- U.S. taxpayers may soon be on the hook for $100 million in the effort to resurrect the bankrupt city of Detroit, and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter says such a move wastes valuable resources and relieves city and state officials from having to make the tough decisions needed to restore solvency to the Motor City.
The Detroit Free Press reported this week that state and federal officials are in talks to give the city $100 million in federal money to help jump start blight removal efforts and ease the pain on pension recipients stung by the recent bankruptcy declaration.
"Detroit has been grossly mismanaged for years and that was a choice by Detroit citizens through their elected officials. For all other federal taxpayers to now pay for it or partially pay for it to the tune of $100 million I think is just wrong," said Vitter, who expanded on his assertion that generations of Detroit leaders and the people who repeatedly put them into office dug this massive financial hole.
"In Detroit and a lot of other jurisdictions, there's been this conspiracy for years. Public unions elected left-leaning elected officials and those elected officials push very expensive public pensions and other benefits for those unions. That's what's been building for years and years in Detroit, in Illinois, in other very left-leaning jurisdictions, particularly those dominated by public unions. That's a big deal and a big part of what got Detroit into trouble," said Vitter.
More than a year ago, Vitter tried to stifle any federal financial rescues such as this through his State Bailout Prevention Act.
"I introduced this bill because I saw this coming. I knew that with Detroit, Illinois, perhaps others, there would be attempts for the federal taxpayer to have to bail out these mismanaged jurisdictions. So this simply said that no federal authority, including the Treasury, including the Fed can have an authority to bail out these entities in bankruptcy," said Vitter. "Certainly that doesn't prevent other funds that would ordinarily go to these jurisdictions from continuing. But (there would be) no funds specifically to bail out these mismanaged jurisdictions."
Advancing the legislation in a U.S. Senate controlled by Democrats is a challenge. Vitter's one attempt to enact the bill was defeated when he called for unanimous consent for its adoption. While Vitter claims wide support for the plan, he says Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, formally objected and killed the resolution.
"I'm looking for other opportunities to move it forward but, unfortunately in Harry Reid's Senate, Reid and other Democratic leaders are probably going to go along with this bailout idea," said Vitter, noting his concerns the $100 million might not even come up for congressional authorization.
"I'm concerned that they're trying to do this administratively. I don't think the Obama administration has the authority to do that, but that certainly hasn't stopped them in similar cases in the past," said Vitter.
The senator also applauds Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for being one of the few leaders who doesn't have his hand out to Washington. Vitter says approving the $100 million could easily begin a slippery slope for more taxpayer dollars flowing into Detroit and actually hamper efforts to get the city on solid financial ground.
"I agree with the thought that if it started there, it wouldn't end there and I think it may very well mushroom from there," said Vitter.
"The more they're bailed out by others, the less they're going to make necessary tough choices. It's as simple as that. So this is actually discouraging. They're making those tough decisions and getting management of the city on track. I was going to say back on track but it hasn't been on track for generations," said Vitter.
In addition to his fears that Detroit could be a bottomless pit for federal bailout dollars, he fears setting such a precedent in Detroit could trigger a long line of cash-strapped states and cities to line up in Washington expecting similar aid.
"Absolutely. Detroit's not the end of it. Illinois could be in line. California could be in line. So to set this sort of precedent is really dangerous," said Vitter.
- President Obama is asking the U.S. Senate to confirm Sylvia Mathews Murwell as the next leader of the Department of Health and Human Services, but at least one veterans organization is vowing to do everything it can to block her path to the president's cabinet.
Burwell is currently directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). During October's partial government shutdown, Burwell made the call for the National Park Service to shutter it's public attractions, including open air memorials in Washington such as the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
That decision made the World War II Memorial a flash point of controversy during the shutdown, as elderly veterans coming to the nation's capital on Honor Flights were turned away by barricades. Members of Congress and veterans groups soon began removing the barricades to allow veterans access to their memorials. Eventually, the government allowed World War II veterans into their memorial, but the general public was left out. The Vietnam and Korean memorials were closed to everyone.
"The only reason they reversed themselves (on the World War II Memorial) is because there was a public outcry," said Special Operations Speaks Political Director Larry Ward, whose group was actively involved in the Million Vet March demanding the memorials be re-opened.
"The fact that there were flights coming in with 90-year-old men who served our country and saved the world, the Greatest Generation, were coming in to see the World War II Memorial, probably for the last time that they could in their lives, and they were turned away for political spite. It's one of the most reprehensible acts any commander-in-chief or any bureau head like, Sylvia 'Barricade' Burwell, has ever done in the history of this country."
