What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas…Unless You Take Pictures in a Bathtub

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Posted by Emma Boone on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015, 4:30 PM PERMALINK


It would appear that the excess spending of taxpayer dollars in Sin City and prison time are synonymous.

Former senior General Services Administration (GSA) official, Jeffrey Neely, was sentenced to three months in prison earlier last week for claiming fraudulent expenses of over $8,000 while on “scouting trips.”

To the average American, scouting trips may not last five days in Las Vegas and usually would not consist of $7,000 sushi receptions, a $3,200 mind reader and gourmet breakfasts ringing in at $44 per head. But, if you’re Jeff Neely and get the privilege of taxpayers funding these amenities, these luxuries are only the beginning of the perks you see while on the job.   

GSA employees five day trip to Sin City cost taxpayers well over $800,000. Taxpayers may be less than thrilled to discover their money funded such ridiculous and obscure items including clown suits, bicycles- for team building exercises, of course- cheese displays, and numerous meals that violated the federal governments $71 a day meal regulations.

After a photo of Neely enjoying wine and bathing went viral in 2012, Neely found himself in hot water- quite literally- and became the face of excess spending in government corporations at taxpayers expense. A month later Neely pled guilty before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on just one count of submitting a false money claim, admitting that he billed GSA for his stay in an extravagant Las Vegas hotel though he was not conducting official business during his stay.

While prosecutor’s pushed for a six-month prison stay, Neely will serve three months and face $8,000 in restitution and $2,000 in fines and probation. Acting Inspector General Robert C. Erickson has officially closed the case “about a GSA executive abusing his position and wasting taxpayer dollars.” Hopefully, this is only the beginning of the crackdown on government agencies throwing taxpayer dollars to waste.

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800 Years of Magna Carta: Reflecting on the Origins of Property Rigths

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Posted by Nate D'Amico on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015, 3:45 PM PERMALINK


The Magna Carta, Latin for “Great Charter”, celebrated its 800th birthday last month. King John of England signed the Magna Carta on June 12, 1215 in order to end the rebellion of a group of barons who had tired of the overreaching power and abuse of the Monarchy. In response to the King’s oppressive behavior, the rebel faction created the charter to protect their rights.

This almost 1000 year old charter is one of the most important political developments in English history and perhaps that of the entire West. It is one of the earliest examples of citizens rising and ensuring protection of their rights from the government.  Under the English system at the time, the King was considered above the law and had virtually no limits imposed on his exercise of power. As in any system of government where laws are ignored by those in power, citizens suffer.

The most significant measures of the Magna Carta mirror the US Constitution. Like the Constitution, the charter protects basic human rights: life, liberty, and property (a phrase found in the work of notable English philosopher John Locke, as well as the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments). The charter prohibited people from being imprisoned illegally or without cause, ensured that citizens had an expeditious judicial process, placed limits on taxation, and protected personal property. The Magna Carta was the first instance of personal property rights being legally protected from an encroaching government.

The content and process of our own nation’s foundation nearly five hundred years later in many ways mirror the signing of this important document. In both circumstances, groups of educated and civic-minded men stood up against an oppressive government not only for their own benefit, but to improve the lives and guarantee the freedoms of all citizens. Just as the US Constitution protects the rights of all Americans, the Magna Carta protected the rights of all Englishman for centuries.

The rights outlined in the Magna Carta are what allowed some European and Anglophone countries to consider the rule of law as well as the balance of power and property rights as pillars for preserving freedom against authoritarianism. Property rights have been defined since the 13th century. A man had a right to what he created and it could not be taken from him, whether it be an ear of corn or a book, a sculpture or a computer program. The codification of property rights has spurred man to innovation and development: the reason the West has housed the greatest innovators and made huge discoveries is because men can reap the fruits of their labor without fear of deprivation by the government.

Today, the United States, ranked #3 according to the International Property Rights Index, has some of the strongest protections in the world for intellectual property and property rights. Without the precedence that Magna Carta set, we may have never reached these ever-increasing heights.

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Obamacare Co-ops Paying Exorbitant Salaries to Executives

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015, 2:24 PM PERMALINK


17 of the 23 existing non-profit co-ops created by Obamacare are paying their executives exorbitant salaries as high as $587,000, according to reporting by the Daily Caller’s Richard Pollock. Not only do almost all co-op executives have zero insurance experience, but according to Pollock, their salaries may violate provisions in both federal law and Obamacare rules that limit executive compensation.

