Republicans, reform advocates prepare for battle over Obama’s new tax proposals

Republicans and anti-tax advocates are up in arms over a new tax plan President Barack Obama is expected to fully unveil during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

On Saturday, the White House released the initial details about $320 billion in new taxes the president plans to implement over a 10-year period.

The proposals include provisions for raising the base capital gains tax rate to 24.2 percent from 20 percent. The increase brings the total capital gains tax to 28 percent when factoring in the 3.8 percent Medicare surcharge, up from a total of 23.8 percent.

The president’s plan also includes provisions for a new “bank tax” on institutions with assets totaling more than $50 billion, new limits on contributions to IRA and 401(k) type accounts, and changes that would amount to a hike in the nation’s death tax.

Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist, has decried all of Obama’s proposals, paying special attention to changes in the inheritance tax.

The group notes that the plan implements a “second death tax”:

Under current law, when you inherit an asset your basis in the asset is the higher of the fair market value at the time of death or the decedent’s original basis. Almost always, the fair market value is higher.

Under the Obama proposal, when you inherit an asset your basis will simply be the decedent’s original basis.

Example: Dad buys a house for $10,000. He dies and leaves it to you. The fair market value on the date of death is $100,000. You sell it for $120,000. Under current law, you have a capital gain of $20,000 (sales price of $120,000 less step up in basis of $100,000). Under the Obama plan, you have a capital gain of $110,000 (sales price of $120,000 less original basis of $10,000).

… If you are going to hold an estate liable for tax, you can’t then hold the estate liable for tax again when the inheritor sells it. This adds yet another redundant layer of tax on savings and investment. It’s a huge tax hike on family farms and small businesses.

Norquist likened Obama’s lust for higher taxes to the sexual impulses of a teenage boy.

“Democrats are demanding, yet again, tax increases on America. This never ends. When it comes to tax hikes Democrats are like a teenage boy on a prom date: They keep asking the same question different ways but always to the same point,” he said.

Still, the White House defended Obama’s tax plan over the weekend, saying the “president is not piling on additional taxes.”

“These are proposals he thinks are necessary to fill out the vision of how the middle class can get ahead in today’s economy,” an administration official said Saturday.

For the Obama administration, helping the middle class get ahead involves using the tax increases to implement $235 billion in new programs the president has announced over the past week, including expansions in broadband Internet service, mortgage incentives for U.S. families and a proposal to provide two years of free community college to eligible students.

The president’s proposal also calls for a new $500 tax credit for two-income families, an increase in tax credits for childcare and new tax breaks to incentivize college.

White House officials have said that GOP pushback should be limited because Republicans have supported similar tax proposals in the past.

But Republicans argue that Obama’s current proposals will end up hurting more Americans than they help.

“We’re not just one good tax increase away from prosperity in this nation,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, said on CNN Sunday.

A spokesman for House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that Obama’s proposals don’t represent a serious plan for helping middle class families.

“We lift families up and grow the economy with a simpler, flatter tax code, not big tax increases to pay for more Washington spending,” the spokesman told The Hill.

Intelligence experts, lawmakers continue to fret copycat terror attacks on U.S. soil

Lawmakers and top defense experts doubled down over the weekend on warnings that the U.S. faces an imminent and growing threat of terror within its borders.

Leon Panetta, who served as Defense secretary and CIA director under President Barack Obama, said during a weekend interview that the world currently faces “a much more aggressive form of terrorism” than it has in the past.

“I don’t think we can take anything for granted,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, adding that foreign nationals in terror hotbeds such as Syria and Iraq pose a “real threat” to Americans’ safety.

Panetta contends that unless the U.S. beefs up intelligence sharing efforts with key allies, Americans could see attacks similar to recent atrocities in other Western nations at home.

“What has happened in Paris, what happened in Ottawa, what has happened in Belgium is something that we need to understand that these terrorists are now engaged in a much more aggressive effort based on their recruiting, based on what’s happening in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, they are engaged in a much more aggressive effort to conduct violence not only in Europe, but I think it’s a matter of time before they direct it at the United States as well,” the former intelligence official said.

Panetta added that the attacks in Paris were largely the result of intelligence failures because the gunmen who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices were on a terror watch list.

“I know that, in some ways, they were tracking them, but because of priorities or because of resources, obviously, they weren’t aware that these attacks were going to be conducted,” he said.

Panetta’s concerns are also shared by U.S. lawmakers in key intelligence positions.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, joined Fox News Sunday to warn Americans that they should assume that there are currently terror “sleeper cells” in the U.S.

“What you’re seeing happen in Europe, you’re seeing how widespread that is,” he said. “I think you have to assume that that is a risk that we have to consider.”

Johnson said that Obama should be doing more to combat the terror threat by redoubling efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“As long as ISIS is not losing, they are perceived as winning,” he said. “We have to defeat ISIS. We can’t let them continue threatening the rest of the world for years.”

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) echoed the terror concerns, noting that the ISIS ideology has successfully spread throughout the world.

“What has made it more interesting and dangerous is the fact that some of these individuals that are plotting these attacks may have never traveled to the Middle East,” Rubio said.

“They have been radicalized at a local mosque or online, and they have received instruction and/or inspiration about how to carry out these attacks in the West from online platforms,” he added. “So, I think that’s a very real risk for Europe, which is closer to the Middle East and has large immigrant populations from that region, but it’s a real risk here in the United States, a country where every single year millions of people visit, travel to, emigrate to.”

Americans feel better about personal finances in 2015

Falling gas prices and an uptick in productivity on Wall Street has many Americans feeling good about their personal finances, even as a majority of people remain skeptical about recent Obama administration claims regarding economic improvement.

Numbers out from the Gallup polling agency indicate that nearly half (47 percent) of Americans currently report that they are financially better off than they were at this time last year. That’s compared to just 28 percent who say they’re in worse financial shape than they were a year ago.

By comparison, a majority of Americans (42 percent) said that their financial situation had deteriorated between 2013 and 2014 in the same poll last year. Thirty-five percent reported financial improvement in that poll.