Ward says the whole episode shows the depths to which the Obama administration would sink to win a political debate, and whether Burwell or President Obama is ultimately to blame doesn't really matter.
"The blame at the time went to the president, and rightly so. (The orders) probably came from on high. The fact of the matter is she was in charge of making the call. It might have been her idea. We do know that the barricades went up minutes after the government shut down so it was planned and it was reprehensible and idiotic. Let's call it for what it is," said Ward.
"There was nothing to be gained by shutting down open-air memorials. The government spent more money shutting them down and guarding them than they would have if they had just left them open and let our veterans go to their memorials," said Ward.
According to Ward, whether Burwell ordered the memorial shut on her own volition or was simply following orders, she is unfit for higher office either way.
"She either was a lot of malcontent, has a lot of evil inside her or she's just an Obamabot. Either way, we don't want that person representing the nation's health care. We need somebody who can stand on their own and make decisions that affect the entire country's health and well being, not someone who is going to either have political payback for spite or for whatever reasons that they put these barricades up or just follow orders as the king on high declares," said Ward.
While the exact strategy is being worked out, Ward says Special Operations Speaks is planning an aggressive opposition to the Burwell nomination.
"Absolutely, and you'll hear this first," said Ward. "We're planning on hosting a human barricade in front of the Senate at the time of her confirmation hearings."
Ward adds that military veterans are very reticent to get active in politics but the members of Special Operations Speaks feel they have no choice.
"They've gotten political with this administration because of the reprehensible behavior they have towards our military and our veterans. If need be, we'll rip down barricades every single day and throw them at the White House the way we did at the Million Vet March," said Ward.
- The federal tax code is a complex, unintelligible mess and America needs to embrace the simplicity of a national consumption tax known as the Fair Tax, according to Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who is just one of many conservatives touting the idea as Americans rush to meet today's federal income tax deadline.
"PROBLEM: folks sacrificing precious time, money and peace of mind on a broken complex tax code. SOLUTION: the #FairTax," tweeted Price on Tuesday. Fellow Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston also tweeted support for the Fair Tax and the abolishing of the IRS.
Price says the first thing Americans need to recognize is that our current tax system is a disaster.
"Our current system actually punishes the things that we say that we want as a society. We say we want hard work. We say we want success. We say we want entrepreneurs, risk taking, investment and all those kinds of things. yet our tax system punishes every single one of them. So many of us believe that we need think more fundamentally and more creatively about it and come up with a tax system that doesn't just massage what we currently have but puts in place a system that actually rewards those things," said Price.
Fair Tax supporters call for the income tax and payroll taxes to be eliminated and replaced with a national sales or consumption tax in a move that would be revenue neutral and clear out all the confusion and bureaucracy from the system.
"The IRS goes away. All the taxes related to income at both the business and the individual level go away and we would have a national retail sales tax that would replace that," said Price. "It would bring in the same amount of money, but what it would do is reinvigorate the economy and get the economy rolling in a big, big way because it would encourage jobs to come back from overseas. It would encourage investment, encourage savings, encourage entrepreneurship, encourage hard work and reward success in big, big ways."
Based on current consumption and levels and national revenue figures, the Fair Tax would be roughly in the 20-23 percent range. Price says that may seem steep but it's actually a good deal when you take out income taxes and consider one other important fact.
"Each and every one of us pays right now about a 23 percent tax in every single good or service that we purchase, but you don't know about it. It's embedded in the system. For example, businesses add into the price of their product an amount that's about equal to 23 percent of the cost of the product to cover their taxes. Businesses don't pay taxes. The consumers that use the businesses do," said Price, who says once those business taxes go away, the retail prices will go down and we would pay about the same as we do now once the Fair Tax was applied.
Price says one caveat to installing a Fair Tax is not just the scrapping of the federal income tax but to pass a new constitutional amendment forbidding an income tax. He says otherwise the Fair Tax could become a nightmare.
"What we don't want is both a consumption tax and an income tax. That's the worst of both world's. So when you hear people talking about a Value Added Tax (VAT), that's a consumption tax as well but it is in addition to income tax. That would be a terrible prospect, because then you give the federal government even more money to expand the bureaucracy and create an ever-larger federal government," said Price.
The most common Democratic complaint about the Fair Tax is that the rich and poor would pay the exact same percentage in taxes for the same items. Price says that worry is unfounded.
