Domestic Policy

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  Census: Ranks Of Poor Grow In StateAugust 28, 2007 10:03 The number of Hoosiers living in poverty increased by 4 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The report found 12.7 percent of Indiana residents -- or about 777,700 men, women and children -- lived in poverty in 2006.
That represents an increase of more than 37,000 from 2005, when the state poverty rate was 12.2 percent.
Nationally, the poverty rate remained the same as in 2005 -- 13.3 percent -- while the number of Americans without health insurance increased from 44.8 million to 47 million.
The poverty level is the official measure used to decide eligibility for federal health, housing, nutrition and child care benefits. It differs by family size and makeup. For a family of four with two children, for example, the poverty level is $20,444. The poverty rate -- the percentage of people living below poverty -- helps shape the debate on the health of the nation's economy.
  Edwards Bashes Romney Health Care PlanAugust 24, 2007 14:17 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney walks off the stage after speaking to the Florida Medical Association about his health care plan.
(Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)

Even as Mitt Romney is laying out his health care plan at this hour to Florida doctors, Democrat John Edwards wasted no time bashing it.

"Mitt Romney's cure is worse than the disease," Edwards said in a statement. "Not surprisingly, he's unwilling to take on the big insurance and drug companies. As a result, it will make a dysfunctional health care system even worse."

Romney's plan includes some elements of the much-publicized Massachusetts health care reform, which took effect in July and which is designed to lower costs and offer coverage to all residents.

But, as the Globe and other newspapers reported today, it is also significantly different, with more of a state-by-state approach. For instance, Romney's proposal would not penalize anyone for failing to buy insurance, nor would it sanction businesses that do not provide it for their employees. Individual states could set such rules, but the federal government would not mandate them.

Edwards, who claims to have the only health care plan that would cover all the estimated 47 million uninsured Americans, slapped Romney for not proposing all the major features of the Massachusetts plan for national health care reform.

"If universal health care was good enough for Massachusetts, why isn't it good enough for the rest of the country?"
  Gop Immigration MeltdownAugust 23, 2007 08:33 Are Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani competing for the Republican Presidential nomination, or for the job of vacation replacement for Lou Dobbs? It's hard to tell these days as the candidates attempt to one-up each other's anti-immigration rhetoric.

Mr. Romney has faulted the former New York City mayor for not directing the local police to harass illegal-alien janitors, cooks and bus boys, thus making the Big Apple a so-called "sanctuary city" for the undocumented. Mr. Romney apparently doesn't think the NYPD has anything better to do with its time, though given the record drop in violent crime during the Giuliani years, which coincided with an increase in immigrants to the city, he might reconsider that notion.

Mr. Giuliani has responded by slouching toward Tom Tancredo, unveiling plans to tackle the immigration problem with ID cards, physical barriers and patrols along the Mexican border. But Mr. Giuliani's previous support for these newcomers, who've helped to revitalize New York over the past two decades, makes his more recent rhetoric seem like a gambit to neutralize Mr. Romney's appeals to the restrictionist right. At least Mr. Giuliani still stresses his interest in giving foreigners more opportunities to enter the U.S. lawfully.

Both candidates, however, ignore the reality that more security measures will have limited effect if not paired with a guest worker program that gives foreign nationals more legal ways to access job offers in the U.S. The same goes for the Bush Administration's recently announced plans to step-up "interior" enforcement. Taking U.S. employers to the woodshed won't fix the illegal immigration problem, and it could do real economic harm.

Under the new rules, scheduled to take effect next month, businesses with workers whose Social Security numbers don't match their names could face criminal charges and heftier fines. It's hard to understand the rationale of a policy that holds employers responsible for the inability of the federal government to produce secure Social Security numbers.
  Under Bush Plan Children May Lose Out On InsuranceAugust 23, 2007 08:16 Thousands of Massachusetts children from low-income families could be denied health insurance under new rules imposed by the Bush administration late last week. The rules could cut federal matching funds for a state-run program that is a key component of the state's health insurance initiative.

But congressional leaders, including Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said yesterday that they would fight the changes, which are the latest volley in the national battle over the future of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.

Using a combination of state and federal funds, the program covers some 6.6 million children nationally and 90,500 in Massachusetts in low-income families.

As part of its health insurance reform, Massachusetts expanded eligibility to children in families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $61,950 for a family of four. The change was made last year with federal approval and brought coverage to about 14,000 more Massachusetts children.

In Massachusetts, the program is the main means of insuring children in families above the poverty level who do not qualify for Medicaid and who frequently cannot afford private insurance. The state's health insurance initiative did not include any other effort to cover children.

The new federal rules could block enrollment of more children above 250 percent of the poverty level and could make it tougher for the state to continue covering about 4,500 already enrolled. State officials said they do not yet have a count of the number who are eligible but not enrolled.

"We need to do further analysis to determine how these new requirements translate for Massachusetts," Stephanie Anthony, the state's deputy Medicaid director, said in a prepared statement. Healthcare advocates said the requirements would hurt the Massachusetts insurance initiative.
  'No Match,' No SenseAugust 13, 2007 07:23 The U.S. has tried many tactics in its campaign to thwart illegal immigration -- border fences, additional Border Patrol agents, cameras, motion sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles. The focus on flashy technology and beefed-up manpower has ignored one little-known program: the Social Security Administration's (SSA) no-match letter program. But with new rules from the Bush administration due any day now, the program will require employers to fire undocumented workers, making it the weapon that could finally make a dent against illegal immigration. Unintended consequences of the program promise to also cause serious economic harm.

Every year, the SSA sends out more than 100,000 no-match letters to employers with at least 10 workers whose reported Social Security numbers either do not exist or do not match the names on the SSA's records. In a small number of cases, no-matches are legitimate clerical errors or instances where a worker has changed his or her name. But the majority of workers listed in no-match letters are undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. illegally.

