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Press Conference Leaves Many Questions Unanswered
Yesterday, President Barack Obama ended his months-long press conference drought and faced the White House press corps. Unfortunately for the American people, questions on some of the biggest issues facing the country remain unanswered.
The 100-ton elephant in the room that wasn’t discussed? The economy. Though the President would like to revel in the country’s recent spate of moderate economic growth, all is not well in America. More than 8 percent of Americans remain unemployed — nearly 13 million in total. What’s more, only 63.7 percent of adult Americans are active in the labor force — the lowest amount since 1983. New jobs are being created, but not nearly enough. The current economic recovery is the slowest recovery in the post-war era. And four years after the recession started, the economy still has not replaced the jobs lost in the downturn.
So given this economic backdrop, one might think the President would be asked what he plans to do to spur growth, or three years after his much-vaunted stimulus, why is the recovery so slow? Another key question: The President once stated that raising taxes is anathema to economic recovery, and yesterday credited lower taxes on the middle class for economic growth. But he is still proposing raising taxes by two trillion dollars. How will massive tax hikes on job creators spur job growth, if helping Americans get back to work is his goal? If you wanted to hear those questions on the economy answered, you were sorely disappointed.
On a related subject, America passed a significant milestone since the President’s last press conference. It has now been well over 1,000 days since the Senate passed a budget, and meanwhile, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the President will not offer a plan to reform unsustainable entitlement programs. What does the President plan to do about it? The subject was not raised yesterday.
Fox News’ Ed Henry did raise an important question on the President’s position on gas prices — one of the ten questions that Heritage hoped Obama would be made to answer.
Henry asked, “Your critics will say on Capitol Hill that you want gas prices to go higher because you have said before, that will wean the American people off fossil fuels, onto renewable fuels. How do you respond to that?” While not denying that rising oil prices supports his long-term energy agenda, the President cited electoral politics as a reason he wouldn’t want gas prices to go higher this year, and claimed there’s “no silver bullet” to solve the problem. What the President didn’t address, though, is his decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline, the regulatory hurdles to more drilling and refining in the United States, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s insistence that it’s not his job to make gas prices more affordable.
A significant portion of the press conference yesterday was devoted to the issue of Iran and the United States’ relationship with Israel — certainly an important issue given Iran’s desperate pursuit of nuclear weapons. There were vital specifics on the issue he was not pressed on. Namely, does he regret his Administration’s hands-off approach to the Iranian Green Revolution? How can he answer for three years of failed efforts to engage with the likes of Syria and Iran, given that both are continuing to flout the international community? Why, if the President is a friend to Israel, is he pressing America’s ally to negotiate with a Palestinian authority that tolerates Hamas — a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel? And why, given these significant threats in the Middle East — and indeed around the world — is the President slashing military spending and undermining America’s ability to defend itself?
The final seminal issue that totally fell by the wayside was Obamacare’s assault on religious freedom. Under the President’s health care law, the White House mandates that virtually all religious employers, with the exception of churches, provide health care coverage for contraception — including abortion-inducing drugs — thereby trampling upon their constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion. Though the issue was discussed in the context of political rhetoric, the underlying question that brought this debate to the fore was ignored: Where in the Constitution does the President find the authority to issue a mandate that violates the conscience of religious organizations?
These are all vital questions that have vast implications for America’s fiscal future, its national security, and the very integrity of the rights protected under the Constitution. They are fundamental questions of the role of the federal government, the President’s ability to offer solutions to the country’s crushing fiscal crisis, and his willingness to stand by our allies in defense of their right to exist. Unfortunately, America must wait for these questions to be answered.
China’s Military Rising
In early January, President Barack Obama traveled across the Potomac River to the Pentagon and joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to discuss his Administration’s military strategy, promising that he would keep America’s fighting forces the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history. Unfortunately, he’s not keeping that promise, and meanwhile, China’s military is growing by leaps and bounds.
China announced this week that its new defense budget would total approximately $106 billion — an 11.2 percent increase over its previous budget. That’s on top of last year’s 12.7 percent increase, making China’s defense spending larger than that of all other Asian nations combined. Heritage’s Dean Cheng writes that those figures are “a sobering statistic when one considers that this includes the world’s third-largest economy (Japan) and North and South Korea, which remain locked in a Cold War-era standoff.”
While China’s military is growing, America’s is shrinking. Under President Obama’s budget, the U.S. military will shrink dramatically, and the President makes defense the lowest budget priority among the major categories of spending in the federal budget. All told, the President would slash military spending by $487 billion over 10 years — and that’s on top of the $500 billion in cuts ushered in by the sequestration process under the Budget Control Act. The effect of all those cuts? A military that is woefully unprepared to execute its constitutional duty to protect America. As Heritage’s Baker Spring described it, “The combination of the budget request and the Budget Control Act of 2011 would reduce the military’s personnel levels and force structure to the point that they could no longer protect U.S. vital interests and keep U.S. security commitments around the world.”
As a practical matter, those cuts will result in a military that has drastically reduced capabilities, the curtailment of advancements in weapons systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, a reduction in U.S. forces by 72,000 soldiers in the Army (13 percent), 20,000 in the Marines (10 percent), an elimination of brigade combat teams and Air Force tactical fighter and training squadrons, a retirement of ships in the Navy and a slow acquisition of new ones, and an abandonment of a robust nuclear deterrent.
In selling this new way in the military, the President noted that U.S. forces would pivot toward combating emerging forces in the Asia Pacific, promising that “budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region.” That pivot, though, did not come with an attendant reallocation of resources to Asia. Meanwhile, China is stepping up its efforts to dramatically increase its military spending, thereby empowering it to project even more influence in the region.
Though China’s increase in defense spending should not be alarming in and of itself, Cheng points out that there is an important distinction with its military buildup. Whereas the United States has global obligations in maintaining international order and sustaining trade, China’s efforts are centered primarily on countering U.S. influence:
Thus, China can asymmetrically commit its resources against only a portion of the U.S. military and, in the event of a crisis, would likely try to defeat the U.S. in detail.
