Out of the Storm News
The last time the federal government approached its statutory debt limit, Republicans in the House of Representatives fought tooth and nail to attach tough conditions to any increase. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shepherded a “clean” debt limit increase through that barely raised an eyebrow.
This increase didn’t even set a dollar amount. It simply suspended the debt limit until next March. I can almost hear the conversation: “So, where should we set the new debt limit?” “Ah, you know, whatever!”
One clue as to why House Republicans went along with Boehner’s clean debt limit increase is the vote total. The bill was backed by 193 Democrats and only 28 Republicans. You could say that Democratic lawmakers rescued their Republican counterparts from having to take responsibility for increasing the debt limit.
Yet, after loudly demanding a clean debt limit increase time and again, it’s not as though Democrats could reject the offer without looking like fools. With little fanfare, Boehner steered the congressional GOP away from another destructive crisis, in which bickering Republicans face off against a president who gets to look decisive by insisting that the debt limit be raised.
So does this mean that the GOP “fever” has broken? President Barack Obama, during a June 2012 campaign appearance, famously told reporters that if he won re-election, “the fever may break” among Republicans. That after steadily refusing to cooperate with him on efforts to expand government’s size and influence in his first term, the president suggested, his re-election might lead Republicans to see the wisdom of moving to the center if not the left.
Obama seemed convinced that his domestic agenda was just a matter of common sense. Opposition to it, he seemed to suggest, was evidence of a fevered mind.
Republicans didn’t see things quite the same way. Throughout 2013, Republicans, if anything, stepped up their opposition to the president’s agenda — in particular to his signature domestic policy initiative, the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Republicans kept trying to outflank each other, to demonstrate who could be most vociferously opposed to the president’s agenda.
The true test of conservatism became tactical. Unless you did everything you possibly could, for example, to defund Obamacare, you weren’t a true believer. Plenty of Republicans rejected this logic. But plenty of Republicans were also wary of getting outflanked on their right, or of holding their noses and voting for something they found distasteful in the extreme — like authorizing a big increase in the federal debt.
This, roughly speaking, is what led to the government shutdown, and last year’s epic fight over increasing the debt limit.
Something has changed since the shutdown, however. The fever Obama had in mind hasn’t broken. To the contrary, the problems plaguing the implementation of Obamacare, and the growing evidence that the law is unworkable, more expensive than advertised, and likely to fall short of its goals, have emboldened the president’s conservative critics.
But you’ll notice that a growing number of Republicans are offering their own policy ideas. Republican Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently released a health reform proposal, the Patient CARE Act, that would repeal Obamacare and replace it with a more decentralized, market-oriented system. This would cover roughly as many people as Obamacare, according to an analysis from the Center for Health and Economy, a new policy organization started by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has emerged as a leading policy innovator, with new proposals on tax reform, infrastructure, and higher education. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and John Thune, R-S.D., both considered future presidential prospects, have released ambitious proposals on reforming anti-poverty programs and combating long-term unemployment respectively.
In the wake of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, signed by President George W. Bush, and the fiscal stimulus, signed by Obama, grassroots conservatives were outraged by yawning deficits and what they say is reckless spending by Democrats and establishment Republicans alike. The right became fixated on price tags. A trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there — the federal government seemed out of control, and there was a desire to rein it in.
The tea party movement was, in this first phase, all about price tags. That is why the debt limit took on such resonance. It is also why Republicans saw the 2011 sequestration — a fancy way of saying arbitrary spending caps — as an opportunity. The first priority was to check the growth of the federal leviathan.
Conservatives still care about spending. Yet there is a new conviction that it’s not enough to just contain spending.
Republicans are also trying to address pressing problems that threaten the fabric of a free society, like the lack of upward mobility from the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. It used to be enough to be an anti-spending warrior. Now you’re expected to find ways to reduce spending while also making American society stronger.
The Burr-Coburn-Hatch bill is an intriguing sign of what’s to come. The senators’ goal is to spend substantially less than Obamacare, while accomplishing more in terms of expanding coverage and promoting innovation.
