President Obama said the Justice Department is reviewing its guidelines for overseeing leak investigations, in the wake of probes that included the government’s seizure of Associated Press phone records.
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U.S. to Review Leak-Investigation Guidelines
Americans are spun up on scary stories about the National Rifle Association. But, there is another NRA to worry about if you appreciate lower prices for gasoline or popcorn at the movies: the National Restaurant Association. The other NRA represents large and small restaurants, but by hijacking the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation writing process for implementing President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Food Marketing Institute, a supermarket trade groups, estimates that cost of the new rules as more than $1 billion in new menu reporting and labeling burdens. The restaurant industry had two problems it wanted to solve at the federal level. First, the restaurants wanted to use federal preemption to create national menu-labeling standards, which would free them from the hassle and expense of satisfying the horse blanket of state and local rules for an industry that thrives on uniformity. Already New York City and the state of California had created irksome menu and labeling ordinances. In its Sept. 7, 2010 letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the NRA specifically called for the agency to pressure the states into “national uniformity.” Armed with its national standards codified in PPACA, the restaurants did not want any delays. Second, the NRA wanted to beat back encroachment from the gas stations, convenience stores and supermarkets, which were selling compelling alternates to their fare. Under the proposed FDA rules, grocery stores and supermarkets, never mentioned in the PPACA, would have to provide precise nutritional information for sheet cakes, by the slice and by the sheet. This second step would force non-restaurant competitors to compete on a field the NRA designed with more home court advantages than the old Boston Garden’s warped parquet floor. Consider a supermarket’s soup kettle next to the salad bar. Every day the soup changes depending on what vegetables and meats are going to expire. Even the “same” chicken noodle soup is different every time it’s made because of the same factors. Yet, the FDA wants the same level of detail as one would get from a Big Mac that has been sold trillions of times, but figured out once and just posted. The gas stations were a particular target because a business with more than 50 percent of its revenues from motor fuels, the tax definition of a gas station, could deduct capital investments, such as pumps and fuel tanks, over 15 years. But, the doughnut shop across the street was stuck with a 32-year schedule. An advocate working for the supermarkets and convenience stores told me that early in the development of the PPACA, he met with restaurant industry lobbyists and at the time there was no hint that the stores were going to be part of the law. One of the ways the NRA pulled it off was to submit comments to the FDA – the entity charged with implementing the law – recommending that the regulations include gas stations and stores, as if they belonged under the new regime, he said. “NRA absolutely submitted photographs of convenience stores and supermarkets in their packets with rationale for why they should be included in these regulations,” said Lyle Beckwith, a senior vice-president for government relations with the National Association of Convenience Stores. In fact, in one of its comments to the FDA, the NRA included photos of Sheetz, a gas and convenience chain, just to bring the point home. A fair metric of whether a business is a restaurant would be similar to the one used to decide the definition of a gas station, the insider said. If an establishment, like a Wawa or a Sheetz, generates more than 50 percent of its sales from the sale of ready-to-eat food, then they will comply as a restaurant. “They know that if you walk like a restaurant and quack like a restaurant, you will be treated like a restaurant,” Beckwith said. “But, the rest of the industry doesn’t.” Not good enough for the NRA. In its July 5, 2011 letter to the FDA, the NRA made the case for its preferred standard: 50 percent of the gross floor sales, a ridiculous standard. Then, in the next section of the letter, the NRA complained that the FDA unjustifiably excluded movie theaters. Next time you drop $15 on popcorn and two sodas, ask your date how they enjoyed the fine dining of a true NRA-approved restaurant experience. Section 4205 of the PPACA indicates that the menu-labeling rules will apply to restaurants and “similar retail food establishments” with 20 or more locations. To make sure none of the restaurant competitors could escape the reach of the new NRA-inspired rules, the NRA argued in its July 5, 2011 letter that the phrase should include gas stations, convenience stores and food courts or other food service inside an ordinary retail store. FDA accepted and adopted this suggestion. Piling on, in the letter the NRA cautioned the FDA that any attempt to narrowly define what businesses were actually restaurants or not would “run afoul of the plain language” in the healthcare law. The chain requirement seems sensible enough on its face, until you consider that the FDA has ruled that all of the nearly 5,000 supermarket members of the Independent Grocer Alliance are members of a chain because they share a logo. Many of the IGA supermarkets are really one-unit operators. The same rule pulls in thousands of independent gas stations and convenience store franchises, which in every way are separate and distinct businesses, not set up to take on new Obamacare burdens with the ease of a real 20-unit chain. This rule alone will hurt thousands of the mom-and-pop businesses politicians always promise to protect. NACS’ Beckwith said the reality of the rule is that gas stations and convenience stores will have to bring in real chain restaurants, such as NRA members: Subways or Dunkin Donuts, to mitigate the burden of the new FDA regulations. Not only will the FDA rules punish NRA competitors, but they will force gas stations and stores to bring NRA members inside to take over the ready-to-eat business for themselves, he said. One of the difficulties facing the stores and stations is that the FDA withdrew its “Draft Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers Regarding Implementation of the Menu Labeling Provisions of Section 4205 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010,” in January 2011 after the consistent uproar that resulted when it was released in August 2010. The non-restarants are forced to wait for the FDA to publish its next attempt, but the months drag on and there is no sign that the agency is close. In the House, there is a bill sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R.-Wash.), the fourth-ranking leader in the GOP conference, which will straighten out how the FDA implements the PPACA. The bill, H.R. 1249, would clarify that, among other things, restaurants are restaurants and sandwiches packed in a gas station refrigerator are not. Whether McMorris-Rodgers’ bill becomes law or not may hinge on whether it is viewed as relief for businesses caught flat-footed as the NRA hooked them up or if it looks like a healthcare reform cutout. There is still a split on Capitol Hill among opponents of PPACA. While some look for every chance to pick away at the president’s landmark law, others are afraid to fix the most hated parts of the law, lest these fixes release so much of the built-up pressure for complete repeal that the bulk of the legislation remains—forever. Supporters of the bill would be better off framing this as a case of the government picking winners and losers, which should be the magic words. The post The other NRA sets up $1B stick up of gas stations, convenience stores appeared first on Human Events .
