Bipartisan group set to take Keystone decision out of Obama’s hands – Washington Times

Bipartisan group set to take Keystone decision out of Obama’s hands – Washington Times.

By Ben Wolfgang – The Washington Times

President Obama has often used executive authority to get around Congress — and he has promised to continue that approach in his second term.

But now a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to turn the tables on the White House.

Late last week, Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, introduced a bill to take approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline out of the president’s hands. The measure has the support of at least two Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill eliminates the need for a presidential permit and would officially green-light the 1,700-mile pipeline, designed to transport oil sands from Canada through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It also would create thousands of jobs in the process.

“The time is up. No more delays. It’s time to build the Keystone pipeline,” Mr. Terry said at a Capitol Hill news conference Friday.

The move comes on the heels of a similar proposal in the Senate. Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican, and Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, have put forth legislation to approve the project using Congress‘ authority under the Commerce Clause.

Other Democratic senators, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, are co-sponsoring the bill, as are a half-dozen Republican senators.

“The Keystone pipeline is the perfect opportunity to put Montanans, and folks across the country, to work right now,” Mr. Baucus said in a statement last week, after the measure was introduced. “American workers cannot afford to wait any longer for Keystone jobs, and there is absolutely no excuse for further delay.”

Of course, both pieces of legislation would need to be signed by the president whose powers it would strip. While it appears both bills could easily pass in their respective chambers, it’s unclear whether either could garner enough support to overcome a potential veto by Mr. Obama.

At the very least, the bills once again demonstrate the growing sense of frustration in Congress over the administration’s handling of the project.

Mr. Obama has continually put off a final decision on the pipeline, even in the face of growing pressure from lawmakers, the oil and gas industry and even the Canadian government, which has begun to make clear that it intends to do business with China and in other Asian markets if the U.S. refuses to build Keystone.

The president reportedly told lawmakers last week that he is nearing a decision, but it’s still unclear exactly when the White House will give an answer.

The answer isn’t expected until summer, at the earliest, after the State Department finalizes its comprehensive environmental impact review of the project.

A draft of that report, released earlier this month, seems to pave the way for approval of the project. The long-awaited study found that the pipeline will have little or no impact on greenhouse gas emissions, one of the most frequent complaints raised by environmentalists and other opponents of the project.

Specifically, the study said that the fuel eventually will be developed and made into burnable fuel by someone — if not by the U.S., then by China.

The study also found that Keystone would have little, if any, impact on American demand for crude oil. Environmental groups have dismissed the report and ramped up pressure on Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry — formerly one of Congress‘ loudest voices on climate change and the environment — to kill the project once and for all.

The study, had it been a damning indictment of the project, could have been used by the White House as environmental justification for rejecting Keystone. Instead, it is being held up as proof that the pipeline should be built immediately.

“All of this unnecessary delay has done nothing to improve our energy security or our economy,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican and co-sponsor of the Senate bill. “If the White House can’t see that, then it’s time for Congress to act.”

 

Two-Thirds of American Gun Owners Would “Defy” a Federal Gun Ban – Leah Barkoukis

Two-Thirds of American Gun Owners Would “Defy” a Federal Gun Ban – Leah Barkoukis.

AR-15-300x176It’s safe to say Feinstein, Obama and the rest of the gun control gang face an uphill battle when it comes to limiting any Second Amendment rights. According to a Fox News poll, most Americans—both Republicans and Democrats—would defy any new laws that would take away their guns.

But on to Question 47, addressed to those with a gun in their home: “If the government passed a law to take your guns, would you give up your guns or defy the law and keep your guns?”

The response: 65 percent reported they would “defy the law.” That incudes 70 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of conservatives, 52 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of liberals.

The good news is that it probably won’t come to this. Analysis from Bloomberg shows that if a vote were held today, Feinstein’s proposed gun control legislation, which would prohibit the sale or transfer of an estimated 158 “assault weapons,” would fail to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.

At least six of the 55 senators in the Democratic caucus have expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats wouldn’t have a 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote. […]

The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who have expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who supported similar legislation in 2004, has indicated she is unlikely to back the proposed ban in its current form.

