Update - 8:50 p.m. ET: House passes H.R. 5230 with 223 yeas, 189 nays. $694 million was approved by the House for border security. Members are currently debating H.R. 5272, which would limit the President's ability to implement and expand his Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program to children involved in the border crisis.
Update - 9:05 p.m. ET: Next vote series in the House expected to start within half hour.
We now expect our next vote series between 9:25-9:40 p.m.— Republican Cloakroom (@RepCloakroom) August 2, 2014
Update - 9:30 p.m. ET: GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers releases statement following passage of House funding bill for border security:
“We face a grave humanitarian and national security crisis at the border – and Americans all across this country are asking for leadership. They’re asking for solutions. And that’s what our legislation does: it provides a serious solution to a serious problem. Our plan reallocates $694 million to secure the border, provide emergency care, and prevent future arrivals. This will ensure that children are reunited with families in their home countries. Our solution addresses the problem humanely, effectively, and expeditiously. The crisis at the border demands our attention. It demands our action. And it demands our immediate and unwavering leadership.”
Update - 9:57 p.m. ET: House passes H.R. 5272 in 216-192 vote. House considers Israel's Iron Dome vote next.
H.R. 5272 has passed – 216 Yeas, 192 Nays, 1 Pres— Republican Cloakroom (@RepCloakroom) August 2, 2014
Update – 10:04 p.m. ET: House agrees to Senate amendment to H.J.Res.76, which provides $225 million in emergency funds for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
Votes are concluded for the evening. At this time, no additional votes are scheduled. Members leave D.C. for five-week August recess.
-- Original Post Below --
Thursday night, the Senate failed to pass its own version of the border security bill, S.2648, which would have provided $2.7 billion in emergency funds for the border crisis and an additional $800 million for fighting wildfires and supporting Israel’s missile defense system.
S.2648 failed 50-44 in a procedural vote in which 60 votes were needed to move the legislation. Every Republican and two Democrats, Sens. Mary Landrieu (LA) and Joe Manchin (W.VA), voted nay.
The Senate is scheduled to depart for August recess with no set plans to take further action.
GOP conference is currently working on a revised plan, although details are still unclear. Bill language has not yet been posted or considered by the Rules Committee.
The latest on the possibilities comes from Pergram, reporting from Capitol Hill:
Hse plan is still to do 2 bills. 1 for supplemental w/policy changes & then updated DACA from Blackburn. Unclear if 2nd is contingent on 1st— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) August 1, 2014
Members are expected to vote around 11:30 a.m. on a rule for same-day consideration of the border security legislation. As of Friday morning, there was no set time for a final passage vote on the legislation, although it is expected to occur later Friday afternoon.
Stay tuned for updates.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Katie Couric yesterday to discuss everything from her retirement plans (or lack thereof) to her fashionable collar collection. While addressing the controversial Hobby Lobby v. Burwell case, Ginsburg made an eyebrow-raising comment about five of her fellow justices.
In the highly anticipated decision, the high court ruled that closely held for-profit corporations would not be forced to provide contraceptive coverage that conflicts with their religious beliefs. Although Hobby Lobby was willing to provide 16 of the 20 birth control methods required under the mandate, those who spoke out against the business asserted that Hobby Lobby’s faith was infringing on their employees.
Couric asked, “All three women justices were in the minority in the Hobby Lobby decision. Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?”
“I would have to say no,” Ginsburg replied. “But justices continue to think and can change. So I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be opened tomorrow.”
Couric pressed, “But you do, in fact, feel these five justices had a bit of a blind spot?” to which Ginsburg responded, “In Hobby Lobby, yes.”
Granted, Katie Couric asked a leading question but Justice Ginsburg’s response still stands. The five justices in the majority happened to be male while three of the four dissenters were female. Could this not possibly be because those who ruled in favor were appointed by Republican presidents and tend to vote more conservatively? Likewise, the remaining four were appointed by Democrat presidents and tend to vote more liberally.
Does Justice Ginsburg truly believe that it's impossible for male judges to see past their “blind spot” of being male in order to understand a case and uphold the Constitution? Imagine the national outrage that would occur if a male justice assumed the same of his female counterpart.
Parting thought: The legal team for Hobby Lobby was entirely comprised of women. Chew on that.