What should be of concern, then, is that the Chinese Communist Party appears to be increasingly asserting itself against its neighbors, whether it is expanding its forces opposite Taiwan or making claims of sovereignty over the South and East China Seas. In this regard, the People’s Liberation Army is a tool, rather than the agent, for China’s growing antagonism with so many of its neighbors.
All in all, China’s actions should be a cause for concern, particularly given the United States’ interests and alliances in the region. While China is rising and its military is growing stronger, the Obama Administration is hamstringing America’s forces, voluntarily demoting the military’s importance in the budget and degrading its capabilities to that of a hollow force, unable to meet its global obligations. A strong military inspires respect abroad, while a weak one invites aggression. If America is to secure its independence, it must maintain a military capable of keeping that promise.
The Calls for Liberty Have Not Been Silenced
Call it what you want — a circus, a sideshow, or just plain old political rhetoric — but for the past week America has watched the media elite and some in Washington bend over backward to turn attention away from an issue that is fundamental to the future of this country: Obamacare’s attack on individual liberty. While those who favor its mandates may think they have changed the debate and quelled opposition, they are sorely mistaken.
It all stems from a decision by the Obama Administration to mandate that religious employers, including schools, hospitals, and charities, provide health care coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception despite the fact that such coverage is in total contradiction of many of these groups’ core religious beliefs. Some have attempted to make this a debate about other issues, but despite their efforts, the core complaint about this anti-conscience mandate remains: The President’s policy is an unprecedented attack on all Americans’ rights as protected by the First Amendment. And those who prize religious liberty aren’t backing down.
In a letter last week to Catholic bishops in the United States, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and president of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, described his resolve to continue opposition to the mandate, despite the White House’s call to come to the table of so-called “accommodation”:
We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans. We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it . . .
At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom — that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption — are all off the table. They were informed that they are. So much for ‘working out the wrinkles.’ Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation . . .
Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times.
Catholics are by no means alone in their outrage against the mandate. More than 2,700 evangelical pastors and Christian leaders have signed a Family Research Council letter to the President in which they, too, voice their defense of liberty:
Our country was founded on certain freedoms, the first of which is the freedom of religion. The ability of a religious person to follow their conscience without fearing government intervention has long been a protected right for Americans. It is unfathomable to picture a country that would deny religious freedoms.
. . . Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1779, which passed in 1786, and set the stage for the First Amendment. In it, Jefferson states: “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” Consequently, we ask that you would reverse this decision and protect the conscience rights of those who have biblically-based opposition to funding or providing contraceptives and abortifacients.
But it’s not just religious institutions that will feel the brunt of the mandate. As Dolan points out, individual believers will be forced to pay for measures that violate their religious freedom and conscience. He writes, “We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom.” Individual liberties are in jeopardy, and the assault on freedoms is not limited just to the right to practice one’s faith. Indeed, the power granted to the federal government under Obamacare is boundless, and Washington will have growing leverage to make decisions that alter our lives in ways that can’t even be predicted. Billie Tucker, a leader of Florida’s First Coast Tea Party, says that this is but the next step in a troubling trend:
First they came for our money when they bailed out irresponsible banks, companies and individuals. Our personal and national financial security is now at risk.
Then they took away the ability to choose our own doctors, insurance carriers, and treatments. “It is only fair,” they said as they rammed down our throats the most intrusive legislation ever in our lifetime. Our personal health is now at risk.
And now they come for what drove so many of our founding fathers to America’s shores. They want to mandate religious institutions, schools, and people of faith by forcing them to pay for morally objectionable services that run counter to their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is now at risk.
The First Amendment has been dismantled before our eyes.
America is now at risk.
No matter the direction the debate has taken, the deeply flawed policy remains, as does the opposition. Fortunately, Americans are not powerless to take action against this continuing encroachment on liberty. To begin with, Congress can and should take action now to stand in opposition to this anti-conscience mandate and ensure that the liberties guaranteed under the First Amendment remain intact. As Obamacare’s two-year anniversary approaches, we’ve already seen two monumental reasons it must be repealed: the individual mandate and the anti-conscience mandate. But these are by no means the last of Obamacare’s attacks on Americans’ liberty.
The anti-conscience mandate must go. Obamacare must go.
America Under Attack
A Disappointing Recovery Leaves Americans Suffering
In the Super Tuesday primary, the economy was the number one issue on voters’ minds, be they in Massachusetts, Georgia, Ohio, or Virginia. And that wasn’t because they were happy about high unemployment and slow wage growth. Yet according to President Barack Obama, “the economy is getting stronger, and the recovery is speeding up.” Of course, these things are relative. A disappointing recovery is underway. It just hasn’t touched the millions of Americans who remain out of work, the millions more whose wages can’t keep up with inflation, and it doesn’t offset the effects of high gas prices on family budgets.
Voters’ old-fashioned common sense about the economy was backed up by the numbers in the February jobs report just released this morning. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs last month. That’s the good news, and it does evidence that the recovery continues, albeit slowly. And this slow-trot recovery is why the unemployment rate remains at 8.3 percent, while the number of long-term unemployed workers remained at 5.4 million, accounting for 42.6 percent of the unemployed.
What’s more, an extraordinarily high number of Americans have dropped out of the work force, either choosing not to work, losing heart and abandoning the hunt for jobs, or accepting disability benefits. Because of the meager recovery, very few potential workers have returned to the job market to find work. With fewer people in the work force, the unemployment rate appears lower than it should as a matter of simple arithmetic. But this artificially low rate does not disguise the fact that talented, experienced, discouraged workers are choosing to sit on the sidelines instead of participating in the economy. In short, though the labor market is improving, it’s nowhere near where it should be given America’s potential.