"The way the current bill solves that is to provide everybody with what's called a prebate, so the amount of monies that are felt to be needed for essential services like food, clothing and shelter, one would get a prebate to cover the cost of the Fair Tax on those items. Everybody gets it, so that those at the lower end of the economic spectrum are actually benefited to a greater degree under the Fair Tax than they currently are," said Price.
In late February, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp introduced his version of tax reform that includes fewer tax brackets and an attempted simplification of the system through closing loopholes. Price says it's a step in the right direction towards more of a flat tax system but doesn't go far enough.
There is a House bill calling for the adoption of the Fair Tax, HR 25, but Price says there's not nearly enough backing, even among Republican leaders and members, to advance the resolution right now.
- Vladimir Putin wants all of Ukraine and the big question is whether he even be satisfied with that, according to former Reagan administration Pentagon official Frank Gaffney.
Gaffney, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President Reagan, is now president of the Center for Security Policy. He says Putin is probing to see just how far he can go and is getting virtually no resistance from the United States.
Tension in Ukraine are on the rise again, with increasing reports of pro-Russian militants seizing police stations and other government buildings in eastern Ukraine, a region known to be sympathetic to Moscow. Experts fear the Russians are stoking an artificial movement in that part of the country designed to trigger additional independence votes and eventual assimilation by Russia. Gaffney says Putin's strategy goes far beyond a little regional nibbling.
"The question is does he really want more than the whole thing of Ukraine. The think the answer to that is probably yes. I think he will insist upon, at the very minimum, that all of Ukraine once again is subject to Russian dominion, as it was under the previous President Yanukovych. Whether his appetite extends beyond that to Trans-Dniester (Moldova) or to Latvia and Estonia or perhaps other former Soviet republics [that] have Russian populations is anybody's guess," said Gaffney.
"But I think that the heavy betting should be on he's going to continue to go for as much as he can because he senses no real opposition from either the administration here in Washington or from the Europeans," he said.
The Obama administration says the president will likely speak to Putin soon about the latest instigation of unrest in Ukraine.
"I can assure you that Russia's further provocations and transgressions will come with a cost," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Gaffney says that kind of response will yield little to nothing.
"This isn't the first time that that's been said, by the president, by Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone by the White House press spokesman. I think it's been completely discounted by Vladmir Putin because he knows our capacity to impose greater costs is considerably limited by both the condition of our own military, our economy, not least our leadership, and because we've failed to take any appreciable steps to date ," said Gaffney.
"The extent of our support for Ukraine to this point has been to provide meals ready to eat to a country ready to be eaten. This is hardly a disincentive to Vladimir Putin and I think he's behaving accordingly," said Gaffney.
The Obama administration is also responding to news that a Russian warplane recently buzzed an American Navy ship in the region, with Carney calling it "provocative and unprofessional."
"This is the kind of thing that can lead to conflagrations because one suddenly one finds that the response is mandatory and no longer elective. I'm worried that the president's failure, as is so often the case, and this is what the lessons of history teach us, things get worse the longer you defer acting on them," said Gaffney.
Gaffney further asserts that the brewing tension with the Russians is another facet of the larger battle for freedom in the world.
"I believe the war we're in is best thought of as the war for the free world and whether the assaults against the free world by the Islamists or by the Chinese or by the Russians or by Hugo Chavez and his successors or anybody else, to think that it doesn't matter to U.S. security when other parts of the free world or aspirants to being part of it are lopped off at the hands of thugs who have very bad intentions toward us as well is the worst sort of shortsightedness. I shows an ignorance of the hard lessons of history that should cause all of us to realize that we are poorly led and it is exposing us to great dangers," said Gaffney.
- President Obama has been accused of a weak response to the Russian annexation of Crimea. Now, the Capitol Steps provide us an exclusive look inside Obama's deliberations in their new parody, "Ukarine Parts Keep Fallin' to the Reds."
- Former IRS official Lois Lerner may soon be facing a contempt of Congress citation and even criminal prosecution for her role in directing unlawful scrutiny towards conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status, but the biggest bombshell of the week is the revelation that Lerner 19s office shared sensitive tax information with the top Democrat on the committee investigating the scandal.
However, the president of the grassroots organization at the center of this alleged collusion says even this development is only one step in discovering just how high this goes in the Obama administration.
This week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee revealed an email chain showing the IRS passed along confidential information from True the Vote to the office of Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. Cummings then launched his own investigation of the group through his position on the committee, even though the committee cannot lawfully investigate a private organization.
True the Vote President Catherine Englebrecht says this episode is further proof of how corrupt our government is becoming.