Watch the interview here:
A surrogate mother in Bangkok is facing unexpected parenthood after she refused to abort a surrogate baby after he was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Pattharamom Janbua was paid the equivalent of $10,000 to carry a set of twins for an Australian couple. Following the Down syndrome diagnosis of Gammy, the male twin, the couple refused to parent him and instead took only the healthy female twin. A fund has been set up to assist Pattharamom with the medical costs associated with raising a special needs child.
The Telegraph reports on this tragic story:
Pattharamon Janbua, 21, was left to care for her critically ill son after the Australian couple who could not have a baby paid her about £6,400 to be a surrogate mother.
The son, named Gammy, was separated from his twin sister, who is healthy and was taken by the Australians.
Mrs Pattharamon, who is married, said she became pregnant via IVF and four months later learnt that one of her children had Down's syndrome. Doctors told the Australian parents of the baby's condition, and they then said they wanted her to have an abortion.
Pattharamom, a Buddhist, said that abortion violated her religious convictions. She had never met the couple who paid her for her surrogacy, and was set up through an agency. Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia.
This situation is equal parts heartbreaking and infuriating. Pattharamom reportedly did not even fully understand how the process of IVF worked, but desperately needed money. The per capita gross national income of Thailand is 5,370 USD, and it's completely understandable how tempting an offer of 10,000 USD would be to an impoverished woman. Additionally, having a baby shouldn't be like picking out a car. Every child has a unique set of abilities and challenges. Although the Australian couple surely did not anticipate or desire a child with Down syndrome, it was quite cowardly and selfish of them to demand Pattharamom have an abortion. Using a woman for her womb should be an outrage, and commercial surrogacy needs to be better regulated to protect everyone involved.
At the Karnes City “detention” center in Texas, illegal immigrants will hardly be living a detainee’s life. No, at this newly renovated facility for women and children, they’ll be referred to as “residents” and surrounded by comforts that many American citizens don’t even have: suites with bunk beds, flat screen TV sets, play tables for kids, stuffed animals, a landline phone, and new clothes.
On site, however, there are even more amenities: basketball courts, ping-pong tables, a weight room, a soccer field, a future playground, and access to a dentist, health care, education, a library, Internet, a hair salon, and a cafeteria, which will serve “residents” three all-you-can-eat meals per day.
The newly refurbished facility can house 532 illegal immigrants at an estimated $74,000 per day. And the average stay for a detainee is 23 days; Lucero told reporters they will do their best to maintain that average.
“While they are getting their due process and going through the proceedings, we will provide a safe environment for them,” ICE San Antonio Field Office Director Enrique Lucero told media during a tour of the facility on Thursday.
While it’s encouraging to see our government treating these migrants more humanely than locking them in overcrowded cages, they have undoubtedly overcompensated with “resident centers” such as these. It is terrible to think about the homeless, the hungry, and many veterans in this country who, despite their citizenship (and in the case of veterans, their sacrifices), are not provided this level of attention and care—especially given that this is at the taxpayer’s expense.
Happy Friday, Mr. President. Overall disapproval:
AP/GfK Poll: Obama job approval drops six net points from May to fall to 40-59, both an all time high disapproval and widest approval gap.— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) August 1, 2014
Foreign policy used to be a bright spot in Americans’ dimming opinion of President Barack Obama. Not anymore. Associated Press-GfK polling found a spring and summer of discontent with the president’s handling of world events. Obama’s consistently low marks across crises such as the fighting in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas could benefit Republicans aiming to win control Congress in the fall…Asked about world trouble spots:
—42 percent say the conflict between Israel and Hamas is “very” or “extremely” important to them; 60 percent disapprove of the way Obama has handled it.
—40 percent consider the situation in Afghanistan highly important; 60 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.
—38 percent give high importance to the conflict in Ukraine; 57 percent disapprove of what Obama has done about that.
—38 percent find the situation in Iraq of pressing importance; 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.
Even after survey after survey has recently shown a major drop in the nation’s uninsured rate, Obamacare just had its worst month in a key health-care poll. Kaiser Family Foundation, which has done arguably the best and most consistent polling on the health-care law in the past four-plus years, found that public opinion on the law sank to a record low in July. More people than ever (53 percent) last month said they viewed the law unfavorably, an increase of 8 percentage points since June — one of the biggest opinion swings ever.
