GOP-Backed Bill Pledges $1 Million To Anyone Who Can Produce Lerner’s Emails

Earn six-figure money long enough and you’ll probably end up paying the government $1 million over the course of your lifetime. Want to get it back? All you have to do is figure out how to produce the Internal Revenue Service’s infamous missing emails — and hope a stunt piece of legislation from two Texas Republicans magically becomes a law.

Congressmen Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Bill Flores (R-Texas) have come up with a wanted-poster piece of legislation, of sorts, that’s ostensibly aimed at bring Lois Lerner’s missing emails to light — although political gamesmanship probably has something to do with it, too.

The so-called Identify and Recover Sent E-Mails Act simply provides a government-guaranteed monetary award “to any individual who provides information pertaining to the electronic communications sent by Lois Lerner during her employment at the Internal Revenue Service,” pledging that “the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay a cash award of $1,000,000 to such individual or group of individuals.”

If you can come up with evidence that leads to a prosecution for anyone responsible for concealing or destroying those same documents, the reward is $500,000:

Upon receipt of certification from the Attorney General that an individual or group of individuals has provided pertinent information sufficient for prosecution of the individuals involved in illegal activities (if any) with respect to the destruction of the electronic communications sent by Lois Lerner during her employment with the Internal Revenue Service, the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay a cash award of $500,000 to any such individual or group of individuals.

The funds would come from “the unobligated amounts available for fiscal year 2014 in Public Law 113-76 under the heading “Department of the Treasury—Internal Revenue Service—Taxpayer Services.” In other words, there’s more money in the 2014 IRS budget than has been spent, and the reward money will come from the leftovers.

While there’s no doubt House Republicans are right to be relentless in the pursuit of what looks more and more each day like an implausible story (how can we not recover emails that were cc’d to Lerner’s Blackberry?), the bill also underscores the needlessly partisan theater that some GOP leaders have managed to generate over a scandal that, if handled honestly, would likely produce the requisite headline-grabbing drama on its own merits.

It’s perhaps good theater for the House Oversight Committee to continue flogging big names like IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over the missing emails. But a day’s testimony from the appropriate lower-level tech people and their immediate supervisors — people whose names you’ve never heard — might easily resolve the ongoing question of where the emails are or aren’t, how they got that way and whether they can be produced.

But we’re in the pre-election dog days, when every political action, no matter how banal, simple or quick, has added value as a vehicle for less-than subtle messaging. House Republicans have every political incentive to drag these hearings out all summer, beating up on the big names. It helps that the big names probably deserve everything they’re getting, but it doesn’t alter the possibility that there’s a much quicker — if less sexy — way to get to the bottom of the Lerner saga.

On the other hand, if the GOP is this doggedly committed to staging an (admittedly entertaining) floor show, it may be a sign that they’re supremely confident about what the payoff will be.

If that’s the case, expect them to announce they’ve finally found the smoking gun — sometime in the fall.

Another Idyllic Community Alarmed By MRAP-Loving Law Enforcement

Walton County, Fla. (pop. 55,000) just got its first MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle), and a lot of residents of the slow-paced, Deep-South coastal community aren’t happy about it.

MRAPs are mine-resistant armored vehicles designed to deflect the force of IED detonations in combat zones. They were engineered for warfare, and the ones streaming into municipal police departments today had their first life in American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even in that role, their use has been criticized because the vehicles’ hyper-military appearance can intimidate locals and erode rapport between American forces and the people they’re deployed to liberate and protect.

Grassroots journalism website The Anti-Media illustrates just how far Walton County is, in culture, from a combat zone:

Walton County is a part of Florida that is so crime free you can leave your doors unlocked. When Hollywood location scouts were looking for a community so perfect that it appeared to be fake, they came to Walton County. The Truman Show, staring Jim Carey, was filmed on location in a small Walton County community.

As with other local law enforcement agencies nationwide who’ve tapped into the Federal government’s surplus military equipment program, the Walton County Sheriff’s Department obtained the warfighting beast for the cost of transporting it back to Defuniak Springs – Walton’s county seat and largest city at 5,000 people.

According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, it’s got some people freaked out. Quoting one Facebook user upset by the message the acquisition sends to the community, the News observed:

One Destin resident commented on the Walton County Sheriff’s Facebook page that the county didn’t need an MRAP.

“This doesn’t make the officers safer. All studies show that the more militarized a department becomes, the more often officers get hurt,” the commenter said. “This is Walton County, Florida, not Iraq, not Afghanistan.”

Others agreed, calling the vehicle overkill, and in one case, “an offensive intimidation method used to controll [sic] and strike fear.”

But sheriff Mike Adkinson argues there’s no logic in turning down free equipment that, he insists, does have the potential to ensure officers’ safety – however remote the possibility that an adequately dire situation will arise to justify its use.

“I know that if somebody was in harm’s way, I wouldn’t let public opinion decide the safety of my deputy,” he told the paper. “Safety is my number one priority.”

Notice he didn’t say “public safety.”

Pennsylvania Sheriff Sticks Up For Gun Owners’ Privacy, Fights Auditors Over Release Of Names

Carl Nace, the sheriff of Perry County, Pa., is being sued. He won’t turn over his constituents’ gun licensing information to county auditors, and the auditors are suing him for the information, with a promise that they’ll return all the files once they’ve reviewed them.

Nace has steadfastly refused to release that information, telling The Patriot-News in April, “They want the names of the people who have gun permits, and that’s confidential.”

On Monday, the Perry County Commission agreed with him, unanimously voting (under the watchful eye of dozens of concerned locals) to hire a new auditor — under the condition that the auditor cannot be granted access to the permit holders’ names.

So far, that vote hasn’t settled the lawsuit, filed June 11 by auditors Kimberly McMullen, Barbara Hench and Donna Jones. They maintain that they are exempted from the State law sheriff Nace cites. But, judging from the passionate support for Nace the issue has generated, they’re clearly in the minority.

Whether he wins or loses the legal battle, Nace has already prevailed in the court of public opinion. Voters in Perry County turned up to the county commission meeting to declare their appreciation and support of the sheriff’s decision.

