Mireille Olivo

Norquist letter urging Permanent Internet Tax Moratorium

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Posted by Mireille Olivo on Thursday, December 10th, 2015, 12:35 PM PERMALINK

Today, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist sent the following letter urging Senators and Congressmen to vote in favor of the Permanent Internet Tax Moratorium​:

Americans for Tax Reform strongly supports the Permanent Internet Tax Moratorium as included in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015.

Making the ban on Internet access taxes permanent has been a longtime goal of American taxpayers.

We urge you to fight all efforts by Senator Harry Reid and his allies to strip the Permanent Internet Tax Moratorium in the customs bill.

I urge you to stand with taxpayers and ensure this provision stays in the customs bill.

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Elaine Chao: Government Policies Must Not Stifle Sharing Economy

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Posted by Mireille Olivo on Monday, November 23rd, 2015, 11:38 PM PERMALINK

The American Action Forum hosted an event last week titled, “Consumer Connection: How Social Media is Linking Consumers with Independent Sellers & Emerging Entrepreneurs.” The keynote, given by former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, discussed “the emerging new world of social commerce” through sharing economy companies such as Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Snapgoods, and more.

Secretary Chao said:

“Some view the gig and sharing economies as unprecedented. But, in fact, the shift to more flexible, customized working arrangements is not new. It has been evolving for a long time.”

Though the concept of the sharing economy is not new, Secretary Chao pointed out how major labor laws were created during the depression era:

“At the time, they addressed important social issues such as child labor, industrial accidents, and the need to strengthen union democracy. But the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which created the 40 hour workweek among other key reforms, is 77 years old. The Landrum Griffin Act mandating union financial transparency is 56 years old. The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 is 45 years old. And the pension protection law commonly known as ERISA is 41 years old. Updating the regulations supporting these laws is difficult, expensive, time consuming and requires a lot of political capital.” 

Secretary Chao believes we have a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the sharing economy, not only for consumers but also for workers:

“I believe there is room in our economy for a variety of approaches. We need to preserve the protections of the past for those who need them, while crafting new solutions that better fit the preferences of workers in the sharing economy. The digitally-enabled, peer- to- peer economy has provided an important safety net for many families during difficult times. At a minimum, government policies must not stifle the innovation that has made this sector such an explosive driver of job growth and opportunity.”

AAF Director of Technology and Innovation Policy Will Rinehart recently published a paper explaining the consumer benefits of the sharing economy and the harm of excessive regulation in this sphere. The paper is titled The Modern Online Gig Economy, Consumer Benefit, and the Importance of Regulatory Humility and is available here.

Photo by Ben Zweig of DC Event Photo -- www.DCEventPhoto.com

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Congressman Leonard Lance Highlights ATR Support for CRS Transparency


Posted by Mireille Olivo on Thursday, November 19th, 2015, 5:08 PM PERMALINK

This week, ATR President Grover Norquist sent a letter to members urging support for H.R. 34, legislation introduced by Congressman Leonard Lance’s (R-N.J). The bill would create a publicly accessibly database for Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports.

Today, Congressman Lance highlighted ATR’s support for his legislation in a speech on the floor. His full remarks are below:

 

Mr. Speaker,

This week Americans for Tax Reform joined the chorus of advocacy and good government groups calling for Congressional Research Service reports to be available to the public. In its letter of support, Americans for Tax Reform said that opening CRS reports to the public is a common sense proposal that will increase transparency giving taxpayers greater access to important information and enrich public knowledge.

The taxpayer advocacy group pointed out that the rules casting CRS reports into secrecy are outdated and unnecessary and these reports belong in the public domain. U.S. taxpayers support the work of the Congressional Research Service to the tune of more than $100 million a year. It is fiscally responsible and good public policy to allow educators, students, members of the news media, and everyday citizens access to these taxpayer financed reports.

I urge my colleagues to join Congressman Mike Quigley and me in our bipartisan support of HR 34 which will open CRS information to the public. These reports are paid for by taxpayer funds. Taxpayers should get to see them.

