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Medicare Trustees Report: More Bad News for Seniors and Taxpayers

2 hours 52 min ago

The annual Medicare Trustees report was released today, detailing the dire financial status of the Medicare program. In large part, it reiterates what has been known for decades, the Medicare program faces an unsustainable financial future, which imposes a major burden on taxpayers and jeopardizes access to care for seniors.

A few of the report’s most important facts:

The Part A trust fund is projected to be exhausted by 2030. The Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund, which funds Medicare benefits for Part A (inpatient services) is primarily financed through the Medicare payroll deduction. The trust fund has been running deficits, meaning spending more on benefits than it takes in through payroll taxes, since 2008 and is expected to continue to do so through 2014. The projected date when the trust fund balance is projected to hit zero fluctuates a bit each year and this year the trustees project it will be in 2030—four years later than last year’s projection.

This means that benefits can only be paid out to the extent that money comes in, requiring either a benefit reduction, tax increase, or some combination of both. Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the size of the gap in funding is 0.8 percent over the next 25 years, worsening in the future. According to the CBO,

Eliminating a gap of that size would require an immediate and permanent increase in HI payroll taxes from 2.9 percent to 3.7 percent [about a 28 percent increase] of taxable payroll as currently projected, an immediate and permanent cut in spending on Part A equal to about one-fifth of current spending, or some combination of tax increases and spending cuts with an equal present value.

However, it is critical to remember that Part A’s trust fund only represents one part of the Medicare program and thus it does not present a complete picture of the financing troubles facing seniors and taxpayers. Over the long-term and under a more realistic set of policy assumptions, the entire Medicare program was estimated last year to have an unfunded obligation of $36 trillion. This means that the government is currently $36 trillion short of the funds it needs to pay for the benefits promised to seniors over the next 75 years.

The baby boomer challenge. The baby boomer generation (persons born during the period between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s) is retiring and flooding the Medicare program with an estimated additional 10,000 beneficiaries per day since 2011 and will continue to do so until 2030—growing the Medicare population to about 81 million. This poses a significant issue because current workers fund current beneficiaries’ benefits. Indeed, taxpayers fund about 89 percent of total Medicare spending.

Specifically for Part A financing, according to the trustees, “While every beneficiary in 2013 had about 3.2 workers to pay for his or her HI benefit, in 2030 under the intermediate demographic assumptions there would be only about 2.3 workers for each beneficiary.”(pg. 67).

Historically, from 1980-2008, there were about 4 workers per HI beneficiary.

Obamacare increases the possibility of access and quality of care issues for Medicare beneficiaries. Obamacare makes severe payment reductions to Medicare providers in Part A. The trustees estimate that if these cuts are implemented as the law currently requires, they could cause access and quality of care issues for seniors as Medicare’s payment falls increasingly below providers’ costs.

According to the report:

Simulations suggest that up to 5 percent more hospitals would experience negative total facility margins by 2019 and an additional 5-10 percent would experience negative Medicare margins by 2019…

By 2040, simulations suggest that approximately half of hospitals, two-thirds of skilled nursing facilities, and 90 percent of home health agencies would have negative total facility margins, raising the possibility of access and quality of care issues for Medicare beneficiaries…

Providers could not sustain continuing negative margins and would have to withdraw from serving Medicare beneficiaries or (if total facility margins remained positive) shift substantial portions of Medicare costs to their non-Medicare, non-Medicaid payers. (Pages 208-209).

Medicare is in urgent need of reform. Its financing challenges stem from its structural flaws and thus it requires a structural reform of the program. Obamacare does not achieve this goal in any meaningful way; to the contrary, the law’s payment reductions further jeopardize seniors’ access and quality of care.

The post Medicare Trustees Report: More Bad News for Seniors and Taxpayers appeared first on Daily Signal.

Federal Court Upholds Right to Carry Handguns in Public in D.C.

3 hours 11 sec ago

On July 26, a  federal district court in Washington, D.C. struck down as unconstitutional the District of Columbia’s laws totally banning the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home. The court held that the ban violated the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms, strongly reaffirming the importance of this individual liberty.

The D.C. Government refused handgun registration applications by three DC residents (Tom Palmer, George Lyon, and Amy McVey) because the applicants indicated they intended to carry their firearms outside the home. As a result, the three residents sued the D.C. Government in federal district court. A fourth individual, not a D.C. resident,and the Second Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the right to bear arms, joined in the lawsuit.

The district court reviewed D.C. laws that limited gun licenses to cover only “self-defense within a person’s home” and made it a felony to carry unlicensed pistols in public. The court focused on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010), which held that laws that totally ban handgun possession violate the Second Amendment. It highlighted language in those decisions that carrying a handgun outside the home for self-defense qualifies as “bear[ing] Arms.” Accordingly, the court concluded that D.C.’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home was unconstitutional “under any level of scrutiny.” It then barred DC from enforcing the home use limitation of its gun laws until it adopts a licensing mechanism consistent with the Second Amendment.

Neither this nor other recent court decisions precludes states and localities from licensing and regulating handgun use. But this holding, consistent with other lower court decisions, indicates that the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the individual right to bear arms continues to be taken very seriously by the judiciary, and will guide future court review of state and local gun use restrictions.

