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Published: Sun, 18 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2018 21:42:01 -0400


Rand Paul Will Oppose Trump's Pro-War, Pro-Torture Nominees for State, CIA

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:30:00 -0400

(image) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) plans to oppose the nominations of Mike Pompeo for secretary of state and Gina Haspel as Pompeo's replacement running the Central Intelligence Agency.

Paul's opposition could complicate the Trump administration's plans to replace outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired this week and will leave his post at the end of the month.

When it comes to picking a replacement for America's top diplomat, Paul says he could not support nominees who are trying to steer Trump in a more interventionalist direction.

"I cannot endorse his nomination of people who loved the Iraq war so much that they want an Iran war next," Paul says. "President Trump sought to break with the foreign policy mistakes of the last two administrations. Yet now he picks for secretary of state and CIA director people who embody them, defend them, and, I'm afraid, will repeat them."

Paul sits on the crucial Senate Foreign Relations Committee, giving him significant leverage over these nominations. If the committee's 10 Democratic members also oppose Pompeo's or Haspel's appointment, Paul would be the swing vote on the 21-member committee. If either nominations make it to the Senate floor via a different route (Senate leaders could bypass the committee process, Politico says), Republicans could face another close vote with a slim 51–49 majority.

There's good reason for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to think long and hard about a confirmation vote for Pompeo. As Emma Ashford explains, Pompeo has been very vocal on policy, including his outspoken support for withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. It's unusual for the director of the CIA to speak out on matters of policy, and Pompeo's tendency to do so might complicate the high-level diplomatic negotiations he would oversee as secretary of state. When it comes to other potential hotspots, from North Korea to the ongoing proxy war on the Arabian Peninsula, Pompeo is likely to take a more hawkish stance than Tillerson did.

Domestically, Pompeo has supported the expansion of a surveillance state. In a 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Pompeo called on Congress to "pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database." He has also called for the execution of Edward Snowden.

Paul opposed Pompeo's appointment to run the CIA last year, saying in January 2017 that Pompeo's "desire for security will trump his defense of liberty."

Less high-profile but no less important is Trump's pick to replace Pompeo at the CIA. Paul says that Haspel's record on torture, which includes running a CIA "black site" prison in Thailand, should disqualify her from consideration.

Congress Is Bad at Budgeting

Mon, 12 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0400

Congress is dysfunctional—and nothing illustrates that like the body's increased reliance on short-term funding bills in place of comprehensive budgets, right? These continuing resolutions (C.R.s) are often used in times of crisis to prevent a government shutdown when Democrats and Republicans can't agree enough to pass any of the 12 regular appropriations bills before October 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year, as required by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

(image) Yet a look at the data suggests that the number of C.R.s hasn't actually spiked in the last few years. According to the Congressional Research Center, between 1977 and 2018, Congress has enacted an average of 4.4 continuing resolutions per year to keep the government running. While there has been an uptick in their use, it started way back in 1997. Before then, the annual average was 3.3. Since, it has jumped to 5.1. At its worst, Congress passed 13 C.R.s in 1996 and 21 in 2001.

A better measure of congressional dysfunction is the number of regular appropriations bills enacted on time by Congress. That tally has plummeted since 1977 and stalled at zero since 2010, mostly thanks to the Senate. The House of Representatives passed all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2018, for example, only to watch each one die in the upper chamber.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, "Continuing Resolutions: Overview of Components and Recent Practices"; U.S. Congress, "Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018"

Trump Orders Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum. Can Congress Stop Him?

