Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rand Paul Sponsors Legislation Which Privatizes Airport Security

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said that there is “great bipartisan support” for this bill, which would privatize airport security across the country. Paul sat down with about two dozen policy experts and small business owners Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill to discuss the bill.

Last January, Paul grabbed news headlines after his father, Rep. Ron Paul tweeted that his son had been detained by a TSA agent at the Nashville, Tennessee airport. The tweet reported that Rand Paul was being “detained by the TSA for refusing a full body pat-down.”

After the incident, Congressmen and Congresswoman on both side of the aisle empathized with Paul. “Every Democrat said hello to me,” after the incident Paul said. “They said, ‘We’ve got to do something about the TSA.’”

Senate Bill 3303 would largely force federal employees to step down from being the enforcer of airport security, and it would “require that screening of passengers at airports be conducted by employees of a private screening company.”

Paul said the idea behind this proposal was to rid the TSA and to provide “simple security oversight”, for private industry to compete for airport security jobs all across the country with the idea that private industry can do a more effective and efficient job than the federal government.

The TSA has previously conducted two studies, finding that private security screeners were 17.4 and 3 percent more expensive than the current government system. However, the GAO, or Government Accountability Office, has challenged the factors and the methods used in each of those reports.

The panel of members and Paul, both agreed that the introduction of a frequent flyer system, where travelers that travel quite frequently could be “fast-passed” based on their established low security safety record was needed to improve congestion at airport security.

“My point all along has been we’re less safe by treating everyone equally as a terrorist,” Paul said Wednesday.

The roundtable was hosted by Business Coalition for Fair competition and attendees discussed other issues that were relevant to the government “competing” with private businesses as well as some potential legislation that would limit the travel expenditures of lobbyists, which is currently unlimited. However the main goal of the panel yesterday was to discuss how to get the bill out of committee and onto the Senate Floor for a vote.

Paul added that he is confident about the possibilities and outcome of the bill, because he has received a high number of letters from his constituents about the TSA, and has discussed the issue thoroughly with his colleagues.

“All you have to do is be a frequent traveler and you’re in favor of doing something about the TSA,” he said. “I think the bill could pass.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Katherine Sebelius Violated Her Hatch Act

Monday morning the government watchdog, Cause of Action, declared that President Obama should fire Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius, or at the very minimum, suspend her for 30 days without pay. Sebelius is being accused of violating her Hatch Act. Rumors of the possibility of impeachment are swirling around Washington if the President doesn’t act quickly.

Last Wednesday, the U.S Office of Special Counsel issued a statement claiming that Sebelius violated the law when she endorsed the President’s reelection campaign, and the campaign of North Carolinian Lieutenant Governor Candidate Walter Dalton during a tax-payer funded public event on February 25th, 2012.

Generally, the penalty for violating the Hatch act is termination from office. However, the White House suggested that President Obama would offer Sebelius ‘special treatment’ which would allow her to keep her job.
According to the Counsel:
“Any employee who violates the Hatch Act shall be removed from their position, and funds appropriated for the position from which removed thereafter may not be used to pay the employee or individual.”
Federal employees, who are not politically appointed by the President and confirmed by the senate, are generally allowed to have their penalties lessened:
“If the Merit Systems Protection Board finds by unanimous vote that the violation does not warrant removal, a penalty of not less than a 30-day suspension without pay shall be imposed by direction of the board.”
The executive director of Cause of Action, Dan Epstein said this concerning Sebelius:
“Thus the point is that by close of business on Sept. 12, 2012, the president has been informed of a Hatch Act violation and yet has decided not to fire Sebelius. The president has therefore decided to overlook the improper political activities of his appointees when in their official capacities. He has effectively said it is okay to politicize the executive branch.”
Cause of Action also declared this when issuing their statement:
“In an unprecedented situation like the present one, the President takes ‘appropriate action’ by substituting himself into the role of the MSPB – in other words ‘appropriate action’ means that the president must suspend Secretary Sebelius for at least 30 days or remove her from office.” 
“By taking neither option, the President has, in effect, sent a message to the public that his Cabinet is superior to the law and that either his ethics pledge was a farce or that Sebelius is exempt from complying with the Executive Order,” the memo continues. “Moreover, Secretary Sebelius, in her letter to the OSC, disagreed with the conclusion that she committed a Hatch Act violation. It would appear that Secretary Sebelius is openly opposed to following the high standards of ethics she took an oath to the President to follow. Alternatively, the President has sanctioned her activity.”
The memo states that Congress can step in and push for accountability if it is determined that the President “fails to take ‘appropriate action’ to punish Secretary Sebelius” and “Secretary Sebelius fails to acknowledge that she violated the law.” The memo concludes that Congress can decide to impeach Sebelius if they so deem it is so the appropriate action.

