Sandra Fabry

Censorship in the Health Care Debate

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Monday, July 27th, 2009, 5:16 PM PERMALINK

The health care overhaul debate has become more contentious than some of its proponents initially assumed - and the gloves are off.

Tonight, House Republicans are taking to the floor to defend their First Amendment right to free speech in the context of the health care fight during one-hour Special Order speeches.  Here's what's at the heart of the issue, via CNS News:

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) made public last week an e-mail from the Franking Commission -- a bipartisan panel that oversees messages from lawmakers -- asking him to change the phrase “government run” health care to "public option."

The term was part of an audio message recorded by Carter’s staff for a town hall event on health care. The message said: “The House Democrats unveiled a government-run health care plan.”
The Franking Commission, which is authorized by law to oversee mail and other communications between members of Congress and their constituents that is paid for with federal funds, sent an e-mail to Carter's staff  requesting that the wording in the message be changed.

Democrats on the Franking Commission are apparently also blocking the approval of payment for postage for a mail piece from a group of House Republicans that contains a chart that visualizes the Obama administration's and Congressional leaders' plans for a government takeover of the health care system.   The blocking of approval of payment demonstrates a clear double standard, as Connie Hair, writing for Human Events, points out:

House staff sources said that in 1993 a similar chart depicting then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s government-run healthcare scheme was approved for mailing by the Franking Commission.

A previous attempt by House Republican members to speak out against what they argue amounts to censorship was blocked by the Democrat leadership who abruptly adjourned rather than allowing Republicans to take the floor under Special Orders. This time, Republicans have vowed they won't be silenced, and will take their speeches outside to the Capitol steps if necessary.

Nationalization of whole industries, Keynesian spending explosions, government-run health care and now censorship ... This is still America, right? I am starting to wonder...

Photo credit: Ciro Cattutto

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Opportunistic Transparency? When It Hurts the Cause, the Lights Go Dim

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Friday, July 24th, 2009, 4:12 PM PERMALINK

The following was cross-posted at

President Obama's view of government transparency is fluid.
That's the verdict of today's Washington Times editorial on the issue of the Obama Administration deciding not to release the mid-summer budget update. 
The irony is stark. What is 'transparent' here, is the intent to 'obscure' the fiscal picture.  After all, the updated over-spending (aka "deficit") numbers might derail his already faltering plan for a government takeover of health care.  His media blitzkrieg has not been working, and his failure to live up to his transparency promise when it comes to the healthcare negotiations is angering taxpayers, who have already had to put up with a misguided "stimulus," passed without transparency and a "cap-and-trade" house bill that was passed with similar secrecy. 
What was the healthcare transparency promise, you may ask? Well, it was this one:
I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies -- they'll get a seat at the table, they just won't be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process.
If such C-SPAN-televised forums  happened aside from the scripted tele-townhall, they certainly did not make the news, but headlines like this one did:
The list has now been released, but if you're serious about your transparency promises, it shouldn't take a media outcry to release it.
The bottom line seems to be that Obama's view of government transparency is indeed fluid.  He likes transparency as long as he can put a spin on it, such as how many jobs he has "saved or created."  But when it hurts his cause, all of a sudden, the lights go dim.

Photo credit: Jan-Erik Finnberg

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ATR and CFA Call on U.S. House Members to Reject Statutory PAYGO

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009, 10:37 AM PERMALINK

ATR and CFA have called on Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to reject H.R. 2920,
“Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2009, which is ultimately nothing more than a rhetorical fig leaf for fiscal recklessness.

ATR may rate a vote against the bill, while the Center for Fiscal Accountability will rate a vote against it.

From ATR's vote alert:

The concept may be rhetorically appealing - after all, the concept of paying for something ‘as you go’ sounds like a common sense idea. But make no mistake, H.R.2930 is nothing more than a fig leaf to provide political cover for tax-and-spend policies, and would in fact set the stage for higher taxes being touted as the only way to avoid such across-the-board cuts in entitlement spending.

