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How Many Social Programs Show Gold-Standard Evidence of Success? Almost None



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In a recent blog post, Brookings scholar Ron Haskins identifies five social programs as being highly effective and highlights the Obama administration’s “evidence based” policy efforts to fund effective federal social programs. Unfortunately, these five social programs — Career Academies, Nurse-Family Partnership, Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, Success for All, and Small Schools of Choice — are not representative of the average social program.

Of perhaps thousands of social programs operated by nonprofits and federal, state, and local governments, these five represent only a small handful of social programs that have been found to be effective in more than one location based upon randomized experiments — the “gold standard” for assessing effectiveness. Haskins himself notes that less than 1 percent of federal spending goes to programs supported by evidence.

The majority of social programs are never rigorously assessed for effectiveness. Perhaps more important, when randomized experiments are used to assess effectiveness, the overwhelming majority of social programs are found to be ineffective. Failure to provide beneficial impacts is an especially accurate description when it comes to the performance of federal social programs. These five programs may well work; the problem is they are not typical. They are extreme outliers.

In light of this assessment, there are three important points that policymakers should consider. First, the commonality among these five social programs is that they are not original initiatives of the federal government. Given that the federal government sends over $600 billion in grants to state and local governments each year, there is a good chance that these programs benefit in some way from federal funding. However, these programs are not run by the federal government and do not appear to be entirely dependent on federal funding. 

Second, while the federal government is trying to explicitly replicate the successful results of the Nurse-Family Partnership and Success for All, previous replication attempts by the federal government have met with failure.  Original program success may depend on a host of factors specific to the population being served as well as the high levels of initiative and commitment by a program’s originating sponsors. It takes more than getting a grantee to follow rudimentary checklists, such as what the Obama administration is trying to do with job-training programs, to duplicate success. Only time will tell if these new replication efforts will be judged successful, but history does not bode well for these attempts.

Last, none of these five social programs fulfills any specific responsibility of the federal government as authorized by the U.S. Constitution. With the federal debt reaching $18 trillion, advocates of evidence-based policy could do a lot of good if they focused more on cutting wasteful spending, rather than conjuring up new ways to justify continued overspending on social programs. 

— David B. Muhlhausen is a research fellow in empirical policy analysis in the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation and author of Do Federal Social Programs Work?

Krauthammer’s Take: Garner Decision ‘Totally Incomprehensible’ -- But Obama’s Racial Implication ‘Not Helpful in the Least’



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Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer slammed the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choke hold death of African-American Eric Garner — but also hit President Obama for his immediate implication that the move was racially-biased.

“From looking at the video, the grand jury’s decision here is totally incomprehensible,” Krauthammer said. “It look as if at least they might’ve indicted him on something like involuntary manslaughter at the very least . . . The crime was as petty as they come. He was selling loose cigarettes, which in and of itself is absurd that somebody has to die over that.”

But despite the judgment, Krauthammer warned that the federal government’s investigation will hinge on proving the death was racially motivated — for now, a difficult proposition.

The columnist also criticized President Obama for linking the non-indictment to Ferguson and other racial conflagrations. “I do think that the president stepping out immediately and making the implication – because he used the word inequality — that it was about race is not helpful in the least,” Krauthammer said.

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GOP Rep. Amodei: Democrats Have Promised to Help Pass Funding Bill



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House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer has promised to help Republican leadership overcome rank-and-file opposition to passing a funding bill that does not include language barring President Obama from implementing his executive orders, according to one House appropriator.

House Republican whip Steve Scalise conferred “informally” with his Democratic counterpart earlier this week, Representative Mark Amodei (R., Nev.) tells National Review Online.

“There was earlier talk about, ‘Hey, Steny, are you going to be able to deliver some folks on this?’ and, at least earlier, he was like, ‘Yeah,’” said Amodei, who suggested that Republicans could muster 80 percent of the 218 votes needed to pass the bill. “It was not a discussion that was white-knuckled. Maybe it’s getting to white-knuckle the closer we get, but, I hope not.”

He disputed the idea that Republicans would need 100 Democrats to help them have a majority of House members. “It’s going to take some Democrats, but I don’t know if it’s a hundred,” Amodei said.

