Tag archives: Federal Government

Congressmen Defend Federal Role in Blocking D.C. Marijuana Legalization

by Nick Frase

December 17, 2014

Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) has been blacklisted from a local Washington D.C. bike shop, at least according to the sign in their window reading “Andy Harris Not Welcome.” For those planning to visit who want to avoid a similar fate, the cautionary tale here is don’t expect to uphold federal marijuana laws in the District if you want to get your derailleur adjusted.

Earlier this month, Rep. Harris successfully attached bipartisan language to the omnibus spending deal designed to block enactment of a marijuana legalization initiative that the District passed in November. Pot activists have decried the action as an example of an outsider meddling in local affairs. “You don’t serve us, we don’t serve you” is the tagline to their blacklist sign, a reference to the fact that Rep. Harris’ district is in Maryland and not in D.C.

What’s going on, aren’t Republican’s for self-government and local control?

It’s a fair question to ask and one that Rep. Harris along with Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) have addressed in a Washington Post op-ed. I won’t attempt to repeat it here but the thrust of the argument is: yes, Republicans are the party of self-government and local control, but they’re also the party of the Constitution and respect for the rule of law.

Federal law is explicit, under the Controlled Substances Act it is unlawful to manufacture, distribute or possess marijuana. Furthermore, Article I, § 8, cl. 17I of the Constitution grants Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever” over the District of Columbia. The charge that Congress is somehow treating the District unfairly or in a way they would not treat another city ignores the fact that the District is unlike any other city.

Every year, the Appropriations Committee, on which Rep. Harris sits, provides federal payments to the tune of $500,000,000 to the District of Columbia for the cost of judges, court personnel and defendant representation. They provide payments for programs in areas like education and security. The Department of Justice provides payment for federal attorneys to prosecute local crimes and house prisoners. Federal taxpayers do not fund similar activities in any other city.

As Reps. Harris and Pitts rightly point out in their op-ed, if marijuana laws aren’t confusing enough, nearly a quarter of the District is federal park land and is policed by 26 different enforcement agencies—places and personnel that would still answer to federal law, not D.C. legalization.

Congress has a direct responsibility over the District of Columbia. One that apparently gets you kicked out of bike shops.

A Contract Job Worth Keeping

by Leanna Baumer

October 17, 2013

After a mad scramble to pass legislation resolving the government shut down and extending a cap on federal borrowing authority, the House quickly agreed to one additional resolution late last night. In a nod to a lingering shutdown-related question pertaining to the role certain contract ministers and religious services employees play in our military, the House agreed unanimously to an amended version of H. Con. Res.58. This concurrent resolution expresses the hope of Congress that the Department of Defense (DOD) will categorize contracted priests and religious services providers as necessary for maintaining troop welfare and morale during any lapse in federal funding.

Almost two weeks ago, news broke about believers, including many Catholics, within the military lacking access to traditional religious services, religious facilities, counseling, and the Sacraments. Though legislation enacted at the beginning of the shutdown saga (Pay Our Military Act, Public Law No: 113-39) had instructed the DOD to pay active duty military personnel and to ensure that all services necessary for troop support were made available, DOD did not designate contracted religious service providers as essential for those support services. Because many installations rely on contracted ministers to meet the Constitutional requirement of providing for the free exercise rights of troops, this lapse by DOD meant that some soldiers had no way to practice or adhere to the confessional obligations of their faith.

As others have pointed out, the DOD’s failure to recognize contracted religious personnel as important for troop welfare is troubling since it seems to ignore the role religion plays in the daily life of many soldiers— while elevating access to base leisure facilities and entertainment options as more significant for aiding troop morale.  In the high pressure environment of the military where unique stresses and challenges are faced on a daily basis, it’s critical that military personnel have access to the unique support structures of their faith. In fact, courts have held that in order to protect the First Amendment rights of military personnel to exercise their religion, chaplains must be furnished by the military. In cases where an active duty chaplain is not available, contracted religious staff help meet this obligation.