Several executives had portions of their salaries hidden in “obscure tax return footnotes” or did not report them at all. As Pollock points out, the median executive healthcare pay is $135,000 but at least five states paid their executives over $487,000 - more than three and a half times the average. These salaries likely violate a section of the Bipartisan budget Act of 2013 which prohibits federal contractor executive compensation from exceeding this amount. In addition, at least six co-ops (in New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana, and Illinois) hid $26.5 million in additional pay in their footnotes as “management fees.”

Co-ops were first established by Obamacare as an alternative to existing health insurance companies. These co-ops hoped to provide member-driven care that would not need to worry about recording a profit and could keep administrative costs low. Unfortunately, since their enactment co-ops have met financial and management problems and have failed to become an alternative to the current system of healthcare.

23 co-ops, some single state, others multi-state were originally given $2.4 billion in federal loans with very beneficial terms. According to a report by the Galen Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, co-ops were able to use these favorable terms to gain an advantage over competing insurance providers by providing lower premium prices. However, things quickly unraveled.

Co-ops had few individuals, and none on their boards with experience in insurance, resulting in poor decision making. This complete lack of experience amongst executives makes it even more mindboggling that co-ops saw fit to pay salaries far exceeding the average health insurance executive.

Vermont’s co-op failed to even get off the ground because it was denied an insurance license because it had “not shown sufficient evidence that it will be to sustain solvency, repay its federal loans and gain enrollment.”

Those that launched quickly experienced operational difficulties. Because co-ops lacked experiential data, they had no basis to draw premium quotes, which resulted in premiums outpacing revenues. One, the Iowa-Nebraska co-op, received $145 million in federal loans, but has struggled to remain in business and has been labeled as a “financially hazardous situation” by the Iowa state health insurance regulator. As of January 2015, the co-op has a total operating loss of $168 million over its existence.

Several other co-ops such as those in Tennessee and Colorado are now struggling to develop a realistic business model, while others are going to Washington for more money.

With Obamacare co-ops struggling to remain solvent, many are now relying on what remains of the $2 billion in original loans. Given the poor judgement they have displayed by paying their executives exorbitant salaries, this poor performance is hardly surprising.

 

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Ohio Lawmakers Enact Tax Cutting Budget

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Posted by Caroline Anderegg on Monday, July 6th, 2015, 2:02 PM PERMALINK


Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) signed a two-year, $71 billion budget last Tuesday.  Though the House gave his budget was given a much needed makeover, he used his line-item veto power 44 times before allowing HB64 to become law.

The budget Kasich initially introduced would have implemented $5.7 billion in tax cuts.  The primary beneficiary was the income tax with a 23 percent, across-the-board cut and small business exemption from personal income tax for those with $2 million or less in annual gross receipts.

Hold your applause.  Gov. Kasich’s budget also included $5.2 billion in tax hikes.  The biggest losers in Kasich’s budget would have been the sales tax, with an increase from 5.75 percent to 6.25 percent statewide, and the commercial activities tax.  The governor’s budget also proposed a cigarette tax hike to the tune of a dollar-per-pack, as well as the implementation of the state’s first e-cigarette tax and an expansion of the sales tax base, among others.  At the end of the day Kasich’s budget would have only resulted in a $523 million tax cut for Buckeye taxpayers.

Dissatisfied with the governor’s budget bill, Speaker of the Ohio House Clifford Rosenberger stepped up to the plate and went to bat for Ohio taxpayers.  Speaker Rosenberger and other House Republicans crafted a budget bill that enacted real tax relief for Ohioans. 

“Our balanced budget provides for a $327 million surplus at the end of FY’ 17, as compared to the $27 million in the governor’s plan—ensuring a balanced budget that spends less in GRF funds than the governor’s initial proposal,” Speaker Rosenberger said in a statement following the House’s passage of the budget bill through the chamber with bipartisan support.

The significant features of Rosenberger’s budget were a 6.3 percent across-the-board income tax rate cut, a plan to phase out taxes on the first $250,000 in small business income, and a permanent 75 percent small business deduction, while lowering the top income tax rate to just below 5 percent.  The bill also eliminated the increases in sales tax, CAT, and severance tax.

While the House voted to throw out the proposed e-cigarette tax, they compromised with the state senate on the cigarette tax hike.  Smokers will pay another 35 cents per pack now that the budget has the governor’s signature.

In a recent report the Buckeye Institute regarded the House budget as a “true rarity” in that it was both growth-oriented and proposed spending less money from the General Revenue Fund than the governor’s budget did. 