Cause of Action also acknowledged that Sebelius violated President Obama’s “Ethics Pledge.” The group says that all of Obama’s political appointees were required to sign the pledge, “concerning lobbying activities while also seeking consensus from his political appointees that they understood the federal ethics rules.”
“Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signed this pledge,” Cause of Action said in their memo. “Secretary Sebelius did not receive a waiver from the restrictions agreed to by signing the pledge. And yet on February 25, Secretary Sebelius, using her official position, engaged in direct lobbying when she supported the defeat of North Carolina’s Amendment One. While this statement does not violate the Hatch Act, it would appear to be inconsistent with Secretary Sebelius’s ethical promise to the President.”
At least one member of Congress has publically called for the president to treat Sebelius as any other Hatch Act violator – with termination from her position. It’s time for President Obama to stand up and play the man–either he abides by the ethics code, or ignores it at his own risk. But Congress can’t let him get away with doing nothing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

THSC: Office of Mangement and Budget Offers Insight into the Sequestration

Friday, the White House released a report describing budget cuts under a possible sequestration. The report seems to be troubling, considering how specific the cuts are, and will likely leave many on Capitol Hill scratching their heads.

The Office of Management and Budget reports, that under a law signed by President Obama in August which came with partition support and blamed Republicans for bipartisan Budget Control Act which formed the sequester last year, have since called Republican plans to replace it with entitlement cuts, “irresponsible.”

“Members of Congress should work together to produce a balanced plan that achieves at least the level of deficit reduction agreed to in the BCA that the President can sign to avoid sequestration. The Administration stands ready to work with Congress to get the job done,” the introduction reads, adding later that a balanced compromise solution would make the top two percent of earners in the U.S. pay “their fair share.”

The long 394-page report outlines specific line-item cuts. However, the introduction of the report clearly state that the numbers are purely preliminary, and are not final. In turn, this makes is more difficult for law-makers to use this report in future legislative purposes.

“If the sequestration were to occur, the actual results would differ based on changes in law and ongoing legal, budgetary, and technical analysis,” the document states.

The new report addresses all of the cuts that will be made in Fiscal Year 2013 alone. All of the cuts add up to a whopping $110 billion in both non-defense spending and defense spending. In the report most non-military programs are estimated to take an 8.2 percent budget cut, while military budgets will face deeper cuts – an estimated 9.4 percent cut.

And of course, many federal departments will not be facing any cuts. Most mandatory spending, Veteran Affair operations would not face cuts, with Medicare facing a mere 2 percent budget cut with the sequester. The salaries and benefits of all members of Congress are not projected to be cut; however, many of the Congressional Staff may be facing a pay cut according to the report.

Defense Health Programs are projected to face a $3.27 billion cut, along with Department of Defense Operations and Maintenance being assessed a $3.8 billion cut, and the Navy’s shipbuilding budget will be reduced by $1.4 billion according to the report.

A statement released Friday afternoon by Buck KcKeon, the House Armed Services Committee Chairman, criticized the White House and Obama Administration for paying for ‘lip services’ to Congress’s request on the details on how the possible sequester would affect the DoD, and DoD spending.

“The report does reveal a shocking lack of planning on the part of a White House that brought sequester to the table in the first place,” KcKeon said. “With just over 3 months until a second half-trillion dollars in cuts are imposed no proposal from the President to avert them, and no predictability on how OMB will apply the cuts – the Commander in Chief appears to be willing to leave the military without either resources or strategy.”

Following the attacks across the Middle-East on American embassies last week, one might be worried that the report notes that embassy security would be cut by $136 million. NASA also stands to lose $1.4 billion with the sequester.

However, the report outlines more than just defense cuts. Many federal education programs stand to be cut; $1.3 billion from special education and $256 million from federal student aid.

Overall, sequestration is reported to cut more than $1 trillion from federal spending over the next ten years, unless a replacement plan is agreed upon. Last Thursday night, the House of Representatives passed an alternative to sequestration, but will likely be vetoed by President Obama if it even reaches the White House.