Gallup notes that the current data is indicative of Americans feeling better about the economy than they have at any point since the Great Recession induced plummeting economic confidence.

“The current personal financial situation ratings are now at or near the high levels Gallup measured in the past four decades when the U.S. economy was strong,” Gallup said. “The improvement is especially notable given that just five years ago, near the end of the Great Recession, Americans gave the bleakest assessment of their personal finances at any time in the last 40 years.”

Improvements in personal financial confidence were recorded by Americans across the board, with young Americans (age 18 to 34), college graduates, nonwhites, people earning more than $75,000 a year and Democrats expressing the highest degree of satisfaction with their current economic situations.

Looking ahead, a 65 percent of those polled by Gallup expect their finances to continue to improve over the next year.

“At no point in the last 40 years — even during tough economic times — have more Americans predicted their finances to get worse rather than better,” the polling agency noted.

While feelings about personal finances may be trending positive, a separate poll recently conducted by YouGov illustrates that Americans aren’t quite convinced that the Obama administration’s routine rosy assessments of the national employment situation are accurate.

“Many Americans — especially Republicans — simply don’t believe the data,” the organization observed last week. “Only one in four think (sic) the unemployment figures are accurate. More than half think there are more people unemployed than the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures say there are.”

Gallup recorded similar economic dissatisfaction among members of the GOP but discounted the segment, inferring, “Republicans may be reluctant to acknowledge that circumstances of any kind are getting better at a time when the sitting president is a Democrat.”

California Democrat targets homemade guns, body armor with new restrictions

Sen. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) unveiled a set of three legislative proposals last week aimed at tightening restrictions on home gunsmithing and prohibiting the sale and possession of certain types of body armor.

“We need a common sense approach to reduce gun violence,” Honda said last week. “These bills can make our streets safer, and protect our citizens, police, and first responders. I will continue to fight for sensible public safety laws.”

Honda’s Home-Assembled Firearms Restriction Act (HR376) would prohibit the manufacture, sale and import of popular gun parts kits including receiver castings and other base firearm components. The ban would likely include the popular 80 percent lower receiver kits widely available for AR-15 style rifles.

The legislation would also make it more difficult for surplus arms dealers to import de-milled firearms for parts.

Another of Honda’s bills, the Homemade Firearms Accountability Act (HR377), would require Americans to apply for a serial number for all homemade firearms and have them registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF currently recommends that home gunsmiths apply a serial number to DIY firearms but does not require such firearms to be numbered or registered provided that they are not for sale.

Honda’s third legislative effort would ban so-called enhanced body armor, which the lawmaker defines as wearable armor such as helmets, shields and vests that offer ballistic protection of Type III or higher. Under the Responsible Body Armor Possession Act (HR378) such armor would be available only to police, members of the military and other government employees.

“We have seen too many people injured and killed by guns to just stand by and do nothing,” Honda said in a statement about the proposals. “These bills will modernize our gun laws to reflect how weapons are currently getting into the wrong hands.”

Gowdy: ‘About damn time’ Congress cut funding to defeat Obama

“It’s about damn time” Congress took on President Barack Obama’s executive overreach, GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy said this week on the House floor as he urged his colleagues to support a House initiative to block funding for the president’s immigration actions.

“This is not a fight between Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “This is not even a fight over immigration reform. This is a fight over whether this branch of government will ever find the courage to stand up for itself.”

Gowdy insisted that the congressional spending authority outlined in the Constitution was the GOP’s most valuable weapon in reversing Obama’s immigration action, which the lawmaker called “one of the largest extra-constitutional power grabs ever by a chief executive,”

“The same document that this and all presidents swear to defend gives this body certain tools,” Gowdy said in his floor speech. “Tools like the power of the purse and it’s about damn time we use that tool.”

The bill passed in the House Wednesday 236-191 as an addendum to the Homeland Security spending bill. Two Democrats joined the GOP in voting for the bill.

NRA sues major Pennsylvania cities for violating gun rights

The National Rifle Association is suing three Pennsylvania cities for laws the gun rights organization says have violated residents’ 2nd Amendment rights for decades.

According to the NRA lawsuit, the cities of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Lancaster have local anti-gun ordinances on the books that violate a 1974 state law barring cities from infringing on 2nd Amendment rights with local policies.

The lawsuit resulted from the passage of House Bill 80 in Pennsylvania last year — the legislation cleared the way for citizen groups such as the NRA to challenge local municipalities in court.

Prior to the passage of the legislation, which critics have decried as a gift to the state’s gun lobby, municipalities openly ignored the state’s 1974 gun rights law with burdensome local firearm ordinances. After it was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett (R), however, more than two dozen Pennsylvania towns and cities repealed local gun laws to avoid lawsuits.

The three major cities named in the NRA lawsuit have refused to budge on their gun regulations, including ordinances that require a permit for carrying firearms in vehicles or on person, prohibit firearm discharge except at approved target ranges, create free zones and increased firearm reporting requirements.

“The cities of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Lancaster have openly defied state law for decades. They continue to willfully violate the law and insist on politically grandstanding at taxpayers’ expense,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “The reality is the illegal ordinances in question do not make people safer. They are simply tools to further the gun control agenda and infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Meanwhile, the three cities have also filed suit in a bid to repeal the legislation which precipitated the NRA challenge.

“We will not be deterred and we will keep our lawsuit going against the unconstitutional act passed in Harrisburg,” Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto told reporters on Wednesday. “It is unconstitutional, it never should have been passed, and it breaks with more than 200 years of history in Pennsylvania, by allowing organizations without standing the ability to sue.”

In the past, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has been friendly to the state’s gun owners, striking down an ordinance banning so-called assault weapons and another limiting firearm purchases to one a month in a 2010 ruling.

Threat of terror grows as ISIS propaganda catches on with U.S. youth

Congressional law enforcement officials have warned lawmakers and other Capitol Hill workers that lone-wolf terrorists consider the nation’s capital a prime target after the FBI arrested an Ohio man Wednesday on suspicion that he was planning an ISIS-inspired bombing attack on the U.S. Capitol.