After Kasich’s vetoes, which largely targeted benefits the state senate had sought in order to relieve the tax burden on large businesses and industries, the budget bill netted $1.9 billion in tax cuts.  While Kasich and Rosenberger are both playing for Team Taxpayers, this go around Rosenberger was clearly the MVP.

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ATR Supports Rep. Barton’s H.R. 702 to Lift the Crude Oil Export Ban

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Monday, July 6th, 2015, 9:00 AM PERMALINK


This Thursday the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold a hearing to examine H.R. 702, introduced by Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas). H.R. 702 updates the outdated 40-year-old rules that ban the exporting of American crude oil. ATR supports this legislation and urges all members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the full House of Representatives to support this bill.

In recent years, American oil production has skyrocketed due to newly discovered shale reservoirs. Today, the US is the largest oil producer in the world, but outdated rules remain in place that prohibit American oil producers from competing in the global market.

H.R. 702 would remove out-dated restrictions on exporting crude oil and restore the ability of American companies to partake in the free market. By ending this restriction, countless international markets will be opened up to American companies, leading to strong economic growth and creating new jobs. In fact, a recent study found that lifting this ban could create hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower gas prices for American families ands strengthen US energy security.

This legislation will provide a much-needed update to a 40 year-old relic, help spur economic growth, and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. It is past time Congress grants American oil producers the basic capability to participate in international commerce. ATR supports this important, common sense legislation and urges all members of the House to support and vote for this bill.

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Hillary Clinton Supported Jimmy Carter-Style “Windfall Profits” Tax

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Monday, July 6th, 2015, 8:00 AM PERMALINK


As a Presidential candidate in 2008, Hillary Clinton proposed a $9 billion Jimmy Carter style “windfall profits” tax on energy companies. By definition, this type of tax would be ultimately borne by families paying higher prices at the pump.

While campaigning for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton proposed imposing a temporary windfall profits tax on American oil companies, in response to rising gas prices: “What I would like to see us do is, if we have $4 gas, then we should have a windfall profits tax on these outrageous oil company profits.” Clinton proposed using this revenue to fund a gimmicky three-month gas tax holiday.

In addition to having a whiff of Marxism, history has shown that “windfall profits” taxes do not achieve their intended purpose. One was imposed in 1980, and a 1990 analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service found a fraction of the projected revenue materialized. The tax also placed unfair burdens on domestic oil production, decreasing production by 3 to 6 percent and increased foreign imports by between 8 and 16 percent.

Although Hillary Clinton’s campaign was unable to find any economist who supported her proposal, she stubbornly defended this proposal because “some of them didn't understand it and some of them don't believe it could be done. She then said the opinion of these experts did not matter because ”you can find an economist to say anything.” 

Clinton’s support for a “windfall profits” tax on oil companies is more than mere campaign rhetoric. As a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton voted in support of imposing such a tax on American oil companies in 2005, by voting to support an amendment to the “Tax Relief Act of 2005” (S Amdt. 2626).

With Hillary's campaign promising "revenue enhancements" if she is elected President and her past support of Carter-era tax policy, Americans would be wise to keep an eye on their wallets.

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Five Signs the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is Asleep at the Wheel

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Posted by Dorothy Jetter on Friday, July 3rd, 2015, 10:00 AM PERMALINK


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) mission statement claims the agency "helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives."  
 
While the CFPB’s mission statement outlines a number of laudable goals, reports show the Bureau has all but failed in living up to them. Recently the Bureau has been riddled with controversy, yet through it all Director Richard Cordray has remained unresponsive to Congressional probes into the Bureau’s activities. This lack of accountability has led to a number of issues, calling into question the Bureau’s ability to function efficiently. The five most concerning issues at the CFPB are discussed below.  
  
1) Overspending
 
According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the CFPB budget is growing at a rapid and unsustainable pace.  The agency’s new office building is currently estimated to cost taxpayers $215 million—that’s $120 million more than initial estimates. The planned facilities will include extravagant amenities such as a glass staircase, concession kiosk and a “water wall” ending in a splash pool. According to John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the cost of the sprawling new facilities is “more per square foot than the Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas.”
  
2) No Transparency or Accountability 
 
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling said the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, made the agency “unaccountable to taxpayers and to Congress.”  Unlike other government agencies the CFPB is not required to have their budget approved by Congress, although 78% of Americans believe that they should have to do so.  
 
