How Washington math ‘works’

This is how Washington works: If Congress does not increase funding by as much as someone wants, that’s a cut. If Congress doles out money one year, but fails to continue to do so, that’s a cut. If Congress stops penalizing people for not buying health insurance, and some of those people choose to not buy it, those people have lost insurance coverage.

That’s why you see news reports heralding the “fact” Medicaid cuts in the current Senate ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill would cost Nevada $16 billion over the next decade, and 200,000 could “lose” health insurance.

That’s why even nuns are calling for ObamaCare to be left alone. Nuns? Didn’t nuns sue because ObamaCare requires them to provide contraceptive coverage?

The local paper quoted one of those nuns as writing: “We have seen early and avoidable deaths because of a lack of insurance, prohibitive costs and lack of quality health care.”

Pay no heed to the fact that studies found “uninsured patients were about 25% less likely than those with Medicaid to have an ‘in-hospital death.’” Or that, “Medicaid patients were also more than twice as likely to have a major, subsequent heart attack after angioplasty as were patients who didn’t have any health insurance at all.”

Insurance coverage does not necessarily equal better health care.

A vote against ending ObamaCare is a vote for keeping it until it collapses and is replaced by single payer. Apparently, four of Nevada’s Washington delegation are already on board.

 

 

Western congressmen seek reduction in size of national monuments

Two weeks ago the 17 members of the Congressional Western Caucus — which includes Nevada’s Rep. Mark Amodei — took Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke up on his request for feedback on what to do about all the national monuments created in the past two decades, sending him a letter with specific recommendations about 27 of those monuments.

These recommendations called for vastly scaling back the size of two monuments created by President Obama in his last year in office at the urging of then Sen. Harry Reid — the 300,000-acre Gold Butte in Clark County and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range in Nye and Lincoln counties.

The letter repeatedly points out that the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to create monuments, was passed in order to protect prehistoric and Indian ruins and artifacts on federal land in the West and the law limits such designations to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” While earlier monuments averaged 422 acres, several of Obama’s designations exceeded a million acres, the letter notes.

Zinke’s review of the monuments comes at the behest of President Trump, who in April asked for the review in an executive order, giving Zinke till Aug. 26 to comply.

As for Basin and Range, the congressmen point out it is larger than Rhode Island and was created as “a personal favor to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. According to a former Obama adviser, ‘it is only due to Harry Reid that [Basin and Range] is getting done.'”

The letter quotes opposition to the monument from the Nevada Farm Bureau, as well as Lincoln and Nye County commissioners.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman called the monument “an excellent example of hypocrisy,” noting that Reid insisted on local consent for the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Nye County at Yucca Mountain, which many in Nye favor, while ignoring the lack of local consent for Basin and Range, which many opposed because of its impact on recreation, grazing and mineral exploration.

The letter also points out that one of the motives for creating Basin and Range was to provide a buffer for an “art” project on a strip of private land, which has nothing to do with protecting antiquities.

A view of “City,” artist Michael Heizer’s monumental work of land art in the Nevada desert. (Tom Vinetz / Triple Aught Foundation / LACMA via LA Times)

According to a Washington Post article in 2015, Reid, who for two years could not get Congress to go along with his proposal to put the land off limits, asked Obama to create a national monument partly as a buffer for a giant earthen and concrete art project called “city” and described as “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. The “artist” has been working on it for 50 years and allows only VIP visitors and journalists to view his work.

“Explain it to me,” the paper quoted Reid quoting Obama.

“I can’t,” Reid said he replied.

Though both Amodei and then-Rep. Cresent Hardy, in whose districts the monument is located, opposed it, Reid persuaded Obama, who owed him a favor or two for such things as ObamaCare and ending the filibuster for judicial nominations.

The WaPo story ends thusly:

“This was on nobody’s radar screen, and it certainly wasn’t part of the plan,” said one person close to the president who has been involved in the discussions. When the question of possible controversy was broached, Obama said: “I don’t care. I want this done.”

Reid visited (Michael) Heizer’s art installation and its remote environs in 2007. He said he went “to check off a box.” But the visit changed him. “I became a convert. … You have this magnificent work of art that this man spent half a century working on. And that’s quite a story.”

The caucus letter recommends the monument be reduced to about 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

As for Gold Butte, the letter notes the designation specifically bans grazing and suggests it was “political retribution” against the Bundy family, whose cattle have grazed in the area for more than a century. Cliven Bundy and four of his sons are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges growing out of an armed standoff in 2014 when BLM agents attempted to confiscate their cattle.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the monument designation bypassed Congress and the public.

In January, Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act, which intends to prevent the threat of executive action designating or expanding national monuments without Congressional approval or local support.