ABC News reported on terror suspect Christopher Lee Cornell’s apprehension on Wednesday:

Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, of Green Township, was arrested on charges of attempting to kill a U.S. government official, authorities said.

According to government documents, he allegedly planned to detonate pipe bombs at the national landmark and open fire on any employees and officials fleeing after the explosions.

The FBI first noticed Cornell several months ago after an informant notified the agency that Cornell was allegedly voicing support for violent “jihad” on Twitter accounts under the alias “Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah,” according to charging documents. In addition, Cornell allegedly posted statements, videos and other content expressing support for ISIS — the brutal terrorist group also known as ISIL — that is wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria.

FBI officials allege that the terror suspect was in the “final steps” of his plan, having recently purchased two semi-automatic weapons and 600 rounds of ammunition prior to making his travel arrangements to Washington, D.C.

The House sergeant at arms on Thursday sent a letter to legislative offices asking staffers to “maintain vigilance at all times.”

“With this arrest, we are again reminded that the United States, and especially the Capitol complex, remains a potential target for terrorists — be they organized attacks or so-called ‘lone wolf’ assaults,” the letter said. “Therefore, it is essential that every member of the House community maintain vigilance and security awareness at all times. We encourage all Members and staff to report anything of concern to the USCP…”

Cornell’s arrest has also increased attention on ISIS’s efforts to radicalize frustrated youths in Western nations. FBI Director James Comey said last fall that government officials are aware of a dozen Americans who are believed to be fighting alongside ISIS in the Middle East, while more than 100 have either been arrested on their way to or returning from the region.

Government officials currently have no concrete estimates on the number of radicalized Americans who could currently be in the U.S.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate’s intelligence and armed services committee, joined CNN Thursday to discuss the threat of young people carrying out potential lone-wolf attacks.

“The real weapons of mass destruction today are unemployed 22-year-olds who fall for this radical ideology and we’ve got to figure out how to counter that,” he said.

King said that the U.S. must adopt a strategy that goes beyond intelligence and military intervention overseas to answer the “deeper question” of how to stop the spread of radical ideology.

“We are not going to be able to take them out by killing them one at a time. It’s not going to work,” King said. “We’ve got to go deeper than just police, FBI, CIA and military. We’ve got to talk about how do we stop this movement toward radicalization because otherwise this is going to be a 100-year war.”

Video: California cop finds private sale of ammo between citizens ‘bizarre’ and ‘illegal’

A police officer in Eureka, California, recently told two pro-gun activists that they were breaking the law by selling .22 caliber ammunition on the street before demanding to see a business license and accusing one of the men of being a felon in possession of ammunition.

“Why are you guys doing this?” the officer asked the men after explaining that he’d had “a lot of calls” about illegal activity.

“Because we have the right to, sir,” one of the activists rightly responded. “It’s 100 percent legal. Don’t answer any of his questions.”

The officer then claimed that a business license was required in order to conduct the ammo sales.

“Absolutely not, sir. Check your law. It’s our constitutional right, you can check it in the… California laws,” the activist informed the officer, adding that the officers’ ignorance of the law was no excuse for the questioning.

The officer pressed on, claiming that it was illegal to “conduct business in the city of Eureka without a business license.”

“That’s a city code; you don’t know the law,” the activist shot back. “Cite the law. … I can sell my personal items as long as I follow the rules of California code. … The supremacy clause of the Constitution says that you cannot make a law that dilutes my constitutional rights.”

The back and forth continues for about 15 minutes, with the officer becoming sarcastic — but roundly defeated — by the end.

Rand Paul: Romney 2016 is ‘the definition of insanity’

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose 2016 presidential ambitions now look like a sure thing, slammed potential rival Mitt Romney on Wednesday, saying a third attempt at the Oval Office by the former Massachusetts governor would be “the definition of insanity.”

“When you do the same thing and expect a different result, it’s sort of what Einstein said, that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.” Paul told the New Hampshire Journal of another possible Romney candidacy.

The Kentucky Republican added that he admires Romney, but that the two-time failed candidate should follow his own advice.

“A couple of months ago he said that he’d had his chance and it was time for somebody new,” Paul said. “He was probably right when he said that.

“I think we do need somebody and something new,” Paul continued. “We had a great 2014 but really a presidential election is a completely different election. Twice as many people vote and a lot of the people who vote in presidential elections seem to vote for the Democratic Party.”

Paul also questioned fellow possible 2016 contender Jeb Bush’s ability to bring new life to the GOP, saying that the former Florida governor is too similar to Romney.

“[Romney and Bush] occupy the same space and are competing somewhat for the same voters — people who want something that is safe, something that is sort of historical,” Paul said. “But even people who are looking for ‘safe’ realize that ‘safe’ hasn’t won in the past.”

Though he says he won’t formally announce his candidacy until spring, Paul said that his campaign would take a fresh approach aimed at bringing new voters to the GOP cause.

It’s going to be a nasty tax season

Tax experts are predicting that this tax season is going to be the worst Americans have seen in more than a decade due to rapidly declining customer services at the Internal Revenue Service and mass confusion brought on my President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

National taxpayer advocate Nina Olson said that the IRS has experienced a “devastating erosion” in taxpayer services just ahead of what promises to be a tumultuous tax season for millions of Americans confused about how Obamacare affects their filing status.

“As we enter 2015, we are deeply concerned that taxpayers are receiving markedly less assistance from the IRS now than at any time in recent history,” the IRS watchdog said in a report released Wednesday.

According to Olson, the service cuts mean that Americans attempting to get in touch with the IRS will face longer wait times. Those who are able to get through to the agency, she said, will be faced with the frustration of speaking to the lowest level employees, who are unable to answer complex tax questions.

Olson’s report blames the decline in services on a lack of IRS funding, a view shared by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Koskinen wrote in a letter to IRS employees this week: “People who file paper tax returns could wait an extra week — or possibly longer — to see their refund. We now anticipate an even lower level of telephone service than before, which raises the real possibility that fewer than half of taxpayers trying to call us will actually reach us.”

