Obamacare Leaves Behind Millions Of Lower Income Workers

“Despite being designed to help the poor, certain aspects of Obamacare are holding millions of individuals back who fall into what is being called the “coverage gap.” Reverend Vann R. Ellison, the president of the Florida based St. Matthew’s House, is trying to bring attention to the issue which he says affects people that fall between the $10,000 and $12,000 a year income range. St. Matthew’s House, which takes care of roughly 1,500 people, provides food and shelter to those individuals trying to work their way out of poverty. “We generally deal with lower income people trying to get their lives together,” Ellison told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “These are people that can’t afford their own apartments.” Those in that income range make too much to qualify for assistance under Obamacare but often times make too little to actually afford coverage or the fee that comes with not being covered. It’s an issue that impacts many of the lower income people Ellison is trying to help….”


Obamacare Penalty May Not Be High Enough For Middle Incomes

“Even though penalties under the Affordable Care Act for not having health insurance jumped significantly this year, they still might be too low to attract Americans to signup for subsidized coverage, a new analysis shows. Avalere Health, a Washington health policy and consulting firm, said some middle income healthy individuals would rather pay the fine when they weigh it against spending a few hundred dollars more on insurance. The fee icreased to $325 per adult or 2% of income for 2015, according to healthcare.gov. That compares to a fee of $95 per adult or 1 percent of income for those who went without coverage last year. “Individuals earning more than double the poverty level may continue to forego coverage since paying the fine is still much more affordable than purchasing insurance,” Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere, told journalists during a panel discussion Friday on exchanges at the Association of Health Care Journalists annual meeting in Santa Clara…”


Red ink could kill Covered California

“After two previous extensions, the open enrollment period for Covered California ends April 30. That deadline just might prove to be the tipping point for the state’s two-year-old health insurance exchange. That’s because this is the year Covered California is supposed to become completely self-sustaining. Indeed, there’s no more money coming from Washington after the state exhausts the $1.1 billion it received from the federal government to get the Obamacare exchange up and running. And state law prohibits Sacramento from spending any money to keep the exchange afloat. That presents an existential crisis for Covered California, which is facing a nearly $80 budget deficit for its 2015-16 fiscal year. Although the exchange is setting aside $200 million to cover its near-term deficit, Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee acknowledged in December that there are questions about the “long-term sustainability of the organization.” Mr. Lee’s disquieting assessment actually jibed with a 2013 report by the state auditor, which stated that, until the state’s health insurance exchange actually started enrolling Californians in health plans, its “future solvency” was ”uncertain.” Thus, Covered California was listed as a “high-risk” issue for the state. The state auditor’s warning appeared prescient as of Feb. 15, which was supposed to be the close of open enrollment for 2015: Covered California had fallen 300,000 enrollees short of the goal set by Mr. Lee and the agency’s board of directors. Indeed, Covered California’s enrollment growth for 2015 was a mere 1 percent, according to a study this month by Avalere Health. That was worst than all but two other state exchanges. Meanwhile, California’s Obamacare exchange managed to retain only 65 percent of previous enrollees, the nation’s fourth-lowest re-enrollment rate. We look forward to next week’s enrollment numbers from Covered California; to see if there is another near-miraculous, 11th-hour spike in enrollments enabling Mr. Lee to claim a successful enrollment period (and for opinion writers around the country to once again hail California as prima facie evidence that Obamacare is working. But there’s no getting around Covered California’s balance sheet. If it continues to run yearly operating deficits, it will not long survive…”


Health plan adds option of payment in cash at local stores

“With Obamacare in its second year, health officials are still working out the kinks in expanding health coverage to millions of Californians. In the latest fix, members of a health plan for low-income Los Angeles County residents now can pay their premiums with cash at neighborhood stores, a more convenient option for some people without bank accounts. “It really is a testament to how far we’ve come in terms of the implementation of the ACA that now we’re really addressing these on-the-ground, everyday issues and barriers,” said Amy Adams, senior program officer for California HealthCare Foundation’s Improving Access team. Roughly 4 million Californians have become insured under the national health law, which required nearly everyone to have health insurance starting in 2014. The state’s uninsured population has dropped by half to 11%. Consumer advocates have long pushed for easier ways for the working poor to pay their insurance premiums. A report released before the implementation of Obamacare last year found that 27% of Americans and 19% of Californians who were uninsured and eligible for subsidies didn’t have bank accounts. The insurance plan that rolled out the neighborhood cash payment system this month, L.A. Care Covered, is among those offered to patients who are eligible for government subsidies through the state’s health coverage exchange, Covered California. Members can pay their premiums at 1,953 stores in California, including all 7-Elevens, by scanning a bar code linked to their account. “We’re very excited,” said Laura Jaramillo, an L.A. Care Covered official. “We feel that that’s going to make it extremely easy and convenient for them to pay their premiums.” Jaramillo said officials hope a few thousand of the plan’s 17,000 Covered California members will use the new payment option. It’s not clear how many members lack bank accounts, she said, but about 40% mail in a money order, cashiers’ or personal check, instead of paying with a credit card online. An additional number also pay with a prepaid debit card online, she said…”


Under Obamacare, Transgender Equality Wanes

Specific rules about civil rights in health care are not yet written, so gender-transition therapy and surgery is still not covered.