The reality, as these and many other lawmakers recognize, is that piling on new laws won’t solve the problem. In fact, The Washington Timesanalysis of recent state laws shows “no discernible correlation between stricter rules and lower gun-crime rates in the states.” It’s time our leaders used reason—not emotion—to guide their legislative endeavors.

 

Tax cheats got $1.4 billion in stimulus loans – Washington Times

Tax cheats got $1.4 billion in stimulus loans – Washington Times.

By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times

Tax cheats were given $1.4 billion in government-backed mortgage loans under President Obama’s economic stimulus, and the government doled out at least an additional $27 million in tax credits to delinquents who took the first-time-homebuyer tax break, according to a government audit released Wednesday.

Under government rules, delinquent taxpayers are supposed to be ineligible for the mortgage insurance program unless they have reached a repayment agreement with the Internal Revenue Service. But the Federal Housing Administration didn’t have the right controls to weed out bad applications, said the Government Accountability Office, Congress‘ chief investigative arm.

That meant FHA insured $1.4 billion in mortgages for 6,327 borrowers who collectively owed $77.6 million in unpaid taxes, or an average of more than $12,000 each.

The auditors said that as a category, the tax cheats had foreclosure rates up to three times as high as other borrowers, which meant the delinquent taxpayers exposed the government to even greater risks.

“In the name of ‘stimulus,’ the federal government gave mortgage insurance to thousands of people we knew were tax cheats and had a bad track record paying their debts,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who joined a bipartisan group of other lawmakers to request the investigation. “The federal government needlessly put taxpayers on the line to help tax cheats buy homes. Congress needs to ensure that tax cheats are no longer allowed to take advantage of FHA programs.”

In addition to the mortgages, the auditors found that more than half of the tax-delinquent borrowers claimed the first-time-homebuyers’ credit, worth up to $8,000.

GAO said there is no prohibition against someone claiming the credit, even though they still have unpaid tax bills. The credit is refundable, meaning taxpayers can get a check back from the government if the benefit exceeds their liability. IRS rules generally call for the agency to subtract any unpaid taxes from the refund, but in three of the nine cases that GAO analyzed in depth, it said the taxpayers had declared bankruptcy, meaning the IRS was prevented from docking the refunds.

The report was the GAO’s second study looking at tax cheats and the stimulus.

In the first report, GAO said thousands of contracts and grants were paid out under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to those with unpaid tax bills.

Mr. Obama pushed the $831 billion economic stimulus in early 2009 as a means of bolstering the faltering economy, and promised to use strict controls to cut fraud and abuse. At its peak in mid-2010, it was responsible for as many as 3.6 million jobs, but could have funded as few as 700,000, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Part of the Recovery Act was aimed at shoring up the housing market, which included the first-time-homebuyer tax credit and the mortgage assistance, which let the FHA insure loans at a higher rate in high-cost housing markets.

About 1.7 million individuals claimed the tax credit, while FHA insured more than $20 billion in mortgages for 87,000 homeowners, thanks to the Recovery Act provisions.

Under a White House policy, buyers who are delinquent on their federal taxes are not supposed to receive the mortgage assistance, unless they have worked out a repayment agreement with the IRS. But FHA rules don’t prod private lenders to ask for that information, and the FHA doesn’t have a system to work with the IRS to get that information.

Mr. Coburn joined Sens. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat; Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat; Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican; and Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, to request a review of the program.

“The stimulus-spending program was ill-conceived, with far too little oversight,” Mr. Grassley said. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone, unfortunately, that tax dollars have gone to tax cheats. It’s another one of many negative consequences of writing checks without enough checks and balances.”

Compounding the matter, those with tax problems are more likely to end up in foreclosure. Nearly a third of mortgage holders with unpaid taxes were “seriously delinquent” on their payments, and 6.3 percent had been foreclosed – a rate nearly three times higher than homeowners who were paid up with the IRS.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development accepted the report and will work with the IRS to try to get access to information that would help it cull tax cheats, Carol J. Galante, an acting assistant secretary, said in the department’s official response.

She said they also will try to clarify FHA rules so lenders are clear about the eligibility requirements for loans.