“Those who do reach us will face extended wait times that are unacceptable to all of us.” he added.

The two are encouraging lawmakers to reverse $346 million in FY2015 budget cuts to the nation’s revenue agency. The IRS’s operating fund is currently $1.2 billion less than in was in 2010.

Olson contends that the IRS’s inability to provide adequate customer service could hurt government revenues.

“Without adequate support, many taxpayers will be frustrated, some will make potentially costly mistakes, others will incur higher compliance costs when forced to seek information and assistance from tax professionals that the IRS previously provided for free, and still others will simply give up and not file returns at all,” she said.

But because of Obamacare’s reliance on IRS reporting of individual Americans’ healthcare situations and yet to be resolved scandals involving the agency, GOP lawmakers aren’t likely to reverse the cuts.

And IRS critics like Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist say that’s a good thing, noting that it’s hardly believable that the IRS lacks the funding to handle its job.

“Koskinen is telling the world that he’s not competent and capable enough to manage the IRS with the budget that Congress gave him,” Norquist said. “He should apologize for taking a job he’s not ready for and step down and be replaced by somebody capable.”

Alabama school plans to ward off unwelcome guests with food — and not just the stuff in the cafeteria

An Alabama middle school says it wants to give students a “sense of empowerment” by arming them against potential intruders with canned food.

Parents of students at W.F. Burns Middle School in Chambers County recently received a letter from administrators instructing them to send their children to school with an 8-ounce can of “corn, beans, peas, etc.” that could be used as a projectile “in case an intruder enters their classroom.”

Principal Priscilla Holley explained how the canned food items would be implemented into the school’s current intruder-response plan in the Jan. 9 letter.

“The procedure will be the same as we have done in the past with the addition of arming our students with a canned food item. We realize at first this may seem odd, however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off guard,” she wrote. “The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until police arrive. The canned good item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters the classroom.”

The idea comes from the Department of Education Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) training program that is included in the emergency preparedness protocol of schools and universities in 30 states throughout the U.S.

“Understandably, this is a sensitive topic. There is no single answer for what to do, but a survival mindset can increase the odds of surviving,” the Department of Education said of ALICE when the guidelines were introduced in 2013. “There are three basic options: run, hide, or fight. You can run away from the shooter, seek a secure place where you can hide and/or deny the shooter access, or incapacitate the shooter to survive and protect others from harm.”

Response to the school’s plan has been mixed. Some observers applaud the effort to encourage students to fight back against potential intruders. Others say the scheme ignores more sensible options, like arming teachers and increasing police presence at schools, and will put students in harm’s way.

Laws allowing armed teachers exist in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Tennessee.

Obama, lawmakers quietly work to give government more snooping power

Renewed fears about cybersecurity on Capitol Hill and a new proposal on the matter from President Barack Obama could soon make life easier for government communications snoops who have found it increasingly difficult to scoop up private data without public backlash in recent years.

Obama on Tuesday said that the recent high profile cyberattack on Sony underscores the need for heightened U.S. cybersecurity regulations.

“With the Sony attack that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it just goes to show how much more work we need to do — both public and private sector — to strengthen our cybersecurity,” the president told members of Congress.

Obama said that lawmakers should focus on crafting legislation to encourage more data sharing between private and government entities.

In other words, the Obama administration is teaming up with lawmakers to force through a renewed version of the much hated 2013 Cyber Intelligence Protection and Sharing Act, which many critics derided as a government/private sector information pipeline for data protected under the 4th Amendment.

Broad language in the original incarnation of CISPA granted private companies legal immunity for turning private communications data, including texts, emails and files, over to government snoops for “cybersecurity” purposes, effectively eliminating any private sector incentive to comply with U.S. privacy laws when faced with government information requests.

The White House publicly criticized the original CISPA legislation, a move some watchers now say stunk of political theater, based on how closely the administration’s new plan parallels the privacy damning original legislation.

“The status quo of overweening national security and law enforcement secrecy means that expanded information sharing poses a serious risk of transferring more personal information to intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement. “Given that the White House rightly criticized CISPA in 2013 for potentially facilitating the unnecessary transfer of personal information to the government or other private sector entities when sending cybersecurity threat data, we’re concerned that the Administration proposal will unintentionally legitimize the approach taken by these dangerous bills.”

Instead of hoping no one notices that it is walking back on promises to protect Americans’ private digital communications data by creating new ways for the government to access information, EFF argues that the administration should advocate strengthening existing information-sharing hubs and encouraging companies to use them more efficiently when a threat is detected.

The proposal given to lawmakers by the president also increase penalties in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for those charged with Internet crimes.

“[The plan] makes provisions for the prosecution of the sale of botnets, would criminalize the overseas sale of stolen US financial information like credit card and bank account numbers, would expand federal law enforcement authority to deter the sale of spyware used to stalk or commit ID theft, and would give courts the authority to shut down botnets engaged in distributed denial of service attacks and other criminal activity,” according to the White House.

EFF calls the expansion of those penalties troubling, citing “already excessive — and redundant — penalties for crimes performed with computers.”

In case you’re wondering how GOP congressional control will factor in to Obama’s attempts to push policies he once criticized, the original version of CISPA passed in the Republican-controlled House with overwhelming support from the right.

The GOP establishment hasn’t, after all, been shy about trumping privacy for the illusion on security in the past. And things are no different today.

In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is already working feverishly to undo weak surveillance reforms that passed through the House last year. He’s also urging lawmakers to reauthorize the government collection of Americans’ telephone records without question before the authority expires this summer.

“We don’t want to further encumber intelligence and law enforcement communities who already have a difficult task in tracking those who wish to attack Americans at home and abroad,” he told Bloomberg.

Rand Paul: Judicial activism is good for liberty

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) broke from traditional conservative thinking Tuesday, saying that judicial activism isn’t a bad thing for proponents of liberty.