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Excessive Oversight Harms U.S. Homeland Security

3 hours 15 min ago

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 Commission report, the former commission members released a new analysis of U.S. homeland security that listed Congress as the greatest obstacle to homeland security.

Excessive congressional oversight hinders the ability of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to protect the American people. On Sunday, distinguished homeland security experts placed an ad in The New York Times highlighting the “overlapping and redundant oversight” that harms U.S. homeland security. Among them were former 9/11 Commission chair Thomas Kean and former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“Four [DHS] secretaries now, two Republicans and two Democrats, have all said to us the most important problem they have in fighting terrorism is the Congress,” said Kean last week.

There are currently 92 committees and subcommittees of Congress that hold jurisdiction over DHS. At the same time, only 36 committees oversee the Department of Defense—an organization with a budget 10 times that of DHS. Inefficient and duplicative oversight negatively impacts U.S. homeland security in three ways:

  1. It wastes critical DHS resources. In fiscal year 2013, DHS officials testified at 105 hearings and provided more than 1,650 briefings before congressional staff. The former 9/11 Commission members estimate the cost of such oversight in thousands of work hours and millions of taxpayer dollars. A streamlined oversight process is needed to keep DHS officials at work in their offices, not on Capitol Hill.
  2. It denies Congress a full understanding of DHS activities. One should not confuse quantity of overseers with quality of oversight. According to the 9/11 Commission members, “More than 90 different committees and subcommittees cannot develop expertise about the department as a whole. Nor can committees that only oversee certain DHS components understand the department’s overall mission or assess competing priorities.” Reducing the number of congressional oversight committees would enable Congress to oversee DHS more effectively.
  3. It results in a lack of sound strategic guidance for DHS. “When everyone is in charge, no one is,” 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick said. Furthermore, Chertoff identified conflicting messages from Congress as the greatest problem with disorganized oversight. Without a clear understanding of the DHS’s overall mission, it is no wonder that Congress fails to lead DHS effectively.

The Heritage Foundation has joined the 9/11 Commission in proposing a drastic reorganization of DHS oversight. According to Heritage’s plan, congressional oversight would be reduced to just six committees—three in the Senate and three in the House.

In their new report, the former 9/11 Commission members declared that “congressional reform is the most important unfulfilled recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.” Congress should streamline the DHS oversight process and empower DHS to better protect the American people.

Andrew Tucker is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, pleaseclick here.

The post Excessive Oversight Harms U.S. Homeland Security appeared first on Daily Signal.

Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Reveal Decline in Employer-Based Coverage

3 hours 45 min ago

New details about Obamacare insurance enrollment show that employer-based coverage is eroding, offsetting gains made in individual insurance enrollment, according to a report released today by The Heritage Foundation.

While individual coverage grew by 2.2 million Americans during Obamacare’s first open enrollment period, employer group coverage—health plans offered through the workplace—fell by 1.7 million, said the report, which is based on private coverage data from Mark Farrah Associates.

The drop in employer group coverage meant that net gains in new enrollment reached slightly more than 520,000 individuals during Obamacare’s first enrollment period, which ran from Oct. 1, 2013, to March 31.

The Heritage figures did not include a month-long extension that the Obama administration and many states allowed for potential enrollees who faced problems signing up for coverage through the federal and state-run online insurance exchanges.

Meanwhile, enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, two federal health programs for poorer individuals, jumped by nearly 5 million Americans during the same six-month period.

“It’s possible another 3 million to 4 million Americans gained individual coverage during that enrollment extension, but we won’t know until we see data for the second quarter of 2014,” said report co-author Edmund Haislmaier, a senior research fellow in health policy studies.

“But even if that happens and there’s no further decline in the employer coverage, you still have more than half of any increase in health coverage in 2014 coming from Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid.”

The Obama administration said in May that 8 million Americans had signed up for plans on the Obamacare exchanges during the first enrollment period and extension.

The post Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Reveal Decline in Employer-Based Coverage appeared first on Daily Signal.

Why This Judge Dissented—and Said There Is No Right to Same-Sex Marriage

4 hours 9 min ago

Today, in a 2-1 split decision, the 4th circuit ruled that Virginia’s marriage amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The majority declared that Virginia’s law “impermissibly infringe[s] on its citizens’ fundamental right to marry.”

Judge Paul Niemeyer issued a strong dissent arguing that the court got it wrong, for “the majority has failed to conduct the necessary constitutional analysis.” “The fundamental right to marriage does not include a right to same-sex marriage,” Niemeyer concluded.

Today’s ruling will almost certainly be appealed. After all, the Supreme Court decisions, such as Loving v. Virginia, that established a fundamental right to marry understood marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In issuing today’s ruling, the court implicitly supplied its own, new answer to the central question in this debate: what is marriage? The only way the 4th Circuit could reach its decision was to adopt a view of marriage that sees it as an essentially genderless institution and then declare that the Constitution requires that the States (re)define marriage in such a way.

But our Constitution is silent on what marriage is. And there are good arguments on both sides of this debate. Judges should not insert their own policy preferences about marriage and declare them to be required by the Constitution.