What should the economy’s recovery look like? Take a glance at history. Following the 1981-1982 recession — which looked a lot like the one America saw in 2008 in both depth and duration — the economy returned to near-full employment (which is around 5.5 percent) by 1984. Today, nearly three years after the most recent recession ended, the unemployment rate remains stuck well above 8 percent. So while the economy has grown for 10 straight quarters, it’s only done so at a measly 2.4 percent rate. In fact, it’s the slowest recovery America has seen in the post-war era. No wonder millions of Americans aren’t feeling the effects of the economic rebound and are voting their displeasure.
Even liberal economist / columnist Paul Krugman sees the economy for what it is. In a recent column in The New York Times, he wrote, “our economy remains deeply depressed” and that “every silver lining comes with a cloud.” So what’s bringing about that cloud? Why is this economy growing, and yet growing so slowly by comparison to the 1980s recovery?
While President Obama might like to take credit for the meager growth the economy is seeing, there’s an important fact to keep in mind. It’s the natural tendency for the economy to grow — and taking credit for its meager improvement is sort of like accepting kudos for the rising and setting of the sun. In fact, the President should of course (but never will) accept some blame for the fact that the economy isn’t growing faster. The policies Obama ushered in are markedly different from those that President Ronald Reagan adopted to unleash the economic recovery in the 1980s, and the results show the difference — a powerful recovery under Reagan, and weak recovery under Obama.
For starters, President Obama says he wants to encourage job creators to ramp up their economic engines, while at the same time he has proposed $2 trillion in higher taxes, much of which would fall on small businesses — the job creators. Add onto that a discouragingly successful policy of encouraging higher gas prices by opposing domestic energy production. This policy is so unpopular that eleven Democratic Senators voted with their Republican colleagues on Thursday to overturn the Obama decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. Proponents failed to get the 60 votes necessary to overturn the Keystone decision, but with Democratic support it came very close. Instead of tapping proven resources, Obama puts his faith in pie-in-the-sky renewable energy projects like Solyndra. No wonder Super Tuesday’s voters were worried about the economy.
On top of job-killing tax hikes and higher gas prices, President Obama continues to embrace the burden of untenably high spending and debt — which will of course motivate the left to call for even higher taxes — and you’re left with a mess of policies emanating from Washington signaling small businesses to hunker down instead of investing for the future. A better path for growth would be to enact a budget that curbs spending, reforms entitlements, and reforms the tax code to focus it on economic growth as proposed in Heritage’s Saving the American Dream plan — all of which would free the economy to grow at a faster rate than we’re witnessing today.
While any economic growth and job creation is welcome, a barely perceptible, incremental recovery doesn’t offer much hope for those Americans who can’t feel, see, or touch the fruits of recovery. Millions remain unemployed in the Obama economy, and Washington can and should do better for the American people.
THE FLAT TAX!
Get on the Path to a Balanced Budget
Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, will release his budget blueprint today in what will surely be one of the most important policy developments in Washington this year. If as expected Senate Democrats fail yet again to advance a budget for the government, then the Ryan Budget and the President’s Budget released a few weeks ago will present the leading alternatives for how the federal government would dig out of its present fiscal mess. And if the Ryan budget is anything like last year’s effort, the differences couldn’t be clearer. The Heritage Foundation is reviewing Congressman Ryan’s latest budget proposal and will provide analysis in the hours and days ahead.
President Obama, of course, has talked a good game about fiscal discipline. He’s had his commissions. He’s made his big speeches. But according to his latest offering as scored by the Congressional Budget Office, the outrageous budget deficit of $1.3 trillion this year dips to a still-amazing $488 billion in a few years despite his enormous proposed tax hikes, and then begins to soar anew as the decade proceeds.
With the federal government racing toward 17 trillion dollars debt, and with 13 million Americans searching for work in a slow economy, conservatives have long ago lost patience with the tax and spend crowd that runs Washington. Heritage has set forth six objectives that should guide development of the annual federal budget: (1) a tighter budget, (2) a balanced budget, (3) fixes to entitlements, (4) no tax hikes, (5) job-creating, pro-growth tax reform, and (6) a strong national defense. Those conservative objectives lead to a stronger economy, less government, more jobs, and a safer America.
On the balanced budget objective, Heritage has said:
“The federal budget should balance in ten years, at a level well below one-fifth of the nation’s economy, and at all events much sooner than the budget would have balanced in the weaker budget formulas proposed in previous years.”
Heritage seeks to abolish the income tax and many other taxes and instead adopting the job-creating, pro-growth New Flat Tax in its comprehensive plan for Saving the American Dream. The New Flat Tax, combined with the other elements in the Heritage plan, leads to a balanced annual federal budget in ten years — a permanently balanced budget, without hiking taxes, at a level lower than one-fifth of the nation’s annual economic output. Heritage has emphasized that the current federal budget should make substantial progress toward that objective:
“Congress should revise the tax code to establish strong economic incentives for job-creating saving and investment by abolishing a wide range of taxes and reducing the income tax structure to a single rate, or at most two.”
Earlier balanced budgets are better. The quickest way to a balanced budget is to cut spending, avoid tax increases and to overhaul the nation’s tax code so that it helps rather than hurts the economy. Shifting from the current job-killing, anti-growth complex tax system to a simpler, job-creating pro-growth tax system is crucial. Such a system raises more revenue as the economy grows, but without raising tax rates on Americans.
The solution to federal government’s overspending and overborrowing does not lie in the arcane world of budget scoring rules and detailed, complex provisions of federal budget laws that only a few specialists understand. Congress must focus outside of Washington.
Congress must focus on what happens in the real economy, where Americans go to work every day, produce the goods and services others need, pay their taxes, and take what is left in their paychecks home to support themselves and their families. In that economy, the flatter tax system focused on creating incentives for savings and investment will generate jobs, let people keep more of their paychecks rather than sending more to their government, and will help put America on the path to a balanced budget.