As Ed Morrissey notes, "The Kaiser series has been one of the friendliest polls to ObamaCare since 2010." He also posits that the entrenched opposition (reflected in other polls, as well) could be driven by people starting to see their new bills and trying to actually use the coverage they've obtained -- access struggles and all. Obamacare has also endured a number of ugly headlines in the last week or so, although it's unlikely that those would have impacted this survey. The administration is warning consumers to brace for more problems, too. There's also the fact that many more people have been negatively impacted by the law than who've benefited from it. I'll leave you with my Twitter summary of the state of play in DC:
Obama drops to 40% in AP poll, Obamacare opposition spikes in Kaiser poll. Senate Dems bolt town having made no "fixes," no border bill.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) August 1, 2014
Let's see what House Republicans do later this afternoon.
Handguns will soon be legal to carry in Washington D.C. A federal judge struct down the District's ban on carrying the weapons in late July. Townhall's Sarah Jean Seman and Kara Jones visited the National Mall to find out how people feel about the ruling.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, the entity that runs the Kaiser Health Tracking poll, has long been a prominent cheerleader for Obamacare. As a result, the Kaiser Health Tracking poll questions are always horribly biased towards the Left, and the "gotcha" question included in this month's poll is no different.
Kaiser asked respondents: "As far as you know, did people who got new health insurance under the health care law (have a choice between private health plans) or did they (enroll in a single government health plan)?"
The correct answer, according to Kaiser, is that "people who got new health insurance under the health care law" had a "a choice between private health plans." Kaiser writes up the results:
Previous tracking polls have found that misperceptions about the ACA are common among the public, and more than four years after the law’s passage this continues to be the case. The July poll finds that fewer than four in ten Americans (37 percent) are aware that people who got new health insurance under the ACA had a choice between private health plans, while about a quarter (26 percent) think the newly insured were enrolled in a single government plan and about four in ten (38 percent) say they don’t know enough to answer the question.
The survey also finds differences in perceptions on this question by political party identification and other demographic characteristics. For example, Republicans (34 percent) are less likely than Democrats (43 percent) to say that enrollees had a choice of private health plans. Other groups that are less likely to be aware of this fact include those with an unfavorable view of the law (32 percent), self-described conservatives (31 percent), people ages 65 and older (29 percent), and the uninsured (29 percent).
Unfortunately the liberal activists who run Kaiser's poll have their facts wrong.
Yes, millions of wealthier Americans who gained coverage through Obamacare did have a choice of heavily regulated "private" plans. But millions of lower-income Americans who were also forced to buy health insurance did not qualify for private insurance under Obamacare. They were all enrolled in "a single government health plan" (aka Medicaid).
In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, more than half of all people who were supposed to gain health insurance in 2014 (14 million) were projected to do it through Medicaid (8 million).
And according to a Rand Corp. analysis of those that did actually gain insurance through Obamacare (9.5 million), almost half of them (4.5 million) did so through Medicaid.
So the Republicans queried by Kaiser are right and Kaiser is dead wrong: for many, if not most, of those who gained health insurance through Obamacare, they had no choice but "a single government plan."
In the August issue of Townhall Magazine, where this article originally appeared, Frank Dowse explains why the U.S. should care about what happens in Ukraine.
In the afterglow of the February Sochi Olympics, with the entire world watching, tens of thousands of “little green men” began pouring into sovereign Ukrainian territory from the Russian border.
These SPETSNAZ (a broad Russian term for “special purpose forces”) are first seen in Crimea, and by April, are seen throughout several major eastern Ukrainian cities. They began conducting massive covert political instability operations and clandestine military maneuvers designed to undermine Ukrainian federal government control.
By March 21, these elite Russian soldiers and their imported thug counterparts had secured the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. To date, scores of Ukrainian troops, ethnic Russian-Ukrainian militants, Russian military personnel, and civilians have been killed or wounded. Confrontations between Russian and Ukrainian forces continue inside many eastern parts of Ukraine to this day.
And the world has done virtually nothing to stop this.
How did we get here?
A STRATEGIC PRIZE
For many Americans, the only place they have ever heard about Ukraine was on the Parker Brothers strategy board game, Risk. But for centuries, many of Europe’s most influential personalities recognized Ukraine’s grand-strategic preeminence, including: the Phoenicians, the Romans, Ivan the Terrible, Peter and Catherine the Great, the Scandinavian and Baltic Kingdoms, the Ottoman Sultans, Napoleon, the British Monarchs, the Germanic Kaisers, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Churchill, and Khrushchev.
