Archive for Freedomworks

Why Does Congress Shower The CDC With Money Despite A Track Record Of Waste and Mission Failure

It’s no secret that taxpayer money is wasted by funding projects and programs that are absolutely ridiculous.

Wasteful spending at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control was recently exposed after Francis Collins, the head of NIH, blamed a lack of funding for the absence of an Ebola vaccine.

Collins boldly stated, “Frankly, if we had not gone through our ten-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

Despite Collins’ whining the truth is budgets for NIH and the CDC have grown significantly over the past ten years. The real problem with the CDC is not the budget total but how the money is spent.

The question for taxpayers and Congress should be is the agency spending taxpayer money wisely and is it meeting its disease prevention goals.

Waste at CDC is unfortunately nothing new. In 2007, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) issued a report, “CDC Off Center,” that highlighted wasteful spending at the agency and its failure to meet its disease controlling mission.

The report documented how the CDC spent a significant amount of money on facilities while it failed to successfully combat diseases. The CDC built a lavish $106 million visiting center that includes a world class communications center and Japanese gardens and it constructed a $109.8 million headquarters building with $10 million worth of office furniture. On its Atlanta campus, the CDC has a $200,000 fitness center that includes “mood enhancing lights,” saunas, and zero-gravity chairs.

While the CDC was busy supporting construction projects, it was failing to meet its goals for combating infectious diseases. Regarding HIV/AIDS, the CDC received an incomplete grade from the Office of Management and Budget because the agency did not establish adequate performance goals or metrics to determine if its HIV/AIDS prevention program was working.

OMB reported:

the domestic HIV/AIDS program made progress on reducing new infections from 120,000 in the late 1980’s to 40,000 in the mid-1990’s, but this level has not changed for several years. The program has taken steps to improve the efficiency of Federal operations, but does not have incentives and procedures to make gains more broadly or ways of measuring annual improvements.

Since then the rates of new HIV/AIDS infections have not decreased. The CDC’s website reports, “In 2010 (the most recent year that data are available), there were an estimated 47,500 new HIV infections.”

The CDC’s effort to eliminate syphilis failed. Despite announcing a goal to reduce syphilis cases to 1,000 or lower and with Congress almost doubling the agency’s syphilis budget, the rates of the sexually transmitted disease increased by 68% in 2004. Since then the news on syphilis has gotten much worse. The CDC reported from 2005 – 2013, “the number of primary and secondary syphilis cases reported each year in the United States nearly doubled, from 8,724 to 16,663.”

It’s obvious the CDC has a record of wasteful spending and difficulty in meeting its mission so the agency’s failure to successfully implement policies to deal with Ebola is not a surprise.

What’s more disappointing than the CDC’s performance is despite Coburn’s 2007 report and the agency’s track record of wasteful spending and mission failure, Congress continued to shower the CDC with taxpayer money.

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Here's why the already bloated Farm Bill is getting more expensive

When the House of Representatives passed the farm bill earlier this year, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) hailed it as a accomplishment because, he said, it “maintains critical assistance for families in need and improves programs for producers while cutting the cost of government.”

Uh, no, Mr. Speaker, the farm bill didn’t cut the cost of government. First, the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards pointed out around the same time the bill passed Congress that “the 2014 farm bill is not a cut at all when compared to the 2008 farm bill, which was projected to cost $640 billion over 10 years.” Only in Washington can a 49 percent spending increase mean Congress is spending less.

Secondly, the $956 billion price tag for the farm bill is only going to grow. Congress wasn’t living in reality when it created the shallow-loss crop insurance program, an uncapped entitlement that replaced direct subsidies. And, as a result of larger than expected crop yields that have driven down market prices, taxpayers are going to be hit with the costs:

A record U.S. harvest has pushed crop prices so low that taxpayers may pay billions of dollars more to subsidize farmers than anticipated just months ago, thanks in part to changes Congress approved this year.

Lawmakers passed a five-year farm law in February and hailed its projected savings in subsidies of $14 billion over a decade. The forecast was based on farmers getting paid more for their crops. Instead, prices have fallen and may trigger subsidies the law aimed to reduce….

Payments to growers of corn, peanuts and other crops may reach $6.5 billion for this year’s harvest, or about $4 billion more than lawmakers anticipated in the farm bill, said Vincent Smith, director of the Agricultural Marketing Policy Center at Montana State University.