The dynamic effects of a flatter tax system yield a stronger economy with more jobs and better lives for Americans. The Budget Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, which will shortly consider the annual federal budget, must begin moving America to a flatter tax system. The move to a flatter tax system, on the way to the New Flat Tax, will help grow our economy instead of our government. The Budget Committee should take that step, right now, toward a balanced budget.
OBAMA HEALTH CARE
Obamacare Is A Cancer That Must Go
It has been two years this week since the passage of Obamacare, and the firestorm it ignited has not abated but only spread and intensified. Most Americans have already made up their minds, understanding that until it is completely removed, the cancer of Obamacare threatens not only our healthcare and our economy but also our most fundamental liberties and constitutional self-government.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on its constitutionality, bringing this intolerable act to the forefront of the American mind once again and reminding the country that the issue of Obamacare is by no means settled.
Nothing the Administration has done has made this law more palatable, quite the opposite, and none of the PR events the White House has planned for this week is likely to change people’s minds.
Nor will Obamacare likely be settled by the Supreme Court. As with such divisive questions in the past, this question will be settled by the American people who have throughout this failed episode signaled loud and clear that they want the whole monstrosity repealed once and for all.
In its short 24-month life, Obamacare has done nothing but confirm our worst fears, being a signal failure from the very beginning.
Obamacare promised to make healthcare more accessible and cheaper without increasing taxes or the deficit. If you liked your doctor, of course you could keep your doctor. No one would be made to do anything against their will. These promises have all been broken.
The law’s escalating regulations and costs weigh heavily on the businesses that fuel our economy, one of the reasons job creation has been so anemic and economic recovery has been lackluster. Obamacare is expected to force Americans to pay $99 billion more in taxes and penalties than originally anticipated. Families earning over $250,000 will get hit with a higher Medicare payroll tax.
And just last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that costs, originally pegged at $938 billion, have now risen to $1.76 trillion. Congressional Republicans estimate the tab to be $2.6 trillion. CBO also says that as many as 20 million Americans could lose their employer-provided coverage because of Obamacare.
Turning to the individual mandate forcing all Americans to buy insurance, it quickly led to a revolt by a majority of states, who are now challenging the law before the Supreme Court. The Heritage Foundation weighed in on the issue and filed an amicus brief urging the Court to strike down the law. If government can regulate inactivity, it can do anything.
As Obamacare moves into its implementation phase, we are beginning to see more clearly where it is headed. A heavy-handed mandate for preventive services collides with religious liberty by ordering all insurance plans to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization at no-cost to the insured. Religious groups serving the public will have to provide such coverage regardless of their religious beliefs and deep moral objections. Those who choose not to comply will face heavy fines that will divert resources from their work to serve the poor, elderly, and sick, if not cause them to leave this work entirely. Such disregard not only tramples our basic liberties but also makes it hard for religious institutions to continue their important work serving communities all across America.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. With each new requirement, Obamacare will make insurance more expensive, reduce flexibility and choice, and take away liberty.
Given this sorry record it is not surprising that Obamacare has been a political loser for its proponents. Starting with the elections of Republican governors in Virginia and New Jersey in November 2009, then of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, of all places, two months later, and culminating in the watershed elections of November 2010, when the nation saw the biggest landslide in seven decades.
Today the legislation barely rates a mention in presidential speeches, the signature legislative achievement of President Obama’s first term having become an albatross around his neck.
The American people had the common sense to understand from the start that there is something more at issue when more than 150 federal agencies, bureaus and commissions have the authority to intervene in some of the most personal and private decisions of our lives.
Poll after poll continues to demonstrate that Obamacare is not supported by the American people. The reason is that it offends our principled and abiding attachment to liberty and self government, going to the heart of the relationship between citizen and state.
The only complete remedy is the full repeal of Obamacare in all of its aspects. Like so many, we encourage the Supreme Court to reject the law on constitutional grounds. But Congress must be prepared to finish the job. The ultimate responsibility, though, lies with the American people, who are the ones who elect their leaders. America needs real health care reform that increases access, built on the firm foundation of constitutional principle and the commitment to freedom that has sustained this nation since its founding.
Sixty-five years ago, in the days after their noble victory in World War II, the British people chose not the hero who had led them, Winston Churchill, but replaced his coalition with a socialist Labour Party that quickly brought forth their now-infamous National Health System. By no coincidence, the British government announced a year later it could no longer afford its strategic responsibilities in the post-war world, seemingly reconciled to a declining status.
This will not be our fate. Americans do not line up for instructions from Washington. By their good character and dedication to the principles of liberty, Americans will never resign themselves to being the wards of a bureaucratic state where all is subject to government control, regulatory dictate and administrative whim.
Obamacare is a cancer. We must not rest until we are rid of it.
The Solar Scenarion And Obama!
Did You See the Senate’s Gas Price Sideshow?
In case you missed it, there was quite a performance in the U.S. Senate yesterday. Liberals put on an election-year show, with the personal encouragement of President Barack Obama, in which they attempted to impose higher taxes on the oil industry as punishment for their profits while gas prices are at an all-time high.
The Senate rejected the bill 51-47. Despite certain defeat, liberals brought up the legislation in hopes of distracting the American people from the fact that President Obama is refusing to take steps that would help increase the supply of oil in the United States, and decrease regulation, thereby bringing down costs for consumers. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) put it, “Day after day after day, Democrats ask us all to come out here, not so we can make an actual difference in the lives of working Americans and families struggling to fill the gas tank, but so we can watch them stage votes for show.”
Heritage expert David Kreutzer points out, most of what the President and his allies call “subsidies” are merely manufacturing tax credits that already put the oil and gas industry at a disadvantage:
[T]he unfair tax break that makes up nearly half of what Obama calls “subsidies” is the manufacturing tax credit. All manufacturers except the oil and gas industry get to deduct 9 percent of their revenues before calculating their tax bills…Though oil and gas producers get the deduction, they are singled out for a lower 6 percent deduction. The oil and gas industry gets a deduction that is only two-thirds as generous as for all other manufacturers …yet the deduction is called a subsidy to oil and gas. The President’s proposal does not eliminate the deduction for any other industry.
