Category: National (Page 1 of 15)

Boomerang in front of a blue sky

Column | Be careful, workers. A vote for minimum wage is a vote against yourself.

With Washington State looking to join California and New York in instituting a $15 minimum wage, it is important to understand the actual consequences of such a law. But rather than debating the projected economic impacts, let’s use an easier concept that everyone understands – self-interest.

Obviously, it is in the self-interest of the minimum wage (and near minimum wage) worker to be paid more money. But the real issue is where does that extra money come from? The proponents of the $15 minimum wage law would have you believe it comes solely from the pocket of the business owners, in the form of less profit. Even if the business owner has to raise prices to stay in business, these extra wages are still supposed to come from the owners. They maintain the illusion that this is the only source of the higher wages, because it is the only way that the worker will actually benefit from a mandated higher wage.

But there are several other possible sources for the wage increase. Some employers may offset the increase with cuts to other benefits they currently give, such as paid vacation or sick leave or health care, resulting in no real advance in pay. Others, such as some Seattle area restaurants have done, will raise their prices but institute a no-tipping policy, leaving the employees in many cases earning even less than before. They may just cut hours, leaving an employee who worked 30 hours at $10 with 20 hours at $15. While they may have to work less hours to earn the same wages (assuming they were not one of the employees laid off completely), they find themselves under pressure to work that much faster/harder.

The other recourse employers have is to not pay the minimum wage at all. They might find that the investment in machines to replace $15 an hour workers makes much more sense. They might simply do without that worker doing less than essential tasks, like greeting or sweeping up. They might move their business to another state or another country where labor costs are cheaper. For example, thousands of jobs have moved outside the Seattle city limits since they instituted their new minimum wage law, and an earlier, much smaller increase in the Washington State minimum wage led one company canning asparagus in Eastern Washington to move their entire plant to South America. Being out of work from a $15 an hour job is certainly no better than being out of work from one that pays less than $10.

So which of these alternatives is the low wage worker likely to get? As much as they would like the business owner to foot the bill, the employee is not the one who makes the decision – the business owner is! And the business owner, in their self-interest, will largely choose to let the employees pay for the mandated $15 minimum wage, because in America (at least for now), business owners still have the freedom to make that choice.

[photo credit: gavran333, depositphotos.com]
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Surviving Trump will require cultural change inside GOP

Donald TrumpWhere does Donald Trump’s support come from?  The answer is easy to know but hard for the members of the Republican old guard to accept.  For those who have the courage to embrace reality and let change happen, it begins with a two-word prescription for the GOP moving forward: BE REAL.

The appeal of Trump with conservative voters is replete with ironies and irrational conflicts too numerous to list here, but it is a reaction to a real problem — a critical breakdown of trust that exists between Republican party elites and its true base.

Trump’s supporters aren’t a canary in the coalmine — that bird died long ago, keeling over from exhaustion after chirping angrily for several consecutive election cycles at heedless party leaders.

(This ingredient in the cocktail of Trump’s appeal surfaces in a survey conducted by the RAND Corporation on the 2016 presidential election.  The RAND survey found that the largest determining factor of a person’s intention to vote for Trump was a feeling of alienation or not having a voice.  Respondents who agreed with the statement “people like me don’t have any say” were 86% more likely to prefer Trump.)

Some still contend the rift doesn’t exist; others confirm its existence but try to invalidate its legitimacy.  Those who have spent time in both worlds within the GOP, however, know the divide is real and growing.

Because ignoring the sentiments of voters is always a losing strategy, the time is now to view the precipice of a Trump nomination as a last chance to accept that cultural and structural changes inside the GOP are now matter of survival.  The change starts with breaking out of a dysfunctional cycle in which voter loyalty is taken for granted far too much.

When elected officials fail to live up to expectations, some voters shrug, some turn cynical, and others get angry.  Smart politicians are careful to minimize those conflicts with voters.  If they aren’t careful (or are careless), then voter anger leads to removing them from office through elections.  It can, and does, happen, but voters have learned that unseating a bad politician is no guarantee of replacing them with a good one.

It’s clear what Trump’s support indicates: voters have lost so much faith in the system that they’re willing to crown an anti-Republican hero to savage the party that has failed them.  Their animus is visceral and it’s real.   Apart from the vicious and angry tone, dog whistle racism, and absence of candor by Trump, real is exactly what the Republican party needs more of.

