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Congress



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



Published: Tue, 22 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2017 20:48:45 -0400

 



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

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

(image) 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 to Trump's strengths. His missteps go beyond consigning himself to legislative impotence. They also put his presidency in jeopardy. A president under investigation by a special counsel has to consider the prospect of impeachment. All Trump has to do to avoid it is keep Republicans aligned with him. B[...]



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 measure would hinder states' power to tax. But many conservative, libertarian, and business groups support the bill. Overstock.com, helmed by libertarian CEO Patrick Byrne, says the bill would limit unfair and burdensome taxation by states. Hamilton Davison, head of the American Catalog Mailers Associa[...]



Trump Needs Congressional Authorization for Pre-Emptive Strike on North Korea

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 12:45:00 -0400

President Donald Trump needs authorization from Congress to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. That much is clear in the Constitution, but it's not always so clear in Washington itself. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan—who represents Alaska, one of the U.S. locations the North Korean regime sometimes threatens with missile strikes—has stressed this. "If one of the military options that the administration is looking at is a preemptive war on the Korean peninsula launched by the United States, that would require the authorization of Congress," Sullivan said yesterday on Fox News. "Article I of the U.S. Constitution is very clear about that." The Constitution is only as useful as it's applied, and there are few indications the Congress will reassert its role here. Efforts up to now to enforce the Constitution's strictures in this area have all failed. Trump yesterday warned that further North Korean threats may be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen." Pyongyang promptly responded by floating the idea it would strike Guam, a U.S. territory with a number of military installations. The governor of Guam says there was currently "no threat" to his island. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also sought to tamp down fears, telling reporters "I do not believe that there is any imminent threat" and "I have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days." Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, tried to put the rhetorical crossfire in perspective as well. "Strictly speaking, this is how representatives of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have reacted to all previous UN Security Council resolutions. We will judge by their actions," Lavrov told reporters at the end of the ASEAN summit in Manila. "We are confident that there is no alternative to the resumption of the political process, in particular the six-party talks" between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States. The War Powers Act permits the president to commit military forces for 60 days before congressional authorization is necessary, and it requires him to notify Congress of a military action within 48 hours. The Congress has not authorized a military action since the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) concerning Iraq and its alleged WMD threat. The executive branch has justified most of the military operations falling under the umbrella of the war on terror with the 2001 AUMF aimed at the perpetrators of the September 11 terror attacks and "associated forces." Originally intended for the war in Afghanistan, the 2001 AUMF has been used to cover for military action across the Muslim world. There have been other military actions lacking explicit congressional authorization too—Barack Obama pointed to resolutions from the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League to justify the 2011 intervention in Libya. Congress declined both to authorize the intervention and to defund it. Trump launched a strike earlier this year against an airfield in Syria allegedly used to transport chemical weapons. A handful of members of Congress—including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), and the lone vote against the 2001 AUMF, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—insisted the president needed congressional authorization, but no effort to get Congress to reassert its role got anywhere. Trump took to Twitter this morning to claim the U.S.'s nuclear weapons arsenal was "far stronger and ever more powerful than before" because of an order he made in January for a Nuclear Posture Review. "Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!" the president tweeted.[...]