To make matters worse, if this legislation had passed and the President achieved his goal of increasing taxes on the oil industry, it would have only served to raise the price of fuel at the pump. When industry is taxed, they invariably pass on the costs to the consumers. But that fact apparently doesn’t matter to the President. His plan, instead, is to take money from the oil industry and hand it to his friends in the alternative energy industry, as he described:
Instead of taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s never been more profitable, we should be using that money to double down on investments in clean energy technologies that have never been more promising. Investments in wind power and solar power and biofuels; in fuel-efficient cars and trucks and homes and buildings. That’s the future.
While the President talks about the future, he glosses over the past. For over three years, he has talked about the promise of alternative energy — and he has invested billions of taxpayer dollars in order to prop up those companies. But those efforts have failed. Solar energy company Solyndra went bankrupt, despite $535 million in taxpayer funding, along with Beacon, Ener1, Abound and others. The New York Times criticized the President’s efforts and concluded that his promise to create five million “green” jobs over 10 years has proven to be nothing more than “a pipe dream.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported, “Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level.”
The President’s crony capitalist devotion to the alternative energy industry — at the expense of energy sources that work — comes with serious consequences. Heritage’s Nick Loris explains:
The reality is that when it comes to energy policy, the free market works. Indeed, the business environment for energy is robust despite seemingly endless forays by policymakers and bureaucrats into the energy industry. But those attempts to control energy markets do have an effect: They result in higher prices, fewer available energy sources, reduced competition, and stifled innovation.
But the President wants even more government involvement in the energy business — on his own terms. In Obama’s FY 2013 budget, he included billions of dollars for a hidden green stimulus — taxpayer money to be spent by the Department of Energy to fund research on technologies that are not commercially viable. In a new paper, Loris identifies $5.5 billion of wasted money that should be cut from the President’s budget, thereby removing the government–and taxpayers–from the role of subsidizing research.
Instead of picking winners and losers, the federal government should let the free market do its job. In addition to getting out of the business of funding research best left to the private sector, that also means ending targeted tax credits for oil, renewables, nuclear, alternative fuels and vehicles, and advanced coal and gasification. The next step is for the federal government to open access to domestic energy sources and end unnecessary, overly burdensome regulations that get in the way of energy production. And the President should approve the Keystone XL pipeline and open up federal lands for energy exploration.
Obama Slams Supreme Court over Obamacare
The highest elected official in the United States dished out an extra helping of irony yesterday when, in speaking at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, President Barack Obama slammed the Supreme Court as an “unelected group of people” who will have turned to “judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint” if they strike down Obamacare.
The President’s remarks imply that the Court, were it to rule the individual mandate unconstitutional, would be acting recklessly in undertaking judicial review of Congress’ unprecedented use of the Commerce Clause to force Americans to buy health care or pay a penalty. The irony in all this is that this President has presided over an Administration that is the epitome of recklessly abusing power, at times in flagrant violation of the Constitution, and has empowered unelected bureaucrats to write scads of new regulations impacting nearly every corner of American life.
Obamacare, of course, is a prime example of that unchecked and multiplying web of the President’s boundless dictates. The law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (otherwise known as “IPAB”) is packed with unelected bureaucrats who have the power to limit seniors’ treatment options and access to care, essentially ending Medicare as we know it.
On top of IPAB, Obamacare is rife with new regulations, all courtesy of unelected bureaucrats. Professor of law Gary Lawson writes that the implementation of Obamcare “will require many years and literally thousands of administrative regulations, and those regulations will ultimately determine the substantive content and coverage of the law.” In other words, the future of health care in America will not be determined by the people’s elected representatives, but by administrative rulemakings handed down by unelected and largely unknown agency officials. How’s that for a “democratically elected government”?
Obamacare, though, isn’t the only example of the Obama Administration imposing its will via executive fiat. In a new study, Heritage’s James Gattuso and Diane Katz detail 106 new major federal regulations that added more than $46 billion per year in new costs for Americans. And those are regulations enacted not by elected officials who are accountable to voters, but by Washington bureaucrats who can wield their power without having to answer to the people.
While the President is throwing stones at the court, he’s living in a glass house from which he has exercised his tyrannical abuse of power. In January, the President cast aside the Constitution when he illegally appointed Richard Cordray to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, all without Senate approval, as the Constitution requires. Former attorney general Ed Meese described the President’s actions as “a constitutional abuse of a high order,” and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said it was “a brazen attempt to undercut the role of the Senate to advise and consent the executive branch on appointments.”
And this is the President who said in December, “What I’m not gonna do is wait for Congress. So wherever we have an opportunity and I have the executive authority to go ahead and get some things done, we’re just gonna go ahead and do ‘em,” irrespective of whether the people’s duly elected representatives have a say in the matter.
Now that the President is seeing the potential for his signature legislation to go down in flames because of its unconstitutional individual mandate, he is lashing out at the Supreme Court. To date, President Obama has enjoyed ruling with impunity and has attempted to carry out his agenda without so much as a hat tip to the Constitution. But come June when the Court rules on Obamacare, the President might finally see part of his agenda stopped in its tracks.
Harry Reid Opts for Political Theater on Judicial Nominees
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has rightfully earned the reputation of running a do-nothing Senate. More than 1,000 days have elapsed since the upper chamber approved a budget. He’s currently ignoring the House-passed JOBS Act and actively opposing steps to lower gas prices.
Now, in a blatant political stunt, Reid is attempting to blame the Republican minority for the Senate’s failure to confirm 17 of President Obama’s district court nominees.
“Republicans have refused to allow us to even vote — won’t even allow us to vote — on these qualified judicial nominees,” Reid declared. “Republicans have prevented the Senate from doing its constitutional duty and that’s what it is.”
Reid should be commended for his hyperbole.
