- The U.S. economy added slightly more jobs than expected in February, but the pattern of job creation remains very sluggish and President Obama only has his own policies to blame, according to Heritage Foundation Chief Economist Stephen Moore.
On Friday, the Labor Department announced the economy added 175,000 jobs last month, although the overall unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7 percent. The job numbers beat the expectation of 149,000 new jobs and mark the 48th straight month of positive job numbers but the number of people leaving the labor force remains a major concern and experts like Moore say by now the jobs numbers should be much better.
"The long-term trend now for five years has been very disappointing job growth. We're at about half the level of job creation that we should be at. The real unemployment rate, when you include people who have given up looking for work or people who are underemployed, is close to eleven percent. Those are really lousy numbers and it's hard to put any lipstick on this pig," said Moore.
"We've got an economy that's just not growing fast enough. It's not creating the jobs we need. We need about 250,000-300,000 jobs a month," said Moore, noting that jobs across the pay scale remain scarce.
So what is stopping a spurt in hiring? Moore points his finger at Obama administration policies, namely Obamacare and taxes.
"Obamacare is clearly a job-killer and it's already having an impact. Of course, the Congressional Budget Office said that we could lose 2.5 million jobs. That is a significant negative for employers and for workers. I think that the tax increase I think the tax increase that we had last year is reducing people's investment in businesses. I think most of the policies in Washington are negative for the economy. If we shifted toward something like a flat tax, it would be huge," said Moore, who elaborated further on why he thinks a flat tax could provide a massive economic push.
"We need lower tax rates and we need to get rid of double taxation on savings and investment. We need to become one of the lowest tax rate countries, not the highest tax rate country, especially for our businesses. We're penalizing businesses with our tax code right now. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. That is not a policy that is geared toward growth," said Moore.
Neither party has approached the flat tax legislatively and Republican bills that pass the House rarely get noticed in the Democratically controlled Senate. Moore says many of the GOP ideas are good, but politics prevent much from getting done.
"It's such a poisonous atmosphere right now, where everything the president is for is bad for the economy. Everything the Republicans are for is probably a benefit to the economy for the most part, except that those can't get done. The best situation now would be for Washington to do nothing, because the only things the president would allow to get done are things that are negative for jobs," said Moore.
"The Republicans are kind of in the fetal position right now. They don't want to do much of anything. The one thing they do want to do is fight against Obamacare, which is certainly a good thing to repeal or correct its worst feature. That's not enough of an agenda. They have to have a positive solution for growth. They have to be a solutions party," said Moore.
"When I hear them just being against what Obama's for, I'm not sure that's enough to win the elections in 2014 because all of this discussion is in the context of major midterm elections," said Moore.
Moore says he doesn't see a single component in the new Obama budget blueprint that he believes will foster stronger job growth. As a result, he says America's economy will continue to fall further behind.
"We know the formula to do it but we're not following that formula. That's why I would say right now, less out of Washington is the best we can hope for," said Moore.
- The world's attention is focused on Ukraine and it's not the first time. Ten years ago, another political firestorm unfolded there and Capitol Steps are here to share their classic parody. Our guest is Steps co-founder and star Elaina Newport.
- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told conservative activists on Thursday that if the GOP wins control of the U.S. Senate this year, the party will aggressively pursue and enact conservative policies, but legendary conservative leader Richard Viguerie says the track record suggests something very different.
McConnell and 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan were among the first speakers at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington.
1cIf I 19m given the opportunity to lead the United States Senate next year, I won 19t let you down. I will lead with integrity, we will fight tooth and nail for conservative reforms that put this country back on track, we will debate our ideas openly, we will vote without fear, and we will govern with the understanding that the future of this country depends on our success," said McConnell.
But Viguerie doesn't believe the promises.
"Well, that'll be a first for him because his entire Senate life has been spent growing government, and that's why we have a tea party today, because of the failure of the Republican leaders. When they're in power, they act like Democrats except they grow government a little slower than the Democrats do," said Viguerie.
Viguerie says it's possible that McConnell could be a champion for conservative policies, but only if several more tea party Republicans are elected to give the Republicans a majority again.
"The opportunity to save America and return America to limited government and constitutional government is in the primaries. If we are fortunate in nominating and electing limited government constitutional conservatives this year, Mitch McConnell will be a far better Senate leader, providing he wins re-election, which is very much in doubt," said Viguerie.