“My point is not to convert you from judicial restraint to judicial activism, but to think about it because I think it’s not as simple as we make it sound,” Paul said during a speech at Heritage for America’s Conservative Policy Summit. “We say, ‘We don’t want judges writing laws.’ Well, I don’t want judges writing laws either, but do I want judges to protect my freedom? Do I want judges to take an activist role in defense of liberty?”

Republicans have long rallied against judges who’ve used legal opinions to advance causes such as gay marriage and abortion. But Paul noted in his speech that judges have also been instrumental in defending the rights of individuals against dastardly government policies.

“If you have a Jim Crow majority in the South, does the court have a role in overturning something, where a person’s individual rights are at stake?” Paul said, referring to the Supreme Court’s role in overturning Brown v. Board of Education. “I think they do.”

Paul acknowledged that his was a hard case to make before an audience at Heritage, which defines judicial activism thusly on its website: “Judicial activism occurs when judges write subjective policy preferences into the law rather than apply the law impartially according to its original meaning. As such, activism does not mean the mere act of striking down a law.”

Still, the Kentucky Republican urged attendees to support judges’ rights to approach rulings with a “presumption of liberty.”

Representing the little man: On average, lawmakers 18 times wealthier than regular Americans

Your congressman will tell you he’s just like you. But if you’re still wondering how that’s true when he doesn’t understand how a modest tax could have a devastating impact on your bottom line, consider this: According to new study from the Center for Responsive Politics, the average net worth of a member of Congress is 18 times that of the average American family.

“At a time when income inequality is much debated, the representatives we choose are overwhelmingly affluent,” said CRP’s Executive Director Sheila Krumholz. “Whether voters elect them because they are successful or because people of modest means do not run, or for other reasons, is unclear, but struggling Americans should not assume that their elected officials understand their circumstances.“

The average net worth of households in America was just $56,355. That’s compared to an average net worth of $1,029,505 for the nation’s elected class.

Worse yet, as the average Americans’ net worth declined by a third between 2007 and 2013 lawmakers have seen their worth increase, from an average of $2.3 million to $2.8 million in the Senate and from $708,500 to $$843,507 in the House.

“It’s almost never a down year for Congress. Since OpenSecrets.org began publishing an annual report on lawmakers’ net worth in 2006, the numbers have increased every year but one — 2008,” the report says. “This year’s jump of over 2.5 percent is slightly less than the increase between 2011 and 2012 of 4.4 percent, but still greater than the rate of inflation.”

Many lawmakers made their fortunes before arriving on Capitol Hill but, according to the report, some have amassed considerable wealth during their legislative tenures.

One notable example appeared earlier this month with WND writer Jerome Corsi’s analysis House Speaker John Boehner’s financials:

Since the passage of Obamacare, House Speaker John Boehner has been dogged by critics pointing out his investment portfolio has benefited from owning insurance and medical company stocks that have profited from the legislation.

An analysis of Boehner’s current investment holdings includes a number of stocks benefiting from Obamacare in a total portfolio estimated at between $3.5 and $5 million in current market value.

Currently, America’s wealthiest member of Congress is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), with an average net worth of $448.4 million. The least wealthy lawmaker, Rep. David Valadao, also a Caliornia Republican, has a net worth of negative $11.5 million.

Read the full report here.

With GOP control, new Budget chairman Tom Price plans to get ambitious

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the new top dog on the House Budget Committee, says he wants to balance the federal budget in fewer than the 10 years prescribed by Rep. Paul Ryan, the previous GOP chair of the committee.

“We will lay out a budget this year that will come to balance within what’s called the window, within a 10-year period of time. I hope it’s shorter than that,” Price said during an address Monday to The Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Policy Summit.

Many conservatives have long criticized the Ryan plan which would have balanced the budget 10 years from 2014 for not being aggressive enough. Price contends that the new era of GOP congressional control gives lawmakers the power to pursue more aggressive options without the fear of Senate Democrats making a “muddled mess” of the financial process.

“The Budget Committee is where we begin to get our fiscal house in order,” Price said, adding that Republicans will be “laying out the vision for how we would grow our economy in a very positive way.”

The lawmaker indicated that a forthcoming GOP budget plan will explore a number of changes to improve the financial solvency of U.S. entitlement programs while simultaneously saving U.S. citizens and the government more money.

“We believe it’s important to save, strengthen and secure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” Price said.

Without providing many details about the GOP plan for entitlements Price noted that all options are on the table, including increasing the age of eligibility for certain programs and providing a more flexible set of enrollment options.

“The other side seems to be OK with them going broke,” he added, calling Democratic insistences that the programs are not as risk of future insolvency “irresponsible” and “deceitful.”

Aside from balancing the nation’s budget, Price said that he plans to use his new position to take on other challenges such as repealing Obamacare and some of the Obama administration’s other policies using the power of the purse.

“If we can get anything to the president’s desk, we win,” Price said, adding that he isn’t worried about the president’s promise to use the power of veto against GOP efforts.

“[T]he president’s going to be laid bare, and the emperor wears no clothes,” he said.

U.S. terror fears rise rapidly on heels of French attacks

Following a week of horrors carried out by Islamic extremists in France, U.S. lawmakers and other officials are warning that the nation should be on high alert for possible attacks on the homeland and abroad.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told ABC over the weekend that recent terror events are evidence of a growing “war on Western civilization” being waged by a number of groups.

“It really doesn’t matter what terrorist group we insert into the blank,” he said.

“They’re out to kill innocent people. We’ve got to collectively do our best to make sure we thwart those attacks.”

Burr said that he is particularly concerned about the ease with which terror groups can orchestrate attacks via social media. That ease, combined with a high number of terror sleeper cells in Europe with ties to terror hotbeds in the Middle East, could enable terrorists to launch an attack a week on the continent.

“I think certainly that’s a tempo we could reach given the number of folks who have gone in and out of Syria,” Burr said.

“The thing that worries me the most right now is the buzz on social media. Whether it comes from a specific group like ISIS or it’s just on the chat rooms, the target is just to go out and kill law enforcement and other officials.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday that the U.S. is likely inadvertently welcoming terror sleeper cells on its soil through a visa waiver program that makes it easier for travelers from 38 countries to stay in the U.S. for 90 days with no visa.

