Out of the Storm News
Praise didn’t come from all quarters. Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at R Street Institute, a Washington think tank that was involved in drafting the 2012 overhaul, says Congress’s decision to undo the earlier law shows the power of “a small group of vocal homeowners” scaring Congress. “It rebreaks the flood insurance program,” he says.
From CBS Philly:
But many speakers spoke in opposition. Among them was Dr. Joel Nitzkin, speaking for what he described as a libertarian think tank called the R Street Institute.
“E-cigarette vapor contains no products of combustion and only the tiniest traces of other toxic substances,” he said. “E-cigarettes pose a risk well below two percent of the risk posed by regular cigarettes, and for all practical purposes, no risk to bystanders.”
If you need evidence of how much conservative thinking about crime has changed over the past few decades, look no further than the crowd gathered for last week’s CPAC panel on criminal-justice reform, featuring such stalwart conservatives as Grover Norquist and Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Rather than focusing solely on locking people up (still a good thing to do in many cases), conservatives have taken the lead in efforts to encourage businesses to hire more ex-offenders and improve drug treatment behind bars. Thus far, most of these efforts have been focused at the state level, since states enforce the great bulk of criminal laws and imprison most inmates.
While this approach has served the burgeoning movement well, in the long run, conservative criminal-justice reformers will need to grapple with federal policy, as well. Thanks to roughly a dozen federal grant programs of various scopes and sizes, federal policies influence nearly every aspect of local police and corrections practice. But given conservatives’ general skepticism about almost any federal role in local law enforcement (a skepticism I share), few on the right have made constructive proposals for reform at the national level.
This is a mistake. There are some federal law-enforcement programs — such as ones involving border security, technological development and anti-terrorism efforts — that it makes sense for conservatives to support. In other areas, existing federal programs encourage localities to do the wrong things, with funds tied to locking up more offenders and making more arrests. These incentives lead to more spending and bigger government.
Like much of what government does, the inefficient and misguided programs have proven nearly impossible to kill, so ignoring them really isn’t an option. Instead, the right should look to craft its own reform program, while building on to what’s good that has come from the left.
In particular, New York University’s Brennan Center has given a lot of deep thought to ways to fix the largest single police-facing federal program, the Edward A. Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program. Instead of simply rewarding police for making more arrests and issuing more warrants, the Brennan Center team proposes rewarding localities for reducing violent crime, diverting non-violent drug offenders to treatment rather than prison and otherwise policing smarter. These ideas, packaged under the rubric of “success-oriented funding,” make a lot of sense.
There’s reason to think the federal government should vastly reduce its role in criminal justice. But if federal programs are to continue, we have to stop them from doing harm. The Brennan Center’s proposals offer one potential path for moving in the right direction.
Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute. His testimony favored origin-sourcing, the concept of taxing sales based on where the seller is located rather than where the customer is located. Origin-sourcing reconfigures the sales tax from a consumption tax to a business activity tax, which is revolutionary. The most common critique of origin-sourcing is that it would lead to online sellers clustering in states with no sales tax, which is questionable.
From National Journal:
“Simply treating remote sales in the same way that we already treat brick-and-mortar sales would level the playing field in an honest way,” said the R Street Institute’s Andrew Moylan.
An online sales tax based on the seller’s location would work much like brick-and-mortar sales taxes do today, added Andrew Moylan, outreach director at the R Street Institute, a think tank advocating for free markets. If a Washington, D.C., resident shops in Virginia, she pays Virginia’s sales tax, he noted.
But Stephen Kranz, a partner in the McDermott Will & Emery law firm and a member of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, said a tax system based on the seller’s location would be easy to game and would likely drive Internet retailers to relocate or set up ghost headquarters in the handful of states without sales taxes.
The proposals from Moylan and Cox would create “a race to the bottom” in state tax rates, added Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.
Another proponent of origin sourcing, Andrew Moylan, senior fellow of R Street, argued that MFA would hinder economic growth by penalizing the rampant growth of Internet businesses. “Origin sourcing truly levels the playing field,” he told the committee. “The MFA would erase the physical presence standard for remote sales while ostensibly maintaining it for brick-and-mortar sales.”
From Palm Beach Post:
The group, calling itself the Green Scissors Coalition, wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposing the project. The Green Scissors Coalition members describe themselves thus: “Friends of the Earth is a progressive environmental group, Taxpayers for Common Sense is a budget watchdog and R Street is a conservative think tank.”