There is no guarantee that the bill will succeed. But the idea behind it has the potential to unite tea party conservatives, who think in terms of price tags, with other reform-minded conservatives who believe that government needs to be smarter as well as smaller.
The clean debt limit increase doesn’t mean that the GOP has embraced the growth of government. Conservatives haven’t signed on to Obama’s domestic agenda. Rather, GOP lawmakers are starting to look ahead, to when they regain the power to set the country’s direction.
They’re realizing they will have to do more than just cut spending. They will have to reform, repeal, and replace government programs that have failed too many Americans for too long.
From the Washington Post:
Yes, we still need research on the long-term health and behavioral impacts of e-cigarettes. Brad Rodu, a pathologist at the University of Louisville, offers an apt analogy between electronic cigarettes and cellphones. When cellphones became popular in the late ’90s, there were no data on their long-term safety. As it turns out, the risk of a brain tumor with prolonged cellphone use is not zero, but it is very small and of uncertain health significance.
In the case of e-cigarettes, Rodu says that “at least a decade of continued use by thousands of users would need to transpire before confident assessments could be conducted.” Were the FDA to ban e-cigarette marketing until then, the promise of vaping would be put on hold. Meanwhile, millions of smokers who might otherwise switch would keep buying tobacco products. “We can’t say that decades of e-cigarette use will be perfectly safe,” Rodu told me, “but for cigarette users, we are sure that smoke is thousands of times worse.”
AUSTIN, Tex. (Feb. 17, 2014) – The R Street Institute welcomed news of a study to examine the benefits of enabling private insurers to voluntarily take homeowners policies out of the residual market in Texas. In an alarming trend, policy counts for the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association have grown more than 243 percent since 2005, diluting the company’s true purpose as an insurer of last resort.
The idea proposed by the study is to allow both customers and private insurers to access the underwriting information for TWIA and to determine whether they want to underwrite the business. This program would be voluntary for current TWIA customers, whose data would not be published if they chose to opt-out of the program.
“Allowing free market forces to take over wind and hail exposure would be a strong first step toward lowering TWIA’s policy count,” said Julie Drenner, Texas Director of the R Street Institute. “We’ve seen insurers of last resort in states like Florida successfully take on similar efforts to reduce these counts. This should be a strong goal of any state-backed insurer of last resort.”
Florida’s state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. announced last week that the policy count had dropped below 1 million for the first time since 2006, through a series of takeout efforts and legislative initiatives.
Drenner also cautioned that more needed to be done to lower policy counts for TWIA. “TWIA’s premium rates also need to be examined and made to be actuarially sound,” she said. “This is a crucial step toward making the market competitive for private insurance companies.”
The Texas Insurance Association Clearinghouse Feasibility Study may be found on TWIA’s website at www.twia.org.
R Street Senior Fellow Reihan Salam joined CNN OutFront host Erin Burnett and New Republic Senior Editor Alec MacGillis to discuss MacGillis’ cover story in the latest issue of TNR on the career of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. While conceding that many of the points MacGillis raises are, indeed, potentially quite damning, Salam argues there’s a lot more nuance to Christie than MacGillis gives him credit for.
Watch the full piece below.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
From the American Conservative:
Shortly after Congress passed the farm bill late last month, the Atlantic published a piece touting this example of Washington “getting better.” According to Molly Ball, the House’s ability to jam through the monstrous, heavily amended package with bipartisan support was just “the latest sign that Congress has rediscovered its ability to get things done.”
From the Palm Beach Post:
Conservative groups say premium increases are needed to help the National Flood Insurance Program get out of $24 billion in debt and discourage building or rebuilding in flood-prone zones.
“Without legislative text in-hand, it’s impossible to know precisely what modifications the House might consider, but we do find it encouraging that Leader Cantor recognizes the Senate bill ‘irresponsibly removes much needed reforms and imposes additional costs on taxpayers,’” said R.J. Lehmann, senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based R Street Institute.