“Whether you agree with our proposals or not, I have always supported a public and transparent process which includes input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives,”Amodei said at the time. “Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama Administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input.”

Heller said, “Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed.”

The caucus letter quotes former Rep. Hardy as stating: “If you want to protect the petroglyphs, and you want to designate that as the monument, that’s what the Antiquities Act was set up to do, is protect the minimum possible footprint of that of what you’re trying to designate. Not an extra 300,000 acres on top of the 50-100 acres that you could have protected.”

The letter itself did not state any specific size for Basin and Range.

In concluding remarks, the congressmen argue: “The Antiquities Act of 1906 is broken and in desperate need of reform. No one person should be able to unilaterally lock-up millions of acres of public land from multiple-use with the stroke of a pen. Local stakeholders deserve to have a voice on public land-use decisions that impact their livelihoods.”

BLM pix

Newspaper column: Ownership of land better than paltry PILT payouts

It is that time of year again, when counties in Nevada and across the West squat on the street corner with their tin alms cups extended anxiously awaiting the tinkling sound of a few coins from the federal till — otherwise known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT).

Since 1977 Congress has parsimoniously paid out pennies on the acre to local governments to make up for the land the federal government controls but on which it pays no local property taxes. Since 85 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal agencies that is a lot of property tax to forgo.

Just a few weeks ago the Trump administration budget for this year proposed limiting PILT funding to an average of the most recent 10 years or about $397 million, but this past week in Pahrump Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke announced at a meeting with various Nevada officials that the PILT largesse this year will be $464.6 million, a 6 percent increase over the previous year. The about-face was roundly ignored.

But for some reason, also neither explained nor questioned, Nevada’s share of the booty increased by only 2 percent to $26.18 million, about the same as inflation.

There was much backslapping all around.

Secretary Zinke noted in a self-congratulatory press release that he grew up in northwest Montana, and, “I know how important PILT payments are to local communities that have federal lands. These investments are one of the ways the federal government is fulfilling its role of being a good land manager and good neighbor to local communities. Rural America, especially states out west with large federal land holdings, play a big part in feeding and powering the nation and also in providing recreation opportunities, but because the lands are federal, the local governments don’t earn revenue from them. PILT investments often serve as critical support for local communities as they juggle planning and paying for basic services, such as public safety, fire-fighting, social services and transportation.”

Nevada Republican senior Sen. Dean Heller chimed in by saying, “Unlike other states, approximately 85 percent of Nevada lands are managed by the federal government, making the PILT program critical for local governments’ ability to maintain essential services like public safety and education.”

The state’s Democrat junior Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto did note the previous threats to trim PILT, saying, “From fixing roads to education to basic healthcare services, Nevadans have benefited from these resources for decades, despite constant threats of massive cuts to the program. I am pleased that Nevada will receive its largest grant in the program to date, which signals the Department of Interior’s recognition of PILT’s importance to Nevada and the need to boost our state’s rural communities.”

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen was quoted as saying, “With 98 percent of the land in Nye County being federally managed or owned, PILT is not seen as discretionary to us, and as such needs to be guaranteed.”

PILT payments are based on a formula that takes into account the number of acres of federal land in each county, as well as the population. It is a formula that defies explanation.

Nevada on average is getting 46 cents per acre, having a population of 2.9 million and 85 percent of its land under federal control. But New Mexico, with a population of 2 million and only 35 percent of its land under federal control, gets $1.72 per acre. Utah, with a population nearly equal to Nevada at 3 million and 65 percent of it land in federal hands, is getting 99 cents an acre.

Every state adjacent to Nevada is getting at least twice as much per acre.

The PILT payments also vary wildly by county, from a low of 7 cents an acre for Esmeralda County to a high of $2.71 per acre for Storey County. Other examples: Clark, 73 cents; Elko 46 cents; Eureka, 17 cents; Lincoln,14 cents; Mineral, 37 cents; White Pine, 24 cents. Dollars and acreage for all 1,900 counties getting PILT are available at: https://www.nbc.gov/pilt/counties.cfm.

Additionally, it should be noted that the PILT payouts amount to only 5 percent of the $8.8 billion the Interior Department collects each year from commercial activities, such as oil and gas leases, livestock grazing and timber harvesting.

Instead of sitting around with tin cups waiting for pitiful PILT handouts, Nevada should demand more control of its land and collect all of those revenues to reduce our tax burden.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Editorial: Nevada right to join sanctuary city fight

Protesters in San Francisco (AP pix)

Earlier this month Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt joined with nine other attorneys general in filing a friend-of-the-court brief challenging a federal judge’s decision in April to block a President Trump executive order that would deny some federal funding for sanctuary cities.

