The War on the Freedom of Information Act

The health-care clusterfudge continues. Senator John McCain has brain cancer. President Trump throws another public tantrum. Russia, Russia, Russia.

That about covers the Big Political Headlines of the week. Now for something really sexy: the creeping assault on the Freedom of Information Act.

Stop right there! No clicking over to that Tucker Carlson YouTube rant. This is another one of those ticky-tacky, below-the-radar issues that may sound like a nonprescription substitute for Ambien but is, practically speaking, super important—especially in the Age of Trump.

FOIA is what enables regular people to pester powerful federal agencies into handing over information about what they’ve been up to. FOIA’s website calls it “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.” Though a tad grandiose, that characterization is pretty much accurate. And never has such a tool been quite so vital as with the current White House, which has adopted a policy of unabashedly lying about pretty much everything.

It’s hardly surprising then that government accountability groups balked when, in early April, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling directed multiple agencies under his committee’s jurisdiction to start classifying all communications with the committee as official “congressional records” not subject to FOIA.

Probably best to back up a tick: FOIA applies only to executive agency records. Congressional records are a different creature entirely (as are presidential records), enjoying greater privacy protections. But not every document that has been created by or sent to Congress qualifies as a congressional record.

“There has to be an expression of intent by Congress to treat a particular record or group of records as something that is a congressional record—that it belongs to Congress and is only being given to an agency for a specific purpose,” explained Lee Steven, assistant vice president with Cause of Action Institute, …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Politics

The GOP Health-Care BIll’s Byrd Rule Dilemma

On Friday, Senate Democrats released a list of provisions in the Republican health-care bill that the Senate parliamentarian holds can pass via a simple, filibuster-proof majority vote. Among those provisions that didn’t meet her scrutiny are the bill’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood, restrict tax-credit funding for insurance plans that provide abortions, and a six-month “lockout” period from purchasing insurance for people who don’t maintain continuous coverage.

If this preliminary guidance holds, the Better Care Reconciliation Act—which is already in dire straits—seems likely to fail.

The final assessment of the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, is a critical step in the GOP’s strategy for passing their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Republicans have opted to pass their health-care legislation via the special reconciliation process, under which they can cut debate short in the Senate and thus eliminate indefinite filibusters, which Democrats would certainly use in order to block any attempt to repeal Obamacare. But bills have to follow a certain procedure—called the Byrd Rule—in order to pass by reconciliation.

Broadly, the Byrd rule states that reconciliation legislation can only include changes to laws that directly affect the federal budget, and can be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. So for example, Republicans could “repeal” Obamacare premium tax credits via reconciliation by making the credit $0 for everyone, but couldn’t in theory use the same bill to eliminate the requirement for insurers that take premium tax credits to also take people with pre-existing conditions.

In practice, the parliamentarian reviews every provision of a reconciliation bill and outlines which ones pass muster under the Byrd rule by her own judgment. In this instance, according to the Democratic outline, MacDonough’s office ruled that “abortion restrictions on the premium tax credit and the small business tax credit, and the language defunding Planned Parenthood, violate the …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Politics

Trump Asserts ‘Complete Power to Pardon’ in Saturday Tweetstorm

President Trump lashed out at the media in a Saturday morning tweetstorm, insisting his authority to issue pardons is “complete” and expressing frustration over stories that revealed Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have lied about his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

“A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions. These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!” the president tweeted, following up by stating that “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS.”

The tacit acknowledgement the president has been thinking about his pardon power in relation to the Russia investigation, and the qualification that no crimes but leaks had been revealed “so far” raised eyebrows among media observers.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and what American intelligence agencies have said was a Russian effort to help Trump win the White House. In recent days, reports have suggested the president is concerned that inquiry could reach associates, family members, and even himself, and as a result has begun looking into whether he could issue prospective pardons—including whether he could grant himself one.

The president also attacked his former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump has said he fired over the Russia investigation. Comey later went public alleging that Trump had attempted to pressure him to end a federal investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, events that prompted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Mueller as special counsel. Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation in March because of his role on the Trump campaign and earlier revelations he mischaracterized his contact with Russian …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Politics