“One by one people went before Perry County Commissioners Monday to show their support for Sheriff Carl Nace,” WPMT reported Monday.

“The issue brought about no shortage of passion, and filled a courtroom on a Monday morning,” reported The Patriot-News. “Numerous residents shared their feelings with the commissioners, saying the auditors’ request is illegal, and it violates their rights. Most statements were met with applause.”

One resident explained his support for the sheriff’s position isn’t rooted only in the 2nd Amendment, but in his concern for government infringement on civil liberties generally.

“I’m a little disappointed nothing was resolved today,” resident Jim Lucas — evidently referencing the ongoing lawsuit against Nace — told The Patriot-News following Monday’s commission vote. “But I am extremely happy and enthusiastic that so many of my fellow Perry Countians are concerned about their civil rights.”

Massachusetts Lawmakers Crafting Unprecedented State Powers Into New Gun Control Bill

A bill that could ban private gun sales, set a high threshold of qualification for owning a gun and grant law enforcement broad discretion in issuing permits even for long guns is making its way through the committee process of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

The bill, HB 4121, would place a host of new hurdles in the path of potential gun owners in a State that’s not known for its lawmakers’ restraint in leaving the 2nd Amendment as it is. Gun owners both inside the State, as well as those throughout the Nation concerned about the general erosion of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, are calling the measure extreme and dangerous.

“This egregious bill would empower police chiefs with discretion in licensing owners for shotguns and rifles, ban the private sale of firearms except through a licensed gun dealer, and create new firearm possession qualifications that could ban firearm ownership for thousands of hunters and gun enthusiasts across the Commonwealth,” warns the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA):

HB 4121 is dangerous legislation that seeks to further strip away your Second Amendment rights in Massachusetts. As anyone who has gone through the process to legally obtain a firearm in Massachusetts knows, there is no dearth of existing state laws that regulate the sale, purchase and transfer of firearms. State legislators on Beacon Hill should be repealing gun control laws, NOT enacting more to further restrict your Second Amendment rights.

The NRA-ILA is imploring Massachusetts residents to contact their State representatives and “urge them to vote against this dangerous anti-gun bill.” Even law enforcement within the State has come out against the bill; the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MASS C.O.P.) — the State’s largest law enforcement union — has issued an official statement opposing the gun grab:

The Massachusetts Coalition of Police submitted written testimony to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security in opposition of House Bill 4121 An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence. Our reasoning is that we do not agree with the change in what can disqualify you for a license to carry a firearm in this bill. In the current legislation, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor that carries a punishment of two years or more, you are disqualified. In this bill it reduces that time to one year. This could negatively impact some of our members who had previously qualified and had no issues in the past. In some cases it could potentially terminate employment. This is the one issue within the bill that has an effect on our membership’s employment. There may be other issues that you do not agree with, or agree with in the bill. In any case, you should call your local State Representative and let them know that you are not in favor of this bill.

The Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) is keeping a running tab on the bill as it moves through the Legislature (it’s currently before the House Ways and Means committee); you can view its progress and find legislative contact information here.

First Quarter GDP Revised Downward Even Further; Apologists Say Don’t Worry

You know that first-quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report that shows the economy exhibited recession-like contraction over the first three months of this year? The one the Commerce department keeps revising as more data comes in, each time making the news a little worse?

Today it got a lot worse. What started out weeks ago as an estimate that the GDP had contracted by 1 percent (then was revised two weeks ago to -1.7 percent) has now plunged to -2.9 percent.

Commerce revealed today that GDP fell by 2.9 percent from January through March, thanks to some combination of a decrease in personal consumption, weak foreign trade, and (mentioned in the first two reports) winter, or something. The drop is the biggest single-quarter drop in GDP in five years.

“Real GDP declined 2.9 percent in the first quarter, after increasing 2.6 percent in the fourth,” the revised Commerce report states. “This downturn in the percent change in real GDP primarily reflected a downturn in exports, a larger decrease in private inventory investment, a deceleration in PCE, and downturns in nonresidential fixed investment and in state and local government spending that were partly offset by an upturn in federal government spending.”

No worries, though – things are about to turn around in a major way. At least, that’s what Wall Street’s saying. “The case that the awful first quarter report was an outlier is bolstered by the relative strength of other recent economic data,” The Hill reported, using the 6.3 percent unemployment rate reported by the BLS as its first piece of evidence.

“We’ll see good growth in the rest of 2014. This is a blip,” PNC Financial’s Gus Faucher told The Hill. “I do think that going forward, things are looking much better.”

“It was ugly reading, but I think it was a combination of a lot of one-off negative impacts that all hit at the same time,” a Bank of the West economist echoed in the same article.

Colorado Governor Waffles On Merits Of Gun Control Laws He Signed Last Year

Democratic Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has managed to alienate just about everybody over the past week by reflecting on the State’s controversial gun control laws, which he signed in March of last year, with commentary that has ranged from remorseful to defiant. At the end of it all, he’s pleased almost no one and angered many — on both sides of the matter.

Knowing how unpopular the State’s new gun control laws were with most county sheriffs, Hickenlooper made a point of apologizing for the manner in which he and the Democratic-controlled State Legislature passed the laws last year. Several Colorado sheriffs have filed a lawsuit aiming to overturn the laws, which they believe limit the right to bear arms codified in the 2nd Amendment.

According to Denver-based KUSA News, Hickenlooper attempted an “awkward” apology on June 13, when he addressed a room full of county sheriffs gathered for their biennial meeting:

The governor apologized to the sheriffs for not meeting with them prior to the passage of gun control bills they opposed. Hickenlooper also said his administration didn’t do a good job anticipating pushback on gun control. Hickenlooper pledged better communication in the future.

According to the same report, HIckenlooper immediately demonstrated his idea of better communication by saying “What the f—? I apologized!” when Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith attempted to question him further.

That remark has put Hickenlooper on his heels, and he hasn’t responded in a way that clarifies his position — or that makes his apology resonate with sheriffs. He told another local TV station last week that he had no idea his remarks were being observed by news media, explaining to Fox 31 that “I tried to give them honest, unscripted, candid answers.”