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 16:45:00 -0500

Well before he was president, Donald Trump wanted tariffs. In an April 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said that if he were president, he would impose a 25 percent tariff on all Chinese goods imported into the United States. "Protectionism?" the future president scoffed when asked about the consequences of tariffs for the American economy. "I want to be protected." Other aspects of his chaotic 2016 presidential campaign got more attention, but tariffs were always a part of the Trump platform. A tariff on Chinese goods would show that the United States was "not playing games anymore," Trump said at an August 2016 rally in Florida. Shortly after winning the election, Trump's transition team talked about the possibility of a 10 percent tariff on imports. And as his first year in the White House ticked along, Trump seemingly became more impatient. "I want tariffs," he reportedly bellowed during a tense discussion with some of his top economic advisers in August of last year. On Thursday, Trump finally got his tariffs. "We're going to be very fair, we're going to be very flexible, but we're going to protect the American worker, as I said I would do in my campaign," Trump said. A 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum will take effect in 15 days, the White House announced Thursday. Trump said he's willing to exempt Canada and Mexico from the tariffs, and to review other countries on a case-by-case basis. The tariffs would shelter domestic producers of steel and aluminum from some foreign competition, but at the expense of the many steel- and aluminum-consuming businesses in the United States. Consumers would end up paying more for everything from beer and baseball bats, to appliances and automobiles. Republican leaders in Congress disagree with Trump's tariff plan, and publicly broke with the White House this week to denounce the tariff plans while simultaneously working behind the scenes to limit the scope of the new import taxes. After Trump's announcement, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released a statement warning of "unintended consequences" from Trump's trade action. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Reason that he was opposing the tariffs in part because he was "very concerned about retaliatory action from other countries." Words are one thing. But can Congress stop Trump's tariffs? The answer is complex. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the explicit power "to lay and collect taxes, duties," and the like. But Congress is limited in what it can do by law, and maybe more importantly, by politics. First, the legal angle. Trump's tariffs are being implemented under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which gives the White House more or less carte blanche to impose tariffs on national security grounds. The national security rationale for tariffs on steel and aluminum is pretty weak—the administration says that American weapons of war depend on steel and aluminum supplies, so domestic producers must be protected from international supplies that could be cut-off in the event of a conflict—but it exists and that's enough. "There's not much they can do to address this particular case," says Dan Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute. "We're in uncharted waters in a lot of ways." Handing over those powers to the executive branch might have been a prudent decision in some regards. Congress has, traditionally, been more open to protectionist policies like tariffs (just think about how defensive members of Congress get about anything in their home districts), while the presidency has been more likely to support free trade, in part because the executive branch handles international affairs and because the president gets credit (and blame) for the economy as a whole. "They never anticipated having a protectionist president," says Ikenson. But with Trump in the White House, the tariff fight has become another painful lesson about what happens when Congress abdic[...]

Rand Paul, on Trump: ‘I Think He Will Sign Audit the Fed if We Can Get it to Him’

Tue, 06 Mar 2018 14:20:00 -0500

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) this week is once again trying to overcome his own party's reluctance to act in power how it campaigned in opposition, by introducing his stalled-out bill to audit the Federal Reserve as an amendment to The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, a Dodd-Frank semi-rollback that's expected to pass with bipartisan support. "I think it always has a chance of passing, but the hardest part is actually getting a vote on things," Paul told me in an interview today. "You never know unless you try." If Republican politicians meant what they said, Audit the Fed would already be the law of the land. The proposal, first introduced and popularized by longtime congressman and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul, was included in the last two GOP platforms, passed by the House of Representatives in 2012 (by a 327-98 vote) and 2014 (333-92), and campaigned on by Donald Trump ("It is so important to audit The Federal Reserve," Trump tweeted in February 2016). Yet it's a different story when the GOP holds power. The latest House Audit the Fed bill, sponsored by Paul pal Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), was put in that Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse, while companion Paul legislation didn't even get that far. (Paul did whip 53 votes back in January 2016, but that fell short of the 60 required; see my interview with him at the time for more.) As for President Trump, Paul's father Ron complains that "he has not even uttered the words 'Audit the Fed,' or talked about any changes to monetary policy, since the election." Yet the younger Paul, who—in contrast to Senate colleagues such as Jeff Flake—has maintained a productive relationship with Trump, remains hopeful. "We've talked about Audit the Fed before and the fact that he supported it during his campaign," he said. "I think he will sign Audit the Fed if we can get it to him. The hardest part that we have to overcome is the institution of the Fed itself. The biggest lobbyist on Capitol Hill against auditing the Fed is the Fed." That obstacle was only made more difficult after Trump appointed as his new Federal Reserve Chair the central bank's principal spokesman against Paul's legislation: Jerome Powell. (The senator was one of just 13 votes against Powell's confirmation). Powell reiterated his opposition to Audit the Fed during confirmation hearings. "Congress has chosen to shield monetary policy from a policy audit," he told senators. "That has been a wise choice made to show respect for the independence of monetary policy….A [Government Accountability Office] audit would be a way for Congress to insert itself into the making of monetary policy on a meeting-by-meeting basis." Paul dismisses such arguments. "I kind of think it's unseemly that…an entity created by government lobbies its own government not to have sunlight and not to be audited," he said. "What we have now is…a fake audit. What you see is that there is an audit by the GAO, but they don't audit any of the things that the Fed owns. The Fed owns over $4 trillion worth of stuff, and none of that is reported in the audit. I kind of tongue in cheek say, 'Yeah, they audit how much coffee they buy, they audit what their salaries are, and, you know, whether or not they're going to Las Vegas on a holiday on government expense.' That is audited, but then the $4 trillion worth of stuff is not. We don't know whether it's marked to market, we don't know whether they bought it from their cousin. There needs to be more sunlight on what they own, what they pay for, and what it's valued." What is Paul's impression of Powell's approach to monetary policy? "I think he's—like so many that have been at the Fed—he's a strong believer in basically price controls on money. This is basically the Fed fixing the interest rate. I think there's some irony that some people who claim to be limited government people—would be against price controls on bread, houses, furniture, et cetera, on almost ever[...]