Alternative legislation has been introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), (H.R. 1892), which would legalize technologies like cellphone unlocking permanently and would also legalize other technologies without infringing purposes, such as jail breaking (rooting) of devices. This legislation has received widespread endorsements from activists, technology experts and think-tanks including R Street, FreedomWorks, Generation Opportunity, Cascade Policy Institute, Harbour League, Let Freedom Ring, Public Knowledge and Electronic Freedom Foundation.
From the Palm Beach Post:
Boehner has said he does not foresee taking up a four-year delay but might consider more modest measures. Conservative groups have argued premium increases are necessary to get the program out of $24 billion in debt.
“We’re not in favor of a four-year delay,” said Christian Camara, Florida director for the R Street Institute, visiting the offices of The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday. His group, which describes itself as a free-market think tank, based in Washington, D.C., would consider a more gradual phasing in of some increases but not long-term delays, he said. That only encourages building or rebuilding in flood-prone areas among other problems, in his view.
Three years ago I discussed an unfounded claim by Harvard University’s Dr. Gregory Connolly that smokeless tobacco products are a major cause of poisoning among American children. A recent press release from the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center has a similar ring, with the headline, “E-cigarettes cause alarming increase in calls to poison control center.” The center based its claim on the fact that it received 39 calls in 2013, compared to nine in 2012.
In context, the figures pack none of the headline’s punch.
24 of the 39 cases are exposures to children (less than 6 years)… Most exposures were small and did not lead to symptoms. Those individuals that did develop symptoms were monitored at home by the [Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center] through follow-up calls. Only two patients were recommended to go to the emergency department: 1 dermal exposure and 1 ingestion. Both patients saw symptom resolution in less than 8 hours.
To place the Kentucky e-cigarette poison alert in focus, I reviewed the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ latest (2012) report. It turns out that tobacco products accounted for only about 1.3 percent of the more than 581,000 cases of exposure to non-pharmaceutical agents of all kinds in children less than six years of age in 2012. That’s 7,480 cases. Here’s a table of some of the more common exposures:Non-pharmaceutical Exposure Cases Among Children Under 6 Years Old, 2012 Product Category Number of Exposures Cosmetics and personal care products 156,623 Household cleaners 106,582 Foreign bodies 77,905 Pesticides 36,056 Plants 30,690 Arts, crafts, office supplies 21,146 Deodorizers 19,153 Alcohols 11,443 Gasoline, other hydrocarbons 10,572 Food additives, spoilage 10,547 Bites, venom 8,777 Tobacco products 7,480 Essential Oils (clove, etc) 7,446 Paint, paint strippers 7,192 Adhesives, glue 5,863 Batteries 5,116 Chemicals 3,923 Fertilizers 3,054 Everything else 51,351 Total 580,919
Of the tobacco product exposures, cigarettes were the most common, at 53 percent, while smokeless products accounted for 16 percent. Only 172 incidents (2 percent) involved e-cigarettes.
Many consumer products pose potential danger, especially to young children. However, when put into perspective with exposures to cosmetics, household cleaners, paint and paint strippers and fertilizers, the selective reporting of poison control information about e-cigarettes is meaningless.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
WASHINGTON (Feb. 13, 2014) – With U.S. House leadership announcing it will take up consideration of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, the R Street Institute expressed optimism that a commitment to reform and to certain market and budget principles will guide the House’s deliberations.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced late Feb. 12 that the chamber will take up a modified version of the legislation, which delays crucial flood insurance forms for at least four years, when it returns the week of Feb. 24 from the Presidents Day recess.
“Without legislative text in-hand, it’s impossible to know precisely what modifications the House might consider, but we do find it encouraging that Leader Cantor recognizes the Senate bill ‘irresponsibly removes much needed reforms and imposes additional costs on taxpayers,’” R Street Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann said.