“The visa waiver program is the Achilles’ heel of America,” Feinstein said on CNN.

Feinstein said that Congress should make a top priority of fixing the program, which she said provides a way for insurgents to travel freely between the U.S. and regions where they receive terror training.

“They can come back from training, they go through a visa waiver country, and they come into this country,” she said. “Now, there are no-fly lists. There are terrorist lists. But they’re in the tens of thousands and even millions, so it’s difficult to ferret someone out.”

Feinstein also warned that the program makes it easy for terrorists to steal and falsify documents to get into the U.S.

“… I believe it will happen, if it hasn’t already,” Feinstein said of the prospect of terrorists exploiting the program.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who traveled to Paris on the heels of last week’s attacks, joined CBS on Sunday to discuss what the Obama administration is doing to respond to the increased threat of world terror.

The Obama official said that the White House believes that small-scale attacks on the U.S. are a possibility.

“It’s something that frankly keeps me up at night. Worrying about the lone wolf or a group of people, a very small group of people, who decide to get arms on their own and do what we saw in France this week,” Holder said. “It’s the kind of thing that our government is focused on doing all that we can, in conjunction with our state and local counterparts, to try to make sure that it does not happen.”

The attorney general said that the U.S. is committed to monitoring potential terrorists without resulting to profiling.

“We’re not stereotyping anybody, but we are focused on those people who we have some reason to believe might engage in these kinds of activities.” Holder said. “… I think we do a good job in keeping abreast of what these people are talking about and potentially what it is that they are planning.”

The White House announced this week that it will hold an anti-terror summit on Feb. 18 to investigate “best practices and emerging efforts” to counteract global terrorism.

But not everyone is convinced that the Obama White House has a handle on the situation.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that the growing global terror threat has resulted directly from Obama’s “leading from behind.” Evidence, he contends, is the formation of the “largest extremist caliphate in history” in Syria, which Obama has “no strategy to degrade or defeat.”

“ISIS right now is winning,” McCain said. “We need to go after them. We need to have more boots on the ground. We need a no-fly zone. We need to arm the Free Syrian Army. And we need a coherent strategy that can be presented to the Congress.”

McCain also criticized Holder’s earlier remarks.

“I’m glad that Eric Holder is keeping an eye on people and all that, but this is because of the result of leading from behind,” he said.

Fellow Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas also skewered Obama’s terror policy, saying the current White House’s political correctness encourages global terrorism.

“We know that, for example, when Major Nidal Hasan made his attack at Fort Hood, they called that workplace violence,” he told CBS on Sunday. “And they are calling the war on terror ‘overseas contingency operations.’ We need to call it what it is. Because that’s the first step to actually dealing with it on a realistic basis.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also weighed in on the recent terror attacks in France, saying that Obama’s absence at a solidarity rally over the weekend sends the wrong message to U.S. allies.

“The absence is symbolic of the lack of American leadership on the world stage, and it is dangerous,” Cruz wrote.

Boehner attacks GOP conservatives

After 25 conservative Republicans attempted to unseat him as speaker of the House this week, Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) declared himself the most anti-establishment speaker in history. He then promptly proceeded to punish colleagues who’ve failed to toe the party line.

“During my years here when I voted, I had the eighth-most conservative voting record in the Congress, and it does pain me to be described as spineless or a squish,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “But what pains me the most is when they describe me as the establishment.

“I’m the most anti-establishment speaker we’ve ever had.

“Who was the guy who got rid of earmarks? Me. Who’s the guy who believes in regular order? Me,” Boehner continued. “Who believes in allowing more members to participate in the process from both sides of the aisle? Me.”

If Boehner sounds a little bitter, it’s because he was re-elected to his position with more defections from his own party than any lawmaker in the position’s modern history.

Within hours of the Tuesday speaker vote, Boehner had set the wheels of retaliation in motion, booting two leaders of the rebellion against his speakership, Florida Republicans Rep. Daniel Webster and Rep. Richard Nugent, from prestigious slots on the House Rules Committee.

Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) criticized the move late Thursday.

“According to the Congressional Record, Congressmen Daniel Webster and Richard Nugent, Members who voted against John Boehner as Speaker of the House, have been kicked off the Rules Committee,” they said in a joint statement. “This retribution compromises the ability of Members of Congress to faithfully represent their constituents and subverts our representative democracy. The Speaker must immediately reinstate these Members. No Member should be punished for voting his or her conscience. We expect other Members of the House of Representatives to condemn this act of political retribution.”

The Hill predicts possible other victims of Boehner’s revenge:

It’s possible three Republicans — Reps. Scott Garrett (N.J.), Marlin Stutzman (Ind.) and Bill Posey (Fla.) — could lose their seats on the influential Financial Services Committee. And Garrett, who is serving his seventh term, heads the panel’s subcommittee on capital markets.

Boehner’s allies also could seek retribution against GOP Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), who was appointed to the coveted House Appropriations panel late last year.

Other Boehner dissidents, including freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), will almost certainly lose any fundraising help from the Speaker and his friends. That could cost Blum tens of thousands of dollars in donations as he runs for reelection in his swing district.

In addition, Rep. Randy Weber of Texas said this week that he was blocked from sponsoring a bill this week for bucking Boehner.

“I’ve already lost the authorship of one bill. Look, it shouldn’t be that way. It was going to be a bill on regulation of clean nuclear energy,” he told Bloomberg.

Boehner is billing his retaliation tour as a “family conversation” that will be going on within the GOP in the weeks ahead. And some conservative Republicans warn the Boehner’s establishment retrenching won’t be pretty.

Massie said that those who voted against Boehner could be “deprived of fundraising opportunities, removed from their committees and they very well may end their political careers by voting against the speaker” before the dust settles.

Keystone gets congressional approval, White House shrugs

House lawmakers passed a bill Friday to approve construction of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline. But as the legislation heads for a Senate vote where it is expected to pass as well, the White House says that President Obama is preparing to ink up his veto pen.