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's Proposed Bump Stock Ban Is Mostly Pointless

Tue, 27 Feb 2018 17:09:00 -0500

(image) D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a plan yesterday to introduce local legislation banning the possession and sale of bump stocks in the nation's capital. The policy's net effect would be close to zero, however.

For one thing, D.C.'s longstanding assault weapons ban makes the great majority of firearms which can accept bump stocks—AR-15s, AK-47s, and their variants—already illegal to own or possess. Moreover, bump stocks operate on recoil, which you can't get without firing a gun. Guess what? Legally owned or not, firing a gun is also illegal within city limits, except in self defense.

Bowser's proposed ban would merely outlaw a part that helps an outlawed gun do an outlawed thing, faster.

So what's the point of banning bump stocks in D.C.?

When Congress gave the District limited autonomy to pass local laws in 1973, it reserved the power to review and veto the Council's decisions under most circumstances. When District law implicates issues of national political concern, such as abortion and marijuana prohibition (and, these days, gun control) Congress often intervenes to block the Council's typically-progressive maneuvers.

Local leaders generally resist this meddling, but in this case, they're actually hoping for it. Kevin Donahue, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, told The Washington Post that Bowser's administration hopes to force members of Congress to go "on the record" regarding bump stock prohibition, either letting the District's symbolic ban stand, or stepping in to veto it. "They could actively disapprove a bump stock ban, or they could tacitly approve," Donahue said. "Either way, they'll be on record."

Presumably, Donahue and Bowser want to force pro-gun politicians who have tentatively voiced approval of a bump stock ban to put their money where their mouth is, or not.

D.C., which has one of the strictest "state-level" gun control regimes in the country, had 116 homicides in 2017, of which 89 were fatal shootings. A spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Forensic Services, which processes illegal guns recovered by police, said that their office received 2,191 firearms last year, but could not say how many of those were rifles that would be capable of accepting a bump stock attachment. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, rifles of all kinds accounted for 3.27 percent* of gun homicides from 2011-2016.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that rifles accounted for 2.28 percent of gun homicides. They accounted for 2.28 percent of all homicides, and 3.27 percent of gun homicides.

Massachusetts Salon Owner Says He Wants to Hire More Workers. Licensing Is the Reason He Can't.

Tue, 27 Feb 2018 15:05:00 -0500

Frank Zona's family has been in the hairstyling business for more than three generations—since before they arrived in the United States as immigrants from Sicily, where, he jokes, they probably didn't have a government-issued license. As the owner of a collection of hair salons in the Boston area, Zona employs about 75 people. He'd like to hire more. Licensing requirements, he says, are the main reason why he can't. If people want to work in Zona's salons, in virtually any capacity, they must first obtain a cosmetologist license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. That's true even for positions that don't have anything to do with cutting, coloring, or styling hair. Even shampooing or blow-drying hair, or being a stylist's assistant—the types of entry-level jobs that allow someone to test out the profession before deciding whether to work in it—must be filled only by licensed professionals. "There's only one way into the industry," Zona told a U.S. House subcommittee at a hearing today: "through a school program leading to a license." In Massachusetts, that equates to a 1,000-hour training program, at a cost of more than $12,000. These one-size-fits-all licensing rules make it harder to find new employees. They also contribute to high turnover in the profession, Zona says, because newly minted cosmetologists who never had a chance to try an entry-level job before getting a license often leave the profession because it's different from what they expected. That's not good for businesses, which want a stable workforce, and it's even worse for those workers who wasted thousands of dollars and months of their lives. Perhaps more so than in any other profession, onerous licensing rules for cosmetologists and hair stylists have to come to symbolize both how absurd government licensing schemes can be and how difficult it can be to repeal or even amend them. In Arizona, for example, state lawmakers are considering a proposal to exempt blow-drying from the state's cosmetology licensing regime. The argument for the bill is much the same as what Zona laid out in his testimony today: that entry-level jobs posing no health or safety risk to the general public should not be subject to onerous licensing requirements. "It limits job opportunities. It's a barrier to newcomers in the industry, and it increases the cost of the service. None of which helps the public," says state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale), who sponsored the proposal. But the bill has been attacked by the head of the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology and by licensed cosmetologists, who claim that simply letting unlicensed individuals use a blow dryer could trigger a "health crisis." More honest critics express concern that the bill would allow unlicensed workers "to take a lot of work from us" by tearing down protectionist rules. "In many ways, occupational licensing has become one of the major labor policy issues facing today's workforce," Jarrett Dieterle, director of commercial freedom policy for the R Street Institute, a free market think tank, told the House subcommittee today. "One out of four Americans needs a government license to work, and the average license requires almost a year of educational training, passing an exam, and paying over $250 in fees." Those burdens can fall harder on low-income individuals who might not have the time or money to afford 1,000 hours or more in training classes for a job that they might already know how to do, Dieterle says. To that end, a number of states have already trimmed licensing requirements for hair-braiding or exempted it entirely from the cosmetology licensing regime. Arizona did that in 2011, over a similar outcry from its cosmetology board and from licensed professionals. There and elsewhere, looser licensing rules have not triggered a public health crisis. "There is relatively little evidence to show that occupational licensing has actually improved the quality [...]