For his part, Rep. Ryan told CPAC attendees that he knows there's an ideological rift in the party, but he says that's good so long as conservatives come together in campaigns and policy fights.
"You fight it out, you figure out what works, you come together, and you win. It's messy, it's noisy, and it's a little bit uncomfortable, but the center of gravity is shifting," said Ryan.
He also stated conservatives cannot insist on 100 percent purity from every Republican on every issue, saying a party poised to win elections "doesn't burn heretics, it wins coverts."
Viguerie says comments like those diminish the major divide that's consumed the GOP for over 100 years.
"I think he's papering over a serious, serious problem. I've just written a book called "Takeover", which describes that we've been engaged in a 102-year-old civil war inside the Republican Party, which is the most important political battle in America today. It's not between Republicans and Democrats. It's inside the Republican Party and it's a serious disagreement over the role of government," said Viguerie.
"Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are on the side of the big government and big government constitutional conservatives have just woke up recently to realize their number one opponent is not Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, but it's the big government Republicans and they're in the way of conservatives governing America," said Viguerie.
Paul Ryan is a big government Republican? In 2012, Viguerie hailed Mitt Romney's choice of Ryan as a running mate and a sign conservatives would have a place in Romney's administration if he were to win. Viguerie says he's seen a lot of change in Ryan.
"You wouldn't want a better next door neighbor or best friend. He's just a wonderful human being, but he has been in Washington a long time now and it seems like he's signed on to the establishment," said Viguerie. "You don't get selected to leadership positions unless you play ball with the big government types in Washington. So Ryan has been a disappointment to conservatives.
"We thought he would run a more aggressive, challenging, hard-hitting campaign in 2012 and he didn't do that. Ever since then he's been going along with the expansion of government," said he said.
Viguerie believes conservatives have a good chance to add to their numbers, first in primaries against GOP senators he finds insufficiently conservative in states like Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi and in open seats like Nebraska as well as many seats defended by Democrats.
- President Obama's budget is short on specifics, fudging our current economic state and long on higher spending and higher taxes to pay for his political agenda, according to National Taxpayers Union Executive Vice President Pete Sepp.
Sepp says Republicans offered more fiscally responsible budget proposals than Obama in recent years but their blueprints were also far from what America needs to deal effectively with huge annual deficits and a massive national debt.
On Tuesday, the White House released the president's budget blueprint for Fiscal Year 2015. It carries a price tag of nearly four trillion dollars, billions more in new spending and higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.
Much of Obama's additional spending would be for infrastructure upgrades and ramping up for universal pre-kindergarten.
"Our budget is about choices, it's about our values," said Obama.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan dismissed the plan as nothing more than a campaign brochure. So who is right?
"It is hard to call this a serious document if you are indeed serious about reducing the deficit through spending restraint. The message here is more spending and much higher revenues to pay for that spending, along with a lot of other rosy economic assumptions," said Sepp, who listed several of what he considers flawed assumptions in the budget proposal.
"The assumptions for inflation, that it will be lower than what the Congressional Budget Office just projected, that entitlement payments will be lower than what the Congressional Budget Office projected and that Gross Domestic Product will be a whole lot higher. The differences here add up to a lot over the 10-year budget window," said Sepp.
"It explains why the Congressional Budget Office just last month was projecting a budget deficit of over a trillion dollars ten years from now. The Obama administration is projecting one half that amount," he said.
Sepp is also frustrated that the budget plan is lacking important components that make it nearly impossible to project what Obama's blueprint would do.
"Even though it is once again late, it is also for the first time incomplete for this administration. There are two key documents in the whole set of budget items that are missing so far. These are the analytical perspectives and the historical tables of the budget. Without those, you can't necessarily understand the assumptions for things like projections of beneficiary populations for the changes in entitlements they're proposing. For an administration that prides itself on transparency, this is just basic managerial negligence," said Sepp.
The Obama administration claims the new revenues needed to pay for the proposed spending will come from closing tax loopholes for the rich. Sepp gave us some insight on what officials mean by "rich" and "loopholes".
"By loopholes, they mean things like imposing the so-called Buffett Rule on wealthy taxpayers. That's been a staple of Obama's budgets year after year. They want to propose a shift in rules regarding to what's called carried interest income. That has a great deal of controversy over how it would impact risk-taking fund managers and their investors," said Sepp.