This is the message that Niemeyer delivered in his dissent. When it comes to treating same-sex relationships as marriages, Niemeyer explains that “there are rational reasons for not recognizing it, just as there are rational reasons for recognizing it.” And he concludes that “we, in the Third Branch, must allow the States to enact legislation on the subject in accordance with their political processes.”

Niemeyer argues that the court “explicitly bypasses the relevant constitutional analysis required.” What would the right constitutional analysis look like? Niemeyer explains:

This analysis is fundamentally flawed because it fails to take into account that the “marriage” that has long been recognized by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right is distinct from the newly proposed relationship of a “same-sex marriage.” And this failure is even more pronounced by the majority’s acknowledgment that same-sex marriage is a new notion that has not been recognized “for most of our country’s history.” Moreover, the majority fails to explain how this new notion became incorporated into the traditional definition of marriage except by linguistic manipulation. Thus, the majority never asks the question necessary to finding a fundamental right—whether same-sex marriage is a right that is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if [it was] sacrificed.”

Niemeyer is particularly helpful in seeing why the analogy to interracial marriage fails. He explains that in Loving v Virginia, the case that ended bans on interracial marriage, the couple was “asserting a right to enter into a traditional marriage of the type that has always been recognized since the beginning of the Nation—a union between one man and one woman.” He concludes:

Loving simply held that race, which is completely unrelated to the institution of marriage, could not be the basis of marital restrictions. To stretch Loving’s holding to say that the right to marry is not limited by gender and sexual orientation is to ignore the inextricable, biological link between marriage and procreation that the Supreme Court has always recognized.

If the “right to marry” includes the right to redefine marriage to include whatever consenting adult romantic relationship one most desires, Niemeyer points out where this leads: “why this broad right to marry, as the majority defines it, does not also encompass the ‘right’ of a father to marry his daughter or the ‘right’ of any person to marry multiple partners.” As I pointed out in my lecture at Stanford University, such marriage redefinition simply leads to the dissolution of marriage.

When it comes to marriage, there are competing policy arguments on the definition of marriage and in a system of limited constitutional self-government, the people and their elected representatives should be making these decisions. Last summer, when the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized the limits of the majority’s opinion. He made clear that neither the holding nor its logic required redefining state marriage laws. The states remain free to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Niemeyer explains that there are good policy reasons for citizens to refrain from redefining marriage: “Only the union of a man and a woman has the capacity to produce children and thus to carry on the species. And more importantly, only such a union creates a biological family unit that also gives rise to a traditionally stable political unit.”

Indeed, “when the Supreme Court has recognized, through the years, that the right to marry is a fundamental right, it has emphasized the procreative and social ordering aspects of traditional marriage.” He went further, arguing that “the marriage of a man and a woman thus rationally promotes a correlation between biological order and political order.”

But whatever any individual American thinks about marriage, the courts shouldn’t redefine it. Marriage policy should be worked out through the democratic process, not dictated by unelected judges. The courts should uphold the freedom of the American people and their elected representatives to make marriage policy.

Niemeyer gets the issue exactly right: “The U.S. Constitution does not, in my judgment, restrict the States’ policy choices on this issue. If given the choice, some States will surely recognize same-sex marriage and some will surely not. But that is, to be sure, the beauty of federalism.” The courts should not force states to abandon caution in the face of a social experiment like the redefinition of marriage.

The post Why This Judge Dissented—and Said There Is No Right to Same-Sex Marriage appeared first on Daily Signal.

’Lame Duck’ Is Not the Time for a Highway Bill

4 hours 25 min ago

This week the Senate will debate a House-passed bill to pay for federal highway and transit programs through May 31, 2015. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wants to force action earlier, though, saying, “We must put politics aside and work together to pass a long-term transportation bill with a sustainable funding solution before the end of this Congress. A further delay extends the uncertainty.”

Boxer and her colleagues, Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced an amendment to the House bill that would move up the expiration date to the end of 2014 (and change the bill’s financing provisions). That way, Congress would be forced to pass another extension or multi-year bill before the year’s end—squarely in the lame duck session of Congress.

Why the lame duck?

The lame duck is the time period when one Congress is in session after the new one has been elected. Retiring lawmakers and those unsuccessful in getting reelected are inoculated from the consequences of passing big government, burdensome policies. “They are free, for two months and at taxpayer expense, to vote for whatever they please … without their constituents being able to do anything about it,” then-senator Jim DeMint wrote in a 2012 report on the dangers of the lame duck.

In this case, lawmakers seeking to increase the federal gasoline or diesel tax rates, to increase Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue, would get cover. In fiscal year (FY) 2015 alone, Congress is projected to spend $14-$15 billion more than the HTF will collect in revenue.

Lame duck sessions do not bode well for taxpayers. Decisions are hurried, politicized, and lack transparency. Remember the fiscal cliff deal, which Congress passed on January 1, 2013? It allowed taxes, including the payroll tax, top marginal income tax rate, death tax, and taxes on investment, to increase on Americans. So much for a Happy New Year.

Boxer and others claim Washington needs more revenue to “invest” in critical infrastructure. But the HTF has a spending, not a revenue, problem. Congress’ transportation spending decisions are based on the preferences of bureaucrats, politicians, and special interest groups instead of commuters’ mode preferences and local transportation needs. As the Heritage Foundation recently wrote, the very motorists, bus operators, and truckers who would get stuck with a fuel tax hike are the ones who would get ripped off by it.