Democrats Release Memo Rebutting Claims that FBI Inappropriately Snooped on Former Trump Aide

Sat, 24 Feb 2018 19:15:00 -0500

House Democrats this afternoon publicly released its own memo about the secret surveillance of former Donald Trump campaign aide Carter Page, arguing that the FBI's behavior in its investigation of Page's ties to Russia was appropriate and not tainted by a controversial dossier with origins in Democratic politics. This memo by Democratic members of the House's intelligence Committee was drafted in January in response to a memo put together and released by House Republicans led by Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). In Nunes' memo, Republicans claimed that the FBI had misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) both about the political roots of the controversial "dossier" by Christopher Steele and their reliance on the dossier's claims in order to justify snooping on Page. The Democrats have responded that, no, the FBI did not abuse this process; they had already begun investigating Page's ties to Russia; and they informed the court that the information being gathered in the Steele dossier was likely intended to be used to discredit a presidential campaign (Trump's, in this case). The heavily redacted document can be looked through here. Some summarization of what they're claiming: The FBI had been concerned about Page's ties to Russian interests years before his involvement in the Trump campaign. The memo notes that in 2013, prosecutors indicted two spies who had attempted to recruit Page. The FBI had opened its current investigation on Page in July 2016. It didn't get its hands on the Steele dossier until September. When the FBI pursued renewals of their authorization to wiretap Page, they provided additional information obtained through independent sources that corroborated Steele's reporting of ties between Page and Russia. The explanations of who these independent sources were and what they said is fully redacted in this memo. The FBI gained "valuable evidence" from this surveillance of Page. Once again, there are redactions here concealing what that evidence was, but apparently it contradicted testimony from Page to the House Intelligence Committee. The FBI informed FISC that Steele had been hired by U.S. people to find information likely to discredit a presidential campaign. If that all sounds vague—that's because of the masking process intended to protect U.S. identities who are not the direct targets of surveillance. So the funding by sources connected to Hillary Clinton's campaign was not directly named (and neither was Trump), but the court was aware of political machinations going on. The FBI informed the FISC when they terminated their relationship with Steele because Steele was secretly leaking confidential information to the press. The FBI canceled payment for the Steele dossier. Steele never received money from the FBI for this information. This afternoon the Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee also put out a response to the Dem's response to the Nunes memo here, if you don't feel like you're far enough down the rabbit hole. Just as with the Nunes memo, we as citizens are not really in a position to determine who is telling the truth here. Media outlets have gone ahead with asking FISC if they'll release the underlying warrant documents so that the public can get a better sense of what's going on without Congressional partisans attempting to spin it their way. Trump has started tweeting: The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2018 Read more about the memo's release here.[...]

White House Won't Declassify Dems' Memo on Campaign Surveillance—at Least Not Yet

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 21:15:00 -0500

(image) The White House has alerted Congress it will not yet declassify the memo put together by House Democrats that provided their own interpretation of the circumstances of the federal surveillance of a Donald Trump aide during and following the 2016 president election.

The letter from White House Counsel Donald McGahn explained, "The Department [of Justice] has identified portions of the February 5th Memorandum the disclosure of which it believes would create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests."