Hickenlooper had reportedly told the sheriffs that he signed the laws only because one of his staffers had promised one bill’s sponsor that he would. But in his Fox 31 interview, he instead claimed that had nothing to do with it.

He also told the station that he never meant to imply (or plainly say) that the gun laws were bad or unenforceable, and that he’d enact them all over again if they crossed his desk.

“I didn’t say it’s unenforceable, I said it’s difficult to enforce,” he said. “A lot of laws are difficult to enforce; that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there. If we went through the process again, I’d sign it again.”

Smith addressed Hickenlooper’s “I didn’t know there were reporters” claim to his Facebook followers:

This meeting between the sheriffs and the governor was an open meeting attended by at least three press outlets (two from Aspen and one from Grand Junction.) This was known by the governor as I believe he spoke with a couple of those reporters. There were also news photographers in the room throughout his presentation- not something that you could miss.

However, the news of the governor’s “fumble” did not come from any reporter in the room. Their reports were quite bland and vague.

Social media, via Sheriff Spruell, turned out to be the reporter in the room this time. It was only after Sheriff Spruell’s viral posting and follow up posts by other sheriffs along with audio and video pieces later published to the web that this “fumble” came to the voters [sic] attention.

Now, the governor is in hot water, not only with his opponents on gun control, but also with his previous allies on the issue for blatant waffling and pandering.

Like it or hate it, we are seeing an information revolution that is changing the world as we know it. Information is power and the people have more power than ever.

Indeed, otherwise-supportive observers have openly questioned Hickenlooper’s perplexing lack of focus as he attempts damage control on both sides. The Daily Beast, which harbors no love for a plain reading of the 2nd Amendment, insinuated that Hickenlooper’s apparent bipolarity is a symptom of the unpopularity of gun control as an effective political platform:

How dire is the political situation for supporters of gun control?

Consider the case of Colorado, which saw two horrific mass shootings in the past 20 years, and in response, passed meaningful gun-control legislation last year.

But last week, Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who made those measures a centerpiece of his first term, backed swiftly away from them in a meeting with a group of county sheriffs.

…[P]erhaps another errant remark by Hickenlooper recorded at the meeting sums up the whole imbroglio best.

“If we had known that this was going to divide the state so intensely,” Hickenlooper said. “I think we would have thought about it twice.”

The passage of Colorado’s new gun laws sparked a grass-roots movement among angry conservative voters that ultimately led to the recall of two of the laws’ sponsors — State Senate President John Morse and State Senator Angela Giron — as well as the pre-emptive resignation of State Senator Evie Hudak.

Not Even Democrats Believe The IRS Accidentally Lost Lerner Emails

More than three-fourths of American voters in a poll released today agree that the loss of email communications crucial to the House investigation into the IRS’ discrimination against conservative groups was anything but an accident.

In the Fox News tracking poll, only 12 percent of voters responded that they believe the emails were lost by accident. Another 12 percent said they weren’t sure. And the remaining 76 percent said they were “lost” on purpose.

Not even voters who identified themselves as Democrats buy the idea that benign, end-user computer problems can explain how the IRS is unable to retrieve emails subpoenaed in the House investigation. Sixty-three percent of Democrats said they believe those communications were “destroyed deliberately,” while only 20 percent said it must have been an accident.

The poll also indicates overwhelming support for the House investigation, with 74 percent of voters responding “yes” when asked “Do you think Congress should continue to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of hundreds of conservative and tea party groups until someone is held accountable, or not?” That includes Democrats: 66 percent support the investigation.

So much for the effectiveness of the Obama Administration’s “witch hunt” talking point tactic to push the scandal to the margins.

IRS Admits Wrongdoing In Settlement With Traditional Marriage Group Over Leaked Donor List

The IRS has admitted wrongdoing in the illegal release of names on a confidential list of conservative donors to a rival political group and has agreed to pay $50,000 to the conservative group whose members’ names were wrongly leaked.

A U.S. District Court judge accepted a settlement today in the case, which pitted the IRS as a defendant against the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a conservative group whose membership was leaked by an internal IRS source, using information meant only for IRS documentation purposes, to a liaison for a gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

A reading of this case’s history quickly disabuses the observer of any impression of an impersonal, run-of-the-mill bureaucratic screw-up and replaces it with something far more human and mendacious. This wasn’t a case of someone inadvertently hitting the wrong button on a computer or mistakenly lumping in one stack of information with another; it was instead an attempt to wilfully present legally-protected donor information to an adversarial political group to influence the relative power one wielded against the other.

Here’s how The Daily Signal, which first reported today’s decision, summarizes it:

In February 2012, the Human Rights Campaign posted on its web site NOM’s 2008 tax return and the names and contact information of the marriage group’s major donors, including soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. That information then was published by the Huffington Post and other liberal-leaning news sites.

HRC’s president at the time, Joe Solmonese, was tapped that same month as a national co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Eastman said an investigation in the civil lawsuit determined that someone gave NOM’s tax return and list of major donors to Boston-based gay rights activist Matthew Meisel. Email correspondence from Meisel revealed that he told a colleague of “a conduit” to obtain the marriage group’s confidential information.

Testifying under oath in a deposition as part of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Meisel invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and declined to disclose the identity of his “conduit.”

To get at that fact, Eastman said, the National Organization for Marriage has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to grant immunity from prosecution to Meisel.

So a “conduit” at the IRS fished out the names of all the donors who expressed their support for the state’s present legal definition of marriage through a political movement, and handed that confidential information over to an activist who wants that definition to change. Then that activist revealed that illegally-obtained information to a competing political group, which got its cause some instant press from media outlets invested in advancing the issue. The Obama campaign then swooped in and recruited the president of the group that had shared the illegally-gotten info away from his position and made him the President’s campaign manager. Oh, and the President’s opponent in that election cycle just happened to be one of the guys on the victim group’s donor list.

Regardless of which side of the marriage issue you stand on, that’s just messed up.

It’s also not just a civil matter – it’s a crime. “Unauthorized disclosure of confidential tax information is a felony offense that can result in five years in prison, but the Department of Justice did not bring criminal charges,” the Daily Signal observed. So far, and until the “conduit” (presumably an IRS employee) is revealed, the IRS itself is the only named culprit – and that’s merely for this now-settled civil action.

