House GOP proposes cutting IRS budget by nearly $1 billion

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen may have no more tears left to cry following last year’s relatively modest pruning of the IRS’s expected budget, so one wonders how he’ll amplify his Chicken Little rhetoric if Republicans have their way with more meaningful cuts this year.

The Hill reported Wednesday that Republican congressmen are proposing to fund the tax agency at $10.1 billion for 2016, $838 million less than the IRS received for 2015.

House GOP members unveiled the budget plan as part of the Financial Services and General Government Operations spending bill Wednesday.

Koskinen famously caterwauled that the 2015 budget would result in awful “customer service” and delayed tax refunds. “The challenge with yet another budget cut this year is that we’ll struggle to get close to the same crummy level of service we had last year,” Koskinen told USA Today in February.

President Obama had recommended an IRS budget increase that clocks in $2.8 billion over the Republicans’ 2016 proposal, but the House GOP contingent maintains that $10.1 billion is adequate for the agency to perform its essential tax-collecting function.

McConnell gets all slippery when cornered on the secrecy that surrounds Obamatrade

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may butt heads with Barack Obama on many things — but Obamatrade, apparently, isn’t one of them.

Speaking with Fox News this week, McConnell had a lot of trouble explaining why the White House has been so secretive with the contents of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the backbone for Obama’s plans to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He was similarly dodgy when attempting to explain why he supports the president’s plan.

“The trade agreement will be completely transparent,” he told Fox. “We’ll have a chance to vote whether to approve it or not.”

Maybe, but there’ll be no agreement without the passage of the TPA first. And it’s misleading for McConnell to characterize the TPP as a known quantity because someday after it’s been approved, everyone will finally have a look at it. Obamacare is a known quantity today, but it was a mystery until congressional Democrats passed it.

“Congress is being so secretive about Obamatrade that Congressional authorities are not only keeping the text of President Barack Obama’s various trade deals secret, they’re also keeping the log that lists which members of Congress went to go read the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) private as well,” Breitbart reported Wednesday.

“What we’ve been voting on is a procedure that allows it to be dealt with once it’s completed. We’ll know what’s in it. We’ll know everything about what’s in it and we’ll be able to decide whether to pass it or not,” Pelosi McConnell told Fox.

Former Obama spox Robert Gibbs is lovin’ his new job

Robert Gibbs, a longtime ally of Barack Obama who also served as the president’s press secretary from 2009 to 2011, has been hired by the Chicagoland-based McDonald’s fast food chain to “build a more modern, progressive burger company,” according to the company’s CEO.

Gibbs has accepted a role as executive vice president and global chief communications officer for the Golden Arches. He served as Barack Obama’s communications director during Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign, and became one of Obama’s closest advisers. He held a similar position in President Obama’s first administration before stepping into the role of press secretary.

Appropriately, perhaps, for someone accustomed to messaging on behalf of a community organizer, Gibbs is expected to serve as one of McDonalds’ chief PR men. He “will lead McDonald’s corporate relations group, which manages internal and external communications and government and public affairs,” the company stated in a press release. “He will lead McDonald’s in communicating clear, coordinated messages to internal and external constituencies, enhancing the brand and supporting corporate strategies.”

In the same release, McDonalds CEO Steve Easterbrook said Gibbs, along with fellow executive hire Silvia Lagnado, will help lead the charge in the chain’s efforts to become more “progressive.”

“Robert and Silvia are both highly respected, talented leaders who will bring a wealth of experience and outside perspective to McDonald’s as we build a more modern, progressive burger company,” Easterbrook stated. “Returning excitement to our business proposition and brand is foundational to our turnaround plan, and Robert and Silvia – with their respective teams – will play critical roles in bringing this strategy to life.”

There’s gotta be a joke (or several) somewhere in all this. Give it your best shot in the comments.