UPDATE: Hoyer’s office says Amodei is wrong. “Mr. Hoyer has not spoken to Mr. Scalise regarding the Republican funding proposal and has not promised Democratic support, as we have not seen what they are planning to bring to the Floor,” Mariel Saez, Hoyer’s national press secretary, said in a statement to NRO. ”He continues to urge House Republican leaders to bring an omnibus that funds the entire government to the Floor for a vote.”

The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported yesterday that Hoyer told him House Republicans had reached out about getting votes for the bill. House speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), when asked if he would need Democratic help to pass the bill, told reporters this morning that he expected it would have “bipartisan support.”

Web Briefing: December 22, 2014

When Reason Takes Flight



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I was reading Charlie’s excellent piece on the UVA story when I saw a reference to this tweet from Sally Kohn. She asked of me, “Wow, @JonahNRO, I’m curious when you last demanded that reporting on a burglary be independently corroborated by other outlets? Or a murder?”

I’m sorry I missed it while traveling. I don’t have the time or energy to explain all of the ways in which this is a ridiculous question. But let me take a quick stab. For starters, when news outlets report on a murder, there’s usually a body. There’s a criminal proceeding. There are witnesses. Grieving family members. There’s all sorts of paperwork filed with and by the police, prosecutors etc. Similarly, with robberies, reporters generally get their information from official sources who provide evidence of the offenses.

In the Rolling Stone story none of that is present — something Kohn presumably would know if she read the piece. Even Rolling Stone now admits they are going pretty much entirely on one person’s say-so about an absolutely heinous crime. If a news outlet not only reported on a sensational murder, but claimed it knew that the murderers were still at large, yet refused to provide anything more than a one-person account, you’re damn right I would ask for more corroboration. I’d also like it if the news outlet made some effort to identify the murderers.

The issue isn’t really whether other news outlets should corroborate the story. The issue is that Rolling Stone didn’t corroborate the story, at least not properly, in the first place. Lacking that corroboration, I think other outlets need to step in and do the work Rolling Stone didn’t — or wouldn’t — do.

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De Blasio: Eric Holder Promising ‘Full and Thorough Investigation’ into Garner Death



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On Wednesday evening, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio revealed that attorney general Eric Holder promised him a federal investigation into the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of police – just hours after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict an NYPD officer for the killing.

“The federal government is clearly engaged and poised to act,” de Blasio said in a press conference. “Just before the meeting began . . . I received a phone call from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. They made clear that the investigation initiated by the U.S. Attorney would now move forward.”

“There was a palpable sense of resolve [that] the federal government will exercise its responsibilities here and do a full and thorough investigation, and draw conclusions accordingly,” he continued.

De Blasio’s revelation meshes with reporting by the Associated Press, citing a Department of Justice source who claimed a federal investigation into Garner’s death at the hands of NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo would move forward.

Obama on Garner Decision: ‘An American Problem . . . and My Job as President to Help Solve It’



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President Obama departed from a prepared speech to make short but impassioned remarks on the Staten Island grand jury’s decision to not indict an NYPD officer who choked a black man to death, calling the decision part of a broader “American problem” and promising to “help solve it.”

The president interrupted remarks at a White House conference on Native American issues to address the non-indictment, which he tied directly to Ferguson. “It’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made,” he said. “And I’m not interested in talk, I’m interested in action. And I am absolutely committed, as President of the United States, to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.”

President Obama urged the audience to recognize that “this is an American problem, and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem . . . When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that is a problem. And it’s my job as president to help solve it.”

GOP Congressman: Boehner Doesn’t Have the Votes



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A Republican Study Committee meeting today gave some indication of how much work House leadership has to do to rally support for a government funding bill that does not withhold funding for President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

“There were opinions all over the place,” Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) told National Review Online. “There were members that were adamant that we shouldn’t vote for anything that funded any of these institutions surrounding these executive orders or soon to be set of actions. there were others who were simply saying, ‘hey, let’s do a short-term CR for the whole thing’ . . . and then there were others who said, hey look, let’s get this thing done’” by backing something like a CRomnibus — a proposal that would fund most of government for the year but leave the Department of Homeland Security on a short-term continuing resolution.

Conservative lawmakers want a bill that includes a prohibition on implementing Obama’s new immigration policy.