An Army Corps of Engineers analysis projects the dredging would create “net annual benefits” of $3.98 million, but the Green Scissors Coalition is skeptical.
“Palm Beach is a small port that has rarely shown profits and is located between two much larger ports,” they write. “There is little chance that a modest expansion will have a significant economic impact in any case.”
From WBUR Radio:
RUNDLET: Whether or not your property will be here 30 years from now, Johnson says it may be the insurance issue that determines real estate prices. After all the payouts following Hurricane Sandy, the National Flood Insurance Program went into debt by more than $20 billion. While the price of flood insurance will always be a factor for folks living in known flood zones, Eli Lehrer says there’s another more urgent problem beside sea level rise. Lehrer is the president of a Washington, D.C. think tank called the R Street Institute. It focuses on the insurance industry.
ELI LEHRER: Storm surge is a larger and more imminent problem than is sea level rise. Sea level rise is projected to be somewhere between two and five feet over the next century. Storm surge is going to be six feet from a category 1 hurricane, and the chances that a category 1 hurricane hitting Florida are virtually 100 percent.
WASHINGTON (March 12, 2014) – Allowing states to apply sales taxes where a retailer is located, rather than where a consumer lives, offers a fairer and more efficient alternative to misguided Internet sales tax legislation passed last year by the U.S. Senate, R Street Institute Senior Fellow Andrew Moylan told the House Judiciary Committee this morning.
Testifying at a hearing on alternatives to S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act, Moylan said “origin sourcing” collection standards already in use to collect sales tax for brick-and-mortar sales should be the norm for remote sales as well. By contrast, he noted, “destination sourcing” standards such as those imposed by the S. 743 would undermine basic principles of sound tax policy, impose unequal collection burdens on businesses and constitute a substantial burden on interstate commerce.
“Extending the existing origin sourcing collection standards would ensure that all retail sales are governed by the same straightforward rules, requiring tax collection based on the physical location of the business, not the residence of the buyer,” said Moylan. “This solution also meets Internet sales tax principles laid out by Chairman Goodlatte late last year.”
Moylan also stressed that the Marketplace Fairness Act is extremely unpopular. In a poll commissioned last year by R Street and the National Taxpayers Union to test public attitudes on Internet sales tax issues, 57 percent said they opposed a Marketplace Fairness Act-type of plan.
“No Congress should govern by poll alone, but this data proves that not only is a destination-sourcing scheme like the MFA bad policy, it is profoundly bad politics as well,” cautioned Moylan. “That should send a strong message to this committee that America is engaged on this issue and that only something like an origin-sourcing rule to truly level the playing field can pass muster with them.”
In March 12 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, R Street Institute Senior Fellow Andrew Moylan noted that S. 743, the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), would undermine basic principles of sound tax policy, impose unequal collection burdens on businesses and constitute a substantial burden on interstate commerce.
However, Moylan added that extending simple “origin sourcing” collection standards already in use nationwide for brick-and-mortar sales to all remote sales as well would address the concern that current law is inadequate, maintain important tax policy protections and meet Internet sales tax principles laid out by Chairman Goodlatte late last year. This shift would ensure that all retail sales are governed by the same straightforward rules, requiring tax collection based on the physical location of the business, not the residence of the buyer.
From the Herald-Tribune:
The R Street Institute, a nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C., is an especially vocal critic of federally funded beach renourishment.
“Beach renourishment is an enormous waste of federal tax money,” institute founder Eli Lehrer said Thursday. “There isn’t a case for federal involvement.”
If localities want to rebuild their beaches, they should have the local economy pay for it, Lehrer said.
Regardless, he considers such projects as needlessly wasteful. “We’re dumping sand in places where any 5-year-old could tell you that, if you build a sandcastle there, it will only wash away.”
From SNL Financial
The next phase of the flood battle will be to see if the Senate goes along with the offset to cover “their foolish choice to dismantle flood insurance reform,” said Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute. “We’ll be arguing on the side of a surcharge or other policy to prevent taxpayers from having to shoulder more burdens as a result of this broken program,” he told SNL.
R Street and Ellis’ group are members of SmarterSafer.org, a coalition that also includes environmental groups. Insurance industry members include Chubb Corp., Liberty Mutual Holding Co. Inc. and United Services Automobile Association.
From The Hill:
Witnesses for Wednesday’s hearing include Chris Cox, counsel at NetChoice, which represents companies such as eBay; Joe Crosby, principal at MultiState Associates; and Andrew Moylan, senior fellow at the R Street Institute. The committee will also hear testimony from sales tax attorneys.