5 insurers apply to sell New Hampshire marketplace plans

“Consumers shopping for health insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law will have some new options for next year, according to the state insurance commissioner. Insurance companies had until April 15 to submit their applications to the state for review. Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny said five companies applied to sell health plans through the online marketplace created by the overhaul law, along with four companies that plan to sell stand-alone dental plans. Four of the health insurance companies are repeat players – Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Community Health Options and Minuteman Health. The fifth, Ambetter offered by Celtic Insurance, will be new. Two companies will be offering dental plans for the first time: Dentegra Insurance and Guardian Life. They will join Anthem and Delta Dental. Anthem was the only company that offered health plans in New Hampshire during the first enrollment period, and it was criticized for its narrow provider network. For the second enrollment period, which ended Feb. 15, there were five companies, and each hospital was included in at least three provider networks. New Hampshire opted not to set up its own online insurance marketplace under the overhaul law and is partnering with the federal government to educate consumers and manage the health plans being offered. Nearly 53,000 people in New Hampshire either signed up for health insurance or were automatically re-enrolled in their plans during the second enrollment period…”


VA Wastes Millions So Far, But Still Wants More As Veterans Waiting For Treatment

“Bob McDonald — Veterans Affairs Secretary says his department is so destitute that it’s attempting to accommodate huge number of veterans looking for treatment from the health system. In the meantime, the agency keeps spending about $25 million a year on several vacant or underused facilities the nation over. Shutting or merging those offices could free up a great many dollars that could somehow be used to pay more doctors and nurses to treat the excess of patients at medical facilities the nation over, as per McDonald. Addressing reporters at the Association of Health Care Journalists’ annual conference in Santa Clara, California, McDonald proposed that closing or consolidating these buildings could free up some funds to permit the VA to hire at least 200 more registered medical caretakers and pay for 144,000 primary visits for veterans. “We have to make headway with shutting areas that are not economically sustainable and old, obsolete buildings that are difficult to keep up and give little or no value to our clients,” McDonald said. The VA has 336 buildings the nation over, covering around 10.5 million square feet, that are either sitting vacant or less than 50% occupied, as per McDonald’s early Congressional confirmation. The secretary, who assumed control over the beset department last July, has encouraged officials to close or consolidate the facilities— but his recommendation hasn’t gained much footing on Capitol Hill . While these buildings sit vacant, the VA is fabricating new facilities using emergency funding granted by Congress. The previous summer, legislators approved a major $16.5 billion upgrade bill in light of a spate of examinations that uncovered that VA health facilities the nation over had made shrouded waitlists that kept patients holding up months, even years for treatment. The additional funding thus far has gone toward opening up more facilities and beefing up the VA’s staff to accommodate the rising demand. McDonald says that, even with the saving funds that could be picked up from the unused space, his agency needs more cash and more staffing so as to mitigate the overabundance of veterans waiting for treatment. In spite of the fact that the Obama administration has asked for a huge budget increase for the VA in 2016, it’s not likely that Congress will favor it. Actually, a subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House just endorsed a $1.2 billion cut to the agency’s budget…”





Illegal Alien Deported FOUR TIMES Is Arrested In Texas After Threatening A Family

“An illegal Mexican immigrant who has been deported from the U.S. no less than four times was arrested in Texas after he threatened to kill a neighbor and was found with a loaded gun in his truck. Omar Garcia-Vasquez, 44, was arrested on Tuesday in McLean, just east of Amarillo. A sheriff’s deputy responded to a 911 call about “a man with a gun,” the Amarillo Globe-News reported. The caller said a man had threatened his family, according to a charging document filed in U.S. District Court in Amarillo on Friday. The caller identified Garcia-Vasquez as he was getting out of his truck. The deputy said he appeared to be intoxicated. When the deputy questioned Garcia-Vasquez, he said that he was planning to kill someone. Garcia-Vasquez acknowledged he had a weapon in his truck. The deputy searched and found a loaded and cocked .22-caliber revolver on the console. Garcia-Vasquez was arrested on the spot and taken to jail. According to the Globe-News, he was taken to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement where he was fingerprinted and identified as a Mexican national. Records also showed that Garcia-Vasquez had been removed from the U.S. four times. The most recent removal was in 2008. He faces charges of illegal alien in possession of a firearm….”