While last night’s reinstatement of federal funding has resolved the immediate issue of access to military installations for contract employees, a legal inquiry into the DOD’s designation may continue. What should guide lawmakers and Defense officials moving forward is a renewed commitment to protecting the totality of troop welfare and wellbeing—including safeguarding the ability of military personnel to live out their personal religious belief and practice by having continuous access to ministers, priests, and religious staff. 

Amid Capital Folly, Some Good News from Washington

by Robert Morrison

October 4, 2013

One of our friends teaches at a government institution. When the sequester came, some of the professors and staff were furloughed. Our friend said he could work around the sequester because all of his classes are on one day. He could take his furlough day on another day of the week, he volunteered. He was told, in no uncertain terms, you will now rearrange your schedule to work through this. This has got to hurt. Cancel all your classes and take a furlough.

I’m reminded of the cynical view that H.L. Mencken took of democracy a hundred years ago. The man they called “The Sage of Baltimore” said democracy was the theory that the people should get what they want — and get it good and hard.

Such cynicism was clearly behind the decision to close down the National Mall at the time of the government shutdown. It is good to have knowledgeable guides from the Park Service to help interpret the monuments, to be sure, but many of us have led tours of the Mall ourselves and would be honored to pitch in. I know I will be happy to volunteer.

Closing the Mall was sparked by the same age-old tactic of entrenched bureaucrats called “Closing the Washington Monument.” That tactic says that whenever Congress fails to cough up as much dough as the bureaucrats want, they can respond by closing down the capital’s most popular tourist attraction. But now, of course, the Washington Monument is already closed. This is because of earthquake damage, not bureaucratic bloody-mindedness.

The White House, too, has been closed. President Obama’s administration made that decision for reasons that are hard to recall. We’re sure that his many guests and campaign donors will be able to access the historic halls of what Harry Truman called the People’s House.

My favorite tour guide for the National Mall was the man who starred in the first presidential inauguration to be held on the West Front of the Capitol. In Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981, he pointed to the vast expanse and the impressive monuments laid out before him and showed the country and the world what being American means.

I’m told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day, and for that I’m deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer.

This is the first time in our history that this ceremony has been held, as you’ve been told, on this West Front of the Capitol. Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man, George Washington, father of our country. A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then, beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Hearing Washington thus described as a man of humility “who came to greatness reluctantly,” we are led to wonder how things have come to this sad day. We have been told that our current president is one who “hovers over the nations, like a sort of god.” (Newsweek editor Evan Thomas) He is, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss, the smartest man ever to occupy the White House. So how did we get in this mess?

With all the folly evident in Washington, D.C. these days, we can use some good news from George Washington. There’s at least one historic site is still open and welcoming Americans: George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. This stately mansion is about twenty miles from downtown Washington and it’s one of the best investments you will ever make.

The estate is the property of The Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union. It’s been privately owned for its entire existence. Several years ago, a new $187 million Visitors Center was opened that houses theaters, exhibits, gift shops and dining. Most recently, Mount Vernonadded a new feature, the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Now, scholars will be able to access old and new materials on the life and influence of George Washington. The George Washington Library cost $106 million — all privately funded. Another great feature is George Washington’s own handsome leather-bound copy of the Constitution with the Bill of Rights. In the margins of this 222-year old document you can see Washington’s neat, handwritten notes on the powers and the duties of the President. This volume cost $9.8 million at auction and was purchased for Mount Vernon, again using all private funds.

Another piece of good news from Washington is the forthcoming (Oct. 23-26) Hillsdale Hostel conference on “The Character and Statesmanship of George Washington.” With lectures, discussions, and presentations, Hillsdale College’s Alan J. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship will work to inform and inspire attendees about the life and work of our first president. I’m planning to attend this event and to report on it.

In 2009, The New Yorker published a most interesting cover portrait for President Obama’s First Inauguration.

It remains my favorite portrait of Barack Obama. It reminds us of the great promise and the greater responsibility that rests on the shoulders of every man who has stood in the place George Washington stood. It shows us how Washington was and remains the model for what a President of the United States should be. For liberals and conservatives, it’s a sobering thought.

What Would and Wouldn’t Shut Down

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 30, 2013

A “government shutdown” is a misnomer of gigantic proportion. In July, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a Congressional Research Service study that makes clear “a ‘government shutdown’ does not cause all government functions to cease.”