And keep in mind that these subsidies are going to mostly wealthy farmers and the largest farms. Oh, and while direct payments had to be renewed every five years under previous iterations of the farm bill, the version passed by Congress earlier this year makes this brand of corporate welfare permanent. The shallow-loss program isn’t a safety-net for the agricultural industry, it’s a decked out, gold-plated hot tub.

H/T: Scott Lincicome

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The Fed is Not our Only Option

For those who follow the arcane world of monetary policy, the U.S. Federal Reserve remains a shadowy institution with immense power, yet shockingly little oversight. Despite its 100 year history, the Fed has never been fully audited, and although a bill to do that very thing is languishing in the Senate right now, Harry Reid shows little inclination to bring it to a vote.

Of course, simply auditing the Fed is only a first step for many in liberty movement, who view the central bank’s abolition as the only way to ensure sound money in America. Critics of this view often answer back, “Well, if not the Fed, then what?”

This is frequently said with the air of an unanswerable knockout punch, an end to the debate. Actually, there are several credible alternatives to the Federal Reserve as the sole arbiter of the U.S. money supply.

Most people don’t realize that the Fed has not always existed. Prior to 1913, the United States had no central bank. Instead, the country operated on a strict gold standard in which all currency was denominated in terms of its weight in gold ounces, and could be exchanged for said gold on demand. A return to a gold standard today would reduce volatility and unpredictability in the money supply, and limit the government’s ability to create inflation through mass printing.

A second option, promoted heavily by Nobel Prize-winning economist F. A. Hayek, was the idea of multiple currencies competing alongside one another, just as multiple types of consumer goods compete. There would be no one central authority, but many, and their success would depend upon their stability and general desirability as a medium of exchange.

This may sound like an extreme idea, but in fact we already see it in action on a global scale with competing foreign currencies, and with the advent of the digital currency Bitcoin, we are increasingly seeing competing currencies in action.

The Federal Reserve was created with the goal of increasing stability in the economy, but in the century since it began, recessions have been longer, deeper, and more frequent than they ever were before. This is, after all, the period that gave us both the Great Recession and the Housing Crisis from which we still haven’t fully recovered. Given these facts, we at least owe it to ourselves as a society to consider alternatives to the Fed, and not dismiss the idea out of hand.

To learn more, check out FreedomWorks University’s brand new course on “Alternatives to the Fed.”

Watch FreedomWorks University’s Lesson on Alternatives to the Fed

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IRS Gets a Free Pass in Court: FreedomWorks Responds

Following news that a federal judge dismissed lawsuits brought by more than 40 conservative groups targeted by the IRS, FreedomWorks Executive Vice President Adam Brandon commented:

“This ruling is offensive to every citizen who believes in equal treatment under the law. It doesn’t matter when the IRS bullied conservative groups or if they stopped, the point is that it was done, and the IRS has to be held accountable. Today’s decision was the legalization of federal bullying and unchecked discretionary authority, so long as agencies can play the waiting game long enough to correct their misdeeds. The fact that it occurred in the first place was appalling, but the fact that it was excused by the courts was disgraceful.”

FreedomWorks aims to educate, build, and mobilize the largest network of activists advocating the principles of smaller government, lower taxes, free markets, personal liberty and the rule of law. For more information, please visit www.FreedomWorks.org or contact Jackie Bodnar at JBodnar@FreedomWorks.org.

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A copper. A copper! How do you like that, boys?

James Cagney is not impressed.

The effects of the Affordable Care Act have been so unpleasant that it is becoming increasingly hard even to find Democrats willing to praise the law. So far, ObamaCare has done pretty much the exact opposite of everything its architects promised. But it would be naive to expect Democrats to admit their mistake outright. Instead of acknowledging the increasingly difficult to deny truth that ObamaCare is a disaster that needs to be uprooted in its entirety, the go-to talking point has become that the law just needs to be “fixed.” With the right legislative patches, they argue, we can transform this lumbering behemoth into something that can actually function.

This is the mindset behind Sens. Mark Warner and Mark Begich’s proposal to add a new “Copper Plan” to ObamaCare’s existing Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze options. This would be a lower cost, higher deductible health insurance plan for the folks who are currently being priced out of the law’s “affordable” mandated options.

