Budget Deal Tells Me Paul Ryan Isn’t Running for President in 2016

by Sean Hackbarth

After digesting the budget deal he worked out with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), I’ve come to the conclusion that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) won’t run for President in 2016, because he’s eyeing a higher leadership role in the House. Seth Mandel’s analysis takes a similar tact:

The truth is, most of Ryan’s career suggests he wants the gavel, not the veto pen. Such a career path, by definition, requires staying put.

This budget deal was not negotiated by the New Paul Ryan. It was a natural step for the Old Paul Ryan to take because while it wasn’t in line with his other recent budgets, it follows his desire to shape the country’s fiscal course, which he likely considered the first casualty to the prevailing congressional stalemate. It was, however, his first such move since the 2012 presidential election. There is much consistency to Ryan’s compromise, which suggests his heart was with the gavel all along.

Ryan will have to step down as Budget Committee chairman due to term limits, but it’s assumed that he has the fast-track to replacing Ways and Means Committee Dave Camp (R-MI) who is also term limited. What’s more, if Speaker John Boehner calls it quits in the next few years, Ryan could stake a claim to that spot.

Imagine a Speaker Paul Ryan working with a President Scott Walker? I’ve joke about this on Twitter, but if that happened Wisconsin really would be saving America.

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No PR Blitz Can Fix Obamacare’s Problems

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Health Care

Healthcare.gov might be working better (key work is “might”).

However, as I point out at FreeEnterprise.com, it’s still pumping out bad enrollment data to insurance companies.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman, Fred Upton (R-MI) isn’t impressed:

Millions of Americans have had their existing plans cancelled, millions more are worried about their health care coverage and costs, and the exchanges are still not functioning properly or even fully built. The president’s plan? Another speech and another website. Words alone will not fix this. The law is still not ready for primetime and millions are being left in the lurch.

Gotta love the federal government’s “velocity and discipline of a high-performing private sector company.”

Unless the back-end of Healthcare.gov is fixed (let alone address the site’s security), no Presidential PR blitz will ease the frustration people will have when they try to use the health insurance they thought they successfully bought.

[H/t memeorandum]

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Liberal Writer: Obamacare Threatens Liberalism

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Health Care

Here are two quotes of the day, both on Obamacare.

First, the New Republic’s Franklin Foer on how the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov is damaging the liberal programme [via memeorandum]:

A two-page bill could have extended Medicare and provided universal coverage, but by relying so heavily on the private market, and straining to avoid the taint of Big Government, the Affordable Care Act is the Russian novel of social policy, now totaling 20,202 pages. Loopholes and exemptions abound. As Ezra Klein has grimly warned, “Far from introducing innovation and efficiency into the system, the decision to build a complex, 50-state public-private hybrid has introduced towering complexity into the project, and seems, potentially, to be beyond the government’s capacity to do well.”

Of course being a magazine that thinks that technocratic liberalism can solve all problems, he thinks that if the messiness of politics (and consent of the governed) can be bypassed, smart people could design the correct system–i.e. single-payer. This ignores all that we know about the inability of experts to collect, analyze, and act on dispersed knowledge.

Next, there’s Matt Lewis, who notes an Obamacare tax that will hit small businesses on January 1:

If you buy coverage on your own or work at a small business, insurance companies will be taxed for the privilege of selling you that product. Aside from being a horrible precedent, it’s truly weird, inasmuch as it means we are taxing something that we’re subsidizing at the same time. Interestingly, big businesses self insure, so they won’t be on the hook for the new health insurance tax. Groups that represent small business have banded together to fight this tax.

Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot about the Health Insurance Tax. Here’s my latest at FreeEnterprise.com on how it’s already hurting small businesses.

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Administration Official: Healthcare.gov Only 60-70% Finished

by Sean Hackbarth

CMS Deputy Information Officer Henry Chao told a House of Representatives committee that the dysfunctional Healthcare.gov is 30-40% away from being fully-built. One of the key missing components is the payment system (3:20 mark).

“We still need to build the payments systems to make the payments to insurers in January,” said Chao.

The administration thought it’d be a swell idea to launch a website (touted as being like Amazon.com or Kayak.com) where people can buy health insurance, but not give them a way to pay for it.

UPDATE: While a big chuck of the website still needs to be built, we shouldn’t worry about any security problems:

Chao assurred consumers their information is safe. The federal data hub, which verifies eligibility for the exchange, does not keep information, he said. The website currently features a dedicated security team to monitor progress, undergoes weekly performance testing and receives daily scans. “We’ve gone over and above” to ensure safety, Chao said.

Of course there’s no reason to worry, right?