“Related to the president’s unconstitutional executive order, we should precisely isolate that and make sure that we don’t do anything to fund that,” Representative Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) told NRO after the RSC meeting. 

A leadership attempt to pass a bill that stops short of that would pit two former Republican Study Committee chairmen against each other.

“I’d vote against that if that’s what’s put on the floor,” said Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), who led the RSC in 2011 and 2012. “This was a big issue in the campaign and we’re not going to respond with the ultimate power that we have, which is the spending authority?”

Jordan’s successor as RSC chairman is now the House whip, Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise, who is tasked with rounding up the votes for leadership proposals. Most of the chatter this week suggests that House Republicans will pass a CRomnibus spending bill that funds most of government for the next year, but leaves the Department of Homeland Security on a short-term continuing resolution.

One Republican who attended the RSC meeting suggested that leadership is very far from having the votes to pass such a bill.

“They’re welcome to file it, they’re welcome to present it, and they’re welcome to go find 100 Democrats [to help pass it],” the lawmaker told NRO.

 

Dem Rep Compares Rams Players to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson



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Fresh off his spat with Megyn Kelly last night, Representative Al Green (D., Texas) in a speech from the House floor on Wednesday likened Ferguson protesters to the Pilgrims, participants in the Boston Tea Party, and those who marched from Selma to Montgomery.

Green also took time to praise the five St. Louis Rams players who made the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture as they ran on to the field on Sunday in response to the grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. earlier this year. He called the players’ action “a seminal moment” and said he will honor them by flying flags at the U.S. Capitol.

“Washington wasn’t perfect, but we honor him; Jefferson wasn’t perfect, but we honor him,” he said in response to anticipated criticism. “I’m going to honor [the Rams players] for what they did at that seminal moment.” He compared the episode to John Carlos’s and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

In response to criticism that he and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus received for making the gesture on the House floor earlier in the week, Green said they were following in the footsteps of well known figures in pivotal movements in American history.

“The same thing that was wrong with the pilgrims and caused them to come to Plymouth Rock; the same thing that caused persons to throw tea into the Boston Harbor; the same thing that caused farmers to traverse the country on tractors and come to the United States Capitol to protest; the same thing that caused Rosa Parks to take a seat on a bus against the law; the same thing that caused Dr. King to march from Selma to Montgomery; the same thing that caused them to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what’s known as ‘Bloody Sunday,’” he said, adding that these individuals, like the members of the CBC, “refuse to accept injustice.”

Feds Hiring 1,000 Permanent Employees to Implement Obama’s Immigration Orders in Virginia



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Federal officials are hiring 1,000 permanent employees to open a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Virginia that will help implement President Obama’s recent executive orders on immigration.

“USCIS is taking steps to open a new operational center in Crystal City, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, to accommodate about 1,000 full-time, permanent federal and contract employees in a variety of positions and grade levels,” the agency announced Monday in a bulletin flagged by Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.). “The initial workload will include cases filed as a result of the executive actions on immigration announced on Nov. 20, 2014.”

Sessions said that the bulletin emphasizes the need for Congress to withhold funding for the agency.

“Some have suggested that implementing this amnesty would not have a financial cost, but this action unmistakably demonstrates otherwise,” he said in the statement. “The President cannot spend money unless the Congress approves it, and certainly the Congress should not approve funds for an illegal amnesty.”

17 States Join Lawsuit to Sue Obama over Immigration Action



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The Obama administration has insisted that the president’s executive action on immigration was within his authority, but attorneys general in 17 states think otherwise. On Wednesday, Texas attorney general and governor-elect Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in the Lonestar State as part of a coalition of other states.

“The President is abdicating his responsibility to faithfully enforce laws that were duly enacted by Congress and attempting to rewrite immigration laws, which he has no authority to do — something the President himself has previously admitted,” Abbott said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. The 16 other state are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The lawsuit states that the president violated the Constitution’s “Take Care” clause as well as failed to follow the Administrative Procedure Act’s guidelines for implementing new policies, including a comment period to outline the changes’ benefits.

One state absent from the lawsuit is Oklahoma, whose attorney general Scott Pruitt vowed to take legal action against President Obama prior to the president’s announcement of the policy last month. Pruitt told NRO the day after the president’s address that he expected to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks.