Col. Alan M. Dodd
United States Army Corps of Engineers
701 San Marco Blvd
Jacksonville, FL 32207-8175
RE: Response to Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Impact Statement
March 7, 2014
Dear Col. Dodd,
As the members of the Green Scissors Coalition, Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the R Street Institute wish to state our opposition to proposals to expand the Port of Palm Beach. While all three groups have different missions, visions and ideologies—Friends of the Earth is a progressive environmental group, Taxpayers for Common Sense is a budget watchdog and R Street is a conservative think tank—all three are united in their opposition to projects that are wasteful and environmentally harmful. The proposed port expansion in Palm Beach is one such project.
The EIS you are considering has severe flaws. Among other things, the purpose and need as put together is an exercise in question begging that’s tailored to result in the Corps’ conclusion. The EIS also fails to address many legitimate environmental concerns or consider less environmentally harmful ways that the same economic benefits might well be achieved. The proposed expansion may also serve to intensify storm surge inland following major hurricanes.
There are also strong common sense reasons to be skeptical of this port expansion proposal: Palm Beach is a small port that has rarely shown profits and is located between two much larger ports. There is little chance that a modest expansion will have a significant economic impact in any case.
In short, we urge you to study this situation further and hold off on any effort to expand the Port of Palm Beach.
The Green Scissors Coalition
Friends of the Earth
Taxpayers for Common Sense
R Street Institute
Contact: Eli Lehrer (202)525-5717 – email@example.com
Who will be the next “Mr. Republican”? While the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination gets underway, there is another, more informal race going on as well. Since the Second World War, there have been a handful of elected Republicans who have distinguished themselves not by winning the White House, but rather by setting the party’s ideological direction.
The first Mr. Republican was Robert A. Taft, the Ohio senator who served as the most scathing conservative critic of FDR and the New Deal, and who later warned that America’s Cold War entanglements threatened freedom at home. His successor was Barry Goldwater, who called for rolling back the frontiers of the welfare state at home and communism abroad, and through his crushing defeat paved the way for the Great Society and a vast expansion of federal power. Goldwater inspired a generation of conservatives, including Ronald Reagan, who eventually overpowered the moderates and liberals who once played a central role in the party.
Jack Kemp crafted a less hard-edged and more optimistic “bleeding-heart conservatism,” which celebrated economic growth as a painless way to finance rising social expenditures. And Newt Gingrich, as architect of the first Republican House majority in a generation, offered a combustible mix of high-minded techno-utopianism and scorched-earth partisanship that transformed American politics.
Last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference saw a whole host of Republican standouts jockeying for position, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But with the exception of Rand Paul, these men aren’t offering distinctive new visions for the GOP.
To be the next Mr. Republican (or Ms. Republican, if the current bench included more women), you need to offer a full complement of policy positions and a theory of how they fit together. The closest we’ve come to a Mr. Republican in the post-Bush years might have been Jim DeMint, the former senator from South Carolina. DeMint’s embrace of the tea party insurgency played a key role in its early success, and in its early failures. But when DeMint left electoral politics behind to run the Heritage Foundation, his pronouncements lost the weight that comes from being accountable to voters. Tom Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma, has the intellect and the political shrewdness the role of Mr. Republican demands, but his decision to retire from office removes him from the picture.
Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, is a promising candidate for the role. Having spent part of his young adult years working for Kemp, Ryan has a deep understanding of the Republican coalition and what it takes to hold it together. His persuasive abilities were on full display in 2011 and 2012, when he united House Republicans around his controversial proposal to overhaul Medicare for future retirees. More recently, Ryan has been seeking out new ways to combat entrenched poverty. His ongoing efforts to identify market-oriented policy solutions are exactly what you’d want from a Mr. Republican. And though Ryan is still considered a potential presidential contender, he seems more interested in policy innovation and legislative coalition-building than in running another exhausting and dispiriting national campaign.
But Ryan isn’t the only candidate for Mr. Republican. In recent months, Mike Lee, the junior senator from Utah who defeated the veteran legislator Bob Bennett in a nomination fight that divided Republicans across the country, has emerged as something more than a tea party firebrand. Like Ted Cruz, Lee has not shied away from confrontations with party elders over tactics, like the fight to defund Obamacare.
Yet Lee has also emerged as the most vocal champion of a “conservative reform agenda,” focused not on the policy challenges that defined the Reagan era, but rather the thornier policy challenges facing the more diverse America of the 2010s, with its fragile families, bloated and unresponsive government and ongoing employment crisis.