Lehmann added that whatever legislation the House ultimately considers, it is crucial that it not roll back the phase-out of subsidies for second homes, business properties and severe repetitive loss properties; that it keeps all properties on the path toward eventually paying risk-based rates; that it not weaken the National Flood Insurance Program, which is already $25 billion in debt; and that it impose no new net burdens on taxpayers.
“We understand and accept that the schedule of rate increases for remapped properties is likely to be lengthened, and that some phase-in of risk-based rates might be necessary for resold properties,” Lehmann said. “What is crucial is that we keep moving in the direction of reform, rather than stalling or moving in the opposite direction. The reason the Biggert-Waters Act was passed is that the flood program is bankrupt, subsidizes risky and environmentally destructive development, and disproportionately benefits higher-income property owners. None of those facts have changed.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (February 12, 2014) - The R Street Institute welcomed today’s news that Florida’s state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has seen its policy count fall to under 1 million for the first time since 2006.
This reduction comes as a result of recent takeout efforts and legislative initiatives designed to reverse the policies set by former Governor Charlie Crist, which resulted in skyrocketing policy numbers for Florida Citizens.
“For the first time since the ill-conceived Crist insurance reforms of 2007, we are seeing Florida Citizens start to resemble its true purpose, which is an insurer of last resort,” R Street Florida Director Christian Cámara said. “These latest figures are an encouraging sign that the Legislature and leaders at Citizens are on the right path to return Citizens to that status.”
Policy counts have dropped 36 percent since 2012 and exposure has fallen more than 41 percent since 2011.
Cámara also expressed hope that this downward trend will continue.
“The management at Citizens deserves credit and I hope they capitalize on this momentum and work to ensure that more policies and risk continue being transferred from taxpayers to the private market in the coming years,” he added.
From Innovation Asset Group:
Fashion designers are urging Congress to extend intellectual property protection to fashion design, a move R Street calls unprecedented. In the current fashion market, discount retailers like Forever 21, H&M and Zara draw inspiration from designers to create budget-friendly versions of ready-to-wear looks from the runway. Many designers feel these versions are nearly indistinguishable from their own except for using cheaper materials and processes.
Reihan Salam makes a typically suave and commonsensical argument in favor of a much larger American diaspora, insisting that emigration deserves our attention as much as immigration. He points out that if we jigger the tax code, permit Medicare benefits to be accessed abroad, and emphasize the education and professional gains awaiting young people who head overseas, we could really increase our individual and general well-being.
Salam also points out that American emigration right now is at remarkable lows: “you’re probably aware of the fact that there are and have long been handfuls of American professionals living in global financial capitals like London, Hong Kong, and Singapore,” he writes, “and that intrepid young Americans will head to emerging market boomtowns like Nairobi, Yangon, and Manila to take advantage of new economic opportunities. What you might not know is that the United States sends far fewer skilled professionals abroad as a share of its population than other rich countries like Britain or Germany.”
…Republicans really need to pitch America on a newly adventuresome American exceptionalism. Part of that is a matter of pure rhetoric — painting different word-pictures about possible futures. Part of it is also adjusting the policy platform along the lines Salam is suggesting. And much of it is about connecting the dots in public discourse between (a) realizing our innate human fate-lessness, (b) getting guilt-free about leaving America, especially if only part-time, (c) accepting experiences of pain and uncertainty as part of lives worth living, and (d) orienting politics as much around keeping horizons generally open as around increasing the general material welfare.
In his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama promised to use presidential authority to “protect more of our pristine federal lands.” Similar to most political statements, many people find this idea appealing, but few investigate it further.
A thorough examination of the federal estate shows those resources are squandered at a high cost.
While taxpayers across the nation share the cost of federal land management expenses and lost revenue potential, citizens in the West have little say on how more than half their land is managed. This has created a great divide between East and West as it runs along the eastern border of Colorado — while 47 percent of the acreage in the contiguous West is federal, a mere 4 percent is federal in the East.
Some western states are beginning to fight for custody.
Last year, Utah passed a resolution giving the federal government until the end of 2014 to transfer the majority of the state’s federal lands to state ownership. Six other western states are pursuing similar legislation. The support for devolving federal land to state control is growing as citizens realize that the federal government is making poor land management decisions at escalating costs.