UPDATE II: Speaking of payments, insurance brokers wonder if they’ll get paid [via Hot Air]:

Some brokers are waiting for the site to be fixed before they deal with clients using it. But those that are sticking with the arduous online enrollment journey are facing a new question: Will I get paid for this?
“It’s almost like they don’t like the insurance agents being involved. That’s what it feels like,” said Kelly Fristoe, a broker from Wichita Falls, Texas.

Brokers say their clients are having trouble entering the right ID numbers in the balky website — and that’s what’s needed for the health plan to pay them.

Agents who have completed training and registration for the federal marketplace can help individuals and small businesses sign up for exchange plans. Federal navigators and in-person assisters are also trained to help. But brokers say they’ve been dealing with insurance for years, and have expertise that lets them walk clients through the complicated new health plan terrain and explain it at a level that will really help people understand the specifics of their options.

Brokers are supposed to be paid by insurance companies once a policy is in place and the first premium payment has been made. Brokers have contracts with the plans on their fees — and there can’t be incentives to move people outside the exchanges.

“If you want our guys to participate in the exchange and help people enroll … you’re talking about a lot of time and resources on their part, which they’re happy to do provided that they’re compensated for their work,” said Diane Boyle, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.

But those brokers’ identification information is slipping through the HealthCare.gov cracks.

In the chaotic days after the rollout of HealthCare.gov, many brokers were told by call center operators that they could not, or would not, enter a broker’s identification, or the “national producer number.” In other cases, the numbers seemed to be recorded — but then they got caught up in the problems with the corrupted “834” files that the exchanges send to the health plans with enrollment information.

Boyle and other broker advocates were told Nov. 8 by the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight that call center operators had been notified of the mistake and instructed to accept brokers’ numbers. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has urged the call center assistants to record a broker’s identification number during three-way calls with agents and their clients and has encouraged agents to notify the agency if they still encounter problems.

Still, brokers say problems persist. Just last week, Fristoe was helping a client of four years sign up for an exchange plan when a call center operator told him that she could not enter his number. After being unable to resolve the problem on the phone, he and the customer gave up on the Web enrollment and switched to paper.

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All the Stuff Obama Didn’t Know About

by Sean Hackbarth

At his press conference, President Obama said he didn’t know that so many people would get their health insurance cancelled:

My expectation was that for 98 percent of the American people, either it genuinely wouldn’t change at all or they’d be pleasantly surprised with the options they find in the marketplace and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest. That proved not to be the case, and that’s on me.

Here are a few other things the President didn’t know or wasn’t told:

  • USA Today: NSA Denies Obama Knew Of Spying On German Leader
  • CNN: HHS Chief: President Didn’t Know Of Obamacare Website Woes Beforehand
  • Politico: Senior W.H. Staff Knew Of IRS Investigation, Did Not Tell Obama
  • Weekly Standard: Obama Claims He Didn’t Know About the Petraeus Investigation
  • Business Insider: The White House Says It Had No Idea The DOJ Seized The AP’s Phone Records
  • Real Clear Politics: Carney: Obama Didn’t Know About Fast & Furious Until He Saw It In Media

I’m not surprised that public opposition to Obamacare grows. [via memeorandum]

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Treasury Inspector General: Obamacare is a Top IRS Challenge

by Sean Hackbarth

Obamacare is more than the Department of Health and Human Services’ fumbling. Last week, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration listed the top management and performance challenges for the IRS. Number two is “Implementing the Affordable Care Act.” As explained in the memo [emphasis mine]:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains an extensive array of tax law changes that will present a continuing source of challenge for the IRS in coming years. The Affordable Care Act provides incentives and tax breaks to individuals and small businesses to offset health care expenses. It also imposes penalties, administered through the tax code, for individuals and businesses that do not obtain health care coverage for themselves or their employees. The Affordable Care Act represents the largest set of tax law changes in more than 20 years.

Starting in Calendar Year 2014, the IRS will be responsible for implementing the Advanced Premium Tax Credit, as well as implementing the penalty on applicable individuals for each month they fail to have minimum essential health care coverage. These two issues have a far-reaching impact on the IRS and will require significant resources, particularly customer service resources, as taxpayers turn to the IRS with questions and issues about the Affordable Care Act. Customer service has been declining in recent years, with fewer taxpayers being served at local IRS offices and the IRS answering fewer telephone calls.

The IRS’s implementation plan for the ACA includes providing information on eligibility and enrollment, developing calculations for the Advanced Premium Tax Credit, reconciling Premium Tax Credits with reported taxable income, and developing new ACA information collection and processing systems. These provisions require development of new computer systems, modification of existing systems, revision and/or creation of new fraud detection systems, and deployment and testing of new interagency communication portals to support ACA operations.

Obamacare implementation money has run out, so “all implementation efforts in FY 2013 and beyond will be funded solely from the IRS’s operating budget,” the memo states.

