Government Gone Rogue

 No place in our Constitution is the president granted supremacy to act legislatively without Congress. And no place in our laws is the president given authority to use executive branch agencies to criminalize whole segments of the economy it considers unworthy. However, we know from the public record that President Obama is using the Justice Department (DOJ), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in something called “Operation Choke Point” to target small businesses by smothering their access to financial services. Without the ability to process payments, the administration chokes off the oxygen (money) needed for these “Mom and Pop” shops to survive. It’s a form of political nihilism never before seen in our nation’s history.

Most Americans are familiar with the DOJ and the FDIC. However the CFPB, a federal agency established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act, has been operating under the radar for far too long.

Dodd-Frank effectively gave the CFPB unlimited regulatory power with little congressional oversight. The bureau’s budget is not subject to congressional appropriations—no power of the purse—because the Federal Reserve, not Congress, funds the agency. Given its independence from congressional scrutiny, the CFPB’s power to regulate is essentially a government license to destroy. What’s more, the CFPB is building a massive database on the financial transactions of every American. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian think tank based in Washington D.C., has argued that the CFPB has “unaccountable power over the daily lives of the American people” that results “in a lack of public accountability, creating a power grab over every U.S. citizen.”

During most of our nation’s history, families, communities, churches, civic groups, and “Mom and Pop” businesses (i.e., civil society) have served as firewalls to restrain big government from flaming out of control. Americans with blemishes on their credit scores or short credit histories do not have the luxury of going to the big banks—SunTrust, Chase, Wells Fargo—for a small loan. These consumers depend upon payday lenders as credit and loan options. If the CFPB has its way, these lenders will be forced to permanently close their doors. Millions of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck will have no where to go for short-term loans. The CFPB will have cut off an important financial option for working-class, middle-income Americans. Resources needed for emergency car repairs or to replace an appliance will no longer be available.

Ideological bureaucrats with a disdain for anything—the rule of law, the American people, civil society—opposed to their agenda are wreaking havoc on our economy and our liberty. The expansion of federal power—and more specifically the expansion of the executive branch—is the modus operandi of President Barack Obama. Since his first day in office, this president has sought to accumulate power and centralize control.

There is no higher law for Obama than his own ideological self-interest. Obama acts more like a plutocrat or mafia boss than the leader of a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The CFPB is actively engaged in closing down businesses while at the same time collecting dossiers on American citizens’ personal, financial transactions. Congress should abolish the CFPB or, at the very least, put it under the appropriations process. It’s time for Congress to reign in this rogue agency.

Cronyism Spinn[er]ing Out of Control

Jerry Rogers

for TownHall

President Obama announced on June 26, 2015 that he was appointing Steven Spinner to the Commission on White House Fellowships. In his statement, Mr. Obama described Mr. Spinner as an experienced and committed individual, and the President went on to say that he is looking forward to working with him. At first glance, no big deal—another hanger-on appointed to one of Washington’s myriad patronage boards and panels.

Then again, on closer scrutiny, Spinner isn’t your typical-everyday D.C. flunky. Steven Spinner was an adviser for the Department of Energy (DOE) loans program responsible for the Solyndra debacle. He played a lead role in the most infamous case of crony capitalism of the Obama Presidency, which means—arguably—the most infamous episode of cronyism in our nation’s history. Solyndra—the failed solar panel company that filed for bankruptcy—was the first to receive a taxpayer-backed loan guarantee from the DOE in September 2009. Spinner helped steer millions of dollars of the controversial stimulus funding to Obama’s crony corporate friends at Solyndra.

Spinner raised political cash—over $500,000—for Obama during the 2008 campaign, and then Spinner was named to the White House transition team and later served as “chief strategic operations officer” at DOE. Spinner—while at DOE—helped deliver over $530 million to Solyndra. In 2011, Solyndra files for bankruptcy leaving taxpayers with the massive bill. Spinner raised more political cash for the President in the 2012 cycle, and he’s rewarded again with a post on a White House commission. You can’t make this stuff up. The whole sordid affair reads like a bad script from a B-level political melodrama.

And there’s more to the script. Spinner’s wife worked for a law firm that represented Solyndra and a dozen or so other green-energy interests that applied for federal funding. The public record shows that her firm received $2.4 million from the government in legal fees associated with Solyndra’s loan application. Washington has always been a place where deals are done and favors exchanged. However, President Obama has created a new normal of hyper-cronyism of rewarding his political friends with taxpayer dollars (Solyndra) and government posts (Spinner).