It’s time to recognize that the party machine that recruits and supports candidates, trains politicians on how to deploy talking points and manage appearances, has failed.  It’s time to admit that Congress functions in a way that values deal-making more than keeping promises to voters, not to mention upholding the promises made to the nation by its founders.

It’s a matter of survival because Trump voters are only a militant subgroup of voters who have come to see Republican politics as unresponsive and disinterested.  They have given up believing that there a culture capable of radically resetting its standards will spontaneously grow inside of Republican leadership.  They know that in the giddy atmosphere of election season, that status quo will flip the switch on its dusty conveyor belt, sending candidates forth to deliver passionate promises to fearlessly fight to change how Washington, D.C. works.  Above all, candidates will promise to be different.

“Forget all of the others,” Candidate X purrs. “I’m the only one who listens to and understands you, baby.”

Voters haven’t ever been naïve in their decisions to tie the metaphorical knot and bond to a candidate.  Intellectually, they know the ephemeral nature of campaign promises and they have faith that an ongoing dialogue on the issues will keep elected officials focused on representing their interests.  Some voters even believe — perhaps more irrationally — that they can count on politicians to support their deeply held beliefs, even those not specified in the fine print of the political nuptials.

It’s like the opening act on a Nicholas Sparks-esque pragmatic political romance, but too often Stephen King takes over to author the conclusion and the reality shift is entirely responsible for voter disillusionment.  Yes, the romantic swashbuckler still has sparkling teeth and mesmerizing eyes, but the voter realizes a bit too late that they forgot to carefully vet the candidate as having any tolerance for political risk.  To make matters worse, the candidate’s affection for voters has morphed into a languid infatuation with holding office.

There is a trail of micro- and macro-betrayals that animates much of Trump’s base.  Despite wishful protestations by some pundits, those perceptions do have some rational basis, even if Trump’s campaign is doing nothing more than courting them into the mother of all bad relationships.

There certainly isn’t a single political event that spawned the outbreak of Trumpism, but it’s obvious to most political observers that a trail of controversial actions (to be fair, most of them orchestrated by Pres. Obama and the Democrats to create wedges within the GOP) added to friction inside the base.

In 2010, voters gave the Republicans a majority in the U.S. House.  Did those voters have a warm feeling about the 2011 budget sequestration compromise in which two core universal Republican values, fiscal discipline and strong national defense, collided head-on and national defense lost?  It’s inarguable that the sequester deal forced Democrats to accept a reduction in deficit spending, but the mandated cuts to defense spending given up by Republicans accelerated a gutting of the U.S. military.  Most Americans have the perception that the world is becoming a less safe place.  Do Americans believe the size and scope of the federal government is shrinking?  It’s hard to imagine that a storyline like that doesn’t benefit to Trump with fed-up voters.

Other warmed-over “wins” such as the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank or the mystifying maneuver by Republicans in the Senate to define as an executive order what by all definitions would be a treaty with Iran on nuclear weapons.

The problem is that to far too many political insiders, the outrage over any of these transgressions is perceived as an overreaction or extremism and an organization that moves to invalidate the emotional response of its base is courting disaster, particularly when the damage is multiplied through millions of voters, each of whom has scars to bear from a sucker punch, or two, or ten.  When enough voters carry enough scars, an impulse for punishment of the perceived assailant — or in the case of the GOP, a group some feel hasn’t done enough to actively restrain the assailant — is inevitable.

Trump leverages these psychic woundings with devastating effect like a Lothario lurking in the bar down the street from divorce court.  It may be the single strategic reason behind his campaign’s stubborn lack of specifics, a void that translates as an absence of commitment.  It could also be the reason that his incivility, crassness and an almost total lack of civic knowledge don’t seem to diminish his appeal.

It’s too simple to say that his crudeness is enjoyed just because it’s a rejection of unpopular modes of politically correct speech.  It seems more possible that all of the hot talk between Trump and his army about the border, and RINOs, and making America great again is just rhetorical heavy petting on the way to a misguided, heated and emotional act of vengeance?  After all, if you’re a voter who feels they’ve been abused by smart, prepared and polished politicians (grrrrr), a natural instinct is to seek the exact opposite.  Trump is the exact opposite of smart, prepared and polished.