Our military will remain vigilant, our ships at sea and our planes ready to fly, and our service members will be paid. According to a study by the Congressional Research Service published last week, “Historically, individuals responsible for supporting the nation’s global security activities, public safety efforts, and foreign relations pursuits have been excepted from furloughs that accompany a government shutdown.”

The federal judiciary will be funded through mid-October. Veterans and recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue receiving their benefits. You’ll still get your mail from the U.S. Postal Service.

There will be massive inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of civilian government employees who will be furloughed until a budget deal is reached. Mortgage loans will halt, although “the Office of Single Family Housing will ‘endorse new loans under current multi-year appropriation authority in order to support the health and stability of the U.S. mortgage market’.” Federal parks and zoos will close, but “Smithsonian and National Park employees responsible for protecting property and providing emergency care, including animal caretakers at the National Zoo, are exempt from the furlough.” And TSA employees and air traffic controllers will remain on the job.

National Institutes of Health employees would continue to treat current Clinical Center patients and provide animal care services, though new patients will be locked out of clinical research,” and federal disaster assistance will remain fully available. More than 40 million Americans would continue to get food stamps unabated.

As to the IRS, why should it be no surprise that “all payments would be processed?”

Perhaps the most serious problem will be “A lack of appropriations (that) will severely limit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ability to respond to outbreak investigations.”

The Food Safety and Inspection Service would continue all safety-related activities” and “the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration would continue inspections to the extent they’re paid by user fees.” However, the “inability to investigate alleged violations could hamper corrective action in the long term and could have an immediate impact on members of industry.” The FDA “would limit its activities but continue to monitor recalls and conduct investigations.”

Of perhaps particular note is that funding for the Patient’s Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) will continue. “It’s looking more and more like Tuesday will be a split-screen day … Obamacare will open for business.”

The above is not an exhaustive explanation, and it is not intended to suggest that limiting government services is trivial. However, if Congress and the President fail to strike a deal, the sky will not fall, Mt. Rushmore will not crumble, and our union will retain all 50 of its states.

Concern is justified. Panic isn’t.

Sources:

Deficit Deception: Don’t Bank on Social Security: A Primer in the Manifest Phoniness of the Social Security System

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 12, 2011

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the fiscal year 2010 deficit was $1.3 trillion. If the roughly $700 billion from Social Security had been kept in its own so-called Trust Fund and, as a result, subtracted from federal general revenues, the deficit would have been more than $2 trillion.

Instead, as economics writer James Pethokoukis observes, monies supposedly dedicated to Social Security are used as part of a fiduciary shell game” to “mask the true depth of the budget deficit.

How can Social Security and the federal government get away with this?

To answer that, a few foundational facts are needed.

For one thing, there is no Social Security Trust Fund. The Fund is an accounting device that’s used to hide the true size of the federal deficit.

The monies collected from taxpayers are, in an act of accounting sleight-of-hand, put into the Trust Fund for about a millisecond and are then replaced by “special-issue securities,” Treasury notes that the Social Security Administration (SSA) itself admits are “available only to the trust funds.”

In other words, the federal government takes money out of Social Security to pay for all kinds of things, including payments to retirees. It issues itself Treasury bonds to repay its loan from the Social Security Trust Fund but they are bonds only Social Security itself can buy. This is known, in stuffy bureaucracy-speak, as an intragovernmental loan.

SSA itself clarifies, “Tax income is deposited on a daily basis and is invested in ‘special-issue’ securities. The cash exchanged for the securities goes into the general fund of the Treasury and is indistinguishable from other cash in the general fund.” Invested, indeed keep reading.

So, the money that the federal treasury siphons-out of the erstwhile “trust fund goes to cover general revenues of all kinds: From the common federal budget pot, the monies are used to pay for freeway projects in Iowa and aircraft carriers to U.S. Postal System delivery trucks. Oh, yes, and payments to Social Security recipients, or beneficiaries, as well.