The $50,000 the IRS must pay will necessarily come from public coffers, whether by means of a standing liability protection plan or direct payment. “The $50,000 to be paid by the IRS represents actual damages NOM incurred responding to the illegal disclosure, not punitive damages,” notes the Signal, because “the marriage group was unable to prove disclosure of the confidential records was deliberate after Meisel took the Fifth.”

South Dakota GOP Asks House Rep To Start Obama Impeachment Proceedings

The South Dakota Republican Party voted by a narrow margin over the weekend to ask its single delegate to the House of Representatives, Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem, to initiate articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama.

By a 191-176 vote, the State party approved a resolution which “calls on our U.S. Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States,” according to the Sioux Falls-based Argus Leader, because the President has “violated his oath of office in numerous ways.”

The gesture marks the latest instance of impeachment saber-rattling, continuing a conservative trope that has endured throughout Obama’s first 5.5 years in office.

South Dakota’s GOP leaders evidently realize the measure’s impact is, likely, merely symbolic. But their remarks indicate the resolution represents an important demarcation of the party’s collective belief that Obama has flouted the Constitution, brought enduring shame to the institutions of public service at the Federal level, and subverted the intended balance of power between the three branches of government.

According to the Argus Leader, Allen Unruh, the measure’s sponsor, believes the South Dakota GOP will “send a symbolic message that liberty shall be the law of the land” by formally requesting impeachment proceedings.

“If anyone in this room cannot see the horrendous, traitorous scandals run by the Obama administration, I will pray for you,” Larry Klipp, another of the resolution’s supporters, told the party.

But Noem — who has been plenty critical of Obama — isn’t likely to forge ahead with the impeachment idea.

“The Congresswoman currently believes the best way for Congress to hold the President accountable is to continue aggressive committee oversight and investigations into the Administration’s actions like the ongoing VA scandal, the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, Benghazi, and the recent Taliban prisoner exchange,” a Noem staffer told the newspaper following the impeachment vote.

IRS Chief Koskinen Has History Of Donating To Democrats

Stuck in the swelter of House Republicans’ angry criticism for his agency’s misplacement of subpoenaed emails, as well as his own leisurely disposition toward Congressional investigators looking into discriminatory targeting of political conservatives, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen might understandably hold an adversarial view of the GOP these days.

But if campaign finance records offer any insight, that’s nothing new: the 74-year-old Koskinen has been an energetic donor to Democratic campaigns for more than 30 years.

Dating back to the late 1970s, Koskinen has shelled out close to $100,000 for Democratic candidates and causes — most recently just last year, when he contributed $2,500 to the campaign of Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.).

According to a report Monday at The Washington Free Beacon, Koskinen’s track record as a campaign donor reveals a clear pattern of partisan sympathy that’s spanned half a lifetime:

Koskinen has been a reliable donor over the years, contributing a total of $19,000 to the Democratic National Committee from 1988 to 2008. He has made a contribution to the Democratic candidate for president in each election since 1980, including $2,300 to Obama in 2008, and $5000 to Obama in 2012.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has received $3,000 from Koskinen since 2008, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee received $2,000 from 2004 to 2006.

…Koskinen’s most recent contribution was $2,500 to Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) in February of 2013.

Koskinen was appointed IRS commissioner later that year, and was tasked with revamping the tax agency in the wake of criticism that it was allowing partisanship dictate which groups applying for tax-exempt status would receive extra scrutiny.

Koskinen began his IRS appointment with a general pledge to un-dig the hole in which the agency has found its public image in the wake of the still-simmering conservative discrimination scandal. “It took a little while to dig the hole, and it’s going to take us a little while to get out of it,” he told reporters after being sworn in in early January.

“The public needs to be confident that they will be treated fairly no matter who they are, what organization they are or whom they voted for,” he reiterated at a Washington luncheon in May.

But as the agency’s good faith response to House investigators’ requests for evidence has faltered — particularly with respect to its alleged withholding of information about the disappearance of email communications between IRS employees named in the scandal — Koskinen has literally become less apologetic about the damage the IRS has done to his longtime ideological opponents.

“I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen told Ways and Means Committee member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) at a hearing on the matter last week.

Mixed Reactions To Supreme Court’s Ruling On EPA Power Grab

Depending on which story you read today about the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on how far the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can stretch its ambitious regulatory authority, you may have gotten the impression that the Court is the Obama Administration’s rubber stamp or the immovable object blocking the advance of the President’s global warming agenda.

The Court upheld the EPA’s legal power to enforce both current and future regulations on power plants and manufacturing facilities already under its regulatory purview. But the Court also ruled that the EPA does not have the legislative authority to arbitrarily revise regulatory standards already on its books, and cannot impose new restrictions on alleged polluters not currently included in the Obama Administration’s schedule of entities that are subject to the greenhouse gas emissions permitting process.

The ruling does not affect the Obama Administration’s fresh round of rules proposals, which purport to effectively trim carbon gas emissions emanating from existing facilities by up to 25 percent over the next two decades.

“We hold that EPA exceeded its statutory authority when it interpreted the Clean Air Act to require… permitting for stationary sources based on their greenhouse gas emissions,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority. “Specifically, the agency may not treat greenhouse gases as a pollutant for purposes of defining a ‘major emitting facility’ … in the context of a ‘major source.’ To the extent its regulations purport to do so, they are invalid.”

That means the EPA can’t justify new regulations on plant expansions or new construction of facilities on the simple basis of how much greenhouse gas they might emit – other “traditional” pollutants must factor into that mix of well-intentioned concern.

“Specifically, the court said the EPA may require a greenhouse gas permit on any entity that already requires a permit for traditional pollutants such as soot and nitrogen oxide,” reported The Hill, which viewed the ruling as a net win for the EPA and the Obama Administration.

Indeed, the EPA offered a chirpy spin on the decision, borrowing liberally from Obama’s straw man-toppling rhetorical playbook. “Today is a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health and those concerned with creating a better environment for future generations,” the agency responded in a statement.

Sadly, there was no public rebuttal today from all the supporters of filthy air, pandemic illness, and the destruction of the environment to spite future generations.