Not only is Kiev, the present day capital of Ukraine, recognized as the birthplace of Slavic culture, but from the ninth century on, many influential regional powers have waged bloody wars over the region. This included the Crimean War, which, during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, inspired Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
Realpolitik strategists schemed over Ukraine, the natural bridge between Europe and the Eurasian hinterlands, which also possesses premier maritime real estate in Crimea, providing vital access to the Black Sea, Bosporus Straits, and the Mediterranean Sea. Even the name, Ukrainya, means “on the edge,” where again it finds itself in today’s increasingly volatile events.
A DECADES-OLD CONFLICT
When the Soviet Union fell apart Ukraine was one of the first former republics to call for immediate independence. It promptly turned toward the West for political and governing examples as it struggled to strip the lingering shackles of the post-Soviet economic morass.
At the time of independence, Ukraine had the potential to become a strong global citizen. Sadly, its post-Soviet trajectory became mired in selfish robber baron-esque oligarchical meddling and persistent and pervasive Russian-backed (tacit and direct) destabilization efforts.
But despite the fact that the Ukrainian and Russian people share a great deal of history, culture, philology, tradition, religion, and outlooks, Ukraine, more than any other former Soviet republic, has a deep national, cultural, and ethnic pride that often transcends the similarities between the two.
The Ukrainian dusha—its spirit—rejects Russia’s propensity of casting it as the “younger, smaller” Slavic brother. And this feeling feeds Ukrainian resistance to any perceived or real Russian/ Soviet overtures to dominate, oppress, or influence Ukraine.
Post-revolutionary Russian Bolsheviks knew this all too well and swiftly punished any signs of Ukrainian independence. When Ukrainians rejected Stalin’s centralized agrarian policies in the 1930s, the Soviets responded by starving the entire region. Millions died over the course of two years and Ukrainians still refer to the tragedy as the Holodomor—death by hunger—today. This single event remains paramount in the scorched psyche that many Ukrainians project onto any revitalizing of Russian imperialism.
Less than a decade after the Holodomor, many Ukrainians greeted the Nazis as liberators from Soviet oppression when they invaded in 1941.
That arrangement didn’t last long.
German forces began widespread deportation, imprisonment, and extermination of hundreds of thousands of “noncompliant” Ukrainian undesirables, including Ukraine’s large Jewish population. As the Germans retreated, the charismatic but brutal Ukrainian leader Stepan Bandera led an anti-Soviet insurgency that killed tens of thousands of Soviet troops and political figures lasting well into the mid-1950s.
This is the raison d’e^tre behind the current Russian state-fueled propaganda and incendiary charges of neo-Nazism aimed at the Kiev-based Ukrainian government and the fiery Maidan uprising that ousted President Victor Yanukovych. Vladimir Putin himself, along with senior Russian officials, references this very conflict as proof-positive of Ukrainian “Nazi” roots.
However, it is Stalin’s sinister legacy at the root of much of the instability seen on the post-Soviet periphery as witnessed in Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transdniester, the Baltic region, and Ukraine.
Stalin’s infamous secret police organization deported huge swathes of Ukrainians and other ethnics, including Crimean Tatars, from their ancestral lands, and implemented “Russification” of much of eastern Ukraine and Crimea. After Stalin’s death, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, “returned” Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. In doing so, Khrushchev, an ethnic Ukrainian, alienated millions of ethnic Russians in Crimea and throughout eastern Ukraine.
This Soviet legacy transaction is at the heart of why both regions play such an important role nationalistically and geo-strategically for Russia. The annexation of Crimea, and the de facto Russian-sponsored irregular war raging against Ukraine in the east, has apparently been sparked by a jingoistic neo-fascist ideology fueled by Putin’s aspirations of former Tsarist and Soviet hegemonic glory.
A POST-COLD WAR PROMISE
President Reagan’s epoch shifting “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. By December of 1991, Ukraine was recognized internationally as an independent nation.
But the Soviet Union had the largest conventional arsenal in the world and much of it resided within newly independent Ukraine. This included a massive strategic and tactical land, air, and sea-based nuclear arsenal with all the command and control measures intact.
As a nascent state desperate to be accepted and supported by the international community, Ukraine understood its precarious situation. While holding on to the weapons might have been impressive to neighbors, they knew it would also be geo-strategically destabilizing.