As an avid outdoor enthusiast from Montana, the public lands debate is more than an academic interest. My family and I hike, bike, fish and ski on Montana’s federal lands, but access is being reduced as new set-asides are created and there are increasing use restrictions. I think that is the pristine part of federal land protection.
A recent update on a travel-planning document in a nearby Wilderness Study Area, for example, reduced mountain bike trail access from more than 100 miles to 20. Motorbikes also lost considerable trail access. Yellowstone National Park now restricts snowmobile use almost exclusively to guided tours. Other trails in our area have eliminated horses. In addition, the federal lands designated as multiple use are providing fewer commodities and little return in terms of financial resources.
Americans on the East of this divide may see the federal lands as distant places to vacation or areas to preserve. But in the West, our relationship with federal lands is much different. It is our backyard, and poor resource management inflicts repercussions. Forests left unmanaged that grow overly dense, for example, are at increased risk of wildfire that not only destroys homes, but erodes soils and reduces water quality. As active management has declined on the federal lands, wildfire acres burned and suppression costs have increased.
Despite this, budgets for federal land management are set by politicians in Washington, where special interests have more influence over agency budgets than do westerners or federal land managers. Consider that appropriations to manage Montana’s nearly 27 million acres of federal lands are determined by 535 politicians, only three of which directly represent the citizens of the state and live in proximity to those federal lands. As a result, new parks and marquee facilities take precedence over important resource management and upkeep. Visitors and adjacent resource owners that are most greatly impacted by the decisions are a very small part of the decision-making equation.
Though created under an impetus for scientific decision-making, management of the federal estate is a political determination. In fact, science cannot determine the value tradeoffs that must be made. Science cannot determine whether hiking, biking or timber harvest is a higher-valued use. Instead, management decisions — regarding recreation use, commodity production or restoration activities — depend on budget appropriations and special interest battles.
Take the issue of timber management. When a federal manager suggests harvesting timber on federal land, even if undertaken to prevent or remediate wildfires, they submit themselves to a long tug-of-war between the agency, environmental groups and industry officials that often ends up in the courts. This process sucks up limited resources that could otherwise be put to work on the ground.
Today there is little connection between the groups that fight for favored policies and those that pay the costs. For instance, groups fighting for hands-off land management are not burdened by the repercussions of overly dense forests, which include billions of dollars a year in damage to homes and businesses from wildfires. Neither do logging interests realize the costs of habitat lost or restoration that is not built into harvest contracts.
Federal land management has become so politicized that every decision is subject to second-guessing by courts or Congress. Unless taxpayers are content to watch our birthright continue to deteriorate and become increasingly inaccessible to the public, land management policies must change, which means improving incentives.
Devolution of some federal lands — or at least their management — can help improve these incentives by better connecting decisions with outcomes.
This is not merely theoretical. State trust lands, for instance, are required to generate revenues to support state institutions, such as education. This forces conservation interests to consider the costs associated with the benefits. The emphasis is on financial and resource sustainability, not short-term victories.
Utah and other western states have sent a message to politicians in Washington: End the current dismal arrangement of federal land management. While transferring federal lands to state hands is not in itself either necessary nor sufficient to fix the problem, it is a move in the right direction of reconnecting the benefits and costs of land management policies.
It’s time for the discussion to move closer to solving the political logjam that has made effective federal land management all but impossible.
R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, said the SCO covers up to 90% of a farmer’s crop revenue when elected in combination with a conventional crop-insurance policy.
There comes a point when people just can’t take it anymore, when frustration and anger boil over into public displays. Two years ago, that anger manifested in the national protests against SOPA and PIPA, and led to stopping those laws in their tracks. Today, it will manifest again in another protest–The Day We Fight Back.