For example, at least a quarter of HTF spending goes to non-road, non-bridge activities, such as subways, bicycle paths, ferryboats, and landscaping, which do not shorten or improve commutes for the motorists paying the fuel taxes that fund the system. Motorists could reasonably assume the diversions would continue under any fuel tax increase.

Further, the federal highway program that the fuel taxes were intended to fund has been without a guiding purpose for several decades. The interstate highway system is all but complete. Transportation challenges these days are local—as in, how to get around New York City or Dallas, Texas, not how to get from New York City to Dallas.

Washington is ill-suited to solve local transportation problems and could help the states more by just getting out of the way. Freeing the states to generate revenue and empowering them to make their own spending decisions would reduce the uncertainty that Boxer decries, and it would help the states pursue 21st century transportation systems to solve their transportation challenges.

The post ’Lame Duck’ Is Not the Time for a Highway Bill appeared first on Daily Signal.

Government Agency Faces Heat for Blocking New Sunscreen

4 hours 29 min ago

Before lawmakers adjourn for August recess, they’re expected to vote on the Sunscreen Innovation Act (H.R. 4250), designed to streamline the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory process.

Don’t look for new sunscreen on store shelves anytime soon, though. The FDA hasn’t approved a new sunscreen formula since the Clinton administration, and Time reports that there are eight different sun-bloc ingredients that have been backlogged for more than a decade.

Many formulas commonly used overseas have been held up in the United States. Unlike their European counterparts, the FDA treats sunscreen like an over-the-counter drug and subjects products to more stringent standards.

Out-of-control regulation is compromising the health and safety of Americans, says Heritage’s James Gattuso.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, argues the FDA is burning consumers. A supporter of the Senate version of the bill, Brown told reporters that “the FDA’s job is to block harmful rays, not to block sunscreen ingredients that can protect against these harmful rays.”

Wendy Selig, president of the Melanoma Research Alliance, blames an outdated regulatory system. Earlier this month, Selig told the Seattle Times that “everybody agrees that the process is broken down.”

This isn’t the first time the process has been amended, though. In 2002, the FDA instituted internal reforms that would automatically approve an over-the-counter drug after five years of foreign use without incident.

FDA officials blame employee shortages for the delays and told the Seattle Times the agency has “prioritized” review of additional sunscreen ingredients “as quickly as possible given the agency’s resources.”

James Gattuso, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, isn’t optimistic.

“This is just one more example of how out-of-control regulation can end up compromising the health and safety of Americans, rather than protect it,” he said.

Skin cancer remains the most common cancer in America today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The post Government Agency Faces Heat for Blocking New Sunscreen appeared first on Daily Signal.

Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Thomas Credits Family for Success

5 hours 55 min ago

At the plate, Frank Thomas struck fear into the hearts of pitchers throughout Major League Baseball. At Cooperstown on Sunday, Thomas battled back tears during an emotional Hall of Fame speech crediting his family for his success.

A consecutive two-time MVP, and one of the best hitters in baseball history, Thomas chose to celebrate his family rather than the statistics that punctuated his career.

A mountain of a man, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Thomas broke down when remembering his father, Frank Sr.

As tears fell and voice cracked, the Hall of Famer thanked his father for “pushing me, and always preaching to me, ‘You can be someone special if you really work at it.’ I took that to heart, Pops. Look at us today.”

Looking to his mother, Charlie Mae, Thomas said of his childhood, “raising all of us was tough but you and dad made sure we made it.”

Thomas reserved some of his most tender words for his wife Megan, who came into his life 15 years ago “when life was throwing me a curveball that I could not hit.” Thomas thanked his wife most of all for teaching him the principle of “family first.”

>>> Watch the full 18-minute video of Frank Thomas’ speech

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Sunday’s Hall of Fame initiation caps a career of superlatives. Thomas keeps legendary company with the likes of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mel Ott as the only players to hit at least a .300 average with more than 500 homers, 1,500 RBI, 1,000 runs and 1,500 walks in history.

Dubbed “the Big Hurt” by White Sox commentator Ken Harrelson, Thomas would swing a rusty piece of rebar in the warm-up circle before stepping to the plate. During his career, Thomas played most on the South Side with the White Sox, and spent seasons with the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays.

A vocal opponent of steroid use, Thomas never used any banned substance and is the first slugger from that era of baseball to become enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

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Her Doctor Told Her Many Would Abort. Now Congresswoman’s ‘Miracle Baby’ Is a Year Old.

6 hours 9 min ago

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., told Fox and Friends Monday that “even well-meaning doctors don’t always know” best.  After discovering her daughter had been diagnosed with a rare fetal syndrome, Beutler’s doctor told her  that many women “would be scheduling a termination now,”  Beutler told People. Doctors wrongly predicted Beutler’s daughter wouldn’t survive past pregnancy because of her lack of kidneys, but the now 1-year-old “miracle” child proved them wrong.

The post Her Doctor Told Her Many Would Abort. Now Congresswoman’s ‘Miracle Baby’ Is a Year Old. appeared first on Daily Signal.