Unlike The Hill, conservative news website The Daily Caller hailed the decision as a much-needed judicial check on the Obama Administration’s expansion of regulatory power, proclaiming in a headline the Court had essentially struck down the “first phase of EPA’s global warming agenda.”

“The decision was welcomed by power companies, as well as the oil and gas industry, because the rules also extended to refineries and other large manufacturing facilities,” the site reported. “…The Supreme Court’s decision, however, does not affect upcoming regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions on new and existing power plants.”

So which is it – an EPA seal of approval, or a major blow to Obama’s reach? Mostly, it’s the former. It’s a signal the EPA can move forward with just about everything the Obama Administration has planned for it in the short term, and an indication that the agency can continue to rely on the Clean Air Act as the basis for its ongoing broad regulatory powers over the emission of carbon gases – so long as it doesn’t attempt a rewrite of existing environmental law at the policy level.

Scalia said as much as he announced the decision.

“EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” said Scalia. “It sought to regulate sources that it said were responsible for 86 percent of all the greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources nationwide. Under our holdings, EPA will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions.”

Culture Shift: Obama Administration Rolls Out ‘Unlawful Migration’ To Replace ‘Illegal Immigration’

In an evident attempt to resow the rocky cultural landscape defined by impassioned views of both sides of the Nation’s unfolding illegal immigration crisis, the Administration of President Barack Obama is clarifying its position on the issue by attempting to change the language it uses to describe the act of illegally entering and living in the United States.

The Weekly Standard made note of the Administration’s attempt at subtly changing the narrative of the illegal immigration debate on Friday, observing that Obama unveiled the new terminology in a phone conversation with Mexican president Peña Nieto on June 19.

A summary of that conversation, provided by the White House, includes Obama’s use of the new phrase:

This afternoon President Obama spoke by phone with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss a regional strategy to address the influx of unaccompanied children coming from Central America, through Mexico, to the U.S.-Mexico border. The President noted that Vice President Biden will attend a regional meeting in Guatemala on Friday, June 20, to discuss the urgent humanitarian issue, and welcomed the opportunity to work in close cooperation with Mexico to develop concrete proposals to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America. He also discussed the United States and Mexico’s shared responsibility for promoting security in both countries and in the region.

The Obama Administration has used “unlawful migration” at least once before, although — as The Weekly Standard points out — the context was very different. In 2009, the White House used the term in a joint statement between the U.S. and China concerning the two countries’ collaboration on criminal investigations into financial and drug crimes, as well as into — wait for it — “combating unlawful migration.”

Paul Ryan Hammers IRS Chief Koskinen On Missing Lerner Emails: ‘Nobody Believes You’

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) led the Republican chorus of bitter criticism today against Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen, telling the IRS boss that it’s inconceivable the agency would hold itself to such a lax standard for recordkeeping while it expects American taxpayers to do better with their personal tax documents.

“I’m sitting here, listening to this testimony, I don’t believe it,” Ryan said this morning during Koskinen’s testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.

“That’s your problem: Nobody believes you. The Internal Revenue Service comes to us a couple years ago and misleads us and tells us no targeting is occurring. Then it said it was a few rogue agents in Cincinnati. Then it said it was also on progressives. All of those things have been proven untrue.

“You are the Internal Revenue Service. You can reach into the lives of hard-working taxpayers and with a phone call, an e-mail or a letter you can turn their lives upside down. You ask taxpayers to hang onto seven years of their personal tax information in case they are ever audited, and you can’t keep six months’ worth of employee e-mails? And now that we are seeing this investigation, you don’t have the e-mails; hard drives ‘crashed.’ You learned about this months ago. You just told us, and we had to ask you on Monday.”

Koskinen struggled to interject a few remarks while Ryan held the floor, but objected that he had had a long career and had never before been told by a colleague that his information couldn’t be trusted. He also told the Committee “I don’t think an apology is owed” for withholding from Congress the knowledge that emails subpoenaed in the House investigation had been lost – even though he shared that same information with the Obama Administration six weeks before sharing it with Congress.

Ryan said that’s not “forthcoming” behavior from an agency that has pledged its full cooperation with the House investigation.

“Here’s what being forthcoming is: If we are investigating criminal wrongdoing, targeting of people based on their political beliefs and the emails in question are lost because of a hard drive crash that is apparently unrecoverable, which a lot of IT professionals would question, and you don’t tell us about it until we ask you about it, that is not being forthcoming,” said Ryan.

Senate Report Condemns Obama For Rushing Obamacare Rollout To Save Face

Politically motivated flogging to hasten the rollout of the Affordable Care Act by the Administration of President Barack Obama was responsible for the disastrous launch of the President’s signature achievement, according to a damning new report issued by a pair of GOP Congressmen.

The report — released Thursday by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), both members of the Senate Finance Committee — comes months after many mainstream media outlets had penned an early epilogue for the Republican-led criticism of Obamacare as a significant 2014 campaign issue.

Titled “Red Flags: How Politics and Poor Management Led to the Meltdown of,” the Senate Finance report accuses Obama of willfully ignoring experts’ warnings about the readiness of, the Federal Obamacare website, to accept applications for healthcare coverage, to securely store customer information and to process payments.

“Both metaphorically and factually, the website was designed to be the public face of President Obama’s signature achievement,” the report states. “… No one wanted to be the messenger that told the White House that its signature piece of legislation was going to crash at takeoff. The administration prioritized political success over protecting taxpayers.”

The report includes previously unreleased information about a pre-launch audit of the website conducted by TurningPoint Global Solutions, which warned the Administration repeatedly that the site was far from ready, identified “677 serious defects” and found that the system was plagued by more than 20,000 lines of bad programming code and could crash if even 500 people attempted to access the site at the same time.

The report accuses Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Marilyn Tavenner, feeling the pressure to burnish Obama’s political reputation in what was supposed to be his finest moment, of ignoring those warnings and forging ahead with the rollout — even against the advice of at least one colleague who had called for a delay.

On the other side of Obamacare’s fall 2013 rollout, of course, the Obama Administration has been forced thorough its own bad choices to unilaterally and illegally alter the law, issuing delay after delay and adjusting policy rules in order to accommodate the loudest complainers.