The letter concludes that President Trump wants to ultimately declassify the memo and has asked the Justice Department to assist the Intelligence Committee to make any changes or redactions needed. There was a second letter that was not publicly disclosed (no doubt due to the classified information within) detailing to the House Intelligence Committee the problems they have with releasing the memo.

This memo was put together by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee in direct response to the four-page memo by staff of Intelligence Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The Nunes memo claimed that the FBI concealed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the politicized roots of the "Steele dossier" used to justify snooping on aide Carter Page in order to investigate his ties to Russia.

Democrats wrote a longer memo that purportedly explains that the FBI were not reliant on the dossier as the sole piece of evidence to convince the court to authorize a wiretap and that the court did know about the dossier's political background. But obviously we do not at this point know what the additional evidence is.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) quickly jumped on Twitter to say he disagreed with the White House's decision:

Trump earlier today said that the memo would be released soon. So we'll have to see if they work things out. Read the response from McGahn here.

In Memoriam: The GOP Pretending to Care About Fiscal Restraint

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 17:10:00 -0500

Congress is "spending us into oblivion," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a blistering speech on the Senate floor yesterday.

This morning, President Donald Trump signed a massive new spending bill that will increase the discretionary budget by about $400 billion.

In memoriam: The GOP once actually pretended to care about fiscal restraint.

Produced by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg.

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Please Enjoy These Videos of Paul Ryan Being Concerned About Debt and Overspending

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 10:15:00 -0500

Apropos of nothing in particular, here's a video of then–House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) praising a bipartisan agreement to place limits on federal spending: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> That was in 2011. Ryan was pumped about a "huge cultural change" for Congress, which for years had ignored soaring deficits but now had passed the Budget Control Act, which capped future spending on the military and discretionary programs. Neither party was particularly happy with the agreement, but to Ryan that was a good thing, because it meant everyone had to take some medicine. "Both parties got us in this mess," he said. "Both parties are going to have to work together to get us out of this mess." "The real problem is the fact that we spend way more money than we take in," he noted. "We have to address that." Fast-forward to 2018. Ryan is now Speaker of the House, a position from which he could, in fact, address that. The economy is humming along, unemployment is low, and he just helped pass a tax reform package that Republicans have been clamoring after for the better part of two decades. Time to trim some more fat, work on balancing the budget, and maybe even take a whack at solving the impossible problem of entitlement reform, right? Nah. Instead, the onetime budget hawk presided over the pre-dawn passage of a budget bill that makes mincemeat of the very spending caps Ryan championed seven years ago. The budget will grow government spending by about $400 billion this year, and it includes an $165 billion boost for the Pentagon over the next two years. (The latter increase is driven almost entirely by Republicans' gut feeling that the military is underfunded; there is still no completed Pentagon audit.) The new budget will add an estimated $1.7 trillion to the federal debt in the next decade and will cause the Treasury to run a trillion-dollar deficit every year for the foreseeable future, according to a nonpartisan analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The red line on the chart above is the spending cap that Ryan was cheering in 2011. The two light blue columns on the right are the spending plan that Ryan just shepherded to President Donald Trump's desk without so much as a hint of concern about spending "way more money than we take in." It's no surprise to see politicians change their agendas over time, particularly after moving from the minority to the majority. But Ryan's transformation from a budget-conscious Dr. Jekyll to a debt-junkie Mr. Hyde is uniquely remarkable. "If you were against President Obama's deficits, and now you're for the Republican deficits, isn't that the very definition of hypocrisy?" asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during his valiant-but-futile effort to hold up the budget bill in the Senate last night. And what if "you" literally made your name in Congress by drafting alternative federal budgets during the Obama years that aimed to bring some measure of balance to the budget? It was a flawed plan, but it was a plan. Now "you're for" a budget bill that annihilates years of difficult work that achieved modest budgetary gains, one that piles up trillions of dollars of new borrowing to be paid by future generations of Americans. What would we call that? I don't know, but it's what we should start calling Paul Ryan. Here's a bonus video of Ryan in July 2011 issuing a dire warning about the country's future: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> "We are driving our country and our economy off of a cliff," he said. "The reason is that we are spending so much more money than we have. We can't keep spending money we don't have." Yes. That's exactly[...]

Can the Freedom Caucus Kill the Deficit-Busting Budget Deal?