Aid packages won’t end illegal immigration

“Vice President Joe Biden is now calling for Congress to approve a $1 billion aid package to Central America. The aid is supposed to improve border policing, build community centers and prevent future waves of illegal immigration like the one last year, when thousands of Central American children arrived at our country’s southern border. But money won’t solve this problem – or any problem with our immigration system. Unless we address the fundamental errors in our current immigration policies, the United States will always struggle with similar floods of immigrants entering the country illegally. This is an especially important issue for New Mexico, which has an estimated 70,000 undocumented immigrants and is expected to receive thousands more in the coming years. My organization was recently invited to testify before the U.S. Senate in support of immigration reform, and I was honored to have the opportunity to remind lawmakers of America’s immigrant legacy. It is a story of waves of immigrants who looked to America as their own promised land. Immigrants with these dreams of a better life for their children formed the foundation on which our nation was built. Today, more than 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally live in the United States, making up about 5 percent of the labor force. Because of restrictive immigration policy, they are left to make a tough decision. These men and women have a strong desire to contribute to our nation, and they bring with them a culture of hard work and aspirational dreams. These are not bad people; it’s bad law. My grandfather came to this country as a bracero, at a time when America needed men to grow its food. As our GIs were winning battles in World War II, he was one of the thousands who came in droves to harvest the bounty of our farms and orchards, keeping troops fed. After years of farm work, my parents invested their entire savings in a small motel in central Washington state. They quickly moved up on the economic ladder. It is a testament to this nation and its free market system that so many of us who started out with nothing achieved prosperity. As in my grandfather’s story, immigration is a response to world economic conditions. There is more immigration when the U.S. economy is strong and Latin American economies are weak. Mexico’s growing economy has been a major factor in the recent drop of unauthorized immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, there were 5.9 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants in 2012, compared with 6.4 million in 2009 and 6.9 million in 2007. The numbers are falling…”


Obama amnesty greater threat to blacks than police brutality, experts say

Illegal immigrants flood low-skilled labor markets once dominated by blacks, depress wages

“Economic and civil rights experts say increased immigration spurred by President Obama’s executive orders poses a bigger threat to the black community than police brutality or racial profiling, which have sparked protests in black communities across the country. “It’s a bigger threat to black livelihood,” Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said, adding that illegal immigration “dwarfs” the more inflammatory issues of police brutality, saying, “When you look at the hundreds of thousands of blacks thrown out of work over the years as a result of the competitive pressure the downstream effects are profound.” The number of unemployed black workers in the U.S. is soaring, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over 12.2 million black people of working age were not in the labor force in March, meaning they had neither been employed nor actively sought a job for at least four weeks. The labor force participation rate for black men ages 20 and older is more than 5 percentage points lower than it is for white men, and for those in the labor force, the black unemployment rate is more than double the white unemployment rate, at 10.1 percent versus 4.7 percent. Loosened immigration policy will only compound the problem. As more illegal immigrants enter the U.S., encouraged by the president’s sweeping executive actions, they flood low-skilled labor markets once dominated by blacks, which ultimately decreases wages and increases job competition for low-skilled black workers, said Mr. Kirsanow…”


27 charged in Florida marriage fraud for immigrants

“Federal prosecutors have charged 27 people in South Florida with taking part in a marriage fraud ring aimed at bringing immigrants into the U.S. illegally. Investigators say the ringleaders charged a fee of up to several thousand dollars to the immigrants who would then take part in sham weddings. The goal was to evade U.S. immigration laws and enter into the country illegally. Authorities say the ring operated from May 2011 to February 2014. People from a wide range of countries were involved, including Argentina, Ukraine, Colombia, Moldova, Israel and Venezuela. The marriage fraud and immigration law violations carry potential maximum sentences of between five and 10 years for those convicted…”


Congressman implores Latinos to get involved if they want change

“New Yakima City Council districts won’t guarantee representation for Latinos unless they take advantage of the opportunity, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez told Latinos in Yakima at a rally Saturday night. “The Hispanic community in Yakima finally has the opportunity to vote together to elect someone who represents their values and aspirations,” Gutierrez, D-Illinois, said. “You can make sure there’s two new Latino council members dedicated to your community.” The elections are the result of a voting rights lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the city. Although the city is appealing a federal judge’s order to adopt a district-based system that includes two Latino-majority districts, the new elections will take place this year. “If Yakima is anything like most American cities, it’s a city of diverse neighborhoods,” he said in an interview before speaking to the group. “Why not let that diversity be represented?” Gutierrez also focused on President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform in a 30-minute speech to more than 200 people at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Yakima. It was Gutierrez’s first appearance in Yakima since 2013, when he was also stumping for immigration reform to be passed through Congress. “The president’s orders aren’t immigration reform, they are what we can do until Congress fulfills its responsibility to pass immigration reform,” Gutierrez, a 12-term congressman who has been at the forefront of the reform movement, said….”


Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio tread carefully on immigration reform

“Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have turned explaining their similar positions on immigration reform into a political art form. Secure the border, they grovel to conservatives worried about “amnesty.” Get a better grip on people who come into the country legally with visas, in case they overstay them. Give legal priority to immigrants who can contribute to the economy. Then — and only then — should the U.S. grant legal status to many of the nearly 11 million people inside the country without authorization. “We need to control our border first of all,” Bush said last week at a political breakfast in Manchester, New Hampshire. “The American people, they understand we have an issue that has to be confronted,” Rubio said at a Manchester house party a few hours later. “But they’re not willing to do it or even talk about it until you show them — not tell them, you better show them — that illegal immigration is under control.”…”


Marco Rubio on immigration: Border security comes first

“Marco Rubio still supports legal status and a slow road to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, but now says the government must convince Americans the border is secure before taking those steps. “The key that unlocks our ability to make progress on immigration is to prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control,” Rubio told The Des Moines Register’s editorial board on Saturday morning during his first visit to Iowa as a declared candidate for president. The Republican U.S. senator from Florida was a key player in crafting the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform legislation that cleared the Senate but failed in the House. Rubio’s involvement raised his national profile, but damaged his standing with some conservatives he now must court in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential preference caucuses. On Saturday, Rubio acknowledged that public appetite for immigration reform is lower than it was even two years ago, necessitating a different approach. That approach must focus first and foremost on security and efforts that will prevent new migrants from entering or remaining in the country illegally, he said. He and other senators “underestimated” the lack of trust Americans have in the federal government to secure the border. Gaining back trust will require boosting security along the U.S.-Mexico border, instituting a workable electronic employment verification system in which employers check prospective workers’ immigration status, and developing a better tracking system for people who enter the country legally to ensure they don’t overstay their visas…”


Scott Walker is Right About Reducing Legal Immigration

““In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying — the next president and the next congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages, because the more I’ve talked to folks, I’ve talked to Senator Sessions and others out there — but it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today — is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages, and we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.” – Scott Walker It doesn’t matter if your ancestors came over on the Mayflower or if you became a citizen yesterday. An American citizen is an American citizen is an American citizen. However, there’s a world of difference between an American citizen and a foreigner. We owe American citizens a lot. We owe foreigners very little. With that in mind, the first question that should asked when it comes to our legal immigration policy is, “Is this policy good for the Americans that are already here?” According to Gallup, 39% of Americans want less immigration and only 7% want more, so to the larger plurality of Americans, what Scott Walker said is just common sense. However, among the political class, Walker’s comments set off a firestorm because so many of them have stopped taking what’s good for the American people into account when they consider immigration. We already have limits on immigration, but the only thing that we ever seem to discuss is whether to raise them. That’s certainly not because the current massive level of immigration is helping the middle class…”


Pressed by Young Republicans, Scott Walker Sticks to Tough Immigration Stance

“After giving a version of his stump speech to a mostly gray-haired crowd in Iowa, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was pressed on Friday by two twenty-something Republicans about a percolating issue he did not mention: immigration. Mr. Walker’s apparent hardening on immigration has inspired a flood of reporting and commentary. Most recently he told the radio host Glenn Beck that he favored restricting legal immigration in tough economic times, a position to the right of most other 2016 presidential hopefuls. He repeated that view Friday after a speech in Cedar Rapids, when Eddie Failor, 24, expressed concern “as a young Republican” that the party must make inroads to new voter blocs, including by supporting a comprehensive overhaul of immigration. Mr. Walker told Mr. Failor that his top priority would be securing the border. He also said he favored “making sure the legal immigration system is based on making our No. 1 priority to protect American workers and their wages.’’ Alexander Staudt, the treasurer of the University of Iowa College Republicans, also told Mr. Walker in the meet-and-greet line that he was concerned that by talking tough on immigration, Republican candidates would turn off Hispanics…”



The Tax Burden Rises

The share of income paid by workers keeps rising.

“Your government hopes you haven’t noticed, but if you live in a developed country there’s a good chance your taxes have gone up over the past four years. That’s the conclusion from the OECD’s latest “Taxing Wages” report, which finds the average worker paid a higher proportion of income in tax in 2014 than in 2010. The average total “tax wedge” is the difference between the gross cost to a company of employing one person and what that worker takes home after income tax and employee and employer social insurance taxes. The…”