In a largely unheralded speech at CPAC, Lee spoke of “America’s growing opportunity deficit”: of poor Americans trapped by dysfunctional welfare policies, cash-strapped middle-income families overwhelmed by the high cost of housing and a high-quality education and small businesses stymied by regulations that rig the playing field in favor of large incumbents.
Though Lee has only been in the Senate for a short period of time, he is building an ambitious policy portfolio that ranges from criminal justice reform to transportation to tax policy. He has also demonstrated a willingness to work with others. When the Tax Policy Center found that his first attempt at making the tax code friendlier for middle-income families with children would greatly increase the deficit, Lee formed a partnership with Marco Rubio to offer a new proposal that would tackle corporate taxes as well as individual taxes. One of the reasons Lee can form these partnerships is that he has no presidential ambitions, and as a Republican senator from conservative Utah, he recognizes that he can take risks other more vulnerable lawmakers can’t.
If the GOP grows strong in the post-Obama years, it won’t be because the party finds attractive presidential candidates in 2016 and beyond. Rather, it will be because of the intellectual groundwork that is being laid by party-builders like Ryan and Lee.
Academics at the University of California San Francisco have used the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey to fabricate a claim that “e-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco.”
Lead author Lauren Dutra provided that quote to the media in a UCSF press release touting the study. Dr. Stanton Glantz was a co-author. The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
The UCSF press release also contains a demonstrably false leading statement:
The study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle- and high-school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.
These percentages DO NOT refer to current e-cigarette use, but to ever using e-cigarettes, “even just one time.” I have analyzed this data before (here and here). E-cigarette use among middle- and high-school students did double between 2011 and 2012, from 1.0 to 2.0 percent. The chart on the left provides a truthful picture of e-cigarette use.
The Dutra-Glantz study consisted of a dizzying array of statistical analyses that could not possibly support their claim that e-cigarettes are a gateway to cigarettes. Unfortunately, the media is headlining this false claim around the globe.
The only positive note in this otherwise dark story is that, for the first time, Glantz’s fabrication was called out by the American Cancer Society and the American Legacy Foundation. The ACS’s Dr. Thomas Glynn said in the New York Times that “the data in this study do not allow many of the broad conclusions that it draws.”
Dr. David Abrams of the American Legacy Foundation confirmed that the data do not support the authors’ conclusion. “I am quite certain that a survey would find that people who have used nicotine gum are much more likely to be smokers and to have trouble quitting, but that does not mean that gum is a gateway to smoking or makes it harder to quit,”
There is more. My chart shows that, although e-cigarette use increased, exclusive cigarette smoking plummeted, from 4 percent to 2.8 percent among middle-school students, and from 14.6 percent to 11.8 percent among high-school students. This dramatic decline further undermines the Dutra-Glantz claims.
Anti-tobacco extremists have won this media skirmish against e-cigarettes, but at a price – their integrity.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
WASHINGTON (Mar. 10, 2014) – The R Street Institute today mocked the Senate Democrat “talkathon” on climate change as a publicity stunt. Though R Street is unique on the right in acknowledging climate change and proposing conservative solutions to address it, the group derided the Democratic display as hypocritical given their vote just two weeks ago to gut reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program.
“Any rational response to climate change must start by ending taxpayer handouts for behavior that exacerbates its impact. Senate Democrats failed that test by voting almost unanimously for a bill gutting flood insurance reform,” said Andrew Moylan, senior fellow at R Street. Legislation passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives would delay or completely repeal several sections of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 directing FEMA to end subsidized rates for homes sold or mapped into flood zones.
“If senators are serious about addressing the negative impacts of climate change, they would not have voted to continue subsidies for those living in areas that would bear the brunt of rising sea levels,” Moylan continued. “They missed a rare opportunity to cast a vote that was pro-environment and pro-taxpayer and no gabfest on the Senate floor can change that.”
Moylan concluded by noting the peculiar sight of Democrats decrying inaction in a chamber they control. “Rather than pursue a thoughtful agenda, they chose instead to re-break the flood insurance program and mug for C-SPAN’s cameras mere weeks later.”
Dear Chairman Cole, Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, and members of the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee:
We write on behalf of the Congressional Data Coalition, a coalition formed in 2014 of citizens, public interest groups, trade associations, and businesses that champion greater governmental transparency through improved public access to and long-term preservation of congressional information.