 

 

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Mental Health Agency In Desperate Need of Reform

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Posted by Mireille Olivo on Thursday, November 12th, 2015, 7:00 AM PERMALINK

What do fruit smoothies and sacred drums have in common? They help cure mental illness, claims the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) ‘National Wellness Week’. Named the “worst government agency” by the Treatment Advocacy Center, SAMHSA has a massive $3.5 billion budget, but has failed time and time again to use these resources toward adequate mental health treatment. It is imperative that taxpayer funds are well spent on this important issue, but this is currently not the case. 

SAMHSA currently employs 574 people with an average salary of $107,000, none of which are psychiatrists. As an organization developed to tackle health disparities and mental illness, psychiatrists or medical professionals should be the first hire on staff. That does not seem to be a priority for SAMHSA. Furthermore, their yearly projects include a $195,000 Awards Show and $80,000 staff musical.

A key SAMHSA initiative is National Wellness Week -- a weeklong kumbaya festival in which people, according to SAMHSA’s website, “raise awareness of health disparities among people with serious mental and/or substance use disorders and the general population.”

But in reality, it appears that this initiative throws taxpayer funds at a problem with few, if any tangible outcomes. During past National Wellness Weeks, SAMHSA sponsored events such as Line Dance for Wellness, Walking Meditation Session at the Rooftop Labyrinth, and National Wellness Week Brown Bag Lunch: De-stress with Origami.

As Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD, the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University College told the Energy and Commerce Committee at a June 16, 2015 hearing, this agency is utterly failing to ensure adequate mental health to the American population:

“To say that this federal agency [SAMHSA], most directly charged with the delivery of quality mental health services to the American population, has failed miserably is an understatement. In fact I would go so far as to consider SAMSHA a proxy agency for the anti-psychiatry movement, which is to say that the agency has resisted the scientifically driven evidenced based approach to mental health care that psychiatric medicine has embraced since its scientific revolution began in the 1970’s.”

Clearly, this agency does not serve its intended purpose. But fortunately for taxpayers, reforms to this ineffectual agency are already out there. The “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” introduced by Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) overhauls the current ineffectual mental health system and curbs wasteful spending that all too often misses the mark. The problem is not lack of resources but an ineffective system more fine-tuned toward cronyism than looking after patients.

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Administration Admits Obamacare Enrollment Lower than Promised

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Posted by Mireille Olivo on Thursday, October 22nd, 2015, 1:15 PM PERMALINK

Last week, the Obama administration disclosed that only ten million individuals were expected to enroll in Obamacare in 2016. This is half of the 20 million that supporters promised would enroll when Obamacare was sold to the American people when the law was passed.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected the number of enrollees would be 20 million Americans by the end of 2016. However, others were less optimistic. Charles Gaba, a statistics expert that accurately projected numbers for 2014 and 2015, predicted enrollees would be around 12.2 million in 2016.  Obamacare has yet to reach even these numbers after more than $2 trillion in subsidies.

These lower than promised enrollment numbers come even as the tax penalty for not buying Obamacare is set to increase in 2016. It seems a large group of consumers would rather pay the penalty than buy Obamacare, even as the penalty more than doubles:

“The minimum penalty for this year is 2 percent of household income above about $10,000 or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, whichever is higher. For next year, the fine rises to 2.5 percent of household income above $10,000 or $695 per adult plus $347.50 per child.”

From this year forward, persuading Americans without health insurance will prove harder than ever.  Writing for The Huffington Post, Jeffrey Young states “Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell acknowledged last month that those uninsured most eager to enroll have already done so, and that the remaining millions would be difficult to enroll.” The lower number in enrollees is not good news for health care providers or American consumers. 

Clearly, the Obama administration can’t deliver on its promises for affordable health care. With the low number of Americans enrolled in Obamacare, state health exchange programs failing, and tax increases, the law is hurting Americans.

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Failed State Exchanges Have Returned Just $1 Million to Taxpayers

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Posted by Mireille Olivo on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015, 12:37 PM PERMALINK

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) failed to conduct sufficient oversight over state-based Obamacare exchanges, according to a recently released report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). 