Based on a 2012 report on the agency’s lack of cybersecurity, we should be concerned:

During the past year, the Internal Revenue Service did not install critical fixes for software vulnerabilities, allowed unauthorized access to accounting programs and failed to ensure contractors received security training, according to the auditors’ auditors.

Around tax time in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and now this year, the Government Accountability Office has identified similar, recurring weaknesses that could expose sensitive taxpayer information and agency financial data, according to archived GAO reports.

“IRS had never installed numerous patch releases for the Unix operating system” that had been in operation since March 2009, stated the most recent report, released Friday. By not patching security holes on a timely basis, the “IRS increases the risk that known vulnerabilities in its systems may be exploited.”

The key reason IRS computers are susceptible to tampering is the tax agency has yet to institute a mandatory information security program, GAO officials have said for five years. Under federal cybersecurity law, agencies must deploy a departmentwide initiative that, among other things, trains personnel to comply with security policies and tests technical protections.

In 2012, auditors observed that IRS personnel determined whether safeguards were functioning by looking at documents, rather than physically running the programs, according to the GAO. “In one case, testers concluded that encryption was in place by reviewing a diagram and interviewing key staff rather than performing system testing,” the report stated.

Hopefully the IRS’ implementation, especially computer systems, is more successful than how they blew through $5 billion in system upgrades and involves more testing than Healthcare.gov.

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Obamacare’s Amazon Wish List Accounting

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Politics

Amazon.com's "Add to shopping cart"

Alyssia Canobio at Americans for Tax Reform points to a Washington Post story on the Obama administration’s unique approach to counting who they’ll consider to be enrolled in Obamacare:

“Health insurance plans only count subscribers as enrolled in a health plan once they’ve submited a payment. That is when the carrier sends out a member card and begins paying doctor bills.

When the Obama administration releases health law enrollment figures later this week, though, it will use a more expansive definition. It will count people who have purchased a plan as well as those who have a plan sitting in their online shopping cart but have not yet paid.

“In the data that will be released this week, ‘enrollment’ will measure people who have filled out an application and selected a qualified health plan in the marketplace,” said an administration official, who requested anonymity to frankly describe the methodology.”

Call it “Amazon Wish List” accounting, because the administration wishes more people would sign up for more expensive insurance plans.

Now, imagine if Jeff Bezos booked sales like the administration is about to count Obamacare enrollees. As Aaron Klein tweeted last night, he’d go to jail.

Or as Doug Powers writes:

Replace “Obama administration” in the above story with “Aetna” or some other insurance company and the Justice Department would already be filing charges.

I guess, when Healthcare.gov is a disaster of a website, you need creative accounting to salvage something from it.

[H/t memeorandum]

[Disclaimer: I'm dating Alyssa.]

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Why Rep. Raul Grijalva Isn’t Very Bright

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Energy

Earlier this week, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) came up with a dumb idea. In a letter to the Interior and Agriculture Departments, he asked that all mining and oil and gas development stop on public lands during the government shutdown.

Yes, let’s shut down activities that generate government revenues along with producing energy and minerals. Great idea.

To understand Rep. Grijalva’s thinking, remember he starred in a video earlier this year opposing the Keystone XL pipeline. While standing awkwardly next to an intern and wearing a white lab coat, the Congressman made an startling observation: Rocks sink when dumped in water.

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Summer Means Baseball

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Sports

Summer and warm weather match perfectly with baseball. The game’s slower pace doesn’t require you to exert yourself all the time. You can relax, enjoy a cold drink and a friendly conversation while watching skilled players run around the bases.

My Milwaukee Brewers are back in town to play the Washington Nationals. It’s been a rough season. No, let me rephrase that: it’s been a pathetic season. But Milwaukee will always be my team, and I’ll cheer for them every chance I get. So for the next few days, I’ll be hoping for some good hitting and consistent pitching in the hope that they’ll win a few against the Nationals. But even if they don’t, I’ll enjoy sitting outside reveling in a game that says, “Summer.”


Via: Nationwide.com

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Mandarins and Their Bubble

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Politics

bubble

Megan McArdle has the quote of the day:

In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system, and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses–ones outside glamour industries like tech or design.

She refers to people in the NY-DC elite whose careers involve government, finance, and media. Their lives have been all about becoming an elite and have lacked any connection to the “Real World” outside the elite bubble.

Somehow, I found my way inside this bubble without going to an elite school. However, unlike the people Megan refers to I force myself to always be cognizant that this rarefied place I work and play–Washington, DC–is NOT the Real World. The economics and incentives inside the Beltway are different than those 95% of the rest of America confronts daily. When I arrived in Washington five years ago, I told myself that when I started believing that this place was the Real World, it would be time for me to leave. It’s not time yet.