Obama super confident about legal fate of Obamacare; scolds Supreme Court for reviewing King v. Burwell

Maybe he’s onto something, being a constitutional lawyer and all, but President Obama seems narcissistically certain that his signature achievement will withstand the scrutiny of nine Supreme Court justices later this month.

Speaking at a press conference during the G-7 summit in Germany Monday, Obama insinuated he has no need to develop a back-up plan in case the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare in King v. Burwell and even chided the court for deigning to take up the case in the first place.

“Under well-established precedent, there is no reason why the existing [health care] exchanges should be overturned through a court case,” Obama said. “This should be an easy case. Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.”

Obama further expressed immense confidence in Obamacare’s future, saying the legal community is on his side and that there’s no reason to devise a contingency plan when victory is nearly in his grasp.

“I’m not going into a long speculation anticipating disaster,” he said.

“… I think it’s important for us to go ahead and assume that the Supreme Court is going to do what most legal scholars who’ve looked at this would expect them to do.”

Of course, no one can say how the Supreme Court will rule. The president’s confidence may turn out to be well founded.

… Then again, hasn’t Obama seen Star Wars?

Obama has the same ISIS strategy he had nine months ago: none, really

A human could have conceived, given birth, and had the whole thing partially paid for by Obamacare in the time it’s taken the White House not to develop a fighting strategy against the Islamic State (ISIS).

By his own admission, President Barack Obama is no closer to deploying a plan to counter the world’s biggest, best-organized and lavishly funded terror group than he was nine months ago. At a press event during the G7 conference in Germany, Obama said Monday that “we don’t yet have a complete strategy” to combat ISIS (whom he commonly refers to as “ISIL”) — but that he’ll let everybody know just as soon as we get one.

Here are Obama’s remarks on how the U.S. strategy is coming along against The Jayvee Team (hint: what little strategy there is still appears to revolve around training Iraqi soldiers and giving them a bunch of weapons to abandon):

With respect to ISIL: We have made significant progress in pushing back ISIL from areas in which they had occupied or disrupted local populations, but we’ve also seen areas, like in Ramadi, where they’re displaced in one place, and they come back in another. And they’re nimble, and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic.

So one of the areas we’re gonna have to improve is the speed at which we’re training Iraqi forces. Where we’ve trained Iraqi forces directly and equipped them, and we have a train-and-assist posture, they operate effectively. Where we haven’t, morale, lack of equipment, et cetera, may undermine the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces …

When a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people … We don’t yet have a, ah, a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place; how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out.

Back in August of 2014, Obama donned a beige suit and told the world America doesn’t need to get in a big hurry when it comes to stabilizing the terror factory that used to be northern Iraq — and he’s been as good as his word:

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: we don’t have a strategy yet,” he said last year. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of what we’re at than what we currently are.”

Poll shows changing GOP base

New polling data show that the share of Republicans who consider themselves conservatives on both social and fiscal issues has slipped to its lowest level since 2005.

Numbers out from Gallup show that 42 percent of American Republicans say they are both social and economic conservatives, down from a peak of 57 percent as recently as 2012 and 51 percent last year.

Meanwhile, the number of Republicans who consider themselves moderate or liberal on both social and economic issues has been growing steadily since 2012, up to 24 percent. Twenty percent of GOP adherents say they are moderate or liberal on social issues and conservative on economics.

Gallup reports that the shift is likely to open doors for GOP candidates with diverse views in the 2016 presidential primary:

Republican candidates are dealing with a party base that is today significantly more ideologically differentiated than it has been over the past decade. A GOP candidate positioning himself or herself as conservative on both social and economic issues theoretically will appeal to less than half of the broad base of rank-and-file party members. This opens the way for GOP candidates who may want to position themselves as more moderate on some issues, given that more than half of the party identifiers are moderate or liberal on social or economic dimensions.