Here’s how Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press explains it:

The money in the trust funds has been spent over the years to help fund other government programs. In return, the Treasury Department issued bonds to Social Security, which earn interest and are backed by the government, just like bonds sold in public debt markets. When Social Security runs a deficit, it redeems its bonds with the Treasury Department to cover the red ink. But Treasury gets the money to pay Social Security the same places the government gets all its money: either from taxes and other revenues or by borrowing it. Last year, the government borrowed 37 cents of every dollar it spent. This year it’s borrowing 43 cents of every dollar.”

The interest earned is merely a designed percentage payment Uncle Sam adds onto the amount of the loan derived not from any kind of profitable investment itself, but from the printing presses of the federal treasury. The interest is merely added out of fiat-drenched thin air.

Why does the government do this? Very simply: If Social Security designated funds - the money that comes out of all of our paychecks to pay Social Security income to seniors were not used for general revenue, the deficit would be shown to be even more gigantic than it is, as noted above.

How much money are we talking about? As indicated in the first graph of this piece, the CBO says that Social Security contributed $706 billion to the federal budget in FY 2010. Thats about one-fifth of the total budget.

Some argue that since beneficiaries are getting paid, whats the big deal?

Last year, the pay-out total to retirees was $41 billion more than what was taken in through Social Security taxes. For the first time in roughly 30 years, the SSA ran a deficit one larger, in itself, that all but a handful of the countries in the world.

Second, the false assurance that the trust funds dollars are invested is a lie pure and simple. This investment is actually nothing more than a credit slip that says, in as many words, that the money will be put back in by the Treasury with a certain percentage of interest, interest not derived from anywhere but balance side of a phony federal ledger.

Third, were the money actually invested in interest-bearing accounts, using historic rates of return, the SSA would not be facing the historic crisis it faces in the next quarter-century. Consider: Over the course of its history, the stock market with all the dips, depressions, recessions, wars, etc. we have faced has had an inflation adjusted return of between six and seven percent.

Given the monies poured into the Social Security system since its inception in the 1930s, such a return would have prevented the current, and future, profound shortfalls we are facing.

Fourth, and perhaps most ominously, is the dearth of workers who pay into the system. That number has shrunk from 16 employees per beneficiary to slightly under 3 workers per beneficiary today. As Americas population ages, that ratio will shrink, to our profound fiscal danger, more and more.

Charles Krauthammer notes that should the debt continue to build like a throbbing volcano, the full faith and credit of the federal government wont mean much and not just Social Security, but the whole economy, will be at grave risk:

In judging the creditworthiness of the United States, the world doesnt care what the left hand owes the right. Its all one entity. It cares only what that one entity owes the world … (W)hat would happen to financial markets if the Treasury stopped honoring the special issue bonds in the Social Security trust fund? A lot of angry grumbling at home for sure. But externally? Nothing. This default would simply be the Treasury telling the Social Security Administration that henceforth it would have to fend for itself in covering its annual shortfall.

The other alternative: Treasury tells SSA no such thing and simply pays back, using not real assets but accredited and/or printed monies from Treasurys printing presses, what it owes SSA: The money will, at some point, stop holding much, if any, value. At that point, the world will care a lot, because it will indicate the Weimar-esque quality of the U.S. greenback.

There are a number of ways to correct the problem before Social Security runs completely out of money in about 26 years.

Former FRC scholar and current Howard Center director Alan Carlson argues convincingly, as Americans have more children, we will remedy at least much of the crisis by having more workers to pay into the Social Security system itself. House Speaker John Boehner and others argue for raising the full retirement age from 65 to, say 67 or even 70, which more accurately reflects growing longevity and work patterns and would save large amounts annually.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is among the leading advocates of allowing younger income-earners to invest at least a graduated/growing portion of their Social Security dollars into private retirement accounts, not unlike the federal employees Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

This could be done directly, from the employees paycheck, and be directed into one or more of several fund-types managed independently, just as TSP funds are.

What is clear is that the current system is neither sustainable nor honest. While no one expects President Obama to advance the reforms necessary, the next President should.

If Social Security is not just to survive but refrain from being a fiscal anvil around the national neck, the next President must.

Formerly chief of staff to two Members of Congress and a presidential appointee in the George W. Bush Administration, Schwarzwalder is senior vice-president of the Family Research Council.

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