The judge sided with Santa Clara County, the city of San Francisco and other jurisdictions who argued that taking away federal funds from cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement could be unconstitutional.

After the order, Trump tweeted: “First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!”

Laxalt argued that having sanctuary cities near Nevada poses a threat to public safety.

“Sanctuary cities in California endanger Nevadans, especially given their close proximity to us,” said Laxalt in a press release. “In some cases these cities refuse federal requests to temporarily detain illegal aliens with violent criminal histories and instead release these felons into communities that — under federal law — they have no right to be in. Nevada’s Legislature, sheriffs and municipalities have wisely rejected such nonsensical policies, but Nevadans should not be the victims of such policies in other states. Opposition to this extreme form of a ‘sanctuary city’ is pro-immigrant and pro-safety, as safety is a leading concern of our immigrant communities.”

In fact, the brief itself points out that one of the states seeking to overturn the judge’s ruling, West Virginia, is near Baltimore, which has adopted sanctuary city policies and is the source of illegal drugs that spill into West Virginia.

In addition to Nevada and West Virginia, the other states involved include: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

The brief also shreds the argument that denying federal funds for failing to voluntarily cooperate in immigration law enforcement is unconstitutional by pointing out the case of South Dakota v. Dole.

In that case the Supreme Court held that it is constitutional for Congress to withhold federal funds from states that failed to raise the legal drinking age to 21.

The brief also noted that — unlike another high court case, Printz v. U.S., in which the court said Congress could not force states to conduct gun background checks — the executive order does not require states to assist in enforcing immigration law, but merely prevents states from prohibiting local law enforcement from cooperating voluntarily with the federal government.

Laxalt’s press release notes that all 17 currently elected county sheriffs have consistently opposed sanctuary city policies and that in the vast majority of cases an individual must be arrested for committing a crime and booked into a jail before Nevada lawmen notify immigration authorities.

“So-called ‘sanctuary cities’ have no right — constitutional or otherwise — to enlist the courts in their attempt to subvert lawful federal immigration authority,” added Laxalt. “Especially when sanctuary policies create public-safety threats to neighboring states.”

We applaud the attorney general for sticking up for the rule of law and public safety, at negligible cost to the taxpayers of Nevada.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Let’s play the blame game

(AP pix)

No matter what happens it is Trump’s fault.

Freshman Nevada Congresswoman and soon-to-be-announced candidate for the Senate Jacky Rosen put out the most mind boggling press release in recent memory after Anthem announced it was pulling out of the ObamaCare health insurance business in 14 Nevada counties, leaving about 8,000 residents in those counties with no ObamaCare option.

Her statement reads:

“These health insurers pulling out of Nevada is a direct result of President Trump and Republicans in Congress creating partisan chaos over health care. The rush to pass this reckless legislation has already caused so much instability on the exchange that thousands of rural families in Nevada will now have zero options. This exodus from Nevada’s health exchange creates a crisis for patients in rural communities who were already struggling with access to affordable health care as it is. All signs point to President Trump and Republicans in Congress continuing to sabotage the Affordable Care Act for political reasons, which means we can only expect to see additional health insurers exit the Silver State Health Exchange. It’s time for Republicans to give up on this obsession with tax breaks for the wealthy and instead work across the aisle to work on finding real, bipartisan solutions to improve our health care system.”

Of course, as The Wall Street Journal reported online Wednesday afternoon, the company is pulling out due not to something that might happen in the future, but due to the nature of ObamaCare.

The paper said Anthem’s decision was due to the volatile individual market, which is due to the ObamaCare rules and restrictions. The company said that “planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating individual market, as well as continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance, including cost-sharing reduction subsidies.”

As Forbes points out, the Senate health care bill keeps cost-sharing subsidies through 2020, and if they are reduced insurers could increase rates by 15 to 20 percent, shifting the cost the consumer instead of the taxpayers.

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents six of the counties affected, said:

“Sadly, this news isn’t shocking. It represents another symptom of the sickness that is killing America’s health care system. While there are plenty of arguments on how to fix this, regardless of your political views, it’s clear the status quo isn’t working and is in need of serious repair. Once again, I’m left wondering, when is Congress going to put the issue ahead of the politics? I will continue to focus on the facts and the policy options to be applied in Nevada. As always, my goal is to ensure that any reform package increases Americans’ access to quality and affordable care, while paying respect to rural communities like ours that are being hit the hardest.”

 

 

Nevadans seem want it both ways with ObamaCare

Nevadans appear to be a bit schizoid when it comes to deciding what to do about ObamaCare, according to an American Medical Association survey released Tuesday.

