Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cruising the Web

It amazes me that a president who has chosen to selectively enforce laws that he approves and not enforce ones that he disapproves is now being so very literal in how his administration has chosen to interpret the Pay Our Military Act signed as the shutdown was beginning to fund the troops. They have taken an extremely literal interpretation to decide that newly bereaved families of those soldiers who die during the shutdown will not get a trip to Dover to meet their loved one's arrival back in the United States and will not receive their bereavement benefits. The House insists that the bill they passed would have included paying those benefits. The Pentagon insists otherwise. As David French explains, this is just a matter of how the Department of Defense has chosen to interpret the law.
Second, because the Pay Our Military Act did not provide a specific appropriation for “benefits,” it was left ambiguous enough that the Department of Defense has room to interpret the terms “pay and allowances” to include certain benefits while excluding others. For example, military families are still receiving the bulk of their TriCare health-insurance benefits and beneficiaries are still receiving SGLI life-insurance payments. These sums, by the way, are much larger than the death benefits at issue with the families of those who recently fell in Afghanistan. It’s hard to discern the legal logic behind these payment choices.

Thus, through a rather simple, good-faith drafting error, Congress gave the secretary of defense room to maneuver on the delivery of benefits to military families, and the Department of Defense’s civilian masters have made an incredible choice, one that no line unit in the military would ever make if it had control over funding for its own soldiers and their families: to exclude death benefits from the “pay and allowances” appropriated by Congress.
So the administration that unilaterally ignored the provisions of the Affordable Care Act couldn't stretch their interpretation to send funds to bereaved families. Sure.

Oh, and now the Pentagon is forbidding army chaplains from performing their duties to counsel the military during the shutdown. Catholic soldiers who die in battle may be denied their last rites because of the administration's stubbornness. Chaplains can't perform services and are not even being allowed to volunteer their efforts. There is something terribly wrong with an administration that is willing to threaten arrest to a minister volunteering his or her services for free. And once again, this administration decision is totally a result of how the Defense Department has chosen to interpret the Pay Our Military Act. Once again, David French explains,
Finally, regarding the news that contracted Catholic priests are barred from ministering to soldiers during the shutdown? Well, that’s also the secretary of defense’s call. The Pay Our Military Act did clearly provide appropriations for “contractors of the Department of Defense” whom the “Secretary concerned determines are providing support to members of the Armed Forces.” In other words, appropriations exist for these chaplains, but they’re not even permitted to volunteer. Inexcusable.

For nine days, the civilian federal bureaucracy has broken faith with the American people, working to maximize suffering to exert leverage in a political battle when they are law- and honor-bound not only to remain neutral but to exert their utmost efforts to accomplish their mission in spite of funding limitations. The stain of their misconduct will not be easily cleansed.
As the Union Tribune San Diego editorializes,
This is ridiculous and perverse. President Barack Obama has used an expansive — and some legal scholars believe extreme — interpretation of his powers to unilaterally rewrite key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, the sweeping 2002 measure that drastically reshaped federal education policies. In similar fashion, the president has unilaterally rewritten key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, his sweeping 2010 measure that is drastically reshaping federal public health policies. His administration has also essentially rewritten federal laws governing illegal immigration and penalties for drug possession.

Just this month, the federal government has authorized the spending of billions of dollars since the partial shutdown began without explicit congressional approval. Contrary to the Obama administration’s representations, there are not hard, definitive rules governing how the executive branch must act during these budget fights. That is reflected in the amazingly arbitrary ways that the federal government has shuttered some services and agencies but not others — often with the barely hidden goal of making people suffer to build pressure on House Republicans to give in to the White House. For one of hundreds of examples, the Armed Forces Network serving U.S. military personnel abroad still shows news — but it has stopped showing NFL games, blaming the shutdown.

This is obnoxious enough. In denying death benefits to the relatives of fallen U.S. soldiers, however, the Obama administration has broken new ground in its budget theater. This decision is accurately described as depraved.
The administration is pretending that they just learned of this aspect of the shutdown, but that claim doesn't bear scrutiny.
But the outrage should remain. On Wednesday, CNN reported that on Sept. 27, days before the shutdown began, the Pentagon was already telling reporters it planned to suspend death benefits.

So for two weeks, the Obama administration has been anticipating this nightmare would come to pass — and did nothing to pre-empt it. Only when the Pentagon began denying death benefits and the backlash began did the White House realize this ploy was a political misstep and seek a fix.

It is an appalling commentary on the president and his administration that they chose to bully the families of dead American soldiers for perceived political gain.

Shame on Barack Obama.
Check out this list of seven things that the federal government has shut down that aren't saving any money.