[H/T Glenn Reynolds]

Photo: Ali Smiles/Flickr.

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Our Media is Failing Us…

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Media

Because they do stories like this, this, and this.

Politico, New York magazine, and CNN should all be embarrassed, but I know they won’t be.

They don’t want to make things better. They only want to demonstrate how clever/funny/ironic/savvy they can be.

If they don’t want to respect me, then I won’t respect them.

And the fact that nearly 24-hours after Sen. Marco Rubio’s sip of water, people are still talking about it shows how much we’re living in an Age of Triviality.

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NLRB Recess Appointments Ruled Unconstitutional

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Law

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said President Obama couldn’t recess appoint members of the NLRB unless the Senate was in recess:

President Barack Obama violated the Constitution when he bypassed the Senate to fill vacancies on a labor relations panel, a federal appeals court panel ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that Obama did not have the power to make three recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board.

Jay Carney brushed it off, but Senator Lamar Alexander (my former boss) demanded that members of the NLRB resign.

I have more on this at FreeEnterprise.com.

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Nebraska Says, “Go” on Keystone XL

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Energy

Governor Dave Heineman approved a new route through Nebraska for the Keystone XL pipeline. Approval for construction of the project to bring Canadian oil to Gulf Coast refineries is now back in the hands of the State Department (who is studying it again) and the White House. Will President Obama placate anti-energy activists or choose jobs and energy security?

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Cynical About College Football or They All Cheat

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Sports

SEC logo

Alabama throttled Notre Dame for the national title.

While I have nothing against the players, their talent, and their accomplishments I do have a problem with college football as a system. The SEC has won the last seven national titles, and you can give credit for that success to their ability to cheat. When it comes to football, SEC teams cheat better than any other conference.

Winning at the Division I college level is mostly–I’d say 70%–about getting the best players. The SEC consistently gets the best talent. For the sixth year in a row, more players were drafted into the NFL from the SEC than any other conference. Having the best players gives you a better chance at winning titles.

But how do they get them? Through under-the-table deals involving alumni, boosters, parents, and others. Remember how Cam Newton’s dad tried selling his kid to Mississippi State? The Kansas City Star’s Kent Babb writes about how the coach of high school recruit, Albert Means, sold access to his player, and a  booster forked over $150,000 to get Means to go to Alabama.

The SEC no longer has any schools under probation, but do you think they’re all on the up-and-up? If so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Is it a coincidence that Auburn hasn’t been very competitive since the Cam Newton scandal came out? Or do they know they’re under a watchful eye and have to be careful? Being more careful when other schools aren’t means Auburn is at a comparative disadvantage in recruiting.

Do I think Notre Dame doesn’t cheat? No, I’m sure they do too. As well as my Wisconsin Badgers. Brent Bielema, former Wisconsin coach, found a legitimate way to get Russell Wilson to play one season for the Badgers. I’m sure his ability to bend NCAA rules to his will crossed the line at times, and thus why Arkansas was willing to hire him. They think he can cheat–I mean recruit–with the big boys.

The problem with Notre Dame and Wisconsin (and the Big Ten, minus former Florida coach Urban Meyer) is they just don’t cheat as well as SEC teams.

With ESPN’s deal to show SEC games, do you think they’ll ever really dig into why the SEC has dominated the way they have? I doubt it.

Since Division I schools are essentially minor leagues for the NFL, let’s be honest and make them so. Spin off college football programs into independent enterprises (either for or non-profit) and pay the players. Let boosters pour in as much money as they want into their teams. Let players hire agents and get the best deal they can get.

College football evolved from a form of rugby into a fall Saturday obsession. It will survive further evolution. Let’s finally be honest about what really is going on.

Image: Tennessee Journalist via Flickr.

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How the Mighty Have Fallen

by Sean Hackbarth
Filed under Sports

Lance Armstrong
Once upon a time, Lance Armstrong was one of the biggest sports figures in the world. Winning seven straight Tour de France titles not only made him an American icon but also a global legend. What’s more, much of his success came after he beat cancer. Armstrong turned that fame into charitable success with Livestrong and their ubiquitous yellow bracelets.

But always hanging over him was the suspicion that he cheated to win. No tests have ever come out proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he used performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions to cheat, but over the years, colleagues and fellow pro bicyclers made their accusations. Bit by bit evidence piled up until the United States Anti-Doping Agency last year stripped him of his Tour de France titles.

All that time, Armstrong claimed innocence, but he might not for much longer because “he wants to persuade antidoping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career.”

We wanted to believe Armstrong was legit. I know I did, but I also cheered for Floyd Landis when he won his Tour de France, even though we later found out he used drugs to win.

I don’t like living a cynical life, but the trope is often accurate: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.


Photograph: Paul Coster on Flickr.

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