"They also want to take a serious bite out of the value of itemized deductions, limiting them to what somebody in the 28 percent as opposed to the 39.6 percent tax bracket would take," he said.
Sepp says Americans should also remember these tax changes would be on top of the tax hikes that came early last year as part of the deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.
House Republicans are expected to unveil their budget blueprint in the coming weeks. While Sepp is highly critical of Obama's fiscal stewardship and record-setting deficits, he says Republicans do not often propose budgets that would make much of a dent in our losing battle against the debt.
"There have been some problems with Republican budgets in the past. If we were to grade them, many might wind up in the B- and even the C range because many of them fail to address the primary drivers of cost growth, which is Social Security and Medicare in the federal budget. They've done some work on voucherization of Medicare and things like premium support. That's encouraging," said Sepp.
"But reforming Social Security remains something that neither political party seems to want to touch. Of course, Republicans have not been forthright about the need to restrain military expenditures in the past. That is an important task that both parties have to undertake," he said.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook made worldwide headlines last week by blasting a questioner at a company shareholder meeting and insisting that his company will continue investing huge sums of money in green technologies whether it improves the bottom line or not.
"If you want me to do things only for (return on investment) reasons, you should get out of this stock," said an angry Cook.
Now the man who asked the questions says Cook lashed out at him because it's obvious the company would be losing hundreds of millions of dollars with their green projects if taxpayer-funded subsidies weren't defraying much of the cost and because Cook knows the projects are not going to create profits for Apple or its shareholders.
The confrontation took place Friday at Apple's annual shareholder meeting. In the question and answer session, Justin Danhof of the National Center for Public Policy Research confronted Cook about the huge amount of money spent in the company's quest to derive 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
"I asked him a very basic business question that any investor or any shareholder of Apple would want to know. When you engage in environmentalism...is there a reasonable return on investment? Are you spending more than you're saving? Cook first answered by saying, 'I think that it makes economic sense, but even if it didn't, we would still spend to our heart's content all of your shareholder money on battling this terrible concept of CO2 emissions,'" said Danhof.
Danhof then asked Cook what the company policy would be if the federal government were not footing the bill for much of their green energy programs through taxpayer-funded subsidies. That's when Cook made headlines.
"That's where he went off the rails. Cook refused to answer the question and he looked directly at me and said, 'I don't care what you think. We're going to continue to cure blindness.' What does one have to do with the other? Obviously, Cooke was deflecting the issue because, while the company may be engaging in a lot of environmental efforts, the answer is they're engaging so where they can make a profit off the American taxpayer. We're the ones, John and Jane Q. Taxpayer, that are subsidizing all these solar plants that Apple is putting up in North Carolina and Arizona and California and elsewhere. That's the real heart of it," said Danhof.
That's when Cook loudly scolded Danhof and suggested that he and anyone else not supportive of Apple's green energy efforts were free to sell their shares.
"I've been attending shareholder meetings for the last five or six years, dozens of them, and I've never had a CEO react and act the way that Tim Cook did at Friday's Apple shareholder meeting," said Danhof.
Cook is widely known for his calm demeanor, so what triggered his passionate response rather than a simple explanation that Apple's priorities were not the same as Danhof's?
"The company wants to tell it's progressive investors who care about this chimera battle of reducing CO2 emissions that they're the leading company in the world to do so. In reality, they're only doing so because they're ripping off taxpayers. So I caught him this dualism, this hypocrisy and he was really stuck at that point," said Danhof.
"So he attacked his own investors. He really came untoward. I was embarrassed for him," said Danoff.
While Danoff says he can sympathize with Cook being exposed in front of shareholders, he has fewer warm words for former Vice President Al Gore and his response to the exchange.
"I would have been embarassed for Al Gore if Al Gore could still be embarrassed at this point, because he stood up like a three-year-old child and loudly clapped and cheered in my face when Cook gave that reaction. Al Gore is beyond contempt at this point so I won't even be embarrassed for him," said Danoff.
Danhof says the hypocrisy of Apple is evident in multiple ways, both in its activities at these green energy facilities and in its everyday products.
