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Quinnipiac: Voters see Trump as more transparent than Clinton


Clinton and her campaign tried to turn the tables on Trump and ask why he hadn’t released his tax returns. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump won’t even release his tax returns, yet voters still think he’s more transparent than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

Fifty-four percent of likely voters said Trump is transparent, compared to 37 percent who said the same of Clinton.

In the past week, Clinton’s campaign has tried to position her as transparent, after she was accused of withholding information in the wake of her Sept. 11 “medical episode.” The campaign first claimed she was overheated, but after video surfaced of the candidate appearing unable to stand on her own, the campaign said she had been diagnosed with pneumonia the previous Friday.

This was yet another example of the campaign appearing to lie first before telling the truth. In the days since, the campaign has tried to point out that Clinton has released more medical records than Trump and that they would release more soon.

But this week, both candidates released the results of their physicals, complete with vital signs (and Trump’s testosterone level, if you were wondering).

As her health records were discussed, Clinton and her campaign tried to turn the tables on Trump and ask why he hadn’t released his tax returns, something Clinton has already done.

Apparently, that line isn’t sticking, as voters still find Trump more transparent than Clinton.

Ashe Schow is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.

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Obama and the true measure of progressivism


My sense is that President Obama wanted his administration to be the capstone of a century-long, progressive project.

He wanted to consolidate the federal government’s control over key aspects of our lives and prove, once and for all, that the country would be better off. Just look at what he said.

Only eight months after taking office, he took his focus off the economy and put it on what he hoped would be his single biggest domestic achievement: healthcare reform. He came before Congress and said, specifically, “I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.”

It’s clear he saw himself as the latest in a long line of progressive leaders. This certainly explains the sheer breadth of issues he tried to take on, whether it was cap-and-trade or immigration or gun control. He wanted to lock in progressivism’s gains. But his ultimate legacy will be showing the country that progressivism in practice just doesn’t work.

Start with the healthcare bill. When he was running for office, Obama promised that it would cover every American and cut the typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year. Despite the American people’s clear disapproval, he rammed the bill through a Democrat-led Congress.

Six years later, there are still 33 million people without insurance, and the average family’s premium has risen by almost $5,000 since 2008. Millions of people’s insurance plans were canceled, forcing them to change coverage, and there’s been a pronounced consolidation in the industry as hospital chains gobble up small clinics and doctor’s offices.

It’s not just healthcare. We’ve also seen consolidation in the banking industry. Since Dodd-Frank became law, our country has lost on average one community financial institution per day. There are now fewer than 6,500 banks in total, the lowest level since the Great Depression.

And Dodd-Frank’s regulations have not helped the American people. Before Dodd-Frank, 75 percent of banks offered free checking. Two years after it passed, only 39 percent did. A study by Javelin Strategy and Research suggests that Dodd-Frank regulations fueled a 21 percent surge in checking fees between 2006-12.

But this consolidation is all part of the progressive vision. Free enterprise and local communities are just too messy and unreliable to solve problems. Instead, you need a big government to control big business, both of which must be run by a small, select elite — or as we call them today, “the experts.”

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This vision is very impatient with the checks and balances of the Constitution. If the experts have settled on the right idea, what’s a 200-year-old document to stop them? This more than explains why the president has routinely run around Congress and tried to enforce his policies through executive orders. And perhaps this is the most troubling aspect of his legacy: the slow, steady erosion of self-government.

There are plenty more examples, which we’ve been highlighting as part of our “Real Obama Liberal Legacy” project on Speaker.gov. But what do we have to show for all this?

The president likes to brag that “we’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history.” But what he doesn’t mention is that this recovery has also been historically weak. He can point to a low unemployment rate, but it doesn’t include the near-record high of 94 million people out of the work force. For all the tax hikes and reckless spending and red tape, America is not better off.

In more and more areas of American life, President Obama has given government the starring role and pushed the people into the wings. He might consider this a success, but here’s the true measure of progressivism: After eight years of it, the vast majority of Americans say we’re on the wrong track.

Rep. Paul Ryan is speaker of the House of Representatives. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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The Obama legacy: An assault on the Bill of Rights


Part of a magazine series examining The Obama Legacy. Read more about this series below.

The Bill of Rights is a barricade protecting Americans from their government. Part of President Obama’s legacy will be that he inflicted damage on that barricade, eroding freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, the right to bear arms and the right to due process.

Through his political arguments, executive actions and political leadership, Obama has taken some of the holes punched by previous presidents and made them broader or more permanent.

This means that after Obama leaves office, people will be more easily silenced, killed or disarmed by their own government. Obama is leaving behind a public less protected from state power.

Curbing speech in politics and on campus

The heart of the First Amendment is arguably the freedom to criticize the people in power. Obama’s campaign-finance proposals have directly targeted that freedom.

He took the extraordinary step in 2010 of scolding the Supreme Court in his State of the Union for their ruling in Citizens United. The mere act of scolding could be part of his legacy, as his successors will have a precedent in waging political war against the judicial branch.

Citizens United struck down a campaign-finance provision barring groups such as nonprofit organizations, corporations and unions from attacking or praising politicians close to Election Day. Obama argued that the government has the authority to limit such “electioneering communications.”

In fact, his deputy solicitor general stated in oral arguments that the government could even ban the publication of certain books too close to an election.

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The solicitor general at that time was Elena Kagan. She is now on the Supreme Court, along with Justice Sonya Sotomayor, another Obama nominee. If Obama’s third nominee, Merrick Garland, is also confirmed, “it seems quite clear that Citizens United will be reversed,” says UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.