Virginia Senate Candidates Spar Over Reauthorizing Export-Import Bank

6 hours 23 min ago

As Virginia’s race for the U.S. Senate heats up, the Export-Import Bank has emerged as a key difference between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and his Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie.

The candidates faced off for a debate Saturday covering a myriad of topics, including the Export-Import Bank. Warner, who supports the bank’s reauthorization, came under attack from Gillespie, who said the senator was failing to stand up to the special interests.

The Export-Import Bank provides taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees to foreign countries and companies. Its charter expires Sept. 30, and Congress is currently debating whether to reauthorize it or not.

When asked about the 80-year-old bank during the debate, Warner pointed to the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Congress as two of the most vocal supporters of the agency.

“[Ex-Im] supports American businesses in a global economy, giving them a financial backstop,” he said, according to a report by Politico.

Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he was sympathetic to the arguments of Ex-Im supporters—who often say the bank helps small businesses compete in the global market and creates jobs in the United States—and noted “it’s an area where we can get some savings.”

But he also criticized Warner for failing to buck the influence of special interests. Gillespie said:

“I know it’s hard to stand up to the Chamber of Commerce [and] the National Association of Manufacturers, but that’s the job of a senator.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce teamed up with NAM and more than 800 companies last month for a well-funded campaign designed to rally support for Ex-Im.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is expected to introduce a bill reauthorizing the bank for five more years before lawmakers break for the month-long August recess, which begins at the end of the week.

But conservatives in the House of Representatives, led by Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, would rather see Ex-Im’s charter expire in September without any action from Congress.

Hensarling has the backing of organizations like Heritage Action for America and Americans for Prosperity in opposing the bank, as they believe it furthers cronyism and corporate welfare.

The post Virginia Senate Candidates Spar Over Reauthorizing Export-Import Bank appeared first on Daily Signal.

Social Security Report: Massive Deficits Increase Unfunded Obligation by $1.1 Trillion

6 hours 33 min ago

Today’s release of the 2014 Social Security Trustees Report shows its programs’ finances are in dire need of reform if the programs are to provide to seniors and the disabled protection from poverty and do so in an affordable and sustainable manner.

Social Security paid out nearly $71 billion more to retirees and other beneficiaries than it collected in tax revenue in 2013. This is the fourth straight year the retirement and disability programs are running cash-flow deficits, as highlighted in today’s trustee report.

Deficits are only growing worse. The trustees project $80 billion in deficits in 2014, which will more than double before the end of the decade. At $110 billion in average annual deficits throughout the next decade, the combined programs are facing more than a trillion dollars in deficits just over the next 10 years.

Social Security’s reported long-term (through the end of 2088) unfunded obligation of $10.6 trillion is further exacerbated by the $2.8 trillion in IOUs in the old-age security (OAS) and disability insurance (DI) trust funds.

Since the trust funds hold no economic assets, but treasury securities which have to be financed through tax increases, borrowing, or by making other spending cuts to pay scheduled benefits, Social Security’s actual long-term unfunded obligations total $13.4 trillion.

This means that Social Security’s unfunded obligation rose by $1.1 trillion compared to last year, when it was projected at $12.3 trillion.

About 47 million people receive benefit payments from Social Security’s retirement program and about 11 million people receive payments from the disability insurance program. When each respective trust fund becomes exhausted, beneficiaries face automatic benefit cuts.

The DI trust fund is projected to be exhausted by the end of 2016, threatening its beneficiaries with a 19 percent benefit cut. This would bring the average DI benefit payment to below the federal poverty level. Congress should make reforms to DI, which has increasingly become an early retirement and long-term unemployment program, to preserve it for the truly disabled while limiting unnecessary awards and enabling beneficiaries to return to work as they are able.

The retirement trust fund is projected to be exhausted by 2033, just as today’s newborns would go off to college. Waiting until then to make reforms would be a big mistake, however, as any changes to benefits or taxes would be much more severe than if Congress acted sooner.

Reforms are urgent today to strengthen benefits for Social Security’s most vulnerable populations without burdening younger working generations with a higher debt and tax burden. Lawmakers should immediately replace the current COLA adjustment with the more accurate chained CPI, raise the early and full-retirement ages gradually and index both to changes in longevity, and focus Social Security benefits on those who need them most.

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This Chart Proves the War on Poverty Has Been a Catastrophic Failure

10 hours 5 min ago

People wait in line to apply for benefits at the Gwinnett County Department of Family and Childrens Services.This office has been so overwhelmed by applicants that the fire marshall had to close it down one day. (Photo: © Erik Lesser/ZUMAPRESS.com)

For the past 50 years, the government’s annual poverty rate has hardly changed at all. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 percent of Americans still live in poverty, roughly the same rate as the mid-1960s when the War on Poverty was just starting. After adjusting for inflation, federal and state welfare spending today is 16 times greater than it was when President Johnson launched the War on Poverty. If converted into cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all official poverty in the U.S. How can the government spend so much while poverty remains unchanged?

>>> For more articles like this, check out the 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity

The answer is simple: The U.S. Bureau of the Census official “poverty” figures are woefully incomplete. The Census defines a family as poor if its annual “income” falls below specific poverty income thresholds. In counting “income,” the Census includes wages and salaries but excludes nearly all welfare benefits. The federal government runs over 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans. Government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012; roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. (These figures do not include Social Security or Medicare.)