Ben Carson: Obama Should’ve Stayed Out of Ferguson



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Newly minted presidential front-runner Dr. Ben Carson told CNN he would’ve stayed silent on Ferguson if he were in the White House — and he wishes President Obama would’ve done the same. 

“The president has to uphold the rule of law,” Carson told Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. “And I think he has tried to do that, certainly since the verdict came out. I probably, if I were him, would not have gotten involved in the first place.”

“We have to allow our system to work without biasing things,” the neurosurgeon continued.  “And we really should never take sides in these issues while the legal process is in the process of playing out.”

Carson referenced other occasions when President Obama injected himself into racial incidents, including the Henry Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin incidents. “You really must, particularly as the commander-in-chief, be level-headed and even-handed, and always upholding the rule of law,” he said. “Once we lose the rule of law and chaos ensues, that is not going to be the kind of country that any of us want to live in. And the president is the chief law-enforcement officer.”

Barkley Defends NYPD Chokehold: ‘If You Fight Back, Things Go Wrong’



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Days after backing the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson and calling Ferguson rioters “scumbags,” NBA legend Charles Barkley defended the New York cop who choked Staten Island resident Eric Garner to death in a controversial event this July.

Barkley took issue with CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin’s labeling the death of the African-American man at the hands of NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo a homicide. “I don’t think that was a homicide,” he said. “I think the cops were trying to arrest him, and they got a little aggressive. I think excessive force, something like that.”

“Brooke, if the cops are trying to arrest you [and] you fight back, things go wrong,” Barkley continued. “I don’t think they were trying to kill Mr. Garner. He was a big man, and they tried to get him down. I don’t see how you go to murder in that situation. It went horribly wrong.”

Barkley made the remarks yesterday; today a Staten Island grand jury decided against indicting Officer Pantaleo for Garner’s death. Garner was reportedly suspected of selling illegal cigarettes when officers attempted to arrest him. 

No Indictment for NYPD Officer in Chokehold Death



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A Staten Island grand jury decided against the criminal indictment of an NYPD police officer for the death of Eric Garner, a black man killed after being put in a choke hold by police in July.

The 23-person jury required a majority of 12 to send Officer Daniel Pantaleo to trial for Garner’s death, which the New York Medical Examiner’s office ruled a homicide. The 43-year-old asthmatic was stopped by police for selling illegal cigarettes when the confrontation escalated.

Cell phone video captured at the scene shows Pantaleo choking Garner while a group of officers slam him into the ground. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Garner can be heard saying, as Pantaleo’s arm remains wrapped around his neck and other officers push the man’s face into the pavement.

Pantaleo may still face civil or federal charges. According to police statutes and a statement issued by the department shortly after the decision, choke holds are “unambiguously prohibited” by the NYPD.

With the highest cigarette taxes in the country, New York City boasts a thriving black market for “loosies,” — single, untaxed cigarettes like those sold by Garner.

NYPD officers are on high alert for protests and possible violence, both in Staten Island and throughout New York City.

Harkin Joins Schumer: Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Done Obamacare



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Outgoing senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) joined the chorus of Democratic lawmakers expressing some regret about the passage of Obamacare in 2010 — because he believes Democrats passed up an opportunity to pass a single-payer system and settled for “complex, convoluted” Obamacare.

“We had the votes to do [a fully public plan] and we blew it,” he told the Hill in a recent interview.

He cited concerns raised by more centrist, moderate Democrats — such as former senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — as the reason for what ultimately passed. But a public-option plan or single-payer system could have made it out of Congress had Democrats capitalized on President Obama’s popularity after his 2008 election and moved to pass the bill in his first months in office rather than waiting over a year, Harkin said.

“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified health care, made it more efficient, and made it less costly, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.”

Last week, New York senator Chuck Schumer, the body’s third-ranking Democrat, raised questions about the timing and political wisdom of passing the controversial bill rather than focusing on the economy.

Patently Necessary



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Econoblogger Brad DeLong, having read my contribution to Cato’s symposium on growth, asks a question:

The entertainment industry likes copyrights. But the high-tech industry does not like patent trolls. I can understand–given the Democratic Party’s dependence for its elite fund-raising on Hollywood, the trial lawyers, the traditionally-Jewish investment banks, and Silicon Valley–why causes like copyright reform and tort reform have so little traction within the set of Democratic office-holders. But what, in your view, has gone wrong with patent reform? Why hasn’t patent reform low-hanging bipartisan fruit?

