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Some Real Scandals We Hear Less About than We Should

The headline given to Tyler O’Neil’s recent PJMedia essay probably captures the sense of many of us on the political right: “Imran Awan Scandal Shows Just How Much Dirt Dems Wanted to Hide By Focusing on Trump-Russia.”  Over on National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy offers a worthy summary, with due incredulity:

… the proceeds of the fraudulent $165,000 loan they’d gotten from the Congressional Federal Credit Union had been sent ahead. It was part of a $283,000 transfer that Awan managed to wire from Capitol Hill. He pulled it off — hilariously, if infuriatingly — by pretending to be his wife in a phone call with the credit union. Told that his proffered reason for the transfer (“funeral arrangements”) wouldn’t fly, “Mrs.” Awan promptly repurposed: Now “she” was “buying property.” Asking no more questions, the credit union wired the money . . . to Pakistan.

As you let all that sink in, consider this: Awan and his family cabal of fraudsters had access for years to the e-mails and other electronic files of members of the House’s Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. It turns out they were accessing members’ computers without their knowledge, transferring files to remote servers, and stealing computer equipment — including hard drives that Awan & Co. smashed to bits of bytes before making tracks.

On NewsBusters, Tim Graham notes how little coverage the issue is getting in the mainstream media, including avoidance of party designations and some the more-disturbing aspects of the story, such as national security implications.  Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds offers a significant observation with his habitual insight and brevity:

Weird how, since the connection to Democratic dirty-tricks firm Fusion GPS came up, the press stopped talking about the Russia “collusion” story overnight.

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“Regular Order” in the U.S. Congress and Rhode Island

Angelo Codevilla summarizes the history of how the U.S. Congress undermined our system of government as the end of “regular order.”  By this, he means the process by which laws were supposed to be reviewed in committee and then passed on the floor, all in full view and deliberation, with each legislator ultimately accountable for votes.  But…

… For over a century, congressmen and senators’ procrastination had pressed legislative business into the last weeks before the end of congressional sessions. Members had noted that they could slip items into bills in frenzied times, which would not have survived regular order’s scrutiny. In the 1970s, some committees started to procrastinate on purpose, so that the end of the government’s fiscal year would come without an appropriation for one or more department of government. The Appropriations Committee would then prepare a “continuing resolution” to substitute for the uncompleted appropriations. These were supposed to just “keep thing going next year as in the previous year,” thus avoiding all issues. At the very least, they obviated whatever major changes anyone might want to make. But it was never that simple: from the beginning, these CRs always had riders. The more influence you had, the more you could slip into the CR.

This gave leadership more power, because they had more leeway to determine what could and couldn’t be “slipped into” continuing resolutions.  In the last decade, according to Codevilla, Harry Reid pushed Congress to the final step, essentially making continuing resolutions the rule for the whole budget and, therefore, the whole government.

If this sounds familiar to local ears, it’s because this is exactly the way in which the Rhode Island legislature operates.  The entire session is warm-up and theatrics for a final push during which the action is frenzied, the rules are suspended, and legislative leaders have all of the say.

The solution is the same, too:  Voters have to insist on regular order, not a few oligarchs who leverage a weak version of representative democracy for their own benefit.  Unfortunately, the corrupt system works well for special interests, too, who corrupt our electoral system.

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Is Party or Country First for Whitehouse?

One of Rhode Island’s U.S. Senators, Sheldon Whitehouse, recently illustrated the outrageous level of partisanship that he exemplifies.  Asked at a South Providence event “how long we have to wait” for the impeachment of President Trump, Whitehouse provided the following response (captured by RI Future’s Steve Ahlquist).

Sure, the blame could go around on who has contributed to the current atmosphere in the United States, and the argument would become yet another political rabbit hole.  Not surprisingly, I’d fault the national Democrats and news media for stoking anti-Bush lunacy, an attitude that Barack Obama perpetuated as a theme of his presidency.  But putting blame aside, what struck me is that Senator Whitehouse didn’t even give lip service to responsible rhetoric or patriotic sentiment.

  • He didn’t caution his audience that investigations might produce nothing, or stop well short of the president.
  • He didn’t express even superficial hope that the country could avoid something that would be so disruptive and damaging to our unity.
  • He didn’t express a preference for a president who would grow in office, even if he’d find that miraculous, at this point.
  • Instead, he furthered the speculation and presented impeachment as something for which we can and should hope.

That is a shocking degree of callousness.  Until November 2016, we could have expected elected officials to muster at least the sense of responsibility for the health of the republic to express hope that even a horrible president wasn’t proven to have behaved in an impeachable manner and would correct himself in office, rather than drive the country to the point at which kicking him out would be the best option.