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 11:30:00 -0500

When congressional Republicans spent the Obama years warning about the dangers of rising debt and uncontrolled spending, the loudest voices often came from about three dozen lawmakers in the House. That group, the Freedom Caucus, now has the difficult task of facing down a Republican-backed proposal to ramp up spending. The bipartisan budget deal announced yesterday would annihilate Obama-era spending caps in order to boost federal spending by nearly $400 billion. Limits on military spending imposed by the 2013 sequester would be removed, allowing the Pentagon to receive an additional $80 billion this year and $85 billion next year, The Washington Post reports. Other lids on the discretionary budget would be similarly lifted, allowing for billions of new spending on infrastructure, public health, and disaster aid. The two-year budget deal is indeed "a Christmas tree of spending," as Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) warned Wednesday during an appearance on MSNBC. Meadows and his fellow budget hawks have been able to use their influence in the House GOP conference to nudge some policies in a more libertarian direction this session, but with very limited success. They complicated the passage of a mass surveillance reauthorization package, and they forced some changes to the ill-fated "repeal and replace" health care plan. But the caucus completely folded to the leadership on a tax bill that promised to increase the federal deficit by more than $1 trillion dollars, and it did nothing to stop the October passage of a temporary budget deal foreshadowing this week's proposal to make it rain for the Pentagon (and everyone else). Now the Freedom Caucus says it is officially opposed to the budget deal: Official position: HFC opposes the caps deal. We support funding our troops, but growing the size of government by 13 percent is not what the voters sent us here to do. — House Freedom Caucus (@freedomcaucus) February 8, 2018 Some individual members of the group are also saying the right things about a budget that virtually guarantees the return of trillion-dollar deficits. In a tweet, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) called the proposal a "disgusting and reckless" bit of "fiscal insanity." Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told The Hill that he was a "hell no" on the spending plan, which he described as a "debt-junkie's dream." Other members, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), have tried to appeal to Speaker Paul Ryan's supposed interest in reducing deficits. The Freedom Caucus might have lost some of its ability to influence the outcome of the budget deal after going along with the tax bill and last year's spending plan. Republicans convinced themselves—without any hard evidence, not even from the friendliest of policy shops—that the $1.5 trillion tax cut would pay for itself, and now they're being asked to swallow the same fiscal baloney in a different casing. The bill would require borrowing about $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years to finance discretionary spending increases, according to calculations from Keith Hennessey, a former economic advisor to President George W. Bush. Though the budget deal covers only two years, this huge boost in federal spending—50 percent greater than the tax cut passed just two months ago—is likely to be felt for much longer. "If you increase discretionary spending by $150 [billion] per year for each of the next two years, you establish higher expectations and a new benchmark, a new baseline, against which future discretionary spending proposals will be judged," Hennessey points out. Allow this budget to pass, and the damage will linger for decades. How much influence the Freedom Caucus will have over the budget deal will be determined—somewhat ironically—by whether Democrats' appetite for increased spending overwhelme[...]

Here's What Rand Paul, Mark Meadows, and Others in Washington Are Saying About the Nunes Memo

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 15:30:00 -0500

"The Memo" is out and the reactions are unfolding in entirely predictable patterns. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, released his short memo today after the White House agreed to its declassification. The document claims that the FBI withheld from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the "Steele Dossier," used as justification to snoop on former Donald Trump adviser Carter Page, was funded by Democratic Party sources and pushed by FBI officials with an agenda against Trump. (Read it all here.) What are major political players saying? Pretty much what you would have predicted. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) calls the memo "partisan spin" and says its release is reckless and will help Russia. Yet she doesn't actually counter any of the claims in the memo itself: .@realDonaldTrump has surrendered his constitutional responsibility as Commander-in-Chief by releasing Nunes' unredacted, classified memo. His decision undermines our national security and is a bouquet to his friend Putin. — Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) February 2, 2018 There are some variations in responses among Republicans. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), no friend of Trump's, does not want the Nunes memo to threaten the investigation of whether Russia colluded with members of Trump's campaign during the election outcomes. McCain, you may recall, might have played a major role in the spread of the contents of the Steele Dossier: The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests—no party's, no president's, only Putin's. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation's elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin's job for him. As for the Republicans who favor the memo's release, I've been blasting some of them for complaining about secret surveillance when it's connected to Trump while explicitly reauthorizing the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments to allow the feds to secretly snoop on American citizens. But some Republican lawmakers, like Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), have been philosophically consistent. This tweet may sound like what we've been hearing from other Trump supporters... So, there it is. The FBI took an unverified political dossier, paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and they used it as a central piece in their request to get a warrant for spying on American citizens and political opponents in the Trump campaign. — Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) February 2, 2018 ...but Meadows, as a member of the House Freedom Caucus, supported reforms to the FISA amendments that would have put tighter restrictions on using secret surveillance of American citizens. He was overruled by some other Republicans, who now are also acting outraged about the contents of the memo. Unfortunately, those hypocritical politicians end up amplifying those who see this whole thing as a partisan fight intended to either protect or destroy the president. But unlike a lot of the Republicans, Meadows understands this is a bigger issue than just snooping on people close to the president: Last point: If you remember anything from this news cycle, remember: your right as an American to privacy from your government spying on you is critical. It is foundational to who we are as a Republic. Never take that right for granted, no matter the political party you belong to — Mark Meadows (@Rep[...]