Regular Cars Didn't Need Federal Regulation; Neither Do Driverless Vehicles

Mon, 31 Jul 2017 14:15:00 -0400

A senator once asked the head of Google's self-driving vehicle program what sort of legislation was needed to help his industry. "What we have found in most places is that the best action is to take no action," he replied, adding that "in general the technology can be safely tested today on roads in many states." Last week a congressional committee ignored that advice and took action. In a bipartisan vote of 54–0, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has now forwarded the SELF DRIVE Act* for consideration by the full House of Representatives. (The Senate is working on similar legislation.) The bill's goal is to set up a national regulatory framework to encourage the development and deployment of autonomous passenger vehicles. But why does Congress need to get involved with autonomous vehicle development at all? After all, between 1900 and 1965 automakers managed to put tens of millions of non-self-driving vehicles on the road - some 90 million by the mid-1960s - with essentially no interference from the federal government. The federal government didn't really get into the automobile regulation business until Congress created the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1966. The immediate impetus behind the push to create the new federal automobile safety agency was the publication of Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed Dangers of the American Automobile, which claimed that GM's Corvair had a tendency to roll and therefore was a "one-car accident." In 1972, the very agency that Nader's alarmism conjured into existence issued a report finding that the "Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests...the handling and stability performance of the 1960–63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." In other words, federal automobile regulation was founded on activist misinformation. Prior to 1966, automobiles somehow got fitted with such safety equipment as windshield wipers, headlights, and turn signals without federal intervention. (In 1939, Buick became the first U.S. automaker to offer factory-installed flashing turn signals.) Industry standards were generally devised not by bureaucrats but by the Society of Automotive Engineers. On the postive side, the SELF DRIVE Act would preempt states from adopting their own rules for regulating "highly automated vehicles, automated driving systems, or components of automated driving systems." A year ago, the California Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a draft regulation that would require all self-driving cars to have steering wheels, pedals, and a licensed, specially trained driver in the front seat. Fortunately, the agency recently backed off those requirements. Nevertheless, 20 states have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles and 33 states have introduced yet more such legislation this year. But that's not all the bill would do. Among other things, it directs the secretary of transportation to issue within 24 months a final rule requiring autonomous vehicle manufacturers to submit safety assessment certifications; creates a Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Council to undertake information-gathering activities, develop technical advice, and present best practices or recommendations to the Transportation Secretary; requires manufacturers to devise and submit cybersecurity plans; and prohibits manufacturers from selling highly automated vehicles until they have developed privacy plans with respect to the collection, use, sharing, and storage of information about vehicle owners and occupants. Perplexingly, the bill also protects state automobile dealer franchise laws that ban direct sales of cars. Since most autonomous vehicles will likely be operated as robotaxis, dealer franchises are likely to go the way of livery stabl[...]



Lawmakers Demand Sessions Investigate Backpage's 'Criminal Role in Sex Trafficking' in Wake of Misleading Washington Post Article

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 10:00:00 -0400

The Washington Post has been playing right into politicians' hands when it comes to the narrative about Backpage. A series of recent Post articles suggest a sinister plot by Backpage executives to promote human trafficking, when all the paper's "trove of newly discovered documents" seems to show is that the company hired a firm to promote Backpage.com on foreign competitors' sites. "A contractor for the controversial classifieds website Backpage.com has been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads, despite Backpage's repeated insistence that it had no role in the content of ads posted on its site," the Post opens one article—thereby kicking things off in a misleading manner. While it will take the Post writers 21 more paragraphs to mention it, the contractors solicited all sorts of user-generated advertising for Backpage.com, not just sex-related or adult-oriented advertising. The ads the contractors created, meanwhile, were either 1) posted to competitors' sites—not Backpage—in a ploy to lure perusers of those sites to Backpage, or 2) draft ads made from existing copy on competitors' sites. The contracting company, Philippines-based Avion BPO, would offer users of these other sites a free first listing on Backpage.com, along with a link to the draft ad that they could easily activate. Based on this evidence, Post writers suggest that Backpage's years of denials that the site "facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking" could be a lie. But for all their breathless insinuations, the writers don't actually tie a single Avion-brokered ad to illegal conduct, let alone harm against children. From what the Post reveals, it's also unclear whether Backpage even knew about the tactics Avion workers were using to generate new listings. It's possible the contracting company came up with the bait-and-switch strategy on its own. Regardless, Backpage's claims to Congress and U.S. courts about its ad policies have always referenced U.S. content. Avion's activity was relegated to overseas endeavors (and, since laws vary greatly from country to country when it comes to both internet content and prostitution, was not necessarily illegal at all). To use Avion as a bouncing-off point to open yet another U.S. federal inquiry into Backpage—as Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) are now doing—is purely opportunistic, as Avion's creation or not of foreign ads is irrelevant for U.S. legal purposes. Here in the United States, Senators recently spent more than a year pouring through internal Backpage documents related to adult-ad content. Yet nothing in their resulting report negates Backpage's claims that the company does not create the content that appears on its site, nor does it show a company carelessly indifferent to its site's content. Backpage repeatedly tweaked its automated filter and manual-review policies in an attempt to strike a balance between banning all "adult" content and giving free reign to ad posters. This is above and beyond what's required by law in order to benefit from Section 230 protection. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act says that third-party web publishers and platforms are immune from liability if a user-posted ad results in criminal activity (with a few exceptions). It seriously limits the ability of opportunists in government and the general populace to take down any website or app they don't like. Without Section 230 protection, most of the Internet would be vulnerable to frivolous civil lawsuits and severe prosecutorial overreach (such as charging Facebook as an accessory any time someone livestreams himself doing something illegal). And people like this letter writer could get their wish for lowly content screeners at social sites to be tried as collaborators should any illegal activity unwittingly get by. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of prosecutors, politicians, and other autho[...]