With the Cold War over, the general consensus was that an independent and cooperative Ukraine seeking democracy and goodwill neither wanted nor could sustain a massive nuclear arsenal.
There were pragmatic concerns of “loose-nuke” scenarios and Ukraine’s inability to properly guard, maintain, and dismantle its immense nuclear infrastructure. To assist with this burden, and to sooth Ukrainian fears of any future encroachment on its security, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to dismantle Ukraine’s gargantuan strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals.
In 1994, in exchange for Ukraine’s acquiescence as the fourth largest nuclear force in the world, Ukraine would be guaranteed by the other signatories its territorial integrity as defined and recognized by international law. This was to become what is known as the Budapest Agreement. Of particular note is Article One, which reads as follows:
“The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine ... to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”
And that promise lasted almost 20 years until Putin ordered his special forces into the Crimean peninsula.
One cannot overestimate the national pride “gut-punch” Russia felt after the Soviet Union fell. Nearly every single nation that was formerly under the Soviet sphere within the Warsaw Pact construct—from the Baltic nations to the north, all the way to Bulgaria in the south—sought NATO membership as soon as they could. Especially wound- ing to Russian pride was the first round acceptance into NATO of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—three former Soviet states. Russian strategic planners saw this as a perceived windfall for NATO.
Putin wants nothing more than to reverse history. And not just back to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not only does Putin have his eyes set on all of the former-Soviet states, but he also has made comments suggesting interest in lands previously held by the Russian Empire, including Poland, Finland, and parts of Asia.
Ukraine is just the latest step in Putin’s campaign to revive Russia’s past glory. And he has been laying the groundwork for this incursion for years.
Over the past decade, Putin has extended political, economic, and social control in Kiev, weakening the country’s core civic institutions. Russian control is even stronger in many of the major Russian-leaning, eastern industrial-based cities such as Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk.
But Putin’s puppet in Kiev, former-President Victor Yanokovych, miscalculated when he decided not to allow Ukraine to participate in funding arrangements with the European Union this spring. A violent, fiery display of Ukrainian defiance in Kiev, dubbed Euromaidan, reverberated to Moscow.
Putin, the former KGB colonel and self-crafted Tsar-like figure, was not going to idle while Ukraine was slipping further into the perceived clutches of Western economic influence and prosperity.
Once the Russian president de facto seized Crimea with virtually no significant military, diplomatic, or economic counters from the U.S., NATO, or EU, he was emboldened to continue his adventurism into Ukraine proper.
He knows Berlin is economically tethered to Russian gas, and London is financially tethered to Russian investment. Without direct German or British support for real economic sanctions, Russia is free to proceed knowing very little will be done to stop them.
WHAT CAN AMERICA DO?
The de facto abdication of Crimea by the U.S. and NATO, and the ongoing destabilizing insurgency from irregular Russian forces and surrogate elements raging in eastern Ukraine, is already seen by Ukrainians as a betrayal by NATO, and, most notably, the U.S.
Both U.S. allies and belligerents are watching. Neither the White House nor the American people are prepared to risk open war with Russia over Ukraine.
The parallels drawn from the unwillingness by Germany and Britain to implement real punishing and effective sanctions on Russia remind many security observers and historians of the specter of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact between Hitler and Stalin and the subsequent invasion of Poland in 1939.
Feckless gestures and meaningless and ineffective “sanctions” without U.S. leadership and EU buy-in only appear to empower the new Russian neo- imperialists. This is reminiscent of an earlier momentous lapse in international security fortitude: the 1938 Munich Agreement with “peace for our time.”
America’s most important geo-strategic relationship is our Atlantic relationship as codified in NATO. As Gov. Romney rightfully argued, Russia now threatens that very nature of our most important security alliance.
U.S. policy toward Ukraine over the last 20 years has been an ineffectual tight rope act. The U.S., and NATO, while diplomatically espousing greater cooperation leading to more meaningful economic and broader security arrange- ments with Ukraine, in reality placated the country resulting in the now abysmally recognized “reset” with Moscow. At no time have Russian hegemons demonstrated any intent to cooperate on their real political, economic, and security designs for Ukraine.
We cannot continue to support the Ukrainian people with only teleprompter-deep rhetoric. If the U.S. fails to lead here and now, it places our NATO relationship in further disrepute and could possibly strain our bilateral constructs with those nations closest to the emerging threat.