The caveat in these campaign decisions is that not all Republicans are involved in the crucial early primary and caucus voting that helps winnow the pack of presidential candidates down to a winner. Ideology on both social and economic issues is strongly related to age, and primary voters tend to skew older than the overall party membership. This could benefit a more conservative candidate in the primary process, but that advantage could dissipate in the general election.

Cartoon roundup

Milt Priggee, www.miltpriggee.com

Another week, another Republican presidential candidate — or two, or three — makes it official. It will be interesting to see when the primaries finally get underway how many names will be on the ballot.

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Larry Wright, CagleCartoons.com
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Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch
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Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
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Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune
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Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch
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John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
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Larry Wright, CagleCartoons.com
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John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune

Sign up now to let one of Hillary’s volunteers sleep on your couch

Maybe it’s a sign of things to come in Hillary’s America. The Clinton campaign is seeking Americans willing to open up their homes and allow Hillary for America volunteers to crash on their couches.

Via the Hillary for America website:

hillarycouch

After signing up, supporters receive this email:

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Hey, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for conservatives to sign up and try to talk some sense into their Clinton-loving houseguests.

University unveils ‘Undocumented Student Services Center’

The University of California, San Diego has just opened a one-stop shop for illegal aliens who attend the school to receive information about how to obtain financial aid and other publicly funded services, The College Fix reports.

The center held its grand opening on May 28, touting UCSD’s commitment to “providing world-class learning opportunities for students inside and outside of the classroom, regardless of your immigration status or the status of your family.”

The Web page for the center also urges faculty and staff “to learn more about how they can support students who are undocumented” and provides access to an “undocumented student services workgroup” for illegal alien students to “explore, discuss, and assist with the implementation of campus strategies to support students who are undocumented and from mixed immigration status families.”

Other California university campuses also offer similar services. As The Fix points out, “more than a half-dozen have similar offices” throughout the state.

“The centers underscore perks already afforded illegal immigrants in California,” notes The Fix. “They are already eligible for state financial aid for college, for example. These centers help them better access that aid. Private donations from philanthropists bolster those efforts to the tune of millions of dollars.

“What’s more, University of California President Janet Napolitano last year set aside $5 million in non-state funds for undocumented students and resource centers.”

House resolution calls for end to blasphemy laws worldwide

In a strange moment of bipartisan agreement, two congressmen have introduced a bill calling on all nations to abolish their blasphemy laws. It’s a completely symbolic move, but at least it’s about something meaningful.

Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) and — get this — Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) brought forward H.R. 290 on Tuesday, calling on “the President and the United States Department of State to make the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority in its bilateral relationships with all countries that have such laws through direct interventions in capitals and in multilateral fora.”

The resolution notes that “44 countries had blasphemy laws as of 2012,” and specifically cites instances of punishment and retribution in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.

It goes on to criticize the idea that governments should regulate the religious speech of the governed. “[T]he House of Representatives … recognizes that blasphemy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of truth or religious rightness as they empower officials to enforce particular religious views against individuals,” the resolution asserts.

Here’s more:

[The House] …

(3) encourages the President and the United States Department of State to oppose any efforts at the United Nations or other international or multilateral fora to create an international anti-blasphemy norm, such as the 1999-2010 “defamation of religions” resolutions, or attempts to expand the international norm on incitement to include blasphemy or defamation of religions;

(4) supports efforts at the United Nations to combat intolerance, discrimination, or violence against persons based on religion or belief without restricting expression, including United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 of 2011 and the Istanbul Process implementation meetings, consistent with the first amendment of the United States Constitution;

(5) reaffirms the decision to designate Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” for, among other reasons, continuing to detain and imprison people for blasphemy and for imposing torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and limit the waiver on this designation to no more than 180 days;

(6) calls on the President and the Department of State to designate Pakistan and Egypt each as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for perpetrating and tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom, including abuses flowing from the enforcement of its blasphemy law and from vigilante violence around blasphemy allegations that takes place with impunity;

(7) urges the Governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the governments of other countries to amend or repeal their blasphemy laws as they provide a pretext for impunity or violence against religious minorities; and

(8) urges those countries that have imprisoned people on charges of blasphemy to release them unconditionally and, once released, ensure their safety and that of their families.