Tax reform hits roadblock: Small businesses

“Washington’s tax-reform effort has hit its first roadblock. President Obama and key congressional Republican leaders have said for weeks that they are working on deal to reform business taxes that would lower rates and broaden the tax base by eliminating credits and deductions. The two sides are too far apart on individual tax rates for an overall deal, but Republicans have said they could settle for reforming the business side now and aim for the individual side in 2017. But this week the small businesses whose support would be crucial for such a deal signaled that they are far from committed. “Congress should not consider an approach that would disadvantage businesses that employ two-thirds of American workers, create more jobs and pay more in taxes,” members of the Coalition for Fair Effective Tax Rates wrote the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees. The group represents 71 national associations, including the National Federation of Independent Business, the International Franchise Association and many others. Those groups include many businesses that are organized under the tax code not as businesses but as “pass-throughs” filing on the individual side, such as partnerships, sole proprietorships and S corporations. Pass-throughs account for the majority of employment, including self-employment, and earn more income than C corporations do. In 2012, pass-throughs accounted for nearly $840 billion in net income, according to the Tax Policy Center. The majority of pass-through businesses are very small, in some cases dormant, but they also can be large companies. Such companies are at particular risk in a business tax reform deal, because they could be put at a disadvantage to corporations if the statutory corporate rate is lowered from its current 35 percent. The top individual tax rate is 39.6 percent, and some pass-throughs face significantly higher state rates…”


Remember the Flat Tax?

It’s still a good idea.

“Almost exactly 20 years ago, a gawky conservative renegade magazine publisher named Steve Forbes threw his hat in the ring for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination. Forbes’s run was first seen as a joke. But he wound up rocking the Republican establishment by injecting fresh and bold reform ideas into a party that had become crusty and tired. Term limits. Medical savings accounts. Tax limitation. Personal savings accounts for Social Security. And the issue that electrified conservatives across the country: Blow up the tax system and install a low-rate flat tax. When the New Hampshire primary rolled around, the GOP politicos, the housing lobbyists, and the municipal bond traders were in a state of terror. Steve Forbes had somehow caught on. He might—God forbid—even win. The empire fought back and successfully derailed him; their man Bob Dole then got crushed in the general election. Two decades later, the flat tax is again the rage in a presidential primary. A number of GOP candidates, including Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker, are looking to go flat with a radically simplified postcard tax return. Mike Huckabee wants a low flat-rate tax too, but he would use a sales tax, not an income tax—i.e., no tax return at all. “I’ve been for the flat tax since Steve Forbes first started talking about the idea,” Cruz tells me over dinner. “It’s one of the three most important reforms to fix the economy and take power away from Washington.” Rand Paul (who I have been informally advising on tax policy) says, “I want a flat tax that pushes the rate down as low as we can get it.” His plan could have a rate of 15 percent…”


Obama Weekly Address: Why New Trade Deals Are Important To Our Economy

“PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hi, everybody. I’ve talked a lot lately about why new trade deals are important to our economy. Today, I want to talk about why new trade deals are important to our values. They’re vital to middle-class economics — the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. These are simple values. They’re American values. And we strive to make sure our own economy lives up to them, especially after a financial crisis brought about by recklessness and greed. But we also live in a world where our workers have to compete on a global scale. Right now, on an uneven playing field. Where the rules are different. And that’s why America has to write the rules of the global economy — so that our workers can compete on a level playing field. I understand why a lot of people are skeptical of trade deals. Past deals didn’t always live up to the hype. They didn’t include the kind of protections we’re fighting for today. We have lessons to learn from the past — and we have learned them. But trying to stop a global economy at our shores isn’t one of those lessons. We can’t surrender to the future — because we are meant to win the future. If America doesn’t shape the rules of the global economy today, to benefit our workers, while our economy is in a position of new global strength, then China will write those rules. I’ve seen towns where manufacturing collapsed, plants closed down, and jobs dried up. And I refuse to accept that for our workers. Because I know when the playing field is level, nobody can beat us. That’s why, when I took office, we started thinking about how to revamp trade in a way that actually works for working Americans. And that’s what we’ve done with a new trade partnership we’re negotiating in the Asia-Pacific — home to the world’s fastest-growing markets. It’s the highest-standard trade agreement in history. It’s got strong provisions for workers and the environment — provisions that, unlike in past agreements, are actually enforceable. If you want in, you have to meet these standards. If you don’t, then you’re out. Once you’re a part of this partnership, if you violate your responsibilities, there are actually consequences. And because it would include Canada and Mexico, it fixes a lot of what was wrong with NAFTA, too. So this isn’t a race to the bottom, for lower wages and working conditions. The trade agreements I’m negotiating will drive a race to the top. And we’re making sure American workers can retool through training programs and community colleges, and use new skills to transition into new jobs. If I didn’t think this was the right thing to do for working families, I wouldn’t be fighting for it. We’ve spent the past six years trying to rescue the economy, retool the auto industry, and revitalize American manufacturing. And if there were ever an agreement that undercut that progress, or hurt those workers, I wouldn’t sign it. My entire presidency is about helping working families recover from recession and rebuild for the future. As long as I’m President, that’s what I’ll keep fighting to do…”


Obama: ‘My entire presidency is about helping working families’


Obama: New Pacific trade deal will “drive a race to the top”