Of the $916 billion in means-tested welfare spending in 2012, the Census counted only about 3 percent as “income” for purposes of measuring poverty. In other words, the government’s official “poverty” measure is not helpful for measuring actual living conditions.

On the other hand, the Census poverty numbers do provide a very useful measure of “self-sufficiency”: the ability of a family to sustain an income above the poverty threshold without welfare assistance. The Census is accurate in reporting there has been no improvement in self-sufficiency for the past 45 years.

Ironically, self-sufficiency was President Johnson’s original goal in launching his War on Poverty. Johnson promised his war would remove the “causes not just the consequences of poverty.” He stated, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” Johnson did not intend to put more Americans on the dole. Instead, he explicitly sought to reduce the future need for welfare by making lower-income Americans productive and self-sufficient.

By this standard, the War on Poverty has been a catastrophic failure. After spending more than $20 trillion on Johnson’s war, many Americans are less capable of self-support than when the war began. This lack of progress is, in a major part, due to the welfare system itself. Welfare breaks down the habits and norms that lead to self-reliance, especially those of marriage and work. It thereby generates a pattern of increasing inter-generational dependence. The welfare state is self-perpetuating: By undermining productive social norms, welfare creates a need for even greater assistance in the future. Reforms should focus on these programs’ incentive structure to point the way toward self-sufficiency. One step is communicating that the poverty rate is better understood as self-sufficiency rate—that is, we should measure how many Americans can take care of themselves and their families.

The post This Chart Proves the War on Poverty Has Been a Catastrophic Failure appeared first on Daily Signal.

Religious Leader Looks to West For Help for Iraqi Christians

10 hours 57 min ago

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch is appealing to the international community for action against ISIS’ expulsion of Christians in Mosul, deeming the situation as “21st century genocide.”

“It’s mass cleansing based on religion.” Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said. “It is a shame that in the 21st century we have such behavior.”

Sako said Western countries and the United Nations must go beyond condemnation and take rectifying action.

“This is the responsibility of a nation like the United States that cherishes democracy, freedom of religion and freedom of conscious,” Sako said.

The patriarch cited his contacts in Mosul who say the area is now devoid of Christian presence following ISIS’ ultimatum earlier this month.

“It is tragic because that city was the nucleus of Christian presence for many centuries,” Sako said. “We have at least 25 churches in that city. All are abandoned. There’s no more prayer service, no more masses on Sundays in Mosul because there’s no clergy, no people there that are Christians.”

Sako said ISIS took advantage of “defenseless” Christians, unjustly driving them out of the region in an effort of “religious cleansing.”

“When [ISIS] writes the letter “n” [meaning Christian in Arabic] to single out [the homes of] Christian families, that means they are evaporating the city of its Christian population. It is mass evaporation. It’s a genocide of the 21st century.”

Many refugees fled to the nearby city Qaraqosh to seek asylum under the Kurdish government, which has promised to protect them by lining the city’s border with soldiers to repel ISIS.

But even this barrier is proving faulty as ISIS gains control of the city’s water and electricity sources. Sako said this conflict has cut the city off from other villages, making it difficult for families to find income.

“Lately we heard that the Kurdish government has stepped up to help them with some financial assistance to each family, but this is a very tough situation for them,” Sako said.

Sako noted that Christians must make clear to ISIS that they don’t have intentions to fight or govern, but that they have the right to peacefully live in the land of their “forefathers” as they have for the past 2,000 years.

To Sako, a permanent solution to sectarian conflicts is to follow the West and adopt a law that separates the government from religion. He said governments that forcibly impose a single religion on an entire population cannot be accepted in the 21st century.

“Let’s live together as full right citizens, as brothers and sisters and everyone will follow his or her own religion.”

The post Religious Leader Looks to West For Help for Iraqi Christians appeared first on Daily Signal.

Can the House of Representatives Sue Obama for Not Executing the Law?

17 hours 29 min ago

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, believes he has the key to reining in the executive branch: suing President Barack Obama for not faithfully executing the law. But while Obama has repeatedly waived requirements of laws or chosen not to enforce them against whole categories of offenders, there’s a legal requirement known as “standing” that may stop Boehner in his tracks.

As John Malcolm and I detail in this Heritage paper, standing is a constitutional requirement for all lawsuits, including suits filed against the executive branch by private citizens, individual members of Congress, or an entire chamber of Congress. In essence, the standing requirement means that Boehner must be able to show that Obama’s failure to faithfully execute the law actually harms the House of Representatives, leaving it little recourse without court intervention.

Courts are generally reluctant to become referees in disputes between members of Congress and the executive branch when it would force them to police the limits of coequal branches’ powers. In such a case, it’s better for the political branches to work out their differences on their own—and Congress has tools such as appropriations and impeachment to deal with an obstinate president.