When asked straightforward whether ObamaCare was a good or bad idea, fully 45 percent say it was a good idea, while 37 percent say it was a bad idea.

But when you get down to whether Congress should change the law as is being currently debated the opinions are more varied:

As you may be aware, in order for the health care legislation passed by the House to become law, the United States Senate must review and pass the legislation. Do you think the U.S. Senate should …

7% Pass the House legislation as is
23% Make minor changes to it and pass it
27% Make major changes to it and pass it
33% NOT pass any part of the House legislation which would mean keeping ObamaCare in place

2% Other.    7% Don’t Know    1% Refused

So, 33 percent say leave it as is, while 57 percent call for some changes.

But when asked about specific changes being proposed, the Nevadans surveyed largely opposed the changes.

They opposed dropping the mandate to buy health insurance but allowing insurers to charge 30 percent higher premiums if they have not had continuous coverage. I wonder how Nevadans would have responded if asked only about the mandate.

They also opposed dropping various federal subsidies and eliminating the ObamaCare requirement that all health plans sold must provide a standard set of government-established benefits, including mental health services, addiction treatment, maternity care and preventive health services with no out-of-pocket costs. No choice.

The exceptions included: providing federal funding for states to cover people with pre-existing conditions through separate high-risk insurance pools; allowing health insurance to be bought across state lines so there is more competition between health insurance companies to provide more options at a cheaper cost; and, change Medicaid from an entitlement program to a federal grant program so federal spending would be cut, and states could decide how to best use federal dollars to cover their low-income population.

Then there is the CBO report:

The Senate bill would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law, slightly fewer than the increase in the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed legislation. By 2026, an estimated 49 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.

So, millions might choose to not buy expensive health insurance, whose premiums and deductibles are skyrocketing every year, if they are not coerced into doing so.

The Roberts court said states may not be coerced in following the dictates of Congress, but individuals are not so fortunate.

Meanwhile, many senators, including Nevada’s Dean Heller, seem to be willing to let ObamaCare stand because replacement legislation is either too weak or too stringent. You can’t drive a stake through the heart of a government entitlement when the perfect is the enemy of any improvement.

High court allows Trump travel ban to take effect

Protesters oppose Trump travel ban. (Getty pix)

The Supreme Court today, the last day of its session, lifted lower courts injunctions against President Trump’s executive order restricting travel from six majority-Muslim nations, though its ruling exempted those with existing ties to the U.S. The court said it would hear arguments in the case when it returns in October, though it may be moot by then, because the 90-day ban will have expired.

The justices basically agreed foreigners do not have constitutional rights to enter the country:

But the injunctions reach much further than that: They also bar enforcement of §2(c) against foreign nationals abroad who have no connection to the United States at all. The equities relied on by the lower courts do not balance the same way in that context. Denying entry to such a foreign national does not burden any American party by reason of that party’s relationship with the foreign national. And the courts below did not conclude that exclusion in such circumstances would impose any legally relevant hardship on the foreign national himself. … (“[A]n unadmitted and nonresident alien … ha[s] no constitutional right of entry to this country”). So whatever burdens may result from enforcement of §2(c) against a foreign national who lacks any connection to this country, they are, at a minimum, a good deal less concrete than the hardships identified by the courts below.

At the same time, the Government’s interest in enforcing §2(c), and the Executive’s authority to do so, are undoubtedly at their peak when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States. Indeed, EO–2 itself distinguishes between foreign nationals who have some connection to this country, and foreign nationals who do not, by establishing a case-by-case waiver system primarily for the benefit of individuals in the former category. … The interest in preserving national security is “an urgent objective of the highest order.” … To prevent the Government from pursuing that objective by enforcing §2(c) against foreign nationals unconnected to the United States would appreciably injure its interests, without alleviating obvious hardship to anyone else.

We accordingly grant the Government’s stay applications in part and narrow the scope of the injunctions …

Trump released a statement applauding the decision:

Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security.  It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.

As President, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm.  I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive.

My number one responsibility as Commander in Chief is to keep the American people safe.  Today’s ruling allows me to use an important tool for protecting our Nation’s homeland.  I am also particularly gratified that the Supreme Court’s decision was 9-0.

Actually, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, wrote a dissent which argued the injunctions should be lifted in their entirety with no exceptions, because:

Moreover, I fear that the Court’s remedy will prove unworkable. Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country. … The compromise also will invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a “bona fide relationship,” who precisely has a “credible claim” to that relationship, and whether the claimed relationship was formed …

The court partially restored the congressionally dictated power of the executive branch to control immigration.