Obama shifts his pitch for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

“Pitching his Pacific free-trade initiative to business leaders last December, President Obama framed it as a foreign policy gambit: He mentioned the looming threat of China 18 times in remarks to the Business Roundtable. Last week, while making the case to 200 liberal activists, Obama mentioned China only once. Instead, in a 4,000-word address to Organizing for Action (OFA), Obama sought to place his trade pact alongside his signature domestic initiatives, including his health-care law, auto industry bailout, student loan consolidation and Wall Street reform. The sharp shift in the way Obama is now presenting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade deal in the Asia Pacific region, illustrates his biggest challenge as he tries to wrap up a late-term policy victory over fierce opposition from fellow Democrats. His critics on the left are calling the TPP a job-killing, big-business boondoggle aimed at satisfying K Street corporate interests. And that has put Obama under pressure to explain how the pact will help ordinary American workers and families. In his weekly radio address, he called the deal “vital to middle-class economics.” It hasn’t been easy. Facing heat from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the AFL-CIO and even usually friendly MSNBC hosts, Obama has sounded incredulous that his progressive bona fides are coming under question. “When people say that this trade deal is bad for working families, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Obama told OFA, the advocacy group that evolved from his campaign apparatus. “I take that personally. My entire presidency has been about helping working families. I’ve been working too hard at this. I’ve got some of those folks who are saying this stuff after all I’ve done to help lift their industries up.”…”


Mr. Obama’s trade fight

“THAT WAS some lecture President Obama delivered to free-trade opponents within his own party Thursday night. “When people say this trade deal is bad for working families, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. Democrats who oppose his planned Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and the preparatory bill that would facilitate its swift consideration by Congress, are making unsupported claims akin to Republican charges that Obamacare would create “death panels,” he added. Amen. With a furious political battle over trade looming on Capitol Hill, it’s high time Mr. Obama personally and aggressively took on the phony arguments that “progressives” are marshalling in a desperate attempt to block trade measures whose merits would withstand honest scrutiny…”


Obama, GOP tag-team over trade deals

“After a splintering among Democrats over ongoing trade negotiations overseas, the president is finding unlikely allies in the Republican Party. As the United States draws nearer to a controversial trade deal with several Pacific Rim countries, the president is touting the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact years in the making. “When I took office, we started thinking about how to revamp trade in a way that actually works for working Americans,” Mr. Obama said Saturday in a new video. “And that’s what we’ve done with a new trade partnership we’re negotiating in the Asia-Pacific — home to the world’s fastest-growing markets.” TPP — which includes the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — looks to create a free-trade zone in Pacific Rim nations, though it excludes China. But critics of the negotiations fear the impact on U.S. jobs, saying it would effectively pit American workers in direct competition with a cheaper foreign labor force…”


GOP’s Paul Ryan: We need TPA to hold the president accountable

“Hi, I’m Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. This week, our committee passed a bill that we’re pretty excited about. It would establish what we call TPA—or “trade promotion authority.” And soon that bill will go before Congress. I think this is one of the most important things Congress can do for the country right now. (Scroll down for video of these remarks.) So, here’s the issue: Right now, the United States is negotiating two historic trade agreements—one with our friends in the Pacific Rim and another with our friends in Europe. We need these trade agreements so we can lay down fair and strong rules that tear down trade barriers and open markets to American products. You see, ninety six percent of the world’s consumers—they don’t live in the United States; they live in other countries. We have to make more things in America and sell them overseas, so we can create more jobs here at home. And when we do, American workers benefit. Manufacturing jobs that rely on trade pay 16 percent more on average. But today, the deck is stacked against our workers in far too many places. We let other countries sell their products over here. But they’ve put up trade barriers that make it hard to sell our products over there. These trade agreements will level the playing field for America’s workers. But to complete them, we need TPA. So what is it? TPA is a process for getting the most effective trade agreements possible—and for holding the administration accountable all along the way. TPA puts Congress in the driver’s seat—because it lets Congress set the agenda. We say to the administration three things. First, here are your negotiating objectives—150 of them. Tear down barriers to our products. Beef up protections for intellectual property. Get rid of kickbacks for foreign-government firms. Second, here are your transparency requirements. To name a few: You’ve got to let any member of Congress read the negotiating offers at any time. You even have to allow any member to attend the negotiating rounds. And 60 days before the administration even agrees to any agreement, you’ve got to publish the full text so the American people can read it for themselves…”


Obama Taken to Task on Trade Deal by Two U.S. Senators — but They’re Not Republicans

“Two of the Democratic Party’s most vocal opponents of strengthening President Barack Obama’s hand in trade deals are taking issue with his recent criticism and are calling on him to make public the draft text of a still incomplete deal with 11 other Pacific rim nations. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio sent Obama a letter Saturday disputing his characterization of their position as “dishonest.” They said that while members of Congress can read the draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, they are legally prevented from discussing it openly and the public is barred from examining it…”