Volokh believes Sotomayor is less antagonistic to political speech than are Kagan and Obama, which could leave a majority in place to defend the First Amendment in many cases.

Citizens United struck down a campaign-finance provision barring groups such as nonprofit organizations, corporations and unions from attacking or praising politicians close to Election Day. (AP Photo)

He warned, however, of Obama’s legacy in another free-speech battle: campus speech codes.

Obama’s Justice Department and Education Department “have pressed for interpretations of Title IX that would essentially force universities to have speech codes,” Volokh said.

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Obama’s DoJ has explicitly discarded the precedent on when “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” constitutes sexual harassment. The Justice Department, in an investigation of the University of New Mexico, stated that such conduct “constitutes sexual harassment regardless of whether it causes a hostile environment or is quid pro quo.”

Since “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” can include something as simple as a dirty joke, according to the government, Obama’s DoJ has arguably said universities must ban dirty jokes or even published statements about sex and sexuality that people find offensive.

This paves the road for a future DoJ to force campuses to bar all sorts of politically incorrect arguments about sexuality, including expression of religious or traditional ideas about marriage or gender roles.

Volokh has written: “The same logic, if accepted, will likewise extend to racially themed speech that some people find offensive, plus probably also anti-gay speech and the like.”

Free exercise of religion

Narrowing the free exercise of religion may also be part of Obama’s legacy.

“Freedom of worship” was often Obama’s preferred phrase, in contrast to the actual freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment, the “free exercise of religion.”

The Obama administration laid down very clear and very narrow boundaries for religious freedom.

The Obama administration argued that the Little Sisters were “mistaken” to believe that it violated their consciences to sign a form ordering their insurer to cover contraceptives. (AP Photo)

Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) included a provision requiring employer-sponsored health insurance to cover every penny of “preventive care” for women. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services decided that this encompasses all forms of contraception, including sterilization and morning-after contraceptives, which can kill a fertilized egg, according to the manufacturers.

Many employers objected to paying for contraception, which the Catholic Church teaches is contrary to moral law, and even more objected to covering sterilization and morning-after contraception, which can arguably induce abortion. Obama’s administration first issued a very narrow exemption covering churches. After heavy pressure, it slightly expanded the exemption to include other religious organizations.

But religious individuals operating private businesses also value their freedom of conscience and free exercise, so they challenged the rule. The administration stood up to Hobby Lobby, the family-owned chain of craft stores, whose owners argued that government was violating the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.

The administration argued in a legal brief that Hobby Lobby’s owners don’t have free exercise rights in their operation of their store. “Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer,” the Obama administration wrote in a brief, “and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.”

The principle that individuals lose their constitutional rights when they combine into groups — such as businesses or nonprofits — is the same principle behind the administration’s arguments in Citizens United. Both of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees share his view on the question.

When the Little Sisters of the Poor lost their challenge to Obama’s contraception mandate in the 10th Circuit in 2014, it was Obama appointee Scott Matheson who wrote the opinion that broke new ground.

While RFRA and all previous RFRA jurisprudence had prescribed that judges take plaintiffs at their word as to what their religious beliefs are, Matheson wrote an opinion in which he personally decided what it was that the nuns believed.

The Obama administration argued that the Little Sisters were “mistaken” to believe that it violated their consciences to sign a form ordering their insurer to cover contraceptives. Matheson agreed.

Other judges on the circuit called for a review of the case on the basis that Matheson’s ruling was “clearly and gravely wrong.”

The dissenters wrote that Matheson “does not doubt the sincerity of the plaintiffs’ religious belief. But it does not accept their statements of what that belief is. It refuses to acknowledge that their religious belief is that execution of the documents is sinful. Rather, it reframes their belief … But it is not the job of the judiciary to tell people what their religious beliefs are …”

The Obama administration argued that the judges should and could decide for the Sisters what their belief really was. Obama appointee Matheson made exactly that judgment. To date, his and Obama’s novel argument has lost in the courts. But given eight years of Obama appointees to the courts, the Obama administration’s argument could take hold. Conscience protections would evaporate.

Obama transformed the Left’s culture war stance from “live and let live” to “bake me a cake, or else.” And he brought most of the media and half of the government with him. (AP Photo)

Obama has opened up still other new fronts against the freedom of religion.

His Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for instance, ruled that a Catholic school in Georgia must keep a gay teacher employed after he publicly announced he was marrying a man, in essence saying that codes of behavior grounded in ancient religious teaching were illegal if they clashed with modern ideas about non-discrimination that even Obama himself rejected just a few years ago.

The president’s biggest long-run impact on religious liberty may be less his legal arguments and judicial appointees than his bold political decision to provoke a culture war.

Through executive regulatory processes, Obama mandated contraception coverage (even though the Affordable Care Act doesn’t call for it). Then he (not the law itself) chose to make the religious exemptions narrow.

When Republicans pushed back, Obama’s team dialed the culture war up to maximum volume, making the mandate and religious conservatives’ requests for exemptions a centerpiece of the 2012 campaign.

Obama even put law student Sandra Fluke on stage at the Democratic National Convention in prime time to argue that allowing employers to choose whether to pay for their employees’ contraceptives amounted to letting bosses “control” “access to birth control.”

In short, Obama trolled religious conservatives. He forced them to do something they found immoral, and when they asked to be left alone, he blasted them as misogynistic theocrats.

This Obama approach spread throughout elite culture. After the Supreme Court obliged states to conduct gay marriages, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to the pages of the Washington Post to portray wedding photographers and bakers as the ones imposing their morality.