My sense is that patent reform is attracting more bipartisan support as the evidence of the positive effect it could have mounts. Tim Lee has reported that trial lawyers managed to get Senate Democrats to kill a patent-reform bill this year because it included loser-pays provisions. Those provisions would not have affected most trial lawyers but, from their perspective, would have set a bad precedent. Other Democrats favor reform, including President Obama, so next year maybe some of that fruit could be picked.

Separation of Marriage and State Watch



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Almost 60 percent of Americans want to separate marriage and the state, according to a new poll. This is probably a combination of leftists who want to undermine marriage as a norm, and traditionalists who want to protect marriage from the state’s new definitions.

Via Crux Now.

How the GOP Can Shut Down Obama’s Amnesty Order, But Not the Government



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Congressional Republicans reportedly are unsure how to use the power of the purse to rein in Emperor Obama’s lawless executive order granting amnesty to some 5 million illegal aliens. Some want a direct confrontation that could force Obama to reject appropriations legislation before Washington runs out of cash on December 11. Obama’s veto would shut down the federal government — for which the old-guard media will blame the GOP. Some Republicans believe that saving the separation of powers merits this fight, right now.

Other, more nervous, Republicans reportedly would extend federal spending as is until October 1, 2015. Alas, this would give Obama a blank check for even further mischief.

What, then, is to be done?

Once again, a very wise man named Jonathan Rothenberg knows precisely what to do. I met Jonathan in autumn 2012 as he walked by my apartment building in Manhattan’s East Village clad in a Romney-Ryan T-shirt. This sight stunned me. We shook hands and soon became friends. The Wall Street Journal occasionally runs Jonathan’s sharp and insightful letters to the editor. He should write more often and should be heeded for more than just his commercial advice.

“The solution seems painfully simple,” Jonathan tells me. “Pass a continuing resolution funding all of the government except for the EPA, and a second CR funding EPA with a prohibition on amnesty. Few Americans will care if EPA is shut for a few weeks, and Democrats can decide which constituency is more pander-worthy.”

How fun to make Democrats choose between the environmentalists who finance their campaigns — such as the Sierra Club and former coal monger Tom Steyer — and illegal aliens, whom they hope eventually to recruit as future Democrats.

“If the lame duck Democratic Senate refuses to pass or the president refuses to sign the bills, it will be clear for all to see who is responsible,” Rothenberg adds. “Democrats will rely on their dutiful media allies to push a Republican shutdown story. But, with all due respect to Jonathan Gruber, the American people are not that stupid.”

Rothenberg’s proposal is simple, elegant, and should put Emperor Obama and his Democrats on defense. This idea also will show that Republicans can govern their way out of this tight spot.

How far into the future should such a spending plan run?

So long as Emperor Obama occupies the Oval Office, Republicans should avoid all long-term appropriations. GOP lawmakers must keep Obama on a very short, very tight chain — as if he were a hungry panther being walked through a nursery school.

Obama is a menace to society and a 24/7/365 danger to the principles of the American Founding. As such, Republicans must use their spending authority to prevent him from further assaulting the Constitution. It’s bad enough that Obama is America’s chief executive. Republicans must stop him from acting as this nation’s one-man parliament.

Thus, Republicans should enact appropriations only through the end of each quarter. For starters, any spending beyond this December 11 should expire no later than March 30, 2015.

This may cause more brinkmanship with Obama. But it also would mean that new spending bills could be written every 90 days to defund whatever new decrees that America’s autocrat might promulgate.

Obama is disturbingly comfortable ruling as a dictator. Now and — even more so — in the 114th Congress, Republicans must assure that Obama lacks the tax dollars to fund his authoritarian dreams.

Megyn Kelly Battles Congressional Black Caucus Member Over ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’



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Democratic representative Al Green sparred with Megyn Kelly over the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson with the shooting death of Michael Brown, with the Congressional Black Caucus member accusing the Fox News host of deliberately ignoring witness claims that Brown had his hands up when shot.