As with most hate-inspired flings, the one who comes away more harmed is usually the one who went in already wounded.  In the case of Trump, if his supporters are successful in handing him the nomination, it will be all of us who have to make the walk of shame.

A great deal of goodwill could be restored by allowing Republicans to simply be real.  The appetite that disaffected voters have for anything different doesn’t have to be fed by anyone who figures out the right buttons to push to get votes.  It could be someone of substance and credibility, but they have to pass the authenticity sniff test in order to be palatable.

For once, maybe a politician says they’re sorry for breaking our political hearts, or owns up to a bad vote.  That kind of honesty is a start toward restoring the amount of faith necessary to avoid sending spurned voters running into the arms of a Trump.

On the local level, being real has had some encouraging results, but Republicans should exercise caution in thinking the Trump effect is only a national phenomenon.  In many state legislatures across the country, such here in Washington state, Republicans have been made enormous progress toward restoring faith with voters.  But it doesn’t take much for that goodwill to be squandered by careless votes or positions dictated by special interests.

There’s a thirst for change, it’s reaching a critical mass, and those who want it have very little patience for anyone who will avoid taking the fight to Democrats on core issues.  Republicans might even forgive our team for losing a good battle, as long as they see clearly that one is being fought.

[Editor’s note: This article has been substantially edited for content since first publication, but no factual elements have been changed.]

[Image used under Creative Commons license: DonkeyHotey]
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5 critical things people may be getting wrong in the Apple encryption debate

(Spoiler: It’s not even really about encryption.)

Who knew that something as friendly as the iPhone would be the catalyst for a debate on where we draw the line between privacy and national security?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking help from Apple to disable a security feature — after 10 unsuccessful password attempts, all data is automatically “wiped” from the device — on an iPhone phone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Riswaan Farook.

Although a healthy conversation is taking place, there’s a lot of misinformation being carried into this important debate. We should dispense with the less logical arguments and define our terms.  Here are a few common arguments being made in support of Apple’s stand to deny the government’s request that are worth taking a closer look at.

1. “If Apple cooperates, eventually the government would have a backdoor into all iPhones.”

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the issue at the heart of the matter: the iPhone feature designed to self-wipe the device after 10 unsuccessful password entries.  The FBI isn’t asking for Apple to give them a key, they’re asking for them to disable the data equivalent of a neutron bomb within the phone.

Let’s use an analogy of home security for a thought experiment.  The iPhone’s self-wiping feature isn’t a lock on the front door, it’s the equivalent of an explosive booby-trap rigged to demolish the home to prohibit unauthorized entry.

The proper question in this debate should not be whether backdoor encryption keys should be created — they should not be — but whether it should be legal to sell street versions of devices that conform to the security specifications of the world’s most dangerous organizations.

Put another way, yes, any move by Apple to remove this feature from one of their phones would downgrade their user’s data security, but should we be permitting companies to market phones with this nuclear option?

(Is it possible that Apple only sidesteps charges of aiding in a crime because the wiping of the phone makes it impossible to document what evidence has been destroyed by software specifically designed for that purpose? Maybe.)

2. “The government already has the information they need. They don’t need what’s on the phone.”

This is perhaps the most ridiculous argument roaming out there.  In the investigation of terrorist attacks such as the San Bernadino massacre, there should be no stone left unturned.

Consider that in the wake of 9/11, scores of human assets were busily gathering intelligence data on high value terrorists.  Intelligence experts acknowledge that hard drives, phones and physical files often contain critical information not found through other means of investigation.

Smartphones are computers and can store files and information not discoverable by accessing phone records.

Furthermore, is it likely that a terrorist who used a phone with a self-wiping feature would have chosen that place to hide the most critical information?  Yes, if that terrorist was smart.

Note: When confronted with this counter-argument, privacy advocates will immediately pivot back to argument #4.

3. “Apple has already turned everything over, including what’s backed up on the cloud. There’s no reason they need to get into the phone.”

This is an interesting subspecies of argument number 2 that manages to almost surpass its ridiculousness.  It stems from a persistent desire by many to treat digital spaces as having different rules than physical ones when it comes to lawful search.