Let’s begin with the fact that Reid is majority leader, the one who sets the Senate’s agenda and determines the floor schedule. So if Reid is unsatisfied with the pace of progress on Obama’s nominees, then he has only himself to blame.
Conservatives aren’t blocking any votes because they aren’t filibustering. According to statistics compiled by the Senate Republican Policy Committee, Obama has secured approval for 129 district-court judges in three years. That’s more than President George W. Bush’s 120 confirmations over his final four years in office.
There’s also the fact that Obama has sent fewer nominees than Bush to the Senate. In the first three years of his presidency, Bush nominated 215 district court judges; Obama made 173 nominations.
That follows a pattern under Obama. Of the 83 judicial vacancies that currently exist, he’s made 39 nominations, leaving 44 openings unaddressed. And 17 of those nominees haven’t yet been approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.
That means an astonishing 73 percent of current judicial vacancies are awaiting action from either the White House or the Senate Judiciary Committee. What’s more, it has been reported that the American Bar Association secretly declared a significant number of the president’s nominees to be “not qualified.”
When Reid has brought Obama’s nominees to the floor for a vote, the president has a near-perfect record, including the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) reminded Reid yesterday.
So while Reid would like to paint Republicans as obstructionists, his criticism is misdirected.
Conservatives should use Reid’s stunt to remind Americans about the unconstitutional appointments Obama made earlier this year. In January, while Congress was still in session, Obama ignored the Senate’s advise-and-consent role and purported to unilaterally appointed three people to seats on the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Obama’s actions prompted an initial outcry from Republicans. But with few exceptions, they’ve acquiesced. In the two months following Obama’s illegal appointments, the Senate has confirmed seven judicial nominees. That alone is a strong rebuttal to Reid’s bombastic statement that “Republicans have refused to allow us to even vote.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is one of the few conservatives who has vowed on principle to vote against each nominee until the Senate properly considers the four illegally appointed individuals. Lee’s approach is different from a filibuster, which requires a 60-vote threshold. He simply wants a recorded up-or-down vote on each nominee.
“We simply cannot continue to afford nominees near-complete deference until President Obama rescinds his unconstitutional appointments and restores the Senate’s proper constitutional role in the confirmation process,” Lee explained. “I cannot sit idly by and watch as the president openly violates the Constitution and ignores a century of Senate rules.”
Lee spoke at Heritage last month about the long-term consequences, noting that he would be equally outraged if a Republican president was pursuing the same strategy. Watch our exclusive interview.
Reid, however, appears perfectly comfortable with Obama’s approach. He suggested that more illegal “recess” appointments could be coming. He warned, “we will have no alternative but to take action.” Reid’s actions also reveal his blatant hypocrisy. He originated the use of pro-forma sessions to avoid recess appointments under the previous administration, and that’s more proof that Reid’s actions are nothing more than partisan grandstanding.
While Senate conservatives have not filibustered, they would be well within their prerogatives to do so. After all, as Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky noted, former Senator Robert Byrd held up more than 70 nominations and the promotions of 5,000 military personnel over recess appointments that he believed pushed the limits of the recess appointment power, even though the Senate actually was in recess. That’s in contrast to the unconstitutional and invalid act of this president of making recess appointments while the Senate was not in recess.
Now is not the time for political theater. Reid, unfortunately, appears more willing to appease his liberal allies when he should be focusing on issues of job creation and gas prices.
Hispanics and the 2012 Election
After last week’s Republican primary elections in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., the 2012 presidential primary season is reaching an inflection point, and eyes are turning toward America’s final decision on Election Day in November. While pundits and pollsters speculate on the horse race and who will capture the hearts and minds of the American people, one segment of the electorate is garnering increased attention — Hispanic Americans.
It is, to be sure, a population that continues to grow in size, voice, and importance. In the 2008 election, Hispanics turned out in force — 9.7 million Hispanics voted, and those numbers are projected to grow to 11.8 million to 12.2 million in 2012, with particular importance in presidential battlegrounds such as Colorado and Nevada, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Last May, President Barack Obama spoke to Hispanic voters in El Paso, Texas, and delivered a highly partisan speech on immigration reform where he chastised his political opponents and their views of border security. In July, the President reached out to the Hispanic community at a gathering organized by The National Council of La Raza, where he again attempted to use the issue of immigration as a wedge issue, casting conservatives as being anti-immigration for their opposition to illegal immigration.
The President’s effort in appealing to Hispanics is not surprising given how that population has suffered under his economic policies. Clearly, he sees there is work to be done in order to firm up his base. From 2005 to 2009, median household wealth among Hispanics fell by 66%, compared with a drop of 53% among blacks and 16% among non-Hispanic whites; the unemployment rate among Hispanics in March was 10.3 percent, compared to 8.2 percent among the broader population; and between 2006 and 2010, the poverty rate among Hispanics increased more than any other group, from 20.6 percent to 26.6 percent, all according to the Pew Hispanic Center. And a majority of Hispanics believe that the economic downturn has been harder on them than on other groups in America. It’s not surprising, then, that Hispanics rank jobs, not immigration, as the number one issue in the 2012 election. Additionally, 56 percent are dissatisfied with the direction the country is headed.
None of this is to say that any one ideology has an iron-clad lock on Hispanics’ loyalty. In fact, among registered Hispanic voters, 35 percent say they’re conservative, 32 percent view themselves as moderate, and 28 percent describe themselves as liberal. What it does mean, though, is that conservatives have a compelling message for the Hispanic community and a case that needs to be made.
And what is the liberal message? They say Hispanics are victims in a racist and unfair society and need government to give them protected status. Is this an inspiring message for the latest group seeking to realize the American Dream and get on the ladder of success?
On the issue of immigration, conservatives have always recognized the need to have more legal immigration. Illegal immigration, though, ignores all the law abiding individuals seeking to legally obtain their citizenship, while others illegally flout the system.