For this reason, most successful lawsuits challenging an administration’s abusive unilateral actions have been filed by private parties that suffered a demonstrable economic injury. A steel company challenged President Harry Truman’s attempt to nationalize American steel mills. After members of Congress failed in their lawsuit challenging the Line Item Veto Act, New York City and a group of businesses got the Act overturned. And recently, a bottling company brought down Obama’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

Boehner has laid out a plan for suing Obama and other executive branch officials for their failure to fully implement Obamacare. You may be wondering why the party that has tried to defund and repeal Obamacare would sue to get the administration to fully implement that same law. The answer is pretty simple: the president’s failure to implement the law “squelches any opportunity to have a robust, political debate about [its] workability,” as law professor Elizabeth Price Foley pointed out.

Boehner argues that the House can sue (as an institution) if there are no private parties who can sue, there is harm being done to the general welfare and faithful execution of the laws, and no legislative remedies exist. Late last week the House Rules Committee approved a resolution that would authorize such a lawsuit.

Boehner will face an uphill battle in this lawsuit. But critics should not be so quick to dismiss this case. The administration and many others claimed suits challenging Obamacare’s “individual mandate” under the Commerce Clause were laughable and lacked any merit. (Recall then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded, “Are you serious?” to someone asking about Congress’s power to enact the individual mandate.)

But ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed that the individual mandate could not be justified under the Commerce Clause, and instead turned the mandate into a tax to uphold it. Boehner’s lawsuit may also surprise its critics.

The post Can the House of Representatives Sue Obama for Not Executing the Law? appeared first on Daily Signal.

Schools Brace for Flood of Immigrant Children

17 hours 30 min ago

MIAMI—With thousands of Central American children newly arrived in the United States, and more expected to come, school officials have asked the federal government for a helping hand.

Immigrant kids cost about $1,900 more per pupil to educate. Teachers must be bilingual. The students will need health care and psychological services because many arrive sick and traumatized by things they’ve experienced.

Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, communications officer at the Miami-Dade County Public School, said until now the school district has relied on its emergency funds to help cover the costs.

“We are asking the federal government to help us with this additional cost,” she said. “We are here to help those children. We have a history of helping them, as we did when the earthquake hit Haiti, and when political problems arose in Cuba. We won’t stop providing them an education. But we don’t want the [local] taxpayer to pay for it. That’s why we are asking for federal funds.”

She said that just before the end of school in June, her district saw about 300 immigrant kids, coming from Honduras. She said the system won’t know how many more kids are coming from Central America this year until shortly before the school year begins.

The Palm Beach County School District has yet to see an uptick in border kids enrolling, but it won’t be caught off guard if this happens. It absorbed hundreds of children after the Haiti earthquake.

But at the Guatemalan Mayan Center, a Lake Worth, Fla.-based community organization that offers assistance and language classes to immigrants, a class to help children learn English before they enter American schools has grown from three students last year to 50 this year, according to Micaela Marti, a volunteer.

In Pasco County, shelters expect to double their capacity.

And in Brevard County, the Children’s Home Society of Florida confirmed that some unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border of the U.S. will be sent to local foster homes in the state next month.

Read more on Watchdog.org.

The post Schools Brace for Flood of Immigrant Children appeared first on Daily Signal.

I Played by the Rules on Immigration. Why Is the U.S. Making It So Hard for Me to Become a Doctor?

17 hours 30 min ago

Fifteen years ago, when I was 6, my parents and I moved to the United States from Canada, where I was born. Since moving to this great country, I have attended elementary, middle and high school in Coral Springs, Fla., and I’m currently pursuing a bachelor degree in biological sciences and pre-med at Florida Atlantic University.

Photo: Marcie Macknofsky

I’m also a “non-resident alien,” meaning I was able to stay in the United States first under a visa because of my father’s job and now thanks to a student visa. But because of my status as a non-resident alien, I have paid out-of-state tuition during my time at Florida Atlantic.

Even under the new law signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott—which grants in-state tuition to students living illegally in the United States—I’m left paying out-of-state rates.

How can someone who is living in the United States illegally get a tuition break but I get penalized for doing things legally?

My father has been on a nonimmigrant NAFTA professional visa as part of his job for 15 years. He personifies a typical hard-working American citizen. He has paid his taxes in the United States and has worked feverishly as a computer consultant but could not be sponsored for a green card until recently, when he was hired as a full-time employee.

Upon receiving the news he’s now being sponsored for a green card, I was ecstatic for my father and also excited that I would be able to attend medical school in the United States.

L-R Marcie, Brandon, Jeffrey, Amber (Photo: Marcie Macknofsky)

My feeling quickly changed, though, when I learned that even though my father was able to “grandfather” both my mother and sister on his green card, I would be excluded since I turned 21 on Dec. 20, 2013. I already have aged out. (I also have a 5-year-old U.S.-born brother.)

Now, I find it is nearly impossible to become a physician and attend medical school in the United States. I cannot go to a state medical school as I am considered an international student, despite my extensive education and residency in the United States.

I’ve considered alternatives, such as attending a private university. But few will accept a student without a green card. And without a green card or an American co-signer, I cannot obtain any sort of scholarship or student loan being a Canadian citizen. Without a loan, I can’t afford the cost of tuition for medical school.