Organized by a broad coalition of entities such as Demand Progress, the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla (creators of the Firefox browser), Reddit and even the Libertarian Party, The Day We Fight Back aims to stop–or at least impede—warrantless NSA spying on Americans and, indeed, all people. Thousands of websites will display banners against spying. Calls will be made to lawmakers. There may even be physical protests. At least, that is the intention.
Will it work? It’s certainly possible. The SOPA Blackout Day did the trick, although it certainly helps when Wikipedia and a host of other popular websites black themselves out in protest. I don’t see Wikipedia on The Day We Fight Back website, so it’s possible that this campaign will not have as visceral an effect.
Then again, that’s not really the point. The point is that our civil liberties are being violated. Our privacy is being invaded. Our government now oversees a security apparatus that appears to have jumped straight out of the pages of 1984, not from the parchment of the U.S. Constitution. While most people don’t think we’ll be recreating the East German Stasi here in America, do we even want to risk that chance?
Supporters of NSA spying—or at least, critics of the criticism—may rightfully point out that, thanks to social media, we share more details about our lives than ever before. That’s true, but the key is that we choose to share them. Not everyone blurts out everything about themselves. Most people are selective. We can present different images to different people. In that way, we can shield our core identity and be ourselves. If we lose our expectation to privacy, with all our secrets laid bare, things change. We start to censor ourselves even when we’re alone, start to conform to the crowds, all to avoid potential ostracism. There are huge psychological effects.
Worse, if we don’t care, then our apathy begins to breed even worse excesses of government. Do you remember all the people on Twitter saying they have nothing to hide? As Julian Sanchez of Cato notes, this sort of attitude poisons us by leading us to feel not just toleration, but resignation.
Don’t believe the argument that “it’s just metadata, it doesn’t invade your privacy.” Metadata can tell an awful lot about a person—where you go, who you meet, what you do. Moreover, the government does collect your content. They have your phone conversations. The metadata is secondary.
On top of this, FBI agents can turn on your computer’s webcam without you knowing, and the NSA has actually intercepted computer orders and other electronics in order to attach tracking devices and spy on buyers.
There are serious consequences for a society that accepts mass surveillance. None of those consequences are good. Today’s day of action will hopefully jolt this nation into awareness. It is far past time to stop this nightmare. Let us act now to restore the liberties that are the birthright of every American, and rebuild that shining city on the hill we all wish to live in.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Last week’s release of Congressional Budget Office numbers showing that Obamacare is projected to decrease employment by 2.5 million jobs has, by now, been litigated almost to the point of meaninglessness. On the one hand, liberals have advanced the less-than-plausible argument that the numbers are a blessing in disguise, because they show that people are taking more time off from jobs that are presumptively a waste of time. It need not be said that this is probably an overly optimistic read.
Yet conservatives have fared little better, as they have jumped from argument to argument, seemingly determined to miss the only good one. First, there was the convenient but incorrect reading of the CBO score, which claimed that Obamacare was killing jobs, when, in fact, the score had nothing to do with employers cutting back open positions. When this collapsed, conservatives instead responded by claiming that the law was turning Americans into slackers, who would opt out of working, thus slowing down economic growth and living off the largesse of their productive brethren.
Needless to say, this skews dangerously close to the “47 percent” argument that did a great deal to sink Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. Except unlike the 47 percent point, which assumed that people who didn’t pay taxes were the leeches, this one instead pretends that working 40 hours a week is the dividing line between leeches and good, patriotic Americans. One presumes that those making this argument have nothing against Americans who reduce their working hours in response to investment income, or coming into a large inheritance, or being so efficient that they don’t need eight hours a day to accomplish all that can be accomplished in that day. Work is an instrumental good, meant to be aimed at what Arthur Brooks calls earned success, not a positive duty to be undertaken even in the teeth of economic rationality.
The liberal opposition point may go too far, but even so, extolling working long hours for its own sake, rather than for the purpose of growing one’s career or improving one’s lot in life, runs dangerously close to the sort of “working class” rhetoric one hears from unions.