On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a terrible idea. Giving people more choices is always better, right? But the problem with this kind of thinking is a failure to recognize that ObamaCare is fundamentally, structurally flawed and no amount of tinkering is going to change that.

By dividing consumers options into gradated bands of coverage, there are inevitably going to be gaps, overlaps, and other inefficiencies resulting from trying to classify everyone in the country, with their extremely individualized health care needs into one of five boxes. Adding a new box, or five, or ten, doesn’t make that problem go away. Unless Democrats plan to create 300 million different plans – and I expect they would run out of types of metal long before then – no centralized system is going to adequately address consumers’ needs.

This is further complicated by the fact that the very nature of ObamaCare restricts what insurance providers are allowed to cover or not cover. The Copper Plan option is not – and cannot be because of the parameters of the law – the catastrophic care many young people want, since there is little demand among 26-year-olds for Viagra and triple-bypass surgery. This means that the only way to get premiums lower is to increase deductibles and other costs to the patients, which doesn’t really solve the affordability problem. At the end of the day, you still have to have young, healthy people subsidizing everyone else’s care, or else the whole law falls apart.

A truly functional health insurance market has to have to the ability to adapt its services to the needs of individual consumers. Imagine a restaurant industry that could only serve five, government approved meals. Imagine a shoe industry that only sold five sizes. The problems with such systems are so self-evident as to be absurd, yet when applied to health care, Democrat lawmakers seem blinded to this truth.

No matter how much Congress tinkers with ObamaCare, it is never going to be able to replace a free market for health insurance. The decentralized customizablilty that necessarily arises from many providers competing to please customers, unrestricted by the chains of government intervention, will always be far superior to anything Congress can dream up.

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The surge of Americans on Medicaid is nothing to brag about

In his 2006 book, Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama, then the junior senator from Illinois, explained that “perhaps our most pressing task is to fix our broken healthcare system,” adding that “the two main government-funded healthcare programs — Medicare and Medicaid — really are broken.” During the early stages of the healthcare reform debate in 2009, he again emphasized these two “broken” programs.

“[T]he ever-increasing cost of Medicare and Medicaid are among the main drivers of enormous budget deficits that are threatening our economic future,” President Obama wrote in a June 2009 letter to then-Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Max Baucus (D-MT). “In short, the status quo is broken, and pouring money into a broken system only perpetuates its inefficiencies.”

Medicaid is indeed broken. Many doctors have either decided not to participate or no longer accept patients on this single-payer, government-managed healthcare program, which, as The New York Times noted in December 2013, is due to “low reimbursement rates and red tape.” The fear is that this doctor shortage would be exacerbated by ObamaCare’s optional Medicaid expansion. What’s more, a study out of Oregon found that there was no difference in health outcomes between Medicaid enrollees who entered the program under an ObamaCare-style expansion of the program and low-income patients who were uninsured. In short, access to coverage doesn’t necessarily mean access to better healthcare.

But “pouring money into a broken system” was exactly what President Obama and congressional Democrats did when ObamaCare became law in March 2010. In July 2012, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage provisions would cost $643 billion between 2013 and 2022, roughly 40 percent of outlays from the law.

In a blog post on Friday, Cindy Mann of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) bragged about the growth of Medicaid and CHIP enrollment. “[A]pproximately 8.7 million additional Americans now have coverage through Medicaid and CHIP, many for the very first time,” Mann wrote. “Medicaid enrollment grew to more than 67.9 million in August 2014, which shows nearly a 15 percent increase over the average monthly enrollment for July through September 2013.”

But from where are these Medicaid enrollees coming? Well, it seems that most are coming off of private health insurance plans. In an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Jeffrey Singer explained what he’s seeing in his practice. “[R]ecently several of my patients who had been paying for their own individual health insurance informed me that they were forced off private insurance and placed into Medicaid when they signed up for health care at Healthcare.gov,” Singer wrote. “This is not an unusual phenomenon. A recent Boston University/Harvard Medical School study suggests that up to 80% of people participating in ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion have been shifted off their private insurance.”

This shift from private insurance to Medicaid has serious implications, not only for taxpayers, who are bearing the costs of the program’s expansion, but also for anyone who has private health insurance coverage because it thins out the risk pool. Insurers respond to this distortionary effect by increasing insurance premiums on policy holders.