Congress Wants to Make It Harder for Trump to Pursue Peace, Easy as Ever for Trump to Pursue War

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 16:40:00 -0400

Congress is finally asserting its role in U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, it's not acting to curb a decade and a half of often aimless interventions around the world, let alone to curb the president's power to unilaterally commit the U.S. military to action, as President Donald Trump did when he bombed a Syrian government airfield, as he threatens to do with North Korea, and as President Barack Obama did in Libya in 2011. Instead, Congress passed legislation to tighten sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea, and to prevent the president from easing those sanctions on his own. It passed with a veto-proof majority, and the White House has signaled the president is likely to sign it. That would make it harder for the president to defuse international tensions. But it remains easy for him to escalate tensions. Congress, after all, has showed no interest in reining in the White House's war-making powers. The House leadership just killed an effort by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to repeal the post-9/11 authorization for the use of military force, which has been used to provide legal justification for virtually every U.S. military endeavor since the Iraq War, the last conflict that got its own authorization. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Moscow in 2014 in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Russia's annexation of Crimea. The sanctions did not end the fighting in Ukraine or return Crimea to Ukraine. They did not encourage dialogue between the U.S. and Russia or between Ukraine and Russia. They did help further deteriorate U.S.-Russia relations. This new set of sanctions is aimed at "punishing" Russia for attempting to "influence" the American presidential election. That's not helpful for anything but domestic political rhetoric. Combining sanctions against Russia, which still has normal diplomatic relations with the U.S., and sanctions against North Korea and Iran, so-called "rogue states" which do not have anything resembling normal diplomatic relations with the U.S., don't make them any more palatable. Instead, it's a troubling reminder that one of the easiest way to build a coalition in Washington is around warmongering. Last year's presidential campaign was the third consecutive election where the nominee who advocated better relations with Russia won. Donald Trump ran for president in part on the idea that the U.S. was doing too much around the globe, and specifically rejecting Hillary Clinton's brand of anti-Russia saber-rattling. Perhaps surprisingly, he was able to win the Republican primary while explicitly rejecting the foreign policy doctrines of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. Trump's early actions in Syria and toward North Korea suggest he's since embraced the role of the U.S. as "world policeman" after all. Leading Democrats, meanwhile, have blamed Russia for Clinton's loss, leading them to embrace far more anti-Russian attitudes than in the Obama era. While Romney was wrong to call Russia America's number one geopolitical foe, Obama too was wrong. Russia is not America's greatest geopolitical foe, and it does not even have to be a geopolitical foe at all. But it is a geopolitical power whose interests will not always align with the U.S.'s, and that's OK. In many of these instances, such as the row over Ukraine that led to the first round of sanctions, there are few compelling American interests for Russia to be at odds with to begin with. Ukraine is not a member of NATO and offers no strategic benefit to the United States. If anything, U.S. involvement in the region reduces the pressure on Ukraine—and on other regional powers, namely the European Union—from taking responsibility for resolving the crisis. Some European countries, incidentally, are worried that new American sanctions could hurt them. Specifically, Germany and Austria worry that the sanctions could threaten Europe's energy supplies, whi[...]



Senate Republicans Aim to Block New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Rule