But not in 2017, apparently, and not Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

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Important Questions for Rhode Island In A Reshaped Healthcare Landscape

If the final federal healthcare law that eventually emerges from Washington, D.C. is similar to the version that passed the House of Representatives in early May of 2017, Rhode Island lawmakers will find themselves in the middle of largely reshaped federal and state healthcare landscape. Soon they may be faced with multiple important questions; and they will also realize that they will be newly empowered to make state-specific decisions for the people of Rhode Island.

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No Health Policy Is Perfect, but Remember Both Sides

Mary Katharine Ham makes a critical point as we all debate (make that, “debate”) health care policy:

Arguing about this as if beneficiaries of ACA don’t exist isn’t right. Arguing about it as if people like me don’t is also not right. ACA was never the panacea it was sold as and it remains distinctly un-utopian in its results. Lazy characterizations of things you like as perfect—and of people you oppose as big fans of people dying—are not particularly helpful to actual people.

So if you’re weaving a utopian or dystopian scenario for Facebook, remember reality is almost always less extreme and more nuanced than you’re asserting, and you probably know a real human on both sides of every imperfect adjustment to our Frankenstein system.

That’s the level at which policy debates ought to be conducted, and it would be true to say that both sides have people who reach that level and people who decidedly do not.  It’s vertigo-inducing to watch the speed at which we go from a mainstream with no major concerns about the wholly partisan, parliamentarily manipulated, nature of ObamaCare to, for example, a Democrat Congressman’s proclaiming that overhauling health care shouldn’t be done in a partisan way.  (It’s like that childhood friend who would keep breaking the rules of a game and then saying that they would apply from that point forward.)

To get to that point, one must ignore the past, and in the case of ObamaCare, it means ignoring people who have been harmed, not to mention the long-term harm to our health care system and economy.  Somehow, we have to see the self-interested partisan talking points and get to the question of which direction policy should actually go.

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Disconnect Between Health Care Rhetoric and Reality

So it seems that Rhode Island and national Democrats have decided that the outrage machine must remain dialed up to 11.  Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline has proclaimed that Congress would kill “tens of thousands of Americans” if it passed the Republican health care bill.  (Put aside evidence that ObamaCare’s already tallying the deaths.)  Democrat governor of Rhode Island Gina (everybody calls me “gov”) Raimondo insists that the bill would strip families of health care coverage.

Meanwhile, as WPRI’s Ted Nesi reports, Care New England hospitals are losing money and struggling under ObamaCare:

The $26-million operating loss for the winter quarter, Beardsworth said, “further tells the story we have been very candid about – decreases in patient volume, a worsening payer mix, changing health care needs of the population, and extremely restrictive reimbursement caps in place through the state health insurance commissioner’s office.”

The payer mix refers to what share of hospital bills are paid for by different commercial and government insurers. In Care New England’s case, more of its revenue is coming from Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for low-income people, and Neighborhood Health Plan; it says both pay less than Blue Cross & Blue Shield. The hospital group’s management attribute the shift to the Obama health law, which President Trump is now seeking to overhaul.

And not to be outdone, insurers around the country are beginning to be more vehement in warning that ObamaCare may have entered the much-warned-about “death spiral.”

Of course, many have suspected that a death spiral leading to full government control of health care was the underlying plan of ObamaCare all along.  So those now squawking are trying to score political points (and out-of-state donations, no doubt) while preventing Republicans from doing just e-pitiful-nough to keep American health care from fainting fully into the arms of the government vampire.

In a state with no political pull within the national Republican Party (i.e., the party in power), it seems politicians’ time would be better spent trying to figure out how to handle any changes that come along than jumping on this week’s excuse for stoking a “resistance.”

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Wait, Who Runs the Intelligence Committee?

I don’t have much of note to say about this, but it struck me as odd.  This is the Providence Journal’s presentation of a Bloomberg article by Steven T. Dennis, Chris Strohm and Billy House.  Here’s the headline and lede:

Investigators: Details needed before Flynn gets immunity
Rep. Adam Schiff says he’ll discuss Flynn’s offer with Senate Intelligence Committee, Justice Department

Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the committee, but the article doesn’t even mention Republican Devin Nunes of California, who is the chairman of the committee.  Doesn’t that seem odd?