Start thinking of your smartphone in the same way you do a home or a car.  Now consider that an FBI agent has a warrant to search a home rented by a suspected terrorist.  Upon arriving at the home, the agent finds the landlord in the driveway surrounded by boxes and other items.  The landlord says, “Everything’s here.”  Does the agent take his word for it?  We all know the answer to that question.

In the case of Apple, no one would suggest that they are withholding evidence found on the terrorists. Still, the public deserves to know that law enforcement doesn’t outsource the critical matter of evidence gathering.

4. “We shouldn’t give up privacy to get security.”

This bastardized version of Benjamin Franklin’s admonition — “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — is frequently cited by privacy advocates.

But privacy advocates have lost an important distinction by making the loose translation.  Even though they may be mutually necessary in a free society, liberty and privacy are very different ideas.  What’s more, Franklin wasn’t originally writing about liberty in that sense.  Franklin first made the statement in 1755 in a letter to the British-appointed governor of colonial Pennsylvania concerning a proposed tax.  If you want to know how the quote is being misused, please read the original text.

It should be said that Franklin also never advocated that anyone charged with a crime and receiving due process should be exempt from search.  Half of the Bill of Rights deals with due process because the framers saw the need to constrain the government’s power, not to eliminate it.  Nowhere in the five amendments dealing with due process, crime and punishment is a right to destroy evidence contained.

5. “If Apple gives the government the ability to search a terrorist’s phone, they’ll have access to all phones.”  

There’s some legitimate reason to worry about a government backdoor, but the government isn’t asking for Apple to create a backdoor.  This standoff isn’t a matter of Apple not wanting to hand its encryption keys to the FBI (though that would be inarguably their legal obligation if we were talking about any other type of property), it’s a matter of an Apple-designed feature in the iPhone operating system that wipes the drive after 10 failed password attempts.

We should have an expectation of privacy and the Fourth Amendment matters.  We have the right to put things in places where no one — including the government — can see them until government comes to us with a legally acquired warrant.  We do not, however, have the right to rig our property to for self-destruction in a way that thwarts legal searches.

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

Column | Inslee’s case for Syrian refugees is based on a seriously flawed reading of history

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

When a Republican politician steps out to take a minority position on the issue of the day, they can expect to be portrayed by the media as an outlier, ranging from simply being out-of-step to an enemy of freedom. When a Democrat swims against strong public opposition, they are labeled a champion.

Today, the Washington Post ran this headline on The Fix political blog: “This governor just made the most powerful argument yet for accepting Syrian refugees.” Building from that grabber, journalist Amber Phillips shined a warm spotlight on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, one of 10 governors still voicing support for the Obama administration’s plan to bring at least 10,000 refugees into the U.S. And as is so often the case, the media’s effort to lionize another Democratic champion leads with a lie.

Phillips writes with careful intent:

There’s a saying I recall hearing as a child… : “Don’t make decisions when you’re upset.”

If you do, the saying goes, you risk making a decision guided by the same fear and anger that caused you to be upset in the first place instead of making a decision guided by reason.

Having set the scene, Phillips introduces the public to its hero:

That’s essentially the argument Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) made in a succinct but powerful interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday morning about why America should accept 10,000 Syrian refugees who need a home. America is understandably afraid after the terror in Paris and its roots on the migrant trail from Syria, he said, but if we close the door on Syrian refugees, we are doing so out of fear, not any reality-based rationale — and that would be a mistake.

Then, for those who might still hold on to their concerns, Phillips and Inslee shove a mirror in front of Joe and Jane America, and imply that fear is only a manifestation of darker blemishes on our nation’s soul:

To emphasize his point, Inslee recalled a moment in American history when the nation collectively did just that: Made a mistake because it was afraid.

“I live on Bainbridge Island, this little island just west of Seattle. And it was the first place where we succumbed to fear, in 1941 after Pearl Harbor,” he said. “And we locked up Washington and American citizens, and we sent them to camps for years while their sons fought in the Army in Italy and were decorated fighting for democracy.”

Inslee’s reference of course, is to Japanese internment camps.

Phillips ends her piece by concluding that “reason is a better guide than fear.” Yet, Inslee’s position is not based on reason. His case for welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Washington state is based on emotion and a very flawed reading of history.