Right To Try Laws Are a Fine Start. Comprehensive Reform of the FDA's Drug Trials Would Be Better.

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 13:35:00 -0500

In his State of the Union address this week, President Trump urged Congress to pass right-to-try legislation that would allow patients suffering from terminal illnesses to access new drugs and other treatments that have undergone preliminary Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety trials, but have not yet been shown to be efficacious in clinical trials. It's a good start. But it's no substitute for a top-down overhaul of the agency's entire process for testing and approving new drugs. Traditionally, patients only get access to new drug treatments once they are approved by FDA after passing through three phases of clinical trials. The goal of phase 1 trials is to test new compounds for patient tolerabilty and safety. Typically 20 to 100 patients participate in Phase 1 trials. Phase 2 trials aim to determine proper dosage levels for new treatments while also checking for further evidence that the new compound is safe and possibly efficacious. Several hundred patients may be enrolled in Phase 2 trials. Phase 3 trials focus on efficacy and monitor for adverse reactions and may involve thousands of participants. In Phase 3 trials, the efficacy of new medications is often benchmarked against current treatments. One recent report estimates that only 1 in 10 new drugs that enter clinical trials are eventually approved by the FDA. It is noteworthy that only 31 percent of drugs that currently enter Phase 2 studies go on to Phase 3 trials. In other words, more than two-thirds of biopharmaceuticals that pass through Phase 1 safety trials end up being deemed insufficiently efficacious as treatments for the diseases at which they are targeted. So far, 38 states have passed right-to-try legislation. Since drugs and medical treatments are regulated at the federal level, state laws so far have had little apparent effect on enabling patients gain access to experimental treatments. Consequently, right-to-try proponents want Congress to pass legislation that would allow patients with terminal illnesses to seek access to experimental drugs that have passed through Phase 1 safety trials. Many drugmakers have been reluctant to offer treatments not yet approved by the FDA on a right-to-try basis for fear being sued by patients or their heirs should bad outcomes occur. In addition, they worry that any adverse events among right-to-try patients would delay eventual FDA approval. Consequently, the proposed federal legislation provides that the makers of experimental drugs could not be held liable by patients for any untoward outcomes and that FDA regulators would be barred from taking into account the results of right-to-try treatments when reviewing such drugs for approval. Opponents of right-to-try legislation fear that it would enable unscrupulous practitioners to sell the moral equivalent of snake oil to desperate people. In addition, opponents point out that the FDA already has a compassionate use program that allows patients and their physicians expanded access to investigational drugs. New FDA administrator Scott Gottlieb recently announced changes that aim to speed up the process of providing access to drugs and devices for patients with serious conditions (generally prior to product approval), when there is no therapeutic alternative. In addition, the agency provided guidance to drugmakers clarifying that suspected adverse reactions from experimental treatments administered on a right-to-try basis must be reported "only if there is evidence to suggest a causal relationship between the drug and the adverse event." The FDA does also note that greenlighting access to experimental treatments does not require drugmakers to provide them to patients. Right-to-try is at best a band-aid. Comprehensive reform of the clinical[...]

White House Releases Declassified Memo Alleging Bias in FBI Surveillance of Trump Campaign Staffer (UPDATE: Dem Memo Details Leaked)