Democrats in the 1990s championed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. By the end of the Obama administration, RFRA has become a curse word, a retrograde hate-attack by the Religious Right.

Obama transformed the Left’s culture war stance from “live and let live” to “bake me a cake, or else.” And he brought most of the media and half of the government with him. This battleground, prepared by Obama, will be where future cultural battles are fought. Will Catholic hospitals be forced to perform abortions? Will Washington crack down on homeschoolers?

Second Amendment

President Obama has declared open-season on gun rights, moving gun control from a cause championed only by a passionate minority of the party’s base to a central plank in the platform, and a sine qua non for any Democrat with ambitions.

If Democrats maintain the gun-control stance that Obama has prescribed, it’s only a matter of time before they break down Second Amendment protections that have long stymied gun-controllers.

Obama didn’t move the ball legislatively, but he declared war, and his party followed him, both in ambitious gun-control policy and bombastic rhetoric. (AP Photo)

Gun control was dead in 2008 when Obama ran for president. The Heller decision, affirming the individual right to bear arms, came down at the beginning of Obama’s general-election run that year, and the presumptive nominee barely said a word.

“I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms,” the candidate said in a quietly emailed statement. “I have said consistently that I believe that the Second Amendment is an individual right,” Obama argued on Fox News, “and that was the essential decision that the Supreme Court came down on.”

That was as bold as he was willing to get before taking office.

“[T]he gradual disintegration of the gun control movement that once drove Democratic politics is now pretty much complete,” Dan Schnur, a Republican operative, wrote in the New York Times.

“For decades, the true meaning of the Second Amendment has been the subject of wrenching public debate. But last Thursday, when the court expressly and historically extended the right of gun ownership to private citizens, the Democratic Party’s nominee for president merely shrugged.”

Eight years later, Heller and the Second Amendment still stand, but an army is now arrayed against it. The army is the Democratic Party, and they were led to this battle by the president.

After he won re-election, and after the school massacre at Sandy Hook, Conn., Obama went on the war path against guns. On a stage filled with children, Obama announced 23 gun-related executive orders in January 2013, which beefed up background checks, among other things.

He wrapped up his State of the Union address that month with a barn-burning bit of rhetorical fire, demanding a vote on gun control.

He began demanding Congress pass gun laws “if there’s even one life that can be saved.” Obama didn’t move the ball legislatively, but he declared war, and his party followed him, both in ambitious gun-control policy and bombastic rhetoric.

Policy-wise, some Democrats took up Obama’s flag, and called for a new “assault-weapon ban,” which would outlaw many rifles. Senate Democratic leaders, along with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, in 2013 pushed a bill requiring universal background checks, including many private sales.

In 2016, Democrats, along with Maine Republican Susan Collins, championed a bill to strip gun rights from all individuals on terror watch lists and no-fly lists.

Rhetorically, Democratic lawmakers also followed Obama’s lead.

Citing her Senate colleague Chris Murphy, Elizabeth Warren tweeted in June, “@ChrisMurphyCT said it right: The @SenateGOP have decided to sell weapons to ISIS.”

Eight years later, Heller and the Second Amendment still stand, but an army is now arrayed against it. The army is the Democratic Party, and they were led to this battle by the president. (AP Photo)

This assault on due process, and the willingness of supposedly serious lawmakers like Warren to engage in flat demagoguery, reflected how far Obama had pulled his party in eight years.

His judicial appointees agree. In a 2010 gun-control case, three liberal justices, including Sotomayor, Obama’s only appointee at the time, rejected a core idea of Heller, that individuals have the right to bear arms.

“I can find nothing in the Second Amendment’s text, history or underlying rationale that could warrant characterizing it as ‘fundamental’ insofar as it seeks to protect the keeping and bearing of arms for private self-defense purposes.”

Kagan wasn’t on the court then, but her career reveals a sclerotic view of the Second Amendment. “I’m not sympathetic” to the claim that “the District of Columbia’s firearms statutes violate [an individual’s] constitutional right to ‘keep and bear Arms,’ ” Kagan wrote, while a clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Due process, drone strikes and wiretaps

“Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” Obama said in December 2015. “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?”

There’s an obvious argument: The no-fly list is created without transparency or oversight. Individuals are added to the list without due process, and there is no process for getting removed. Taking away gun rights based on this list seems to violate the Fifth Amendment, which includes the words, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”

Obama’s endorsement of congressional Democrats’ “No Fly-No Buy” ploy cemented the party as squarely opposed to both the Second and Fifth Amendments, a position that held firm throughout the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

This fits the pattern of Obama’s legacy on other civil liberties protected in the Bill of Rights: If you think of other recent presidents, especially President George W. Bush, as workmen who chiseled away at civil liberties, and set down their pick axe, Obama has taken up that axe and continued their work of cracking the foundation of due process and privacy rights.

Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who had never been convicted, or even charged with a crime when Obama ordered him killed by a drone strike in 2011. The administration called him “an imminent threat,” but he wasn’t driving to a terrorist attack when Obama’s drones cut him down.

“It was in deliberately targeting al-Awlaki,” writes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage in his book Power Wars, “that the United States on Obama’s watch broke new ground.”

Obama also set new precedents, and new records, in prosecuting leakers. “Law enforcement officials on Obama’s watch took several steps of unprecedented aggression when investigating and charging leak cases,” Savage wrote.

It wasn’t merely the number. Obama brought nine criminal leak cases, while all 43 previous presidents brought a combined total of three. Obama went after leakers at 129 times the rate of his predecessors.