Only two days ago, Inslee made a shaky linkage to compare the Syrian exodus to the Vietnamese refugee crisis of the 1970s. (There had never been serious threats to the homeland stemming from the Vietnam War aside from those committed by homegrown terrorists.) As he skimmed further back in his world history notes to the mid-20th century, the governor’s ability to interpret the lessons of the past is even less steady.

Inslee’s thinly veiled analogy between the forced internment of American citizens who were ethnically Japanese during World War II and the present-day decision to allow Syrian citizens to be settled into the U.S. is ludicrous in the extreme. Depriving U.S. citizens of their rights on the basis of race was an ugly process, but one that bears no similarity to the current case of Syrians.

The governor’s approach is a mix of shame and emotion intended to produce compliance, not consensus. It follows the president’s slanderous line of attack on opponents of the refugee plan. Most disappointing, it further polarizes this important discussion making it harder, if not impossible, to find common ground.

This is the game into which our political discourse has devolved — a rhetorical three-card Monte game in which facts, emotions and half-truths are swapped quickly through the dialogue to produce “truthiness,” a warm feeling that gives us more comfort and social acceptance than reality ever can.

If Inslee was just a professor teaching bad history, the damage from his erroneous lesson would be measured only in dozens of minds wasted. But the concerns of citizens and experts about security risks and whether adequate safeguards can be put in place are legitimate; because the stakes are high we should demand intellectual rigor from those who wish to influence the debate.

[Image credit: iStock]
Drought-ravaged landscape

Holding Washington and other Western states hostage over water | Op-Ed

A dominant theme washing over Capitol Hill in the waning days of the session centers on how Congress can effectively address the diverse and legitimate needs of the many Western States confronting historic drought and water issues. There are nearly two-dozen legislative proposals from both Democrats and Republicans tackling everything from the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S” regulations and carbon-reduction rules to drought relief for farmers and ranchers affecting many Western states.

Drought in Washington and across the West have caused billions of dollars in impacts and are predicted to cost billions more in the coming years.

Our elected officials have taken notice.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-4) is making it his priority to facilitate the construction of new dams and reservoirs to increase Washington’s water storage capacity by introducing the Bureau of Reclamation Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act of 2015.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is pushing the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act, which provides an integrated approach to addressing water management in Washington’s Yakima Basin. As the Yakima Basin faces continued drought and climate impacts, the federal government has a responsibility to act now to prevent future impacts and costs in meeting its legal responsibilities in the basin.

This summer California Rep. David Valadao (R-CA-21) and 25 bipartisan co-sponsors — including Newhouse and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) — introduced HR 2898, a drought relief bill that would benefit Washington, as well as California and our other Western states. It passed in the House, but was coldly received by the Senate, even though many knew that California senator Dianne Feinstein contributed to its provisions.

California Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer responded with an alternative, a bill that would grab $1.3 billion in federal funds for California; 12 environmental activist groups helped Feinstein and Boxer draft their measure. While these senators command respect, their bill would do little for Washington and other Western states. Rather, it would simply help expand California’s environmental mandates to our state and many others.

We need much more than that.

By some estimates more than 93 million Americans are now impacted by the Western drought. At least twelve western states are falling victim to drought conditions and receiving USDA drought relief: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington. The impact of the drought ripples across the nation, which has a vested interest in food prices, the security of our food supply and the economy at large.

With over 92% of all federally owned lands located in the West, Americans are growing concerned about impacts on national parks and national forests. After all, issues concerning water, air and other natural resources cross state lines from coast to coast.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ response was to sensibly bundle its Western States package of measures into a comprehensive regional plan to address drought rather than dedicate federal funds to a single state’s crisis. A comprehensive package solves many states’ problems rather than dealing with them piecemeal.

As important as California is, and despite its historic drought crisis, a California-centric approach is myopic and unfair. The federal government must take ownership and responsibility for untangling the unwieldy web of local, state and federal government regulations that control the West’s water.

The drought is regional; it’s bigger than California and any fix should address the needs of the West, not just one state. Senators Feinstein and Boxer know that. The sooner congressional delegations across the West all band together and start treating the water crisis as an American issue of national importance, it helps our state of Washington, the West, and the nation — and that includes California.

