Thursday, October 02, 2014

Cruising the Web

The GAO has ruled that the Obama administration can't bail out insurers without authorization from Congress.
At issue is the "risk corridors" program, which aims to stabilize the insurance market on the new health insurance exchanges during the early years of Obamacare. Because the law requires insurers to offer coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and limits how much insurers can charge older and sicker patients, insurers who join the exchanges risk getting stuck with a disproportionate number of older and sicker beneficiaries, translating into losses that could discourage companies from participating.

The "risk corridors" program is one of several provisions within Obamacare aiming to mitigate this problem. In theory, it's supposed to do so by making payments to insurance companies who experience higher-than-expected medical losses from a stream of money collected from insurers who have lower-than-expected losses. But a scenario in which the risk pool is so skewed toward older and sicker Americans that there are large industry-wide losses could result in a de facto bailout of the insurance industry by requiring an injection of money from taxpayers. This potential scenario has prompted the attention of a number of Republican lawmakers.

In February, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., sought clarification from the GAO as to whether the Obama administration even had the authority to use the general pot of money sent to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the agency implementing the program for HHS) through the regular budget process to supplement any shortfall from the risk corridors program. On Tuesday, GAO responded that the administration does not possess that authority, and it requires Congressional cooperation.

More specifically, the legal opinion said that for the administration to dip into general CMS funds, whatever language Congress adopts in future appropriations to CMS must be the same as the language that was adopted for the 2014 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. That language enabled CMS to use appropriations for "other responsibilities" of CMS, which GAO said could include risk corridor payments.

In practice, what this means is that if Congress passes more restrictive language going forward, lawmakers could effectively block any risk corridor payments to insurers that exceed the money collected through the program from other insurers.
Yeah, like they care about lousy laws if it's going to get in the way of their doing whatever they want with Obamacare. And if the insurers aren't going to be bailed out by the government, will they still want to offer policies that are costing more than they're taking in? Only the government gets to run budgets like that.

What does it take for a teacher to be convicted for sexual misconduct against children and to get his pension revoked in New York City? Apparently, more than what this guy did.
Ostrin, now 61, who wound up retiring on a disability pension following his suspension, told a Tech student in 2002 she “probably had a great figure under that sweatshirt” and that she was “hot.”
In 2005, he hugged and kissed another student – a 15-year-old sophomore — rubbed her arms and shoulders and called her his “little sex slave.”
Ostrin also told the girl not to wear “skimpy clothes” because it would only excite him and invited her to his home.
He was suspended without pay for six months after those allegations came to light but wound up beating a sexual misconduct rap.
The new ruling is a slap in the face to the city, which fought to get him terminated and his pension revoked.

This is a pretty powerful message to black voters. Who knows if they'll even listen.

Why won't the President do anything to get Mexico to release the Marine who made a wrong turn and arrived in Mexico telling the border guards what had happened and that he had guns in his car? With all the aid we give Mexico, isn't Obama willing to use some of that leverage to get a veteran suffering from PTSD released from a Mexican prison? As Amanda Muñoz writes,
And in what seemed to be a unanimous sentiment, members of the committee blasted the Obama Administration for its lack of response. Tahmooressi’s mother testified that she had yet to receive a call from the President. In addition, the State Department provided very little help to her in securing an attorney. The first, which was obtained through a website referred by the Department, had to be replaced for lying to the Mexican court.

“My son has faults, but lying isn’t one of them…We could not proceed with the lies,” she said.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen quipped that Ms. Tahmooressi should go play a few rounds of golf, so that she could secure some of the president’s attention. Royce made clear that he had notified Vice President Biden of the situation, but still had heard nothing from the White House.

This is the world we live in: The president of the United States negotiates with terrorists, releases five of them, and secures the return of a deserter who cost the lives of his fellow soldiers. He then hosts the family in the Rose Garden. The president makes phone calls to the U.S. men’s soccer team and to the San Antonio Spurs, but he cannot take 30 seconds to call the desperate mother of a war hero trapped and abused in a dirty, Mexican jail cell.

Kathleen Parker has an excellent column on how silly and hypocritical the Democrats' accusations of a war on women is. It's pretty bad when Bill Maher makes more sense than many Democrats.
“We hear a lot about the Republican ‘war on women.’ It’s not cool Rush Limbaugh called somebody a slut. Okay,” said Maher. “But Saudi women can’t vote, or drive, or hold a job or leave the house without a man. Overwhelming majorities in every Muslim country say a wife is always obliged to obey her husband. That all seems like a bigger issue than evangelical Christian bakeries refusing to make gay wedding cakes.”
And Democrats only care about attacks on females when those females are Democrats. Republican women don't rate the same sort of outrage that Democrats regularly emit when they can use their fake anger to attack Republicans.
A more recent example of a war-on-women event occurred in Virginia’s closely watched congressional race between Democrat John Foust and Republican Barbara Comstock. This time it was a Democratic male attacking a Republican female in, shall we say, the most clueless of terms. Lacking facts or finesse, Foust mused to an audience that Comstock hadn’t ever held a “real job.”