The Washington D.C. metro-area has become the wealthiest region in the country because the political class rewards those like Steven Spinner who deal, almost exclusively, in favors at the expense of the American people. While Washington’s political class gets richer, everyday Americans struggle to pay their mortgages, put their children through school, and keep groceries in their cupboards. The economy remains stalled and our nation is in the worst “economic recovery” in our history. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there are nearly 94 million Americans out of the workforce, the lowest labor force participation since 1977. Also for the first time in our history, working-age people now make up the majority of American households that depend on food stamps, a dramatic change from a just a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.

As National Review reported back in 2011, Steven Spinner was “intimately involved in the negotiation and was advocating on behalf of” Solyndra regarding the DOE loan. Spinner involved himself in these negotiations regarding Solyndra even though he had signed an ethics agreement not to do so. What a sad testament to Washington’s new normal of hyper-cronyism that Steven Spinner is once again being honored with a White House position, even one as innocuous as the Commission on White House Fellowships. It’s sadder still that no one in the media picked up on the story. No news here—just business as usual for President Obama and Washington’s political class. Cronyism is Spinn[er]ing out of control.

Puerto Rico Wants a Great Big Fat… Bailout

By Jerry Rogers

for TownHall

Puerto Rico’s massive welfare state and excessive spending has put it in an economic state worse than Greece. This small island has an enormous problem—$72 billion in bond debt and more than $50 billion in retiree obligations. What’s worse is that the Puerto Rican government doesn’t seem to be serious about reform. Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s nonvoting member of Congress, has sponsored legislation—H.R. 870—to extend Puerto Rico Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

The Associated Press reported that “the White House threw cold water Monday on the notion of bailing out Puerto Rico from its financial crisis, instead urging Congress to consider changing the law so the island can declare bankruptcy.” Of course, this is typical Washington doublespeak because bankruptcy protection—H.R. 870—would be a federal bailout by other means.

Puerto Rico, as a commonwealth, does not have the legal authority to file for bankruptcy. Some in Congress—mostly Democrats, but some Republicans, too—are seriously considering H.R. 870 as a backdoor bailout.

What happens when you run out of other people’s money? Well, if you’re the Democratic Governor of Puerto Rico, you demand a bailout, and for others to “share the sacrifice.” Governor Alejandro García Padilla told the New York Times earlier this week that Puerto Rico’s debt “is not payable. There is no other option.” Padilla would love to find “an easier option,” as he swears, “this is not politics, this is math.”

Not politics? Padilla is engaging in the worst kind of politics in which political elites insist that taxpayers pay for their failure. Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is the result of years of big government run amok. Over the past decade, liberal politicians in San Juan engaged in profligate spending and borrowing to cover the costs of everything from welfare to pensions to government services. Progressive policies that saw the public-sector debt grow as the economy shrank. Not politics, but math? Then why are public-sector salaries more than 90 percent higher than salaries in the private sector? Why not cut spending to pay your bills? Because Padilla has promised not to lay off government workers—two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s budget is payroll, and it’s off the table.

Puerto Rico’s political elites refuse to do what is necessary to create economic growth. Changing the nation’s bankruptcy laws to give them a special exemption is wrong. It’s a form of cronyism—politicians in Washington doing favors for politicians in San Juan. It’s letting them off the hook; absolving them of their responsibilities. The political elites in Puerto Rico have implemented anti-growth excise taxes on job creators while crippling the island’s economy with chronic spending on welfare subsidies and an ever-expanding public sector. The government employs more than a quarter of the island’s workforce, and its labor force participation rate—40.6 percent— is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. More than half the population is not working. Why work if welfare pays more than a job?

So Padilla, Pierluisi, and the island’s political establishment are asking their friends in Washington for a favor. Their plea for Chapter 9 bankruptcy is gaining momentum as the political class looks to protect itself.

The bailout bill—H.R. 870—does not require any meaningful, market-based reforms. It’s a “get out of jail free” card for Puerto Rico’s political elites and their failed statist policies. Chapter 9 is not a solution, but rather, at best, a temporary fix. And, Chapter 9 might not be a fix at all. Bankruptcy procedures can take months or years to work through the system. H.R. 870 is a bad bill. What’s needed is a radical change of less spending, regulating, and taxing.

Americans are tired of bailouts and boondoggles—TARP, Solyndra, General Motors, the ObamaCare rollout. Let’s not add failed governments and political elites to the list. Americans don’t want a “Great Big Fat” bailout for Puerto Rico. We don’t want our very own Greek island.