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:10:00 -0400

Congress has used the Congressional Review Act to repeal a variety of Obama-era rules this year. Senate Republicans now plan to use it to strike a blow against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and its director, Richard Cordray. Cordray's bureau filed a new rule on July 10 that would stop banks, credit card companies, and payday lenders from using arbitration to settle disputes with customers, thus making it easier for consumers to take financial institutions to court. The regulation is set to take effect next March, Bloomberg reports. But only if Congress allows it. Twenty-four Republican members of the U.S. Senate filed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution yesterday that would block the rule. "Members of Congress previously expressed concerns with the proposed version of the rulemaking—concerns that were not addressed in the final rule," Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee explained in a statement announcing the resolution. "By ignoring requests from Congress to reexamine the rule and develop alternatives between the status quo and effectively eliminating arbitration, the CFPB has once again proven a lack of accountability." Some activists have jumped to defend the regulation. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said today that the rule "helps consumers hold big banks and other financial companies accountable"; the group accused members of Congress of being in a "desperate rush" to undo it so consumers can be ripped off by financial institutions. Such reactions ignore how the federal government is supposed to operate. It's the duly elected members of Congress who should get the final say on laws, not unelected (and potentially unconstitutionally appointed) heads of executive branch agencies who are unaccountable to the people or to other branches of government. "Congress, not King Richard Cordray, writes the laws," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) in a statement supporting the CRA resolution. "This resolution is a good place for Congress to start reining in one of Washington's most powerful bureaucracies." The CFPB's regulation was pitched as a way to level the playing field for consumers, but the justification for the new rule is based on a single study that has been widely criticized for failing to fully consider the consequences of such a shift. It did not address, for example, whether consumers would in fact collect larger settlements after attorneys' fees were deducted from the outcome. Switching to a system that relies more heavily on the courts instead of arbitration may deliver a big payday to trial lawyers, but it would leave consumers worse off in the long term, Republican senators argue. Under the Congressional Review Act, a simple majority of both houses of Congress can block any executive branch regulation or rulemaking within 60 days of its announcement. As Reason's Matt Welch has detailed, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have used the act this year to wipe at least 14 Obama-era rules off the books, including: The "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces" rule, which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor, or workplace safety laws. That regulation, derided by critics as "blacklisting," was already held up in court. A Bureau of Land Management rule, known as "Planning 2.0," that gave the federal government a bigger role in land use decisions. The rule was opposed by the energy industry. Two regulations on measuring school performance and teacher training under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a law Obama signed in 2015 with bipartisan support. As Bloomberg notes, there's no guarantee that the bill will pass, given the current congressional struggles over passing Obamacare and a federal budget. Congress is also in the process[...]



Open the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 15:31:00 -0400

(image) Hurray for the editorial board at the Washington Post! On Sunday, they published a op-ed forthrightly urging Congress and the Trump administration to move forward on opening the long-stalled Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada.

"It's past time the opposition was sidelined for good," the op-ed declares. "The nation's nuclear regulators have found that technical hurdles can be overcome; the biggest barriers to developing the site are political. Congress should re-fund Yucca Mountain and finally end this gratuitous fight."

More than 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is being stored at nuclear power plants scattered across the countryside. It wasn't supposed to be that way. The plan was to send it all to the Yucca Mountain which was slated to open in 1998.

Since 1982, some $15 billion has been spent on preliminary study and work on the facility. Every environmental impact assessment has found that the repository would be safe for people and the environment. Opposed by environmental activists and the Nevada congressional delegation the facility was mothballed in 2010 by the Obama administration.

Now the Trump administration has asked congress to appropriate $120 million to restart the licensing process for the facility. In late June, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 49 to 4 on a bill that would move along the stalled Yucca Mountain approval process.

Next up: Trump should appoint Nuclear Regulatory Commission members who actually favor nuclear power and direct them to cut through the regulatory embellishments that are stymieing the development of new and safer nuclear power plants.