But political gimmickry doesn’t end here.  H.R. 2920, which mirrors the President’s proposal from June, assumes that existing expiring entitlement programs will continue indefinitely and as such don’t have to be paid for, while most expiring tax law will have to be paid for.  At the same time, the bill contains a loophole for some of the President’s own priorities including a few cherry-picked popular extensions of current tax law (the Death Tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax and certain other tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003). Medicare payments to physicians would also conveniently be excluded

Click here for ATR's full vote alert and here for CFA's vote alert.

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Congressional Democrats and Republicans Agree: Treasury Transparency = FAIL

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Tuesday, July 21st, 2009, 11:53 AM PERMALINK

Congressional Democrats and Republicans certainly don't agree on many things these days. 

Today, however, they jointly lashed out at the Treasury Department for failing the transparency test after receiving the quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for the TARP program Neil Barofsky.

Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Barofsky criticized the Treasury Department for refusing to require recipients of TARP funds to explain what they are doing with their government funds and for rejecting several recommendations for more transparency.
Committee Democrats joined Republicans, who had long criticized the track record of the Treasury Department on TARP transparency.  Rep. Eodolphus Towns (D-NY), chairman of the committee lamented:
The taxpayers now have a $700 billion spending program that’s being run under the philosophy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.
Sadly, this seems to be the case.  In light of Treasury's refusal, Congress should step up its efforts to mandate greater transparency in the TARP program.  One big first step in that direction would be the passage of H.R. 1242/S.910, the "TARP Accountability and Discosure Act."

Photo credit: Nima

So What Are We "Stimulating"?

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Monday, July 20th, 2009, 11:52 AM PERMALINK

The following is cross-posted at

So what are we "stimulating"? - Well, it is not economic growth. 
As the Associated Press reports, the release of the administration's annual midsummer budget update, which is usually released around mid-July, has been pushed back to mid-August
(...) giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.
The administration is pressing for votes before then on its $1 trillion health care initiative, which lawmakers are arguing over how to finance.
Contrary to the administrations rosy predictions that unemployment would peak at about 8 percent if Congress were to pass the "stimulus" package, unemployment has risen to 9.5 percent, even higher than the 9 percent administration economists predicted absent the package.  And rather than having reached the peak, the unemployement rate may well soar into the double digits.
So if we're not "stimulating" economic growth, what are we "stimulating"?
Today's Drudge Report links to a few items now posted on, the website that was supposed to allow taxpayers to track every dollar of the "stimulus" package.  While the website is far from accomplishing that, the posts linked to on the Drudge Report only add fuel to critics' arguments that the trillion dollar spending and debt package was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Consider these headlines (as displayed at 11am on Monday, July 11, 2009):
We were sure that the package contained pork - but we didn't think it was going to be quite so literal.
But kidding aside, this spells trouble for the administration, especially in light of what the official "stimulus" overseeer Earl Devaney told the National Journal:
NJ: What about the potential that this flood of data will be used by opponents of the president, or the stimulus plan?
Devaney: I thought about that two months ago. It is kind of a scary thing to think about. We could start, I don’t want to say a revolution, but we could start a big kerfuffle in this town in October. If you think the political environment right now is ablaze, I’m assuming that people will see a lot of good things when they see this [as well as bad things]. I think that it is going to take a while for the American psyche to understand that this has been going on forever. What they are going to see in October, those that have worked in government long enough — I know the way this spending looks, because I’ve seen the underbelly, but I don’t think the American people have seen it yet. It is a sausage factory.

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Overhaul of "Stimulus" Transparency Website Costly and Not Transparent

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Monday, July 13th, 2009, 3:45 PM PERMALINK

 Last Wednesday, the contract to re-design - the administration's website that was touted as letting taxpayers track every dollar of the "stimulus" package but has fallen far short of doing so - was awarded to Smartronix, a Maryland-based IT firm that specializes in defense contracts. The website overhaul runs up an extremely hefty price tag for taxpayers of $9.5 million to create a “Version 2.0″ of the site, and then possibly another $8.5 million to continue running the site through January 2014.

What’s worse, and in what strikes many as ironic, the General Services Administration, which awarded the costly contract, has not been open about the way the contract was awarded nor what is actually in the contract. The Request For Proposals for the overhaul was never posted on The announcement that the contract had been awarded wasn’t posted on the site until Friday.  The contract itself has not been released and, according to an inquiry made to the GSA, is subject to a FOIA request.