Meaning, what, that she’s just a mom ?

Even if this were so, and it is not, why should Foust get a pass for such an ignorant, sexist remark? Is any Democratic male — even one who manages to insult while pandering — better than any Republican female? In my experience, a woman who can manage a household and juggle the needs of three children while obtaining a law degree from Georgetown University, as Comstock did, can run a corporation or a nation.

Like many working women, Comstock did stay home in the early years to raise her children. She is also whip smart, funny, irreverent and fierce. Her résumé includes such non-cookie­baking activities as serving as a senior aide to Rep. Frank Wolf, whose congressional seat she is pursuing. She currently is serving her third term in the Virginia House of Delegates, where she has advanced legislation to thwart human trafficking and supported several conservative positions related to health-care and tax reform.

Yes, she’s conservative. And, yes, she also opposes abortion. Which is to say, she doesn’t quite count in the national movement to elect more women to public office. When a Comstock ad recently called Foust’s comments “sexist, bizarre, insensitive, ignorant,” the 10th District’s Democratic Party tweeted, “If @barbaracomstock were a man, she’d be down 20 pts w women. Her record & policies are horrible for women.”

No, if Comstock were a man, she wouldn’t have to counter such slander.
Well, victory could be the best revenge.

Jim Geraghty provides a tweetfest for those discontented conservatives who are contemplating staying home this election season.

This is why President Obama has had a hard time convincing people they're better off now than they were six years ago.
es, the unemployment rate has dropped, but only from 6.8 percent when Mr. Obama was elected to 6.1 percent today. That number, though, tells only a fraction of the story.

The workforce participation rate — the number of Americans actually working — has plunged since Mr. Obama was elected. Then, nearly two of three (66 percent) were employed. Now, the percentage is 62.8 — the lowest since January 1978 (not a coincidence that another malaise-ridden Democratic president was in office then).

Slashing the workforce participation rate means dropping millions of unemployed people from the pool of workers. Once eliminated, the unemployment rate calculated by the federal government is lowered (we call it “cooking the books”). Nice work if you can get it.

With millions unemployed, millions more “underemployed” (Gallup puts that number at 15.3 percent), millions forced to work just part time so employers can avoid the burdensome “Affordable” Care Act, and millions of 18- to 30-year-olds moving back in with their parents, the president still insists the economy is going great guns.

“After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created 10 million new jobs over the last 54 months,” he said last week at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner in Washington, D.C. “This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of job growth in our history. In our history!”

Well, yeah, sort of. Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, so he’s into his 70th month as president. Why does he mention just the last 54 months? Because the economy lost nearly 5 million jobs in his first 15 in office, so he cooks the books again to come up with a catchy campaign sound bite.

For reference, Ronald Reagan was president when some 16 million jobs were created. During the Internet boom and housing bubble glory days when Bill Clinton was president, more than 22 million jobs were created. For Mr. Obama, the number stands at 5.1 million. Not so catchy.

“There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off than when I took office. Unemployment down. Deficits down. Uninsured down. Poverty down,” he said to applause.

All hooey. The latest job report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, published last month, showed just 142,000 jobs created, down from an average monthly increase of 298,000. Meanwhile, more than 500,000 full-time jobs were lost as some 800,000 part-time jobs were created — the highest increase in part-time employment since 1993.

What’s more, the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia said that about 18 percent of employers cut full-time workers because of the Affordable Care Act (the New York Fed said it was more like 21 percent). So while the number of uninsured may be down (and there’s significant debate about whether that’s true), the cost to the U.S. economy has only just begun.

Thomas P. Miller at AEI explains why this week's ruling on whether the text of the Affordable Care Act allows the federal government to give tax credits to patients who buy their health care through the federal exchanges is more likely now to reach the Supreme Court. The WSJ adds,
Judge White's opinion reads almost like an amicus brief to the High Court, sparring with the reasoning of the opinions and dissents in those earlier cases.

Judge White also invokes a 1998 Tenth Circuit precedent called Sundance Associates v. Reno, which held that neither judges nor regulatory agencies possess "the authority to rewrite a poor piece of legislation (if, indeed, that is what it is). That responsibility lies solely with Congress." The alternative "leads us down a path toward Alice's Wonderland, where up is down and down is up, and words mean anything."

The White House would prefer that ObamaCare remain in such a legal wonderland for as long as possible, but multiple federal courts have made conflicting rulings. The relevant questions are now squarely in front of the Supreme Court, and for the sake of the law and the future of health policy the Justices should accept an appeal of the King case for their term that begins next week.

Fred Barnes details how Harry Reid has run the Senate totally to protect Democratic senators and prevent Republicans from scoring any bipartisan victories. The good of the country? Not important.
Mr. Reid is the leading architect of the Democratic campaign and its unprecedented tactics. He has sought to protect incumbent Democrats from votes that might imperil their re-election. And he is determined to keep Republicans from demonstrating that they're not opposed to every Democratic initiative. To manage this, he has slowed Senate business to a near halt....