GOP Pushes Bad, Punitive Anti-Federalist Immigration Bills Through the House

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 14:20:00 -0400

House Republicans overwhelmingly voted in favor of two bad immigration-focused bills yesterday that potentially punish those in the United States illegally with new harsh prison sentences and attempts to push cities into helping federal authorities deport people. The first bill, popularly known as "Kate's Law," adds new criminal penalties and federal prison sentences to any immigrant who returns to the United States after being deported for criminal behavior. But it also threatens up to 10 years in federal prison for illegal immigrants who repeatedly return to the United States after being deported, even if they've committed no other crimes. It also forbids the immigrant from challenging the legitimacy of any prior removal orders. The second bill, the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," attempts to push cities, particularly so-called "sanctuary cities," into cooperating with federal immigration officials to detain and eject those in the country illegally. President Donald Trump (and many, many other Republicans) made a big deal about fighting sanctuary cities—which generally don't ask residents or people who interact with government officials about their citizenship status—on the campaign trail. But after Trump took office, his Department of Justice was faced with an awkward truth: Most sanctuary cities are not defying federal laws at all, and there's not much the government can currently do about them. Federal laws do not require that cities and local law enforcement assist immigration officials by detaining people the feds want to deport. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can ask cities to hold illegal immigrants for in "detainer orders." But they're requests. Cities have their own rules about when they'll comply with such orders (often requiring court orders or a warrant for cooperation). Ultimately after the Department of Justice started threatening federal grant money to sanctuary cities, they ended up discovering that really only a handful of governments (eight cities and one county) are behaving in a way that was even remotely in defiance of federal authority. What the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act" does is forbid municipalities from stopping local law enforcement officials from helping federal immigration officials by complying with detainer orders. In areas of immigration enforcement, it overrules the ability of cities to control the behavior of their own law enforcement officers. The act also classifies specifically which grants the federal government would withhold from sanctuary cities that defy them. Previously the administration through executive order threaten to withhold all sorts of federal grants, but the courts have previously ruled such behavior unconstitutional. The grants have to be connected to enforcing the laws themselves. This act specifically defines which grants could be denied sanctuary cities. The votes fell mostly across party lines—Republicans in favor of the two bills and Democrats against them. More Democrats were willing to cross the aisle to vote in favor of harsher criminal sentences for illegal immigrants than to cut federal grants from sanctuary cities, so make of that what you will. Only one Republican voted against both bills, libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. Amash tweeted his reasons why. He found both bills to significantly violate the Constitution and the concept of federalism: I voted no today on two bills that together violate the 1st, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 11th Amendments. I will always defend our Constitution. — Justin Amash (@justinamash) June 29, 2017 A spokesperson for Amash's office told Reason, "Rep. Amash supports securing our borders and has voted to defund sanctuary cities, but these bills go far beyond that and are unconstitutional." Though the legislation passed the Hou[...]



Airport Scrutiny to Get Worse as House Moves to Mandate Sex-Trafficking Training

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 13:50:00 -0400

A plan to privatize air-traffic control operations has dominated discussion of the House's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, but the bill's regulatory parameters go far beyond that. An array of government expanding proposals are also included in the House's 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. One of them would require new mandatory training for all "ticket counter agents, gate agents, and other air carrier workers whose jobs require regular interaction with passengers" on "recognizing and responding to potential human trafficking victims." The trafficking-training amendment, from Rep. Julia Brownley (D-California), was one of dozens of AIRR-Act amendments voted on Tuesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. After more than nine hours of markup and amendments, the Committee approved the AIRR Act, by a vote of 32 to 25. On the surface, Brownley's trafficking amendment may seem beneficial, or at the very least harmless. But it's part of a larger and ongoing government project that is anything but benign. Under the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) "Blue Campaign" and related initiatives, federal agents have already been training flight attendants and other airline personnel on how to "detect" human traffickers or trafficking victims on their planes. They've also been conducting public outreach at airports and elsewhere to encourage ordinary travelers who "see something" suspicious to "say something"—by texting the tip directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There is no evidence these efforts have actually yielded any trafficking busts—which shouldn't surprise anyone not immersed in some Taken-style fantasy. Immigrants who wind up victims of sex or labor exploitation here are generally lured via fraud—the promise of an opportunity that either doesn't exist or isn't what it was made out to be. Some enter the country illegally, but many come over on tourist, student, or temporary-work visas, flying into the country alone or with others in the same situation. "Potential human trafficking victims" flying into the U.S. on commercial flights through major U.S. airports aren't the sort who can be pre-screened by well-meaning gate agents. But what do employees do with all that extra "awareness"? A heightened sensitivity to anything out-of-the-ordinary—which in the United States can still mean interracial families or a child traveling with two fathers—means a propensity to profile passengers based on stereotypes. An Asian-American woman traveling with her non-Asian husband, a dad traveling alone with his daughter, a gaggle of young Korean women traveling together are the folks flagged by well-meaning and woke customer-service staff. The ICE, DHS, and other law-enforcement staff who greet them aren't always so well-intentioned, although they are fast. "When reports come in to the hotline, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents come immediately to meet the plane as it reaches the ground," Deborah Sigmund, co-founder and president of the group Innocence at Risk, has said. It's worth noting that Brownley's amendment provides no description of the kind of training airport employees will receive, how often they'll receive it, or who will develop and conduct it. Most likely, responsibility for the training will fall to DHS and its nonprofit advisers, which have already been involved in training truckers, flight attendants, and motel employees on the alleged "signs" of sex trafficking. And from previous experience the training will be useless. The "signs" of sex trafficking they offer range from the rare and ridiculous (the stuff of action-movie lore, like someone with a bar-code tattoo with the word "Daddy" next to it) to exc[...]