The administration called American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki “an imminent threat,” but he wasn’t driving to a terrorist attack, nor was he ever convicted, when Obama’s drones cut him down. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

The president’s lawyers set this record with the help of new legal arguments, Savage laid out. They equated leaking with treason, designated a reporter a criminal coconspirator and worked to establish as a legal precedent that the First Amendment’s freedom of the press doesn’t protect reporters from being prosecuted for protecting their sources.

Obama’s legacy will also include making permanent some of George W. Bush’s post-9/11 tactics, such as military tribunals and indefinite detention of terrorist suspects.

The president, in his 2009 inaugural address, promised to take up the task of “remaking America.” The Bill of Rights, as a barricade creating a sphere of freedom from government intrusion, has always been an essential part of America. Obama has, in fact, “remade” the Bill of Rights. He leaves that sphere of freedom a bit smaller. And he leaves America diminished and more easily intimidated.

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Obama's military crisis needs fixing


This fall is shaping up to be a busy time for the debate on defense spending. While every military spending bill is critical, this year’s comes at a particularly significant time for our security.

In his proposal for 2017, President Obama cut $100 billion from the amount his own secretary of defense, Bob Gates, anticipated our military would need in 2017.

This estimate came well before Russia began invading its neighbors, China started creating new islands in contested waters, the president extended the mission in Afghanistan and the Islamic State declared a caliphate and began bombing European cities.

What’s worse is that while proposing a significant increase in military deployments around the world, the president has not actually asked for additional funds to pay for their missions. Instead, he again cuts tens of billions from what the services say they need for training, maintenance and replacements for weapons so worn out they can no longer be repaired.

The House and Senate are working together to address this readiness gap, beginning with the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The term “readiness” is used often, but what does it really mean? Readiness is the ability to prepare for, support and accomplish a mission that the political leadership asks the military to do. Being “ready” requires the right number of people, who are capable, fully trained and appropriately equipped.

Budget cuts over the last few years, coupled with the pace and the number of military deployments, have created a readiness crisis across each of the services. Unfortunately, we are beginning to witness the tragic consequences.

“Class A” aircraft mishaps, accidents that lead to fatalities or loss of the aircraft, are up 84 percent in this fiscal year over the 10-year average for the Marine Corps. Earlier this year, 12 Marines were killed in a helicopter crash during a training exercise off Hawaii, and 11 more were killed in a similar incident off Florida’s Gulf Coast last year. Similar trends are emerging in the Army.

The Washington Examiner — along with Fox News, CNN, the Washington Post and others — have revealed the real-world consequences of these trends, reporting that recent fatal domestic training accidents are causing alarm, flight-training hours are below acceptable levels and that troops are cannibalizing aircraft in museums to meet current operational needs.

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This situation is taking a real and personal toll on our most valuable resource — our people.

I have seen it in the eyes of pilots who are not getting even the minimum number of flying hours to stay proficient. I have also seen it with mechanics who are working longer and longer hours with no days off to keep those planes flying. And I have seen it in the frustration of a commander about to deploy but not knowing when — or if — he will get the equipment he needs.

Congress owes our Armed Forces a solution. That is why correcting readiness shortfalls is a major emphasis in both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA. Both bills begin to reverse cuts to troop strength, increase investments in training and maintenance programs and boost funding to rebuild crumbling facilities like barracks, runways and hangars.

Recognizing that some of our equipment is too worn out to fix, it restores funds for replacement weapons. Both bills also give our troops a pay raise and make needed reforms to acquisition and the Pentagon bureaucracy.

House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders will continue to negotiate a final version of the NDAA, after a bipartisan majority of members in both chambers have voted to increase defense spending above current spending caps. Press reports indicate that the White House is preparing a supplemental request to fund some of the operations not covered by the president’s original budget, but not all.

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The American people are becoming increasingly alarmed about this emergency readiness crisis facing our men and women in uniform. Understandably so. Congress has a responsibility to do what is right for our troops and our security, and to do it immediately.

Mac Thornberry represents Texas’ 13th congressional district in the House of Representatives. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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Katie McGinty supports an ethanol boondoggle that's killing Philly jobs


Democratic Senate nominee Katie McGinty of Pennsylvania reaffirmed her support of federal ethanol subsidies and mandates this week — the same week a Philadelphia business explained the mandate is forcing it to lay off employees. McGinty’s ode to the biofuel also comes a couple of weeks after an academic study concluded ethanol may be worse for the environment than gasoline.

Given ethanol’s well-known environmental problems (even Al Gore says subsidizing it was a mistake) and its clear economic damage, it’s difficult to square McGinty’s enthusiasm for subsidizing the fuel with her image as a crusader for the planet and the working man.

When you see McGinty instead as a revolving-door green-energy lobbyist who uses her public power to enrich companies that in turn personally enrich her, her ethanol love makes perfect sense.

Here’s the background:

Ethanol is a fuel made from plant products, mostly corn in the U.S. It’s much less powerful than gasoline and cars cannot run on ethanol alone. The federal government has long subsidized ethanol, in the name of energy independence, helping farmers and helping the environment. Currently, Washington mandates the use of ethanol. Refiners are, in effect, forced to water down their gasoline with corn-juice.

Ethanol mandates are widely understood as corporate welfare that’s no good for the environment. Federal support for ethanol “was not a good policy,” Gore — an erstwhile ethanol booster — admitted in 2012. It was special-interest Iowa politics that made him support ethanol when he was still in politics.

Liberal New York Times blogger and former Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman summed up nicely ethanol’s impact: “Bad for the economy, bad for consumers, bad for the planet — what’s not to love?”