For years, employers had little incentive to resolve no-matches. They were deemed compliant with immigration laws so long as they filled out I-9 forms and were presented with two sources of identification, often easily forged, that verified the worker's identity and work authorization. The new rules will change that by offering a "safe harbor" from prosecution only to employers who act on no-match letters by firing workers who cannot present valid Social Security numbers. This is striking fear into the hearts of many employers and their workers.

The new no-match rules were initially proposed with the expectation that Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reform. That didn't happen. As things stand, they will be implemented on a large and economically vulnerable segment of the workforce. At least eight million illegal immigrants work in the U.S. today and, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of them work on the books. According to data from the Mexican Migration Project (jointly run by Princeton University and the University of Guadalajara) on illegal immigrants from Mexico, 65% report having had payroll taxes withheld while working in the U.S. According to the SSA's Earnings Suspense File, taxed wages of persons whose names and Social Security numbers do not match reached $586 billion at the start of fiscal year 2007, up from $463 billion in 2002. This revenue could substantially decrease with the implementation of new laws.
  House Approves Major Energy ReformAugust 06, 2007 20:00 The House on Saturday passed a far-reaching package of energy legislation that would promote conservation and the use of renewable resources at the expense of the country's oil and gas interests.
The bill, which passed 241-172, would require more energy efficiency in appliances, buildings and power grids, which proponents of the bills say would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and electricity use. It calls for more energy-efficiency measures in the Capitol building. It also would provide grants for studies to promote ethanol pipelines, installation of pumps for 85 percent ethanol fuel at gas stations and production of cellulosic ethanol.

The Democrats also won passage of a provision that would require that 15 percent of electricity from private utilities come from solar, wind or other renewable-energy sources. It would be the first such requirement to apply to all the states.

The House also passed, 221-189, a companion tax package, totaling nearly $16 billion, that targets the oil and gas industry. In a letter to Congress, however, the Bush administration said Friday that the two House measures would result in less domestic oil and gas production. The letter said President Bush's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bills.
  Senate Committee Votes To Give Fda Power To Regulate Tobacco - ConsumeristAugust 04, 2007 10:35 Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted 13-8 to empower the FDA to regulate tobacco products. States and municipalities have spent years shoving cigarettes out of the public domain, but the FDA would be able to control cigarette advertising, mandate bigger, European-style warning labels, and regulate nicotine content. Only Congress has the power to ban cigarettes outright.
  Abc News: Court: Fbi Violated Constitution In RaidAugust 04, 2007 10:30 The FBI violated the Constitution when agents raided U.S. Rep. William Jefferson's office last year and viewed legislative documents in a corruption investigation, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The court ordered the Justice Department to return any legislative documents it seized from the Louisiana Democrat's office on Capitol Hill. The court did not order the return of all the documents seized in the raid and did not say whether prosecutors could use any of the records against Jefferson in their bribery case.

Jefferson argued that the first-of-its-kind raid trampled congressional independence. The Constitution prohibits the executive branch from using its law enforcement powers to interfere with the lawmaking process. The Justice Department said that declaring the search unconstitutional would essentially prohibit the FBI from ever looking at a lawmaker's documents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected that claim. The court held that, while the search itself was constitutional, FBI agents crossed the line when they viewed every record in the office without giving Jefferson the chance to argue that some documents involved legislative business.
  Bush Threatens To Veto Energy BillsAugust 03, 2007 13:13 The White House today threatened to veto a pair of energy bills House Democrats are hoping to push through before lawmakers leave for their August recess.

But with House members still having a row today over a heated procedural fight late Thursday on an unrelated bill, votes scheduled for today on the energy package could get pushed back to Saturday or even Monday.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said the president's senior advisers recommended he veto the proposed House bills, arguing they "fail to deliver American consumers or businesses more energy security, but rather would lead to less domestic oil and gas production, higher energy costs, and higher taxes."

The Democrats' energy package tries to promote conservation and use of renewable energy sources. It includes new efficiency standards for home appliances; proposals for more energy efficient lighting; expanded use of ethanol; and tax incentives for consumers to buy more fuel-efficient ''plug-in'' hybrid cars, which feature batteries that can be recharged when the car is not in use.

The plan includes a tax bill that would slap the oil companies with $16 billion worth of new taxes. Among other provisions, it would exclude the companies from a scheduled rollback in the corporate tax rate for U.S. manufacturers, increase the taxes on their operations overseas and complicate their efforts to write off exploration and production expenses.

  House Decides Against Tougher Fuel EconomyAugust 01, 2007 23:45 House Democrats decided today not to try to raise fuel mileage standards for cars and trucks as part of the energy package lawmakers will vote on this week.

As Democrats put the finishing touches on a pair of bills they hope to pass out of the House on Friday, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. — after consulting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — announced he would withdraw an amendment designed to raise fuel mileage requirements to 35 miles per gallon by 2019.

Raising fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks was the centerpiece of an energy bill the Senate approved in June. It would require automakers to achieve average 35 miles per gallon for cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and minivans by 2020.

But House Democrats have been at war with themselves over fuel economy standards.

The nation's automakers and their allies on Capitol Hill — including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich. — had thrown their support behind a more modest fuel efficiency increase proposed by Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind. He has withdrawn the proposal.

Markey said he is confident the fuel efficiency issue can be addressed when House and Senate negotiators meet in a conference committee to hash out differences between their proposals. That probably will be in September if the House passes its bill before the August recess.

"The country cannot afford to accept less than a 35 mile-per-gallon standard if we are to wean ourselves off of our addiction to imported oil," he said.