Democrats Accuse Republicans of Mass Murder

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 16:00:00 -0400

So the Democrats, after opposing Donald Trump in the 2016 election partly out of what they claimed was concern about his incivility and coarseness, are now pursuing a debate about health care legislation in Washington by characterizing the Republicans who disagree with them about policy details as mass murderers. Think that's an exaggeration? Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential candidate who remains among its most prominent and mainstream voices, tweeted Friday: "If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) tweeted, "I've read the Republican 'health care' bill. This is blood money. They're paying for tax cuts with American lives." Ezra Levin, an influential Washington organizer of the resistance to Trump, tweeted Sunday, "TrumpCare will kill tens of thousands of working class people, and with the savings it cuts taxes for billionaires." This line of argument carries a powerful emotional charge. It isn't, though, a particularly useful, constructive, or clear-minded way to think or talk about writing laws. To start with, there's the Washington-centric misconception that the killers are the congressmen. Disregarded are any other actors who play roles in our health care system. If federal politicians are murderers for adjusting health care laws, what about all the state-level politicians who failed to enact Mitt Romney-style comprehensive coverage in their own states before Obamacare? Were they also murderers for failing to act? What about doctors and hospitals who refuse to treat non-emergency patients who are uninsured and can't pay? The system could probably treat more people if doctors, nurses, and medical-device and drug-company executives earned less money. Does that make every BMW-driving surgeon a murderer? Is every individual American a murderer who spends any discretionary income on movies or trips to Disney World rather than charitable donations earmarked for uncompensated care to his local hospital? It may well be that as a moral matter, voluntarily paying for a poor person's health care is a superior use of money than driving a fancy car or taking an expensive vacation. But an individual's choice to consume rather than donate doesn't make that individual a murderer, or even a killer. Neither does a congressman's decision not to compel the individual, by taxing him, to do so. The failure of Democrats to recognize this signals a fundamental confusion. There's also a false certainty in the claim that higher taxes for more health insurance will translate into extended lives. Some of the more honest Democrats acknowledge this if one listens to them carefully. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, in repeating an exaggerated claim that TrumpCare would cause 28,000 unnecessary deaths, conceded, "Nobody, obviously, knows exactly what would happen." Obviously. The "Harvard" study—really more of a blog post by one Harvard professor, two non-Harvard medical students, and two scholars at a liberal think-tank—that Sanders and Clinton cite is more nuanced than they claim. It mentions two studies—"outlier results"—raising doubts about whether insurance coverage translated into better health. It concedes, accurately, "insurance is a necessary but not sufficient factor to receive quality health care." Ironically, its model for projecting what it calls "excess deaths" is based entirely on extrapolation from "analyses of the Massachusetts health reform." Again, that is a state-level reform of the sort that might have spread organically and successfully if President Obama and the Democrats in Congress hadn't decided to impose it nationally. Democratic accusations about additional deaths are often made without any price tag attac[...]