At Florida Atlantic University, I have a 3.87 GPA, tutor for biochemistry and work up to 10-hour shifts as a hospital emergency room physician scribe a few times a week. At a time when the United States is facing a shortage of doctors, I’m committed to a career in medicine. I’ve been so grateful for the opportunities in life that I hope I can give back to my community through medicine.

Photo: Marcie Macknofsky

I believe that being a doctor is a calling to me as I wish to help others in the way that physicians have helped me. From being hit by a truck when I was in high school to saving one of my best friend’s life from lung cancer at the age of 19, what doctors do on a daily basis is sheerly incomprehensible, and all I want to have is the opportunity to follow my version of the American dream.

For the past 15 years, I’ve come to call the United States my home. I consider myself an American in every way, and I hope that one day, I’ll become a citizen. In the meantime, though, I hope our nation’s leaders will remember those of us who are following a legal path to citizenship and at least level the playing field for us.

The post I Played by the Rules on Immigration. Why Is the U.S. Making It So Hard for Me to Become a Doctor? appeared first on Daily Signal.

Frustrated With Federal ‘Bullying’ Over Mouse, Ranchers Take Their Case to Congress

17 hours 30 min ago

The battle over the meadow jumping mouse moved has from New Mexico to Washington, D.C.

Ranchers who complain the federal government is acting with a heavy hand to protect the mouse appeared at a congressional hearing last week conducted by the House Natural Resources Committee.

Among the New Mexico contingent was a member of a hunting and fishing group who defended the U.S. Forest Service.

>>> Why a Chicken and a Mouse Are Stirring Debate in New Mexico

“They are abiding by the law,” Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said of the Forest Service, which has reinforced a gate to keep out cattle along a creek in Otero County and is considering a 4-foot-high fence in a meadow in the Santa Fe National Forest near Los Alamos.

At issue is trying to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse, listed earlier this summer as endangered.

“What’s good for the meadow jumping mouse is also good for big game,” VeneKlasen said.

Other witnesses called before the subcommittee told a different story.

Jose Varela Lopez, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said his family has ranched in New Mexico for decades. He accused the federal government of going overboard, accusing officials of trying to “extinguish the customs and culture of our country’s land-based people.”

>>> New Mexico’s Mouse War Escalates

Mike Lucero, a rancher fighting the proposed fence accused the Forest Service of mismanagement. “If we’ve been overgrazing, why have they not told us that we have?” Lucero asked, pointing to a photo of the Rio Cebollo creek that runs through a grassy meadow.

The only New Mexico lawmaker at the hearing, Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, sided with the ranchers. “The arrogance and the bullying by the federal government must stop,” he said at the start of the hearing.

It’s not clear whether Thursday’s hearing will prompt further congressional action, but it seemed clear each side sees the controversy in a very different way.

Read more on Watchdog.org.

The post Frustrated With Federal ‘Bullying’ Over Mouse, Ranchers Take Their Case to Congress appeared first on Daily Signal.

Oklahoma Congressman Fights Plan to House Illegal Immigrants at Military Bases

17 hours 31 min ago

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a freshman congressman and Navy pilot whose military awards decorate his Capitol Hill office, holds a special affection for fellow servicemen.

The Oklahoma Republican also is sympathetic to Central American children who are being smuggled into the United States from Mexico to reunite with family.

Bridenstine witnessed the intersection of those two disparate demographics when, on July 12,  he toured a processing center for unaccompanied migrant children at the Fort Sill Army post in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Bridenstine had originally been barred from entering the federal facility housing illegal immigrants from Central America, but finally, 12 days after his first attempt, earned access into the living quarters.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Signal, Bridenstine called for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the processing centers, to stop housing minors at U.S. military bases.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week approved a request from HHS to house an additional 5,000 minors at military facilities, including Fort Sill, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and Naval Base Ventura County in California. The agreement commits those facilities to be used through Jan. 31, 2015.

The announcement has fueled concerns that what was initially described as a short-term measure is becoming an open-ended commitment.

“Military bases were not designed to be refugee camps,” Bridenstine said. “We need to get these facilities back so that we can have the troops do the training they need to do.”

The post Oklahoma Congressman Fights Plan to House Illegal Immigrants at Military Bases appeared first on Daily Signal.

Will Congress Delay August Recess to Address Border Crisis?

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 13:20

Despite repeated prodding from “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, Rep. Steve Scalise wouldn’t definitively say whether the U.S. House would delay its month-long August recess and remain in Washington, D.C., to address the flood of illegal immigrants coming to the United States.

“We’re going to get our job done,” said Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who will become majority whip this week.

Several bills addressing the influx of illegal immigrants crossing the country’s southern border have been introduced in the House and Senate. Lawmakers have yet to take action, prompting President Obama to criticize them and suggest postponing recess.

The post Will Congress Delay August Recess to Address Border Crisis? appeared first on Daily Signal.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Hamas Violated Cease-Fire With Israel

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 13:00

As violence in Israel and Gaza continues, hope for a break in the conflict was quickly shattered as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas violated the cease-fire. Hamas offered a 24-hour cease-fire beginning at 2 p.m. local time today. But Netanyahu told both “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace and “State of the Union” host Candy Crowley the group was “continuing to fire at us as we speak.”

The post Benjamin Netanyahu: Hamas Violated Cease-Fire With Israel appeared first on Daily Signal.