In March, House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations Chairman Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) reintroduced a Consumer and Financial Protection Bureau reform package.  The legislation is a group of 5 bills that aim to promote both transparency and accountability at the CFPB by increasing Congressional oversight of the agency.  
  
3) Discrimination 
 
Despite the agency's "mission" to help and protect American consumers, the agency has been the subject of rampant accusations of discrimination.  Representative Duffy explains "of all the federal financial agencies, the CFPB has the worst track record of protecting its own employees against discrimination.” In fact, the per capita number of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints at the CFPB is far higher than at other federal agencies.  Specific reports even found CFPB officials went so far as to use derogatory language when referring to divisions with large numbers of minority employees.
 
4) Bulk Data Collection
 
The CFPB has recently introduced a program to obtain and monitor over 500 million credit card accounts belonging to Americans. The Agency has refused to consult with Congress on the program and will not let Americans opt out.  A majority of respondents (55%) believe the CFPB's data collection program is similar to or worse than the controversial NSA monitoring program.
 
5) Shunning Small Businesses
 
Ironically, as an agency designed to help the American consumer, the CFPB refuses to include the backbone of the U.S. economy in its discussions.  The House Financial Services reports that while trying to attend a Consumer Advisory Board meeting in Jackson Mississippi, Bobby Riggs, a small business owner, was turned away.  A CFPB official told Riggs, "We just don't allow anybody from the public into these meetings."
 
Congress has taken action to curb the CFPB’s questionable actions.  In May the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1195, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Advisory Boards Act. This legislation would create a Small Business Advisory Committee to ensure that the CFPB acknowledges and considers the concerns of small businesses.  Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has threatened to veto this legislation.

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CEOs receive massive taxpayer-funded raises

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Posted by Kendyll Ferrall on Thursday, July 2nd, 2015, 4:15 PM PERMALINK


Ignoring objections from the White House and the U.S. Treasury Department, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) went ahead with its proposal to raise salaries for the chief executives of government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Despite the $600,000 salary cap implemented by the FHFA after public-criticism of the CEO’s seven-figure salaries, Freddie Mac CEO Donald Layton and Fannie Mae CEO Timothy J. Mayopolous are set to each receive $4 million a year. The six-fold salary increase came after Matt Melvin, the director of the FHFA, raised concerns over a competitive salary being necessary to maintain employees.

Bailed out by the government during the financial-market collapse in 2008 that the two mortgage companies helped to cause, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received a combined $187.5 billion taxpayer-funded bailout, the largest bailout given during the crisis. Since the government takeover, there has been little progress made in reforming the U.S. financial housing market.

Mayopolous’ and Layton’s new salaries rival their previous private-sector salaries, but they are not private-sector employees. They are public servants and their salaries should not be comparable to that of private-market CEOs. While the companies have sent the Treasury $230 billion since their bailout, both firms have failed to make considerable progress in reforming or rehabilitating the U.S. housing finance market.

The pay-revamp comes after increasing uncertainty over whether or not Congress will make a decision about the companies any time soon. In 2014, the Senate Banking Committee passed a measure that would dissolve Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and replace them with a private-market solution. Backed by a bipartisan coalition, the measure was opposed by progressive Democrats and failed to make it to the Senate for a vote. Neither chamber is expected to take up the issue this year.

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Lickylick

These CEO's who top the list of the biggest failures in the history of running a corporation, have not only been able to avoid being kicked to the curb losing their jobs due to being either huge crooks or completely incompetent, but to be rewarded for their terrible failure to the unbelievable amount of several millions of dollars. A perfect example of why govt is beyond corrupt and think they are untouchable. The people of Iceland threw those corrupt bankers and politicians in jail who were not quick enough to leave Iceland. It's exactly what the American people must also do. These actions are inexcusable and must be dealt with swiftly and with extreme prejudice. Nothing less than that is acceptable. C'mon American people, the govt obviously will do nothing to curb their corruptions, we must take action in order to stop the blatant waste of our money. Yes our money in tax dollars is those incompetent corrupt CEO's paycheck.


House Committee Demands Emails About Oregon’s Failed $305 Million Obamacare Exchange

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Thursday, July 2nd, 2015, 2:01 PM PERMALINK


The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform earlier this month demanded the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hand over all documents related to Oregon’s failed $305 million Obamacare exchange, known as Cover Oregon.