Pat Toomey, the incumbent McGinty is challenging, has repeatedly introduced legislation to kill the ethanol mandate. The Environmental Working Group applauded him for this, writing: “The corn ethanol mandate has failed to live up to its expectations, spewed millions of tons of greenhouse gases into air and polluted American waterways with chemical farm runoff. Worse still, the mandate has had other unintended consequences, such as engine damage and increased food price volatility.

McGinty supports the use of corn ethanol as a renewable fuel that can replace the need for some fossil fuels, according to her campaign,” the Associated Press reported Monday.

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Back in January, McGinty attacked Toomey for his efforts to end the boondoggle. “You know, Pat Toomey is also down there saying, ‘renewable fuels, we don’t need them,’ McGinty said at a farm event. “Well that’s a great market that our farmers were benefiting from. We do need that, and we will fight for it.”

In 2008, McGinty, serving as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Environmental Protection said, “for corn ethanol, maybe at least for a time, we could dial up our enthusiasm.” She said it would be a “terrific tragedy” to end government supports for “corn-based ethanol.” McGinty walked the walk, too. When she left the state government, she took a seat on the board of Thar Energy, which developed ethanol technologies, among other “green-energy” products.

Jeff Broin is known as “Mr. Ethanol.” He founded Poet LLC, the nation’s largest ethanol company. Broin, also Poet’s CEO, has given McGinty $5,000, according to FEC records. Jeff Lautt, President and COO of Poet, gave McGinty the same amount on the same day, June 20.

But government subsidies and mandates aren’t free. They profit one company at the expense of another.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the East Coast’s largest oil refinery, announced recently it was hitting hard times. “Company pension contributions will be frozen, healthcare benefits will be cut, and buyouts will be offered to salaried employees, chief executive officer Philip Rinaldi said in an email to workers Wednesday,” Bloomberg News reported September 9.

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A main reason for the company’s hard times: “The company … said about $250 million in costs for government-backed ethanol blending credits this year and low fuel prices along with high East Coast inventories are forcing it to reduce spending in all areas,” Bloomberg reported. “It is draining our capital resources,” the company’s CEO wrote to employees.

McGinty’s professions of ethanol love last week came on the heels of a finding by scientists at the University of Michigan that “Biofuels increase, rather than decrease, heat-trapping carbon-dioxide molecules.”

But blending government power with private profit is the story of McGinty’s career. When she left an environmental-policy job the Clinton administration, she became a lobbyist for a company lobbying the Clinton administration on its environmental policy. When she left her job as Rendell’s Environment Secretary, she took jobs with companies she had subsidized.

So when McGinty says government should subsidize corn ethanol, it’s just more of the same: getting big government and big business in bed together, an arrangement that enriches insiders like Katie McGinty.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner’s senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.

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The Obama legacy: Big government's failed pitchman


Part of a magazine series examining The Obama Legacy. Read more about this series below.

President Obama entered office in 2009 with the twin goals of expanding the role that government plays in the lives of individuals and businesses and proving to Americans that the government could be trusted to achieve big things. He was only half successful.

Through sweeping legislation and strong-armed use of executive power, Obama broadened the reach of government more than any president since Lyndon Johnson. Congress passed a national healthcare program, ramped up regulation of the financial sector, and spent hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure and alternative energy projects.

Rules issued by his administration now determine what type of health insurance everyone must have and how many miles per gallon their cars will need to average. Other rules, such as a far-reaching plan to curb carbon emissions, await legal challenges before formal implementation.

So Obama undoubtedly moved the ball down the field for liberalism, but the gulf between his promises and the reality of what was implemented dramatically hardened public skepticism about government. Under Obama, the nation found out that “shovel ready” stimulus projects weren’t shovel ready, and discovered that they were not allowed to keep the doctors and health insurance that they liked.

As the Obama epoch wanes, trust in government has reached historic lows. A Pew poll last fall found that just 19 percent of Americans said they could trust the government to do the right thing most of the time — a lower percentage than during Watergate, Vietnam or the Iraq War.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

In his 2008 campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama differed little from Clinton on policy. But he offered himself as the more transformational figure who could advance the liberal agenda.

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He presented himself as somebody with broad popular appeal, who had the ability to inspire and mobilize communities and who could use his rhetorical gifts to shake people out of decades of skepticism about government. He drew a revealing historical parallel.

“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” he told the Reno-Gazette editorial board in January of that year, explaining that at certain times in history, the ground is fertile for the right leader to move the country in a new direction.

“He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the ’60s and the ’70s, and government had grown and grown, but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating.”

Obama took heat for the statement during the primaries, with Democratic rivals portraying it as praise for Reagan, but in actuality, Obama was revealing a lot about his ambitions.

His point was that Reagan transformed the country. Though government continued to grow under Reagan, he did pass historic tax cuts and make Americans reflexively more suspicious of ambitious government proposals. It was because of Reagan that future Democrats would be afraid to admit that they were raising taxes for anyone other than high-income earners.

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President Clinton, in contrast, saw the healthcare push he deputized to Hillary Clinton go down in flames in 1994, costing his party both chambers in Congress for the first time in 40 years and forcing him to abandon his ambitions of passing any sweeping legislation for the rest of his presidency.

When Clinton was forced to declare, in 1996, “the era of big government is over,” he was very much operating within the box that Reagan had created for him the previous decade.

Liberals were frustrated by the lack of progress on key domestic priorities during the Clinton era, especially healthcare. Coming off a wave election that propelled Democrats to take over Congress in 2006, and confident that President Bush’s low approval ratings would enable them to win back the White House, liberals were left deciding which candidate was most likely to achieve their main policy goals.