Sounds fine, although the UN is given too much status as the de facto global mediator (as it typically is). Of course, none of this carries any real weight, beyond whatever influence the act of passing such a resolution might have on President Obama’s resolve to “make the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority.” But Obama’s more of a hippie-theocrat-globalist, so he’ll probably follow his own counsel:

At any rate, it would be great if the House would set its toothless resolutions aside and work on repeal legislation for so-called “hate crime” here in this country.

N.Y. teens win $45,000 after being arrested for spurning flirting cop

The New York Police Department agreed to award money to a Bronx woman who filed a federal lawsuit after being arrested for nothing more than attempting graciously to decline a police officer’s unwanted advances.

Natalie Erlich, who was 17 at the time of the incident, filed the suit after a 2013 encounter with officer José Peinan, who attempted to use their coincidental choice of attire as a platform for striking up a conversation.

What started out as a friendly brush-off turned into something more sinister when it became clear to the officer that Erlich wasn’t interested in Peinan, the suit alleges.

From the New York Post:

Natalie Erlich says she was grabbing an after-school snack with two female friends on Nov. 4, 2013, when Officer José Peinan and another cop struck up a conversation with them in Kingsbridge.

“I had on a camouflage hat and [Peinan] had on camouflage pants,” Erlich, now 19, told The Post. “He said, ‘We match.’ I brushed him off and I laughed.”

Erlich went around the corner to buy a cup of hot cocoa, and the plainclothes cop followed her, she alleged.

“He said something slick like, ‘Where are you going?'” she added. “I said, ‘I’m going home.'”

When Erlich asked if he was a cop, he replied, “Maybe.” She then told him that’s “a cop answer.”

Seconds later, a van pulled up and four more officers got out. That’s when Peinan ordered them to cuff her, she claimed.

“He said she blew his cover,” Erlich’s mother said.

Erlich said that when she asked why she was being arrested, Peinan responded, “You know why — you’re being a smartass.”

For being a “smartass,” Erlich and her friend Marie Gonzalez were taken to jail, where they spent the night. They were charged with “Obstruction of Governmental Administration,” but the charges were dropped as part of the settlement. The city agreed to pay out $45,000; the Post reports that officer Peinan has also “been named in three other suits the city has been forced to settle.”

Obamacare insurers ask for massive rate hikes for 2016

Blue Cross and other major health insurance providers are seeking permission from state regulators to raise their rates dramatically next year, as the true cost of covering individuals under Obamacare begins to reveal itself.

Fox News reports “dozens” of insurers nationwide have indicated they will need to increase their rates by as much as 30 percent in order to accommodate “higher-than-expected care costs from customers they gained under the ObamaCare’s coverage expansion and the rising cost of prescription drugs and other expenses.”

The increases could be massive. “Among the market leaders, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is seeking a roughly 26 percent premium increase, while plans in Illinois and Florida, among other states, are asking for hikes of 20 percent or more,” reports Fox. “In Pennsylvania, Highmark Health Insurance Co. is asking for a 30 percent increase.”

While states may elect to grant these preliminary price increases or reject them, there’s a tradeoff for holding the rates at their current levels. Insurers may reconfigure their coverage offerings, as well as their matrices of deductibles and co-pays, to offset any potential losses in states where lock premiums in at this year’s prices.

“[T]he difference in 2016 is that for the first time, they [insurers] have a full year of claims data from enrollees that tells them how high or low to set the price tag,” the Washington Examiner reported Tuesday:

Until now, insurers have had to mostly guess at who would enroll in Obamacare plans. If the enrollees tended younger and healthier, they could price plans lower. But if they ended up being older and sicker, prices would need to be higher.