And fortunately, many conservatives and libertarians get this, the most eloquent of which so far is Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, who smartly observes:
Here, though, the right goes too far in the hubbub about the CBO report. Remunerated work is not the highest good. Just because a policy induces people to quit the labor force doesn’t make that policy bad. And just because people exit the work force or significantly cut back their hours doesn’t make them slackers.
Sure, it’s bad if a policy ends up paying able-bodied people to sit on their couch and play Xbox, but we don’t know if that’s what Obamacare’s insurance subsidies will do…
If a low-income mother is working – and paying through the nose for childcare – just because her job has insurance and her husband’s job doesn’t, then the family’s lot is improved by a policy that makes it easier for them to afford insurance outside of work, enabling her to stay at home with their children.
This much is pretty much irrefutable. However, it behooves us to quote Carney on one other point, which while somewhat well-taken, offers us a glimpse of the truly devastating flaw which the CBO’s analysis exposed. Carney:
Or imagine a young employee at a tech company. He’s itching to get out and launch his own startup, but he stays in his job because he needs the insurance. This is bad for him, and bad for the economy deprived of his innovation.
Now, Carney is correct that the pre-Obamacare situation puts this tech worker in a suboptimal position. But does the post-Obamacare one improve his lot? On that, we have to agree to disagree. You see, while Obamacare does probably offer at least some stifled creative people and/or single parents a way out of their imprisonment, it also locks them into a less noticeable, but no less pernicious jail. What this is was explained by Glenn Kessler in his fact-check of the initial conservative response to the CBO score:
One big issue: the health insurance subsidies in the law. That’s a substantial benefit that decreases as people earn more money, so at a certain point, a person has to choose between earning more money or continuing to get the maximum help with health insurance payments. In other words, people might work longer and harder, but actually earn no more, or earn even less, money. That is a disincentive to work. (The same thing happens when people qualify for food stamps or other social services.)
Got that? The disincentive to work in Obamacare is exactly the same as the disincentive in food stamps and other social services – namely, that at a certain point, the means-tested part of the policy makes it literally detrimental to one’s economic health to achieve full independence from the state. Better to hover under the acceptable level of income than risk unsustainable costs. In other words, even if someone wanted to work their way out of poverty, it might be too expensive to lose the subsidies that poverty provides.
So that would-be entrepreneur that Carney mentions might actually face a bigger hurdle in a post-Obamacare world: Namely, that at a certain point, growing his business might put him in a financially unsustainable situation, even if it made the business able to hire more people and take off. Fortunes like Mark Zuckerberg’s aren’t built in a day, and the luxury to found a startup in one’s college dorm room is far from universal. What if the next Zuckerberg stops short of expanding as far as he could, because he’ll be caught between Obamacare’s tax penalties and the inability to afford health insurance without its subsidies?
In a world where politically motivated means tests are a fact of life, this problem can’t be ignored, and nor can it easily be fixed. Doing away with means tests altogether, as some liberals would like, is a blank check for rabid fiscal irresponsibility, while making them more draconian only compounds the problems discussed here. Yet as Ronald Reagan said, perhaps there is a simple answer: Not easy, but simple.
And maybe, just maybe, that simple answer is to stop trusting Washington to decide who gets a hand up from the state, and who, upon crossing over a certain income threshold, gets slapped back in line by the same hand. In other words, sometimes whether people work or don’t work is best left to the invisible hand of the market, rather than the iron fist of government.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Hoping to capture the same grassroots outcry that successfully blocked ham-handed anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA two years ago, a number of organizations on both the left and right have set Tuesday, Feb. 11, as a day to “fight back” against the NSA’s massive Internet and telecom surveillance.
It’s a worthy initiative that deserves attention and support from anyone who values the Internet and World Wide Web as the resources they are and should continue to be. Although the effort lacks the focal point of impending legislation—in 2012, the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act both looked poised to barrel through Congress—the Day We Fight Back has an international scope the SOPA/PIPA protests didn’t.