Conservatives must make the case, too, on the issue of jobs, enterprise, and free markets. Like all Americans, Hispanics are suffering high unemployment rates, joblessness that has gone on too long, and stagnant home values. The promise of the President’s big hand of government — the trillion-dollar stimulus, Obamacare, and his mountain of regulations — has not delivered a better life for any American, Hispanic or otherwise. Meanwhile, America’s debt continues to grow, and future generations of all backgrounds will be saddled with the burden of having to cover the costs of the checks the President is writing today. Conservatives, on the other hand, call for a government that lives within its means, empowers the people, and lifts burdens from job creators so that they can grow and thrive.
The Heritage Foundation’s Spanish-language website, Libertad.org, communicates The Heritage Foundation’s policy analysis and research to a Hispanic audience that prefers to read in their first language. Its goal is to educate a growing community about conservative ideals and how limited government — not big government — can help them achieve the American dream.
Hispanics are an important and growing part of America’s fabric. Those who immigrate to the United States are in pursuit of a better life, and they want to be rewarded for the fruits of their labor, just as any other American would. They’re a growing political voice, too, and they should hear the message of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Those concepts are vital to ensuring a strong future for all Americans, no matter their heritage.
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OBAMA CARE@dannyboys get creative
Obama’s New Gas Price Scapegoat
High gas prices are not a president’s friend, especially in an election year, so it’s not surprising that President Barack Obama is trying his darndest to shift the blame for record-high fuel prices onto something other than his failed energy policies. Yesterday he made a desperate attempt to distract from those failures and redirect America’s gas price rage with a flawed proposal to punish speculators for supposedly driving up the cost of energy.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, the president announced a proposal to spend $52 million to fund increased government oversight of oil futures market trading in addition to harsher civil and criminal penalties for manipulation in energy markets. “We can’t afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions, while millions of American families get the short end of the stick,” Obama said. “That’s not the way the market should work.”
The implication, of course, is that evil Wall Street barons are the reason gas prices are so high, and that they’re walking away with millions at the expense of the rest of the country. (The president even went so far as to invoke Enron.) That simply isn’t the case, and even the president said that “none of these steps by themselves will bring gas prices down overnight” — a point that White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated in a press conference later in the afternoon when he admitted “it’s hard to know” what the impact of the president’s proposal would be.
Heritage’s David Kreutzer explains that the president’s “the speculators did it” argument is flawed on several levels. If speculators are making unconscionable profits on energy, why are they only doing it occasionally and not all the time? Why are there only speculators in oil, not natural gas (whose current price is about half of what it averaged over the last decade)? And given how the petroleum market works — for every speculator who makes money on a trade, somebody else will lose money — the president’s theory “requires an endless string of chumps to take the other side of the speculators’ deals.” Finally, Kreutzer writes:
For speculation to drive up prices, the speculators must either cause oil production to slow down (which they haven’t) or to pull oil off the market. If the flow of petroleum and its products remains unchanged, the price at the pump will not change. If petroleum is pulled off the market, which can happen even though there are limits to what can be stored, it will eventually come back on the market.
The question becomes, ‘When the oil comes back on the market, is the price higher or lower than when it was pulled off the market?’ The price will only be higher if the amount supplied at that time is lower or the demand is higher. In either of those cases, speculators have helped moderate price fluctuations and will be rewarded with profits. If the price is lower, then the speculators did a bad thing and will be punished by losing money.
In short, the president’s theory that devious energy speculators are at work driving up the price of oil just doesn’t hold water. So what’s the point of all this? Action for the sake of action, in order to provide a distraction from his failed energy policies.
If the president truly wanted to lower gas prices, he would work to increase supply. But when given the opportunity, he just says “no.” He turned turned down the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada. His Administration has made it even harder for companies to explore and extract domestic energy resources by canceling, delaying, or withdrawing a number of lease sales for exploration and development. Meanwhile, huge swaths of federal lands have been put off limits for energy exploration.
The other energy policies he has pursued have either made energy prices higher or proven to be nothing more than abysmal wastes of taxpayer dollars. Take for example new EPA regulations that would effectively ban new coal power plants, thereby increasing the cost of your electricity, or new fuel efficiency standards for automobiles that could add $10,000 to the cost of a new car. Then there’s Obama’s green jobs stimulus, whose poster child of failure is none other than the bankrupt Solyndra solar company that took $540 million of taxpayer funds with it.
In yesterday’s press conference, Carney said, “The president had made clear that there is no silver bullet, there is no pixie dust, there are no magic beans that will — or a 3-point plan that will reduce the price of gas at the pump.” The president is hoping, though, that blaming speculators is all the magic he needs to convince the American people that his energy policies are not a total failure.
The Governing Class and Us
In a speech yesterday in Elyria, Ohio — a small town just outside Cleveland sitting at the forks of the Black River — President Barack Obama delivered a politically charged speech in which he hearkened back to the country’s roots, saying that his opponents “don’t seem to remember how America was built.” In his view, taxpayers want their money spent in ways that will help further “the larger project we call America.” In other words, more spending and bigger government paid for with higher taxes.
In a city quite unlike Elyria, thousands of miles west, sprawling forth from the desert just east of Death Valley, officials from this federal government provided the latest example of what happens when the president’s philosophy succeeds — when layer upon layer of government grows so big that it begins to serve the interests of a ruling class, rather than the people from whom it derives its power. Two years ago in Las Vegas, the General Services Administration (GSA) — a little-known federal agency that helps manage other federal agencies — blew through $820,000 in taxpayer funds for a lavish, booze-fueled conference for 300 employees, complete with magic shows, margaritas, and a self-produced rap video making fun of the spending. (It’s worth mentioning that in 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for help in encouraging government meetings to be held in Nevada.)
That’s just the giant tip of the iceberg for this wasteful behemoth, as reports have emerged of other taxpayer-financed “business trips,” including junkets to Hawaii, South Pacific islands, California’s Napa Valley and Palm Springs. A hotline has been set up for employee tips on wrongdoing, and this week the House is conducting hearings on the GSA’s gross abuse of taxpayer funds.