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 13:20:00 -0500

This morning the White House cleared House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to release "The Memo," a document that contends that officials within the Department of Justice deliberately concealed the politically motivated origins of the information behind its surveillance of a Donald Trump advisor during the presidential election. The highlights: The memo says that FBI officials knew that the infamous "Steele dossier" used to get permission by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to snoop on adviser Carter Page had been partly funded through a research firm (Fusion GPS) connected to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign. They concealed this information from the court. The memo says that some additional information included in the warrant application used to corroborate the "Steele dossier" also actually came from Steele himself that Steele leaked to Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News. Steele was in regular contact with Bruce Ohr, a top DOJ official who really, really didn't want Trump to be elected and said so. The memo claims Ohr's wife assisted in the Trump opposition research used by Fusion GPS. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (who announced his resignation earlier in the week) told the Intelligence Committee in December that a surveillance warrant would not have been sought without the Steele dossier. (The full response from the White House and the memo will be embedded below the fold.) Remember that this is one party's description of what happened with the warrant. The underlying intelligence contained in the warrant application and the warrant itself has not been released. It's also worth the memo's claims in context. Carter Page's ties to Russia were well-known by intelligence officials before he was ever involved with Trump's campaign. And one of the surveillance requests submitted to the court happened in October, after Page's contacts with Russian officials had publicly reported and he stepped down from the campaign. And courts have typically ruled that it's not necessarily disqualifying if the evidence used for a warrant comes from biased sources. Arugably, what's been exposed here is an investigation of Page, not surveillance of the Trump campaign itself or even allegations that Trump himself did anything wrong. This, interestingly enough, is exactly what FBI Director James Comey even told Trump before eventually getting fired. More is going to play out from this, but from my perspective so far, I don't see a smoking gun in any particular direction. This memo doesn't seem to provide any coherent evidence that this investigation of Page was actually a plot to get at Trump. And neither does any of this suggest that Trump himself was engaged in any wrongdoing. Read the memo for yourself below, and response from ranking Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff: FISAWarrant by Scott Shackford on Scribd src="" width="100%" height="600" frameborder="0"> Schiff responds: Lengthy response from @RepAdamSchiff on The Memo: — Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) February 2, 2018 UPDATE: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended the release of the memo and said it detailed possible violations of the civil liberties of Americans. It's worth noting that Ryan just last month voted to renew and expand the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments to secretly snoop on American citizens. Speaker Paul Ryan, in a statement, defends the release of the Nunes memo but also calls for the release of the memo prepared by Democrats on t[...]

Get Yourself Ready for 'The Memo'—Will It Rock Your World or Put You to Sleep?

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 16:00:00 -0500

This afternoon President Donald Trump read "The Memo." It is likely that soon you'll be reading it too. Maybe Friday. Maybe not. But possibly: Senior White House official comes to back of Air Force One and tells reporters Trump is "OK" releasing the memo and he will tell Congress that "probably tomorrow," per pooler @tparti. Official declined to take any questions or be identified publicly, per pool. — Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) February 1, 2018 "The Memo," depending on whom you ask, provides evidence either that the FBI was out to undermine President Donald Trump or that top Republicans will do anything to undermine the FBI's investigation into allegations of collusion between the Russian government and Trump's campaign. The Memo has been consuming entire news cycles this week, even though we don't fully know what's in the four-page document, which was produced by the staff of House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). We know it argues that the FBI inappropriately used the infamous Steele dossier and concealed its origins as a Democratic opposition tool to get a court's permission to secretly snoop on former Trump aide Carter Page. Whether that's an accurate assessment of what actually happened we don't really know. As Reason's Jacob Sullum has pointed out, based on what we know about Page's interactions with Russian officials, the FBI likely would have been able to produce enough probable cause to get a wiretap approved even without the Steele dossier. Orin Kerr notes that claims of bias in the warrant process may not even matter if the facts themselves provide enough probable cause. I've said much of what I've had to say about the prerelease fight over the memo earlier this week, but for anybody just tuning in: I think it's obviously a partisan-focused fight from two parties trying to discredit the other. But Americans do have a right to know how the surveillance state operates when it's investigating people closely connected to our president. I also still feel terribly frustrated that this debate has virtually no chance of becoming a substantive discussion of how much secret, warrantless domestic surveillance the FBI is already doing in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Instead, the current discussion is entirely about who may be losing or leaving their jobs. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants Nunes stripped of his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. That seems unlikely unless the memo ends up outright humiliating the Republican Party. In addition, now that FBI Director Chris Wray went out on a limb with a public statement that the FBI has "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy," there are concerns that he might quit if the memo gets released. Recall, Trump selected him to replace James Comey after Trump fired Comey. The never-ending stream of shifting speculation makes the whole story hard to keep tabs on. What will matter is the actual contents of the memo when it's released. If it does come out tomorrow, I (and no doubt dozens of other journalists) will be all over it. In the meantime, Cato surveillance expert Julian Sanchez also feels the pain of the debate we're not having: Let me just register again how heartbreaking it is that we're finally having a huge public debate about surveillance abuse and it's so transparently frivolous that I'm forced to take FBI's side. — Julian Sanchez (@normative) February 1, 2018[...]