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The other NRA sets up $1B stick up of gas stations, convenience stores
Would you like to have a “skinny” health insurance policy? Probably not. But if you’re employed by a large company, you may get one, thanks to Obamacare. That’s the conclusion of Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews. They report that insurance brokers are pitching and selling “low-benefit” policies across the country. You might be wondering what a “skinny” or “low-benefit” insurance plan is. The terms may vary, but the basic idea is that policies would cover preventive care, a limited number of doctor visits and perhaps generic drugs. They wouldn’t cover things such as surgery, hospital stays or prenatal care. That sounds similar to an auto insurance policy that reimburses you when you change the oil but not when your car gets totaled. You might ask how Obamacare could encourage the proliferation of such policies. It was sold as a way to provide more coverage for more people, after all. And people were told they could keep the health insurance they had. As Weaver and Mathews explain, Obamacare’s requirement that insurance policies include “essential” benefits such as mental health services apply only to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. But larger employers, they write, “need only cover preventive service, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit, in order to avoid the across-the-workforce penalty.” Low-benefit plans may cost an employer only $40 to $100 a month per employee. That’s less than the $2,000-per-employee penalty for providing no insurance. “We wouldn’t have anticipated that there’d be demand for these type of Band-Aid plans in 2014,” the Journal quotes former White House health adviser Robert Kocher. “Our expectation was that employers would offer high-quality insurance.” Oops. It turns out that Friedrich Hayek may have been right when he wrote that central planners would never have enough information to micromanage the economy. It’s probably true that businesses trying to attract and retain high-skill employees for long-term positions have an economic incentive to offer generous and attractive health insurance. Otherwise they’d lose good people to competitors. But the kind of businesses mentioned in the Journal story — restaurants, retailers, assisted-living chains — tend to employ lower-skill workers who typically work there only temporarily. In a high-unemployment economy they may not need to offer gold-plated health insurance to get the workforce they need. Such employers would have to pay a $3,000 penalty for each employee who buys insurance on Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges. But it seems likely that many workers, especially young ones, would opt not to pay the hefty premiums for that. The problem here is that Obamacare’s architects seem to misunderstand the concept of insurance. People buy insurance to pay for low-probability, high-cost and undesirable events. It doesn’t make sense to hold onto enough cash to replace your house if it burns when you can buy an insurance policy that will cover that unlikely disaster. But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a different idea of what insurance is. In response to an American Society of Actuaries report that health insurance premiums would rise 32 percent under Obamacare, she said, “Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don’t pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus.” Her idea apparently is that insurance should pay for just about every health care procedure. In her defense, the World War II decision to make the cost of health insurance deductible for employers and nontaxable for employees has moved things in that direction. Many people have come to expect that. But as the Daily Beast’s Megan McArdle commented, “Coverage of routine, predictable services is not insurance at all; it’s a spectacularly inefficient prepayment plan.” Some Obamacare architects, including its namesake, want to move toward a single-payer system in which government would pay all health care costs. Many Obamacare opponents want a bigger role for markets, allowing consumers to choose insurance that covers catastrophes and paying for routine costs with tax-free (and in some cases subsidized) dollars. But if large numbers of employees are enrolled in “skinny” health insurance plans, as the Wall Street Journal article suggests, Obamacare will have produced an unanticipated outcome no one wants. People stuck with these policies will have insurance that pays for the equivalent of oil changes (up to six a year!) but not for the equivalent of wrecked car. Just the opposite of real insurance. Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner. The post Low-skilled Worked Get Raw Deal Under Obamacare appeared first on Human Events .