The Letter sent to HHS “questions about the use of federal funds to develop Cover Oregon remain” amid allegations that control over the exchange was given to campaign consultants concerned with getting then-Gov. Kitzhaber reelected, not fixing the many faults of the system.

According to the Washington Times, the Committee “seeks all communication between employees for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) about the Oregon site, all documents related to the site’s functioning and a description of changes CMS made to its processes on grants and information technology related to federal and state Obamacare websites.”

Oregon received a total of $305,206,587 in federal grant money in order to construct its state-run exchange but failed to produce a workable website and later transferred all its enrollees to the federal system at an estimated cost of $41 million.

The website, which was officially abolished earlier this year enrolled just 68,308 individuals in its first year, mainly through paper applications, and failed to enroll a single individual weeks after the deadline. As a result, it could reach just 29% of its first year goal of 237,000 individuals.

Since then, the FBI, the HHS Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and Congress have all launched investigations into Oregon’s exchange. With millions of dollars flushed down the drain, taxpayers deserve to know the truth behind the Cover Oregon debacle.

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States sue over EPA's unprecedented land grab

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Posted by Kendyll Ferrall on Thursday, July 2nd, 2015, 11:00 AM PERMALINK


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a rough Monday.

Hours after the Supreme Court released its 5-4 ruling that struck down the EPA’s rule on mercury limits, which was a major cornerstone for the Obama Administration’s environmental agenda, 12 states filed a federal lawsuit against the agency and the Army Corp. of Engineers to block the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. 

Attorneys representing Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota and South Dakota submitted requests to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals asking for the rule to be thrown out before it takes effect in August.

Released in May, the final draft of the rule would essentially grant the federal government unfettered authority over waterways, allowing the EPA to regulate almost any piece of private land where water can conceivably flow. The finalized WOTUS rule came on the heels of the passage of H.R. 1732, The Regulatory Integrity Protection Act. Passed by a bipartisan coalition in the House, the bill would require the EPA to revoke the rule, but the EPA has ignored the vote.

The rule would result in a massive federal takeover of private property rights and includes bureaucratic red-tape, costly and time-consuming permit requirements, penalties and possible jail-time for failure to comply with the rule’s many requirements.

In addition to imposing unnecessary burdens on landowners, farmers, ranchers and small businesses, the states currently involved in the lawsuit argue that WOTUS violates the CWA and the U.S. Constitution. WOTUS disregards the distinction between federal authority and private or state landownership that was created under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA grants states certain jurisdiction over land and water within its boundaries.

While the EPA claims that the purpose of the rule is to clarify which waters are covered under the CWA, the states affected by the impending regulations believe that it will tremendously expand the regulatory authority of the EPA and the Corp. and is an impermissible expansion of power. WOTUS would allow the federal government to control vast portions of land from areas where water is seasonally found, like ditches, ponds and field waterways, to areas where the flow of water has been altered by the landowners. Private land would essentially be converted to federally-owned land.

separate lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia by attorneys general in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana have also filed their own suit.

This growing-group of WOTUS lawsuits adds to the long and litigious history of the EPA’s attempts to expand its authority over private land that began with the 2001 Supreme Court decision that limited the agency’s regulatory power.

 

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theBuckWheat

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy: bureaucrats expand power until some superior power stops them. Another version of this states that where there is "no limiting principle", government will claim near-infinite powers over citizens.

Our government gave itself the power to create near-infinite money out of thin air with which to pay its bills. It uses this money to pay for near-infinite bureaucracy and near-infinite "benefits" that buy votes and support. A government that is self-funding starts to think it doesn't even h ave to obey its own laws. It can buy the votes its needs.

Before government gave itself this power, the main limit on government was the limit on the amount of money that taxpayers were willing and able to send to Washington.

When the States finally call for an Article V convention to consider amendments to the Constitution, the first order of business is to revoke the government's power to create near-infinite amounts of money. Government must be constrained only to the amount of taxes the voters are willing to pay. If some issue is important, let us debate and vote on paying extra. That is the first way by which we restore government to its proper relationship to the citizen. That is, to restore government as our servant and not our master.

Fred Chittenden

The 'real' solution to this garbage would be for a GOP Congress and President to pass and sign a rewrite to regulatory rules that requires new regulations to pass a majority in the House and Senate before they take effect. If not agree to by Congress, they don't take effect.

In other words, reestablish the normal check and balance of power between the various branches of government and take away a lot of the burrOcrats legislative/regulatory powers.

Even better, come up with a way to retroactively address past regulations in a predictable, organized fashion.


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