“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” President Obama said. (AP Photos)

Obama saw himself as the liberal answer to Reagan who could succeed where Clinton failed, putting an optimistic face on government expansion, passing historic legislation and getting Americans believing in government again.

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” Obama said in his first inaugural address. “Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

“What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.” He went on, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

Right out of the gate in 2009, Obama swiftly signed bills held up during George W. Bush’s tenure. One was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which removed the statute of limitations on pay discrimination cases, allowing suits to be filed for events that took place decades earlier, a windfall to trial lawyers.

Obama also put a down payment on his healthcare ambitions by expanding a program providing health coverage to children, making it available to families with higher incomes. The expansion was funded by the largest ever increase in federal cigarette taxes, which violated his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000 per year; a disproportionate number of smokers are people with low incomes.

But Obama’s first big initiative was an $840 billion economic stimulus package. Refusing to let a crisis go to waste, he used the financial collapse to advance big-ticket items on the liberal agenda. Arguing that it would revive the economy, he pumped money into infrastructure, healthcare, federal arts programs and green energy projects, and promised “shovel ready” jobs.

In practice, his green energy program came to be associated with the failure of solar panel company Solyndra. The remnant of his vision for a vast network of high-speed rail trains throughout the nation is a solitary (and failing) experiment in California. Federal taxpayers, through the stimulus, pumped billions of dollars into a project that was supposed to build a bullet train system connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Seven years later, the project budget has more than doubled to $68 billion, and completion has been delayed by years due to environmental lawsuits, land acquisition problems and financial issues. Taxpayers have nothing for their money except some partially completed track in central California, which was supposed to be the cheaper and easier part of the segment to build because it’s a less populous part of the state.

Just before the economic stimulus package passed in February 2009, a Gallup poll found that 59 percent of people supported it, compared to 33 percent against. By October 2010, after the public had a chance to see the results, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found just 29 percent who said the stimulus money had been well spent, and 68 percent who thought it was mostly wasted.

Eventually, even Obama himself was forced to joke, “Shovel ready was not as shovel ready as we expected.”

The economy sputtered for a lot longer than it needed to, and the recovery has been the weakest since 1945.

Defenders of Obama tout the fact that the economy eventually recovered, more or less, and that Obama will leave office with a relatively low unemployment rate. This is true, but the economy sputtered for a lot longer than it needed to, and the recovery has been the weakest since 1945.

Expensive though the economic stimulus package was, it didn’t substantially advance liberalism because it was short-lived. More than 95 percent of its budgetary impact had been realized by the end of 2014, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. Had Obama and Democrats been stopped there, limited government conservatives would have gotten off relatively easily in the long-run.

But Obama, who would for a few months in 2009 enjoy a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, wanted to advance the goal of national healthcare that had eluded liberals for decades.

Obamacare, the defining accomplishment of his presidency, epitomizes everything about Obama’s legacy. Throughout the fight to pass and implement it, Obama demonstrated a willingness to suffer political damage to advance his ideological goals, but on the other hand, a pragmatic streak that recognized the importance of incremental progress.

Philosophically, Obama always agreed with advocates of a European-style, single-payer healthcare. He openly declared himself a “proponent” of such a system in 2003, and even when he was running for president he claimed that it would be the best system if the U.S. were “designing a system from scratch.”

But he also knew that such a system would be a non-starter politically, because the majority of people were happy with their healthcare, and also because business would be wiped out in any transition to a nationalized system.

Politically, it would have been less risky for Obama to focus on his economic agenda in 2009 and 2010 rather than advance such controversial legislation as Obamacare. But at every step, when some were advising he walk away or pursue a less ambitious plan as support for the legislation tanked and the Democratic congressional majority hung in the balance, he kept going.

He had the insight that even if Democrats lost control of Congress (which they did thanks to the healthcare law), it would be worth it in the long-run, because once individuals started receiving benefits, it would be difficult to undo. Democrats can regain a congressional majority, but Obama recognized and seized a once in a lifetime opportunity to give government a stronger grip on a sector fast approaching a fifth of the economy.

As much as he was willing to take political risks, Obama was also willing to cut whatever deals he needed to and sacrifice aspects of the program. Though he once talked during the campaign of broadcasting negotiations on C-SPAN and holding drugmakers accountable, he ultimately cut deals with the industry behind closed doors.

In exchange for the backing of drug manufacturers, he dropped the idea of having Medicare negotiate drug prices and allowing the re-importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. As several Democratic senators faced pressure from the insurance industry, Obama was willing to abandon the idea of creating a government-run plan, known as the “public option,” to compete against privately administered plans.

In the six years since it became law, Obama’s dishonest promises in selling Obamacare have been exposed one after another.

Though Obama came short of creating a single-payer system, he did, in the words of liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, create a “Rube Goldberg device” that “relies on a combination of regulations and subsidies to rope, coddle and nudge us into a rough approximation of a single-payer system.”

As implemented, Obamacare funds an expanded Medicaid program and offers government subsidies to people to purchase government-designed health insurance policies on government-run exchanges. The law is mainly financed by about $1 trillion in tax increases in addition to reductions in projected Medicare spending.

In the six years since it became law, Obama’s dishonest promises in selling Obamacare have been exposed one after another.

He told a national audience in a speech to a joint session of Congress that the law would cost “around $900 billion” over 10 years, a measure that included the first four years when the law was technically on the books, but the major spending provisions weren’t scheduled to be implemented. The real 10-year cost after implementation was more than double that, closer to $2 trillion.