Sadly, government waste, fraud and abuse isn’t limited to just one agency. Look no further than the Department of Energy (DOE) whose inspector general said yesterday that he’s overseeing 250 to 300 open criminal investigations into the “entire spectrum of DOE activities,” including 100 reviews involving more than $35 billion in stimulus dollars, according to Politico. In addition, it was reported that the investigators are looking into the “use of thousands of outside contractors, federal money being diverted for personal use, false data in grant and loan applications, conflicts of interest and incomplete and inferior work from DOE weatherization grant winners.” To date, those investigations have led to eight criminal prosecutions and the recovery of $2.3 million.
How commonplace is this waste? Given the sheer size and scope of the government — which is set to spend $6.3 trillion this year — it’s impossible to say. But just as pernicious as the countless billions that have been squandered is the cancerous attitude that has taken hold in Washington and that is metastasizing across the land. It’s one of thoughtless entitlement in which individuals who live off the bureaucratic beast reflexively take and spend more all while doing less, giving no consideration to those who fuel their appetites.
Of course, that mindset is not exclusive to the federal level, and examples abound of government employees taking from the public coffers. Just this week in our nation’s capital, 90 city employees were suspended for receiving unemployment benefits while still holding city jobs, and 40 former city workers cashed unemployment checks that they weren’t entitled to. All told, the city paid out some $800,000 in illegitimate benefits. But it’s not just about outright theft. It’s also about out-of-whack expectations that one is entitled to receive without doing. In Michigan, for example, a public school teacher is advising her students not to become teachers because under a new state law, she won’t be able to retire at age 47 as she hoped.
Contrary to what those on the left might believe, this swollen government is not what was intended.
Flowing from the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution, the federal government was designed on the principle that the ultimate authority of a legitimate government depends on the consent of a free people. As Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III writes in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, “Nature does not single out who is to govern and who is to be governed; there is no divine right of kings. Nor are rights a matter of legal privilege or the benevolence of some ruling class.” Yet in this government, a privileged few are acting outside those bounds with the expectation that they have the right to do as they please, unfettered by any obligation to the people.
Under the Obama Administration, the situation has gotten worse. The president turns to bigger government and higher taxes as a solution to every problem. On health care, unemployment, education and energy, Obama has reflexively pursued a policy of more is more — more spending paid for with more taxes. This week served up another prime example when the president called for increased regulations and $52 million in spending to combat high gas prices — even though he admitted that the measures wouldn’t have any immediate impact on the price at the pump.
As the people lose control over this unrestrained government, those with the most cash are the ones with a voice. In an interview last week with The New York Times, former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy revealed that access to the Obama White House is a “quid pro quo” based on how much money one contributes to the president’s campaign. That news, though, likely is not a shock to an American people who have come to expect the worst, not the best, from Washington. However, that is not how America was built, it’s not the government we must have, nor is it the one that the Founders envisioned!
America’s Budget Crisis in Pictures
It’s pretty clear to most Americans that Washington is broken and spending money well beyond the country’s means. In fact, Sunday marked three years since the U.S. Senate last passed a budget. Getting the fiscal house in order clearly isn’t their top priority. But just how bad is the country’s spending and debt crisis? Heritage has the answer in its newly released 2012 Edition of the Federal Budget in Pictures.
Whether you’re interested in learning how fast federal spending is growing, how big the tax burden is, what debt will look like in the future, and how soon entitlement spending will implode, Heritage has the answer in easy-to-understand charts. Here’s a taste of just some of the information Federal Budget in Pictures offers:
Each American’s Share of Publicly Held Debt Is Skyrocketing
As Washington continues to spend dramatically more than it can afford, every American will be on the hook for increasing levels of debt. Without reining in spending, the amount of debt per citizen will skyrocket. In 1970, each American’s share of publicly held debt was $6,435. Today, it’s $36,267. Where will it be in 2036? Click here to see the astounding facts for yourself.
What if Families Handled Finances Like the Federal Government Does?
In 2010, median family income was $51,360. If a typical family followed the federal government’s lead, it would spend $73,319 and put 30 cents of every dollar spent on a credit card. This family would have racked up $325,781 in credit card debt–like a mortgage, only without the house. What credit card company would continue lending money to this family? All those numbers can be hard to visualize, so see for yourself what it looks like in one of our latest charts.
Obamacare’s Barrage of Tax Hikes
Do you know about all the tax hikes that Obamacare imposes? They’re not coming all at once, and the cost gets higher each year, totaling more than $500 billion over 10 years. Obamacare’s higher tax rates on income and investment will slow economic growth, leaving hardworking American families and businesses worse off. A particularly harmful new payroll tax on investment income goes into effect in January 2013. It’s time you saw what all these taxes look like and how much they will cost. Check it out in our Obamacare tax hike chart.
Discretionary Spending Cuts Alone Will Not Balance the Budget
How bad is America’s entitlements crisis? (That includes spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other mandatory programs, plus interest.) The fact is, annual spending on entitlement programs is massive compared to other federal spending priorities. Cutting discretionary spending is necessary, but cuts to foreign aid alone or pulling out of Afghanistan will not close the deficit. Entitlement programs must be reformed. But to really understand how big entitlement spending is compared to other programs, you’ve got to see the comparison in this chart.
Those are just four examples of the kind of visual information we offer in our latest Federal Budget in Pictures. But there are dozens of others showing how the debt is on track to fuel an economic crisis, how defense spending would plummet under President Obama’s budget, how Heritage’s New Flat Tax simplifies the tax system, and how entitlement spending will nearly double by 2050.
It’s one thing to say that America faces a fiscal crisis. It’s another thing for Congress and the president to do something about it. So if you really want to understand the problem, take a look at Heritage’s Federal Budget in Pictures. Today’s fiscal crisis is not a pretty sight, and ignoring it will make matters far worse.
Heritage’s Federal Budget in Pictures is also available in Spanish at Libertad.org.