The work of our coalition members reaches tens of millions of individuals and is relied on daily by members of Congress and their staff, legislative professionals, journalists, and citizens for timely, complete, and accurate information on the activity of Congress. For instance:
- 250 members of Congress and more than 6,000 congressional staff use the mobile app “Capitol Bells” by Ted Henderson for vote alerts.
- The mobile app “Congress” by the Sunlight Foundation, used to monitor congressional legislative activities, has been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
- Data from GovTrack.us powers the district map widgets on more than 80 House member websites, DemCom (the House Democrats’ intranet), as well as Sen. Reid’s website’s vote tracker, and back-office dashboards in several Senate offices.
These products have been successful both in thanks to and in spite of the information made available by legislative branch offices and agencies. A 2012 report by the Cato Institute grading legislative branch data products identified successes, such as data on House floor debates and the Senate data on Senate membership, as well as failures, notably the status and text of amendments.
As you know, the House’s Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force submitted a report to the Committee on House Appropriations in December 2012 recommending “that it be a priority for Legislative Branch agencies to publish legislative information in XML and provide bulk access to that data.”
The task force’s recommendation reiterated a June 2012 statement by Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, then-Chairman of the Subcommittee Crenshaw, and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Issa which stated, “Our goal is to provide bulk access to legislative information to the American people without further delay…Bulk data is the next and a very important step.”
We commend the task force and the committee. Since the start of the 112th Congress, and especially since the start of the task force, we have seen significant improvements in congressional transparency, most notably with 1) the publication of floor and committee information on docs.house.gov, 2) the new Rules Committee website that makes it easy to see legislation under consideration for floor action, 3) House floor proceedings XML, 4) a series of conferences on congressional data and transparency, and 5) the new U.S. Code bulk XML data. These accomplishments addressed some of the concerns raised in the 2012 Cato report.
However, important information on bills has not yet been addressed. Our coalition members have used THOMAS.gov as their primary source of information for bill status for more than a decade. When THOMAS is retired at the end of 2014, products developed by our members and used by members of Congress, citizens, and others will stop working. Further, while we welcome the replacement of THOMAS by Congress.gov, neither THOMAS nor Congress.gov meets the House leadership’s pledge to make legislative data available. To illustrate the difference between a website and data, we note that no legislative branch office or agency makes available a spreadsheet that lists every bill introduced in the 113th Congress. As you may have experienced in your own lives, a spreadsheet is an important tool when working with large amounts of information. Bulk data is like that.
Some of our coalition members offered a path forward in a report submitted to the task force in August 2012, in which they recommended that legislative status information, which includes the status of bills, information on cosponsors, and so on be made available to the public in bulk, structured data formats such as XML Our members have requested this data regularly since 2007, but there is new urgency to our request as THOMAS is phased out this year. To provide an orderly transition from THOMAS to bulk and structured data a conversation must begin now.
Our request is relatively simple, inexpensive, and uncontroversial. Bulk, structured data is a cornerstone of many legislative information products such as House and Senate roll call votes and House and Senate bill text, which all use XML, as well as nearly all of the recent projects already completed by the task force. These methods also embody the “four key data practices that support government transparency” identified by a Cato Institute report.
Specifically, we ask the subcommittee to:
1) Direct the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office to make timely bill status information available to the public in XML format. Such a requirement could take the form of:
As soon as practicable, and no later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act, the Librarian of Congress, in consultation with the Public Printer, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, and the Secretary of the Senate, shall make available to the public through the Internet and in a structured data format the legislative status data used by the Librarian to provide the information the Librarian posts on what is known today as the beta.congress.gov website.
2) Continue to support the work of the Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force. The House of Representatives has undertaken a historic effort to open Congress to the American people. More people are able to engage with Congress now than at any time in our nation’s history because of these digitization efforts. We welcome the opportunity to work with you to ensure Congress continues to provide crucial, timely legislative information to the public in formats that support analysis and reuse.
To discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact us. More information on our coalition can be found at http://congressionaldata.org.
President, Civic Impulse, LLC (GovTrack.us)
202-558-7227 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Director, Congressional Data Coalition
on behalf of
The Congressional Data Coalition
Center for Responsive Politics
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Civic Impulse, LLC (GovTrack.us)
Data Transparency Coalition
eCitizen.org / GovAlert.me
Ed Walters, CEO, Fastcase, Inc.
Free Government Information
Government Accountability Project
National Priorities Project
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
R Street Institute