The Houston congressman argued on Tuesday that – regardless of the facts – the grand jury should’ve brought Wilson to trial. “It’s not enough for things to be right, they must also look right,” he said. “And in this case, it doesn’t look right for a prosecutor to take this case to a grand jury, when he could’ve taken it to a judge.”

Green and other CBC members courted controversy Monday night by displaying the “hands up, don’t shoot” protest gesture on the House floor. Kelly asked the congressman why he would continue to use the gesture after the majority of witnesses alleged that Brown charged the officer before he was shot.

“You are telling one side of the story, and you’re doing your viewers a disservice,” Green accused, claiming that a minority of statements claiming Brown’s hands were up should be accorded equal status.  “You only want to present the prosecutor’s side. That is a mistake. You should be fair and balanced!” 

“On this show and this channel, unlike any other, you get both sides,” Kelly shot back.

When the CBO Can Be a Real Friend to Conservatives



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Patrick wrote yesterday about the WSJ editors’ call to abolish the CBO. Their argument is that the CBO has a built-in Democratic bias:

The point isn’t that CBO’s economists are dishonest or part of a conspiracy. The problem is that they have been operating for decades under liberal principles embedded in Democratic legislation. As another example, thanks to the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990, CBO must use accounting methods that even the CBO admits are bogus when evaluating federal student loans, the Export-Import Bank, and other Washington subsidy programs.

The reference to the Federal Credit Reform Act (FCRA) is odd for a couple of reasons. First, as Patrick points out, the main accounting change made by the FCRA was a bipartisan step toward more budgetary transparency. It wasn’t a liberal coup. Second, the controversial portion of the FCRA — the part that conservatives don’t like — has been actively opposed by the CBO for decades. When the WSJ writes about “accounting methods that even the CBO admits are bogus,” it is dramatically minimizing the CBO’s role in the movement to reform the FCRA.

A little history: Before FCRA was passed in 1990, federal loans were accounted for on a “cash” basis, meaning all disbursals, repayments, fees, etc. did not affect the budget until the year they occurred. Politicians had learned to game the system by favoring loan terms that would back-load costs. So FCRA created an “accrual” system, in which all projected costs and benefits would be counted against the budget in the loan’s origination year. Both parties consider accrual accounting more transparent.

The controversial aspect of FCRA was how to discount the future revenue streams. Republicans wanted to use market interest rates (which would incorporate a cost for uncertainty in the projections), while Democrats wanted to use the rate on Treasury bonds (leaving out the cost of uncertainty). As a matter of financial economics, Republicans were correct, but Democrats won the political argument in 1990. Ever since then, advocates of “fair value” accounting have been pushing Congress to modify the FCRA to require market discount rates.

Here’s where the WSJ’s argument breaks down: By far the most vocal and principled advocate of fair-value accounting has been the CBO itself. It has gone out of its way to publish fair-value estimates even when the law does not require it. Without the CBO, conservatives would not have the data to show, for example, that there is no federal student loan “profit.” The CBO is also the only major organization to be consistent in its support for fair-value. Although Republicans are generally in favor and Democrats are generally opposed, the parties have periodically switched positions on fair-value depending on the program in question.

From my perspective on the fair-value story, the CBO is the hero, and the politicians on both sides are the villains. So let’s continue to reform the budget process, but don’t abolish the CBO. The last thing we want is accounting back in the hands of the villains.

Sebelius: Gruber. . . Where Do I Know that Name?



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Former Health and Humans Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius became the latest Democrat to attempt to rewrite Jonathan Gruber’s role in the creation of Obamacare. The MIT health-care expert who was credited as the “architect” of the controversial law became a headache for the White House last month after a series of videos emerged of him boasting that he and the bill’s supporters deceived voters who were too “stupid” to realize it.

But Sebelius rebuffed claims that Gruber was integral to the process, telling USA Today that she wasn’t sure if she ever interacted with him.

“Maybe he was in a large room; he could have been on a phone call,” she said. “But in terms of small meetings, discussing policy, that never happened.” She did say that her staff definitely met with Gruber.

Sebelius added that Gruber “didn’t influence the members of Congress” to vote for the bill, although then-speaker Nancy Pelosi and others cited his work while pushing the law.

She also rejected Gruber’s characterization of the process, insisting that it was very open and transparent and that the professor “is not very articulate with the phrasing that he uses.”

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