As majority leader, Mr. Reid has shamelessly manipulated the Senate to Democratic advantage. He blocked an up-or-down vote on the Keystone XL pipeline and on repeal of ObamaCare's medical-devices tax. He split the American Jobs Act, which Mr. Obama had touted in a speech to Congress, into individual parts. To pay for it, Mr. Reid added tax increases, including the Buffett tax with its 30% minimum income-tax rate on millionaires. This insured that Republican opposition would kill the bill and thus Democrats could trumpet their favorite theme: Republicans blocked legislation to save their rich friends from higher taxes.

When bipartisan curbs on the Environmental Protection Agency's anti-coal regulations were under consideration in June, Mr. Reid shut down the process in committee. He held what was called an "all-night filibuster" on the Senate floor. It was pure issue advocacy without a bill to vote on.

The Reid strategy has made it impossible for Republicans to point to bipartisan victories in the Senate. But this has backfired against Democrats, especially those seeking re-election in red states. In sidelining popular bills, Mr. Reid has given Democrats no achievements to brag about. In six years, Mr. Begich failed to get a vote on a single amendment he proposed.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, was co-sponsor of a well-regarded energy-efficiency bill with Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. When Republicans in May sought amendments to vote on the Keystone XL pipeline and approve export of natural gas, Mr. Reid pulled the bill from the Senate floor. Ms. Shaheen was left empty-handed. She is now in a close re-election race with Republican Scott Brown .

Democrats in red states would have benefited from voting for the pipeline and the energy bill and against the medical-devices tax. Mr. Reid wouldn't let them, if only because passing bipartisan measures might have given Republicans a few useful talking points.
Then add in the ads that Reid's Senate Majority PAC have been running. All neutral observers agree that the ads are totally deceptive, but truth isn't important to Reid.
While TV ads with spurious claims are a regular feature of campaigns, they have become a Democratic specialty this year. In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor aired a 30-second spot that accused Rep. Tom Cotton, his Republican challenger, of having "voted against preparing America for pandemics like Ebola." The ad didn't mention that once a provision Mr. Cotton opposed was removed, he voted for the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act.

Several ads that earned "four Pinocchios "—that is, deemed to be false—from Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler were produced by Mr. Reid's Senate Majority PAC. It has spent $26.2 million this year and reserved another $14.8 million in TV time. Mitch McConnell , the Senate Republican leader, doesn't have a Super PAC.

A series of Reid PAC ads zinging Rep. Bill Cassidy in Louisiana were fodder for Mr. Kessler's fact-frisking. He called one that said Mr. Cassidy, who is running against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu , had opposed flood-insurance legislation and hurricane relief as "nonsensical" and "deceptive" and "an effort to completely mislead voters." An ad claiming that Mr. Cassidy had argued for "automatic ObamaCare registration" was full of "audaciously false claims." Still another ad said Mr. McConnell had voted to "raise his own pay four times," but neglected to cite Mr. McConnell's opposition to automatic increases and pay hikes in 2011, 2012 and 2013, Mr. Kessler noted.
So conservatives who are thinking about staying home from voting or, in Kansas, voting for a supposed independent who will end up voting with Democrats should ponder if they want to continue Harry Reid-style politics in the Senate.

David French explains why the Obama administration should apologize to Israel and Bibi Netanyahu. The administration was quite free to criticize Israel for civilians who might have been killed during their invasion of Gaza. The fact that Hamas deliberately placed those civilians in danger was irrelevant to Obama when he wanted to pose a false moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Well, now Americans are bombing ISIS targets and civilians are in danger as ISIS borrows from Hamas tactics to hide behind civilians. And Obama has exempted civilians in Syria from its own guidelines on trying to protect the lives of civilians.
The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.
A White House statement to Yahoo News confirming the looser policy came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria's Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23.

The village has been described by Syrian rebel commanders as a reported stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front where U.S officials believed members of the so-called Khorasan group were plotting attacks against international aircraft.

But at a briefing for members and staffers of the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last week, Syrian rebel commanders described women and children being hauled from the rubble after an errant cruise missile destroyed a home for displaced civilians. Images of badly injured children also appeared on YouTube, helping to fuel anti-U.S. protests in a number of Syrian villages last week.
French comments that he supports the administration's actions, but their hypocrisy towards Israel is notable.
To be clear, I applaud the administration for loosening its absurd rules of engagement. When an enemy hides among civilians, the resulting civilian deaths are the enemy’s moral and legal responsibility, not ours. There must be no safe zones for jihadists, no place where they can lay their head in peace.

Yet I can’t help but notice the double standard. If Israel’s acts of self-defense are “disgraceful,” then how does the administration describe our own strikes?

The administration’s rhetorical attacks on Israel were not only baseless as a matter of law, they were morally bankrupt. The president of the United States owes the men and women of the IDF — men and women who risked and sacrificed their lives fighting the same jihad — a heartfelt apology.