And with year two of Obamacare enrollment concluded, there are more older enrollees than younger ones. Almost half were older than age 44, according to final enrollment data from the Obama administration.

The Examiner also noted some of the most dramatic requested increases, including Blue Cross’ proposal to raise its “platinum” plan rates in Alabama by 71 percent, as well as Aetna’s request for a 59 percent spike on “one of its small group plans in Virginia.”

Rand Paul temporarily ends NSA bulk collection

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says the brief expiration of the Patriot Act is only a temporary victory for privacy advocates—but one that sends a clear message to Congress and the White House.

“The Patriot Act will expire tonight,” Paul said from the Senate floor during a rare vote on Sunday. “It will only be temporary. They will ultimately get their way.”

Thanks to the lawmaker’s efforts to hold up Senate consideration of a watered-down NSA reform bill called the USA Freedom Act, it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before lawmakers get around to voting on the bill and its amendments. According to Paul, his strategy is to buy time in order to convince his colleagues of the need to protect Americans privacy.

“We didn’t have 60 votes before to end the bulk collection,” he told reporters late Sunday. “By slowing the process down, talking about the Patriot Act, we now will end bulk collection of records by the government.”

Paul has been heavily criticized by establishment Republicans like Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for his stance on the NSA. But Paul said his actions will protect Americans by making government follow the rule of law.

“I think this is a big rebuke for the president. The courts told him it was illegal and he just kept doing it anyway. I think most Americans, particularly Republicans, don’t trust this president,” Paul said. “This is the same president who went after Tea Party groups and went after religious liberty and religious groups. I don’t understand why some of the big government Republicans up here don’t get it, because most Republicans I meet across the country don’t want this president to have access to all their phone records.”

Websites block lawmaker access to send anti-NSA message

Thousands of websites are blocking members of Congress from visiting in an effort to force lawmakers to end mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

More than 14,000 sites, headed up by the online activist group Fight for the Future, are redirecting any visitors with congressional IP (Internet protocol) addresses to a protest page.

On that page, lawmakers and congressional aides are met with the following message:

We are blocking your access until you end mass surveillance laws

You have conducted mass surveillance of everyone illegally and are now on record for trying to enact those programs into law. You have presented Americans with the false dichotomy of reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act or passing the USA Freedom Act. The real answer is to end all authorities used to conduct mass surveillance. Until you do, thousands of web sites have blocked your access, and more are joining every day.

The group is also encouraging anti-spying advocates to add a photo to a movement dubbed #ifeelnaked to make lawmakers feel sleazy for supporting spy tactics that leave Americans most private information vulnerable to warrantless searches.

“Congress should be ashamed of NSA mass spying. It’s like a strip search, online. We should never, ever have to worry the government is watching our private moments,” the group says on its website. “Congress should be ashamed that they want to see our naked photos, so we’re putting up plenty of them to make sure they are! Join the protest with your photos: #ifeelnaked.org”

Paul ad promises ‘brawl for liberty’ over Patriot Act

A new ad out from a pro-Rand Paul PAC uses the bravado of an old school wrestling announcement to draw attention to a rare Sunday gathering of the Senate to discuss the fate of controversial Patriot Act provisions.

The spot, part of digital ad buy from America’s Liberty PAC, features a WWE-style announcers touting a “brawl for liberty” set to occur at the U.S. Capitol on “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.”

Get ready, America, for the biggest brawl for liberty of the century,” the ad says. “Defender of freedom Senator Rand Paul versus the head of the Washington spy machine, Barack Obama, and his so-called conservative accomplice, the Capitulating Canadian, Ted Cruz.”

The ad also jokes that ardent Patriot Act supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham will try “to read your emails while doing donuts in a 1997 Geo Metro while it’s on fire.”

Thanks to Paul’s successful efforts to block the Senate from temporarily renewing portions of the Patriot Act that allow the government to collect Americans’ communications data without a warrant, lawmakers will have just hours to negotiate a compromise before the provisions expire Sunday.