Specifically, the reactions and perceptions of NATO allies Poland, Hungary, the Baltic nations, and the Czech Republic should play into any immediate calculus. They, like Ukraine, have been on this “edge” before. Soviet aggression and oppression is fresh in their psyches as well, and they empathize with their Slavic and regional brothers and sisters as to the real and present danger a neo-imperial Russia presents to European stability and security.
Regurgitated exercises and conferences with all the protocol trappings and cordial diplomatic puffery betray real progress. What Ukraine needs right now is a strategic U.S.-led concerted military, intelligence, and logistical support plan that empowers the key NATO players identified above to take the operational lead that know, share, and understand the immediate needs of the Ukrainian government against greater Russian military incursion. Viewed by some as possibly provocative itself, Putin has aptly demonstrated that doing nothing is perhaps more provocative, and we see what that has wrought thus far.
NATO must increase militarily viable activity. Lighting fires around the enemy to make them think they are surrounded in the form of tourist-style ship visits and militarily insignificant engagement activities cannot continue. NATO has received a wake-up call in the form of a bellowing Russian growl just down the canyon. The U.S. must re-engage with the NATO Council to force a gut check of members to meet their percentage of GNP military budget goals.
At no time has NATO had a greater pre-kinetic and unpredictable threat to its stated purpose: collective defense. A serious analysis of potential aspirant invitations could be considered to dem- onstrate NATO’s commitment to that collective defense; offering member aspirant status to Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, or Azerbaijan could be considered, for example. Sweden has made recent diplomatic overtures in consideration of a NATO seat.
A FINAL WILD CARD
While Ukraine clearly remains “on the edge” of perhaps a regional or pan-European conflagration with Russia, the U.S., NATO, and the EU cannot remain on the sidelines. The closest NATO ally in this current crisis is in fact the Turks. They are no doubt keeping a keen eye on the events with their Turkic brethren in Crimea, and increased Russian naval and land-based deployments just 250 miles across the Black Sea.
Given the military and political history between both Russia and Turkey that’s steeped in suspicion and hegemonic rivalry, the U.S., or NATO writ large for that matter, may not get the choice to remain on the sidelines if a collective response is triggered between a potential hostile military engagement between them. At that point, no one gets to just sit on the edge. •
Frank Dowse is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer currently working with Naval Special Warfare Command (SEALs).
Better known for their voting scorecard, Heritage Action, the political arm of The Heritage Foundation, released a new "Conservative Policy Agenda" yesterday, subtitled, "Opportunity for All, Favoritism for None."
The 20-page briefing book, distributed to House and Senate offices Thursday, is often vague on specific policy proposals, leaving the details to the think tank's many policy papers. But both the content and tone of the agenda reflect a populist turn for the decades old non-profit.
“The conservative movement is thriving and specific policy solutions are readily available from Heritage and many others," Heritage Action Communications Director Dan Holler told Townhall. "The Heritage Action agenda, in broad strokes, emphasizes the importance of all three legs of the conservative stool while infusing the populist message that is so crucial to the future of our movement. We’re trying to interject the theme of opportunity for all but favoritism to none into the political bloodstream, and this document represents the first of many steps to achieve that."
Also of note, while Heritage Action's "Conservative Policy Agenda" does strongly condemn Obamacare and identify reforms that would greatly improve our nation's health care system, the word "repeal" does not appear in the document. Instead, the it reads:
The left and the right have competing approaches to health reform. The left’s vision is to put government in the driver’s seat of health care decisions through command and control. The pre-Obamacare system, the left posits, exemplified all of the worst excesses of capitalism: a messy competition for margins in which individual insurers’ uncoordinated efforts could generate healthy profits only through deception and gouging of consumers. Obamacare is built on the assumption that profit-seeking corporations can deliver affordable care to all Americans, but only if private motivations are subordinated to common interest through heavy regulation.
In effect, the government has turned insurance companies into public utilities, promising them a comfortable existence in exchange for eliminating competition. They cannot set their own prices; they cannot choose the services they provide; they cannot select their customers; they cannot create innovative business models or products that might “game” the system and undermine competitors.