1cIt 19s like the wild wild west up there in D.C. Anything goes. It 19s open season on any group that is considered to be ideologically opposed to the politics of the administration. The rules don 19t matter. The ends justify the means in their minds, 1d said Englebrecht.
Englebrecht says it is difficult to pinpoint when Cummings launched his scrutiny into her group, but the first contact she received from him came in September 2012.
1cIt was so bizarre. When this all started, it was in the throes of the final weeks before the 2012 election when True the Vote was at its peak of operations, helping to train citizens and getting them ready to serve inside of the polls for the elections, 1d said Englebrecht. 1dOut of nowhere, we go this letter from Elijah Cummings. He asserted that we were engaging in criminal activity and that he was going to open an investigation and he was subpoenaing all of our documents. These letters came to us on the letterhead of the Committee for House Oversight and Government Reform. His was the only signature on it, but the letter itself carried with it what felt to be a pretty weighty backing. 1d
True the Vote is dedicated to making sure that only those who should be voting are casting ballots in an election. The group is actively working to get states to update their voter rolls and purge the names of people who died or moved. It also advocates for voters to be required to present a photo ID, an idea vigorously opposed by the Obama administration and other Democrats who liken the requirement to Jim Crow era restrictions on voting.
Given True the Vote 19s ambitious work leading up to a very close presidential election, Englebrecht does not believe the timing of the letter was coincidental.
1cI do think they are concerned about any organization that is going to try and take a hard look at the legitimacy of elections and legitimacy of process. Eighty-plus percent of Americans favor photo voter identification, but the administration is going state by state and suing states that are trying to implement these very common sense measures to make sure that elections are free and fair for everyone, regardless of political party affiliation, 1d said Englebrecht.
1cIt begs the question why. Why is there such a push against bringing a process that meets with standards of others. We 19re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn 19t use photo voter identification as its standard and it makes you wonder why, 1d she said.
Englebrecht says the latest discoveries go a long way to explain why congressional Democrats quickly shifted from outrage over the IRS scandal to outrage that Republicans still want answers.
1cElijah Cummings, months and months and months ago, went on television and said, 18Case closed. There 19s nothing to see here, people. Keep moving. 19 Our own president came out and said there 19s not a smidgen of truth to any of this. It 19s a sad day, but it 19s where you are that you can 19t believe the hype, 1d said Englebrecht. 1dThey will say and do anything to obfuscate, to put out a smokescreen to keep people from recognizing what really is happening. 1d
Englebrecht is pleased with the House actions of the past week that will likely lead to a contempt of Congress citation against Lois Lerner and possibly a federal prosecution, but she quickly cautions that this scandal still goes much higher than anyone implicated thus far.
1cIt 19s a step in the right direction but it 19s only a step. I think that we 19ve got to look at the actions of Elijah Cummings and the actions of Lois Lerner, actions taken by two people in a much bigger organized effort. I think we 19ve got to keep the push on no matter how deep and ugly this rabbit hole is. We have got to be steeled enough and firm enough in our resolve to follow it wherever it leads. I think it is going to lead to the highest offices in the land, 1d said Englebrecht.
The government did more than launch investigations and saddle Englebrecht with paperwork. She says federal agencies began showing up to inspect her private manufacturing business with great regularity.
1cOver the course of the last three years, we 19ve been visited by a whole alphabet soup of agencies, from the FBI to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, OSHA. There 19s a Texas branch of the EPA, an environmental group that came out and visited and certainly the IRS. So we 19ve had our fair share of agency interest, 1d said Englebrecht.
She admits each government agency had a plausible reason for its visit and her company fully complied with all of the inspections. However, Englebrecht says once again the timing of all this cannot be an accident.
1cNothing changed in our business. We 19d been in business to that point for 16 years and had never seen any government agency take an interest in us. Then I filed for non-profit exemption. All of sudden, over a period of three years, we have now, at last count, 25 either audits or investigations or inquiries from five different government agencies, 1d said Englebrecht. 1dAt some point you have to ask yourself what is the statistical probability that none of this is connected? I just don 19t think you can make the case. Now we are seeing, in fact, that we know at least the executive branch and the legislative branch were colluding to single us out. 1d
Despite the frustration suffered through her business and her political activism, Englebrecht says this saga can serve as an alarming wake-up call to people who cannot believe our own government would treat a law-abiding citizen this way.