Stagnation road sign

Repeal of Section 1031 Tax-Deferred Capital Gains Exchanges Would Only Choke Economic Growth | Op-Ed

If you were asked to design a tax code from scratch, you’d want to make sure that the rules would encourage things like investment and economic growth. After all, the more you do to enlarge the economic pie, the less pain we feel when the government takes out its slice to do the work it needs to do.

Since 1921, the federal tax code has contained a provision — Section 1031 — that does exactly that. It allows taxpayers to roll over their capital gains and defer the taxes on investments in things like real estate, equipment, and vehicles, so long as the savings are rolled directly back into like-kind investments.

It’s important to note that the taxes are deferred, not eliminated. But the deferral helps businesses like farms and construction companies to reinvest and grow, ultimately driving job creation and economic expansion. And that, in turn, generates even more tax revenue in the process.

Repealing Section 1031 would be a short-sighted way to collect more taxes today while choking off economic growth in the future. The government estimates it could collect a little over $40 billion in taxes over ten years by repealing Section 1031, but Ernst and Young estimates that a repeal could cost the economy as much as $3.20 in growth for every $1 in tax revenues raised.

A farmer would dismiss that as “eating the seed corn.” You’d have to be pretty bad at math to give up $3.20 to get $1 in return. Keeping Section 1031 in place ensures investment and economic growth, which we need now more than ever.

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Centralized, Government-Controlled Price Fixing of Healthcare Does Not Work | Op-Ed

Depositphotos_30765241_s_editedIn the wake of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), healthy, hard-working Americans are facing higher health care costs and a sea of broken promises. Higher premiums, lost providers and plans, as well as increased prescription drug costs are among the negative side effects stemming from ACA implementation.

Amid the ACA fallout, efficient and already successful health care programs are at risk from interference. Medicare Part D, a prescription drug coverage program for seniors and disabled individuals, is the all too rare example of a successful government program. What makes this program work is the market-driven principles and competition built into its design. As a result, program subscribers have access to prescription drug benefits that are offered at substantial savings while simultaneously saving taxpayer money. Over 30 million are enrolled in Medicare Part D, chances are you know someone who is.

From a fiscal perspective, Part D should be viewed as a windfall for our national budget. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), from 2004-2013, government spending on the program was 45 percent, or $348 billion less than originally projected. Unfortunately, myopic Beltway bureaucrats annually target Part D during the budget process and will again attempt to strip the market-driven components that make it efficient and widely popular among seniors and disabled veterans.

This is the real head-scratcher:  Why then would the Obama administration undercut Part D when it is working efficiently and coming in under budget?  It is dumbfounding. Yet, the federal government continues to look for ways to undercut Part D reducing the number of available plans, asserting price controls and instituting a rebate program that would reduce pharmaceutical research and development of new products.

Centralized, government-controlled price fixing is not the answer, and it would only drive prices higher. Furthermore, this is inconsistent with market-based reforms that promote competition and consumer choice. With Part D, prescription cost increases have held steady with the rate of inflation, and seniors have options from a variety of plans to select one that best suits their individual needs. So, rather than undermine Part D, the market-driven approach should be championed as an example of what is working in federal government.

The benefits of Part D extend beyond the fiscal savings. By improving access to prescription drugs, the overall health condition of beneficiaries is improved, decreasing hospitalization rates is realized. According to a Harvard study, Medicare Part D significantly reduced the likelihood of hospitalization for eight conditions, leading to nearly 4 percent fewer hospital admissions, or an estimated 77,000 fewer annual admissions.

While mounting evidence exists to save Part D, it is far from safe. It will likely be on lawmakers’ and regulators’ radars yet again. It is critical that we continue to defend and maintain Medicare Part D. Instead of derailing its success, the federal government should model other programs after Medicare Part D. As the numbers show, the security of Part D is not merely a concern for seniors and the disabled population. It impacts us all. The bottom line is that centralized, government-controlled price fixing is not the answer. All taxpayers benefit from Part D, and Washington, D.C., should stop its pattern of fixing something that is not broken.