Sens. Warren, Brown counter Obama on trade

“Two of the Democratic Party’s most vocal opponents of strengthening President Barack Obama’s hand in trade deals are taking issue with his recent criticism and are calling on him to make public the draft text of a still incomplete deal with 11 other Pacific rim nations. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio sent Obama a letter Saturday disputing his characterization of their position as “dishonest.” They said that while members of Congress can read the draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, they are legally prevented from discussing it openly and the public is barred from examining it. The letter escalates what has been an increasingly personal confrontation between Obama and his critics, most of them liberal Democrats and the heads of organized labor who have traditionally stood behind the president’s economic policies. Obama has been stepping up his trade policy push, eager to make liberalized commerce in the Asia Pacific region and in Europe signature achievements of his last two years in office. Obama is first seeking so-called fast-track authority to give him more freedom to complete the trade deals. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the biggest trade deal for the U.S. and includes countries such as Japan, Chile and Vietnam. Under fast-track authority Congress would set the parameters for a deal, but it could only approve or reject a final agreement, not amend it…”


Sen. Warren calls on Obama to declassify trade deal details

“Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is asking President Obama to make public classified information in the international trade deal that he’s asking Congress to ‘fast track’ — the latest incident in which the populist, first-term Democratic senator appears critical of the president’s relationship with Wall Street and big business. At issue is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as the TPP — a significant deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that aims to create a free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region. A letter dated Saturday and co-signed by fellow Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was written in response to Obama’s suggestion that critics of the TPP, specifically Warren, were wrong about the trade deal and “dishonest” when they claim the TPP is a secret deal. However, Warren and Brown argue in the letter that by deeming the draft text classified and from public view, the Obama administration has, in fact, made the deal secret. “As a result of your administration’s decision, it is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement,” the letter says. Warren claims in the letter that corporate executives and lobbyists have had opportunities to not only read it, but to shape the terms, and calls for the American people to have the same ability. “The American people should be allowed to weigh in on the facts of the TPP before Members of Congress are asked to voluntarily reduce our ability to amend, shape or block any trade deal,” the letter says. “The press and the public should be allowed to examine the details that corporate executives and lobbyists have already been allowed to influence for years. Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzles by classification rules.”…”


Warren to Obama: Stop making ‘untrue’ trade claims

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told President Obama on Saturday he was making “untrue” claims about his opponents — including herself. The feud between Obama and the left continued Saturday, when Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called on the president to immediately declassify the negotiating terms of a pending trade deal with a host of nations known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In an effort to push through trade legislation that would help finalize the deal, Obama has blasted critics on the left, saying they are “wrong” and “don’t know what they’re talking about.” Liberal critics of the trade deal have griped that the terms have not been made public, arguing it amounts to a secret deal hammered out by other nations with influence from huge corporations. Obama equated that argument to the “death panels” floated during the ObamaCare debate, as a claim so far-fetched as not to be taken seriously, adding that members of Congress have been frequently briefed on the talks…”


Tear Down These Tariffs

“Now she knows how I feel. In a statement posted to her campaign website, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts laments that the Obama administration has kept secret the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — TPP for short — the decade-in-the-making free trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries that will soon be put to a vote in Congress. “If the American people would be opposed to a trade agreement if they saw it,” she writes in bolded text, “then that agreement should not become law of the United States.” Imagine: The White House pushing a dangerous agreement through Congress by hiding, or dissembling about, the details. Shocking. The looming Iran deal is a far better target for Warren’s outrage. Her fear of TPP, shared by populists left and right, is misplaced. There may be reasons for her union donors to oppose the trade agreement — they dislike competition because it reduces their ranks, and hence their dues. But for classical liberals in general, and for conservative Republicans in particular, the argument for TPP is solid. Economically, diplomatically, and politically, it deserves our assent…”


Warren’s fight with Obama puts Hillary in hot seat


Zogby Presidential Report Card: Trade defeat threatens presidency

“Pollster John Zogby reports in our weekly White House report card that President Obama is feeling good after finally winning Senate confirmation of his new attorney general, but a fight over trade could hurt the presidency. “Some highs and lows for President Obama this week. On the high side an agreement between Democrats and Republicans on a human trafficking bill means not only another compromise but cleared the way for confirmation of new Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “And on the potentially high side, an emerging strategy to fight [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] and other destabilizing elements in the Middle East with an upcoming summit among Gulf countries, while finalizing a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons, gives the president some good news on the international front…”


Overhauling tax code trendy on presidential stump, but real issue is will House GOP finally pass major reform?