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Low-skilled Worked Get Raw Deal Under Obamacare
For all the complaining the left has done about those shadowy outside political groups subverting the democratic process, we recently learned that no one has the means to undercut freedom of expression quite like an enthusiastic government agency. Appropriately, nearly everyone in Washington is professing and/or pretending to be outraged that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups . Yet if we’re to believe recent polls, an uninformed President Barack Obama (similarly outraged as he watches events unfold on the news) hasn’t shouldered much of the blame for scandalmania just yet — and perhaps he may never be damaged. And so what? Though the president’s fate seems to be the paramount concern of the leftist punditry (a group that now argues that any “real” scandal is only one in which the president had personal knowledge of misconduct in real time — meaning, one supposes, that Abu Ghraib should be retroactively reclassified as a non-scandal for George W. Bush), it matters not. Even with an adoring public, the chances of Obama’s pushing through any substantive legislation before 2014 — or even 2016 — were slim at best. Those poll-ignoring obstructionists in the House will see to it. The president won’t be running for re-election, but progressivism will. And the most vital element of Obama’s agenda, no matter where any of these investigations lead, has already taken a big hit — and that’s the electorate’s trust in government. A recent Pew Research Center poll has found that only 26 percent of Americans trust government to make the right decisions, with 73 percent having little confidence in government. A very recent Fox News poll found that about two-thirds of voters feel the government is “out of control and threatening their civil liberties.” Those people have it just mostly right, because government isn’t exactly “out of control.” The problem is that it has too much control over too many aspects of the political process (among other things). Though it’s imperative to get to the bottom of the Justice Department’s attacks on the First Amendment, the Benghazi situation and the IRS’ attack on free speech — for most people, the most tangible and comprehensible of all the recent scandals — it is also imperative to point out the conditions that make this kind of abuse possible. The raison d’etre of the Obama era, ultimately, has been to convince you that government is trustworthy. It isn’t. If, as some argue, a few pencil pushers have the capability to obstruct the right of thousands of Americans to assemble (without being noticed for a year), then the IRS is too vast. If, as others argue, higher-ups surely gave the orders to shut down conservative groups, that tells us the IRS is too easily corruptible — and too powerful. It is also impossible to compartmentalize government from politics. Democrats have treated limited-government types not as political opponents or mere ideological adversaries but with a deep moral contempt typically reserved for violent enemies of the state. Those who were targeted were — as left-wing politicians and pundits have tagged them — radicals, extremists, nihilists, racists and so on, people who congregate in groups funded by dirty money provided by puppet masters. Why wouldn’t the IRS want to investigate these people? Now, I’m under no misconceptions that America is about to go libertarian. But heightened skepticism toward power is good news. So for those who believe in limited government, this might be the time not only to attack Obama but to argue that abuse of power is the perpetual condition of an activist Washington, not a quirk of the times. ————————— Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter @davidharsanyi . The post Obama May Survive, but Scandals a Blow to Left appeared first on Human Events .
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Obama May Survive, but Scandals a Blow to Left
By Doug Palmer WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major trade legislation appears increasingly likely to clear Congress this year despite an intensely partisan atmosphere made worse by scandals plaguing President Barack Obama’s administration. Business groups are preparing to push for the bill, which would give the White House enhanced ability to negotiate trade deals and set out U.S. negotiating goals on issues ranging from cross-border electronic data flows to global supply chains and potentially even foreign currency practices. …
-By Warner Todd Huston MSNBC’s Morning Joe host, Joe Scarborough, is nearly apoplectic over the recent IRS admission that it used the power of its office to intimidate conservative groups throughout Obama’s presidency. Not necessarily because the IRS was acting so poorly, but because the scandal hurts his anti-gun argument. During the recent debate over gun control
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Joe Scarborough: This IRS Scandal Sure Hurts My Anti-Gun, Let’s Trust Government Argument
An interesting juxtaposition from The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza Can Obama bridge the divide between the two Americas? John Edwards was right. There are two Americas. In one America, the events of the past 10 days have exposed the true colors of President Obama and his administration. From edited talking points about the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack
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Obama’s Two Americas
Lawmakers are tussling over the Obama administration’s plans to create a small army of assistants to guide millions of Americans, as they sign up for new health-insurance options available this fall.
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Role of Health-Law ‘Navigators’ Under Fire
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama was being briefed on the response to the deadly tornado in Oklahoma and will deliver a statement at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) Tuesday, the White House said. Obama spoke Monday night with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and U.S. Representative Tom Cole to express sympathy and condolences, the White House said. He has approved federal disaster funding to help victims support recovery efforts. (Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Doina Chiacu)
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Obama to make statement on Oklahoma disaster: White House