In its 10th Keystone vote, House lawmakers voted largely along party lines, with 28 Democrats joining almost every Republican in the chamber to pass the legislation 266-153. The number of yeas is just shy of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

The Senate version of the legislation has a filibuster-proof 60 co-sponsors in addition to three Democratic backers, though the 63 lawmakers expected to pass the bill during a Monday cloture vote is also below the 67-vote threshold needed to tie Obama’s hands.

“Our posture and our position hasn’t (sic) changed,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Friday, indicating that Obama planned to ignore congressional approval of the project pending his State Department review of the “national interest” of the project.

“As you know, it is undergoing rigorous review and we’re going to wait for that review to be completed before the president makes any decisions,” Schultz said, reiterating that the president believes the State Department should have final authority on the project.

State Department officials have already conceded that the environmental consequences of the project would be negligible.

The Obama administration had previously used a pending Nebraska court case as a major reason for dragging out the decision making process related to the pipeline. But the court ruled in favor of the project hours before the Friday House vote.

“Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures… and if presented to the president, he will veto the bill,” Schultz said.

The administration’s attitude has bolstered GOP criticisms that the administration is making up reasons to block the pipeline to appease anti-Keystone activists.

“The administration has said that [pending case in Nebraska] was the major hurdle. It has fallen. So I hope the president is not going to establish another hurdle, that being himself,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said, according to The Hill.

Finding a balance between cybersecurity and liberty to take center stage in months ahead

Well-publicized cyberattacks on the U.S. in late 2014 have made it almost certain that government will focus heavily on the nation’s technological security in the year ahead. And as cybersecurity talks heat up in Washington, policymakers will be tasked with striking a balance between protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure and enacting rules that threaten U.S. Internet liberties, such as 2012’s much maligned Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.

Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, in an op-ed Thursday for The Washington Times, said that the cyberattack on Sony late last year marks the beginning of “a new era of cyberterrorism where threats cause just as much damage and fear as a bomb threat.”

“While the economic damage of this hack is disconcerting, the real significance lies in the fact that, according to the FBI, this marks the first major destructive cyberattack waged against a company on U.S. soil,” wrote McCaul, who heads up the House Committee on Homeland Security.

The national security aspect of the Sony attack may be marginalized because the hackers’ intentions were limited to keeping “The Interview,” a comedy leader poking fun at North Korea, out of theaters. But McCaul warns of devastating consequences if the same tactics were employed against U.S. infrastructure.

“While the economic damage of this hack is disconcerting, the real significance lies in the fact that, according to the FBI, this marks the first major destructive cyberattack waged against a company on U.S. soil,” he wrote.

Making the situation more worrisome, McCaul said, is that the federal government is currently as ill prepared to respond to cyberattacks as private companies that have been targeted in the past.

“We have no effective strategy in place to stop it,” he wrote.

McCaul has moved cybersecurity legislation in the past which created a federal civilian interface at the Department of Homeland Security to address cybersecurity threats to the United States. In the months ahead, he says he plans to do more.

And while government action on cybersecurity almost always draws negative attention from Internet freedom advocates who fear a misplaced clampdown on information freedom, McCaul’s concerns about the nation’s cybersecurity have been echoed by at least one staunch champion of transparency.

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden warned in a recent interview that the U.S. has “more to lose than any other nation on Earth” when it comes to the growing threat of cyberwarfare.

On PBS’s “NOVA Next” program Snowden argued that the U.S. should reallocate resources dedicating to online spying to cyberdefense initiatives.

“Defending ourselves from Internet-based attacks, Internet-originated attacks, is much, much more important than our ability to launch attacks against similar targets in foreign countries because when it comes to the Internet, when it comes to our technical economy, we have more to lose than any other nation on Earth,” Snowden said.

The technical economy, Snowden argues, gives adversaries an endless number of vulnerable entry points for attacks that could cripple critical infrastructure.

“If an adversary didn’t target our power plants but they did target the core routers, the backbones that tie our internet connections together, entire parts of the United States could be cut off,” he said. “That would have a tremendous impact on us as a society and it would have a policy backlash.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) revived CISPA, a failed 2012 cybersecurity bill that encourages government and private sector sharing of cyber information, on Friday.

“The reason I’m putting the bill in now is I want to keep the momentum going on what’s happening out there in the world,” Ruppersberger told The Hill. “We have to move forward.”

The legislation will likely muddle the cybersecurity debate further, as privacy activists have repeatedly charged that it has little cybersecurity merit and serves as little more than a back door for the National Security Agency to more easily access communication data on private networks.

“We must do everything within our power to safeguard the privacy rights of individual Internet users and ensure that Congress does not sacrifice those rights in a rush to pass vaguely worded cybersecurity bills,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, when CISPA was defeated back in 2012.

Legislation would make it impossible for bureaucrats to abuse photographers in public places

In response to repeated stories of Americans being abused by police and government authorities for exercising their constitutional rights to take photographs in public places, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) introduced legislation to strengthen photographers’ rights. It was among his last acts as a congressman.

Stockman’s Ansel Adams Act, named for a famed American landscape photographer, would mostly serve to reassert rights that are already constitutionally protected, such as taking pictures in national parks and other public areas and of subjects including government buildings and public employees. In recent years, photographers have increasingly complained of a disturbing trend of regulations at all levels of government seeking to limit such photography.

From the bill:

In recent years, photographers on Federal lands and spaces have been threatened with seizure and forfeiture of photographic equipment and memory cards, and have been arrested or threatened with arrest for merely recording what the eye can see from public spaces.

Even in the absence of laws or regulations, Federal law enforcement officers, other government personnel, and private contractors have been instructed to prohibit photography from public spaces, and threatened photographers with arrest or seizure of photographic equipment.

Arresting photographers, seizing photographic equipment, and requirements to obtain permits, pay fees, or buy insurance policies are abridgments of freedom of speech and of the press.