“If this were baseball, they might say House Republicans are painting the corners when it comes to changing the tax code. If we’re talking about Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers or Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds, that’s a good thing. Those guys fire strikes that just nip the black of home plate. This fools batters. Hitters don’t know whether to swing or not. Make an offering and you might not even nick the pitch as it crosses the plate. Sit back on your heels and take the pitch? Well, frozen pizza. You risk being rung up on strikes on a pitch that just catches the strike zone. Painting the corners. House Republicans approved a surfeit of tax-reform measures recently, all tied thematically to tax day, April 15. Republicans voted to eliminate the so-called death tax, the penalty wealthy families pay in real estate and other holdings when a relative dies. They voted on a “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” to give Americans more options when dealing with the IRS. They approved a measure to allow for additional fairness when deducting state and local taxes. Finally, the House OK’d a plan to make permanent the deduction of those taxes. “I think we’ve got a better approach on the Republican side. Reduce the tax burden that American families have to pay and raise their incomes through a better economy and better jobs,” trumpeted House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. “With tax day right around the corner, I certainly heard a lot about taxes, and the question as to when Congress is going to pass tax reform –which across the board, people recognize as long overdue,” opined House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy Rep. McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “We really do need a tax code that puts people first.” All well and good. Except these exercises are far from fundamentally reforming the nation’s tax system. In other words, Republicans mimicked Clayton Kershaw or Johnny Cueto, painting the corners. They worked the edges of the plate when it comes to tax policy. But executing a major retrench of the nation’s tax laws isn’t baseball. Republicans and many Democrats have crowed for decades that Congress needs to drastically overhaul America’s tax system. Congress hasn’t ushered to passage a major piece of tax reform legislation since 1986. And to do tax reform, lawmakers can’t nibble around the edges of the plate like Messrs. Kershaw and Cueto. No. They need to take a different approach and serve up a real watermelon, right down Broadway. Down the heart of the plate. Such an approach is precisely the opposite tactic pitchers want to take with good hitters like Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton. But dusting the corners won’t work when it comes to tax reform. “Everything is on the table except raising taxes,” declared House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when asked by reporters at a recent forum about what shape a potential tax-reform package might take…”



More than a dozen states report trouble with computerized Common Core tests

“This is the first spring of Common Core standardized testing across the country (as previous posts have noted), and a number of states have reported problems administering the computer-based exams.  Here is a list of headlines from publications around the country revealing the scope of the difficulties, compiled by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization that advocates against the misuse and abuse of standardized tests. The FairTest list comes with an introduction that says that the continuing computer issues marring test administration “reinforces  the conclusion that the technologies rushed into the marketplace by political mandates and the companies paid to implement them are not ready for prime time.” It also notes that it makes “no sense to attach high-stakes consequences to such deeply flawed tools.”…”


Feds Play the Race Card to Crush Parents’ Revolt Against Common Core

“There was a time when Common Core supporters loudly insisted the program — adopted by no fewer than 46 states — was most assuredly not federal, that any allegation that this astounding national uniformity was the result of federal pressure was a nasty, vicious lie. The State Standards Initiative confidently declares as “myth” the assertions that “Common Core State Standards were adopted by states as part of the [federal] Race to the Top grant program” or that the “federal government will take over ownership” of Common Core. The Initiative’s position is clear: “The federal government will not govern the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core was and will remain a state-led effort.” (Emphasis in original.) Yet when Common Core is threatened by a large-scale parental revolt, look who moves in to crush the dissenters’ dreams — Arne Duncan, the race-baiting (federal) Secretary of Education. Last week an estimated 184,000 New York students (out of 1.1 million) opted out of this year’s Common Core–mandated English tests, a more than three-fold increase from last year’s 60,000 opt-outs. Large-scale opt-outs threaten the validity of the tests, decreasing the likelihood that they fairly measure overall student achievement. In some schools the opt-out rates have crippled the tests. One Manhattan school reported an 85 percent opt-out rate, and other schools — including one in Park Slope, Brooklyn — have reported opt-out rates exceeding 30 percent. With the tests in crisis, Arne Duncan said this week that if the states can’t fix themselves, the federal government will “have an obligation to step in.” This means not just threatening to cut federal funding, but essentially forcing states to withhold their own funds from delinquent schools. Here’s New York Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman: “The feds are discussing the possibility of imposing penalties for failing to hit participation rate targets.” He added that the state is also expected to “consider imposing sanctions” on districts that fail to meet the 95 percent threshold, which could include withholding money “in the most egregious cases.” But it wouldn’t be the Obama administration unless it injected race into the debate. In 2013, Duncan famously said that it was “fascinating” that Common Core opposition came from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — [realize] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” He later apologized — blaming “clumsy phrasing” — but since that time he’s learned to make the same point, just more subtly…”


How school reform stacks up against Grade 5 Common Core test standards. (Hint: not well.)

“Scott Levy is a parent of children with attend New York state public schools. From February 2014 through February 2015, he was a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, during which he analyzed the rollout of the federal Race to the Top program in in New York State. In the following post, Levy looks at the standards set for the fifth-grade math assessment aligned to the Common Core State Standards that students took over three days last week across New York. Then he uses them to evaluate just how well school reforms set by education policymakers in Albany stack up against those standards. Hint: Not so well…”



As Coal Jobs Go Up In Flames, New Energy Positions Will Emerge From Ashes

“Coal-related jobs are going up in flames, but new ones will emerge from the ashes. That’s the conclusion of a new

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