Here;s what Grover Norquist had to say:
Let me get this straight – the administration is forcing taxpayers to swallow an outrageous $18 million price tag for overhauling the ‘stimulus’ transparency website, yet we don’t even get to see the contract?” says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.  “Tech-savvy experts tell us that there really are no websites out there that would merit this kind of cost - including sites for major retailers or banking websites. So unfortunately, it looks like taxpayers are once again being taken for a ride – with blindfolds, for that matter.
Click here for the press release.

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Of Mice and "Stimulus"

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Thursday, July 9th, 2009, 1:32 PM PERMALINK

The following is cross-posted at

We all remember President Obama's solemn assertion that the "stimulus" would be spent “without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud.” 

Since the passage of the package, we and others have pointed to many examples of where this has already not been the case. Now it looks like a little critter is gnawing on "stimulus" proponents' credibility. Writes the Washington Times:

The tiny mouse that became a hotly disputed symbol of wasteful spending in the congressional debate over the $787 billion economic stimulus bill has returned to pester House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Obama administration quietly announced last week that as much as $16.1 million from the stimulus program is going to save the San Francisco Bay area habitat of, among other things, the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

Sounds like Joe Biden's "dog that ain't barked yet" just did.

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Told You So: Real Agenda of "Stimulus" Is Growing Government

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Thursday, July 9th, 2009, 1:09 PM PERMALINK

Edward Lazear raises some important points in the Wall Street Journal today:

Congress and the Obama administration have used the economic downturn as an excuse to expand the size of government. Calling it a stimulus, they have instead put in place a spending agenda that will unfold over the next two years. Although a little over one-third of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 goes to tax relief, the rest is in the form of spending programs that will be difficult to stop once they are up and running.
Only a small share of the spending will occur in 2009, even though Keynesians would argue that stimulus spending should be frontloaded to kick-start growth. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the largest share of the spending will occur in 2010, with the amount in 2011 being slightly larger than in 2009. Again, the timing exacerbates the problem: It will be tough to cut back on spending written into budgets as far out as 2011.
It's a bit odd that the reaction by the Obama administration and some congressional leaders to a policy that has not worked is to consider putting a similar policy in place. One interpretation is that this is yet another opportunity to spend more on programs that Democrats have wanted for years.
It may be the case that the country wants more government, that Americans now believe the European model of big government is best. That is a decision that society must make. But it should do so with no illusions: The current stimulus and calls for a future one are primarily government growth policies, not strategies to shorten the current recession.

Photo Credit: Ian T. Edwards

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Steny Hoyer Laughs at Taxpayers' Request that Members of Congress Read the Bills

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, July 8th, 2009, 12:40 PM PERMALINK

You may remember Nancy Pelosi's refusal to commit to giving Americans at least a week to review the full conference version of the health care bill before it is voted on. We blogged about it here.

Now House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer took the insult to taxpayers one step further, by outright laughing at the idea that House Members would actually read the health care bill before voting on it. Check out this exchange in a story on

“If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes,” Hoyer told at his regular weekly news conference.

Hoyer was responding to a question from on whether he supported a pledge that asks members of the Congress to read the entire bill before voting on it and also make the full text of the bill available to the public for 72 hours before a vote.

In fact, Hoyer found the idea of the pledge humorous, laughing as he responded to the question. “I’m laughing because a) I don’t know how long this bill is going to be, but it’s going to be a very long bill,” he said.

Apparently, accountability is a laughing matter to him.

H/T: Andy Roth

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Oversight and the "Stimulus" - Many Questions Remain

Posted by Sandra Fabry on Wednesday, July 8th, 2009, 10:27 AM PERMALINK

A similar version of this post appeared on

As Democrats in the Administration and on the Hill are all over the map on whether there should be a second "stimulus" which 60% of Americans oppose, the Government Accountability Office has released a new report on the "stimulus" and the issue of accountability. 

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a hearing this morning on "Tracking the Money: Preventing Waste, Fraud and Abuse of Recovery Act Funding." While OMB, after much criticism that its first reporting guidance on the package did not go far enough, issued a follow-up guidance, many questions remain.   OMB Watch has prepared a good list of questions OMB and other witnesses should answer today.

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds

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