salmon. But I plan to eat an AquAdvantage fillet as soon as I can legally lay hands on one.[...]



Trump Launches a Suicidal War on His Own Party

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump often told the story of the kind woman who found a half-frozen snake and took it in and nursed it back to health—only to be repaid with a cruel bite. What Republicans didn't know is that in this story, they're the woman and Trump is the reptile. With his approval rating sinking, Trump has decided his problem is that he has too many allies. So he set out to rid of himself of an important one: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The taciturn Kentuckian managed to inspire rage by suggesting that, being new to Washington, Trump had "excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process." The president responded by tweeting angrily, "Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!" As if that weren't enough, Trump followed up in an interview by indicating he might favor McConnell's resignation as Republican leader if he couldn't get Trump's agenda enacted. McConnell looks as worried as a poker player holding four aces. He is accountable only to the voters back home, who elected him to his sixth term by a 15-point margin in 2014, and to Senate Republicans, who installed him as their leader 10 years ago and appear to be perfectly content with him. Upon reading Trump's tweets, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, we can assume, immediately fell to their knees to rejoice at this sudden windfall. As commanders of an outnumbered force, their best hope is that their adversaries will devour themselves, and Trump is doing his best to make their wish come true. He has proved himself the supreme master of the unforced error. There are many things Trump does not seem to comprehend about the presidency. One is that on a wide range of important issues, he can't do much without the help of Congress. Another is that the legislative branch is equal to the executive branch, not subordinate. He also fails to grasp that he has no more of a popular mandate than every single member of Congress, none of whom came in second in the popular vote. He didn't install any of them. The voters did. Every representative and senator knows—far better than Trump does—what he or she needs to do to win re-election. Most of them were in office long before he arrived and will be there after he's gone. They don't owe him and don't fear him. A president, of course, can sometimes compel even unfriendly members of Congress to going along with his legislative agenda. In 1981, Republican Ronald Reagan got his signature tax cut approved even though his party was in the House minority. No fewer than 48 Democrats (and all but one Republican) felt obliged to support it. In the Senate, only 10 Democrats dared to vote no. But at the time, Reagan had an approval rating of 55 percent. Having been a two-term governor of California, he also had some knowledge of how to work with lawmakers. Trump, by contrast, boasts an approval rating of 38 percent and a bottomless ignorance of the legislative process. It didn't occur to him that if an unpopular president wants anything passed, he needs to offer ideas that are practical and politically salable (see: Reagan tax cut). Trump was unable to get Congress to vote for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare partly because he didn't know anything about policy details and therefore was ill-suited to negotiate with people who do. He was also handicapped, as congressional Republicans were, by the unexpected surge of public sentiment for the status quo. Getting any major change through Congress demands careful craftsmanship and shrewd compromises. Neither requirement played t[...]



Unconstitutional State Food, Agriculture Crackdowns Spur Congress to Act

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Earlier this summer, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Calif. Wisc.) introduced a bill that could dramatically change the ways states tax and regulate interstate commerce, including commerce in agriculture and food. The bill, known as the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017, would bar states from regulating or taxing many businesses that don't physically operate within their borders. The bill is intended to rein in "certain State impositions on interstate commerce." It declares "a State may tax or regulate a person's activity in interstate commerce only when such person is physically present in the State during the period in which the tax or regulation is imposed." But wait. Doesn't the Constitution already prohibit states from regulating interstate commerce, via the Commerce Clause (and its corollary, the dormant Commerce Clause) and the Fourteenth Amendment? You bet! But states increasingly ignore those edicts. Take Massachusetts, where voters in November adopted Question 3. The law, which won't take effect for at least a couple years, bans "the sale of eggs, veal, or pork of a farm animal confined in spaces that prevent the animal from lying down, standing up, extending its limbs, or turning around." The law applies not just to farms in Massachusetts but also to "farms located in other states," notes one recent report. As I wrote last year, the law "impose[s] unwise, harmful, costly, and unconstitutional standards for raising a host of livestock animals." Though the Massachusetts law imposes the same restrictions on businesses in every other state that it imposes on businesses in Massachusetts, that doesn't make the law fair. It makes it unconstitutional. "The state may well be allowed to regulate many facets of agriculture within its borders," I wrote last year. "But it has no such authority to regulate the way livestock is raised in other states." The bill introduced by Rep. Sensenbrenner is a direct threat to the Massachusetts law. While Massachusetts voters clearly erred in choosing to adopt this unconstitutional law, they're not alone. California voters adopted a similar law earlier this decade. Both states' laws, which I discuss together here, are just the sort of unconstitutional laws Rep. Sensenbrenner's bill is intended to eradicate. Indeed, it appears the origins of Rep. Sensenbrenner's bill stem directly from battles like these over food and agriculture. "[The new bill] is likely related to a fight between states that has been progressing through the courts," reads a good National Law Review analysis of the bill, which compares it to a narrower Sensenbrenner bill that stalled last year. "California has a law that requires eggs sold in California to be laid by hens in cages that are of a specific size. Missouri and other states sued to invalidate California's law, but lost in the 9th Circuit and certiorari was denied by the US Supreme Court on May 30, 2017." Unsurprisingly, the bill has strong supporters and vehement detractors. Animal-rights and animal-welfare groups are in the latter camp. "We're all for neutering pets," Paul Shapiro, vice president for policy engagement with the Humane Society of the United States, told me by email this week, "but we don't know why Mr. Sensenbrenner wants to neuter the states and strip their ability to protect their own citizens." The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bi-partisan group that represents state lawmakers across the country, says the bill is "one of the most coercive, intrusive, and preemptive legislature measures ever introduced in Congress." The National Governor's Association, which also opposes the bill, issued a joint statement with the NCSL saying the me[...]