Obama promised that individuals would be able to shop for insurance on websites just like Expedia or Orbitz. In reality, when the exchanges launched in the fall of 2013, the insurance exchange websites were barely functional for months.

Obama promised repeatedly that all people could keep their doctors and health insurance plans if they liked them. In reality, millions have lost or will lose they coverage they had. And, as insurers slash provider networks to cut costs as a result of the law, people are finding it harder and harder to purchase plans that include their current doctors.

Obama said premiums would go down for the typical family, but premiums have skyrocketed.

As Obama’s days in office draw to a close, his massive and unpopular pet project, which survived a fierce political backlash and several Supreme Court challenges, is on the verge of imploding.

The law’s exchanges, which were originally projected to cover 21 million people at the time of the law’s passage, have only enrolled about half that number. More significantly, insurers have been unable to sign up a sufficient number of young and healthy people to offset the costs of taking on the older and sicker patients the law forces them to cover.

So insurers have suffered billions in losses, forcing some of the biggest companies — like Humana, Aetna and UnitedHealth — to abandon Obamacare markets. This means even less choice and puts yet more pressure on remaining insurers, who will have to take more sick patients. This could prompt yet more insurers to bail out of the program as it spirals helplessly toward the ground.

Weeks before the final passage of Obamacare, Nancy Pelosi, who was then House speaker, infamously said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Though notorious among conservatives as an example of her admitting that nobody was going to read the bill before voting on it, her intended point was that once the law was passed, people would get to see all the good it does, and they’d come to like it. The truth has been the opposite.

In April 2010, just after the law was signed, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 46 percent had a favorable view of it, compared to 40 percent who viewed in unfavorably. In the same poll taken in July of this year, the numbers were reversed, with 46 percent having an unfavorable view and 40 percent having a favorable view.

There’s a myth surrounding Obama’s presidency, most recently advanced by the New York Times. It presents Obama as a noble public servant who embraced the use of executive power only reluctantly after being confronted by GOP obstructionists. Beyond the fact that it isn’t the duty of the opposition party to accept a president’s agenda, this narrative is historically inaccurate.

Right from the get-go, Obama was prepared to exert executive power, and moved legislation and regulation on parallel tracks. One good example was his efforts to regulate carbon.

“EPA will stand ready to help Congress craft strong, science-based climate legislation that fulfills the vision of the president,” Lisa Jackson, who served as Obama’s first EPA administration, wrote in her first memo to employees just days after Obama was inaugurated. “As Congress does its work, we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing EPA’s obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act.”

The decision she was referring to was the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision which compelled the agency to regulate carbon emissions from vehicles, pending a finding of “endangerment.” But it was clear that key Obama administration officials believed the ruling would also allow them to impose regulations on stationary sources of carbon emissions.

In fact, the woman Obama first appointed to be senior policy counsel on climate change at the EPA, Lisa Heinzerling, was a lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts v. EPA suit, and she had publicly said that she thought the ruling applied to all carbon emissions, including from power plants.

Similarly, Obama’s initial appointments to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, which is supposed to adjudicate disputes between unions and management, were all advocates of a more aggressive regulatory stance against businesses to aid labor unions.

Of course, like all presidents, Obama would have naturally preferred for more of his agenda to be enshrined in law, because that makes it more difficult for a successor of another party to undo it. But it’s also clear that from the start, he was laying the groundwork to act on any items of his agenda that could not make it through Congress.

By December 2010, just before Republicans assumed control of the House, the Obama administration had issued 20 percent more “economically significant” regulations than Clinton during his first two years in office, and 63 percent more than President Bush, according to data compiled by the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center.

In addition to federal agencies adopting an aggressive regulatory posture from the beginning of his presidency, the major legislation that was passed by Congress and that Obama did sign in his first term also vastly expanded the regulatory state by giving bureaucrats far-reaching new powers.

Obamacare, for instance, created many new agencies and sub-agencies and delegated broad authority to the secretary of Health and Human Services. The text of Obamacare contains more than 2,500 references to the HHS secretary; 700 instances in which the secretary is instructed that he or she “shall” do something; and more than 200 cases in which he or she “may” take some form of regulatory action based on discretion.

Health insurers have suffered billions in losses, forcing some of the biggest companies — like Humana, Aetna and UnitedHealth — to abandon Obamacare markets.

Under Obamacare, the secretary and other HHS officials get to make a wide array of decisions that affect the lives of people and businesses without the approval of Congress — what’s in the insurance policies that everyone is required to buy, who can be exempt from the federal mandate to purchase insurance and the period of time during the year that individuals are able to purchase coverage.

The secretary can dole out billions in grants and dictate how fast food companies have to display calorie counts.

The powers granted to HHS through Obamacare are so immense and ill-defined that they leave room for abuse. HHS has been subjected to lawsuits challenging the administration’s authority to alter or delay the law’s employer mandate and bypass the congressional appropriations process to funnel money toward insurance companies.

The issue of vague and wide-reaching powers delegated to agencies without accountability is also clear in the other mammoth legislation that Obama signed in 2010, the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law.

Ostensibly, it aimed at preventing a repeat of the financial collapse of 2008, ending the need for taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street banks and policing shady lending practices. But the law gave poorly defined new powers to newly created government agencies, and in the process, actually enshrined the idea of “too big to fail” into law, and punished smaller community banks instead of reining in bad actors on Wall Street.

One agency created by the law, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, has the ability to tag both banks and non-banks as Systematically Important Financial Institutions, effectively enshrining the idea of “too big to fail” by signaling to the markets that the government views the failure of those institutions as a broader threat to the economy.