In recent years, a number of liberty organizations have cropped up throughout the nation to bring attention to bureaucratic efforts to clamp down on photography, which many activists say keeps government agents accountable. Groups such as Photography is not a Crime (PINAC) encourage members to record and photograph police officers and other public employees on duty, use recording devices in public buildings and conduct periodical free speech assessments by blatantly videoing and taking photographs in public places.

Because of advocate efforts, encounters between furious government officials and photography advocates often make their way onto the Internet, highlighting the many unconstitutional claims that officials make for not wanting to be photographed.

Stockman’s legislation posits that government entities that want to prohibit photography should have to do so through a transparent legal process, which would eliminate officials’ ability to use half-truths and threats to intimidate photographers without creating legitimate national security concerns.

From the bill:

It is contrary to the public policy of the United States to prohibit or restrict photography in public spaces, whether for private, news media, or commercial use.

Should a Federal agency seek to restrict photography of its installations or personnel, it shall obtain a court order that outlines the national security or other reasons for the restriction. Such court order shall allow restrictions of photography when such photography may lead to the endangerment of public safety or national security. Nothing in this Act shall restrict Federal agencies from taking lawful steps to ascertain whether or not photography may consist of reconnaissance for the purpose of endangerment of public safety or national security or for other unlawful activity.

Many photography advocates have applauded Stockman’s efforts. But some, including PINAC, have been quick to note that it is unnecessary based on photography’s designation as constitutionally protected free speech.

“While well-intentioned, the bill was unnecessary as far as legalizing photography,” the group said. “Because, of course, Photography Is Not A Crime!”

Stockman introduced his legislation on Jan. 2, as the lawmaker’s congressional tenure came to an end. It is currently being held for consideration.

Rand Paul: Defend Israel by cutting foreign aid to Palestinians

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation this week aimed at cutting U.S. aid to Palestinians in response to efforts by leaders in the region to pursue war crimes charges against Israel by joining the International Criminal Court.

Paul’s Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act would immediately cut all U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority if it moves forward with the plan.

“It is up to the new Republican-led Congress to move on its own so that the President does not once again circumvent clear funding restrictions. We are currently sending roughly $400 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian Authority,” Paul said of the legislation. “Certainly groups that threaten Israel cannot be allies of the U.S. I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure this President and this Congress stop treating Israel’s enemies as American allies.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a series of international conventions on Dec. 31 in an effort to join the International Criminal Court to pursue actions against Israel. It remains unknown whether the Palestinians will use membership, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says will take effect April 1, to pursue charges against Israel.

While membership on the International Criminal Court is not grounds for cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. is prohibited by law from assisting the Palestinians if they seek criminal claims against Israel.

So far, the Obama administration has remained mum on whether it will cut aid to the Palestinians if Abbas does attempt to levy charges, saying that it is review options for the aid package.

Paul, meanwhile, laments that President Obama appears “disinclined” to cut aid to the Palestinians even after the Authority formed a unity government with the terror organization Hamas, which has declared “there is no solution to the Palestinian question except by Jihad.”

Foreign aid has been a tricky subject for Paul as he has increasingly been mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential contender. The GOP lawmaker came under fire recently for past positions advocating for cutting all U.S. foreign aid, even to key allies such as Israel. The senator has since walked back on such remarks.

Christie proposals would complicate business for New Jersey gun sellers

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has any 2016 presidential ambitions, it’s safe to assume that probably won’t be vying for votes from the GOP’s strong contingent of 2nd Amendment supporters. Christie’s administration is currently working to push through a massive package of minor gun laws in New Jersey that could make it more difficult for gun dealers to do business in the state.

Citing an increase in firearm thefts and lapses in gun sales oversight over the past decade, the Christie administration is championing a package of laws that would open gun shop records to inspection by local police, strengthen reporting requirements for missing firearms and require gun shop owners and employees to acquire new licenses for firearm sales.

The new rules would also require the state’s 337 licensed firearm sellers to comply with strict requirements mandating alarm systems at premises where firearms are sold and get state approval to move firearm stock from one business location to another.

“From 2012 to the present time, there have been six reported incidents of thefts and/or lost firearms from retail dealers,” reads the proposal. “It is critical and in the best interest of public safety, health, and welfare that retail and wholesale dealers and manufacturers of firearms be held to the highest standards of security to prohibit the possibility of a firearm being used in the commission of a violent crime.”

Beyond making things tougher for firearm sales in New Jersey, the new proposals will also bring changes for private gun owners in the state. The governor is calling for a changes that would classify shotguns with either a magazine capacity of over six rounds, a folding stock or a pistol grip as “assault firearms.” Currently, shotguns in the state are demonized as “assault” weapons only if they feature two of the aforementioned characteristics.

Education experts: Average college freshman reads on 7th grade level

At a time when the average U.S. college graduate is entering a saturated job market with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt, Americans might be tempted to believe that high schools and colleges are going above and beyond to produce well-rounded graduates prepared to take on every employment challenge. But here’s some depressing news: A new report indicates that the average college freshman reads on about the same level as a middle-school student.

According to an education assessment from Renaissance Learning, U.S. students are increasingly getting behind at the high school level due to inferior standards implemented through federal initiatives such as Common Core and are increasingly unprepared to make the best use of their time in college.

“We are spending billions of dollars trying to send students to college and maintain them there when, on average, they read at about the grade 6 or 7 level, according to Renaissance Learning’s latest report on what American students in grades 9-12 read, whether assigned or chosen,” education expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky said of the report.

In an interview with Breitbart, Stotsky explained that colleges, in turn, are assigning lower-level texts as required reading for incoming freshmen.

“The average reading level for five of the top seven books assigned as summer reading by 341 colleges using Renaissance Learning’s readability formula was rated 7.56,” she said.

In order to reverse the disturbing trend, Stotsky argues that government education standards must first cultivate a strong focus on reading in the nation’s elementary schools. In addition, she argues that colleges must do more to send “a signal to the nation’s high schools that high school level reading is needed for college readiness.”

“Indeed, they seem to be suggesting that a middle school level of reading is satisfactory, even though most college textbooks and adult literary works written before 1970 require mature reading skills,” she said.