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Weird Absence in the Notes

An obvious point is oddly missing from Ted Nesi’s Notes item on the possible Republican campaign of Robert Flanders for U.S. Senate:

His announcement that he’s exploring a 2018 U.S. Senate run against Sheldon Whitehouse, first reported by the indefatigable Kathy Gregg, had the Rhode Island political class chattering all week. Flanders told me he isn’t doing interviews yet, but suggested in a statement he’d be “a senator that works with Republicans, Democrats, and independents to promote practical solutions.” The former judge is no fool, so he knows the tough odds he’d face – the last time a Republican not named Chafee won a Rhode Island U.S. Senate race was 1930. Flanders would have a number of advantages, including his intellect and a robust Rolodex to tap for donations, which is why some local Republicans are enthusiastic about his chances. He also has some disadvantages: the deep pension cuts he approved as Central Falls’ receiver are ripe for negative TV ads, and President Trump’s unpopularity could allow Whitehouse to effectively rerun his 2006 campaign, which was technically against Linc Chafee but really against George W. Bush. Flanders says he’ll make a final decision “over the next several months.”

Know what I mean?  Maybe this, from an item farther down in Nesi’s column, will help:

Two Rhode Islanders who did not visit Trump, however, are Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse – both men skipped a White House dinner for senators the president held on Tuesday night.

Sure, Trump is unpopular in Rhode Island (particularly in those circles with which journalists have the most interaction), but even people who don’t like the president, if they’re just a little pragmatic, can see the advantage of having at least one of our four federal legislators be from the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.  The question, then, is whether the Republicans, pragmatic Democrats, and friends of Flanders can outnumber those who like the fact that Whitehouse repeatedly stands out as an especially radical and aggressive voice in the party out of power.

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Breaking – Former RI Supreme Court Justice Flanders Exploring Run for US Senate

Well, things just heated up in Rhode Island’s 2018 race for US Senate. Kathy Gregg has the scoop in the Providence Journal.

Robert G. Flanders, a former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, respected Providence trial lawyer and onetime Brown University football star, has taken the first step toward a potential GOP run for the U.S. Senate against two-term Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse.

This is somewhat out of the blue: rumors where that Justice Flanders was considering, at the urging of RIGOP Chair Brandon Bell, a run for Governor. Justice Flanders isn’t technically announcing his candidacy, as Gregg notes, but rather, he

plans to create an “exploratory committee” to determine whether he will be able to muster the money and support he would need for a potential GOP primary fight and, ultimately, a 2018 run against Whitehouse.

He is certainly clear as to why he sees the need to run, however, as he indicates to Gregg in a statement that includes a nice little zing at the incumbent.

“With the unease and hyper-partisan political environment in Washington,” Flanders said, Rhode Island needs a U.S. senator who “will work across the aisle to unlock innovation and job growth, provide a system of high quality and affordable health care, reform unfair and anti-competitive tax policies, lift regulatory burdens off the backs of small business, promote better education and enhance our security by restoring global confidence in America.”

“In short, we need a climate change in Washington,” he said in a play-on-words on Whitehouse’s signature issue.

If his candidacy is a go, he will first face off in a primary against State Representative Robert A. Nardolillo III (R-Coventry).

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CBO Points to the ObamaCare Abusive Spouse

This Wall Street Journal editorial offers some worthwhile perspective on the meaning of the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) estimates around Republicans’ initial ObamaCare repeal bill:

The CBO attributes “most” of this initial coverage plunge to “repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.” If people aren’t subject to government coercion to buy insurance or else pay a fine, some “would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums.”

What this finding says about the value Americans attach to ObamaCare-compliant health insurance is damning. If CBO is right, some 14 million people would rather spend their money on something else, despite the subsidies.

In keeping with the general worldview of central planners, if you cease to get something through them, you’ve “lost” it.  This attitude permeates government, from charitable grants that local governments give to their preferred charities up to massive federal entitlements.  In this case, the government isn’t even just taking credit for something it’s using other people’s money to provide, but behaving as if forcing people to do something gives them that something.

As perverse as that is, it may be the perfect representation of progressive government.  It’s like an abusive spouse who rationalizes his or her pathology into the belief that commanding and berating his or her significant other is for the other person’s good.

As for the CBO, the Journal also reminds us that it’s a policy group working off a model, not a mystic order of prophets telling the future.

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The “Real” News About Healthcare Reform

The Providence Journal and Rhode Island progressives are doing a disservice to the people of our state by advancing a biased and non-realistic perspective on the federal healthcare reform debate.

There are few issues that are more personal or important than planning for the care that can preserve the health of ourselves and our families. But what governmental approach best helps us accomplish this?

Currently, our state is following the federal Obamacare approach of seeking to insure more people with government-run Medicaid or with a one-size-fits-all government-mandated private insurance plan. This approach is in a death-spiral.