In total, CMS distributed $5.5 billion in grants to states to plan and construct exchanges, of which almost $4.6 billion went to 17 states that decided to construct an exchange. According to the GAO report, these states have returned just $1 million despite wasting billions of dollars on barely working, or failed healthcare exchanges.

Of note, Oregon has returned ZERO dollars to federal taxpayers according to GAO, despite the fact the state began shuttering its exchange last year, and has since moved back to the federal system. Oregon is now under investigation for alleged corruption and misuse of taxpayer dollars, and it appears that then-Governor John Kitzhaber put campaign consultants with zero IT or healthcare experience in charge of running the exchange with the sole focus of winning a tough election.

See how much each state exchange received, and has returned to the federal government below:

State

Grants Awarded

Amount Returned

California

$1,065,683,056

$470,106

Colorado

$184,986,696

$0

Connecticut

$175,870,421

$0

DC

$195,141,151

$0

Hawaii

$205,342,270

$0

Idaho

$105,290,745

$0

Kentucky

$289,303,526

$530,912

Maryland

$190,130,143

$0

Massachusetts

$233,803,787

$0

Minnesota

$189,363,527

$0

Nevada

$101,001,068

$0

New Mexico

$123,281,600

$0

New York

$575,079,804

$0

Oregon

$305,206,587

$0

Rhode Island

$152,574,494

$20,019

Vermont

$199,718,542

$0

Washington

$302,333,280

$0

Total

$4,594,110,697

$1,021,037

Source: GAO, http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/672565.pdf

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Report Finds Hawaii’s Obamacare Exchange Wasted At Least $11 Million

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Posted by Mireille Olivo on Thursday, September 17th, 2015, 4:09 PM PERMALINK

Hawaii’s Obamacare state exchange misused at least $11 million in federal taxpayer funds due to insufficient oversight of a $21.6 million contract, according to a recent report by the State Auditors office. As the report notes, Hawaii’s exchange, known as Hawaii Health Connector failed to select the most qualified vendor for the best price, awarded a flawed, poorly written contract, and failed to monitor the contract:

“We found that instead of taking steps to ensure it [Hawaii Health Connector] selected the most qualified vendor at the best price, the Connector awarded Mansha a multi-million dollar contract based on personal recommendations…The Connector also failed to sufficiently analyze Mansha’s proposed fees to ensure contract amounts were reasonable, as required by federal procurement standards. Furthermore, the Connector executed vague, poorly written contracts with flawed terms and conditions that prevented it from effectively monitoring and evaluating Mansha’s performance.”​

Since 2011, the Obama administration has given almost $5.4 billion in taxpayer funds attempting to plan and create the foundation of state exchanges across the United States. Although Hawaii received $205 million, the system ultimately failed because it was unable to raise enough funds to meet expenses. 

This was not the first time that the State Auditors office raised concerns with the project. An audit released in January reported similar findings. Though Hawaii Health Connector was provided a variety of solutions, nothing had changed, as the report notes:

“During our previous Audit of the Hawai‘i Health Connector (Report No. 15-01), we encountered an area of concern that we were unable to follow up on and which warranted further study. Specifically, we could not determine whether or not fees paid to Mansha Consulting LLC (Mansha) were reasonable because the Hawai‘i Health Connector was unable or unwilling to provide requested information for these contracts, which totaled $21.6 million.”

Since 2010, multiple states including Oregon have misused funds and failed to create a working state exchange program.  According to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Oregon received over $305 million in federal grant money.  Similar to Hawaii, the state run exchange failed due to the misuse of public funds and oversight of contracts.

By next year Hawaii Health Connector will cease to exist and the state will rely on the federal health system. When the dust settles, it is likely that far more than $11 million will be wasted. But the findings in the report demonstrate the ineptness of state officials. Given their repeated failure to manage an important contract for their exchange, it should come as no surprise that the exchange ultimately failed.

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