FSOC remains unaccountable to Congress despite being entrusted to identify and respond to “emerging threats to the stability of the United States financial system.” As Hester Peirce, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, testified before Congress last year, Dodd-Frank is “built on the premise that markets fail, but regulators do not.”

Another Dodd-Frank agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is charged with regulating “unfair,” “deceptive” or “abusive” lending practices, but the law doesn’t clearly define what would qualify as such practices or place clear limits on the actions the CFPB can take to respond to whatever is deemed as such.

Obama’s Labor Department issued a rule requiring federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of at least $10.10 per hour to workers.

This regulatory uncertainty is a clear benefit to larger institutions. “Big banks can rely upon an army of lawyers to help figure out how to comply with open-ended laws,” Adam White, a lawyer and fellow at the Hoover Institution, has put it. “A small bank or business, by contrast, can’t afford such luxuries.”

The Republican takeover of Congress, thus, did not suddenly turn a reticent Obama into the regulator in chief. His inability to enact his agenda legislatively for the last three-fourths of his presidency just meant that his policy priorities would have to be advanced through executive action.

One area where Obama leaned heavily on the administrative state was on labor-related issues. Obama tried and failed in his first year to pass legislation that would have denied a secret ballot to workers in union elections, which would have greased the skids for more rapid unionization.

But the NLRB, which Obama packed with union-friendly appointees, in 2014 finalized a “speedy election” rule that slashed the time between when an election is called and when a vote on unionization is held (a process that used to take up to two months) to as little as 11 days. This made it a lot more difficult for businesses to make their own case to their workers, and it has already helped to boost the number of elections won by unions.

Obama wasn’t able to get a minimum-wage hike through Congress. But his Labor Department issued a rule requiring federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of at least $10.10 per hour to workers, well above the $7.25 federal minimum wage. In addition, another ruling by the Obama Labor Department expanded by millions the universe of workers eligible for overtime in the private sector.

Obama stepped up his use of executive action on environmental and energy issues, where he had trouble passing legislation even when Democrats had overwhelming majorities. In 2012, the Obama administration released rules mandating that cars and light trucks average 55 miles per gallon by 2025.

Last year, the EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan, which would compel power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a third by 2030 versus 2005 levels. In February, the Supreme Court halted enforcement of the rule pending the outcome of legal challenges.

All told, through the first six years of his presidency, Obama issued 329 “economically significant” regulations, according to the George Washington University Regulatory Studies program. That’s more than triple the number issued by Reagan during a comparable point in his presidency, 37 percent more than President Bush and 30 percent more than President Clinton.

Economically significant regulations are defined as those that “have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more or adversely affect in a material way the economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or state, local or tribal governments or communities.”

As Obama expanded the size and scope of government through legislation and regulation, he added substantially to the nation’s unsustainable debt burden. Once again, this was in direct contrast with the initial promise of his presidency. Obama entered office blaming Bush for reckless fiscal management and promised, in his first budget, to usher in “a new era of fiscal responsibility.”

In February 2009, he declared, “We cannot, and will not, sustain deficits like these without end. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Washington these past few years, we cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration or the next generation.”

He vowed, “While we are making important progress towards fiscal responsibility this year in this budget, this is just the beginning. In the coming years, we’ll be forced to make more tough choices and do much more to address our long-term challenges …”

In his final State of the Union speech this January, Obama claimed that he had cut “our deficits by almost three-quarters.” But that’s only when judging against 2009, when the deficit was at a historically elevated $1.4 trillion, due to, among other contributing factions, the president’s massive economic stimulus package.

Judging Obama against his vow to make tough choices that prevented debt from being piled on to the next generation, his fiscal record is clearly far worse.

In 2008, Bush’s last full year in office, debt held by the public equaled 39.3 percent of the gross domestic product. By 2015, the final Obama year for which data is available, it had ballooned to 73.6 percent — a number not seen since the spike in military spending resulting from World War II.

But unlike World War II, in which spending subsided once the war ended, debt is now expected only to grow from its elevated levels. Far from making tough choices, Obama piled on spending and tried to convince the public that he could reduce the debt while expanding his vast social agenda merely by asking the very rich to pay just a little bit more.

Obama’s presidency might be judged a roaring success if that is defined as having advanced much of the liberal agenda. With Obama in charge, the Left is now advancing with triumphalist fervor. Liberals are openly talking in terms of expanding Social Security rather than fixing its unsustainable finances, of building on Obamacare rather than acknowledging its failures and retrenching, of enacting more European-style social programs such as mandated paid leave and free college.

But viewed from another perspective, Obama’s failure to repair the image of the federal government as a bungling institution — think of the DMV, just on a much bigger scale — will create enormous challenges for any Democratic successors trying to sell the public on the next wave of ambitious government programs.

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Had a riot? The Dept. of Education has money for your schools


The money will help schools establish mental health, counseling and behavioral programs for students traumatized by "civil unrest." (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The Department of Education announced Thursday it will give more than $5 million to school districts in Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis as part of a new discretionary grant program, called Promoting Student Resilience. The money will help schools establish mental health, counseling and behavioral programs for students traumatized by “civil unrest.”

“Violence tears at the fabric of a school community, and the long-term effects can be devastating,” Secretary of Education John King said in a statement. “The Department of Education is committed to addressing the mental health and social support needs of students who are impacted, directly or indirectly, by traumatic events in their communities.”

Baltimore will get nearly $2.4 million, while St. Louis and Chicago will get less than $1.5 million.

Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.

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