Continue reading at Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

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Scheming to Go After Congressmen… No Need in RI

Those subsisting on a diet of local news in the Northeast might believe it’s crazy to think the “resistance” isn’t grassroots and that Obama is behind much of the organizing should expand their reading horizons. Here’s Debra Heine, writing on PJMedia:

Leaked audio from a recent “Indivisible” group meeting sheds light on how the anti-Trump activists manufacture hostile environments at Republican town halls.

The audio, obtained by radio station KPEL out of Lafayette, La., features the Indivisible activists plotting to create the false impression that Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy’s support for President Trump is unpopular with his constituents. …

If Indivisible — which recently partnered up with Obama’s “Organizing for Action” — is trying to model itself off of the TEA Party — they’re doing it wrong.

Of course, things are skewed in Rhode Island.  Here, a bakers dozen of Indivisible activists get a private meeting with Democrat Congressman Jim Langevin’s chief of staff and partly spend their time thanking the congressman.

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Voters Must Be the Adults in the Process or Idiocy Will Reign

In keeping with my post, yesterday, about the government’s impositions on people who dare to work with others’ hair without a license, Jeff Jacoby highlights, in his Boston Globe column, an exchange between Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and hair salon owner LaRonda Hunter during the senator’s debate last week with his Republican peer Senator Ted Cruz.

Ms. Hunter wanted to know how she’s supposed to grow her business when the government imposes thresholds for benefits, like health care, that don’t work within her profit margin.  Jacoby:

The exchange could not have been more enlightening. For entrepreneurs like Hunter, a mandate to supply health insurance triggers inescapable, and unignorable, consequences. For Sanders and other defenders of Obamacare, those consequences are irrelevant. They believe in the employer mandate — a belief impervious to facts on the ground.

Lawmakers so often enact far-reaching rules with worthy intentions, but little awareness of how much harm government burdens can cause.

Jacoby goes on to note this classic anecdote about liberal Democrat Senator George McGovern:

After a long career in Congress, former senator George McGovern tried his hand at running a business — a small hotel in Connecticut. “In retrospect,” McGovern wrote after the inn went bankrupt, “I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business. . . . I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day.”

Think of all the idiotic (yes, idiotic) legislation being submitted by the likes of the General Assembly’s quintessentially inexperienced Ivy League legislator Aaron Regunberg.  Voters must become the adults in the process, because too many of the politicians and their special-interest-or-ideologue supporters are not capable of playing the role.

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Reed, Whitehouse Hope Rhode Islanders Don’t Pay Attention

Leave it to our own Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to weigh in on the recent price increase of the EpiPen in a way that is both blindingly insidious and enlightening:

The sky-rocketing cost increase of the EpiPen is just the latest evidence that our regulation of prescription drug pricing is broken. (The) system is rigged by the pharmaceutical industry to allow this price-gouging, and that is what needs to be corrected.

Drug pricing doesn’t have to be regulated; it’s regulation of drug production that’s the problem.  Everybody from The Guardian to the Wall Street Journal knows that the pricing of the EpiPen is made possible by the government’s enabling of Mylan’s “near monopoly” (as Whitehouse and other senators characterize the company). A Wall Street Journal editorial explains:

… the steady Mylan rise is hard to read as anything other than inevitable when a billion-dollar market is cornered by one supplier. Epinephrine is a basic and super-cheap medicine, and the EpiPen auto-injector device has been around since the 1970s.

Thus EpiPen should be open to generic competition, which cuts prices dramatically for most other old medicines. Competitors have been trying for years to challenge Mylan’s EpiPen franchise with low-cost alternatives—only to become entangled in the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory afflatus.

Of course, when I write “everybody,” I’m limiting my set to those who are modestly well informed.  A little economic understanding helps, too.  Let me repeat something I write regularly: Prices are measurements of value.  If a price goes up a great deal, especially if it does so quickly, that means people want more of the product than they’re able to get, and it’s a signal to other producers that they should enter the market, even at great expense.

Immediately after a devastating hurricane, it may seem predatory for people with chainsaws and water bottles to charge super-high prices, but their doing so not only forces affected families to weigh the value of the assistance, but also sends a signal far and wide that it’s worth people’s time to invest in tools, supplies, and gasoline and travel to the affected spot.  Of course, as a moral matter, we should all approach such situations in a spirit of charity, but by the same principle, we shouldn’t stroke our own moral vanity by insisting that only those with the right intentions can help.

In the case of pharmaceutical gouging, the focus of Congress should really be on creating laws that require smarter, lighter handed, less capricious regulation and therefore allow more companies to offer comparable products at competitive prices.  Unfortunately, it’s so much more profitable for progressive politicians to empower unaccountable bureaucracies to manipulate the market and create “near monopolies” that make the politicians’ corporate friends and donors rich and allow the politicians to posture in meaningless poses while grabbing more power to repeat the process.

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