Jake Tapper opens up quite honestly on why the press is biased and the uselessness of White House press briefings.

Intransigence and petulance is no way to go through a presidency. As Peter Wehner writes,
Which leads me to a final point. The president, always a distant, somewhat withdrawn, and imperious figure, now seems encased in a world all his own. One senses that Mr. Obama has surrounded himself with courtiers whose jobs are to affirm his greatness and his glory. He and they live in a bubble. The president is acting as if America is comprised solely of people who host, appear on, or watch MSNBC. Disagree with Republicans? Don’t engage with them and by all means don’t negotiate with them. Instead drop rhetorical acid on their heads. Describe them as jihadists, terrorists, anarchists, arsonists, gun-to-the-head hostage takers, and (to quote White House aide Dan Pfeiffer) “people with a bomb strapped to their chest.” And all of America will cheer.

But it turns out that Americans don’t precisely align their views with Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Rachel Maddow. And they don’t much like their president acting as if he is the deputy communications director of the DNC.
Even when confronted with puff-ball questions from a quiescent press corps, President Obama's remarks the other day, as Seth Mandel notes, were quite revealing.
When Obama opposed raising the debt ceiling, he was just posturing the way people do “frequently.” In other words, when Obama makes a speech on policy he doesn’t actually believe what he’s saying; he just thinks enough of the voters will like his message. Obama is not, Obama says, to be taken literally. They are just words.

The other interesting nugget in that paragraph was the part where Obama said that in the past the debt ceiling was easier to sneak through without the public noticing until it was decoupled from omnibus spending bills. The thought process of America’s elected politicians, Obama explained approvingly, was: “I don’t want to take a bunch of tough votes to cut programs or raise taxes and then also have to take a debt ceiling vote.”

The Obama campaign seems to have calculated correctly that “Obama: Change we can believe in” would make a snappier bumper sticker slogan than “Obama: I don’t want to take a bunch of tough votes.” (The latter would also draw attention to his predilection as senator to vote “present.”)

This exchange took place after CBS’s Mark Knoller asked the president why he doesn’t support passing bills to fund important priorities while these non-negotiations drag on. Aren’t you tempted, Knoller asked Obama, to sign bipartisan bills that fund programs you support? “Of course I’m tempted,” Obama responded, “because you’d like to think that you could solve at least some of the problem if you couldn’t solve all of it.” Well yes, that does seem to be the point. This may seem reasonable, Obama said, but don’t be fooled. It’s a trap:
But here’s the problem. What you’ve seen are bills that come up where wherever Republicans are feeling political pressure, they put a bill forward. And if there’s no political heat, if there’s no television story on it, then nothing happens. And if we do some sort of shotgun approach like that, then you’ll have some programs that are highly visible get funded and reopened, like national monuments, but things that don’t get a lot of attention, like those SBA loans, not being funded.
You see, by funding uncontroversial and broadly popular programs while not automatically funding everything else, the Republicans are trying to trick the government into setting priorities, building bipartisan coalitions, and engaging the public in how to spend their tax money. Obama seemed to think this was self-evidently foolish, which tells you much about what the president thinks of the taxpayers.

Then the president added, almost as an afterthought: “And you know, we don’t get to select which programs we implement or not.” Since Obama chooses which parts of which laws he wants to implement and enforce at will, as if Congress were a supercommittee brainstorming ideas rather than a coequal branch passing laws, I’m guessing he would explain that he is again being take too literally when he’s obviously just posturing. Now he tells us.
A South Carolina man has volunteered to be a single clean-up crew on the National Mall. He's been out there for a week mowing, raking, and cleaning to keep this national treasure clean. It's amazing what one man is willing to do. And, of course, a park ranger wants to stop him.

The National Park Service has decided to prevent people from even taking pictures of our national monuments and natural wonders, but they have money to send park rangers to a conference at the end of the month. As Michael Rubin writes,
Alas, it’s not inconvenience that most annoys Americans about their government and some federal workers, but rather the hypocrisy. As I blogged here on Monday, the government is throwing septuagenarians and octogenarians out of their homes on federal land, but allowing President Obama’s mother-in-law to reside in a federal building during the shutdown. It is funding Sesame Street, but delaying cancer research. And it temporarily closed down the Amber Alert main page, while letting Michelle Obama’s pet project remain up and running. The problem Americans face—and the reason why leading figures from both Democrats and Republicans are seeing their poll numbers plummet—is simply because the government seems increasingly hostile to the notion of equal application of the law.

Most park rangers are good people, and many probably dislike the policies which the National Park Service chooses to enforce. But, it is hard to claim to be an essential employee and then jet off to St. Louis for a conference.

Get ready for new problems with people's efforts to buy health insurance through the exchanges.