There aren’t many who argue against a social safety net for Americans who need assistance, but a broken Medicaid system isn’t the solution. Despite President Obama’s own admissions of serious flaws in this program and the need for reform, ObamaCare doubled down on the worst of Medicaid by expanding it.

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Premiums for the cheapest of ObamaCare's pricey health plans are going to jump by 14 percent

Though consumers won’t see insurance premiums for health plans on ObamaCare exchanges until open enrollment period begins on November 15, an recent analysis conducted by Investor’s Business Daily has shed some light on what they can expect for low-tier Bronze plans, the lowest tier plans, generally cheapest available for purchase:

An examination of next year’s rates in the biggest city in 15 states and Washington, D.C., reveals that the cost of the cheapest bronze plan will jump an average of 13.9% for 40-year-old non-smokers earning 225% of the poverty level ($26,260).

In Seattle, the cost of the cheapest bronze plan, after subsidies, will soar 64%, from $60 to $98 per month, for individuals at this income level. Some other cities seeing notable gains include Providence (up 38%, from $72 to $99 per month); Los Angeles (up 27%, from $88 to $111); Las Vegas (up 22%, from $100 to $122); and New York (up 18%, from $97 to $114).

The surge in the cost of the cheapest subsidized bronze policy could negatively impact enrollment in 2015. This year, 39% of bronze plan choosers picked the lowest-price option. One might expect that share to rise in 2015, when millions of people who passed on ObamaCare exchanges this year are expected to enroll.

IBD didn’t get into what’s driving the increases, but there are a few reasons why premiums are being driven upward, perhaps even a mix of reasons. Unbalanced risk pools — those with a larger than expected percentage of older and sicker people — could be driving the increases in some areas. In July, Aetna CEO Mark Bertonili explained that older and sicker customers will utilize more medical care, which is why insurers are relying on a bailout from the administration to help them mitigate any anticipated losses.

ObamaCare’s mandates, taxes, and fees are big drivers that caused last year’s rate shock. In an analysis released in March, eHealthInsurance.com noted that average individual health insurance premiums rose by 37 percent between 2005 and 2013 and 31 percent for the average family premium. But, in 2014 alone, individual premiums jumped by 39 percent for an individual and 56 percent for a family plan.

The mandates are already worked into the price of 2015′s premiums, so the increases aren’t as eye-popping as what consumers experienced last year, but still, a 14 percent increase isn’t anything to shrug off. A $38 monthly premium increase could make or break some people who are still struggling to get by in this economy.

At the end of the day, consumers aren’t going to firm information until mid-November, a cleverly designed date to avoid any unwanted surprises just before the mid-term election, but anyone who is buying should beware.

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Here's how big government bureaucrats have wasted $25 billion of your money

Before the Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling battle last year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, tried to dismiss the push for spending cuts. “[T]he cupboard is bare. There’s no more cuts to make. It’s really important that people understand that,” said Pelosi. “We all want to reduce the deficit. We’re all committed to that. Put everything on the table. Review it. But you cannot have any more cuts just for the sake of cuts. Right now, you’re taking trophies.”

Um, yeah, false. There may be wailing and gnashing of teeth about the sequester, but, in reality, there’s still plenty of wasteful federal spending that could and should be slashed. And it’s not like Congress has to go very far to find a starting point. This morning, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) released Wastebook 2014, an annual report outlining the 100 most egregious examples of government spending.

“With no one watching over the vast bureaucracy, the problem is not just what Washington isn’t doing, but what it is doing,” said Coburn, who has fiercely opposed government waste during his congressional career. “Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up some of these projects.”

“I have learned from these experiences that Washington will never change itself. But even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word,” he added.

While there are many in Congress from both parties who, like Pelosi, either deny that there is room to cut or don’t want to bother with trimming back Washington’s bloated bureaucracy, the 2014 iteration of Wastebook offers $25 billion in wasteful spending from an alphabet soup of federal agencies. Here are some examples from the report:

  • Federal agencies spent $19 million on paid vacations for bureaucrats
  • The National Institutes of Health dropped $387,000 on Swedish massages for rabbits
  • The National Science Foundation spent $171,000 to study the behavior of gambling monkeys
  • The Department of Agriculture doled out $200,000 to help New York-based Empire Brewing build a beer farm
  • The National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research spent $307,524 on synchronized swimming for sea monkeys
  • The State Department wasted $90 million to promote U.S. culture throughout the world
  • The Department of Homeland Security spent $450,000 on gym memberships for its employees
  • The Department of Transportation gave Fresno, California $16 million to build a road through a “ghost mall”
  • The United States Postal Service has spent $77 million to subsidize shipments of soft drinks and other items to remote towns in Alaska
  • The National Science Foundation dropped $5.2 million on fictional voicemails from a post-apocalyptic world

Yeah, man, there’s totally nowhere else to cut waste from the budget, right, Nancy Pelosi?