Events are scheduled in cities from Belgrade to London to Bogota, Colombia. In the United States, demonstrations are planned in deep blue enclaves such as Minnesota and California as well as red states such as Texas and Utah. Both the Libertarian Party and FreePress.org have lent their names to the cause.
Participating organizations are appealing for support, ranging from placing banners on web pages to organized demonstrations and street protests. In Chicago, there will be a downtown march against in favor of Fourth Amendment rights and against warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency. In Austin, Texas, participants are being urged to take to the streets dressed as NSA agents and act as if they are recording the day-to-day activities of passers-by. In San Francisco and Bluffdale, Utah, there will be demonstrations outside data centers where the NSA is active. A full list of events can be found at the Day We Fight Back website.
As I wrote last week, we should not dismiss the NSA’s massive Internet surveillance program with a sigh and a shrug. The tech community, which once could afford to snicker at the establishment’s inept attempts to block, regulate or ban each new Internet paradigm (Napster, Craigslist, Skype, BitTorrent, etc.), has come to realize that governments have become sufficiently knowledgeable and proficient to truly pose a threat to the very freedom of information the Internet facilitates. We should take a cue from them.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
WASHINGTON (Feb. 10, 2014) – As a growing chorus of states in the American West stand up to claim shared or sole sovereignty over federal lands within their borders, lawmakers and agency officials should seriously explore ways to shift more responsibility to local decision-makers, a new paper from the R Street Institute argues.
In the western states, nearly half the land is owned and controlled by the federal government, compared with only 4 percent in the East. About 57 percent of all federal land is in the contiguous western states, with another 35 percent in Alaska.
“The consequences include limited revenue for state coffers, declining recreation access, increased restrictions on commodity production and, in some cases, poor environmental stewardship,” R Street Associate Fellow Holly L. Fretwell writes.
Disputes over how best to manage these hundreds of millions of acres have prompted state efforts in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming to insist the federal government divest its lands and transfer most of them to state jurisdiction.
Fretwell argues that federal-to-state transfers should be studied as one of a host of potential policy options for the federal estate to make better use of local knowledge and better align management incentives. Others she proposes exploring include expanding public-private partnerships, streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act and extending the lands-in-trust concept on federal lands to allow private parties and nonprofit groups the right to bid for use in competitive auction.
“To be sure, there is no one-size-fits-all reform that would be appropriate for all or even most federally owned lands,” Fretwell writes. “Rather, different reforms – ranging from outright privatization to devolution of decision-making authority – may be appropriate in different circumstances.”
The full paper is available for download here:
The United States might indeed be one nation, indivisible, but there are huge differences between its eastern and western halves when it comes to federal lands. In the West, nearly half the land is owned and controlled by the federal government, compared with only 4 percent in the East. That difference affects the ability of western states to determine their own destiny.
In March 2012, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed H.B. 148, legislation that insists the federal government divest its lands in the state, transferring most of them to state jurisdiction. Utah is not alone in the desire to bring federal acreage under local control. At least four other western states (Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming) have passed similar legislation and still more are considering similar bills.
Proponents of the measure argue that this sort of decentralization would place control in the hands of those with the most to gain or lose from effective land stewardship. They also point to enabling legislation passed by Congress when each of these states joined the union, noting that they typically have included clauses providing that the federal government would extinguish its title to any unappropriated lands.
Indeed, what were once public lands in eastern states largely have been transferred to the private sector, where they generate revenues for those states. Conversely, in the West, hundreds of millions of acres of federal land remain. The consequences include limited revenue for state coffers, declining recreation access, increased restrictions on commodity production and, in some cases, poor environmental stewardship.
These pieces of state legislation undoubtedly will face constitutional challenges, but regardless of their legal standing, if federal land management was to be reassigned, who would mind the estate? What rules would reign? What sort of arrangements would best steward America’s lands to ensure they are managed to bring recreational and environmental value, while also providing the revenues and resources needed for a productive society?
This paper provides a glimpse of some of the institutional and management problems that face America’s public lands and suggests reforms that policy-makers should consider to improve management of the federal estate.