“The administration looked the other way on problems, even when the independent contractor hired to monitor the project was waving red flags, pointing to likely failure,” Grassley stated. “This website wasn’t a ‘Field of Dreams’ fantasy where you hope for the best and everything works out because it’s a movie.”

New York Times Endorses Charlie Rangel’s Opponent In New York House Race

Disgraced Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who has served 22 terms in the House of Representatives, has lost the endorsement of The New York Times, which published an editorial this week supporting Rangel’s challenger in next week’s Democratic primary.

The Times’ editorial board didn’t beat around the bush concerning Rangel’s embarrassing Congressional censure in 2010, nor its effect on his reputation with voters and within power circles in the Nation’s capital.

“After a humiliating censure by Congress four years ago for failing to pay taxes and other ethical lapses, Representative Charles Rangel has steadily lost power in Washington,” The Times asserts. “After nearly 44 years in office, it is now time for him to yield to the next generation.”

The paper instead urges residents of the State’s 13th Congressional District, which lies entirely within the City of New York, to vote for Democrat Adriano Espaillat, a New York State Senator who “has been spent [sic] his 18 years in the States [sic] Legislature, mostly fighting for tenants, day-care staff and farmworkers,” according to The Times. “He has pushed for in-state tuition at public universities for undocumented children, called for a repeal of exorbitant tax breaks for expensive apartment buildings and has strongly supported immigrants’ rights.”

Rangel is trying to win by running on his career longevity, “fighting Espaillat on the campaign trail by arguing his seniority and experience as a legislator will benefit the district,” according to USA Today.

The 84-year-old Congressman was formally censured in December 2010 after a protracted scandal involving his non-payment of taxes on a Dominican beach house and his alleged abuse of elected office for illegal fundraising. Among his many public statements immediately following that embarrassment, Rangel defended his misdeeds by pointing out: “I did not curse out the speaker. I did not have sex with minors. I did not steal money.”

In April of last year, Rangel filed suit against the House Ethics Committee over the censure, not because he disputed his own guilt, but because he thought the House investigation into his activities was sloppy. He has since been the target of bitter criticism, both for revisiting a disgraceful moment in the annals of Congressional decorum and for spending one-third of his 2014 campaign war chest on the legal bills associated with the effort to have the censure overturned.

Michelle Obama Welcomes New U.S. Citizens By Promoting Immigration Agenda

First lady Michelle Obama spoke Wednesday at a swearing-in ceremony commemorating the efforts of 50 freshly-minted U.S. citizens at attaining their citizenship through legal means.

The diverse group of new citizens, reportedly hailing from more than a dozen countries, “waved American flags excitedly as they stood before the nation’s founding documents and completed the oath of citizenship,” The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Obama congratulated them and praised the contributions that immigrants historically have made to the Nation’s growth.

Then she essentially told them all that they’d just been played, insinuating that future naturalized citizens should have a much easier path toward their goal than the one they’d all just followed.

“Today, here in Washington, folks are still debating whether or not to fix our immigration system, even though just about everyone agrees that it is broken,” said the first lady just before the ceremony ended. “I want you all to know that my husband has made this his top legislative priority because, at the end of the day, this fight isn’t just about principles, it’s about real people.”

Is that something that this group of people – in the very moment their pride in achieving the goal of citizenship through hard work and in accordance with U.S. law is, justifiably, at its zenith – really wants to hear?

The Post described Obama’s choice of occasion and venue as “an important backdrop for the first lady as she pressed her husband’s stagnant immigration agenda. …The first lady did not directly address the number of immigrants living in the country illegally, which, along with the Obama administration’s deportation policy, are sticking points on the contentious issue.”


Al Gore Confident Obama Will Block Keystone Pipeline

Former Vice President Al Gore must have some insight into President Barack Obama’s environmental strategy that no one else does. Either that or he’s making generalized, unverifiable statements to sympathetic media outlets again.

In a guest piece for Rolling Stone Wednesday, Gore said Obama has “signaled” that he’ll “reject the absurdly reckless Keystone XL-pipeline proposal,” giving Gore fresh hope that the President — who Gore thinks hasn’t gone far enough to advance climate change policies through his first term — has finally “taken hold of the challenge with determination and seriousness of purpose.”

It’s no secret that Obama’s heart appears to be aligned against Keystone, but the political and economic consequences of an outright rejection have so far left his Administration’s disposition toward the XL (“export limited”) expansion an open-ended question. Canada signed off on the expansion in 2010, but Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), already preoccupied with expanding regulations on traditional energy sources, has found various reasons for postponing a final decision.

Gore did not offer any context for his remarks on Obama’s ultimate rejection of the XL project, although Obama has attempted to link the Keystone expansion with unclean air in rhetoric promoting the EPA’s new carbon rules.

Gore attempted to do the same thing, lumping carbon emissions with the current Administration’s stance on the pipeline project:

He [Obama] has empowered his Environmental Protection Agency to enforce limits on CO2 emissions for both new and, as of this June, existing sources of CO2. He has enforced bold new standards for the fuel economy of the U.S. transportation fleet. He has signaled that he is likely to reject the absurdly reckless Keystone XL-pipeline proposal for the transport of oil from carbon­intensive tar sands to be taken to market through the United States on its way to China, thus effectively limiting their exploitation. And he is even now preparing to impose new limits on the release of methane pollution.

All of these welcome steps forward have to be seen, of course, in the context of Obama’s continued advocacy of a so-called all-of-the-above energy policy — which is the prevailing code for aggressively pushing more drilling and fracking for oil and gas.

“Absurdly reckless” is a hyperbolic description of a project that has been studied, re-studied and given the seal of approval by the Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Then again, hyperbole has been Gore’s calling card ever since leaving his elected role. In the same Rolling Stone article, Gore managed to shake down the philosophical underpinnings of American free enterprise itself, lamenting that “civilization is confronting this existential challenge at a moment in our historical development when our dominant global ideology — democratic capitalism — has been failing us in important respects.”

Obama Says Congress Not Needed For Action In Iraq

If the U.S. takes military action to shore up the Iraqi regime it left in place after leaving on icy terms in 2011, the executive branch won’t seek a permission slip from Congress to do it, President Barack Obama told several lawmakers today.