He cited a massive geothermal plant in Maiden, North Carolina, built largely through taxpayer funds. It will eventually power Apple's local operations, but while those facilities are built, Apple is selling its excess energy back to the taxpayers of North Carolina who helped pay for the construction through their tax dollars in the first place. He says the cost of Apple's green energy projects is easily in the hundreds of millions and possibly even billions of dollars.
In addition, Danhof says Apple's own conduct shows it's not nearly as environmentally conscious as it would have us believe.
"You may want to actually take a deeper look into what Cook's response really means. If Apple was sustainable, they wouldn't glue their batteries into their iPhones so when your battery dies you need a new iPhone. If your battery dies on any other phone, you just get a new battery. On an iPhone, you've got to chuck it away and buy a whole brand new one. What's sustainable about that? Absolutely nothing," said Danhof.
In addition to asserting Cook got caught in his hypocrisy, Danhof believes another factor is at play as climate change advocates find it harder and harder to convince Americans that the planet's future is in peril unless major, costly steps are taken.
He notes that over the past few election cycles, concern over climate change has dropped from being one of the five biggest issues for voters to barely cracking the the top 20 issues that motivate people at the polls.
"For 17 years, we've been told the world is going to warm and for 17 years they've cried wolf. We have a world (temperature) that's staying flat if not cooling. I think that those who are really devotees of the climate change line are starting to run scared. They're starting to become more emotional and less rational because the science is no longer backing up their wild claims," said Danhof.
- Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith says Obama administration regulations will further cripple coal-fired power plants and another brutal winter in the northeast could mean a power shortages for businesses in the region.
Griffith, who represents coal-rich southwestern Virginia and sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says power grids are already stressed and regulations that will soon take effect will push the region past the breaking point if we get another winter like this one.
"In January of next year, a lot of coal plants have to close down based on regulations already passed. We're not even talking about new facilities. We're talking about older facilities that are being shut down because they can't meet the new requirements," said Griffith.
"A number of places had a hard time keeping the grid fully supplied with electricity. They asked people to cut back in the northeast. Gas prices went through the roof. A big part of that's going to be gone next year. If we were to have another cold snap next year, I'm afraid we would have serious problems," he said.
Griffith says Obama administration regulations not only endanger future coal-fired plants but also make the operation of existing plants a losing proposition.
"I believe the administration wants to eliminate coal as a fuel source. They're putting regulations in place on new buildings of coal facilities. You can't even find the technology today to really make those facilities work. It doesn't exist. The best estimates are maybe seven, ten or maybe longer years before we can even come close to matching the regulations that the EPA wants," said Griffith.
"On older facilities, it just doesn't make sense for some companies to retrofit or retool those to meet the regulations to meet the regulations that they've been passing over the last several years. Come next January, a lot of those plants are going to shut down," said Griffith.
The congressman says this is not some doom and gloom prophecy. He says it's happening in his district.
"In my district alone, we have two facilities. One is shutting down completely. The other is converting two-thirds of their production to natural gas, but the natural gas won't produce as much electricity as it did in the past. So when you hit those peak periods, usually in the wintertime with cold and sometimes in the summertime with heat, we won't have as much electricity available next year as we have this year," said Griffith.
"There won't be enough new power sources brought on board by next year. If we have the same kind of conditions next year then we're going to have serious issues. I think we may have some situations where companies say, 'We can't supply your factory. We've got to make sure the hospitals and the people who have homes are staying warm. I understand that, there's no need for it," he said.
Even if the lights stay on for everyone, Griffith says the price of energy during times of high demand will continue to skyrocket and people are already feeling the stress.
"We heard testimony this week in committee that even this year, with the rising cost of electricity, the (Northern Arkansas Electric Cooperative) president said we're going to have choices made. This one lady that called him and he talked to personally said, 'I figured out how I can pay my electric bill this winter. I'll take my medication every other day,'" said Griffith.
Griffith says he and other congressional Republicans have repeatedly warned the Obama administration that it's regulations are costing jobs and threatening energy supplies. He says he administration's response has not been encouraging.
"What they have always said is that they don't think that many plants will retire. They've been wrong on that number. The announcements of these retirements have been out there and it's much higher than the administration originally estimated. I think that they're hoping that we won't have that kind of a winter next year, and I'm with them," said Griffith.