The Illusory Savings From Cutting Medicaid

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

When economists talk in their sleep, they say, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." This axiom is drilled into them from day one of their undergraduate education and never leaves their minds. Any economist who tried to deny it would find herself suddenly choking in pain and unable to speak. What it means is that if the government does something that costs money, some human somewhere will bear the expense. "Free" public schools, "free" parks, and "free" roads all have to be paid for by the citizenry. Collectively, we can't get something for nothing. This useful insight has long been offered as an objection to costly government programs. But it applies as well to measures that extract savings from costly government programs. In their replacement of Obamacare, congressional Republicans promise to achieve greater frugality in Medicaid, which helps low-income Americans, without inflicting more hardship. The melancholy truth: Not gonna happen. Last year, total spending for Medicaid amounted to $533 billion. Nearly two-thirds of the funds come from the federal government, and the rest comes from the states. Some 69 million people are covered by it, up from 54 million in 2012. The expansion was intentional. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Washington signed on to cover 100 percent of the cost of expanded coverage at the outset, with its share falling to 90 percent from 2020 on. The health care plan offered by Senate Republicans, like the one passed by the House, would reverse the trend by giving states a certain amount per Medicaid recipient or a block grant for a fixed amount. Either way, the federal contribution would steadily shrink compared with what it would do under the ACA. Under the House plan, the federal savings would amount to $880 billion over a decade. The Senate bill is supposed to wring out even more. Supporters say Medicaid enrollees would be better off because states would be free to redesign their programs to make them more efficient and responsive to beneficiaries. But remember that fundamental economic proposition. Just as you can't get something for nothing, you generally can't get more for less. The House changes, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would reduce the number of people on Medicaid by 14 million by 2026. Many people who now have coverage would lose it, and many who would have become eligible would be turned away. States could always protect the vulnerable by boosting their contribution to make up for the lost federal funds. But that would mean requiring their taxpayers to foot the bill. Republicans say the changes would be positive because Medicaid coverage is often useless. House Speaker Paul Ryan claims that "more and more doctors just won't take Medicaid." In fact, 69 percent of physicians currently accept new Medicaid patients, and the percentage has been stable for decades. It's lower than for privately insured patients, because Medicaid provides doctors with lower reimbursements, but budget cuts would probably exacerbate that malady. Some recipients would get cut off under the GOP plans, and some would get less coverage. That—surprise!—would leave them worse off, because comprehensive health insurance is a good thing to have. Medicaid coverage, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, is proven to ensure "earlier detection of health and developmental problems in children, earlier diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions in adults, and earlier detection of mental illness in people of all ages." Cutting back Medicaid coverage would save taxpayers some cash, but only by taking it from others. The reduction would raise costs for low-income people and most likely degrade their health. It would a[...]



Politicians Choosing Their Voters vs. Voters Choosing Their Politicians

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 15:45:00 -0400

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Gill v. Whitford, a case where the issue is whether the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature drew the state's voting district boundaries in such a way as to give their candidates an overwhelming advantage. Republican candidates garnered just 48 percent of the vote statewide in 2012, but took 60 of 99 seats in the state legislature. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court ruled that the Wisconsin's legislature's latest redistricting plan "constituted an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander." The court ordered the legislature to devise and submit a fairer redistricting plan by November 1, 2017. The practice of drawing district boundaries to establish an advantage for a particular party is called gerrymandering. The name comes from Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed an egregious redistricting bill. One of the voting districts it created resembled the shape of a salamander; thus, "gerrymander." Gerrymandering is generally achieved by either "packing" or "cracking." Packing concentrates the opposing party's voters in one district to reduce their voting power elsewhere. Cracking dilutes the voting power of the opposing party's supporters by spreading them across many districts. With the exception of scrutinizing districts clearly designed dilute the power of black voters, federal courts have been reluctant to involve themselves in redistricting fights. This reluctance stems from courts' difficulty identifying any simple and objective way to determine the extent of gerrymandering. But mathematicians and statisticians have recently turned their attention to the issue, and they may be able to provide some guidance to the courts. In Gill V. Whitford, the federal appeals court that ruled against the state cited a measure called the efficiency gap. Devised by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at the University of Chicago, and Eric McGhee, a political scientist at the Public Policy Institute of California, the efficiency gap scheme measures a state's "wasted" votes. (Basically, votes are "wasted" if they are cast for a defeated candidate or cast in excess of those needed to elect a winning candidate.) In Stephanoupoulos' calculation, the efficiency gap is "the difference between the parties' respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast." If a party is simultaneously getting an unusually high number of landslide victories and an unusually high number of crushing losses, that would be a sign of gerrymandering. "Based on their calculations of the efficiency gaps in all redistricting plans over the past 40 years, Stephanopoulos and McGhee suggest setting thresholds above which redistricting plans would be presumptively unconstitutional; if the efficiency gap is 8 percent or more, or if it is enough to change at least two congressional seats, that would be enough to justify a constitutional challenge. In North Carolina's 2012 congressional election, for example, the efficiency gap was 21 percent,, which resulted in the Democratic candidates winning only 4 out of 13 seats. " Meanwhile, the Duke mathematicians David Mattingly and Christy Graves have devised a program that draws voting district boundaries based on contiguity, geographical compactness, and a difference in population of no more than 0.1 percent. Although Democrats won 50.3 percent of the vote in 2012 in North Carolina, they captured only four of the state's 13 seats in the House of Representatives. In three of the districts drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature, voters were more than three-quarters Democrat. This is a classic example of packing. The program devised by Mattingly an[...]