1cBecause of the good nature of Americans, it 19s our natural inclination to not even be able to wrap our heads around the thought that citizens might be being targeted. That stands in direct contrast to everything this country represents. I 19m here to tell you it is happening. It is happening and we 19ve got to keep pushing for the truth, 1d she said. 1dThere are a lot of layers to peel back. Elijah Cummings is only a very small supporting character to a much bigger production. 1d
- The House Oversight and Government Reform voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress Thursday, but Lerner's alleged collusion with the top Democrat on the committee to harass conservative grassroots organizations appears to be an even bigger revelation of possible illegal activity.
The majority staff of the committee released emails indicating that Lerner shared confidential tax information of of at least one right-leaning organization with the staff of Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the panel.
The group in question is True the Vote, an organization dedicated to ensuring fair elections through updating voter rolls, mandatory photo identification at the polls and other measures. True the Vote attorney Cleta Mitchell says the committee discovered through Lerner's emails that she was not only targeting conservative groups but violating the law in sharing information with Cummings staffers.
"What they found was that she was indeed actively involved in targeting and directing targeting toward specific organizations. The one yesterday that the Ways & Means Committee revealed specific information about was the American Crossroads organization founded by Karl Rove. Whether you agree or disagree with what Karl Rove's organization has done, I certainly don't think that any body thinks it's a good idea for the head of the IRS exempt organizations unit to be conspiring to figure out how to deprive the organization of its right to fair consideration and not be pulled out of the pack and subjected to specialized scrutiny from people who disagree with what the organization is doing," said Mitchell.
Mitchell then detailed how True the Vote was mistreated by Lerner and Cummings.
"The House Oversight Committee found that Elijah Cummings and his staff were communicating with Lois Lerner and her subordinates to target my client. This is after Elijah Cummings said he had absolutely done nothing of the sort. Well, yes he did do that," said Mitchell.
"Elijah Cummings' staff told Lois Lerner and her staff that (Cummings staffers) had opened an investigation into True the Vote. Well, let's think about that for a minute. They have no authority to investigate True the Vote. The jurisdiction of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is federal agencies. It isn't private organizations that have really had no interaction with the federal government other than to file for exempt status," said Mitchell.
"Representative Cummings then proceeded to send three separate exhaustive, burdensome, intrusive, oppressive letters to True the Vote demanding all kinds of information which, curiously enough, mirrored the questions that the IRS had propounded to True the Vote a few months earlier," said Mitchell. "The only problem with that is that set of questions and True the Vote's responses are not public documents. They should have had no access to those documents. We don't know if the IRS turned those over to the Cummings staff or not but it does seem sort of odd that they would be asking the identical questions."
On February 6, Mitchell filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (ICE) on behalf of True the Vote over the improper sharing of confidential tax information. Mitchell says the latest revelations are triggering a supplemental request for ICE to question Cummings and his staff members about their actions with respect to the recently uncovered emails.
Mitchell says there is no paper trail at this point that takes this investigation into the White House, but Mitchell says President Obama clearly inspired the mistreatment of conservative groups with his public comments.
"Let's not forget where this IRS scandal began. People say, 'Oh, you're looking for a smoking gun and there's no smoking gun.' Yeah, there's a smoking gun. There are about a dozen smoking guns. They're just laying all over the streets of Washington, D.C. You had the President of the United States going around the country giving speeches attacking private citizens groups and demanding that something be done about them. And why should something be dome about them? Because they disagree with him," said Mitchell.
"Then you had 31 House members and nine senators, all Democrats, writing to the IRS and demanding the IRS 'do something' to crack down on these conservative groups," she said.
Mitchell believes Democrats put a lot of pressure on the IRS to treat grassroots organizations unfairly, but she said IRS officials had the chance to follow the law but instead went along with a political agenda.
"They should have said, 'We are not allowed by law to play partisan and party politics. We can't take sides. We're not political appointees. We're career employees. We are prohibited from engaging in political activity. We're going to do our jobs and follow our procedures and we're not going to do the bidding of the Democratic Party.' But that isn't what they did. They did just the opposite. And I think that's the thing that should take everybody's breath away," said Mitchell.
In addition to the contempt citation issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday urged the Justice Department to launch a full investigation and prosecution of Lerner. Mitchell says it will be interesting to see if the DOJ takes any of this seriously.
"They handed it to the investigators on a silver platter. Presumably, the DOJ investigators had access to Lois Lerner's emails since day one. Have they done anything with any of this?" said Mitchell. "So far Eric Holder has been the most political attorney general, probably in the history of the United States and sees his job not a the chief law enforcement officer but as the chief consigliere for the Obama administration's philosophical agenda," said Mitchell.