[Image manipulated under license: Depositphotos.com]
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President’s Exec Order Should Not Stop Republicans from Leading on Immigration | Op-Ed

You would have to be living under a rock to not notice all of the attention being given to the issue of immigration reform right now.  Conservatives have sometimes appeared to want the issue to go away entirely – yet it will not.  And it should not.  Republicans will now control both houses of Congress and this is our chance to lead on this issue.  We can fix the broken system our way.  Our conservative values should mean that we are stronger on immigration and we need a system that strengthens America.

The President’s recent executive order won’t address the root causes of our broken system, and so there is still an enormous opportunity for Republicans to enact real improvements and address the structural problems he is choosing to ignore.  We need a modern immigration system that drives our economy rather than ignores it.  We need to attract and retain the workers our farms, our laboratories, and industries across the economy need to compete and grow.  That requires an immigration system that responds to bull markets and bear markets by adjusting the number of visas we allocate according to the needs of our economy.  To address these needs we need the Republican-led congress to pass comprehensive legislation.

The President’s executive order won’t change anything.  The economic imperative for Congress to enact immigration reform still exists.

Reforming our immigration laws will help promote new business growth – a goal that many immigrants and conservatives share.   A Partnership for a New American Economy report shows that in 2011, immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses and contributed more than $775 billion dollars in revenue to our Gross Domestic Product.  Foreign-born researchers and students at our nation’s colleges also help spark business innovation with new products and ideas.  This reports shows that more than 75 percent of all patents awarded at our top universities had at least one immigrant inventor involved in their production.  Foreign-born investors also help bolster the economy, accounting for over 80 percent of investments in cutting-edge industries like information technology and digital communications.

Republicans must act now to create a more streamlined immigration policy based on market-driven principles.  A market-based approach will drive new job creation and increase economic growth nationwide.

In addition to very powerful economic reasons for reform – there are also political ones as well that we cannot ignore.

Many people hold the mistaken belief that immigrant voters in the United States are predominantly liberal.  However, another recent PNAE study found that notion is simply not true.  In fact, more than 50 percent of immigrants do not identify with either the Republican or Democratic Party. These votes are up for grabs.  And, it is imperative that Republicans thoughtfully consider issues important to this growing and politically unaffiliated group of voters.

This study also found that immigrants and conservatives often hold many of the same moral and religious values.  In fact, 73 percent of Hispanics who identify as Evangelical Christians were opposed to abortion, compared to only 43 percent of the U.S. population as a whole.  Fifty-three percent of black immigrants oppose gay marriage, which is nine percentage points higher than the national average.  And, 22 percent of immigrant voters cited “moral values” as the most influential factor in determining their votes in the 2004 election.

Younger immigrants also tend to be more religious and conservative than their U.S.-born counterparts.  41 percent of immigrants aged 18-29, rank religion as being “very important.”  Due their strong religious faith and personal commitment to family, many immigrants indicate they would respond favorably to a conservative message if Republicans would act on the issue of immigration reform.

Conservatives must recognize the profound impact that immigrants have on America’s economic, cultural and political life. By implementing meaningful immigration reforms, Republicans can help fix the ineffective and broken system we have in place today.  The result will not only create jobs and build businesses, but also help Republicans gain support from this important group of voters.

[Featured image: Donkey Hotey]
McM Official Photo 3-8-11 (small)

McMorris Rodgers: House Republicans Moving to Use ‘Purse Strings’ to Rein in IRS

On Wednesday, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) announced that Republicans will introduce an appropriations bill next week that couples continued funding for the Internal Revenue Service with key accountability measures designed to rein in abuses within the scandal-ridden federal tax collection agency.

“As you know, the House holds the purse strings,” the highest ranking Republican woman in Congress said Wednesday afternoon on a conference call with reporters from new media along with Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.).

McMorris Rodgers revealed that next week House Republicans will move forward the appropriations bill containing appropriations for IRS, and that the measure will also place some restrictions on how the IRS can use its funds.

Among the accountability provisions mentioned were a prohibition on the IRS’ implementation of proposed regulation changes for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. The bill would also ban the IRS from using funds for activities that curb first amendment-protected activities, as well as restrain the agency from ever again spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in the production of truly awful employee training videos.

Both representatives expressed that the failure of the IRS and the Obama administration to address the agency’s problems has necessitated congressional action.

McMorris Rodgers remarked that the IRS is able to “demand compliance from moms, dads and small businesses, and [their failure to comply with the congressional investigation] is just wrong.”