Meeting at the White House with four members of Congress to discuss the potential role the U.S. might play in beating back Sunni militants as their organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), advances toward Baghdad, Obama said the best lawmakers should hope for is to be apprised of whatever actions the White House will have already decided to take.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the four who met with Obama, said the President pledged only to “keep us posted,” according to The Hill:

“The President briefed us on the situation in Iraq and indicated he didn’t feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take and indicated that he would keep us posted,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters after the hour-long meeting at the White House.

Separately, a congressional source familiar with the meeting said Obama told the four leaders that he did not plan to ask for congressional authority because he did not expect to order any action anytime soon that he felt would require congressional approval.

Whether that means Obama will stop short of an act of war, Congressional Democrats argue he’s already permitted wide discretion in planning military action under the same Congressional law that granted President George W. Bush permission to authorize military force in Iraq in 2002.

“I do not believe the President needs any further legislative authority to pursue the particular options for increased security assistance discussed today,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who also attended the meeting.

As The Hill points out, that’s an ironic statement for supporters of the same Administration that has sought to repeal the Bush-era authorization.

Not all Congressional Democrats are supportive of Obama’s interpretation of his war powers, should he decide to use force. “I certainly believe that the President always has to get Congressional approval,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters today. “If there’s an emergency, you may need to come back and get a Congressional ratification. That’s the way the process is supposed to work.”

That belief was echoed by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who told the media the President should not presume he can order proposed air strikes against ISIS on Iraqi soil without coming before the legislative body.

“A new war has started, and if people want to go be involved in a new war, the job of Congress is to vote on it,” said Paul. “I don’t think you can have a Congress of 10 years ago make a decision for the people here 10 years later.”

Video: If Captured Benghazi Suspect Was Talking To Reporters, Why Not Capture Him Sooner By Posing As A Reporter?

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki probably didn’t see the obvious question barreling her way when Fox News’ James Rosen got his turn to ask why it had taken so long to capture suspected Benghazi terrorist Ahmed abu Khattalah, who apparently conducted interviews with western media long before his apprehension by U.S. forces this week.

Rosen asked Psaki why it was so easy for the media to lure Khattalah out of hiding for publicity while he effectively eluded U.S. special forces from the time of his alleged involvement in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

“The question being put to you, it seems to me, is why U.S. special forces couldn’t have an unscheduled meeting with this individual in a period of time less than – as you put it – it just a few years?” Rosen asked.

Psaki tried to explain how complicated it is to catch people who know they’re being hunted, Rosen pressed on:

“Follow your own logic: the next question to be propounded to you is, why didn’t we pose as a reporter to capture him then?”


Psaki was left grasping for an ad hominem: “If you’re volunteering yourself for future endeavors, we’ll take that into account,” she suggested.

“You’re still not addressing the central question, Jen,” Rosen shot back. “You’re not answering the question of why a reporter was able to get within six inches of this guy, and U.S. special forces weren’t, for more than two years. What is the answer to that?”

For a story summarizing Khattalah’s multiple contacts with U.S. and British news sources, see this Fox News article from Tuesday.

IRS Knew Lerner Emails Were ‘Missing’ From Computers, So Where Are The Paper Copies?

So what if Lois Lerner’s emails (and, it turns out, those of six more Internal Revenue Service employees) went “missing” from computers? Shouldn’t there be a paper trail for everything? After all, that’s what Federal law requires.

So far, there is no paper trail, and Congressional investigators into the IRS political discrimination scandal say they’re having a hard time believing a simple computer snafu can account for the perfectly timed unavailability of communications records from the alleged key players — at least the ones we know of so far — involved in the government-sanctioned targeting of conservative groups.

Even as new IRS director John Koskinen was telling the House Oversight Committee that the agency would provide Lerner’s emails after months of stonewalling, he and others within the IRS knew the emails had vanished, according to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

“The White House promised full cooperation, the Commissioner promised full access to Lois Lerner emails and now the Agency claims it cannot produce those materials and they’ve known for months they couldn’t do this,” Camp said in a statement last week.

On top of that, Lerner’s communications aren’t the only ones within the IRS that have vanished since the Oversight Committee began investigating.

“It’s not just Lois Lerner’s emails. The Internal Revenue Service says it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, according to two Republicans investigating the scandal,” National Review reported Tuesday.

“The IRS told Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp and subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany (R-La.) that computer crashes resulted in additional lost emails, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.”

Computer experts who understand the role information technology plays in government data have since weighed in on the IRS’s admission, with one expert describing the alleged loss as “mind-boggling.”

“It is very well known in both legal and IT circles that as soon as litigation and/or criminal investigation is likely — not actually initiated, but merely likely — it is imperative to preserve any relevant electronic documents, even it if means suspending existing practices of, say, email deletion or purging of backup files,” IT consultant Bruce Webster told FOX News on Tuesday.

Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who left the network in frustration over its alleged rejection of her investigative reporting on scandals emanating from the Administration of President Barack Obama, told a Philadelphia talk show host there is virtually no way the IRS has irretrievably lost any of its communications data.

“One [IRS] official wrote me… to say this is entirely implausible, and he said there are criminal penalties for destroying Federal records, which makes sense, including liability for negligence for not taking the necessary steps to protect files, including a federal requirement to backup data,” said Attkisson. “This doesn’t happen. He said… all email servers are backed up with something called ‘RAID’ (Redundant Array Of Independent Disks), and it’s nearly impossible for something to delete the files, and that even if that were to happen they would not be gone forever.”

Regardless of the legitimacy of the IRS’s claim, the agency has so far offered no excuse for failing to offer access to paper copies of all of the allegedly missing data. Under the Federal Records Act, the IRS has been breaking the law if it hasn’t been archiving hard copies of everything.

“The IRS’s own definition of the Federal Records Act makes clear that emails must be saved and documented, according to an instructional page for employees on the IRS website,” The Daily Caller reported Tuesday.

Indeed, the provided link to the IRS website squares with that report:

The Federal Records Act applies to email records just as it does to records you create using other media. Emails are records when they are:

  • Created or received in the transaction of agency business
  • Appropriate for preservation as evidence of the government’s function and activities
  • Valuable because of the information they contain.