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ObamaCare Enrollment Delays Hide Insurance Cost Hikes Till After Elections

On October 1st of last year, ObamaCare’s inaugural enrollment period launched with all of the grace of a rocket exploding on its launch pad. Double-digit premium hikes, cancelled plans, and non-functioning websites caused misery for millions, leaving even supporters of the law lacking for words at times. This October there is silence, with few outside of the beltway focused on anything to do with ObamaCare.

Has the system been fixed – is ObamaCare working? Not at all. People in many states can still expect to be met with premium increases for their health insurance – well into the double digits for some states – and some of those who enrolled in the exchanges last year will be in for a hassle as their plans come up for renewal. Only, those problems will not be apparent to many until this year’s new enrollment period, which begins on November 15th. By stunning coincidence, that’s after the midterm elections.

Naturally, the White House earnestly insists, the decision to move the enrollment period back a month was not political.

As Valerie Richardson noted in the Washington Times, this delay will prove particularly fortuitous to embattled Democratic Senate candidates Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), and Bruce Braley (Iowa), as many of the insurance plans in their respective states are likely to increase in cost by double-digit percentages. All three candidates are already having to defend their ObamaCare votes, and one would assume that another major fault with the law would further threaten their popularity with voters.

The problems that are likely to (re)surface in November are more than just higher premiums (made more painful by the higher deductibles of the most affordable plans offered on the exchanges). Those who obtained a plan through the exchanges last year will have only a narrow timeline to make changes in their plan, and many may find out that their current plan is cancelled because it no longer fits the exchange’s bronze-silver-gold conditions, which are changed every year. Of course, they can switch to another plan, but as Mercatus’ Bob Graboyes notes, under the exchanges new plans will often mean new doctors. Those who already have a plan through the exchanges may also find out that due to a change of residence, income, or family status they are no longer eligible for the same level of premium subsidies, further raising their costs.

Plus, $2 billion and a year later, the federal exchange at healthcare.gov still hasn’t fixed its glaring security errors, meaning everyone using it is exposing their personal data to hackers.

The folks who experience all of these unpleasant side-effects of ObamaCare’s “affordable care” may find that they are less than pleased with the law and those who voted for it. But they’ll have a couple of years to stew about it before they can make their displeasure known at the ballot box.

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ObamaCare's outrageous deductibles are making life miserable for many Americans

Just last week the Associated Press released a survey finding that 25 percent of Americans are “not confident” that they’ll be able to afford medical care in the event of a major health problem. The results underscore one of the central problems with ObamaCare, that is the high deductibles that often come with health plans on the Exchanges.

The New York Times came out with a story ahead of the weekend telling the stories of a few different Americans who are still struggling to pay for healthcare because of ObamaCare’s outrageous deductibles.

Patricia Wanderlich, a Chicago-area resident, experienced a life-threatening brain hemorrhage three years ago and has an aneurysm. Her health plan, however, comes with a hefty $6,000 deductible. Rather than pay for a much-needed yearly brain scan to monitor her condition, Wanderlich is going without. “To spend thousands of dollars just making sure it hasn’t grown?” she told The Times. “I don’t have that money.”

Dr. Rebecca Lowe, who suffers from degenerative arthritis among other conditions, also has a $6,000 deductible that she has to meet before her health plan, for which she pays $422 per month, kicks in. But, thanks to ObamaCare’s limited provider networks, she’s been forced to seek medical care out of network to visit doctors more than 100 miles away. Though Lowe spent more than $6,000 on medical care for the year, none of it counts toward her deductible because she’s gone out of network.

Though ObamaCare supporters like to focus on the subsidies that artificially lower premiums by passing the costs onto taxpayers, ObamaCare’s higher deductibles are making it difficult for many Americans to afford the healthcare they need, or pricing them out of seeking care, entirely.

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