Cover Oregon: The “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad” Healthcare Website

While President Obama was ridiculed for the failures of the HealthCare.gov rollout, botched state-operated exchanges did not prove to be much better. As HealthCare.gov sat useless for weeks and months, the few states that built their own ObamaCare exchanges struggled with countless failures and setbacks. A couple of state exchanges—Kentucky and California—worked relatively smoothly. However, in most states the insurance exchanges were, if you can believe it, even worse than Obama’s. The Oregon health exchange—Cover Oregon—stood out as the worst.

In 2014, then-Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregon’s longest serving governor and full-on progressive Democrat—was in a high stakes reelection campaign. The ambitious Democrat needed to weather a storm of controversy around his campaign (he would win reelection with less than 50 percent of the vote in deep blue Oregon), and conceal the complete failings of his administration’s ObamaCare state-based health exchange Cover Oregon.

Kitzhaber hoped that his state’s health exchange would be a testament to activist government. Instead, Cover Oregon had become a laughingstock. The entire fiasco of mismanagement and missed deadlines posed a threat to Kitzhaber’s legacy as a progressive champion for healthcare reform. So, he surreptitiously handed over control of the Cover Oregon mess to a key campaign consultant—Patricia McCaig—who called herself the Princess of Darkness. Ms. McCaig knew nothing about healthcare policy, but that did not matter. Her job wasn’t to fix Cover Oregon; her job was to get Kitzhaber reelected.

Oregon’s ethics and election laws require a separation between political activity and official decisions. Regardless, the Princess of Darkness (you can’t make this stuff up) believed that the health site’s failure was so politically toxic that she decided to pull the plug. Kill it. Hit the eject button, and flush over $300 million in taxpayers’ dollars down the toilet. Government records and internal emails confirm that McCaig—not state officials—directed the decision to close down Cover Oregon rather than work with the state’s contractor, Oracle Corp., to repair the doomed site. Who cares? As long as Kitzhaber won his bid for a fourth term, the ends would justify whatever means.

Adding insult to injury, the Princess of Darkness then pushed to sue Oracle in a shady effort to deflect blame. The state is now embroiled in lawsuits and former Oregon officials are under myriad congressional and federal investigations.

Facing state and federal criminal investigations, Kitzhaber himself was forced to resign in disgrace earlier this year amid corruption charges and accusations of influence peddling. His handing off Cover Oregon to his chief political consultant and political hacks is but a piece of an overall environment where decisions were based on Kitzhaber’s political interests rather than what was best for the people of Oregon.

Like Alexander from the children’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” perhaps it would have been better for John Kitzhaber to have just moved to Australia. Well, it’s too late for him. However, it’s not too late for other governors to learn from Oregon’s failure. The Supreme Court will issue its decision in King v. Burwell this month. It would be best for the states to work with Congress to craft post-King solutions that will provide market-based healthcare solutions to our nation’s healthcare woes.

Governor Kitzhaber and Cover Oregon is a cautionary yet familiar tale. Big government and corruption are inextricably intertwined. King v. Burwell might give us a rare opportunity to hit the reset button.

Debut of the Vlog: LangerCast Episode 54!

 

It’s Episode 54 of the LangerCast, the podcast (and Vlog) of Andrew Langer and Jerry Rogers from the Institute for Liberty. On this episode, Andrew and Jerry break down the Britt McHenry scandal, talk about their own experiences with towing companies in Arlington, VA and elsewhere, and tie this all in with the problems of crony capitalism!

Then they introduce their weekly “Hillary Watch” segment, and talk about how everything one needs to know about Hillary Clinton is there in black and white. (The introduce their Hillary Watch theme, too!)

Then its a discussion of the latest on Iran, how the Bob Corker deal wasn’t a good deal at all… and big congragulations to Erik Telford!

Live from Capitol Hill

Live from the Capitol Hill Bunker, Andrew and Jerry are joined by Tim Young from the American Conservative Union. They talk about CPAC, Tim’s stand-up career, and explore why the show is called “The LangerCast”. Then Andrew and Jerry talk about Indiana’s RFRA law – what it really says, what it really does, why it isn’t a license to discriminate, and why we’re both disappointed with our libertarian friends on this. Then, having sat patiently with her Dad, Jerry’s daughter Bridget sits down at the 3rd mic. They talk Star Trek, Marvel, is Superman lame, and favorite rock bands!