The law provides massive incentives to insurers for cooperation. It offers them a steady stream of customers through its requirement that all Americans purchase their products. It provides bailouts for companies that cannot bear the costs imposed by its regulations. Most important, its regulatory hurdles eliminate the potential for disruptive business models that could threaten the standing of the strongest players in the market. Insurance executives, the left hopes, can be trusted to give consumers a fair deal and reduce costs—so long as they are guaranteed comfortable annual returns and insulated from threats in the marketplace.
A better alternative for health care reform would give individuals choice and control of their health care dollars and decisions. This vision stems from an alternative view of the state of the pre-Obamacare system. Properly understood, there was no patient centered market for individuals. Rather, our health care system has long been among the most segmented and least market-driven sectors of our economy. A large portion of the country receives government-controlled health care from Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile, market mechanisms have long been impeded in the private sector by the tax code’s arbitrary preference for employer provided care, which serves to prevent consumers from choosing the plans best suited to their needs.
The result of all these distortions is unsurprising: an individual market that has long lacked an adequate consumer base on which to thrive. In such circumstances, it’s no wonder that the industry could not provide the market signals that exist in most other sectors of the economy and serve to drive prices to affordable levels.
Obamacare’s solution to the health care problem is to regulate “bad” plans in the individual and group markets out of existence and drive individuals toward government-approved and taxpayer subsidized health plans. A conservative solution to health care would do the opposite: It would give individuals and families the freedom to choose the plan that best suits their needs from a marketplace in which insurers and providers have the flexibility to compete to provide better care at lower cost.
To get there, Congress should guarantee fair tax treatment that allows each individual to buy insurance with tax benefits that are similar to the tax benefits available for those with employer based coverage. Individuals who like their company-provided insurance should not be forced out by government overreach like Obamacare, but by the same token, Americans should not feel locked into employer-provided insurance due to unfair tax treatment of individually purchased plans.
Furthermore, there is no reason why Americans in government run health care—Medicaid and Medicare recipients—should be locked out of the benefits of choice and competition. Reform of these programs would introduce the same kinds of market mechanisms that can better address patient needs while driving down costs for consumers and taxpayers alike.
David Christensen, the Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the Family Research Council, sent an urgent email to supporters Thursday morning asking them to call their legislators to co-sponsor the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014. The legislation, spearheaded by Representatives Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) and Mike Kelly (R-PA) would prevent government from withholding funds for child welfare service providers simply because they believe in traditional marriage.
From Christensen's email:
In California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and D.C. religious adoption and foster care providers have had their government funding pulled and have been forced to end services, simply because they continue to believe in the importance of a child having a mom and a dad.
It's a sad sign of the times that some states have preferred to sever longstanding partnerships with faith-based providers rather than allow them to continue caring for and placing children informed by traditional moral beliefs about the family.
Since its introduction, progressive groups have decried this legislation as homophobic. They label it a “political tool to oppose marriage equality or civil unions for same-sex couples”:
The bill would force the government to continue to contracting with any organization that provides services to children, regardless of how their religious tenets affect the way they provide those services. Though the text doesn’t mention “same-sex” anywhere, it specifically references “some States, including Massachusetts, California, Illinois, and the District of Columbia,” four places where recognition of same-sex unions conflicted with Catholic Charities, which refused to provide adoption services to those couples.
Rep. Kelly responded to these charges:
"Nothing in the Inclusion Act prevents any child welfare service provider from participating in child welfare services," Kelly told Townhall.
"Nothing. It simply ensures that a provider will not be excluded in any manner from participating in such services on the basis of its religious and moral beliefs, which is one reason the Act is called the Inclusion Act."
Kelly also emphasized it's supposed to be about the children:
"The essence of this bill is 100 percent inclusive and child-focused. We live in a time when children throughout our nation are relying on adoption and foster care services to ensure they have the love, stability, and protection that a family offers. Squeezing faith-based child welfare providers out of communities in need because they don’t have the “right” beliefs does not help children—it only hurts them. While we all have our own unique political and social views, the well-being of our children must always transcend them. To ensure a positive outcome for as many children as possible, tolerance in this space is required."
This bill is not about denying couples rights, but providing safe homes for children. Adoption and foster care are wonderful, lifesaving alternatives for young moms dealing with unplanned pregnancies who may be considering abortion.
Here is the full text of the legislation. Maybe I’m not the best at interpretation, but I’ve yet to find the section on hate crime. With liberal progressives trying to cut welfare providers' funding just because of their religious beliefs, it's easy to see where the real discrimination lies.