"I think some (in the administration) believe that they can get enough natural gas in there to make it happen. The infrastructure, I don't believe, can be built in time if in the next several winters we have a really cold winter. I think they're hoping that they won't have to face it, that they won't have to have a cold winter. I'm worried that we will," said Griffith.
He says the results we've already seen from Obama-era regulations and the projections for what will happen offer an unmistakable message to policymakers.
"The EPA needs to go in and make their regulations much more reasonable across the board. Even though they may want another energy source, right now coal is still one of the largest energy sources in this country. To have made the regulations so strict so quickly is going to impact business in America. It's already impacting the cost of providing electricity for people in their homes. It's going to impact business and it's going to have other negative impacts," said Griffith.
- While the Winter Olympics showcased amazing talent, much of the games was overshadowed by the comically poor accommodations for athletes and spectators in Sochi. From dangerous, discolored water to stray dogs, the Capitol Steps reflect on the lasting memories of Sochi.
- The public comment period ends Thursday on proposed IRS rule changes that it says provide greater clarity in what activity is allowed in non-profit organizations but critics allege it is an assault on free speech and association that would essentially codify the brutal treatment aimed at conservative organizations over the past few years.
Administration officials have remained very quiet publicly about the suggested rule changes, but over 100,000 comments have been filed in response to the plan.
Former Federal Elections Commission Chairman Bradley A. Smith is now chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which filed comments criticizing the proposed rules. Smith says the IRS is using the veneer of clarity to make life difficult for political activists.
"Essentially, the IRS wants to change and vastly expand the definition of what qualifies as political activity, to include things like non-partisan voter registration or talking about issues. 501 (c) 4 (status) limits groups that are engaged in candidate races. They want it to include talk about the budget or offshore oil drilling or green energy or whatever it might be," said Smith.
"By expanding greatly the definition of political activity, that will bring a number of groups out of (c) 4 and into political committee status, where they have much more reporting burdens and they have to publicly disclose who their donors are, which the Supreme Court has normally said groups don't have to do," said Smith.
If the rules are implemented, Smith says life could be much different for politically active groups from the National Rifle Association to the Sierra Club, but he says others will feel the pain even more.
"It also includes many, many small groups and a lot of folks in the tea party and other small groups like that fell what the IRS has done is they said, 'What were we trying to get them for a year ago or two years ago. Let's just codify that and we can do it that way,'" said Smith.
Smith says he believes some at the IRS genuinely want to add clarity to the process of properly designating organizations for tax purposes, but he says there is abundant evidence that the specific proposals and timing of the changes expose a political agenda.
"For the last four years, there's been a steady stream of letters and complaints by high-ranking Democratic officeholders in Congress. Senator Levin, Senator Durbin, Senator Franken, Senator Bennet, we can name a whole number who have been pushing the IRS to crack down on various groups, to investigate them and to investigate their tax status. Often they have named specific conservative groups by name. The president himself has made some public speeches in which he's called these groups a threat to our democracy," said Smith.
"There's strong evidence to believe that part of the reason the IRS proposed these rules and is acting in this way right now because of partisan pressure put on them by Democratic officeholders," said Smith.
Smith also believes the IRS is wading into waters best policed by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). He says Congress explicitly created the FEC in 1974 to be a bipartisan commission. By law, there are an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on the panel so one party cannot ram through its agenda. Smith says Democrats tried to enact these rule changes through the FEC but couldn't get majority support. So they turned to the IRS instead.
"That's exactly why we shouldn't put it to the IRS, because whether they're doing it because of this or not , it looks that way to people. It looks like a partisan power grab by Democrats to harm their Republican rivals," said Smith. "I think the IRS is going into an area where we really don't want our tax collectors to go. One of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon was that he was using the IRS to harass his political enemies. It's very important that we keep the IRS out of politics."
So is this public comment time a mere pause in the IRS pursuit of these new rules or might the huge number of concerned comments actually achieve their goal?
"They can change minds. That's why the comment period is required by law. It's usually not so much a political popularity contest but thoughtful comments pointing out some of the problems with the rules do change minds. The agency is required to address those, and if it doesn't explain why it ignored those comments it's decision could be overturned in court," said Smith.
Smith says a final decision could some within a month or a few months. Even if they are approved, he suspects there would not be enough time to fully implement the rule changes in time to be enforced for the 2014 campaign.