“There’s still a huge amount of concern among the American people that we are not getting all of the answers,” said Gerlach.

Gerlach added that because of the absence of cooperation from the IRS and a lack of action from the Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Justice, the Obama administration has “left the American people in a position where they simply don’t believe the President on this issue.”

It is very likely that such a measure will pass the House. It is just as probable that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s reflex will be to drop it into a deep, dark desk drawer, never to be seen again.

Ironically, the frustrating Democratic strategy of forcing continuing resolutions for funding the government may ultimately give Republicans the leverage they need.

If Republicans can isolate appropriations for the most-hated federal agency, Democrats could be forced in September to argue against making a rogue agency accountable.

Unlike in the last shutdown standoff, threatening to have the IRS go dark is unlikely to generate much public sympathy to elevate the Democratic position in negotiations.

And all just in time for critical midterm elections in which Democrats are desperately hoping to hang on to Senate.

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Reports of the Internet’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated | Op-Ed

Recently there have been a handful of news stories lamenting the end of the Internet as we know it.  The truth is that the Internet is stronger than ever, the stalwart principles that protect it are firmly in place and the ecosystem comprised of innovators, engineers, policy-makers, investors and users is working to assure its health and growth for the future.

It must be one of our most basic instincts, to protect what we love, including the lifeline of resources and economic security and prosperity that is the Internet.  We all want to access the information, products, and services that we need, and we want to do that from wherever we are and as quickly as possible. Increased choices for how we access the Internet – wired and wireless broadband – coupled with the principle of the Open Internet, mean we have a growing number of opportunities to get online and that all online traffic is treated equally once we’re there.

In a fortuitous collision of critical topics that impact the Internet and access to the Internet, there was an FCC meeting last month that included the Open Internet on the agenda, as well as the upcoming spectrum auction.  At stake: getting online as well as your experience once you’re there.  The FCC will be formalizing rules that are imagined to impact what happens once a person is online: Internet content, and access to that content.  At the same meeting, the FCC voted on bidding rules for the spectrum auction scheduled for mid-2015, destined to impact the ability of a person to get online (wirelessly) at all.

Despite the sturm und drang, the values of the Open Internet are widely respected and valued.  Formally preserving rules that would ensure that no one could restrict innovation, regulate content or applications or create so-called fast or slow lanes is a good thing for the Internet.

The irony is that the values of the Open Internet, which aren’t controversial, were on the agenda with bidding rules for the spectrum auction, which for tech-followers and insiders, has been a little more spicy.  At the pending auction, companies that provide wireless service will have a chance to obtain more of the essential airwaves needed to strengthen and expand mobile networks – a popular service for a rapidly growing number of consumers.  This issue didn’t get nearly the same amount of attention or press as the Open Internet, which is unfortunate, because of the topics on the agenda that day that have impact on your daily use of the Internet – the wireless spectrum and its distribution is far more impactful.

Washington State has shown consistent leadership in the wireless economy and I think we have a clearer sense than many about the necessity of spectrum to feed our wireless habits.  Outdated, overloaded wireless network infrastructure means that many consumers contend with dropped calls, poor coverage, slow speeds, and stalled applications.  And consider this: Consumer demand is growing in leaps and bounds, and new innovations are developed nearly every day.  We’re all hungry for spectrum, and the auctions are vital for everyone.

It’s the spirit of freedom and innovation that empowers new choices for consumers in the marketplace and allows us to customize and create our Internet experience – wired or wireless.  There are no tolls when you are online. Under a regime of openness and innovation, the Internet delivers immeasurable benefits to consumers and enables forward-thinking scientists and entrepreneurs to launch often-revolutionary advancements.

It’s why the anticipation not only of what we do now, but what we will do in the future is so critical when it comes to Internet policy.  Whether it’s rules that codify the Open Internet or rules that ensure a fair spectrum auction, the lens through which all regulation that impacts technology should be viewed is one that modernizes what is already in place to ensure innovation and progress. In fact, the only real threat to the Internet is from a regulatory approach that is heavy-handed, ignorant of marketplace realities or obsolete.  Modern public policy should meet the needs of everyone who is so dependent on the Internet – and at this point, by my count, that’s most of us.

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