If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly. The Treasury Department’s current email policy requires emails and attachments that meet the definition of a federal record be added to the organization’s files by printing them (including the essential transmission data) and filing them with related paper records.

“If it’s true that the emails are lost,” quipped Attkisson, “that’s quite a story in itself.”

Americans Want Nothing To Do With Fresh War In Iraq

An overwhelming majority of Americans has no desire to see the United States place soldiers on the ground as Iraq breaks into Balkanized territories defined by sectarian loyalty. And, according to a poll released Tuesday, it’s a sentiment that transcends political party lines.

Whether Republican, Democrat or independent, most Americans don’t want to revisit the prolonged “boots on the ground” scenario that unfolded over eight years after the Administration of President George W. Bush toppled the regime of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Nearly three-quarters, 74 percent, of all respondents in this week’s survey by Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling firm, said they do not want the U.S. to send troops back to Iraq to help current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stave off a nation-shaping insurgency of Sunni militia through the country’s northern half. That insurgency, which has taken control of major cities in a rapid sweep south from the border with Syria, now threatens Baghdad, Iraq’s capital and home to 7 million people — mostly Shiites.

Only 16 percent of respondents said they favor sending U.S. troops back into combat.

Among those Americans who claim a political affiliation, Republicans are the most likely to favor a return to Iraq. But those who do are still decidedly in the minority. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans said they oppose placing U.S. troops into combat in Iraq, while only 28 percent said they favor such a decision.

For Democrats, the opposition is even greater (82 percent opposed to 10 percent in favor); among Independents, it’s higher still (86 percent opposed to 9 percent in favor).

While the survey’s preparers offered no commentary on the results, it’s evident that America’s appetite for renewed military activity in Iraq, in terms of placing soldiers in harm’s way, is meager.

However, public opinion does favor diplomacy and a possible U.S.-led effort at “mobilizing the international community to stabilize the situation” in Iraq: 52 percent said they support a talking solution, compared with 30 percent opposed and a full 18 percent who said they aren’t sure. A majority of those affiliated with the two major parties, as well as independents, all favored a diplomatic response.

House Budget Slashes IRS Funding (Good Luck With That In The Senate)

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives is taking aim at the Internal Revenue Service in a proposed spending bill that trims more than $300 million from the agency’s present allotment.

It’s far from a defund, but fiscal leaders within the Republican Party are making it clear that the proposed reduction has everything to do with the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, as well as its role in administering next year’s non-participation penalties in the still-creaky rollout of Obamacare.

“In order to make these investments and to be good stewards of each and every tax dollar, the bill focuses cuts on lower-priority or poor-performing agencies — such as the scandal-plagued and inefficient Internal Revenue Service,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) Tuesday.

The 2015 Financial Services and General Appropriations bill still allots approximately $10.95 billion to fund the IRS, although President Obama has requested that Congress increase the agency’s funding to roughly $12.5 billion. It attaches some symbolic strings to the IRS portion:

From the House statement accompanying the bill’s release:

In addition, due to the inappropriate actions by the IRS in targeting groups that hold certain political beliefs, as well as its previous improper use of taxpayer funds, the bill includes the following provisions:

  • A prohibition on a proposed regulation related to political activities and the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations. The proposed regulation could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of many non-profit organizations and inhibit citizens from exercising their right to freedom of speech, simply because they may be involved in political activity.
  • A prohibition on funds for bonuses or awards unless employee conduct and tax compliance is given consideration.
  • A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs.
  • A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights.
  • A prohibition on funding for the production of inappropriate videos and conferences.
  • A prohibition on funding for the White House to order the IRS to determine the tax-exempt status of an organization.
  • A requirement for extensive reporting on IRS spending.

Like nearly everything else of real consequence that emanates from Washington, the chances of the IRS cut making into a final bill are slim. The Senate, which is still under Democrat majority control, isn’t likely to include another key provision in the House bill: severing the IRS from its Obamacare enforcement role. “The legislation would also prevent the IRS from further implementing Obamacare, and a separate rider would bar funding for the IRS to implement the law’s individual mandate,” The Hill reported today.

That’s obviously going nowhere, but that provision could fall away as a built-in bargaining chip GOP leaders may surrender as a means of keeping the fiscal cuts intact.

Commerce Department Says First-Quarter GDP Shrank More Than First Reported

Last month, economic pundits began cautioning that the Commerce Department’s forthcoming estimates of the Nation’s first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth would be flat at best. Two weeks later, when Commerce released its data, it revealed the first-quarter economy had exhibited the same symptoms as a recession.

Last week, Commerce revised its numbers again to reflect even greater pessimism. The Commerce Department’s quarterly services survey, released last Wednesday, overhauled its original May 29 report to accommodate first-quarter health care spending data – and found it had underestimated the GDP contraction by almost half.

The revised figure estimates that the U.S. economy shrank during the first three months of 2014 by 1.7 percent. Commerce had reported on May 29 that American GDP had shrunk by an alarming 1.0 percent.

General consensus among economists acknowledges a national recession if the GDP contracts for two consecutive quarters.

“Should first-quarter GDP be revised sharply lower, economists could trim their growth estimates for 2014, which had been dubbed as a break-out year,” Reuters reported Friday, citing analysts who cautioned that policymakers should temper their original expectations for a dramatic economic rebound in 2014.

“Healthcare spending did not add nearly as much to growth as we initially thought in the first quarter,” Moody’s economist Ryan Sweet told Reuters. “Because we had such a horrible start to the year, you’re going to see GDP estimates for all of 2014 ratcheted down a little bit.”

“[I] t looks like there could be a significant downward revision to healthcare consumption, which would make the healthcare data more in line with most of the other components of GDP which looked weak in the first quarter,” explained JP Morgan economist Daniel Silver.

Forecasters had expected a surge in the demand for health insurance, a function of Obamacare’s mandate for Americans to obtain health coverage, would boost total GDP by 1.0 percent. Actual health insurance spending as a percentage of GDP has since been revised downward to .7 percent, a figure more in line with tepid growth in other sectors, said economists.